Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Healing Prayer" at the University of Waterloo - Part II

Yesterday I attended the second session about "healing prayer" conducted by University of Waterloo professor Clifford Blake. For my summary of Part I, see here.

The audience consisted of two other people and me, the token skeptic. Before the talk started, new rules were announced. No questions would be allowed during the talk. After the talk, one question each would be allowed. (I presume these rules were directed at me, based on the fact that I corrected several misstatements of fact in the previous talk.) These rules were quickly discarded, however, when the person who announced the rules herself asked a question in the middle of the talk.

In this session Professor Blake addressed "healing" methods recommended, as he understands it, in the Bible. He started by mentioning healings he has conducted at the University of Waterloo; he was interviewed about these healings by David Mainse of the Canadian religious TV program, "100 Huntley Street".

Most, if not all, religions have a holy book, Blake said. But, according to him, the Bible has been interpreted incorrectly. He made some disparaging remarks about current medical practice, and then stated that he doesn't appreciate it when hypotheses are presented to students as facts. (I think he was talking about the theory of evolution here, but he didn't elaborate.)

Genesis teaches us that God is a creator with infinitely more knowledge or intelligence than any human. We should try to be moral, holy, and just, just like God. (But I guess not infinite, like God. Because then there wouldn't be any room to move about.)

God has power and intelligence, so do we. If we are close to the Creator, we can create new body parts, too. (Now that's something I would like to see.)

Blake defined a miracle as "an unusual event with immediate impact".

God promised he would heal us (Exodus 15:26).

How was healing done in the Old Testament? Not everyone could do it. Men were prophets and had special gifts. As examples, he cited Elijah and Elisha. Leprosy was healed in 2nd Kings 5:10. And Elisha prayed that his servant's eyes would be opened to ; this is an example of intercession. (Blake said this was in 2nd Kings 17:21-22, but it actually seems to be 2nd Kings 6:17.)

Elijah interceded to have a child come back to life. This is an example of biblical healing - a prophet or man of God intercedes on behalf of someone else.

In the Old Testament, direct commands to heal are rare. In the New Testament, they are common.

Jesus has god-like qualities (sinless, etc.) This is how Christianity differs from other religions.

A true Christian can prevent other people from hitting them. Their opponent's arm will be unable to move. That's another unbelievable claim I'd like to see demonstrated!

In Luke 6:6 a man has a withered hand. In Luke 6:10 Jesus heals the hand. The command is issued directly to the affected part.

In Luke 4:33,35 a man is possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon. Today we would call such a person crazy. Jesus rebuked the demon and it was driven out.

Can disciples of Jesus do this kind of direct command? Yes, in Matthew 10:1. In John 14:12 it is said "You can do what I do and even greater." Yes, and in Mark 16:18 it is said that the true believer can drink any deadly thing without harm. Now that's another demonstration I'd like to see!

In Acts 3, Peter tells a man to get up and walk. This is not intercession, just a command.

Blake next discussed the Benson et al. study showing no effect of intercessory prayer, and laughed. "Come to my meetings and you will see miracles," he claimed.

Can everyone heal? Not necessarily - you have to receive power and authority from God.

Prayer causes changes, but not necessarily the ones that Benson et al. were measuring. I asked, how can you tell the difference between prayer causing no changes and prayer causing changes that cannot be measured. Prof. Blake replied that prayer could make the following kind of changes: a doctor that you weren't getting along with in the hospital could suddenly be re-assigned to another shift.

Healing comes when an individual has gift and authority and issues a command. Healing can even occur among non-believers, when it occurs as a sign of God's power. Blake said he had students who were Muslims and he healed them. He healed panic attacks in a Hindu, and he has healed Buddhists.

Most healings take place, however, when the healer has a gift. He said prayer and fasting could help: "Prayer and fasting are a Christian's daily bread." (I particularly enjoyed the image of fasting as bread; viewing not eating as eating.)

If you pray, you will see consistent results. (At this point I reminded Prof. Blake of his promise to bring evidence of his healings to this meeting. He replied that he said he would bring it, but not to this meeting. Maybe the next one?)

He gave another example of a woman he has healed. She was on life support in Toronto. He prayed for her and she went home from the hospital three days later.

A fellow with a "fractured knee" came to one of Prof. Blake's meetings on crutches. He walked out of the meeting without crutches.

Prob. Blake knows under what conditions healings occur. Faith works, but it can happen without. However, unbelief can block it.

At the conclusion of the meeting, I asked Prof. Blake (who wears glasses) why he didn't heal himself of poor vision. He replied that poor vision is a natural condition of old age, and so he has never tried. Besides, he said, healing himself doesn't work well, there is some kind of "short circuit" that prevents it. But he said he would try to heal himself of poor vision.

I was very disappointed not to hear about the "special recipe" of "herbs and oils" that one must "anoint" someone with to get healing, as Prof. Blake told me after the last session.

Citing Bible stories as facts and post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies seemed to be the main arguments. Contradictory statements were given; healing can take place in the presence of unbelievers, but unbelief can block it, too. Needless to say, I was unimpressed.


Miguel Garcia-Blanco said...

A true Christian can prevent other people from hitting them. Their opponent's arm will be unable to move.
These people might tend to disagree. Or perhaps they were not true Christians?

At the conclusion of the meeting, I asked Prof. Blake (who wears glasses) why he didn't heal himself of poor vision.

Mark said...

Faith works, but it can happen without. However, unbelief can block it.I guess that includes any skepticism of anybody in the room or vicinity--one of the most common excuses James Randi has heard when testing paranormal claims. Very similar, also, to what the charlatans say when their $200 lucky charm doesn't work--"You don't have enough faith." (Or "You are not a true Christian.")

Mustafa Mond, FCD said...

Faith works, but it can happen without. However, unbelief can block it.

Wow! I, a skeptic, am more powerful than God.