Harry Edwards

(Investigator 133, 2010 July)

It's nigh impossible to engage in rational debate with a believer.

Some years ago I ran a debating society and as an atheist and a sceptic of all things paranormal took every opportunity to use it as a vehicle to promote my "anti" views. One such opportunity presented itself when the local newspaper featured an article on two young missionaries who had just returned from Africa. According to them, miracles in that country were an everyday occurrence and had come about through prayer.

I wasted no time in contacting them and asked if they would be interested in debating the proposition “Jesus Heals." They agreed.

There was one stipulation however, I insisted that they were not to rely on anecdotal evidence — I wanted a solid, indisputable, hard-core example of a miracle.

They assured me that this would be the case and evidence would be produced at the debate.

It was a record turnout, the hall was packed, and I could hardly contain myself. After all these years of debunking I was at last going to see irrefutable evidence of a miracle. I looked around the hall but could see no coloured gentlemen, no one dressed in safari suits and pith helmets or anything else that could be remotely associated with Africa.

The affirmative kicked off with a twenty-minute litany of anecdotal tales of illnesses, injuries and diseases they had heard of while in Africa, all of which they alleged were cured by simply praying to Jesus. My heart sank — no leopard-skin clad dancers, no rhythmic beat of tom toms, no witch doctor, not even the distant trumpeting of an elephant to set the scene. Where was the evidence of a miracle? Oh well, perhaps in the second half of the meeting.

Sadly disappointed, I began my rebuttal pointing out that in the absence of comprehensive medical records it was not possible to comment objectively on each individual case that had been mentioned. Generally speaking however, by categorising some as psychosomatic complaints and taking into account the body's natural predisposition to heal itself, this would provide explanations for many of the recoveries that had taken place — with or without prayer.

I explained that the body is well able in many cases to look after itself — blood clots prevent haemorrhaging, lesions self-heal, and the immune system protects the body against harmful invaders. Inexplicable remissions of cancer, while they still mystify science-based medicine practitioners do happen, but would have taken place anyhow.

Finally frustration got the upper hand and I demanded, "Where is the evidence of a miracle you promised?"

There was a hush. Then on a signal from one of the missionaries, a male Caucasian in his late twenties stood up at the back of the hall and began slowly walking towards the stage. His head was completely shaven, and he walked quite normally. There appeared to be nothing abnormal or unusual about him.

As he got closer he stretched out his arms either side of his shoulders. In each hand he held what appeared to be an X-ray film.

"I am the evidence" he said, and waving one of the X-rays continued, "this is an X-ray of a brain tumour in my head,” then waving the other, "and this is an X-ray of my head after I prayed to Jesus to remove the tumour."

He handed me the two X-ray films; one showed a dark spot on the right upper side of the skull, which I assumed to be a tumour. The image of the other skull was clear. No doubt about it, if the films were of his head then that was evidence that the brain tumour he once had was no longer evident.

I checked the name on the film and was assured by one of the missionaries that it was his. The reference numbers and dates on the X -ray plate confirmed that they were taken sequentially some time apart confirming their 'before' and 'after' status. I conceded them as evidence — but only of what he claimed in respect of the films — that they were his and of a brain tumour that had been removed. I then drew the audience’ attention to the highly visible surgical scar on his right temple and asked, "how do you account for the surgical scar on your temple which suggests that the tumour was removed by a neurosurgeon — not by praying to Jesus."

His reply? “Yes, that’s correct — but Jesus guided the surgeon’s hand!”

You can’t win folks! You just can’t win!