THE FAITH FACTOR, PROOF OF THE HEALING POWER OF PRAYER by Dale A. Matthews, M.D. with Connie Clark. New York, NY; Penguin Group, 1998. 322 pages, index, footnotes. Hardcover; $24.95.
This is a book review, written for PERSPECTIVES, in the summer of 1998.
The question is simple, may a person expect that religious involvement will contribute to health, well-being and long life? Answers to this question have traditionally been anecdotal, stories many of us have grown up with. Sometimes, as many Christians can attest, stories which have been proven misleading, false, or even fraudulent.
It was with a skeptic's eye, therefore, that I selected this volume at the Durango public library in May of 1998. I was hoping to find something of value, but I was expecting, at best, a few pious anecdotes. I was surprised.
This is an important book. Although written in a popular style, copious footnotes point the way to a great many scholarly studies aimed at bringing scientific rigor into the faith process. Dr. Matthews does not try to "prove God," nor does he make any claim that such can be done. He does assert, however, that something he calls the "faith factor" can, and does, play a key part in matters of health, living well, and long life. As I read through the book, I became more and more impressed with it, so much so that half-way through I ordered a copy for my own library, with the intent of teaching a Sunday School class based on it.
Does God heal illnesses? Dr. Matthews insists that this is a matter of faith, and is not a question science can answer. But, he says, (page 64) "The question before us, rather, is this: does belief in God aid in healing? This is a scientific question, and from the evidence presented in this book, the answer appears to be "yes."
The evidence (so far) does not support a claim that one denomination, or even "Christianity" generally, is superior to other faith communities, as far as the question at issue. The data does appear to show that one's devotional and participative intensity affects the faith factor's value, and, hence, one's well-being, more than anything else. Are all faiths the same, then? Dr. Matthews is quick to answer this question (page 284): "I believe that the choice of a particular faith tradition is a matter of utmost consequence, and should be based on one's perception of what constitutes truth, not what will give better health."
Besides the footnotes, many resources, such as books, web sites, organizations, etc. are listed.
On page 81, Dr. Matthews summarizes his thesis as follows:
1. There is evidence for a broad spectrum (not just a few stories) of healing experiences.
2. There are observations that there is a wide range (not just a specific action or two) of spiritual healing practices which accompany these healings.
3. It appears obvious that the type and degree of healing through spiritual means is not within our control. God remains sovereign.
4. Yet, some factors appear to lie within the realm of scientific investigation.
This book is recommended to my fellow ASA members, friends and family with enthusiasm. It ought to spark a number of scientific research projects to extend and refine the claims.
John W. Burgeson,
Published in PERSPECTIVES, the ASA quarterly journal,
in Volume 51, #1, March 1999.
ASA's web site is