Faith Healing

"The right to practice religion freely does not include the liberty to expose the community or child to communicable disease, or the latter to ill health or death... Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion."
-- US Supreme Court [Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944)]


Mother Teresa

Pope John Paul II recently beatified Mother Teresa; she is credited with one healing miracle. This CNN story describes it. The only problem is that the person that Mother Teresa supposedly healed of a tumor was taking medication for it. It is possible that the remission was caused by the medical treatment. Also - even serious diseases will spontaneously go into remission. Not often, but it happens.

A miracle is defined as an occurrence that apparently contradicts known physical laws; divine intervention seems required.


It was noted that Mother Teresa had, at one time, experienced strong doubts about her faith. The demon of doubt was visiting her so an exorcism was performed. In the 20th century, the Catholic Church still practiced exorcism.

A Demonstration

Prof. Cotton demonstrated one healing method. He noticed that Prof. Scalise had one leg shorter than the other. Prof. Scalise came up and sat in a chair so the difference could be seen. Prof. Cotton then "healed" Prof. Scalise by stretching the shorter leg. Actually it's a scam. Prof. Cotton pushed Prof. Scalise's legs slightly to one side, which makes one seem shorter. He "cured" the problem by simply pulling on Prof. Scalise's shoe. This trick works only with boots; sandals or running shoes won't work. The shoe must simply slide down a bit, making the leg appear to lengthen.

Video: James Randi from "The Search for the Chimera" SMU Collegium da Vinci talk (0:08:30 and 1:07:50)

Faith Healers

Most of the class was spent watching a part of James Randi's lecture at SMU two years ago. In this segment Randi was teeing off on faith healers, specifically W. V. Grant and Peter Popoff. Both are shown to be frauds. Although they pretend to be getting their information from God, in reality they have more earthly sources.

Grant would come out on stage with little yellow slips of paper marking places in his large bible. He would open the bible, put the piece of paper in his pocket (after looking at it), then read a piece from the bible. The most important thing he read, however, was the information written on the yellow slip of paper. That had personal information collected before the show began. Randi learned this by going through the trash bin after the service.

Armed with the necessary information, Grant would then locate the individual via such lines as "Bill? Why am I saying Bill?" Bill answers and Grant then would engage him, telling him where he lived and what ailed him. Very impressive, at least impressive if you didn't know that Grant had just read it from the little yellow slip of paper! Grant would tell the individual that the angel of God was waiting for him at home and that he would be healed. He might tell the individual the name of his doctor (from the yellow slip, of course), then tell him that he had no more need of that doctor because "Doctor Jesus" was taking care of him.

Peter Popoff also claimed to get his information directly from God. Randi presented a piece of video showing part of a Popoff healing service in which he "healed" a man named Harold (and his wife) of eye problems. It seemed miraculous how Popoff knew so much about people he had never met. They had, however, filled out prayer cards before the service; these cards contained such things as their names, addresses, and the affliction that brought them to Popoff.

Randi had noted that Popoff wore a "hearing aid", which seemed quite surprising for someone who heals others of deafness. There was more to that hearing aid than met the eye. The Randi team went to a Popoff "healing" armed with a radio scanner and miniature recorder. They found out that God talked to Popoff on 39.170 mHz and was a woman who sounded exactly like Popoff's wife! Fraud exposed. It put Popoff out of business very quickly.

In another skeptical test of a healer, a man dressed as a woman. Must have done a convincing job. When addressed by the healer she(he) said that she had ovarian cancer. The healer obligingly "healed" the ovarian cancer. Interesting, since men don't have ovaries and God didn't tell the healer about the deception.

What Can We Conclude?

These two cases of outrageous fraud do not prove that all faith healers are similar frauds, but they certainly don't give you any confidence. They are certainly enough to make you angry about the way they take advantage of trusting and vulnerable people. These people can be so impressed by the (fraudulent) performance that they will give large amounts of money to the healer's "ministry" so more people can benefit. In Popoff's case the only one who benefitted was Popoff himself!

This stuff is NOT harmless entertainment. Some healers have the "healed" people throw their pill bottles up on the stage to "make the Devil mad." This is potentially catastrophic; those people still need that medication. Someone with high blood pressure could suffer a stroke or worse if they stop their medication. It's not funny. The people in the audience are mostly "true believers", and they believe that they are seeing miracles. They are being deceived! Their trusting faith makes them vulnerable.

A Good Quote

To finish up the session on fake healers, Prof. Scalise read a particularly appropriate short passage from the New Testament.

Matthew 7:15(NAS) - "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them."

Sounds sensible. Keep that in mind. For more on this (a LOT more), read The Faith Healers by James Randi