Inasmuch as religious faith of any kind—and in spite of serious contradictions between religions—produces the same benefits, logically the results cannot be attributed to the efficacy of any religion. Any such “faith” healing must be due to the placebo effect, which is caused not by some power in the religion but by the relief that it has such power. According to psychiatrist Peter Breggin, it has been “repeatedly demonstrated that up to 50 percent or more of depressed patients improve on the sugar pill. In some studies, nearly 90 percent have improved on placebo.”
What or in whom one believes (whether in Buddhism or Hinduism, in Mohammed or in Christ) is apparently not important for some healing effects. Rather, belief itself seems to trigger some inner power that does the healing. This is only true, however, of psychosomatic problems. Logically, a firm belief in an alleged remedy should cure what depression or a fear of getting ill has caused. Most ailments plaguing Americans—and most “healings” by “faith healers”—fall into that category. “Anywhere from 60% to 90% of visits to doctors are in the mind-body, stress-related realm,” according to Dr. Herbert Benson, president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute of Boston’s Deaconess Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
The Bible itself supports this finding: “A merry heart doeth good like medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Proverbs:17:22). This statement, however, does not suggest an unlimited power or potential within man. It limits the efficacy of the connection between mind and emotions and body to the kind of healing help one might obtain from good medicine. The simple fact is that a relaxed, happy, optimistic attitude can assist the body’s normal ability to heal itself.
In a Christianity Today feature, evangelical leader and theologian J. I. Packer writes, “Statistics suggest that any form of prayer by anybody, Christian or not, helps patients recover…. Patients who have asked whatever God they pray to to watch over and heal them, and who are trusting [their] God to do it, relax inwardly in a way that, being natural, is actually therapeutic.” With obvious approval, Christianity Today reported:
“Foundations, government agencies, teaching hospitals, and universities are now sponsoring numerous studies testing scientific evidence for the efficacy of prayer. This past July…researchers from Georgetown, Duke, and Harvard universities, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute for Healthcare Research (NIHR) convened to ‘stimulate an explosion of research in religion in health.’ The conference was designed specifically to ‘determine the viability and mechanism of placing “the faith factor” into mainstream medical care.’ Academics are developing…studies aimed at establishing a scientifically discernible link between prayer and healing…. The landmark study that began generating new interest was conducted by Randolph Byrd in 1984…[involving] approximately 400 patients at San Francisco General Hospital….”
The enthusiasm of Christianity Today is difficult to understand. We have already seen the deception and denial of truth that result when science is mixed with Christianity. Furthermore, evidence that generic prayer to any god aids healing would undermine the very faith in the God of the Bible which Christianity Today upholds. Why trust in Jahweh, who demands holiness, when any libertarian god will do? The article quotes several authorities (presumably Christians) to the effect that the establishment of the efficacy of any “prayer” deals a deathblow to the God of the Bible:
“Siang-Yang Tan, associate professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of Managing Chronic Pain [says]: ‘We can’t, on the basis of Byrd’s study, say that prayer offered through Jesus is better than a Muslim’s prayer offered to Allah…[only] that some prayer is better than no prayer…. You will never be able to prove that the Judeo-Christian God is the true God. That can only be known through faith….’”