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.

Monday, January 15, 2007

J. Scott Turner Misses the Mark

J. Scott Turner, a professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry in Syracuse, New York, has a this dumb opinion piece in the January 19 2007 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Since a subscription is required to read this (your university probably has a subscription), I'll excerpt a couple of the dumber remarks:

Also amusing is the spectacle of independent-minded scientists' running
to college administrators or the courts for help in defining what is
science and what is permissible discourse in their classrooms.


Faced with all that hue and cry, I almost want to say: "Friends,
intelligent design is just an idea."


The strain's very persistence invites the obvious question: If Darwin
settled the issue once and for all, why does it keep coming back?
Perhaps the fault lies with Darwin's supporters. Rather than debate the
strain on its merits, we scramble to the courts or the political
ramparts to expel it from our classrooms and our students' minds.

"Intelligent design" may be "just an idea", but ideas have consequences. Exactly the same could be said about racial inferiority, or national socialism, or totalitarian communism, or a number of other concepts -- they are "just ideas", too. * Being "just an idea" doesn't mean it doesn't have destructive consequences.

"Intelligent design" is a science stopper. Once something is explained as "designed" by a disembodied invisible "intelligence", we can proceed no further in our inquiry. Intelligent design proponents themselves state that science is not allowed to pursue the identity or motivation of the designer.

Turner's claim that scientists are "running to ... the courts for help in defining what is science" seems wildly off base. Is he really not aware that the issue in Dover, for example, was not "what is science", but whether intelligent design was essentially an endorsement of religion in the classroom? The 1st amendment doesn't even mention science. It wasn't scientists running to the court, but parents who don't want fundamentalist religion shoved down their children's throats.

Turner asks, "If Darwin settled the issue once and for all, why does it keep coming back?" The answer is obvious to me, but he doesn't even mention what is staring him in the face: the dominance and power of intolerant fundamentalist religion in North America. Evolution is a challenge to their beliefs. As James Watson wrote, "Today, the theory of evolution is an accepted fact for everyone but a fundamentalist minority, whose objections are based not on reasoning but on doctrinaire adherence to religious principles."

Turner's answer to his question is that scientists are at fault. But if this is true, he has to explain why the creationism issue virtually doesn't come up in places where fundamentalists have little power, such as Scandinavia. With Turner's reasoning, it must be that Scandinavian evolutionary biologists have some superior explanatory power over their North American colleagues. My explanation better fits the facts.

As for not debating the issue, exactly what does he think we have been doing? Has he read Mark Perakh's book, Unintelligent Design? Or Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God? Or Why Intelligent Design Fails, where Wesley Elsberry and I contributed a chapter?

I'd give Professor Turner a C- for poor understanding of the issues.

* For the particularly dense reader let me state that I don't think that "intelligent design" has consequences as pernicious as those of the other ideas I listed. I give that list only to signal that saying something is "just an idea" is not terribly enlightening commentary.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Phony War on Christmas Arrives in Waterloo

The new editor of our Faculty Association Newsletter, David Wang,
has fired the opening salvo (go to page 3 and read the editor's message). For those who don't feel like reading it in full, here's one of his remarks:

'I was recently in a local coffee shop that was decorated to the hilt but had only "Happy New Year" on its window. To say that this was annoying would be an understatement.'

Well, that make sense to me. I mean, who could disagree that it is the obligation of every coffee shop to honor the Christian religion? There's a law that says that every coffee shop must be decorated every December with tacky reindeer, elves, and tinsel, right? And be sure that the message "Merry Christmas" is displayed prominently, for the penalties are severe -- if you do not comply, then some patrons might be annoyed! None of this "Happy Holidays" or "Happy New Year" nonsense.

Strangely enough, though, there does not seem to be any similar obligation for coffee shops to celebrate Hanukkah. This is clearly unfair. Jews should demand that every coffee shop display a large, 5-foot, lighted dreidel.

Wang goes on to say,

' our society, freedom of religion increasingly is equated with absence of religion. This is a very dangerous trend.'

Again, who could disagree? What could be healthier for a society than that every religious believer -- be he Christian, Muslim, Jew, Sikh, or Hindu -- demand that his religion receive universal societal acclaim, and be annoyed when this does not occur? Why, that would never result in any violence, would it?