The plot thickens!
So far in this series, I have presented 6 reasons to believe that a theistic explanation of the universe and humanity makes more sense than a naturalistic explanation. Each reason increases the probability that there is a God. But is that God a personal being, as most of the world’s monotheistic religions say, or just an impersonal, distant force?
This post is the first of several that examine human experiences that are claimed to be evidence of a personal and caring God at work in the world. So we ask, does divine healing occur and thus add extra evidence that God truly is?
How to investigate alleged healings
We need to start with working out how we might recognise a divine healing if it occurred, and how we might test it and not just credulously accept it.
A right way and a wrong way
It is a fundamental of science that the method of testing a hypothesis must answer the question being asked. Medical scientists test a drug or a therapy to answer the question of whether it is more likely to lead to a recovery than other approaches, or doing nothing. And so they set up trials where different groups are offered the new therapy or drug, or the old procedure, or given a placebo – and none of them know which group they are in.
The same approach (randomised controlled trials) has been tried with prayer, with slightly positive results (about 60% of the 26 studies I have found gave mildly positive results). This approach answers the question of whether prayer is a good therapy (answer: prayer is often useful when combined with medical care, but isn’t a replacement for medical care), but its use of volunteers who don’t know the patient means it isn’t testing the way believers pray. It tells us little about whether God heals sometimes in answer to prayer by faithful believers.
To answer that question, we need a different type of study – a study that looks at the less common apparently miraculous healing of a major medical condition, and assesses whether a natural spontaneous healing is likely, or a miracle is possible or probable.
Ways to test the likelihood that a healing may have been miraculous
The following criteria have been suggested for this assessment:
- The account comes from a reputable source which provides names, time and place, and there is no reason to believe the story is a fraud, or that anyone had anything to gain by inventing it.
- There must have been prayer for healing not long before the healing occurred.
- There must be good independent documented medical opinion that the disease was present before the prayer and not present afterwards.
- The condition is known to have little possibility of natural recovery.
- The recovery must have been complete, or at least very significant, and not what might be expected from any treatment being received.
If these conditions are met, then the account can be treated as evidence. If enough accounts meet these criteria, the evidence is stronger.
A quick outline of some of the evidence
It has been estimated that something like 300 million christians claim to have been healed miraculously or observed a healing. Obviously it is likely that many of these claims are not backed by evidence, and impossible to investigate more than a fraction of the accounts.
I have investigated a number of reports where there is reasonable evidence, and have documented them elsewhere on this website. Here I will limit myself to a brief summary with links to more details.
Two recoveries from heart death
Australian doctor Sean George suffered a heart attack and was treated by several doctors and nurses. They tried the defibrillator, and when his ECG ‘flatlined’ they kept on with CPR. After about an hour and a half treating him with no response, they gave up. But then his wife (also a doctor) prayed for a miracle – and immediately he began to breathe again, his heart began to beat again, and eventually he fully recovered with (unexpectedly) no brain damage. As a doctor, he kept all the medical documentation, which he has made available to me (you can read more, including selected documents and a link to Sean’s website in Dying doctor recovers after prayer).
And in the US, an expert medical team tried for 40 minutes to revive Jeff Markin after he had suffered a massive heart attack, but with no success. After he was officially pronounced dead, and the emergency team ceased trying to revive him, the heart surgeon felt he should lay hands on him and pray for healing. The ‘paddles’ were applied one more time and he revived. Both the surgeon and Jeff verified his amazing revival.
Remarkable healing documented in medical journal
A 16 year old boy lived since birth with a serious medical condition that couldn’t be resolved, despite repeated medical interventions. He couldn’t eat or drink, and could only be fed via tubes into his stomach and intestine. Some forms of his condition resolve after a couple of years, but in this case the symptoms remained severe and the prognosis for recovery was poor.
The family were christians , and although they didn’t believe in divine healing, they attended a healing meeting where the boy received prayer and laying on of hands that “in the name of Jesus, the boy’s stomach be healed”. Halfway through the prayer, the boy felt a painful shock, “a pulsating and electrical sensation” from his shoulder to has abdomen.He went home that night and ate a meal without any complications for the first time in his 16 year life.
After a three month wait to test this remarkable recovery, the specialist removed the feeding tubes, and six years later, the boy remained in good health. The case was written up in a respected medical journal, and the authors say the complete resolution of this condition “is not known to spontaneously occur”, whether via placebo or natural recovery.
Healings in Britain?
Two British “doctors” (one a medical specialist, the other with a PhD in social anthropology) investigated documented cases of apparent healings and reported on them in books and even in a paper in the British Medical Journal.
In 1986, anthropologist Dr David Lewis investigated almost 900 cases of people receiving prayer for healing and found that about a third had been substantially healed. An example is the case of a nine year old girl who suffered severe hearing loss, confirmed by audiograms (subjective measures of ability to hear sounds of different volumes and frequencies) and tympanograms (objective measures of middle ear functioning). Her consultant confirmed “she was nerve deaf in both ears and that there was no cure, no operation, nothing he could do.” But friends and family began to pray for healing.
She attended an audiologist to receive a new hearing aid. That evening, she told her parents she could hear without the hearing aid which they confirmed by whispering to her. They rang the specialist and he requested further tests. The audiogram and typanogram results showed normal hearing, just 48 hours after the audiologist knew she was deaf. Neither the audiologist nor the consultant could offer any medical explanation for the healing.
Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Rex Gardner, reported in the British Medical Journal the case of an eight month old boy who developed measles. At 11 months he was admitted to hospital and diagnosed definitely with advanced fibrosing alveolitis, a “progressive thickening of the walls of the air sacs of the lungs, resulting in shortness of breath” which most commonly affects men over 60. According to Professor Webb who treated the boy: “The prognosis for fibrosing alveolitis starting in the first year of life is almost uniformly fatal”.
The boy was treated with the best medications available at the time, with no improvement, so the parents were told “the prognosis was hopeless”, and he was sent home and given a “maintenance” steroid. Medically, there was no further treatment and no hope of recovery. But on their doctor’s recommendation, the boy attended a church healing service and from that point onwards, his condition began to improve. He began to gain weight, his breathing became easier, and by the time he was five his weight and health were perfectly normal.
Reg Gardner reports that the diagnosis is “not in doubt” and his recovery was locally talked about as being miraculous. If this was not “the work of God” it was a case of “inexplicable spontaneous remission” after prayer.
Experienced medical researcher and doctor, Richard Casdorph, investigated apparent healings which occurred after people were prayed for. He approached the doctors involved, examined the X-ray and other medical records, and submitted them to experienced professionals for assessment. He reported on ten cases that included arthritis, multiple sclerosis, internal bleeding, spinal injuries, heart disease, 4 different types of cancers and one woman with multiple problems that required leg braces, all of whom were healed after prayer.
Dr Casdorph found that all ten cases involved aspects that were well beyond what could be expected to have occurred naturally.
Thousands of drug addicted gang members
Thousand of drug addicts in Hong Kong, many of them Triad gang members, were healed of their addictions after prayer. In some cases, such as Winson, a Triad gang fighter, the healing was immediate and apparently miraculous. In most other cases, they went through a process of withdrawal without medication, and without pain, which almost never happens without medication, and also seems to be miraculous. The rehabilitation of these addicts was so effective that the St Stephens Society led by Jackie Pullinger was offered a substantial area of land and facilities by the Hong Kong government to continue the work.
Healing meetings in Africa
Professor Candy Gunther Brown travelled to Mozambique to witness healing meetings. She measured the hearing and eyesight of those seeking healing in these areas, immediately before they were prayed for, and immediately after. There was a significant, and in some cases quite amazing, improvement in most of the 24 people.
Over 150 years, 200 million pilgrims have flocked to Lourdes in southern France, seeking healing at what has become a holy place to Roman Catholics. Millions claimed to have received healing, but of course, there isn’t hard evidence for most of these. Thousands of cases have been investigated, and 68 cases have sufficient medical evidence for an international Medical Commission to verify the diagnosis, the healing, and hence the apparent miracle.
Conditions found to have been healed included tubercular meningitis, tubercular peritonitis, cancers of the uterus, stomach and liver, a malignant tumour of the hip, a herniated disc, multiple sclerosis, semi-paralysis from a crushed spine in a railway accident and thrombosis in the left carotid artery.
World Christian Doctors Network
The World Christian Doctors Network has documented many cases of apparent healing miracles, with supporting evidence.
What does this tell us?
Most of these cases are well documented, so we can know a recovery from a serious condition did occur. It cannot be proved that these, and many other, cases were the result of an intervention by God – spontaneous recoveries are known to occur.
But was can say that:
- Most of these recoveries were unexpected medically, and highly unusual – often from conditions from which natural recoveries are not known to occur, or occurring much faster than any natural recovery.
- They all happened shortly after specific prayer for healing and in ways consistent with divine healing.
- Therefore they are evidence that divine healing may have occurred. Cumulatively, the evidence seems to me to be very strong.
Combined with all the evidence we have examined in previous posts in this series, we now have evidence that the God who explains the universe (posts 1 & 2) and human beings (posts 3-6) appears to care about people enough to be involved in helping some fortunate people receive healing. Why God doesn’t heal more often remains a mystery.
More detailed accounts of these and other apparent miraculous healings can be found at the pages linked in the text.