Just as I read that the right-wing preacher Lance Wallnau once claimed he had cured Rush Limbaugh of his lung cancer – Limbaugh died yesterday of that cancer – I found this paper in the bizarre journal ‘EXPLORE’ reporting a much more successful (or should I say ‘tall’?) tale of healing by prayer.

This case report describes an 18-year-old female who lost the majority of her central vision over the course of three months in 1959. Medical records from 1960 indicate visual acuities (VA) of less than 20/400 for both eyes corresponding to legal blindness. On fundus examination of the eye, there were dense yellowish-white areas of atrophy in each fovea and the individual was diagnosed with juvenile macular degeneration (JMD).

In 1971, another examination recorded her uncorrected VA as finger counting on the right and hand motion on the left. She was diagnosed with macular degeneration (MD) and declared legally blind. In 1972, having been blind for over 12 years, the patient reportedly regained her vision instantaneously after receiving proximal-intercessory-prayer (PIP). Subsequent medical records document repeated substantial improvement; including uncorrected VA of 20/100 in each eye in 1974 and corrected VAs of 20/30 to 20/40 were recorded from 2001 to 2017.

To date, her eyesight has remained intact for forty-seven years, according to the authors of this paper.

The course of these events is summarised in the graph below.

And here is what the patients was reported stating:

“What people need to understand is ‘I was blind’, totally blind and attended the School for the Blind. I read Braille and walked with a white cane. Never had I seen my husband or daughters face. I was blind when my husband prayed for me- then just like that- in a moment, after years of darkness I could see perfectly! It was miraculous! My daughter’s picture was on the dresser. I could see what my little girl and husband looked like, I could see the floor, the steps. Within seconds, my life had drastically changed. I could see, I could see!”

This report originates from the GLOBAL MEDICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE. Their website claims that our mission is to investigate the effects of prayer in the resolution of conditions where the prognosis is typically poor, even with medical intervention. We are also developing randomized, controlled clinical trials of healing prayer effects.

Three questions came to my mind while reading all this:

  1. Are RCTs in prayer really needed? The believers already ‘know’ and will not trust the findings of the research, if they are not positive.
  2. Who do they try to convince the public with a case report that dates back 47 years?
  3. What do they think of Carl Sagan’s bon mot, ‘EXTRAORDINARY CLAIMS REQUIRE EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE’?

12 Responses to Resolution of blindness after prayer?

  • Nothing new here. My vision gradually declines every 4 or 5 months or so, to be miraculously restored – not after prayer, but after a $15 haircut.

    • Oh would that I had enough hair remaining, to effect that cyclical miracle….

      • Well, it’s definitely thinning here as well, and in fact I should perhaps maintain things a little better – but I’m basically a very lazy and stingy practical person, so I always wait until my field of vision gets obscured before doing anything about it. Plus I only spend the minimum amount of time and money on this inevitable cycle.
        (And no, it’s nothing like as spectacular as Prof. Sir Martyn Poliakoff's dandelion hairstyle.)

  • There is another paper claiming miraculous healing of infantile gastroparesis after 16 years. By the same set of authors thanking the same Bethel Church in California and the GMRI.

    Reading the guff on the GMRI website it is clear that they deeply sold on the idea of Christian Spiritual Healing and miracles in the name of Jesus. While giving the appearance of a scientific approach what they are in fact doing is attempting to gather data to PROVE what they already know – that god performs miracles.
    This is not science as we know it. It is mere propaganda with a cloak of science so that they can pretend that their Spiritual Healing has “proof” at the end of the day.

    They already “KNOW” miracles are real and believe that the Catholic Church has established beyond doubt evidence for their miraculous “cures.” But now they are trying to establish “proof” of healing through individual prayer.
    As Edzard says – would they accept the results if they were negative? Give up the god-bothering, burn their bibles and go home? NO – they would twist out a positive result, demand more studies, or find some excuse why they didn’t work – just like the alt meds always do.

    But what is likely is that the trials will be badly designed, have too few subjects, be biased for false positives, and spun like hell to sound good and given extraordinary publicity.

    The other thing I’d love to know is – what is the failure rate?
    How many people pray for a cure – and don’t get one?
    How often do these people pray for a cure before they actually receive one?
    And how does God decide who gets one?
    eenie meenie miney mo? Does he throw a giant die? Or maybe he has a giant lottery device?
    Why is he such a meanie? – I mean he is ALL POWERFUL – he could cure all of them. Why does he cure so few?
    What are the criteria? I think we should be told!

    And at the end of the day, on the balance of probabilities, what is more likely>
    That the vastly complex sky fairy imagined by the evangelicals as the Christian God is performing some kind of miraculous distant healing like a supernatural Reiki Master on steroids – or that there is a much simpler, more mundane explanation that these individuals haven’t considered? Occam’s Razor anyone?

    After all these people are deploying deeply held prior religious beliefs in miraculous healing, motivated reasoning, cherry picking, confirmation bias, wishful thinking, deep personal investments, and any number of other logical fallacies and biases. “This is not science as we know it Jim.”

  • PS – there have been many studies done on prayer before. I haven’t seen any that were remotely convincing and some showed that prayer made people worse!

    based on prior plausibility alone – there is no reason why we should expect prayer to work for any condition.
    I have two reasons. This is the shortened version as I could fill a War and Peace size tome but I shall not bore you with that here.

    Firstly if we accept that the Universe exists, it came into being somehow. The two most frequently expressed contenders are “God did it!” or an alternative scientific explanation such as the “big bang.”
    The God lot argue that the Universe if FAR too complicated and complex to have come into being via some seemingly random event such as the “big bang” that they can’t even begin to understand so they prefer a much simpler explanation that “God created the Universe in 7 days.”

    (There is actually a lot of evidence for the big bang theory which has accumulated further confirmatory evidence as cosmology has progressed and – well no evidence whatsoever for the 7 days thingy but let’s leave that on one side for now.) There may be alternative scientific explanations – but the “7 days” theory is based on a 2000 years old book of unknown authorship, unknown provenance, numerous dubious translations and transcriptions and was written by people who thought if you stood on top of a mountain you could see all of the world laid out before you – i.e. a flat earth.

    (Before I go any further I also have a problem with the story of the flood (well lots.) But the ones that really bother me are how did Noah get the kangaroos all the way from Oz? How did the polar bears like the desert? What did they feed all the carnivorous animals with for nearly a year? And all that excrement – how did they get rid of it through that ridiculously small window in the top? Oh – and what did he keep the whales in as I presume this pre-dated reinforced glass aquaria?

    Why whales you ask? Couldn’t they swim? Well yes – but we are told the deluge submerged all the mountain tops. The sheer volume of rainwater required to do this would have led to massive desalination of the oceans and the depth of water would have become many miles deeper than beforehand causing total disruption to all aquatic life and food chains.
    Which only raises a further question – where on earth did all this water come from and where the hell did it all go afterwards? Anyway, enough with fairy stories…..

    What the God camp don’t consider is that there may be zillions of other universes all with very different characteristics and different universal constants and “fine tuning” that we know nothing about and which makes “our” universe nothing special at all.
    IN addition this may be the 1001st (or pick any other random number) iteration of our universe which has been expanding and collapsing into a singularity on a regular (or even irregular) basis in the past (if time has any meaning at all in this context.)
    (Note I said may be – there is far from universal agreement on these points as eye-witness accounts differ considerably.)
    But they do have the advantage of not calling into existence any supernatural beings with super-powers.

    The argument is – that it is conceivable and scientifically possible, that these events could have happened in the ways described. If we consider the possibilities of large numbers of universes the chances of any one of them having a certain set of characteristics increases. Equally if a Universe were somehow to keep recycling itself then its characteristics in one iteration might be different from on another. These are merely possibilities. But random events occur. Odd things happen. Unlikely events occur especially if the set of circumstances is being repeated.
    And we do know that it DID occur somehow.
    Regardless, any of these possibilities is magnitudes more probable than the alternative – that God done it.

    Because any supernatural being who is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing and who has the power to bring into being from nothing something as complex as the Universe – has to be, by definition, far more complex and complicated than the universe itself. Such a being is vastly more complex if he is able to deliberately set all of this up, fine tune it, create life, make gravity and everything else.

    So Christians have not answered anything by introducing God – all they have done is added another far more complex layer. Who is God? Where did he come from? Who created God? What came before God? WHy does he have all these powers?

    Answering these questions with – “God has always been.” “There was no time before God.” “These things are not for us to know.” are just metaphysical dodge-balls and answer nothing. And it all assumes a knowledge that you do not have.
    How do you KNOW God has always been? How do you KNOW he has all these powers?

    Even as a child I always thought the bit about “faith” was the most ludicrous con job ever. “You must believe just because….the whole point is to believe without any evidence. And when there is evidence to make you doubt that is the time to make your faith stronger and believe even more!”
    I thought “you’re kidding right? You want me to believe all this stuff with absolutely NO evidence – and then when there IS evidence and it points the other way – that’s supposed to make me believe you even more? How stupid do you think I am?” All this “God is testing you crap!”

    Occam’s Razor. The Big Bang or an alternative theory requires far less complexity than an infinitely complicated and implausible Christian God. The former is orders of magnitude more likely than the brain farts of pot-smoking sandal-wearing anonymous scribes who couldn’t even agree where their messiah was born.

    My second reason for saying prayer shouldn’t work.
    For argument’s sake suppose we accept the beliefs of Christians that God and Jesus exist in the commonly accepted way.
    But in Jesus’ teaching he actually counsels against asking God for specific favours – for he says in Matthew 6:5
    “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” And instead he teaches his disciples the Lord’s prayer.

    So Jesus himself, in the Holy Book, advises against intercessory prayer. As he says, God would already KNOW what you want – after all he is ALL-KNOWING isn’t he? Why would you have to tell him? Why would you need an evangelical pastor to tell him? Do they think God or Jesus has got a hearing problem? That there is strength in numbers?

    But also it would seem to me to be insulting to God to be praying to him to change his “infinite plan.” After all he is Master of the Universe and he presumably knows what he is doing – he has got it all worked out and for some reason in “His Infinite Wisdom” you have got whatever it is that is bothering you.
    What effrontery! What a bloody cheek! How dare you ask God to change his plans for the Universe in his Infinite Wisdom just to suit you? What you are saying is that you know better than he does! That he has made a mistake and that he should change his mind! What unbelievable heresy!

    It would seem to me to be a far greater display of faith and Christian virtue to meekly accept God’s will and go along with your fate than to have the arrogance and vanity to believe that God will change his plans for YOU! It takes the arrogance, the narcissism and the scrambled logic of the truly religious to think any differently.

    It is even what it says in your Holy Book – except it is more convenient to ignore it when it suits in the same way they ignored Donald Trump’s egregious excesses as long as he was anti-abortion.

    I don’t happen to believe Jesus ever existed: there is zero credible extra-biblical evidence that any such person ever actually existed and the contradictory time frames and other discrepancies in the Gospels just add to the fiction – but I share his supposed views on hypocrites.

    If anyone is going to get apoplexy over my reluctance to “believe” in an historical Jesus I suggest re-reading the accepted genuine letters of St Paul (presuming he existed) which were written decades before the Gospels and ask yourself the following:
    – why is there no mention of any of Jesus’ miracles?
    – why no mention of any of Jesus’ parables?
    – why no mention to his flock that he met Peter the “Rock” and James when he went to Jerusalem. Surely Paul, a man known for his vain boasts could not have been able to resist proclaiming “I shook the hand of the men who shook the hand of Jesus!”
    The miracles especially would have been amazing conversion tools for his ministry – yet he says never a word!
    In fact if your read carefully he never speaks at all as if Jesus was actually an earthly Jesus at all – he could just as easily have been talking about a heavenly Jesus – and Paul after all only had a “revelation” of Jesus and not an earthly contact.
    In fact what he describes sounds more like temporal lobe epilepsy.

    And it seems incomprehensible that in spite of all the detailed Roman records and the many Jewish and other documents that are still available today that there are ZERO verifiable references to Jesus outside the bible.
    WARNING: there are some Christian sites that claim validity for certain extra-biblical references. All of these have been individually debunked in detail by scholars of the period. At present the count remains ZERO.
    For someone who gained as much notoriety as is claimed to have been completely “cancelled” while far more obscure and trivial figures are well documented seems highly suspicious.

    • I remember a Dave Allen sketch which was set on the eve of a major battle (Agincourt or something like that). The English knights were on their knees, praying for victory. Then a cut to the other side – the French were doing the same. Now a cut to Heaven, where God was sitting and listening to all these prayers. He thought for a moment and then tossed a coin…

      • In the World War 1 displays in the Imperial War Museum in London, there is a little placard with a comment by a Private Archie Surfleet, who said “God must think we are a pack of fools. Surely he can’t be on both sides”. That conflict was at first called the Family War, since King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm and Czar Nicholas were all cousins, descendants of Queen Victoria. It was said that the clergy on both sides preached the soldiers into the trenches.

      • @ Dr Julian Money-Kyrle

        I have often had the same thoughts about the practice of American sports teams who almost always huddle to pray for victory before a game – what is a poor God meant to do?

    • Mr. Travis, I think you have succumbed to “Whataboutery”.

      • @ David B

        in what way? if these people are claiming prayer to God or Jesus is responsible for “curing” something then surely the existence of their God and or Jesus is very pertinent to the argument?
        No God/No Jesus then I claim foul.

        They are claiming a fact that is not in evidence. Something that is in fact highly improbable.
        I am merely setting out the arguments for a case that there are many other possibilities that are far more likely that do not include the supernatural. Occam’s Razor.

        It is no different from the highly implausible and far-fetched fantasies of many alt-med so-called therapies. Which is more plausible that a random substance diluted to oblivion, shaken magically, and claimed to be effective which would require the over-turning of the known facts of physics, chemistry, and human physiology – will be truly effective or that it will be a placebo effect?

        No far-fetched fantasies, totally imaginary deities, no healing at astronomical distances needed.

  • I have been praying recently for John Travis to shorten his posts.
    I agree that prayer does not work.

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