A recent episode of the television show House titled “House vs. God” dealt with the idea of faith healing, something that comes up a lot these days in medical journals.
What is the power of prayer? Does faith healing work? Can miracles happen?
As many are aware, there have been multiple studies that attempt to look at these subjects, the strongest being that of the effect prayer has on people.
Unfortunately, even the people running these studies will tell you they are not well designed, and potentially flawed.
This came to light recently when one of the most comprehensive studies on the power of prayer showed that prayer for post-operative cardiac patients actually appeared to have a slightly detrimental effect on the patient.
Perhaps this is a reflection of my interdisciplinary training, but I think the much more interesting questions to ask are why miracles can’t happen and prayer can’t heal.
Some would say that it’s because there is no higher power, deity or God, but do we need such a being to exist for prayers and miracles to work?
After all, couldn’t you argue that a miracle is just that which we don’t understand?
You could quite often say the same thing about our medicine. The typical example is a cell phone in the rain forest, although I’d argue there’s an awful lot of technology and medicine that might as well be (and probably is) “magic” based on how well we understand it.
There is simply the belief, the faith that it will work, because someone is being told it will work.
How is that so different than hearing a faith healer tell you the same?
Of course, we of the rational, medical type say we have medicine. We can take the time to understand how technology works. We can figure it out and we can do the math.
But we cannot and do not fully understand how the body works; we keep finding new things.Miracles keep being rationalized and understood, filed away into things to learn and knowledge to distill.
If we have learned one thing, it’s that the body is an amazing thing.
In the episode of House I refer to, the patient — a young teenage boy — hears the voice of God, and believes God wants him to be a faith healer. Dr. House takes the case on after the boy collapses in the middle of a church meeting, and eventually discovers the boy has a tumor in a certain part of his brain, the result being that he experiences hallucinations — hallucinations he believes to be the voice of God.
Who is to say that the power of the placebo effect isn’t enough to help some people?
After all, we know scientifically and medically that positive thinking does positively affect our health, including helping us recover from illness.
Does it even have to be a placebo? We understand so little of how the brain works, is it so genuinely inconceivable that there are still processes left we don’t understand?
We don’t want to entertain the notion that something can be both real and invisible, quantifiable yet mystical, so it gets filed away as faith-healing fakery and fraud.
But in 10 years, perhaps it will have a Latin name and a textbook, diagnosis and belief, some way to reconcile disbelief and faith (or evidence).
That’s the way knowledge goes: a part of life for both miracle and medicine.
Why should we limit our view of the world to that science we already understand, instead of enjoying the magic and mystery behind those things we don’t?