Healing Miracles in Mozambique: Medical Journal

Heidi and Rolland Baker head a burgeoning Christian effort (Iris Ministries) in Mozambique. Iris is planting around a thousand churches a year in a region which has historically been resistant to Christianity. A key part of their ministry is prayer for healing. Friends of mine  have traveled to Mozambique and reported back that they saw numerous healing miracles in Iris’s meetings. Often this occurs in visits to villages, where people can see that individuals whom they knew to be formerly deaf or mute can now hear and speak. For instance, this one-minute clip shows a woman declaring her vision to now be “normal”, and her villagers rejoicing (“Obrigado” means “Thank you” in Portuguese). I heard Heidi speak in New Jersey last week. The main thrust of her talk was living a life of radical love and trust in God. She mentioned that there is a special grace on her ministry for healing of deafness, such that essentially everyone from their local Makua tribe gets healed. She noted that a team of PhD’s had recently come to check out reports of these healings.  She indicated that some of these scientists had arrived as skeptics, but were won over by what they observed. The results of this research have just been published by Brown., et al.  here in the peer-reviewed Southern Medical Journal. I suggest downloading the “Article as PDF” for better readability. The researchers measured changes in hearing and vision before and after healing prayer. For hearing, they used a standard audiometer which made tones of varying loudness in a pair of earphones.  The subjects responded verbally or by pressing a button when they could hear the tones. This enabled the researchers to determine how soft a sound that the subject could hear in each ear. The usable results for hearing before and after prayer are shown in the figure below.

Hearing results from Brown, et al. study of healing prayer

For each ear tested, the left bar shows the hearing threshold before prayer, and the adjacent (right) bar shows the hearing threshold after prayer. Lower bars mean better hearing ability. Seven subjects had both ears tested, and three had only one ear tested. There was a high level (50-100 decibels) of ambient noise during the testing, so it seems that a 40-50 decibel hearing theshold was about normal here. The researchers note that “Field conditions were challenging.” I can imagine the noise and chaos they had to endure, along with language and cultural barriers. For many ears the hearing threshold dropped dramatically after prayer, indicating healing. The article clinically notes “a significant effect of PIP on auditory function (P < 0.003)”, where a P value this low indicates a super-high statistical effect.  “PIP” stands for “Proximal Intercessory Prayer”, which denotes prayer typically within earshot of the recipient.  For the seven ears which started with significantly impaired hearing (approximately 70+ decibel hearing threshold under these measuring conditions), every single one got major ( more than 20 dB) improvement.  Two ears went from deaf or nearly deaf to normal. All but one person (designated subject 7H-2) came away with normal range hearing in at least one ear. Even 7H-2 went from majorly deaf in the right ear to merely impaired. This backs up Heidi’s claim of essentially 100% healing of deafness in Iris’s evangelistic meetings. For vision testing, the subjects were shown a chart with  E’s pointing up or down or left or right.  The subjects were asked to identify which direction each E faced. Lower rows on the chart had smaller and smaller E’s, to test the visual acuity. The usable before and after results are shown in the following figure:

Vision results from Brown, et al. study

Lower is better for these data bars. As I understand it, a value of 6 here represents 20/20 vision. Again, many improvements were shown after prayer. The scientists concluded that significant improvement was observed (P= 0.02). As I see it, five of these ten subjects were more or less blind (6/100 is like 20/333 vision). Two out of these five improved to pretty good vision (6/7 , 6/10), two ended up with some usable vision (6/20, 6/35), and one showed no measurable improvement.   Three cases started with moderately impaired vision (6/30 to 6/50); two of these three showed significant improvement. Subjects 7 and 9 started off with fairly decent vision, and showed little or no improvement. So there it is, in black and white. It is not known how much of the initial vision problems were near- or far-sightedness, versus  problems with the retina or cataracts. In a region with no optometrists or money for glasses, correction of severe myopia counts as healing of blindness. To get an understanding of how Heidi and Rolland Baker function in a supernatural lifestyle, I’d suggest visiting YouTube for videos of their talks, finding a time (maybe while doing the dishes) when you can let the video stream for at least 30 minutes. Heidi has a unique blend of inherent faith, gushing love, and administrative vision that keeps her joyful and effective in the face of some horrifying disasters. Rolland is a bit of an odd duck, a man with a genius-level intellect now living and trying to interpret a life of childlike faith. Rolland and Heidi also have books available through Amazon. They and their associates are the real deal, laying down their lives to bring blessing to the poorest of the poor. The article did not attempt to explain mechanisms by which functional improvements occurred. The article includes discussion on why some other studies, typically in Western countries and not involving hands-on ministry by Pentecostal-type Christians, showed lesser benefits to healing prayer.   My add: There does seem to be a  huge disconnect between stories of miracles overseas and the lack of confirmed miracles in the West.  In Tim Stafford’s  Christianity Today article about the Bakers’ ministry, he noted that the same researchers (led by Candice Brown of Indiana University) had confirmed miraculous healings in Brazil, but were unable to do so at charismatic Christian gatherings in North America. Nevertheless, there are glimmers, even in the U.S. The largest credible community I know of in North America that models a lifestyle of the miraculous is Bethel church in Redding, CA. Talks, testimonies, and books can be found on Bethel’s website. Also, Global Awakening (Mechanicsburg, PA), which co-sponsored the outreach in Mozambique studied above, offers training in many cities for effective healing prayer. POSTSCRIPT:  I added a short post The Power Behind The Miracles in Mozambique summarizing Rolland Baker’s description of the attitudes and practices that power their lives.  For more on healings in answer to prayer, see Healings on YouTube: Legs Growing Out . ******* FOR FIRST-TIME VISITORS TO THIS BLOG ********* Other posts are listed on the right hand side of the main page. For instance, one deals with  God and chaos in the book of Job, and how that may relate to evolution.    There are longer essays or letters dealing with science and faith (e.g. STAN 3) that are accessed by clicking the tabs at the top of the page. I’d suggest skimming the README page first, to get an overview of what is in these essays.

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About ScottBuchanan

Ph D chemical engineer, interested in intersection of science with my evangelical Christian faith. This intersection includes creation(ism) and miracles. I also write on random topics of interest, such as economics, folding scooters, and composting toilets. Background: B.A. in Near Eastern Studies, a year at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a year working as a plumber and a lab technician. Then a B.S.E. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Since then, conducted research in an industrial laboratory. Published a number of papers on heterogeneous catalysis, and an inventor on over 80 U.S. patents in diverse technical areas.
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10 Responses to Healing Miracles in Mozambique: Medical Journal

  1. Pingback: The Power Behind The Miracles in Mozambique | Letters to Creationists

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  7. keithf4 says:

    My cousin and I have been having some interesting conversations over the last few months concerning evolution, creationism, & faith in general. I am non-believer and he is a believer. My cousin shared with me a link to http://www.worldmag.com/2012/09/debunking_junk and I came across the link to your blog in the comments. I have been thoroughly enjoying reading it. The level of research and thought you put into that rebuttle was stunning as well as your latest post on young earth (YE) creationism.

    Then I came across this post and the others concerning leg growing, deaf healing & this medical study. I found a link to the actual study (yours was broken) and read it – https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/14131

    The section on the stated knowledge of their limitations to the study blew my mind. They went to one of the poorest places in the world for this experiment, not a developed nation where people most certainly have the same conditions. They had a limited study of just 24 people and thought this was a good enough sample size for something as ground-breaking as this. They made no diagnoses of the cause of the original condition (etiology) nor made any measurement that anything actually changed in their body. They relied on witness testimony alone, the least reliable evidence for any experiment, for measurements of improvement. Modern medical equipment is able to measure vision and auditory response without testimony and could have avoided this ambiguity entirely. And, most importantly, they provided no control group and used no double-blind methods to help prove their findings weren’t biased. Also, I can find no followup at a later time to show that these people were actually healed and didn’t experience demand characteristics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demand_characteristics). How this paper was even accepted to a medical journal, I am stunned. While I do admire their work in helping those that are in far more need, and I don’t doubt their sincerity in trying to help people, I think the people of Africa would be better served with known working methods (hearing aid & glasses) than a chance a prayer might work.

    So I asked myself then, where did that mind so critical of YE creationists go? Then I remebered something else you said in that Junk DNA article

    “Humans have a well-documented propensity towards confirmation bias, which is the tendency to acknowledge and remember only the information which accords with a previously-formed opinion. This tendency becomes more pronounced with emotionally-loaded issues.”

    Having read your other articles, I know you had experience as a faith healer and it is something you believe is possible. I’ve seen no change in that belief in follow up articles. So my question to you, similar to the one you ask of YE believers is, what drives you to such a state of crippled perception here?

    • Keith,
      First, thank you for letting me know the link was broken and for pointing to a working link. You raise a number of thoughtful questions.

      About the article — I went back and re-read it. I would agree with many of your observations, but in fairness to the researchers, it seems like they were very forthcoming in acknowledging them up front (no control group, no double blind, etc.).

      I’m not sure you are appreciating the difficulties they were operating under. The subjects were likely illiterate tribesmen who may have walked miles barefoot through the bush to attend these meetings. The meetings were likely controlled chaos. There was likely no medical facilities of any kind for miles around, and these meeting may have been the only time the authors would have to interact with the subjects. So there was no chance for etiology ,etc.

      Iris Ministries does provide physical help in the form of drilling wells and bringing in food and providing housing for orphans, and I’m sure they would be happy to distribute hearing aids and glasses if these were available and had skilled medical personnel to support this activity, but all that just is not there out in the bush. It is a different world, with none of the amenities we take for granted.

      They explained clearly why they traveled to this particular area, with its inherent clinical difficulties: “The site was selected because Iris leaders are widely reputed among pentecostals globally as “specialists” in praying for those with hearing and vision impairments—especially during village outreaches in rural Mozambique.” The authors were specifically investigating “Proximal intercessory prayer (PIP)” [as opposed to distant intercessory prayer (DIP]. since PIP is ” a common complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy”. They note that their testing in the U.S. on PIP had been unsuccessful, and the word among the Pentecostals was that these effects tend to show up more in third world countries. (WHY that is, is of course a matter of debate). Anyway, the word on the Pentecostal street was that Iris ministries in Mozambique seemed to have the best success rate with PIP, so off to Mozambique the authors went, to give this technique its best chance. If they did not see results there, it would be reasonable to write it all off.

      I did not read the authors as saying, “This proves that a supernatural God has miraculously acted in time and space.” On one level, they were simply reporting the results of a particular subset of a well-defined healing practice, on a par with reiki or hypnotism or whatever. This is a legitimate subject of medical reporting. Doctors today are more willing than 20 years ago to give alternative healing practices a chance, if there is reason to believe they bring about improvements, even if the operative mechanism is entirely psychosomatic.

      re: ” They relied on witness testimony alone, the least reliable evidence for any experiment, for measurements of improvement.” — I don’t think that accurately represents what happened. Yes, the authors relied on witness testimony to select a suite of patients for testing, i.e. a suite of those who said they had initial hearing or vision problems. But then they did the actual, more or less quantitative physical testing on these patients before and after PIP. That testing, not the witness testimony, was the basis for “measures of improvement”. As the article noted, “In support of experimenter reliability, several audition subjects showed no measureable improvement, despite self-reported improvement.” Again, the authors based their conclusions on the measurements, not on patients’ testimony. These measurements, such as they are, clearly show that marked marked and fairly consistent vision and hearing improvements did occur after PIP.

      What gets the Iris ministers invited back to a region is not just that some locals swooned in a frenzy in a meeting and claimed to be healed. No, it is because they actually do experience lasting healing. These villages are not like anonymous suburbia where nobody knows their neighbors. In these villages, everyone knows everyone, and if Norberto has been blind all his life and now can actually see, they all know it. If his healing was just ephemeral or self-deception, they would know that, too.

      I happen to know several people who have visited the Iris mission in Mozambique, and they all tell me that this is really how things are. A few years ago I encouraged my older daughter, a very savvy and reliable person, to make the pilgrimage there, partly because I was curious about the remarkable reports I was hearing. She went with Iris staff to an outreach in a village in the bush. They bounced along dirt roads for hours till they came to a clearing with huts. That evening they gave an evangelistic message, and invited people with medical problems to receive prayer. As I recall, she told me that at least one person who was known to all the other villagers to be deaf, became able to hear again. And I think other people reported healings as well that evening.

      Besides the Mozambique experiences, there are numerous credible reports of significant, unexpected healings following prayer in the name of Jesus. I have posted some links elsewhere on this blog. e.g.
      https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/engineers-wife-healed-of-multiple-sclerosis/
      https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/healings-on-youtube-legs-growing-out/
      https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/healing-of-nearly-deaf-boy-on-youtube/

      Two friends of mine, stolid middle class professionals like myself, reported to me that they saw a girl, who had stunted growth, gain four inches in height in a few minutes during prayer. I have observed some notable healings when I have prayed, but I haven’t presented those on the blog since they would be just anecdotal to the general reader. (For instance, once when a friend and I prayed for a young woman whose toe was blue and painful, having been broken the day before, right before our eyes it turned from blue to healthy pink, and the pain left. This was not in any sort of emotionally hyped state or group setting. It just… happened.)

      Given those observations and experiences, it would be irrational for me to reject the power of healing prayer. With all due respect, it seems to me that it is the skeptics that might be the ones exhibiting the “I don’t care what the evidence is, I will never believe it” denial which is characteristic of YE creationists.

      For full disclosure here, I am not claiming that every manifested healing is necessarily a supernatural miracle. Also, I have bothersome unresolved questions about the consistency of response to healing prayer. Last year I attached myself to the entourage of Randy Clark, a leading practitioner of healing prayer, on a mission of his to Germany. I was part of the supporting prayer team. Friends of mine have gone on trips with Randy to places like Brazil or India and reported back many notable healings. I decided to go to a tougher place for healing, among hard-headed Germans. I related my experiences here:
      https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/germany_mission/

      That is probably longer than you want to read. For me, that trip was a mixed experience. Yes, a number of people felt aches and pains go away when I prayed, and I was of course happy for them to feel better. But it was pretty hard to tell if that was all just psychosomatic. Also, for most of the people I prayed for, nothing happened, at least at the time. So, I am still a humble learner in this area.

      Best wishes in your journey…

  8. keithf4 says:

    Greatly appreciate your long response. I can tell you exactly why healing practices like this don’t work as well in developed nations. It’s because they use control groups and double-blind methods. Here’s an example of when they did just that: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16569567
    Turned out no better or worse than normal statistical results than would be expected in medical practice. Yes this is the only study done I’ve been able to find with results like this, but it’s also the only one I’ve seen actually do it in a proper scientific manner.

    Of course the reports of healings in third-world countries are going to be astronomically higher than anywhere else. It’s the same reason such things were more common in our country’s own past. And I totally agree that people should concentrate on those areas of the world much more closely to understand what’s going on. But if they’re not going to use methods that have proven to remove the fault inherent in human experimentation, then they shouldn’t be taken anymore seriously than young earth creationists (YECs) and their bad scientific methods.

    Your dismissal of control groups & double-blind methods is something I cannot just let go. Unlike glasses and hearing aids may be, those two methods are perfectly reasonable requests which are possible no matter how poor the area someone goes to do an experiment. Their dismissal of such methods is highly suspect, and while I can’t claim intentional, the confirmation bias behind it to improve their end results is unmistakable. And like I said, I don’t doubt the sincerity and good intentions of the people that went on this trip. I greatly admire the work and help they give to people so much less fortunate than us. But I am most certainly going to call them out on doing bad science just as you so eloquently do for YECs. Bad methods like those that were done in Mozambique are what lead down a long road of misconceptions just like the 25 page packet that Stan produced in your second letter to him. Bad methods like this are what lead to tens of thousands of homeopathic medical studies that give all the same sorts of measurements and charts that this Mozambique study provided. But as soon as a control group is added to a homeopathic study, all those numbers mean nothing. And I’ll clarify what I mean when I say they relied solely on witness testimony for their results. Their numbers were based soley on the responses given that an improvement happend. The use of eye charts and audiometers relies on the person themselves to tell you they got better. I understand they couldn’t get the advanced equipment there to do truly automated responses. But that should lead you to caution in their results, most especially without a control group.

    I can’t really speak to dismissing your witnessed claims of healing. What I am going to go on is how the human body is understood to work and none of these claims hold up to any known medical explanations. If you’re going to invoke a supernatural cause for changes in human biology then you’re going down the same road as the “apparent age” philosophy of YECs.

    I’m going to go with the fact that witness testimony to an event is considered the worst possibly evidence by psychology, sociology & law enforcement. There’s a reason modern courts of law do not normally accept it as the only evidence for a criminal case.

    I’m going to go on the human tendency of confirmation bias and the ability of the human mind to change what it remembers to fit what that confirmation bias wants it to remember. I’m totally guilty of this myself and hate the tendency of my mind to do so. The claim of photographic memory in people is all but false except in the rare case of some autistic savants, and even then it’s not perfect. So I’d ask you to be a little more skeptical of your own memory of the event without empirical evidence of the occurrence that anyone that doubts it could verify.

    I’m going to go with Occam’s Razor for the leg growth phenomenon because it is so prone to fakery & demand characteristics: shifting your feet out to the side, slipping the shoe off slightly, bending your ankle just slightly, shifting your hips, all can easily cause displacement where the cause is not obvious on a camera. Hip shifting can even make it difficult to spot in real life (done some experimentation with this one myself). Did you actually do any physical measurements before and after or did you rely soley on observation & testimony of the healed? Did you get a doctoral diagnosis of the person beforehand that they actually had a difference in their leg height? That can be proven beyond a doubt with x-rays or even a tape measure. I propose to you the following for your next leg growth healing session:

    1) With no shoes on (leave them off for entire session), stand with the back and shoulders firmly against the wall, ensuring shoulders are at equal height. If there is a legitimate length difference in their legs, then one leg may be higher off the ground when doing this. That’s fine. If they still cannot keep their shoulders straight, then I would get further medical advice from a doctor to first see if the person has spinal problems and is unable to stand straight and ask them to stay out of this session if that cannot be done. This is not for healing the spine (can do that one another day! :).
    2) While standing straight like this, measure from the protrusion of the hip bone to the bulge at the end of the femur above the knee. Make sure all measurements by everyone are done from the same points at hip and knee. This should stop the hip adjustment trick, even if they are standing.
    3) Measure from the bulge at the top of the tibia to the bottom of the heal.
    4) Measure from the heal to the tip of the big toe on the bottom of the foot (avoids issue of bending food forward and back).
    5) With the leg fully bent, measure from the end of the femur at the knee to the beginning of tibia below the knee on both sides of the knee (to see if the space between the femur and tibia grew)

    Have at least 3-4 people take these measurements (without the others that are also taking measurements around) and then put their findings in an envelope to keep them untouched until done. Perform the healing. Repeat all measurement steps again with a different group of people than did the original measurements. Again ensure all measurements are being taken from the same places at all times by all people.

    A control group and double-blind conditions are also required. Would be kind of tricky in this case, but I think valid controls would be to have those that claim they are healers and several that are not and all perform healing. The people being healed don’t know who is who. Also have people that you know are faking the leg growth, others that will purposely report no change & others that believe they have a difference that will be healed. The healers don’t know who is who.

    And don’t do this measurement method just once. Do it again and again with different groups of people, most especially those that are skeptical of it being true. Document it all. Video tape it all. Screw all this measurement stuff and get x-rays done. Use what the modern world has given you to prove what you claim is real. Probably more clinical than you’d typically want to do in a faith healing session, but that’s tough. As you well know, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Use that skepticism and passion for the scientific method you had for young earth claims back when you were writing letters to Stan.

    Thank you again for your blog and taking the time to respond.

    • Keith,
      Appreciate your thoughtful comment. You’ve raised a number of issues. I’ll start with responding on the Mozambique article. You’ve done a thorough job laying what a solid, controlled, double-blind experiment in healing might look like. Nothing on a theoretical level to disagree with there.

      However, I think you don’t fully appreciate the challenges faced by these academics in that study. It’s all very well for us to sit in our armchairs and say, “… control groups & double-blind methods … are perfectly reasonable requests which are possible no matter how poor the area someone goes to do an experiment. ” This was not just a “poor area”, as in an urban slum where there is at least some schooling and organization, where you might be able to settle in and set up some structured study. These gatherings were fluid and chaotic, and people are just not interested in participating in some enterprise where half the outcomes are expected to be nil. The authors noted, for instance, “It would be desirable to follow-up with subjects several days or weeks after PIP, although systematic follow-up would be extremely difficult under similar field conditions (we tried but could only locate one subject for re-testing the following day).” If you re-read the study, you will note that the authors were barely able to do the minimal measurements on the treatment group, e.g. they were apologetic over only being able to measure hearing at one frequency. The ministry team, with the testers, likely jounced in by truck to each village, and only spent 1-2 days there.

      More importantly, their hosts, the Iris ministry staff, just aren’t going to consent to taking a random half of the people who have walked barefoot all day in hopes of a healing touch, and then give them some other treatment than what they came for. Nor should they, given their belief that their prayers have a reasonable probability of bringing relief. Trying to prove anything to skeptics is just of no concern to them. Unlike the homeopathic advocates, they are not trying to sell anything to the broader public or to claim that they have a transferrable curative method that anyone else can imitate.

      So the chance of these academics doing a classic randomized, double-blind, control-group study here was nil. They had a choice of doing a prospective study, or none at all. And prospective studies are fine, in their place, as long as all the methodological limitations are made clear, as they were in this article. The structure of this study of course weakens its scientific value, yet it does not eliminate it.
      An article in Lancet [ http://apps.who.int/rhl/LANCET_696-700.pdf ] noted, “Double blinding proves difficult or impossible in many trials. For instance, in general, surgical trials cannot be double blinded. …If researchers do not describe their trial as double-blind or the equivalent, it could still be scientifically strong. Apart from assessment of the other methodological aspects of the trial, readers would have to assess how much bias might have ensued due to absence of blinding.”

      Unlike the case of homeopathy (where the claims are often that e.g. over a period of weeks or months, a certain percentage of testees reported “feeling” better) , the observed effects here were startling and immediate: substantial healing of functional deafness and blindness in most of the testees, in less than an hour, as measured by outside, trained investigators. The dramatic, fairly consistent changes measured by these researchers at least merit followup to more clearly prove or disprove these putative effects. Again, this was a prospective study, nothing more, nothing less.

      Maybe a follow-up double-blind study would show that prayer was not the determining factor, but rather rural Africans routinely experience enormous improvements in hearing and vision just from outsiders coming to their villages and giving them compassionate attention for an hour. That would be worth knowing, if only as a stopgap measure for the next decade until full-on medical services can be provided for them. But to quash these promising findings just because they are unexpected would be irresponsible.

      re: “Their numbers were based soley on the responses given that an improvement happend. The use of eye charts and audiometers relies on the person themselves to tell you they got better. ” Well, sort of. It’s not that the testers merely interviewed the subjects and asked if they thought their hearing had improved. The methods used in this study were standard techniques used everywhere for quantitatively assessing hearing and vision. These techniques are how my kids were screened at school for hearing, and how the optometrist adjusts my glasses prescription every two years.

      It is hard to fool the tester about the final (post-prayer) seemingly improved level of hearing and vision. The testers took reasonable precautions to minimize practice effects that would boost performance on the final test compared to the initial (pre-prayer) test. The skeptic is reduced to speculating that, for unknown reasons, the testees performed way, way, way below capability on the initial (pre-prayer) testing. While that cannot be disproven, there seems to be little objective reason to believe that was the case, other than the fact that the measurements showed unexpected results.

      The article discusses the possibility of various other factors which have been suggested as having the potential to skew the results (e.g. suggestion , hypnosis), but note that the average effects in their study were far greater than seen for these other effects.
      There are varying degrees of “witness” evidence. Agreed that witness testimony regarding the details of some complex event, particularly relying on memory of the past, can be unreliable. But these optical and auditory measurements related to fairly straightforward reports, recorded on the spot.

      To dismiss all prayer on the basis of that 2006 Benson study that you cited is naive. It assumes that all types of prayer are of equal effect. That is like assuming that all pills are alike, so a negative study on one type of pill means that all pills are useless. Nobody I know who is serious about prayer would think that this sort of clinical exercise using long-distance prayer for strangers on a list would do much. If a friend asks me to pray for their sick aunt in Ohio, I will do so out of sympathy with my friend’s concern, but I really don’t expect much to come of it.

      The Mozambique article discussed this Benson study, clarifying some differences between its distant intercessory prayer and the Proximal Intercessory Prayer (PIP) which is the type which is most reputed to sometimes have strong effect. It may be worth noting that one of the three groups doing the praying in the Benson study, Silent Unity, has prayer beliefs and practices which are not even recognizable as intercession to God, being instead “creative thought” to help us “express our divine potential”.

      If we are going to give New Testament-type prayer a fair chance, we need to work within its categories as much as possible. There not all prayer is of equal impact. The effectiveness of prayer is heavily dependent on the quality of faith. When he healed people, Jesus often credited their own faith for enabling the healing, with phrases like, “According to your faith be it done to you”, or “Your faith has healed you.” Conversely, when he went back to his hometown where they would not receive him as messiah because he was just the local carpenter’s son, the gospel of Mark (6:4-6) records that even Jesus (playing by his own rules) “could not do any miracles there…and he was amazed at their unbelief.” James (1:5-7) has this to say about the role of faith and doubt in prayer: ” If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”

      God is obviously capable of healing near or far, but the New Testament norm is for it to be part of a personal encounter, not names on a list.

      Also, in the New Testament model, not just anybody has equal effectiveness in prayer. Some believers are graced with special gifting for healing ( I Cor. 12:9, 30). It was thus appropriate that the authors of the Mozambique sought to follow up persistent reports that the Iris ministers in Mozambique were experiencing significant responses to their prayers.

      Finally, there is a pattern in the New Testament of miracles most often occurring when the gospel message is first brought to a new people group, presumably serving to authenticate a new, foreign message. Things then seem to taper off, since the primary witness to the Christian message is then supposed to be the quality of life of the Christians in that community.

      Whether we like them or not, those are some of the principles of biblical Christian prayer, so prayer studies that flout these principles are flawed from the start.

      With homeopathy, there have been many, many prior studies over the years involving therapies where presumably the practicing homeopaths were involved in recommending the most promsing treatments. [If you are a fan of epidemiology, you might enjoy reading this description of a randomized, double-blind study of homeopathy performed in 1835(!) : http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/homeopathy-failing-randomized-controlled-trials-since-1835/ ]. In contrast, there have been few if any professional-level studies of the effects of the reputedly most-effective form of prayer (i.e. PIP by individuals with special gifting, preferably on the mission field) other than this Mozambique article.

      One other remark on that article: I can understand that your reaction to it is “This simply cannot be true!”, if your only contact with its contents is the article itself. It would seem like a fantastic claim, incompatible with all the rest of your knowledge base. I would have been hesitant to give it such a favorable posting on my blog, except I had extensive prior knowledge of what goes on there. In 2004, I heard Rolland Baker, the co-head of Iris Ministries in Mozambique, describe what was happening there. Healing of the deaf was routine, and healing of blindness and other maladies was not uncommon. These healings occurred in the villages where everyone knows whether someone used to be blind and whether they now could see. And this healing ministry is the crucial element that has allowed Iris to operate in a Moslem-dominated region where otherwise Christian missionaries are driven out or murdered.

      This, of course, got me curious. Was this speaker a liar, or delusional? Could this be real? Despite my open-mindedness to remarkable answers to prayer, I had never heard of this level of operation. But what I heard from reliable friends who went to Mozambique consistently matched what the speaker said. And, as I mentioned earlier, I encouraged my highly-reliable 20-something daughter to go there, partly to slake my curiousity. Her report confirmed everything else I was hearing. And so the published article was merely putting quantitative numbers on the consistent qualitative reports I had gotten. Is there a vast, vast conspiracy here? A mass delusion, extending over thousands of diverse people for more than a decade? Maybe, but I doubt it.
      * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
      Moving to other topics – – -You politely questioned the accuracy of my memory of that toe healing episode that I witnessed, which I mentioned in my previous comment here. That is a very fair question, so here are some more details:

      (a) The young woman’s toe was initially in distress (blue and painful), which is why we undertook to pray for her. (b) After a brief prayer, her toe was healthy pink and pain-free. (c) All three of us were left gaping as it turned from blue to pink before our eyes, and asking each other, “Did you see that?” and finding we had all witnessed the same thing. (d) We immediately told other people about it; some of those people still recall what we told them at the time , since it was so dramatic . (e) Since it was such a bizarre event, I could not help contacting the young woman a few weeks later and asking her, “Did that really happen?”, whereupon she assured me it did.

      So this episode is epistemologically firmly grounded. That said, no, I don’t have videos to prove this healing to outsiders, so to them this is just an anecdote. But I did not mention this episode to try to prove anything to anyone else, but to indicate to you (since you seemed to be probing my mindset) some experiences I have had which make me open-minded to the possibility of miracles.

      About legs growing out, I fully agree that this is vulnerable to fakery, intended or not, especially in regards to legs swinging off to the side (done by the pray-er) or hip shifting done by the pray-ee. I discussed that clearly in my blog article on legs growing out:
      https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/healings-on-youtube-legs-growing-out/
      There I made an effort to select videos where the sideways movement is minimal, and where the shoes are not easily slipped off. The viewer can weigh in his or her own mind the likelihood that some sort of fakery is being practiced. I myself have actually never prayed for someone’s leg to be lengthened. If that did happen, I would leave it up to them to measure and publicize it.

      While I am happy to post some encouraging videos or studies that I come across, I am not motivated to try to prove God or miracles with scientific rigor. People seem to forget that even in a triple-blind study, God is not blinded, and He may or may not wish to participate in such an exercise. There is a pretty consistent position in the New Testament that God has already provided the appropriate level of evidence, enough to justify belief but not enough to compel it. When skeptics came to Jesus demanding a “sign” on their terms, he point-blank refused, saying that no sign would be given to them other than his resurrection. So I doubt that today’s skeptics will be given the type of proof they demand, either.

      A couple of months ago, I posted a lengthy discussion of the nature of evidence for God available in the natural world:
      https://letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/a-survey-of-biblical-natural-theology/
      It is too long to summarize here, but it concludes with this quote which is relevant to the issue of setting up studies to put God to the test:
      “A fundamental tenet of Christianity is free will. It is no stretch to say that Christianity without free will is simply not Christianity anymore. The Christian God grants humans free will and will not interfere with its exercise. Humans are free to believe or not believe, free to follow God’s laws or free to sin and separate themselves from God…
      Luckily for everyone, scientific attempts to prove or disprove God are all doomed to failure. We live in exactly the world the thoughtful Christian would expect to find. For those who believe, hints of God are everywhere. But none are convincing. Faith remains a requirement and atheism remains an option. A God who values free will would set it up just that way.”

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