Nothing in this blog is intended to say that Atheists core beliefs are correct, or that Christians or others who believe in God are correct. The decisions about what a person believes is the truth of this life are ones that each person needs to work out in the context of what they most sincerely believe is true.
The goal of posts like this is to improve the quality of the careful thought and the tone of dialogue by people of both perspectives about what is the truth of this universe, or as many physicists now say, the multi-verse.
With this in mind I offer the following report by Atheist scientist Victor Stenger in his book “God The Failed Hypothesis” (pages 99-100.) Among many other points Stenger cites for his belief that God does not exist he highlights the results of a study funded by the John Templeton Foundation. One of the investigators was a Catholic priest, Father Dean Marek, who led the portion of the project at Mayo Clinic. Between the John Templeton Foundations funding and the participation of committed believers such as Father Marek, and others, it is clear there was no anti-Christian or anti-God bias in this landmark study.
The study lasted for almost ten years. Here are the results. The heart patients who were prayed for not only had no better results in their recovery as compared with those who were not prayed for, their results were actually a little worse.
This is a devastating critique of one of the foundations of Catholic practice, which is that we are often asked to pray to God for the recovery of people who are sick and that such prayers are effective.
Sadly the study showed that such prayers had no visible effect. Hard core Christians will say the study was flawed or the study missed the point. But what can they say? That God needs a study to be perfect, or the people in it to pray perfectly, in order to respond and heal the sick?
Maybe someday a different study conducted under equally meticulous protocols will show that intercessory prayer really does work and that God responds to such prayers to heal people. Of course one might add, what does God do for those who have no one to pray for them? Does God decide they should just remain sick?
Like I said, maybe someday some creative believers will find a way to show that intercessory prayer does work. But for now it would be well for Catholics and Protestants and other believers to carefully reflect on the results of this study to see what it means for them.
I believe there are cases where prayer, or some other application of deep faith, can create conditions where the healing of the sick has no scientific explanation. But this is just a belief of mine. I personally do not have any real evidence of situations of this kind where there was the kind of rigorous review needed to rule out any identifiable causes that may have led to sudden “miraculous cures.” The Catholic Church certainly goes to great lengths before they declare a miracle to be authentic. But are there really outside scientists who confirm their conclusions? In many cases, probably not. But there may be some worthy of sustained study.
One field of research for believers would be to make absolutely objective studies of unexplained healings. It is entirely possible there are such unexplained healings, indeed the Catholic Church unequivocally attests such phenoemena occur. If such unexplained healings do occur, this would constitute empirical evidence that directly contradicts the standard models of natural law that doctors and other scientists tend to go by.
Yes the detailed critiques by responsible Atheists are formidable. And these critiques will reshape over time the way believers relate to God and truth.
But it is entirely possible that the core truth of believers about there being a benevolent aspect to the universe is true. It is entirely possible there is a “Holy Spirit” that is a form of life that gives people the strength and the ability to draw ever nearer to God. The mystery is that this very real feeling of ‘drawing ever closer” can happen whether we get the healing we want or whether our sickness gets worse and we, or someone we love, dies a long painful death. Who can blame Atheists for thinking this is a delusion? Who can blame believers fwho have such experiences rom being convinced and from witnessing that this “drawing ever closer”, even in the midst of terrible suffering, is very, very real.
One suggestion is that believers get serious about finding ways to deliver the kinds of tangible evidence that will lead even the most skeptical scientist and atheist to admit they have no explanation about how such things could be possible.
After all, Jesus healed people regularly. Why can’t most Catholic Priests or Protestant Ministers do the same? Are all those stories in the Bible just stories? Or is it that the faith of most Priests and Ministers is just that weak?
Just a few thoughts.
Tell me what you think. All constructive comments will be posted.
Will Raymond Author of The Simple Path of Holiness host of MeditationPractice.com
based views can heal