A few weeks back I posted on an investigation by Craig Keener of accounts of healing miracles around the world, which concluded that perhaps 300 to 400 million christians around the world believed they had experienced, or observed, a miraculous healing.
Here is some more information, and an estimation of probability.
A sample of stories from Craig Keener
- A boy with two holes in his heart is healed the night before surgery, with before and after X-rays to show the healing occurred.
- A boy with malformed, and deteriorating, bones in his feet was healed and able to walk unaided – again with before and after X-rays.
- An orphan boy with almost total blindness is healed in front of many witnesses, and able to see again.
- A woman admitted to hospital weak and dying from inoperable cancer, pronounced dead and sent to the morgue where a lady minister prayed for her. Two hours after the death certificate was signed, she began to move and made a complete recovery from the weakness and the cancer.
- Many more – see some in more detail at More healing miracles.
We don’t want to be too credulous
Christians shouldn’t be too credulous. Using suggestions by sceptic James Randi and the Catholic Church, I believe we should judge healing miracles claims by these criteria:
- The account of the story comes from a reputable source which provides names, time and place, and there is no reason to believe the story is a fraud, or that anyone had anything to gain by inventing it.
- The disease had little possibility of natural recovery.
- The recovery must have been complete, or at least very significant, and not what might be expected from any treatment being received.
- There must have been prayer for healing not long before the healing occurred.
- There must be good independent medical opinion (backed up by documentation) that the disease was present before the prayer and not present afterwards.
Some of the hundreds of accounts Keener reports appear to meet all five of these criteria. Many others appear to meet most of them, but may require further investigation.
Healing miracles and the probability of God
Maths nerd that I am, I even had a go at using statistics to see how miraculous healing reports change our understanding of the probability that God exists. Using Bayes Theorem and assumptions that were biased towards non-belief, I estimated that even if we started with an initial probability of God’s existence as one chance in a million, it only required about 72 well-documented miracle reports to raise that initial probability to 50/50, and only another 11 to make it 90%. I have documented that many at Healing miracles and God, and Keener has provided many more that merit further investigation.
Of course I don’t believe these numbers are very reliable, but they do show that the case for God presented by healing accounts is very strong (provided we use only well-documented accounts).
We should be encouraged
Christians already believe God exists, and most believe he sometimes heals. But some of us may wonder why he doesn’t make himself more obvious. These miracle reports should encourage any of us who feel that way. There are many, many reports, and it is difficult to see how they can be interpreted any other way than pointing to the existence of a loving God.
Evidence for those looking for it
I have found, sadly, that many non-believers who claim to be looking for the truth based on good evidence dismiss healing miracles without even examining the evidence. They offer various reasons for this view, but they are generally all based on a blanket rejection based on their worldview, and not based on the evidence. But the evidence is very strong for those willing to look. (For a summary of some miraculous healings I have found written up, see Healing miracles and God.)
I have become convinced that miraculous healings should be one of the main evidences we offer non-believers. Most will reject them, but open-minded ones may check them out.
- Healing miracles and God
- Ten healing miracles
- Healings at Lourdes
- More healing miracles
- Assessing healing miracles
- Miracles and probability: the adventures of a maths nerd
- Do healing miracles convince non-believers?
- Healing miracles and unbelievers