Some Thoughts about Faith Healing

Includes a look at intercessory prayer, fraudulent spiritual advice, and Christian Science. A brief list of recommendations is also included. Article by Stephen Barrett, M.D. (Quackwatch)

The Power of Faith and Prayer?

“Part of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) movement is an attempt to insert spirituality into the philosophy and practice of medicine. Most energy healing modalities, for example, have spiritual underpinnings. At the same time there are many attempts to use science to validate the healing power of faith. This is also an issue that is very attractive to the media, who love articles and headlines about the power of prayer. In our culture – faith sells…The existing research does not support the conclusion that there is any efficacy to intercessory prayer. The research also does not allow for the conclusion that there are health benefits to faith or religion as specific variables. This latter question is open to further research, however. The scientific evidence can therefore not be used to support the intermingling of faith with the practice of medicine. In any case – doing so raises serious ethical and professional concerns. For example, such practices raise the potential of faith-based discrimination against both physicians and patients. Mixing of faith with medicine can also compromise the professional doctor-patient relationship. Even if one accepts that there is a health benefit to faith – such a benefit can be entirely realized through private means, without involving the medical profession.” Steven Novella MD, Science Based Medicine (3rd August 2011)

Nothing fails like prayer during faith healing

The man, perhaps in his late 30’s, had a speech problem as a result of an early accident. A later accident paralyzed him from the waist down. He was shown sitting in his wheelchair in the hallway of a faith healing venue, waiting for the third of the three days of healing, talking with difficulty to TV interviewer Lisa Ling. This was part of one of the saddest TV shows I have seen in a long time. It was a one-hour documentary on faith healing. The show concentrated on Todd Bentley, a faith healing minister with a bad past and a turned-around life…The show covering the last day of the healing was particularly telling. Two strong men struggled to get the paralyzed man out of his wheel chair and into the healing line for minister Bentley to do his magic…The minister did his thing…It was for naught. The last minutes of the last hour of the last day came and went. The crippled and speech-impaired man was back in his wheelchair, still crippled and speech-impaired…The Reverend Todd Bentley and other faith healers presumably went on to a new three day workshop and a new batch of gullible believers.” C. Boyd Pfeiffer, Religious Skepticism Examiner (24th July 2011)

How low can Oprah Winfrey go? Promoting faith healer John of God to the masses

John of God has been doing what he’s been doing for well over thirty years, and in that time he’s produced thousands of people who think they’ve been healed by him…John of God claims that he can channel energy from 30 different spirit doctors (and God) through himself and into patients in order to heal them…What allows John of God to persist in producing new believers includes a combination of things?  First, because he is tapping into strong religious belief, there is a lower than the already low bar to convince people of his powers. Second, no one has performed (or is likely to perform) a detailed study of people who have come to him for healing, complete with careful documentation of their pre-John of God condition and then a rigorous follow up of what happened to them after they sought healing from John of God. Finally, faith healers like John of God produce a “heads I win tails you lose” situation. If a patient isn’t healed, it’s not because John’s mystical powers failed. Oh, no! It’s because the patient didn’t believe enough or didn’t follow John’s instructions closely enough. John of God also tells people who come to him that they need to wait at least 40 days for healing, which, conveniently enough, is usually long after they have left Brazil. Come to think of it, the idea that, if quackery doesn’t work it’s the fault of the patient for “coming too late,” failing to follow the quack’s instructions closely enough, or not believing strongly enough isn’t unique to faith healing. As we’ve pointed out here many times before, it’s a frequent “out” used by purveyors of unscientific medical treatments of many varieties, which is why studying John of God and how his activities deceive is valuable for more than just uncovering how faith healers do what they do. It’s also useful for considering how “alternative medicine” can appear to work despite no evidence. It’s also useful to consider how the media take advantage of all these aspects of faith healing to weave a compelling story that is ultimately misleading. Unfortunately, Oprah is very, very good at this and utterly shameless when it comes to unscientific remedies.” David Gorski, MD, Science Based Medicine (22nd November 2010)

Why people believe ‘faith healer’ Peter Popoff

"Twenty-five years after James Randi exposed Peter Popoff as a liar, the disgraced televangelist is back. He's now making tens of millions of dollars peddling a supernatural debt-relief scam, according to ABC 7 News in Los Angeles. How is that possible?,,,The reason people believe Popoff isn’t really that they’re gullible people who believe anything. The same people giving money to Popoff may be very skeptical when it comes to the person their daughter is dating, or someone trying to sell them a car. What makes people prone to believe Popoff isn’t some kind of inbuilt credulity. It’s desperation…The idea of Peter Popoff’s supernatural debt reduction scam, for anyone who is not pinned under a crushing boulder of debt, is sheer lunacy on its face. But for someone who has lost their job, their health insurance, and their life savings to a serious illness, and who is just weeks away from homelessness, Popoff is the only person offering a solution…Popoff’s scheme also costs money. But if that $100 won’t keep a roof over your head for another month, what good is it doing you? If putting everything you can toward your debt wouldn’t even cover the interest, using a little bit to buy a glimmer of hope doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. And once you’ve given a little, Popoff asks for just a little more, knowing that most people will want to honor sunk costs and keep that hope alive.” James Randi Educational Foundation

Faith healing in Oregon: A picture worth a thousand words

“Another couple from the Followers of Christ church in Oregon City stand accused of criminal mistreatment for deliberately withholding medical care from their child. Timothy and Rebecca Wyland of Beavercreek believe in treating sickness with prayer rather than medicine, even when prayer doesn’t work.” Darren Brown blog (26th July 2010)

Thoughts on faith healing

“A person is called up on stage, ‘healed’, and sent away. This happens in succession as a large audience observes, claps, and cheers. It appears to work. A woman may cast away her pills or a man may remove his leg braces and jump up and down. But when the "healed" are interviewed days later, it's obvious that their healing either was either taken away or temporary. How is this accounted for? Well, it's a problem of faith. Everyone saw the healing work, so if it's missing now, the healed person must not have had enough faith to be worthy of such a gift. Shame on them, and no, the donation is not refundable. The person once hopeful for a miraculous cure is reduced to even lower depths with injured pride and wallet added to their existing burden. Sometimes cheap parlor tricks are employed, such as the ‘leg growing’ trick, or plants in the audience who leap up from wheel chairs that were provided to them that day by the ministry. Having never needed wheel chairs before, they failed to bring their own… Ben Franklin said: "There are no greater liars in the world than quacks — except for their patients." The fooled will make fools of others by spreading the false truth they believe. The faith healers know this, and depend upon it.” Jeff Wagg, James Randi Educational Foundation (17th June 2010)

Stage Tricks Of TV Faith Healers Revealed

“TV Faith healers such as Benny Hinn and others perform what appear to look like awesome miracles of God before an audience of thousands of faithful in auditoriums. But, like any stage magic show, many of these stunts are simply clever illusions or show business type tricks.” WizBangPop Blog (April 13, 2010)

Faith healing exposes the danger of prayer

“One of my favorite quotes is that ‘Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer’. This is especially true when, by forsaking work, those hands clasped in prayer allow their children to suffer and die. This is neglectful homicide, and we should all work to ensure that religious exemptions come off the books.” The Skeptical Student (6th March 2010)

Faith Healing

“Faith healing is based on belief and is about as far as you can get from science-based medicine, but it is not exempt from science. If it really worked, science would be able to document its cures and would be the only reliable way to validate its effectiveness…When faith healings have been diligently investigated by qualified doctors, they have found no evidence that the patients were actually helped in any objective sense. Even at Lourdes, the Catholic Church has only recognized 4 cures since 1978, out of 5 million people who seek healing there every year…There simply is no evidence that faith healing heals. Not what science considers evidence. And the true believers don’t value evidence or the scientific method: for them, belief is enough…Faith healers run the gamut from cynical con artists to well-intentioned but self-deluded true believers, with some in the middle who know they are cheating but whose exposure to grateful patients allows them to convince themselves there is something happening beyond the con. ‘Healing’ may not mean objective cure of physical disease; it may mean a subjective feeling of wellbeing or a coming to terms with a disease. Faith healing can comfort, but it can also cause suffering if patients believe a failure to heal was their fault due to insufficient faith. It can be deadly when patients are led to believe they don’t need conventional medical treatment." Harriet Hall MD, Science Based Medicine (26th January 2010)

Investigation of a ‘psychic faith healer’

Three videos taking a close look at British “psychic” and “healer”, Adrian Pengelly, whi claims he can cure cancer with his bare hands and expel ghosts from haunted houses. Skepchick (27th September 2009)

Religion Battles Medicine in Kenya

“Achieng is a five-year-old girl who has for the past two weeks been lying in bed suffering from malaria. Her parents and other relatives don’t believe in modern medicine, saying that it opens doors for evil. Achieng’s condition gets worse and she slips into unconsciousness. Instead of her parents rushing her to hospital, they kneel beside her and pray. By the time they figure out that God also works through people (read doctors), it is a tad too late. Achieng dies.” Project Reason (22nd September 2010)

Effectiveness of distant healing for patients with chronic fatigue syndrome: a randomised controlled partially blinded trial (EUHEALS)

CONCLUSIONS: In patients with CFS, distant healing appears to have no statistically significant effect on mental and physical health but the expectation of improvement did improve outcome. Walach H, Bosch H, Lewith G, Naumann J, Schwarzer B, Falk S, Kohls N, Haraldsson E, Wiesendanger H, Nordmann A, Tomasson H, Prescott P, Bucher HC, Psychother Psychosom. (February 2008)

Faith' Can Seriously Damage Your Health

Transcript of a talk given by Sue Mayer to the South Place Ethical Society, London, on 9th April 9th 2006. It looks at faith in relation to physical health and superstitious beliefs, mental health, and alternative therapies.

Does Faith Affect Health?

"To call the role of praying in healing 'controversial' in the scientific community it to give it far too much credit. There is little if any scientific evidence that the prayers themselves are making a difference." Article by Rebecca Goldin PhD, STATS (27th March 2006)

Running on faith

"The placebo effect on which healing relies is one which most other medical treatments generate as well — so we don't need an ineffective therapy in order to profit from this effect….If we allow mystical conjecture to infiltrate our thinking, we are in danger of abandoning rationality in favour of superstition. It is easy to see how this could rebound on us." Edzard Ernst, The Guardian (15th February 2005)

Actor more successful than a 'real' faith healer

The second episode of the 2005 BBC2 'Alternative Medicine: The Evidence' series highlighted a study in which an actor pretended to be a faith healer. The study was conducted by Dr Jennifer Cleland of the University of Aberdeen. It set out to discover how much of the healing effect came from the interaction with the healer rather than any 'subtle energy' the healer might be sending the patient. In order to imitate the healer the actor was of a similar age and appearance and for the purpose of the study both the actor and the healer wore similar clothes both were called 'Fred' both used the same music and both said and did the same things. Both men worked with chronic asthma sufferers who hadn't had much improvement with conventional treatments. All the patients improved and there was no statistical difference between the groups, although there was a slight tendency for the actor's patients to improve more.

Inherent Dangers of Faith-Healing Studies

"It is often claimed that faith healing may not work but at least does no harm. However, as will be demonstrated in this article, reliance on faith healing can indirectly cause serious harm and even death." Bruce L. Flamm, MD, The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine (Fall/Winter 2004-05)

Distant healing — an update of a systematic review

Concludes "Since the publication of our previous systematic review in 2000, several rigorous new studies have emerged. Collectively, they shift the weight of the evidence against the notion that distant healing is more than a placebo." E. Ernst, Wien Klin Wochenschr (2003)

Child Fatalities From Religion-motivated Medical Neglect

"When faith healing is used to the exclusion of medical treatment, the number of preventable child fatalities and the associated suffering are substantial and warrant public concern. Existing laws may be inadequate to protect children from this form of medical neglect." Pediatrics (4th April 1998)

Should Religion and Spiritual Concerns Be More Influential in American Healthcare? No

"How can healthcare practitioners actively support their patients' diverse religious beliefs and practices without hypocrisy; without offending patients who do not subscribe to certain of such beliefs; and without offending atheists, agnostics, and religious nonaffiliates, who together constitute a significant proportion of the American population?… In no interfaith, nondenominational, or multicultural healthcare setting can a medical professional exhibit an appeal to Allah without diminishing non-Islamic mainstream religious principles. It is likewise impossible to pray conspicuously to the Virgin Mary or to Roman Catholic saints without encroaching on Protestant beliefs. Many Christians regard even spiritual practices that are neo-Christian, nondenominational, and/or eclectic—particularly those associated with the New Age movement—as harmful, if not devil-inspired." Article by Timothy N. Gorski, M.D. (American Council on Science and Health)

Faith Healing

Includes Christian faith healing, the proposed sociobiological basis for faith healing, criticism, and ethical issues posed when conventional treatment is refused. (Wikipedia)


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