Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Does God heal today?

*Edit: Ajay Gohil sent me a very polite e-mail confirming his existence and inviting me for coffee. Bear that in mind while reading - it rather annihilates many of my arguments. I've asked him if he's comfortable with me releasing details of his church and will update with more details when he gets back to me. My thanks to the members of Unbelievable? who pointed me in his direction.*

This is the title of the 13th chapter in Nicky Gumbel’s “Alpha: Questions of Life” book and it appeals to my literal mind. It can be rare to find verifiable claims in this literary genre; it was refreshing to see Gumbel nail his colours to the mast as a believer in faith healing and to provide a case study for those who are unconvinced.

For those of you who don’t know the Alpha course is a charismatic introduction to Christianity, typically held over several evenings. Bear Grylls speaks highly of it. I speak highly of it. You’ll meet pleasant people, get free dinner and interesting conversation. I have issues with the accuracy of some of the course material, but not with the genuine, good-natured people I met on the course. I even enjoyed Nicky Gumbel's jokes and am somewhat jealous of his rhetorical skills. One of the evenings includes a discussion of faith healing, and the story of interest begins with “There are so many wonderful stories of God healing that it is difficult to know which to give as an example.”

I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Nick Vujicic is a surfer, enjoys sailing and is a poor footballer. He's an energetic motivational speaker, Evangelical Christian, and was born without arms and legs. His disabilities persist, but he considers himself healed in that he has purpose and enjoyment in life that find their genesis in his Christian faith. I find I cannot disagree with this example of healing.

Reading further into the chapter, it seemed Gumbel intended to portray the sort of healing one might hope for from a medical professional.

As mentioned, Gumbel found himself awash with potential examples of verified healing through Christian faith. I’ve mulled these words for some time before committing pen to paper (so to speak) and have decided my criteria for fair examination. The example should be:

  1. Verifiable. At a minimum, there should be proof that the person was at one point sick.
  2. Non-trivial. A limb regrowing is preferable to, say, a less quantifiable back pain abatement.
  3. Consistent with reality. Facts within the example should be accurate.

As hopefully illustrated by Nick Vujicic I accept that many find succour in their faith as they go through difficult times, illness and injury. It is not my intention to belittle or doubt this avenue of genuine support. My focus here is on the claims of physical healing.

With that in mind, let us step back into Gumbel’s world where healing is so commonplace. For those who do not have a copy of his tome to hand, his example is available on the following websites:
Extract on Google Books

In brief, Ajay Gohil contracts erythrodermic psoriasis. He finds a Good News Bible, reads Psalm 38 and is healed, then devotes his life to Jesus.

I don’t dismiss the miraculous out of hand and I’m happy to do research when required. Here are some areas that make me dubious:

He attends St Thomas’ Hospital and stays in the Elizabeth ward. This is a good choice of venue as it specialises in skin conditions. It seemed a poor choice as it does not have an Elizabeth ward listed in its directory, but Helen from Unbelievable's Facebook page did track down this reference. I'm not quite convinced, though we should probably allow for some change in ward designation over the years.
The story in general is made more plausible when you consider that all UK hospital beds come with Bibles. Counting against Gumbel is the fact that these are provided by the Gideons. The Gideons distribute either King James, New King James or New International versions, not the Good News version. Hospitals are somewhat particular about cleanliness. They tend to clean rooms thoroughly and remove personal items belonging to former patients, especially those shedding significant quantities of skin. It’s inconceivable that they missed a bible. There are no other organisations authorised to distribute bibles in this manner.

Psoriasis will go into spontaneous remission, even without medical care. If Gumbel has a wealth of examples at his disposal this seems a poor choice as his sole documented case.

Now for the admittedly circumstantial part. We have a man who has undergone miraculous healing. He is reunited with his son, and describes his inner healing as even greater than its physical counterpart. He lives every day for Jesus. And yet searches for his name and his condition only refer back to Alpha course material!

Paul, again from Unbelievable's Facebook page, took the search a little further and looked for any Christian with the name Ajay Gohil. He managed to track one down with a similar name (Gohill), working as a volunteer in a church that also runs Alpha courses. Paul and I both agree that this isn't conclusive, but worthy of investigation for completeness. I've contacted the Alpha coordinator.

The story to me seems implausible on several fronts and I still find myself asking why Nicky didn't use a different example if so many were at his disposal. What do you think?


Sonderval said...

Nice read!

I do fear that one day your going to go to one of these meetings and get bagged, whisked away and re-programmed into some raving televangelist.


Paul Baird said...

It's also worth asking - what of non-Christian faith healers ?

If they too are as verifiable as the Christian ones then it poses a serious problem.

Finally I'm glad that you've acknowledged regression to the mean, people can get better without intervention from any source.

Anonymous said...

That's typical Gumbel. He doesn't say anything that's out and out false, but he is highly selective in his use of sources and the details he presents. For instance, he quotes Darwin as describing himself as a 'theist' but ignores the later comment in the same passage where he adds that he is now an agnostic. He quotes a report in the British Medical Journal on gays 'cured' by Christianity without mentioning that it is from the 1950s, when homosexuality was illegal, and was actually no more than a reference in the BMJ to a list of case histories compiled by a Christian doctor. He quotes the historian Josephus in support of the existence of Jesus without mentioning that the passage in question has been edited by Christians, and so forth. He used to be a lawyer, and it shows. He only presents one side of the argument, but he presents it very well. You have to read carefully to discover how weak it is. I have no doubt that Mr Gohil recovered, but without a detailed medical history there's no reason to doubt he was just one of the lucky ones who recovered spontaneously. That's hardly miraculous. If a leg grew back, that would be miraculous. (There are some people on the Alpha Course who quote cases where this allegedly happened. Of course there is not the slightest evidence).

Geoff said...

Hmm... As I recall there's a buried footnote in his book explaining that the Josephus quote has been tampered with and explaining why he used it anyway. I'll dig it out tonight.
Interesting on the homosexuality 'cure' - got a link?

Jon P said...

If Mr Gohill went into instantaneous remission that night after crying out to God, would not the timing of the remission be something near miraculous? (The chap clearly had a virtual Damascene experience, which is why he became a Christian.) Not all miracles are about doing the impossible - as C S Lewis was very keen to point out - the miraculous might be in the timing of the event. I find Mr Gohill's experience challenging on that account at least.

about-jesus said...

I met Ajay, long befor Alpha had been launched.

He said all the masses of dead skin floated to the top of the bath water, the day after he began to read the bible. Maybe as an ex hindhu, he wants to keep his whereabouts private.

about-jesus said...

I met Ajay, long befor Alpha had been launched.

He said all the masses of dead skin floated to the top of the bath water, the day after he began to read the bible. Maybe as an ex hindhu, he wants to keep his whereabouts private.

about-jesus said...

I met Ajay, long befor Alpha had been launched.

He said all the masses of dead skin floated to the top of the bath water, the day after he began to read the bible. Maybe as an ex hindhu, he wants to keep his whereabouts private.

Unknown said...'%20Hospital/365528/detail/4101-0007302/43/portal-information.aspx

link to the Elizabeth day care and skin treatment part of st thomas´hospital. It appears that this does exist. It would be easy to be misled on inital reading of your blog.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Looks like a skeptically minded humanist reviewed the Alpha Course in 2008.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Keener notes that he found more than 25 cases with "something like [healed amputees]." "Something like?" I guess that's close enough.

But note, he only found about "25" such cases which is a very small percentage for "something like" that kind of miracle, ever after collecting anecdotal tales from around the world and throughout Christian history.

Keener mentions one case that mentions "two surgeons," namely the case of "a Jansenist who lacked legs, as attested by two surgeons, yet who grew legs miraculously," but that tale is from the late 1600s to early 1700s in a long defunct sect of Christians, and it was a case that the famed Protestant theologian, B. B. Warfield, found unbelievable, as Keener admits in an endnote. Another case of a regrown limb from the 1600s is “The Miracle of Calanda”:

Also, anyone who knows the 1600s knows about the popularity of Wonder Books, and also the way tales of miracles were used by Catholics as proof of the greater authenticity of their church rather than Protestantism.

Ever since the Reformation Protestant scholars have been debunking Catholic miracle stories , and/or blaming them on Satanic delusions, because the early church was "Catholic" and stories of miracles in the "Catholic church" lent too much credence to that church's authenticity and authority over and above that of the rival Protestant churches. Hence, B. B. Warfield debunked Catholic miracles and resurrection stories in his famous work, Counterfeit Miracles. Which just goes to show, as Dr. Robert M. Price wrote, "The zeal and ingenuity of conservative evangelical scholars in dismantling the miracles of rival Christian groups (and exploding rival interpretations of Scripture used to support such miracles), is worthy of the most skeptical gospel critic."

That also reminds me of how Christian author, George W. Peters, dismantled stories of "resurrections" that allegedly took place in the 1970s during the Pentecostal revival in the Philippines (See Peters' book, Indonesia Revival: Focus on Timor (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), Chapter 4, "The Miracle Phenomena of the Revival," pp. 57-85.)

Christians have also dismantled claims made by modern day televangelist and alleged healer, Benny Hinn, i.e., claims that he had performed many miracles, including "raising" someone to life: "In a recent show Rev. Hinn told the audience, 'I was in Ghana just recently -- we had half a million people show up -- and a man was raised from the dead on the platform. That's a fact, people. A man was raised from the dead on the platform. We have it on video.' IMPACT asked Hinn's television producer, Jeff Pittman, for a copy of that video. But we were told Hinn misspoke, and the cameras weren't rolling at the time. When IMPACT asked Hinn about the resurrection claim, he backtracked from his original story. 'God can raise the dead. Absolutely. I have not seen it. In that one case we did hear about it.'" Hinn also claimed that he had conducted services in a hospital overseas and healed so many people the place nearly shut down (a reporter checked up on this and the hospital categorically denied it).

Edwardtbabinski said...

KEENER: Auditory nerve damage shouldn't reverse, cataracts shouldn't instantly and publicly disappear, eye scarring shouldn't instantly (and medically documented) disappear as has happened also. That's, er, not quite like a limb growing back but it's analogous to that. There are some reports of limbs growing back, actually, or especially, more specifically, of withered limbs, shriveled limbs, within a day, or sometimes within an hour or so, filling out. Some of those are better documented than others. I have not been able to get to people to interview them—in fact, the one that I was probably most impressed with, the witnesses had probably been dead for, half a century—it was an earlier account. But there are accounts of those things, but I don't weight as much on those things because in those particular cases I haven't been able to interview the witnesses and so on. But we do have certainly quite a number of dramatic incidences taking place.


We find a plausible natural explanation. That story about the spleen that was removed and then reappeared? Spleens can grow back. Amputated limbs that regrow? There have been such claims—the 1640 “Miracle of Calanda” is one example—but, as Skeptoid has shown, natural explanations are sufficient to explain the evidence for this claim. Prayer that stopped an epidemic? As I reported a few months ago (“Claims that Prayer Cures Disease”), the epidemic had run its course by the time prayer started.

Amputated limbs that regrow? There have been such claims—the 1640 “Miracle of Calanda” is one example—but, as Skeptoid has shown, natural explanations are sufficient to explain the evidence for this claim.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Also, scientists have always known about cases of spontaneous remission from terminal cancers which happen on a statistical basis, see here:

There's even cases of terminal cancer cured via an herbal tea see this story:

Maybe all the latter story demonstrates is the amazing power of the mind rather than the tea. So in short, people tell stories that involve amazing healings, and cancer has a statistical number of survivors, including a statistical number of spontaneous remissions.

Today there's stories coming out of Cambodia concerning a three-year-old healer whom multitudes are flocking to see. But what does this demonstrate concerning the truth of any one religion? There's a diversity of religious beliefs and stories and we are left with a mixed bag of evidence. Keener's book however is top heavy with tales of Protestants and Pentecostals who say they have been miraculously healed, and light on stories from Catholics [Marian, Eucharistic and saints' miracles], Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Native Americans, New Agers, Wiccans, Scientologists, Tribalists or Aborigines.

Edwardtbabinski said...

And in case you imagine Keener's list of anecdotes amounts to anything, there's always the more moderate opinions of the folks at Christianity Today, who have interviewed Keener regarding his new book, but who also publish articles like these:

1) “God Is Not a Genie in a Bottle,” that critiques holding too literal an interpretation of the promise in John 14:13, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

and. . .

2) “Jesus Disappoints Everyone,” in which the author says, “Our Savior has come, but we’re often blind to his purposes. . . . Those who serve Christ are as prone to disappointment as everyone else. . . . Sometimes the goals we set actually align with what God intends. When that happens, we can become . . . encouraged . . . but sooner or later . . . what God does is so at odds with our expectation that we hardly know what to think.”

Yes, we hardly know what to think of Keener's collection of anecdotes. What exactly does God expect us to think with such an array of mixed up data? I asked Randel Rauser that same question on my blog not long ago, and provided plenty of examples of just how "mixed up" the data is:

Edwardtbabinski said...

"Keener also does in fact tell of times when people had fingers grow back and legs grow right before the eyes of people."

BUT . . . "legs grow" could mean anything from whole limbs growing back to the old "1-inch-leg-growth-trick" which is reproduced in this "street miracle" video by someone not a healer, but merely posing as one, who demonstrated that it was possible to convince people on the street that their pains were gone and even that one of their legs had miraculously grown an inch or two:

Chinny said...

Hi Geoff. Any chance you still have contact details for Ajay Gohil? I have a Hindu friend in a similar situation as he was (terminally ill) and was hoping maybe he can share his testimony with her. Long shot but I believe God can do anything.

Anon said...

That’s what I was thinking too. For him to be healed just after discovering the Bible and reading that verse seems amazing to me. But then, we don’t know all the particulars and it’s easy to doubt these things.
I had a similar situation to this during the birth of my daughter. The doctors facilitated it and it wasn’t impossible but the timing of it and the rare circumstances made me believe that it was from God. I think timing must be God’s greatest tool. Maybe it’s just more meaningful for the individual experiencing it?

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