Monday, January 17, 2011 Login

Francis Collins Admits Healing Prayers Don’t Work

Instead, he prays for wisdom – as if that works any better.

You can learn the details at the end of this recent essay of his (which you might find interesting for several other reasons as well):

Praying For My Friend Christopher Hitchens (Francis Collins/The Washington Post/On Faith; Sept 20)

I first met Christopher Hitchens at a “salon” organized by Ben Wattenberg a few years ago. The evening was advertised as a wide-ranging discussion of many topics, but soon evolved into a debate between Christopher and myself about whether a rational person could also be a person of faith. As expected based on our respective public writings, Christopher took the negative position, and I took the positive. It was an energetic and entertaining opportunity for intellectual jousting, and the quickness and edginess of Christopher’s wit was on full display – as was his remarkable command of history and literature. (In fact, I suspect he knew more about the Christian Bible than many of the Christians in attendance.)

[A recent poll seems to support Collins's suspicions.]

It was with dismay that I learned in June that Christopher had been diagnosed with cancer. And this was a very serious situation – esophageal cancer that has already spread to regional lymph nodes has a poor prognosis, and pursuing all avenues of intervention, even if experimental, would be highly advisable. As the Director of the National Institutes of Health, I am in a position to be aware of new developments in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Advances are occurring with great rapidity as technologies arising from the success of the Human Genome Project are making it possible to get a comprehensive understanding of what drives malignancy. The ability to match cancer drugs to the characteristics of an individual tumor is growing rapidly. New drug targets are being discovered. New protocols for treatment of cancer, listed in www.clinicaltrials.gov, are being developed every month.

So as I have done in other situations where a friend was in trouble, I reached out to Christopher and his wife Carol Blue to offer assistance. They welcomed that possibility, and we’ve met several times since then in their apartment. That relationship has led to some interesting ideas about how to optimize his treatment. Christopher will no doubt be writing more about these in his powerful series of essays in Vanity Fair.

Some observers have expressed surprise that the atheist intellectual and the Christian physician-scientist could become friends. After all, in the current political climate in Washington, anyone who doesn’t agree with you is supposed to be your enemy. But I would like to think that Christopher’s sharp intellect has challenged my own defense of the rationality of faith to be more consistent and compelling. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17Open Link in New Window).

[It is unclear to me why Collins would choose to cite or follow that passage from the Hebrew scriptures rather than this one specifically addressed to Christians: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you." - 2 Corinthians 6:14-17]

On a personal level, I have been blessed by getting to know Christopher and Carol better – despite the “enfant terrible” reputation, Christopher has a warm humanity that is easy to perceive. And his willingness to be utterly open and transparent about his cancer diagnosis provides a breathtaking window into his personal integrity.

Over these last few months, we have not talked directly about faith. He knows that I am praying for him. But my prayer is not so much for a supernatural intervention – as a physician I have not seen evidence for such medical miracles in my own experience. Instead I pray for myself and for Christopher along the lines of James 1:5 – “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” And I then give thanks for the chance to share in a deepening friendship.

(Francis Collins is Director of the National Institutes of Health, the researcher behind the Human Genome Project and a Christian who explained how he reconciles science and faith in his book The Language of God.)

Ok, so James 1:5Open Link in New Window pretty much offers us a no-exceptions guarantee. It basically says “IF you lack wisdom, AND you ask gOd for wisdom, god WILL give it to you.” And of course that’s easily proven to be false. If it were true, Christians would be the wisest people on the face of the earth – and they aren’t. (Go here for just some of the details of how they tend to lag behind others in this department.) The fact that Christians who pray for wisdom end up embracing an incredibly wide variety of contradictory opinions on virtually every subject under the sun further refutes James’s claim.

I doubt that anyone is very surprised by this. After all, the passage that Collins cites comes from the same book that falsely promises that the followers of Jesus will be able to drink any deadly thing without harm to themselves (Mark 16:18). That same book even promises that *nothing* is impossible for those with even a tiny bit of faith (Matthew 17:20). And of course it’s the same nearly 2000-year-old book that repeatedly indicates that the end is near and that Jesus will be coming back soon.

What *is* surprising (at least to me) is that someone in the position that Collins is in can seriously claim to believe and follow what James says.

At least he admits that prayers lack the ability to heal people. That’s progress, I guess.

But it leaves open the question of whether or not he believes what Mark 16:18 says about the ability of Christians to cure others merely by touching them with their hands.

Perhaps he’s suspending judgment until his National Institutes of Health thoroughly reviews the scientific data?

(For a clearer view of the intersection of medicine and religion, see the comments of Dr. Richard Sloan that’s I’ve shared here. For a few other examples of the failure of prayer, go here, here, and here.)

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Originally posted at: Atheist Under Ur Bed

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