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Spiritual Healing

September 21, 2010

The Claims:

Faith healing is a cooperative form of magical thinking involving a healer and a patient. Both healer and patient typically believe in the healing power of spirits or other mysterious healing mechanisms. The healer consciously or unconsciously manipulates the patient into believing he or she has cured the patient’s ailment by prayer, hand movements or by some other unconventional ritual or product.

The patient validates the healing by giving signs that the healing has worked, such as walking without a brace for a short period, breathing freely, feeling relief from pain, or simply thanking the healer for the “miraculous cure.” Furthermore, faith healing can occur at a distance. There is no need for the patient and healer to meet, as the processes that occur are said to transcend the usual limitations of space and time. The faith healer needs no objective signs of illness or objective signs of cure (such as medical exams).

The Evidence:

Spiritual healing is based on the strong belief in a hypothetical deity capable of transferring the healing power or energy through a healer and reaching the body of the patient in order to cure them, usually in a very dramatic and theatrical way. These healing spirits range across cultures from spirits of death to the mysterious energy of the universe.

There have been case studies of claims made for faith healing. Following a Kathryn Kuhlman 1967 fellowship in Philadelphia, Dr. William A. Nolen conducted a case study of 23 people who claimed to have been cured during her services. Nolen’s long term follow-ups concluded there were no cures in those cases. Furthermore, “one woman who was said to have been cured of spinal cancer threw away her brace and ran across the stage at Kuhlman’s command; her spine collapsed the next day, according to Nolen, and she died four months later.”

Conclusion:

Current scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can cure cancer or any other disease. These dangerous practices can only expose individuals in their most vulnerable moments to fraud, false hope, and delays in getting real treatment.

Links:

Wikipedia Page on Faith Healing

Skeptic’s Dictionary Entry on Faith Healing

Kinsolving, L. “Kuhlman tested by MD’s probe”. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Nov 8, 1975)

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 11, 2011 8:07 PM

    Richard Dawkins, in his book “The God Delusion,” cites a study in which they explored how prayer affected the ill in three groups; the first received prayers and knew of it. The second received prayers and didn’t know. The third received no prayer. The study found that the only difference in improvement between the three groups was that patients in the group who knew they were receiving prayer generally declined in health, possibly due to the stress of knowing that people expected them to be well.
    I wish there was some mention of the study here.

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