Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Dr Sean George’s miracle and the God behind it

On a recent edition of the Unbelievable show, the story of Dr Sean George was presented by Sean himself and then discussed with some sceptics. I’ve mentioned this story before when it was on the Hinge podcast, but this new show goes into the story in far more detail. To get the whole story, you’ll need to listen to the podcast. But, in brief, Dr George’s story goes like this:

He had a heart attack in a remote part of Western Australia, staff at a small medical clinic tried CPR, etc., to revive him for an extended time, but eventually gave up and declared him dead. When his wife turned up, she prayed for him and his heart restarted. Despite being dead for an extended period of time, and having multiple organ failures, he eventually made a full recovery with no brain damage. He is back to being a professional medical doctor. There are a few other details in the story about third parties receiving ‘revelations’ and knowing what would happen apparently in advance of the events.

So it sounds like a miracle happened. Dr George certainly believed that God did it. But let’s think about this.

Suppose, for a moment, that Sean George is right in his belief. God intervened, restored him to life and miraculously prevented all the problems, loss of brain function, etc., that usually follow from lack of oxygen flow to the brain for multiple minutes. What does this tell us about God? It tells us that God can intervene and over-ride human physiology, saving those who would otherwise die. It tells us that God can and does give direct revelation to individuals about the future, and about things happening elsewhere in the world. It tells us that God can do these things, but that most of the time he doesn’t do them. He can, but he doesn’t. Most people who experienced what Sean George did have simply died. Even though some of them had someone praying for them. What does this tell us about God? It tells us that he has power, but generally chooses not to use it. He probably won’t save you when you ask. He’ll probably let bad things happen to you, even when he could stop them. That doesn’t actually sound like a God worthy of worship. Would you worship and pray to a God who, most likely, will not act upon those prayers and will, most likely, let you suffer and die, even though he could intervene? Why worship a God like that?

I guess the reason most Christians worship a God like that is because of a future, post-mortem hope in the resurrection. The belief that God can and will raise them to glory, even after they have died. There’s a huge assumption here. We’ve already seen that God generally does not do the things that he can do. So even if he raised Jesus to a resurrection body and glory in heaven, this is absolutely no guarantee that he will do the same for them, or for you. Sure, some of the bible writers made statements that make the ‘evidence’ of Jesus’ resurrection sound like a promise to do the same for you, but a written document is no guarantee, even if it claims to be. The same document says that if the church elders pray for you, you will be healed. Time and time again this promise has been proven false.

So if Sean George’s miracle working God is real, this in no way guarantees anyone will get healing in this lifetime, or a glorious afterlife in the future!

But if that God doesn’t exist, isn’t Sean George’s story so remarkable that it must prove that something ‘supernatural’ is going on? Even if that God isn’t real, surely the truth is out there?

I guess that depends on what you mean by ‘supernatural’. Certainly something weird and unusual happened, but was it beyond natural? In other words, was it impossible by natural means?

The thing is, it certainly happened. I'm not a hyper skeptic. I think that enough people have confirmed the story to demonstrate its overall reliability as a real event. Sean George's heart stopped for an extended period of time. Most other people who have heart stoppages for that length of time do not recover and live fully restored lives. But was he properly dead?

I'm currently writing another blog post about what it means to be alive and what it means to be dead. It'll get published eventually. The problem we face is that it is actually quite hard to define life and death. Life is often defined in terms of death, and death is often defined in terms of life, it's confusing. Clearly, if you define 'death' as 'the state from which no return to life is possible', then Sean was never truly dead. He may have exhibited no bodily (or brain?) function, but that does not mean that return to life is impossible, and Sean is an example which proves that. Sean George's return to life and full health is certainly remarkable, definitely rare, but seems merely to be right at the tail end of the bell curve of possibility. As I say, it certainly happened. And because it happened, it is clearly not impossible. It was exceedingly unlikely, but still on the bell curve of possibility, so could be still within the remit of nature. We don't need to look for a supernatural agent, we simply need to redefine our bounds of knowledge of what is natural.

But. Other weird things happened around the extremely unlikely but still naturally possible resuscitation. People claim to have received revelations from God which seem to have come true, the resuscitation itself occurred coincidentally (as in, at the same time as) with Sean's wife turning up and praying, and so on. Does that not suggest something supernatural was going on?

I'm not going to go as far as 'supernatural', but I'll certainly go as far as 'not currently explained by science'. The problem with science is that it can only be used to investigate the repeatable and the fairly frequent. You can't form and test scientific hypotheses based on a one off event. Weird and rare things happen all the time. Charles Fort and the Forteans who came after him have chronicled loads of weird and inexplicable stuff. Is it supernatural? Probably not. Is it rare? Yes.

But I don't think you need to invoke an infinite, all powerful God to explain the inexplicable. For me, the key to this story is that Mrs George initiated the healing. Doctors and nurses couldn't do it, but she turns up and - wham - he is healed. Why do we need to invoke God here? At face value, Mrs George seems to be the one with the healing power (as I said before).

Maybe we'll never know what actually caused the healing. But one thing is clear to me, if it was a God who intervened here, and yet choses not to intervene in millions of other, similar situations, then that God is not a God worthy of our faith.


Edwardtbabinski said...

Interesting. But why did it have to happen at “a remote part of Western Australia, staff at a small medical clinic?”

A lot of miracle claims seem to happen in remote places without top notch equipment or personnel, or without extensive records and details.

Edwardtbabinski said...

“God can do these things, but that most of the time he doesn’t do them.”

Exactly my point in “Tidal wave or trickle?” a chapter in this upcoming book, The Case Against Miracles. The misses far outnumber the hits. Nor are miracles limited to Christianity.

Derren Brown produced a stage show and a Netflix special, "Miracle," in which he copied the confidence and mood settings employed by Christian faith healers. He used the word "Lord" (not Jesus). Many people claimed to be healed from pain during his performance, but Brown noted to the audience even that it was a performance and that he was exposing the methods of faith healers, how they influence the body and brain, often temporarily relieving pain, but sometimes permanent changes can also occur. What is particularly interesting is that Derren Brown is a gay ex-Christian and an atheist. "Of course Derren Brown cured someone who was paralyzed. The magician/illusionist talks us through the most amazing miracles he performed filming his latest Netflix special"

B. B. Warfield, famed Protestant theologians, wrote a book, Counterfeit Miracles, that in one section recounts stories by doctors who saw some patients healed from ailments that they they did not normally expect to see healed, and without any mention of prayer being involved. See the section on mind cure in his book:

Doctors at John's Hopkins noted some patients being healed due to their "faith in medicine."

"The illnesses caused by a disconnect between brain and mind." (Stories of unexpected healings)

"The Body Can Beat Terminal Cancer — Sometimes. They should be dead. But a tiny number of people conquer lethal diseases."

"A Miracle of a Mystery?" Even among God-believing physicians there is no general agreement as to what constitutes a miracle, let alone whether they occur.  If we take, for example, the issue of spontaneous regression of cancer (a well documented phenomenon, which I wrote about in June of 2002, “Medicine’s Mysteries”), we can say that it has been proven to occur.  It is a fact.  Is it a “miracle”?  It depends on whom you ask, for some would say yes and others, no.  Cases of spontaneous regression of cancer occur among people of differing religious and philosophical beliefs, with and without prayer.
(I have seen one such case myself:

@Zenaphobe tweeted:
I find it interesting that the same God who inspired someone to write that he "wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" chose a medium which he foresaw would lead to high levels of confusion and conflict among those he was attempting to enlighten.

Deists used the same argument. They asked why God couldn't communicate with everyone directly for clarity's sake—say the same things to everybody. Or, why not give everyone a visionary tour of the afterlife? Or, why not show everyone heaven and hell rather than simply naming the places in some writings? Why not let everyone see Jesus in action instead of relying on the words of others?

Edwardtbabinski said...

Sean George did eventually recover after his heartbeat restarted, but his recovery was not instant, he was in a coma, needed to be kept on a breathing machine, needed lots of special drugs and medical care, needed dialysis, and he also needed an operation soon afterwards to have a stent put into a coronary artery.

Was it a miracle that his heart restarted at all?

Doctors have long believed that if someone is without a heartbeat for longer than about 20 minutes, the brain usually suffers irreparable damage. But this can be avoided with good quality CPR and careful post-resuscitation care to quote Parnia. Much longer times are known than just 20 minutes: and Sean started receiving CPR right after his attack began, along with plenty of careful post-resuscitation care per the medical details at his website.

He had his heart attack while in a medical facility having his heart examined which increased his chances of survival. He received CPR continually once it began. The last shock was administered at 14:30, but Sean flat lined at some point after the last shock. Still, CPR was continued and the Emergency Room Physician administered a large dose of adrenaline, but Sean’s heart did not restart. So they discontinued CPR, but the time of discontinuation of CPR is not stated on his site which only features the “approximate” time the heart beat returned, “approximately at 15:07.”

So we don’t know how long after 14:30 that CPR continued being administered. And we only have an “approximate” time for when the heart restarted, which could have even been before the wife said the prayer, because his heartbeat was very weak at first, per medical records. For all we know his heart might have restarted weakly very soon after CPR ceased and his heart was flooded with adrenaline, after which the wife who was right outside and eager to rush in to see her husband was let into the room, possibly very near the time CPR was no longer being administered. Nor is it impossible for hearts to start beating again after CPR is no longer being administered: and

So Sean does not supply the exact time when they ceased administering CPR, which would have been the time of death noted by the attending lead physician. Where can we obtain that information? Also, Sean only gives an approximate time when the wife first noticed that his heart had restarted.

In summation, Sean was fortunate in an all natural sense to be in a medical facility having his heart checked at the time of the attack, so they were able to shift to CPR immediately which continued circulating some oxygenated blood through his system. We also know that the physician only gave up after a massive dose of adrenaline. But we don’t know when the physician called it, nor how soon his wife noticed the heart had restarted. Lastly, we know he was in a coma and required special medical care and drugs to survive after his ordeal. Read his medical details, see link at top.

Edwardtbabinski said...

This particular miracle claim of Sean George is covered pretty well in these posts

I added some comments myself to part 2

Edwardtbabinski said...

Having reread Sean’s case, it looks like the size of the medical clinic is emphasized as “small” in order to make his recovery seem more miraculous. But based on the medical reports Sean provided, the doctors at the clinic seemed as knowledgeable as others, and skilled in CPR and keeping his blood oxygenated and flowing, and they seemed quite dedicated in not giving up right away. So, size isn’t everything. After his heart restarted he was soon transferred to a hospital where they could put him on dialysis and get him the proper treatments for further recovery.