Medical miracles

Sweitzer, Dennis (
Fri, 12 Apr 96 08:12:00 EST

Dennis responded to Scott
>This is not to question the value of any healing. But seeking objective
>evidence can be tricky. Ideally, one would need to match a list of
>on medical criteria, and from each matched pair, randomly assign only one
>be prayed for. This should be done without the knowledge of the physician
>or patient. At the end of the study, compare the medical records for the
>two groups and see if the healing rate is any different. This will
>compensate for spontaneous cures as well (frequently, people get better
>without any intervention).
>Now, if we do a clinical trial as I've described, can we expect God to
>cooperate with our plans? He may not heal anyone in the study, or heal
>equal proportions in both groups--just to confound the researchers, and to
>hide his presence.
>Someone responded the accusation that miracles were just coincidences:
> "When I pray, coincidences happen. When I don't pray, coincidences don't
>happen." Indeed, to a large degree, answered prayer often seems
>indistinguishable from coincidence.

Readers Digest (March 1996) just had an article "Does Prayer Heal?". One
particular study followed the above clinical trial outline. It was
published in 1988. 393 patients at a coronary care unit was assigned to
either a prayer group or non-prayer group. The prayers were simply given
the patients 1st names, along with brief descriptions of the medical
problems. The results: the prayed for group was 5x less likely to require
antibiotics, 2.5x less likely to suffer congestive heart failure, less
likely to suffer cardiac arrest.

I always take Reader's Digest with a shaker-of-salt (they seem to accept
articles more on political content rather than sound reasoning), but it was
a interesting article. The rest of the article seemed to follow more of a
psychological-benefits-of-(any)-prayers-and-meditation tract.

The article was condensed from the book "Healing Words", by Larry Dossey,
who is a medical doctor doing research on prayer as a result of healings
that he has witnessed. Has anyone seen or heard of this book and how is it?

It is possible that there was a subtle bias in the study that skewed the
results. There needs to be followup studies to verify that the first results
was not a fluke. Never the less, the observed effect is stronger than many
drugs & therapies tested in clinical trials. (I've done clinical &
preclinical statistics).

Of course, no one is suggesting writing "prayer" on the prescription plan.
However, Western medicine has had such a strong biochemical/mechanical
emphasis (and has been very successfull because of it), that it has lost
track of other aspects of medicine (both spiritual, and psychological).

One concern of mine is the effectiveness of non-christian prayers. For
instance, the relaxation response induced by TM may be as measurably
effective as the relaxation response induced by Christian prayer, and have
similar health effects. (Emphasis on measurable effects). Do we then say
that God answers non-Christian prayer or chalk it up to psychological side

I guess the principle to follow is to establish our faith on Christ, and not
on miracles, works, clever reasoning (even OEC!), etc.

God works miracles as an act of grace. I know people who had miraculous
deliverances. But the common pattern goes like this: They're miraculously
delivered from say, cocaine--with no withdrawl symptoms and no continuing
cravings--but not other vices (like alchohol), which they have to struggle
through in conventional ways. And they grow a lot through the struggle. I
think that God whats us to grow in character through the struggle
("...consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds...." James
1:2-4). But the miracles--however how small, or explainable in other
ways--provides a marker & testimony to God's presence and care.


Grace & peace,

Dennis Sweitzer