Extreme Faith Healing and Creationism – Different Name, Same Underlying Theology

This recent news report from the New York Times was posted on Irtiqa, together with a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal last year that provides glimpses of a disturbing phenomena:

A couple who belong to a church whose members avoid medical care were found guilty of criminally negligent homicide for praying over their ill son instead of seeking medical help. Jeff and Marci Beagley’s 16-year-old son, Neil, died in 2008 of complications from a urinary tract blockage. The state authorities have found that an unusual number of children whose families belonged to the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City had died at an early age, leading to a law that limits faith healing as a defense in such deaths.

This is not the first case of its kind – and it will probably not be the last. How many more men, women and children will suffer because of such irresponsibility? And this is not just some obscure news from a distant country – I know of people in Malaysia who subscribe to such views as well. I also personally know families who have suffered as a result of the influence of religious leaders in the same mold.

Being a Christian myself, I have absolutely no issues with praying for healing. In fact, I often pray for friends and family (and myself too, of course) who are sick. However, the more extreme form of faith healing stems from a fundamental flaw in their way of thinking about God – in other words, their theology. And it is the same fundamental flaw found in all forms of Creationism, including Intelligent Design. It is the assumption that God only works through miracles, stemming from the belief that only supernatural phenomena can be attributed to God. If humans can do it, we don’t need God. If nature does it, God is not involved. So these adherents insist that God will heal their children through supernatural means; rejecting the need for health care or medication. Seeking treatment at a hospital only reveals one’s lack of faith. Similarly, Creationists insist on a supernatural explanation for the origins and diversity of life. They continue to argue against the naturalistic explanation provided by Darwinian evolution, despite tonnes of scientific evidence in support of it, for fear that it will remove the final stronghold of God’s supernatural intervention in the affairs of the Earth. Their concern is that if science can explain everything from a naturalistic stand-point – it will spell the death-knell of God.

comic courtesy of Bizzaro

Does it have to be this way? Why can’t I pray for healing and seek medical attention at the same time? Why can’t I believe that the doctor and modern medicine cured my sickness, while believing that it is also God who healed me? Why can’t I accept the theory (and fact) that all species (including humans) evolved from a common ancestor and still believe that God created all life? Does it have to be one or the other?

There are always multiple ways of looking at something. And there are always different levels of explanation for causality. Owen Gingerich talks about these mutiple levels of explanation in the book God’s Universe, citing the example of boiling water. If a kettle of water is boiling, one can explain it by saying “the water is boiling because of an increase in the kinetic energy of the water molecules as energy is transported from the stove to the kettle and to the water molecules via conduction and then convection.” This is the scientific and naturalistic explanation which Owen Gingerich refers to as efficient causes. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong in saying that “the water is boiling because Polly put the kettle on and wants to drink a cup of tea”.

There are multiple levels of explanation for any phenomenon. God’s role as Sustainer can be described in Aristotelian terms as a final cause, the ultimate teleological reason something happens. Today, scientists play by the rules of a game of coherence, putting together an integrated picture of how things work, without recourse to the miraculous or to ultimate reasons. Essentially, scientists’ quests take place in the realm of efficient causes, thus, much as I might believe that the universe is best understood in terms of intelligent design, I don’t think that would get a spacecraft to Mars or explain how the laser in the grocery store checkout line works. With regard to final causes, intelligent design make a good case for a coherent understanding of the cosmos. But they fall short in supplying any mechanisms to serve as the efficient causes. As a philosophical idea, intelligent design is interesting, but it does not replace the scientific explanations that evolution offers. ~ Owen Gingerich, God’s Universe

It is important to note that Owen Gingerich’s use of the word intelligent design refers to the general belief that a Supreme Being created the Universe, as opposed to the Intelligent Design movement.

I am not denying that God can and does work supernaturally through divine intervention. He is the God of the extraordinary, but also of the ordinary. He is both the God of the supernatural and the natural. He can work through miracles, but he also chooses to work through natural processes and human beings like you and I. I believe most Christians will scoff at extreme faith healing that rejects any form of medical attention. Yet, many of these same Christians are also supporters of Creationism and anti-evolutionism. My take on it is – theologically, what’s the difference?

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