Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My University Sponsors "Healing Prayer" Sessions

My university, the University of Waterloo, is sponsoring sessions on "healing prayer". Imagine my surprise!

Here are the details: our university has a Recreation Committee. Most of they events they sponsor are things like outings to the local ski hill, or ASL classes. However, they have also been sponsoring some more questionable events, featuring topics such as Reiki, therapeutic touch, and Feng Shui.

The most recent event was a session on "healing prayer". Here is how the session was described on the UW Recreation Committee (UWRC) web site, until recently:

Monday, December 18, 2006: "Life Series" - Healing Prayer with Dr. Clifford Blake (First of Five Lessons). Humans have battled sickness, disease and calamity as long as they have been on earth. Lesson 1: A survey of some spiritual healing methods. An opportunity will be given to share experiences. Cost: no charge.

Oddly enough, although the talk has since vanished from the UWRC web site, the first session was still held yesterday. (I have been trying to find out from the UWRC why the talk descriptions have vanished. So far, no reply.)

Reader, I ask you to look at my summary of what Prof. Blake said in his talk, and tell me, is this the kind of talk our university should be sponsoring? (My comments below are in red.)

First, some background. The speaker, Clifford Blake, is a professor in the Department of Management Sciences. According to this page, Prof. Blake "has counselling ministries in spiritual and psycho-social development, and the empowerment of individuals, with a special focus on youths. He is actively involved in preaching, teaching and counselling in his local church and currently operates an independent counselling and healing ministry. At the community level Dr. Blake presents seminars on Black History and the African Genetic root, based on a synthesis of Holy Scripture, DNA research findings and fossil discoveries."

He began by stating his talk would be based on his scientific and religious background. Prayer, he said, has been used for thousands of years to overcome difficulties. But it hasn't been used as Biblical teachings prescribe, and so the results haven't been as good as they could be. He spoke of his own ministry and testimonials about healings. A man who had cancer, he said, was healed through a combination of chemotherapy and his healing methods. It was the combination of all, he asserted, that resulted in the cure. He advocated "magnetic methods" and "energy methods"; combining them is more efficacious.

He cautioned that traditional methods [by this he evidently meant conventional medicine] are excellent when it comes to analysis, but one shouldn't take them without question. Get other opinions: what are the side effects?

He then asked for testimonials from the audience. One participant advocated "Kriya Yoga" as "the fastest way to God". The miracles that she witnessed "could fill volumes". Someone who had Parkinson's is now almost symptom-free. A woman she knew had a stroke and was mostly paralyzed, but thanks to Kriya Yoga, she has now recovered. Additional examples were given.

Another participant discussed her experience being on a local bus where the bus engine died. She prayed, she said, and the bus engine then started up. When you put you hand on someone and pray, you can feel electricity.

Prof. Blake discussed other examples of healings he has participated in. A person at the university with a relative with obsessive-compulsive disorder was "completely cured" after one month visiting with Prof. Blake. A student with
"fractured legs" was able to walk "immediately" after being touched by Blake. He acknowledged that he could not prove he was responsible for the healing, but "if someone has a chronic condition for many years, and improves after my sessions, then that's pretty good evidence". A woman has x-rays before and after proving that a fracture was miraculously healed. He can bring letters from a woman in British Columbia who had leukemia; after he gave her a prayer in a letter, she was healed.

Prof. Blake then said he did not counsel people to not go to doctors. He then discussed "facts": drug companies keep their side effects a secret. For example, he said a recent study in the US showed breast cancer was down because women had decreased their estrogen replacement therapy. He had a relative who died of breast cancer after taking this therapy.

He then asked, what is the 3rd highest cause of death in the US. It is "iatrogenic causes" [meaning caused unintentionally by a physician]. A study in JAMA, he said, listed 225,000 deaths a year come from these causes, including 12,000 deaths from surgery, 7,000 deaths from medication, 80,000 from nosocomial infections, and 106,000 from "non-error adverse effects". He then asserted that these figures are "restricted information" and is "not published in general". He claimed that in order to read this study, he had to state he was "Dr. Blake" in order to get to the web site, because it was only available to doctors and not to the general public. A participant from the audience stated that the results of such a study would never be published in the local paper, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record.

[The claim about "restricted information" is false. There was no need for Prof. Blake to represent himself as "Dr. Blake" in order to gain access, as our university has a subscription to JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association), which is available for free to all members of the university community. In a few minutes, I was able to find the "study" Prof. Blake was referring to. It is not a study, but a "commentary" by Barbara Starfield [JAMA, Vol. 284, No. 4 (2000), 483-485] that discusses a study, "To Err is Human", published by the Institute of Medicine in 1999. Contrary to Prof. Blake's assertion that this was "restricted information" and the participant's claim that the results would not be published in our local paper, I was able in a just a few minutes to find dozens of references to the study in mainstream media, including one in our local newspaper.]

Prof. Blake then went to discuss his sister, who died "because she had diabetes and her liver was irreversibly damaged from medication".

He then discussed results on acupuncture: 50-90% report relief. Tai Chi is also useful.

He cited a study that said religious practices are useful in lowering depression [Braam, Psychological Medicine V. 31 No. 5 (2001), 803-814]. He talked again about "energy" and I asked what he meant by energy.

Prof. Blake stated that energy is a "wave pattern" that makes up our bodies. When we are sick, it is because our organs are "not vibrating at the frequency they were designed to operate at". Doctors are working on that, he alleged. The laying on of hands works because it "corrects malfunctioning energy". But you can't always tell if healing works, because according to the uncertainty principle, introducing a measurement changes the way the system operates.

He described a man with severe knee problems that he saw. The man came in with a cane, Prof. Blake laid hands on him and said a benediction, and the man walked out without his cane. People live healthier lives with religion.

Audience members asserted that "drug companies were only interested in profits".

Prof. Blake asserted that "Einstein was a very religious person" and "wanted scientists to become more religious".
[ I pointed out that what Einstein meant by religion was not what most people meant. For example, Einstein said in a 1954 letter, "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."]

Prof. Blake concluded by saying in the next session, he would discuss how prayers can be more effective and how you can get more consistent results from prayers. In my informal talk with him after the sessions, he asserted that this was due to his special recipe for herbs and oils that one must anoint someone with in order to heal, and the fact that only specially gifted people (presumably Prof. Blake is one of them) have the power to heal.


Anonymous said...

... his special recipe for herbs and oils ...

That wouldn't be snake oil, would it? But seriously, I think Prof. Blake has a point: Who needs medicine when you can heal with magic? Oh wait, we live in the real world not in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. D'oh! ;)

Anonymous said...

That was really funny, and sad at the same time. I don't think I could ever sit through a presentation like that without ending up rolling around on the floor laughing my ass off.

Anonymous said...

This is perfect for UWaterloo's dumb-as-a-sack-of-hammer's student body.

Unfortunate UWaterloo student

Jeffrey Shallit said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeffrey Shallit said...

I don't think UW students are dumb. I've had some truly phenomenal students, including a few undergraduate students I've written papers with. In any event, there were no students at this presentation, only staff members and me.