A Look at the Medical & Empirical Evidence for Miracle Healing.

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The World Christian Doctors Network, Spain, 2016.

In order to provide some context for this article, please keep in mind that this is a small excerpt from my thesis project. The general response is to Hume who once argued that miracles go against human experience, as well as to make the positive case for the miraculous.

We shouldn’t look past doctors themselves, since it is they who are, far more often than others, so involved in the process of diagnosing illnesses, prescribing treatments and witnessing survival or death. Perhaps they have a thing or two to say about inexplicable cases of healing? In fact, they do. We shall refer to several lines of evidence (also note that this is not intended to be exhaustive).

One study proved quite informative concerning the relationship between religious practices such as prayer, personal beliefs, as well as testimony of miracles, and medical professionals (1). According to a national survey of 1100 physicians, conducted by HCD Research and the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies of The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, it was found that 74% of doctors believe that miracles have occurred in the past and 73% believe that they can occur today. The poll also indicated that American physicians are surprisingly religious and/or favourable towards religion, with 72% indicating they believe that religion provides a reliable and necessary guide to life. Dr. Alan Mittleman, Director of The Finkelstein Institute, explains that from this research “The picture that emerges is one where doctors, although presumably more highly educated than their average patient, are not necessarily more secular or radically different in religious outlook than the public.”

Perhaps the most surprising result of the survey, at least for the purposes of this project, is that a majority of doctors (55%) said that they have seen treatment results in their patients that they would consider miraculous (45% do not). Thus, of the 1100 physicians examined, 605 claimed to have witnessed a medical miracle. It was also found that most physicians prayed for their patients as a group (51%). Even more (59%) pray for individual patients.

Moreover, a large number of Christian doctors, of the World Christian Doctors Network (WCDN), have presented what they consider to be good evidence for miracles (2). The 13th edition of the WCDN, hosted in Spain this year, included doctors from roughly 30 different countries. The event tagline read, “Medical Doctors Confirm Divine Healing Cases with Medical Evidence.” South Korean doctor Joonha Hwang captures the general idea of the conference, “We have uncovered many testimonies of how the power of God has healed patients and when doctors hear this kind of news, they become curious. They want to know if it’s true or just a story that someone has made up. So that is why we put on these ‘Spirituality and Medicine’ conferences each year and then present medical data before and after the patient got prayed for. As far as I know, we at WCDN are the only Christian medical organization that invites doctors to come and hear from other doctors and are then able to openly discuss the evidence of divine healing.”

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WCDN, 2016.

Over the years the miracles presented at the conference have been, though are not limited to, healings from many types of cancers, heart diseases and failures, deafness, blindness, internal problems (bowels, livers, gallbladder stones, femur fractures etc.), sicknesses (ebola, pneumonia, tuberculosis), bipolar, down syndrome, infections (urinary), sarcoma, spinal cord injuries and tumours, brain trauma, skull and spine fractures, neck injuries, broken bones, and others. The medical evidence, documentation, and the finer details have been archived at the WCDN website, and thus can be reviewed (3).

Then there is Lourdes. Lourdes is a village in southern France that boasts a famous shrine of which sick pilgrims visit in hope for divine healing. Today Lourdes is now recognized as the Church’s center for investigating miracle healings received in Mary and/or Jesus’ name. Likewise medical professionals from around the world are invited to investigate the evidence for the reported healings.

In order to make sure the claims of miracle cures are examined properly and to protect the town from fraudulent claims of miracles, the Lourdes Medical Bureau was established at the urging of Pope Saint Pius X. The Bureau is completely under medical supervision, and any doctors practicing in or visiting Lourdes may apply to become members. Irish doctor Michael Moran, a member of the Bureau panel, explains that they are “very much a scientific committee so we are not the people who can say the word miracle – that’s something for the church to comment on” (4). Moran continues, “The committee is really convened as a group of professional people who sit with the best medical evidence and can even request more medical evidence to substantiate what has been claimed by the person.” Doctors of any religious affiliation or none are also welcome to become members.

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Dr. Alessandro of the Lourdes Medical Bureau.

Remarkably, the Bureau has managed to empirically verify quite a few of the alleged healings. For instance, some 7000 people have submitted their case to have it confirmed as a miracle, of which 69 have been declared a scientifically inexplicable miracle by both the Bureau and the Catholic Church. The Church has vigorously investigated and validated all 69 of them (5) (6). At first glance this may seem like a few and that it is hardly worth writing home about. However, this is not the case for several reasons. Firstly, the Church itself ought to be commended in its refusal to use miracles as propaganda or the basis for false claims (like many faith healers, for example). Instead, they have medically and scientifically examined the cases and disqualified many of them that don’t pass the vetting process. However, some clearly do. The requirements are so strict that only a few are accepted, and this is also not to say that those that didn’t meet the requirements weren’t themselves miracles (maybe, for example, Sam witnessed life returning to his paralysed legs but is unable to supply medical documentation to the Bureau as proof, and so on). In fact, the Bureau declared roughly 2500 of the 7000 cases as being truly remarkable but these 2500 lacked some requirement needed to allow them to advance to the next stage of the confirmation process (7). The confirmation process is strictly scientific, and thus for a claim to be recognized as a miracle it has to pass the following:

  • the illness and cure was well documented,
  • the illness was serious and was unable to be effectively treated,
  • the symptoms disappeared within hours, and
  • the healing lasted for sufficient time to ensure the ‘cure’ was not just a temporary remission (e.g. in the case of leukemia, 10 years is required).

Most of the claims, some very remarkable in of themselves, are unable to meet all these strict requirements although 69 of them have. Of these 69 the illnesses healed include tubercular meningitis, stomach and liver cancer, tubercular peritonitis, cancer of the uterus, a malignant tumour of the hip, a herniated disc, multiple tuberculous lesions, and others (8). Dr. Moran explains that these 69 are “the ones that we have absolutely certain medical evidence and we can stand over.”

For this project we aren’t interested in the implications and questions concerning biblical theology. So, the differing views between Protestants and Catholics, and how such views relate to the miraculous at Lourdes, do not prove to be relevant for our purposes. But what is very pertinent is that we have a host of empirically verified miracles that have passed an incredibly rigid vetting process. We thus have medical, scientific, proof of the reality of miracles. Alternatively, it will certainly prove to be the case that skeptics of the supernatural will simply dismiss this evidence, claim that the evidence is not good enough, or just dismiss them as stories. However, we hardly have to concern ourselves of these denials since the scientific, medical evidence speaks proudly and confidently for itself.

Moreover, it is no secret that other doctors have come forward to share their testimonies of what they claim were miracles, and have documented their experiences in books. One can for himself determine the merits of their testimonies (9).

In short, I think it’s warranted to conclude that medical science says yes to miracles.

References.

1. Business Wire. 2004. Science or Miracle?; Holiday Season Survey Reveals Physicians’ Views of Faith, Prayer and Miracles. Available.

2. Coleman, R. 2011. Christian Doctors Testify of Modern-Day Miracles. Available.

3. WCDN. Divine Healing. Available.

4. Ferguson, S. 2014. Dr Michael Moran evaluates Lourdes miracles reports. Available.

5. CNA. Lourdes shrine officially records 69th miracle. Available.

6. The 69th Miracle of Lourdes. Available.

7. Marian Library Newsletter. Available.

8. The Miracle Hunter. List of Approved Lourdes Miracles. Available.

9. Casdorph, D. 1976. The Miracles: A Medical Doctor Says Yes to Miracles!; Rotbart, H. 2016. Miracles We Have Seen: America’s Leading Physicians Share Stories They Can’t Forget; Duffin, J. 2008. Medical Miracles: Doctors, Saints, and Healing in the Modern World; Hamilton, A. 2009. The Scalpel and the Soul: Encounters with Surgery, the Supernatural, and the Healing Power of Hope.

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5 responses to “A Look at the Medical & Empirical Evidence for Miracle Healing.

  1. One of the reasons I like this blog is the frequent focus on miracles, but specifically just the question of their validity by empirical evidence. How it should be done.

    It sounds like you are in the process of writing this project, what i would be interested in would be a post that focuses on one of the best examples of a miracle, which ‘certain medical evidence’ and then explaining why there is no reasonable natural explanation. As these are all medical in nature, what about the reply that we simply dont know enough about the body? There is no *current* scientific explanation?

    Keep up the good work

  2. Miracles have interested me since I was a little kid. I’ve attended literally hundreds of hours of faith-healing meetings. Kathryn Kuhlman and Oral Roberts were evangelical icons of my era.

    I’m glad that you know about the Congregation for the Causes of Saints; most non-Catholics don’t. Their confirmation process is sort of my gold-standard for evidence of miracles (although the slightly stricter version).

    Interesting article.

  3. These are Pope Benedict XIV’s criteria for miracles as I learned them (from a Catholic priest and his Latin copy of De Canonizatione):

    1. The cure must have occurred as a result of intercessory prayer.
    2. The disease must have been terminal.
    3. No medication or treatment was provided which could have healed the disease.
    4. The healing must have been instantaneous.
    5. the healing must have been complete.
    6. There must be no relapse, and the patient must die of a cause other than the disease.

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