What would be strong evidence for God?
Some look outwards to the universe or inwards to ourselves, and argue that God is the most plausible explanation for the beginning and the design of the universe, or for human consciousness, freewill, rationality and ethical sense. Others point to Jesus, the man who was God, his miracles, claims and resurrection.
But I would guess that most people would like to have a personal revelation – God appearing to them or healing them in some irrefutably miraculous way.
And I can’t help feeling that Jackie Pullinger offers food for thought for these people.
The value and limits of experience
There are many examples of people claiming that God’s interaction with them led them to believe in him.
On this website I have documented some of them – people who believe God healed them miraculously (Healing stories) or appeared to them in a vision (Visions of Jesus?, A young Muslim intellectual changes course) or gave their lives new purpose (Conversion stories).
Non-believers tend to agree that this evidence, if it exists, is important. They often ask for such evidence and say they would convert if they saw an amputee grow a leg back after prayer or God wrote their name in the sky.
But there is a difficulty here, for what constitutes enough evidence? Some sceptics say, along with philosopher David Hume, that there is no miracle evidence strong enough to make God’s miraculous action more probable than some other natural explanation. Meaning that though they say they base their conclusions on evidence, there could never be enough evidence to convince them. Their scepticism has become unfalsifiable.
A lawyer friend used to say (in relation to a different matter) that a court of law would generally accept what a “reasonable person” would accept as evidence. So what would the average person, neither a christian nor an atheist, think was reasonable evidence of a miraculous healing?
Reasonable criteria for a plausible miracle
Everyone has different standards of evidence, but the following seem reasonable to me:
- The account comes from a reputable source which provides names and details, and there is no reason to believe the story is a fraud, or that anyone had anything to gain by inventing it.
- There was prayer for healing not long before the healing occurred.
- There is good evidence that the affliction was present before the prayer and had little possibility of natural recovery.
- The recovery was very significant, and not what might be expected from any treatment being received.
- Assessment is a matter of probabilities. If many apparent healings occur in the same way, the probability increases of them being genuine. The more remarkable and unusual the apparent healing, the less likely it was natural.
Jackie Pullinger and the drug addicts
I have written about Jackie Pullinger before. Briefly she travelled from UK to Hong Kong in the mid 1960s and tried to help the poor and afflicted in Kowloon’s notorious Walled City. This densely built precinct was a home for crime, prostitution, drugs, illegal gambling, vice and poverty, mostly controlled by Triad gangs.
Jackie found that many residents and Triads wanted to be freed from their addiction to heroin or opium, but despite literally dozens of attempts (in most cases), were unable to do so. The withdrawal pain, the hopelessness of life for many, and the social pressure, led them back again and again.
She began to tell them Jesus could heal them, taught them to pray, trusted God to give them a new language to pray to him and then heal them – in some cases immediately, in other cases through painless withdrawal. The success rate was very high. As time went on, healed addicts took on the praying for their friends, and helping run rehabilitation centres which prepared former addicts for a new life. Jackie formed St Stephen’s Society to run these programs.
Jackie’s work has been documented in books and video, and can be seen in the lives of thousands of addicts whose lives are now “clean”. The courts and the British Hong Kong government at the time recognised the value of her work – the courts would often refer addicts to he for last resort help, and the government gave he use of land and building for her rehab centre. She was awarded an MBE for her work.
A useful investigation of her work can be found on pages 99-105 of Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement by Donald E. Miller & Tetsunao Yamamori (University of California press, 2007).
So how do these healings meet my criteria?
1. Reputable account?
With thousands of addicts giving testimony in print and on film, with the recognition of the then government, and the summary by Miller and Yamamori, these accounts stand up to scrutiny. Many addicts definitely came off heroin and most never went back.
There seems no possibility of financial gain from her work (as Miller and Yamamori confirm) – Jackie mostly lived in poor surroundings in the old Walled City and there was no financial gain.
2. Prayer for healing?
Prayer and unconditional love are the basis of Jackie’s healing “method”. There was definitely prayer before and during all attempts at withdrawal.
3. Possibility of natural recovery?
About 80% of Jackie’s addicts were heroin users. Most heroin treatment programs involve treatment with alternative drugs, and even then somewhere between 40% & 80% of those completing a program later relapse. Some programs claim a much higher success rates – one claims a success rate of 92%, though I have been unable to verify this.
However the success rate of those going “cold turkey” is about 5%. Most programs try to manage the extreme discomfort of withdrawal using various medications.
We can conclude that natural (i.e. no medication) and painless withdrawal from heroin addiction hardly ever occurs, and certainly not in large numbers.
4. Significant recovery?
Jackie’s prayer treatment, in contrast, results in very little withdrawal pain together with a high success rate. I have been unable to find any figures, but the information available indicates that almost all who receive prayer eventually are freed from their addiction. Some addicts are released from addiction instantly, others “need at least five interventions before kicking the habit“, and most go though a process of withdrawal over a couple of weeks, with onsets of pain mostly negated through repeated prayer.
So it is fair to say that St Stephen’s Society has a higher success rate than medical treatments and the common occurrence of addicts experiencing painless withdrawal is unprecedented. But regardless of the success rate, there is significant recovery in a large number of cases.
It is impossible to estimate probabilities, but fair to say that:
- a large number (several thousands) have been treated and rehabilitated from long term addiction at St Stephen’s Society, and in a majority of cases the treatment is successful and withdrawal relatively painless;
- whatever the success rate, thousands have come off drugs remarkably after prayer, in a manner that could not have occurred naturally; and therefore
- this is strong evidence that God is at work in these healings.
What do you do with this evidence?
This evidence, like all evidence, can be resisted. But my lawyer friend’s reasonable person test surely must lead to the conclusion that Jackie’s work is strong evidence that God exists and cares.
I have told some of the stories of addicts being freed from their addictions in Addicts healed by prayer.
Photo from Jackie’s book, Crack in the Wall