Question from Kaye:
I am doing a research on the concept of healing. I was wondering do atheists believe in the concept of healing? Not weird or religious or fanatic…just plain everyday healing that may or may not be explained.

Answer by SmartLX:
What heals a body, more often than not, is the body itself. Doctors can help, but in the end the human body is at the mercy of its own immune system and other regenerative processes, such as skin regrowth and bone knitting (no, that’s not the medical term for it).

Beyond the capabilities of the body alone, there’s a lot that physicians and “healers” can do to effect real healing. They can help physically by removing dangerous tissue, binding broken limbs, cooling a fevered forehead and so forth. They can help through chemistry by administering medicine and drugs, and regulating a patient’s diet. They can help psychologically by encouraging a positive outlook in the patient, which is known to affect internal processes.

The kind of healing which apparently falls outside of these two categories is the “miraculous recovery”, where a person recovers from an injury or illness normally beyond the body’s own capabilities without medical help. If it’s really happened (which, in many instances, is a question well worth asking), there must be a reason, and this is where different people are tempted to insert their favourite god or other supernatural entity.

To an atheist, the most likely reason for super-healing like this (again, once verified as having actually occurred) is something natural but unknown to the chronicler: some unique property of the subject’s physiology or body chemistry, prior treatments or preventative measures, added time for recovery, etcetera. Just thinking that there aren’t any supernatural agents at work doesn’t mean assuming that one knows every phenomenon that can affect a human body. Medical science may one day benefit greatly from what we presently don’t know, based on its progress so far.

If you have a particular healing story in mind, comment and re-tell it for us to discuss.

Paging Dr God

Question from Sumira:
I am a non believer. One topic that baffles me is when believers seek medical treatment. They spend so much time praying and thanking gods for good health or recovery. Why do they really even seek medical treatment then? Isn’t that admitting that praying isn’t enough?

I know some of these types believe that god works through doctors or prayers result in medical advances. I still don’t understand though. I know this is just one small inconsistency within the larger inexplicable delusion, but please help me. What are these people really thinking and how do you respond?

Answer by SmartLX:
Seriously ill people who don’t get medical attention are much more likely to die than those who do, and no amount of prayer changes that. Remember this anytime you’re baffled and it’ll help you, because the reasoning behind all this stems from it.

Because prayer by itself doesn’t apparently work, it becomes a liability for any religious group that says it does. Those groups who stick to their guns and leave everything to God, like the Followers of Christ or the Church of the First Born, are regularly in the news when the children of their followers die preventable deaths. Mainstream churches can’t afford that kind of ongoing embarrassment if they want to keep their millions of nominal followers. (See the recent decline in Catholicism as a direct result of the child abuse scandals.)

Thus, ideas emerge such as that God works through doctors or medical science, or that He leaves medicine up to us as a test, or that Satan somehow nullifies God’s influence…anything to establish theologically that despite God’s presence, it’s still necessary to properly tend the sick. These ideas might start from either the pulpit or the pews, and they might be official doctrines or just unspoken assumptions by the congregation.

These compromising concepts are useful to religious adherents whether or not they actually believe in them. They save the devout from having to confront the inefficacy of prayer, and give them legitimate reasons to take control of the care of their loved ones. Those who belong to a religion but also rely on medicine are able to reconcile the two to their more religious acquaintances.

Admitting that prayer isn’t all-powerful isn’t the same as admitting that God isn’t all-powerful. All a religion needs in order to ignore the poor results of prayer-based healing is a reason, any reason, why God doesn’t put all of His power into every prayer. Thus potential evidence for the absence of God is reduced to a simple absence of evidence for God, and faith does the rest.