Faith healing

14 Jul

An old college acquaintance of mine recently announced that a friend of hers had been cured of cancer for the fifth time. While I wholeheartedly agree that this is wonderful and amazing news, I disagree that it was her friend’s faith in Jesus that cured her.

Now I do not have all the facts about the event, but this is what I can gather from my friend’s facebook note:

  • The woman in question has had cancer four times in the past
  • The cancer she just recovered from was somehow different from her previous cancers
  • The doctors and the woman in question disagreed on how to treat the cancer
  • The woman decided to try praying for a cure
  • Four hours after being declared “healed” by fellow religious members, the doctors reported her cancer had stopped growing

The note does not mention what type of cancer she had, what her previous cancers had been, whether the cancer was malignant or benign, and what time the tests were done that told the doctors the cancer had stopped growing.

Firstly, the note only mentions that the cancer stopped growing. While this is great, it is not the same thing as “healed”. “Healed” would be if the cancer was gone entirely. Secondly, it would be nice to know what time the tests were conducted, and how long it took for the results to come back. If, for example, the tests were done at 10 am, she was declared “healed” at 12, and the results came back at 4 pm, the cancer had stopped growing at least 2 hours before the “healing” took place.

Thirdly, did the woman in question attribute her four previous recoveries to faith healing? If so, why does she keep getting cancer? One would assume it only takes god once to get the job done. Also, is it possible that her previous experiences with cancer left her body better prepared to fight a new cancer?

I would also like to know how this fifth cancer was different. Was it weaker than her previous four cancers or stronger? Is this rare cancer usually fatal or does it have a history of getting better on its own?

Most importantly, can the doctors explain why she got better? (The note makes no mention of this) Let’s assume that the doctors can’t explain why the cancer stopped growing. The fact that it can’t be explained in no way supports the claim that supernatural powers are at work. The unexplained is just that, unexplained. To claim that because you can’t explain something, supernatural powers are at work is actually a contradiction. You are saying “I can’t explain something, therefore I can explain it.”

When you label and event supernatural simply because it has no explanation that is obvious to you, you’ll inevitably misinterpret evidence, make invalid causal connections, and eliminate whole realms of alternative explanations before it is even clear what explanations might be appropriate.

It is important to note that similar claims of faith healing have been made by adherents of a variety of different mutually exclusive religions throughout history. The fact that the patient’s cancer stopped growing is no more evidence that Jesus healed her than an ancient Egyptian’s claim that Ra healed him.

When judging the effectiveness of something, it is important to record the “misses” as much as the “hits.” Well meaning people often make the mistake of only paying attention to the data that supports their preconceived notions.

According to the National Cancer Institute, it is estimated that 1,479,350 men and women (766,130 men and 713,220 women) will be diagnosed with and 562,340 men and women will die of cancer of all sites in 2009.

According to the Barna Group, which has been measuring the size of the evangelical public since 1994, 38% of the US population describes themselves as “evangelical christians”.

For the sake of the argument, if we overlay the 38% over the 1,479,350 we come out with 562,153. That is roughly the number of evangelical christians who will get cancer.  Of that 562,153, around 213,689 will die. That’s approximately a 40% failure rate.

In 2006 the Templeton Foundation, a religious organization that aims to affirm faith through science, published the report of a decade long experiment aimed at studying the effectiveness of prayer when it comes to healing the sick. Unfortunately for the Templeton Foundation, the study found that prayers had no effect. In fact, just the opposite:

“patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested.”

One last thing to consider. The note my friend published did not mention the age of the woman in question. I’m assuming she is around the same age of my friend, and thus over 18. “Faith healing” can have a very dark side, especially if the person undergoing the “healing” is of an age where they cannot make rational adult decisions about their health.

“Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty” (CHILD) is a children’s advocacy group that monitors the religious based medical neglect and abuse of children in the United States.

For the years 1975-1995, CHILD documented 172 instances of children in the U.S. dying from treatable illnesses after their parents rejected standard medical care and relied solely on religion. CHILD’s president, Rita Swan, says the actual number is far higher.

The courts have consistently ruled that parents do not have a constitutional right to harm children. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects religious freedom, but does not confer a right to abuse or neglect children. The leading case is Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944), in which the U. S. Supreme Court ruled, “The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or child to communicable disease, or the latter to ill health or death. . . . Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.”

Nevertheless, state and federal governments have created many religious exemptions allowing parents to withhold some medical care from children, almost entirely because of Christian Science lobbying.

4 Responses to “Faith healing”

  1. godlesspaladin July 14, 2009 at 1:42 pm #

    FYI, This is what she said to me in response:

    The cancer diagnosis was not discovered until this time that Granulosa is a reoccurring type of cancer about 2,000 americans have this rare and malignant type of cancer. Of those 2,000 reported cases there is no given radiation or therapy to correct or fix this type of cancer. When it grows inside of oneself it tends to be in more than one place. When my aunt age 44 has had this cancer four times previous in eight different spots all they could do is remove what they could.
    When in faith it takes a step of risk. To hope that the cancer is gone is to say like the rest of the hypocrites “in God’s time” but there is no sickness, deadly disease, or cancer in the Kingdom of Heaven. To know that with one’s heart instead of one’s mind creates the separation between intellects and wisdom. To walk in faith and say Jesus Christ died on the cross for me and He bore my infirmities, and I know that I know that I know there is nothing satan can do to keep me from praising my God. This stagnant cancer/water inside of me must be removed and I rebuke it now in Jesus name. I am healed! THAT takes a step of faith and to live one’s life differently due to this, is a wonder in itself. Mainly because the self-proclaimed Christians that are pew warmers do not have the type of faith nor passion for Jesus Christ that it takes for His glory to be manifested inside of them.

    Her first four cancers were removed by the doctor, not by her faith alone. Because I have the faith that it takes to bring more of Heaven to earth than is already here, I declared it through Jesus Christ her infirmities are gone, and she received news from the doctors later that it had stopped growth. Now, because it was not gone “instantaneously”(as you say), it does take faith to believe such things and because she now has the faith herself it is completely gone. I am not here to discredit the doctors but I am here to credit God, because a miracle took place in Waynesboro, VA yesterday and because of that she needs no more physicians because God is the ultimate physician that gives some of his wisdom to earthly doctors that you give credit to.

    AND DO NOT DECLARE ME RELIGIOUS!!! Religion was created by man’s emotions and not by true doctrine (AKA THE BIBLE). Many people try to have their own denomination but the reason the world is where it is, is credited directly to division and failure to listen to God. I “walkby faith and not by sight” 2 Cor. 5:7 That which the world tells me exists and to put faith in, I DO NOT I live purely by the Word of God. Because He has made me whole!

  2. godlesspaladin July 14, 2009 at 1:43 pm #

    To which I replied:

    I could still point out that you have no more evidence that Jesus healed her than you do Ra, Thor, or Vishnu heals people, but I don’t think I would get anywhere with you on that. I could also point out the number of people “god” condemns to die painful deaths each day. For example, over 30,000 innocent children die every day of starvation, why should god ignore their pleas regularly but stop to intervene on your friend’s behalf? But whatever, the regardless of not if a supernatural being came down and cured your friend, the important thing is that she is better, and for that I am glad.

    I see you got married. 🙂 Congrats! (It’s odd, a LOT of people I know now are married) But yeah, how have you been?

  3. godlesspaladin July 14, 2009 at 1:43 pm #

    And she countered:

    The reason many children are dying everyday is because you and I fail to give food and to believe that the curse was removed with Jesus’ death on the cross. There is no such Ra, Thor, or Vishnu. The Bible clearly dictates that there is no other God. It also says that people will put their faith in false idols (ra, thor, vishnu). Genesis 8:21-see Christianity play out in human history due to their lack of offering and submission to God. And the reason God does not physically manifest their lands is related to their belief in false idols and those that stand for abominations unto themselves. Gen.2.

    Any more questions ask, i can help you with these all!!!

    Thanks! Married life is much better than anyone ever thought. I am pursuing God with everything that He has given me. I am doing great, I have seen many miracles take place in my presence, if you want to hear testimony just ask!!!
    I’ve got about 2.5 semesters left and going to JMU next spring and going into Phi Alpha Theta. You?

    And what is your evidence that Jesus does not heal these people? It takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a Christian- because the Bible is historically 98% accurate- more accurate than the translated Iliad! You give me those statistics written and ‘proven’ by man, but I can guarentee you 100% that the Rhema of God(words of power of God*translated- Bible) is fully influenced by God and God’s Spirit- not man (which fell in Eden) and allowed satan to influence him.

  4. godlesspaladin July 14, 2009 at 1:43 pm #

    And I counter countered :-p

    It’s more complicated than just simply “not giving food”. Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. They are incapable of growing the food for a large variety of reasons, political, weather, etc. This problem isn’t going to magically go away if everybody started worshiping a certain deity. Two hands working do more to make a difference than a million hands clasped in prayer.

    Also, how do you know there are no other gods but yours? “Well the bible tells me so” Well how do you know the bible is correct? “Because it was inspired by god” Well how do you know the bible was inspired by god? “Because the bible says so.” Well how do you know the bible is correct? “Because it was inspired by god.” How do you know that? “Because the bible says so!” (That’s circular reasoning)

    Also, the bible is not 98% historically accurate. I’d like to see your sources on that one. Plus, all the “prophecies” that the bible “predicts” and supposedly come true all happen after the bible predicted them correct? Then is it not reasonable that the people involved in those prophecies knew about the predictions? Ever hear of self-fulfilling prophecies?

    Also, did you know there are more inconsistencies in the historical documents that make up the New Testament than there are words in the New Testament? Here is a guy I think you will really find fascinating, and no, he’s not an Atheist. He is the head of the religious studies department at UNC. He went to extremely christian schools (more fundamentalist that Liberty U.) and there he spent decades learning how to read the bible in it’s original languages, before it was translated. What he finds is really really cool:

    Also, it doesn’t take a lot of faith to be an Atheist. :-p You are just as at risk as I am. I know you feel very very strongly about your god, and just how right you are, but the cold fact is there are billions of other people out there that feel exactly as you do, but about different gods. Not all of you can be right at the same time, and you all have exactly the same “evidence”, merely the strength of your convictions. You’re an Atheist when it comes to 99% of gods, I just go one further. Check this funny vid out, it’s only 120 seconds long

    See what I mean?

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