Three items appear below:
1 Faith Cures K Straughen
2 Faith Healing – Reply to Straughen Anonymous
3 Reply to Anonymous K Straughen
(Investigator 62, 1998 September)
Some people would have us believe that disease can be supernaturally cured through prayer and faith in God. The question is does faith healing work, and if so, why? Many believers would probably say that such healings are miraculous in nature, and therefore beyond the realm of scientific inquiry.
However, this explanation is not a satisfactory one for the following reasons: Firstly, if we claim that an event is a miracle, what we are in fact saying is that no natural explanation can possibly account for the phenomena. However, by adopting this position we are automatically dismissing in advance alternative possibilities, one of which may be the only true explanation.
For example, the ancient Greeks thought that the goddess Demeter was responsible for vegetative fecundancy. However, we now know that the growth and reproduction of plants is of a non-miraculous nature, and this clearly demonstrates the folly of uncritically accepting supernatural explanations.
Secondly, the supernatural explanation is really no explanation at all, it is instead an admission of ignorance: The ancient Greeks were ignorant of modern biology, and therefore felt that it was necessary to make recourse to supernatural explanations in order to account for the growth of plants. Modern believers, in a similar manner, resort to the miraculous when their knowledge of science fails them.
In this article I shall address the following questions:
l. Does God exist and can It interact with the world; that is can It 'hear' and respond to prayer?
2. Is prayer faith healing an effective means of curing disease?
3. Are faith healing cures the result of natural or supernatural causes?
4. Can belief in faith healing prove harmful?
Fraud, Coincidence and Placebos
Faith healing ‘cures' fall into several categories. Firstly, there are the deliberate frauds such as those perpetrated by the televangelist Peter Popoff and the Reverend W. V. Grant, both of whom installed accomplices in their audience in order to produce "miraculous cures" and used the techniques of stage mentalists to obtain information from members of the audience, which was then passed off as a divine revelation.
Secondly, there are illnesses of a self limiting nature such as colds, backache etc. which even if left untreated will heal of their own accord.
Thirdly, there are also illnesses of a cyclical nature such as multiple sclerosis and even cancer where the sufferer can go into temporary remission. Claims of cures from faith healing can arise from the coincidence of such natural remissions.
And fourthly, there are psychosomatic illnesses and symptoms of organic disease that respond to the placebo effect, which is where a patient who firmly believes in the effectiveness of a treatment may be completely healed, or experience an improvement in their condition:"The placebo response obviously plays a major role in healing ... In fact, it helps explain a wide range of otherwise mysterious phenomena. At one end of the spectrum is voodoo death, in which a person's heart may go into an irreversible arrhythmia (abnormal rhythm of the heartbeat) at the sight of a harmless object he or she has been led to believe can kill. At the other end of the spectrum are the many instances of recovery that defy medical explanation." (R. M. Restak, M. D: The Mind, page 161).Anthropological research has revealed that some form of faith healing occurs in all cultures, and that it has a similar effect regardless of the supernatural being invoked:"There can be no doubt that the activities of a Christian healer and a Witoto shaman have a great deal in common and that their successes are due primarily to similar psychological states in their patients. All faith healers do well with bodily malfunctions having a psychogenic basis."The success or failure of faith healing appears to depend on two factors: firstly, the nature of the illness; and secondly, the psychological state of the patient. If the patient is suffering from a psychosomatic illness and has faith in the efficacy of the healing ritual, then the more likely they are to be cured. In view of these facts, it seems likely that we are dealing with a natural psychological phenomena, and in support of this conclusion I quote the following:
(J. Conrad: The Many Worlds of Man, page 206)."And despite their vast differences in method, the magic, the religious and the scientific approaches to human suffering have something else in common: their remedy is of an essentially psychological nature. The witch doctor practices psychotherapy using his charms and fetishes as the physical vehicles for his cure. The priestly healer achieves the same end through the believer's faith in his ministrations. The modern psychotherapist relies chiefly on his dynamic understanding - real or imaginary - of the patient's mental processes, and on their purposeful manipulation by purely psychological means."
(J. Ehrenwald, M. D.: From Medicine Man to Freud, page 17).
Although faith alone has, in some cases, been able to cure psychosomatic illnesses, it is ineffective against diseases of an organic nature. For example, in the mid-14th century an epidemic of bubonic plague (the Black Death) swept through Europe and devastated whole communities. The first onslaught occurred in 1348-50, with several recurrences in 1358-60, 1373-75; and sporadically from 1380 to 1400. The effects of the disease on the population was devastating:"No exact figures as to mortality are possible, but according to the most recent estimates the European population in the early l5th century had been reduced by 40% from what it had been in 1346." (Encyclopedia International, Vol. 3, page 48).This epidemic occurred at a time when religious faith was the norm rather than the exception. However, despite this fact the prayers of priests and laity alike failed to avert the horrendous death toll. By contrast, the plague would not have been as severe if modern hygiene and medicine had existed at the time.
Some people may regard faith healing as nothing more than a harmless superstition. Sadly, this is far from the truth as was demonstrated by "Guru Busters", a documentary screened by the ABC on the 1st April 1997.
Annually, about 20,000 people in India die from the effects of snakebite. Rather than seek proper medical attention, many victims seek cures from traditional healers, some of whom charge up to 3000 rupees for their services. This sum can amount to several months income for a rural family.
These healers do well not because of the effectiveness of their treatments (many people die at the hands of these quacks), but because 90% of India's snakes are not poisonous to humans. Therefore, many people who are bitten will recover even if no treatment is given.
In order to expose these healers, the Indian Rationalists challenged one particular healer to cure a dog of snakebite. I shall now summarize the event.
A dog was subjected to the bite of a cobra and then the faith healer commenced his healing ritual. This consisted of sprinkling the dog with water, followed by an attempt to chase out the "poisonous spirit" with a cloth, prayers, and mantras (Hindu devotional incantations).
Needless to say, the ritual failed and the dog died just as a person in the same situation would have. The situation in rural India is clearly tragic. Not only are people dying at the hands of quacks who take advantage of their magico-religious beliefs; many are also compounding their economic hardship by paying exorbitant fees for treatments that are not needed, and ineffective when they are.
Hopefully, the Rationalist's campaign against all forms of supernaturalism will save lives by encouraging people to seek proper medical attention.
Natural explanations aside, could faith healing have a supernatural basis? Many faith healers attribute their success to the intervention of some kind of supernatural being. The question is, do the gods of the world's religions exist and if so can they interact with the material world? I shall now address this question.
There are at least three arguments which attempt to prove the existence of God. They are as follows:
1. The Ontological argument (from the Greek word for "being" or "existence"). This argument attempts to prove that the existence of God can be deduced from the idea of God.
2. The Cosmological argument (from the Greek word for "world"). Here it is claimed that the existence of God can be inferred from the existence of the Cosmos.
3. The Teleological argument (from the Greek word for "end" or "purpose"). This argument claims that the existence of God can be inferred from the fact that the Cosmos displays order.
Do these arguments succeed? The consensus of opinion amongst philosophers who have studied this problem is that they do not. Lack of evidence for a thing's existence is, of course, no proof of its nonexistence. However, it does raise the question of why a being or beings who can interact with the world of nature and desire our worship would fail to provide adequate proof of their existence, or fail to ensure that their existence was self evident.
Apart from the failure of the arguments, there is still another major problem with the concept of supernatural beings – namely the fact that the very attributes ascribed to them by believers would prevent them from interacting with the material world.
According to many people, supernatural beings are spaceless and timeless entities composed (for want of a better word) of spirit, which is defined (?) as "that which is not matter". Firstly, there is a philosophical problem of how we can adequately define something by saying what is not, and still say something meaningful:"To suppose a spaceless, timeless, immaterial world is to suppose a world of which we can say nothing significant. Its attributes are all negations."Secondly, there is the problem of how something so divorced from the realm of nature can, without any material effectors, cause any changes to the state of a material body in a separate mode of existence.
(A. Robertson: Grounds for Disbelief in God, in the Rationalist Annual 1951, page 53).
In summary we can say that if supernatural beings exist, then as a consequence of their very nature, they would inhabit an extramundane dimension so vastly different from our own that there could be no point of contact between their realm and ours, and therefore no chance of interaction in either direction. Perhaps the failure of all attempts to prove God's existence is a sign that this is so.
l. It is unlikely that we could interact with supernatural beings (even if they exist), as we are separated from them by the gulf of their totally alien existence. Because of the nature of their being, they could no more hear our prayers than we on Earth could hear a cometary impact on the far side of Pluto.
2. The ineffectiveness of prayer has been demonstrated by the fact that it not only failed to avert the Black Death and other diseases in ages where religious faith, rather than scepticism was the dominant world view, but continues to do so in contemporary societies such as India where religious belief is still extremely strong.
3. The fact that the success of faith healing depends on altering the psychological state of a person suffering from a psychosomatic illness, leads to the conclusion that we are dealing with a natural rather than supernatural phenomena.
4. Belief in faith healing can prove harmful and even fatal when people place their trust in it rather than the proven treatments of modern medicine. In conclusion we can safely say that modern medicine is the only effective answer to the ills of the human race, and that faith healing is nothing more than a potentially dangerous delusion.
Conrad, J. The Many Worlds of Man, Macmillan & Co. Ltd., London, 1967
Ehrenwald, J. From Medicine Man to Freud, Dell Publishing Co. Inc., New York,1956.
Gordon, H. Extrasensory Deception, Macmillan of Canada, Canada, 1988
McMahon, F. B. & Resnick, S. B. Behind the Mask: Our Psychological World - Prentice Hall Inc., New Jersey, 1973
Randall, J. H. & Buchler, J. Philosophy: An Introduction, Barnes & Noble, New York, 1959
Restak, R. M. The Mind, Bantam Books, New York, 1988
Robertson, A. Grounds for Disbelief in God, in The Rationalist Annual 1951, Watts & Co., London, 1951
Encyclopedia International, Grolier Inc., New York, 1972
FAITH HEALING–REPLY TO STRAUGHEN
(Investigator 63, 1998 November)
Straughen in Faith Cures (Investigator No. 62) concluded: "we can safely say that modern medicine is the only effective answer to the ills of the human race, and that faith healing is nothing more than a potentially dangerous delusion."
Healings are reported from thousands of churches: "Go to any Pentecostal church and you'll get testimonies of healing." (Investigator 57 p. 25) Why didn't all those people get healed by doctors? If nothing extraordinary occurred then the medical profession should have performed the cures. Since they didn't it implies either extensive medical negligence going on – with legal implications – or healing from an unknown source.
An acquaintance spent years during childhood in institutions – often drugged into unconsciousness. The person was "mentally retarded", had "infantile schizophrenia" and epilepsy and was subject to wild tantrums. Later in life the person went to church, learned reading and writing using the Bible, approached an IQ of 70 and lives semi independently. To thank God the person is saving to pay for operations to cure 1,000 blind people. (Apparently costs for cataract operations in impoverished countries average $40.) Applied Bible truth contributes to "soundness of mind" and improved health – often to a degree beyond the contemporary powers of medical science! (Titus 1:7-9; 2:1-10. See: Investigator 57)
Straughen also concluded: "if supernatural beings exist…they would inhabit an extramundane dimension so vastly different from our own that there would be no point of contact between their realm and ours, and therefore no chance of interaction in either direction."
Science uncovers ever more phenomena – which previous generations didn't imagine exist – which interact with us. Electricity, cosmic rays, energy waves, subatomic particles – to name a few. We experience four dimensions – three of space and one of time – which, although different, effect each other. Mathematics and physics indicate other dimensions exist. If four have "points of contact" why not the others?
The Bible claims "all things are possible with God" and "nothing that they [humans] propose to do will now be impossible." (Genesis 11:6) We'll even be praising God in past eternity! (Jude 24-25) To explain discoveries in physics and astronomy some scientists even suggest, "All possible universes exist". (New Scientist 1998 June 6).
Straughen, therefore, is premature in ruling out interaction between different states of reality including different dimensions. What he says has "no chance" may become scientific truth of the future.
The Bible often seems wrong but – as shown in many Investigator articles – has a tendency to come up trumps when science catches up!
Anonymous – SA
REPLY TO ANONYMOUS
(Investigator 64, 1999 January)
Anonymous says "healings are reported from thousands of Churches... Why didn't all these people get healed by doctors?" (Inv. No. 63, page 6)
Firstly, the evidence presented is anecdotal in nature, and therefore proves nothing except that some people believe they have been supernaturally cured. Secondly, these people may have been healed naturally and attributed their cure to God – some may have been cured by purely psychological processes, and others by physiological processes.
Anonymous then goes on to say "Science uncovers ever more phenomena... We experience four dimensions... If four have points of contact why not others?" The problem is that the forces and dimensions Anonymous refers to are part of the continuum of nature and therefore can interact with each other, whereas God is traditionally held to be divorced from the Cosmos by virtue of Its incorporeal and timeless nature. Given that God is not in or part of the world, how can It effect the world?
When seeking to explain events, reason requires us to apply Occam's Razor – the least speculative theory that best fits the known facts is the one most likely to be true. At the present time there is no conclusive proof that supernatural forces exist and, given that this is so, the natural explanations for faith healing are more likely to be true than the supernatural alternatives.
[Note: Some of the above arguments of Mr Straughen and Anon got further analysis in the "Genesis of the Gods" debate in Investigator 73-74 and 76-80. – Ed.)
Many more debates by Kirk Straughen and Anonymous on this website: