Thursday, April 08, 2010

Healing: A Doctor In Search of a Miracle by William A. Nolen M.D. (1974)

Nolen, an M.D., explores healings outside of regular western medicine and concludes that he can find not a single example of organic healing, i.e., healing in which a visible external difference is made in the patient, e.g., the disappearance of a tumor or a cancer, or the healing of a withered leg.

Christians will have no problem with his exposé of Philippine psychic-healers. Depending on their position on such matters, they may be disappointed to learn that his (admittedly incomplete) investigation of Kathryn Kuhlman's ministry resulted in a conclusion that no organic healings could be confirmed despite (evidently sincere) claims to the contrary. As in other research I have done, there seems to be a sizable gap between the sweeping claims made and the on-the-ground reality.

His book is cited favorably by atheist skeptics and Christian cessationists, i.e., those who believe that apostolic-grade healings have ceased.

From a miracles-investigation point of view (POV), this book is valuable for:

* his methodology for investigation, e.g., letters, phone calls, soliciting permission to speak to a patient's doctor, direct on-the-ground investigation, etc.

* its categories of medical conditions, e.g., functional - "ailments caused by the malfunction of an organ or system under the control of the autonomic nervous system"; hysterical, e.g., mind-induced; and organic - such as a broken bone, cleft palate, cancer, or gall stones. According to Nolen, the first two categories respond well to the suggestive nature and nurture of faith-healing, the third does not.

Another set of categories he uses is: self-limited, e.g., a cold, which goes away of itself anyway; cyclical, i.e., diseases which ebb and flow in their intensity and symptoms, and, once again, psychosomatic or hysterical.

* his observation that medical doctors are in a better position to evaluate miracle testimonies than laypersons. For example, being able to breath deeply on stage is NOT evidence that lung cancer has been cured!

* his findings in exposing fraudulent miracle workers and the deficiencies of an evangelical ministry such as that of Kathryn Kuhlman.

Kathryn Kuhlman remains an important figure today because she is looked up to and used as a model by many modern-day miracle ministries. Notably, Bennie Hinn, John Arnott, and Bill Prankard.

Skeptics love this book because of its hard conclusion: modern-day miracles don't happen, and, when it appears they do, it is because they are "soft" miracles based on the power of suggestion rather than (necessarily) a supernatural act of God.

A question for miracle investigators is this: Is it true, as Dr. Nolen asserts, that there is no medically-credible evidence for an organic-grade evangelical miracle? Can his assertion be refuted?

Interestingly, Dr. Nolen, a nominal Roman Catholic, does not mention Roman Catholic miracle claims in his book. He essentially dismisses them without even mentioning them!

The intersection between faith and science is an interesting one. As are the intersections between the natural and the supernatural, and the material and the spiritual.


David Beach said...

Why won't god heal amputees?

BallBounces said...


We don't know that he won't. Perhaps you should ask, why doesn't he? The answers to this might be:

1. I don't know.
2. We don't know that he hasn't. Christ healed all that came to him, but no regenerative miracles are recorded in the gospels.
3. I don't know.
4. Given the nature of bone growth, regeneration would probably be exquisitely painful in humans. Of course, God could override the pain....
5. I don't know.
6. It might be a function of the level of our faith (although I doubt it). Jesus said, "if you believe, say to this mountain be removed and cast into the sea, and it will be done..."
7. I don't know.
8. God cares less about the state of our physical bodies than the state of our souls (our inner person). Because our bodies are perishing, but our true selves will either be consigned to perish/destruction/hell (take your pick) or eternal life with God and Christ (again, take your pick -- it's your choice).
9. I don't know.
10. God will heal all amputees -- eventually. The beauty of the resurrection and the life to come is a renewed, restored, perfected heaven and earth without defect. The miracles of Christ are just the in-breaking of this wonderful future into the present.

A bigger problem than why doesn't God heal amputees is why does he perform any miracles of healing at all? Why does he even care about us -- we who are in a state of open rebellion, unbelief and sin towards him. Why not just wipe us out, or abandon us, and start over? The goodness of God towards us is a far bigger problem to solve than the apparent limitations of this goodness as expressed in his healing power.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"