Can God supernaturally heal the sick? Americans reveal where they stand

Posted October 6

When most people get sick, they go to the doctor and seek medical attention to find healing. But it seems the majority of Americans also make a deeper spiritual — and supernatural — appeal in seeking remedies to various health woes.

In fact, the majority of the U.S. public — 66 percent — believe God can supernaturally heal physical ailments, though 34 percent are skeptical that such a dynamic is possible, according to a new Barna Group survey.

Among the 66 percent who do believe supernatural healing is possible, 33 percent agree strongly and 33 percent agree somewhat with the notion.

While a variety of factors such as age, education and ethnicity affected the intensity and range of this belief, some of the most striking findings came along with differences in people's faith worldview.

Among practicing Christians, 61 percent agree strongly that it is possible for God to physically heal the sick, with a striking 87 percent of evangelicals strongly agreeing with this sentiment. This distinguishes evangelicals as the most likely of any group to hold that viewpoint, according to the Barna Group.

Then, there's the divide between Protestants and Catholics.

"Protestants (55 percent) are almost three times more likely to believe people can be physically healed supernaturally by God than Catholics (19 percent)," the report reads. "This is one of the more significant divides between these two groups that we’ve seen historically in Barna’s data."

Additionally, respondents who belonged to other faiths, including Islam and Judaism, were much less likely to believe that supernatural healing is possible, with only 21 percent embracing the phenomenon.

But belief in the possibility of supernatural healing is one thing; action is another. And it seems those who believe God can miraculously heal are also more than willing to pray for such healing. The majority of Americans — 68 percent — have prayed for God to supernaturally heal someone in their lives.

One again, evangelicals stand out, with 95 percent praying for healing, compared with 86 percent of practicing Christians more broadly; only 46 percent of people of other faiths have prayed the same way.

So, now that we've explored belief in the existence of supernatural healing and the willingness to pray for such a phenomenon, let's take a look at the percentage of people who told Barna they have experienced a miraculous healing.

Overall, the survey found that 27 percent of people reported having a physical healing they believed was miraculous — and not the result of a natural healing or a medical treatment.

On this measure, there's yet another notable difference between Catholics and evangelicals. While 41 percent of Protestants say they've had a miracle healing, only 18 percent of Catholics said the same.

Despite a lot of discussion and debate over the rise of the so-called "nones" (a group composed of atheists, agnostics and those with no religious affiliation), there's reportedly been a rise in the existence of miracles over the years.

One study in 2012 reportedly found a 22 percent increase over the past two decades in Americans who definitively believe that miracles are possible.

Still, there's very clearly a cohort of people who, for whatever reason, have come to believe that science precludes the existence of miracles. In fact, an analysis from The Pew Research Center recently found that 49 percent of "nones" who were raised with faith were led away from religion due to a "lack of belief."

Among those in this cohort, science was mentioned as a reason for rejecting elements of their former faith experience. Some responded that "logic" should trump, with others saying things like," I'm a scientist now, and I don't believe in miracles."

Of course, a belief in miracles more generally is quite different from a more specific assessment of medical miracles, with the latter, in some ways, providing a more measurable dynamic through which believers and skeptics, alike, can assess the facts surrounding each case.

Just consider a project being undertaken by former pastor Elijah Stephens — a documentary to objectively explore purported medical miracles.

"If God’s real and doing stuff today I want to know about it … I wanted to find objective evidence," Stephens told "The Church Boys" podcast earlier this year. "You can claim someone’s been healed, but what do the medical records say — and would a doctor really validate it?"

He's planning to take a rigorous approach to investigating alleged medical miracles, holding a high standard in the process, as Stephens said, "Christians have committed intellectual suicide and until we raise our standards no one is going to believe us on this stuff."

Read more about his project here.

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