A miraculous recovery, scepticism and evidence

Sean George unconscious in hospital

I came across another story of an apparent healing miracle recently, so I investigated it.

A doctor recovers after all hope is lost

A 39 year old doctor in country Western Australia had a heart attack in 2008. Recognising the early signs, he went to the clinic in the town he was driving through, had an ECG which confirmed what was happening, then collapsed. The two doctors and nursing staff present worked on him with a defibrillator and CPR, but after an hour and a half, his pulse had flat-lined and the doctors decided there was no more they could do.

About then his wife arrived after driving the 60 km from Kalgoorlie where they lived, and she was invited to go into the resuscitation room and say goodbye. She held his cold hand and prayed a simple prayer asking God for a miracle.

Immediately after she prayed, a weak heartbeat and brain activity returned. The doctor was transported to Perth Hospital and placed on life support equipment. The specialists there didn’t expect him to live, and certainly not without severe brain damage

And yet, several days later, he recovered consciousness, gradually recovered without brain damage, and three months later returned to work as Kalgoorlie Hospital.

The interesting thing about this case is that the doctor retained the relevant documentation, has published it on the web, and freely made it available to me.

Check out the detail

I have written the full story up at Dying doctor recovers after prayer, with copies of seven of the medical tests undertaken.

So was it a miracle?

No-one can prove a miracle has occurred, because we cannot directly measure the actions of God. But we can make some fairly certain statements about this case:

  1. Dr Sean George had a remarkable recovery. As a doctor himself, he is able to say that a patient “being clinically dead for so long, returning to life with their memory perfectly intact and without any neurological problems at all” is virtually impossible medically.
  2. The recovery occurred after a medical team had given up hope of recovery, and immediately after specific prayer to the christian God asking for a healing miracle.
  3. The case is documented and there were witnesses.

How can we decide if a miracle has probably occurred?

For several years now I have been documenting apparent healing miracles when I have come across them. You can read a summary so far at Healing miracles and God. There I suggest that all or most of 5 criteria should be met before we can reasonably believe a miracle has occurred:

  1. The account of the story 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.
  2. The disease or injury had little possibility of natural recovery.
  3. The recovery must have been complete, or at least very significant, and not what might be expected from any treatment being received.
  4. There must have been prayer for healing not long before the healing occurred.
  5. There must be good independent medical opinion (backed up by documentation) that the disease was present before the prayer and not present afterwards.

This case meets every one of these criteria. So while we cannot be certain this was a miracle, it requires a lot of scepticism to say it wasn’t.

Responses of scepticism and faith

I have started coming to the conclusion that documented miracles are one of the strongest evidences that the God of Jesus is real. But it is interesting, and a little sad, how different people react to a miracle story.

Faith approaching gullibility?

Some christians believe every story they hear, even ones that sound like urban myths. It is good to have faith and to thank God for everything, but I think we all need a little natural scepticism too.

Scepticism approaching blindness?

At the other extreme, some sceptics are unwilling to even consider the evidence. Few I have met have ever examined the evidence in any detail, and most are adamant that a miracle cannot occur and so they refuse to consider the evidence (although they say their views are evidence-based).

Some have effectively made it impossible for any evidence to convince them. (Some say they’d believe if they saw an amputee’s limb grow back, but others say they’d disbelieve their brains and senses before they’d believe in God.)

Sceptical openness

Surely the best approach is to be cautiously sceptical but open to the evidence? A well-documented miracle increases the probability of believing in God, at least a little.

What do you think?

Do you think any healing miracle could be shown to be probable?

Would it change your views if it was?

Photo: Dr Sean George’s website, used by permission.

15 Comments

  1. No-one can prove a miracle has occurred, because we cannot directly measure the actions of God.

    And straight out of the blocks a misleading and erroneous statement which assumes that there is some sort of deity and thus , all you now have to do is establish a level of probability that meets an individual’s satisfaction and allows one to close with another misleading sentence….

    A well-documented miracle increases the probability of believing in God, at least a little.

    This method, including some misleading terminology -miracle – is merely another God of the Gaps hypothesis. Because there is not enough scientific understanding to offer a comprehensive explanation – at this point in time – then, “Whooppee! It’s a miracle.”

    Sadly, this raises so many ugly and uncomfortable questions regarding the capricious nature of deities.
    Questions believers struggle to come to terms with and aren’t too keen to broach, but which religious leaders -Priests, Pastors, Vicars and apologists of every kind will answer with puerile platitudes such as “God works in mysterious ways.”

  2. Hi One Sceptic, I think you are fretting too much! I didn’t assume anything. I presume you would agree that we cannot directly measure the actions of God?

    Yes, I have a level of moderation turned on. If it catches you sometimes or always, I don’t know why. It’s supposed to require moderation of newcomers, people who post lot’s of links or use certain “bad” words, etc. Sorry if it’s a pain, but WordPress is a great blogging platform which I can pretty much “set and forget”, and I don’t know what is happening here.

  3. Hi One Sceptic, I think you are fretting too much! I didn’t assume anything. I presume you would agree that we cannot directly measure the actions of God?

    I do not believe in gods so why would I agree upon anything regarding something you nor any other religious person is able to provide any verifiable evidence for?

    And based on the evidence put forward to date, all such claims can be summarily dismissed.

    As some one like like DeGrasse-Tyson notes: every such claim, be it recovery from illness, the efficacy of prayer or such like is merely just another god of the gaps argument.

  4. I think UnkleE didn’t intend to assume God exists, just that no divine actions are measurable, regardless of their existence. I’ve read and heard atheists make similarly phrased statements.

    However, we should not make evidence the standard for everything. It is crucial for science, but science itself presupposes non-empirical truths such as logic.

    Thus, it may be perfectly legitimate to believe in God without verifiable or falsifiable evidence.

  5. I think UnkleE didn’t intend to assume God exists,

    But he does assume it. Furthermore, he firmly believes it so why try to hide it or pretend it doesn’t influence every single aspect of his , and every other god believers world view?
    To suggest otherwise is plain daft.

    However, we should not make evidence the standard for everything. It is crucial for science, but science itself presupposes non-empirical truths such as logic.

    Until evidence to the contrary is presented what else is there?
    Besides , there is no logic to god belief as god has yet to be defined.

    Thus, it may be perfectly legitimate to believe in God without verifiable or falsifiable evidence.

    I wholeheartedly agree. One is allowed to believe whatever one likes. This is and should be an entrenched right.
    But it should not be taught as truth, or indoctrinated into children.

  6. @Ken akakcchief.
    Amazing!
    I thought the last few paragraphs of the article where Parnia describes near death experience very enlightening.
    It all leads to confirmation that the more we know the less we rely on religion for answers – any answers.

  7. Hi Ken, yes Parnia is an interesting guy, and I have referenced him before. But did you read the reference you posted? A couple of things stand out:

    1. The article says that CPR should be continued longer than the 20 minutes one study found was median, and said that continuing for half an hour was still useful in some patients. Dr George had almost 1.5 hours of CPR, so was way outside those examples.

    2. Dr Parnia cools his patients down significantly. There is no record of that happening to Dr George.

    3. Dr George’s recovery began immediately after he was prayed for. He was considered to be dead, nothing medically changed, the only change was that he was prayed for. Amazing coincidence?

    I understand you and One Sceptic don’t want to believe this story, and I don’t expect that you would. But there is surely enough here to at least give you both pause, wouldn’t you say? As the Parnia article says, it isn’t easy to define the time of death, and there is much that we don’t know, but events like the Sean George recovery don’t fit Parnia’s ideas either.

    Did you also know that Parnia has claimed that research on near death experiences seems to show the “mind is still there after the brain is dead”? All interesting!

  8. unkleE, I am not saying the story of Dr George is false. Am I skeptical ? Yes.

    3. Dr George’s recovery began immediately after he was prayed for. he was considered to be dead, nothing medically changed, the only change was that he was prayed for. Amazing coincidence?

    1000’s of people are prayed for as they die. The big question is why would God immediately heal Dr George and allow another 10,000 people to die ? The supposed miracle shouldn’t be the story here. The story is, the chances of God sparing your life as a result of prayer is as likely as winning the lottery.

    This should be troubling to you unkleE and all people of faith. And yet it doesn’t seem to be so.

    I will gladly grant you the miracle of Dr George but you also need to own the fact that your God cares no more about the 10’s of 1000’s of people who pray for a miracle than the Director of the Lottery cares whether you win .

  9. “The big question is why would God immediately heal Dr George and allow another 10,000 people to die ?”

    Hi Ken, that is indeed a big question, but I don’t see how it in any way reduces the challenge of this and many other apparent healing miracles. If a golfer had a round where he scored a birdie on every hole, would this achievement be lessened by the fact that he didn’t do it yesterday or the day before? If someone said you’d won the lottery, would you refuse it because you didn’t win it last week or the week before?

    In fact, if this healing wasn’t a relatively rare event, it would be even noticed, it would just be “normal”. I think there’s a danger of missing something worth knowing here.

    “This should be troubling to you unkleE and all people of faith. And yet it doesn’t seem to be so.”

    I wonder why you say it doesn’t seem to trouble me Ken? How could you possibly know what troubles me? As a matter of fact, I have had two brothers die of cancer, one at 55, the other at 68. I prayed for healing for both, and for the latter I prayed for healing every day for about 2 years. I was in tears when I heard that he was going off the chemo drug, and I knew then that he would die within a week (and he did).

    But both brothers were believers, and the second one (actually my older brother) and I discussed how he felt about God not healing him. His response was that he had had a good life, he was disappointed but he had no complaints.

    So I am quite aware that many people aren’t healed. I often ask God why. But none of that changes the fact that it seems that sometimes he does heal people, quite miraculously. The evidence is there, but not many people are willing to consider it. But it could be the best news anyone ever heard.

  10. If 1 in 10,000 prayer requests are met, God has far better odds than the lottery!

    And is this what you consider prayer is then? A lottery?
    If this deity exists then it seems to indicate he is of a very capricious disposition indeed.

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