Miraculous healings and God

October 16th, 2011

It is not uncommon to hear about someone who says they have been miraculously healed by God. We may also look at some ‘faith healers’ and find it easier to believe they are charlatans. Do healing miracles happen? Is there any good evidence for healing miracles? How do we explain them?

Do healing miracles happen?

There are three things we can say straightaway.

  • Many of the stories are undoubtedly urban myths, pious mistakes, or perhaps even frauds. I can’t imagine even the most ardent believer concluding that all the stories are true miracles.
  • No-one can possibly have examined all the evidence, so no-one can say, on the basis of the evidence, that all of the stories are untrue.
  • Anyone who has experienced or observed divine healing is likely to be convinced.

So what is the evidence?

Is there any good evidence for healing miracles?

Evidence for healing miracles should surely have most of the following characteristics:

  • The account comes from a reputable source.
  • Names, time and place are provided.
  • There is medical evidence or a competent doctor has witnessed the healing.
  • The healing is sufficiently unusual to be unlikely to have occurred by natural means.
  • There is no reason to believe the story is a fraud.

On this basis, there is good evidence for the following healing miracles:

  • A man suffered a massive heart attack and was pronounced dead in the emergency room. But after the heart surgeon laid hands on him and prayed for healing, the man was revived.
  • A medical researcher and doctor investigated ten apparent healings which occurred after people were prayed for. He found that all ten cases were cures well beyond what could be expected to have occurred naturally.
  • Pilgrims flock to Lourdes seeking healing. Thousands of these cases have been documented, and 68 cases have sufficient medical evidence to allow an international Medical Commission to verify the miracle.
  • The World Christian Doctors Network has documented many cases of apparent healing miracles, with supporting evidence.

How do we explain them?

There seem to be only two possible reasonable explanations for such well-attested events:

  1. A person prayed and God answered and healed them.
  2. There was a coincidental spontaneous remission. These happen naturally from time to time, but we tend to remember if they occur after prayer.

Evidence and prior presuppositions

Which explanation we choose will likely depend on our presuppositions. If we believe it isn’t possible that God exists, then we are forced to adopt the second hypothesis. If we believe God does exist, we are free to adopt either conclusion in any particular case.

Basing our conclusions on both evidence and presuppositions is a rational process, which is formalised in Bayesian statistics. But according to Bayesian statistics, this evidence for miracles must increase the probability of God’s existence, even for a sceptic. I think these well-attested miracle claims are useful cumulative evidence that God exists.

And it is important to note that sceptics have decided this matter, not on the evidence, but on their presuppositions.

Read more about Healing miracles and God, and about Bayesian statistics.

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