Parade Magazine publishes uncritical article about (goddy) miracle cures

March 14, 2016 • 11:30 am
Reader Leon alerted me to a Parade Magazine article in the online Denver Post, “Do you believe in miracles?” (The answer, by the way, is “You SHOULD!”) Parade is the nation’s most widely-circulated magazine (32 million), as it appears each Sunday in over 700 U.S. newspapers. Because of its reach, Carl Sagan used to write for Parade, and good stuff it was, too.
Now, however, the magazine has descended pandering to the faithful, and it’s no coincidence that the article, uncritically touting miracles, was written by Katy Koontz, editor of Unity Magazine, a “spiritual” rag (click on the screenshot if your stomach is strong today):
The highlight of the piece is the story of Annabel Beam, a 9-year-old Texas girl who had two serious illnesses (pseud-obstruction motility disorder and antral hypomotility disorder) that could have killed her, and forced her to take 10 drugs daily. The quality of her life was abysmal.
But then The Miracle happened. Climbing up a hollow cottonwood tree, Annabel fell 30 feet into the hollow trunk, was rescued after several hours, and was helicoptered to the hospital. Amazingly, she was uninjured. Even more amazingly, her two disorders completely disappeared, and four years later she’s doing perfectly well.
That’s the miracle, and though I can’t explain it, we don’t see falls like that restore missing eyes and limbs; the only diseases that get “miraculously” cured are those known to have spontaneous remissions.
Nevertheless, Annabel’s parents, Christy and Kevin Beam, see this as a God-given miracle, and, apparently, so does Hollywood. Annabel’s story is coming out as a movie this week, “Miracles from Heaven” starring Jennifer Garner. (Garner has apparently found religion again.) Have a gander at the trailer:
The rest of the Parade article basically touts miracles, totally uncritically. As reader Leon noted in his email, the article is instructive:
It’s a good read to test out one’s ability to identify various fallacies:  “God of the Gaps”, “God who tweaks the universe,” “God who unpredictably-selectively-arbitrarily-capriciously intervenes,”  “comfirmation bias,” to name but a few.
But it’s also a sad article, for it panders to the credulous. Two excerpts:

If it’s true that eight in 10 Americans believe in miracles—a statistic from a Pew Research Center study—there will be plenty of ticket buyers. Although more religious Americans believe than the nonreligious, more than half of those unaffiliated with a particular faith still say miracles are possible. In fact, belief in miracles is on the rise, according to best-selling author Marianne Williamson, known for her teachings on the Foundation for Inner Peace’s popular spiritual tome A Course in Miracles.

“People are evolving beyond strict adherence to a rationalistic worldview,” she says. “Quantum physics, spiritual understanding and a more holistic perspective in general have come together to produce a serious challenge to old-paradigm, mechanistic thinking.” In other words: “People know there’s more going on in this life than just what the physical eyes can see.”

Another equation of quantum mechanics with God! The article also mentions several books we’re familiar with, without adding that at least one of them, by Eben Alexander appears completely fraudulent. (To its credit, though, Parade notes that another “heaven visit” book, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. was a hoax (see my post on its retraction.)

If the New York Times best-seller lists are any proof, people are choosing the age of miracles. Two best-selling books published last year—Imagine Heaven by John Burke and Touching Heaven by Chauncey Crandall, M.D.—each share stories of near-death experiences. In 2012, a trio of best-sellers (two by medical doctors) recounted miraculous (i.e., unexplainable) personal experiences. Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven tells how the neurosurgeon conversed with what he calls “the divine source of the universe” while in a coma caused by acute bacterial meningitis. Just when doctors were beginning to give up on him, his eyes popped open. Today, he’s completely healthy. Previously, the former Harvard Medical School faculty member believed near-death experiences were medically impossible.

In Dying to Be Me, Anita Moorjani says she learned life-changing spiritual truths while in a coma following a nearly four-year battle with cancer. Moorjani woke up—and was cancer-free when she left the hospital, just weeks after the day doctors told her family she would die.

While kayaking in southern Chile, orthopedic surgeon Mary C. Neal was pinned underwater for more than 15 minutes and drowned. Before she was resuscitated on the riverbank, she says she spoke with angels. In To Heaven and Back, she calls her accident “one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.”

This, of course, raises the age-old question of theodicy: why was Annabel cured while thousands of other sick children die? Is God that capricious? The Beams don’t know:

Why was Annabel healed while countless others haven’t been? “It’s not that God loves her any more than he loves them. It’s not that our family has done anything to deserve a miracle,” Kevin reasons. “This whole experience is just so phenomenally humbling because I remember that desperation of being a parent who would do anything to see my child get better. We experienced that miracle, but I also realize that not everybody will—and those are questions I don’t have a good answer for.”

Maybe the “good answer” is that they aren’t really God-driven miracles, but spontaneous—or, in this case, trama-induced—remissions. One things for sure: the article’s author doesn’t even entertain a naturalistic possibility. Carl Sagan would be appalled.

The Beam family. Photo credit: Marc Morrison

53 thoughts on “Parade Magazine publishes uncritical article about (goddy) miracle cures

  1. There should be a warning regarding not eating for at least two hours before watching this trailer or movie. Same as for swimming.

      1. I am unable to even set foot inside a church, temple, mosque or other (… … well, yes, I can enter a sweat lodge but not there but for only its sweating – inducement !) anymore.

        Not even for mawwiages nor for memorial services and the like — — to the point that I, for the former thingy most especially and apparently, do not seem to merit invitations anymore to same.

        So best that I, too, avoid both the trailer and the film. Thank you for Mr Schenck’s recommended warning !


  2. Annabel fell 30 feet into the hollow trunk…her two disorders completely disappeared.

    Well, jiggling is a well-known restorative for mechanical devices of all sorts, and sometimes even works on electronic devices.

    Perhaps there is a prospective jiggling science that could work on human beings. We could build a machine that shakes people violently until their symptoms disappear.

    1. The root basis of both disorders is neuromuscular function in the GI tract, and one supposes that the causes could be various, from a developmental lack of specific nerve or muscular groups, to simple compression of nerves.
      For the latter, it could be that her accident relieved compression, and restored nervous function.

  3. I’d like to see a story about 2 friends, one atheist and the other religious, both have children that have come down with a deadly cancer. The atheist’s child recovers the other doesnt. How would the religious person explain that?
    The religious person could explain it without any problem. Religion provides a consistent logical framework for explaining any event in terms of God’s will.
    Atheists are persons outside that framework who can compare it to other logical frameworks and see that the theistic one falls short.

    1. How would the religious person explain such an outcome? Pretty much the same way they explain the opposite outcome, or any outcome at all. I think. God does what God does in order to increase faith and always knows what you “need” in order for that to happen.

      If the atheist explains the recovery as a natural outcome from an indifferent universe, then this means the atheist refuses to admit the miracle and the believer can now see that NOTHING will move an atheist. Their “faith” in atheism is too strong! Praise God!

      The faith-based approach is always backwards. Not “what actually happened?” but “how can I recognize God’s hand in this?”

    1. Dunno, he may just have good genes. But all too often people confuse their genetics for something they can teach (I remember when supermodel Paulina Porizkova published a beauty tips book that somehow managed to skip the obvious tip: have her biological parents). Chopra, though, takes teaching his genetics literally claims to teach you how to change your genetics through thought. :-O

      1. Definitely a possibility, but even an old photo would have to be retouched for his skin to be that smooth. Chopra is well preserved, but not that well preserved.

  4. I know this is the choir, but good grief that trailer smug and saccharine. No blame for god for giving the girl a horrible disease in the first place, or for allowing a subsequent horrible accident, only credit for curing this one random child. I’m really tired of this theistic tradition of giving their all powerful god credit, but never the blame. It’s like an abused spouse who says all the beatings are her fault, but that their spouse is wonderful, after all, didn’t he say sorry once and give her a rose…

    Religion, well, Christianity specifically, seems like Stockholm syndrome for people who’ve never been kidnapped.

    1. Years ago I came across the truly disgusting theodicy concerning the shepherd who must break the lamb’s leg to keep it from straying into danger. Though it’s an urban legend regarding the practices of shepherds, it fits neatly into the Battered Child syndrome of many spiritual world views. The “danger” is thinking you don’t need God or Spirit.

      Here’s the poem — if you can stomach it.

      For as you are borne in His loving arms,

      And carried there, day by day…

      He will bind you so close with the cords of His love

      That never again will you stray!

      1. Why, everboddy knows thet Gawd don’ make folks sick; thas’ Satan’s doin’! Thank Gawd we….whazzat? Wha does Gawd LET Satan do this? Wha don’ Gawd heal everboddy? You mockin’ Gawd, boy? Best git yer ass outta here, afore I goes an’ gits mah gun!

  5. Since science directly saves millions of lives daily why chance the long shot that there really is a god and it really does something.
    There is also the point made above that often one persons “miracle” is another persons disaster, or could it be that since god moves in mysterious ways, the disaster is actually the miracle?….just a thought

  6. Allow me to don my editor’s cap for a moment…

    “People are evolving beyond strict adherence to a rationalistic worldview.”

    For a more accurate and revealing view, just change “rationalistic” to an actual word: rational. The word “rationalistic” represents one of those attempts to turn a virtue into a failing–like “scientism.” (If one who does science is a scientist, then what is a practitioner of scientism…a scientistist? A sciencismist? A scientismist?)

    But really, this is just a sign of the times:

    “I love the poorly educated.”
    –Der Drumpf, 2016-02-23

  7. I hate to be the jerk in the room, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say her illnesses were not as diagnosed. After having had an incorrectly diagnosed GI tract issue, I’ve since met many people who’ve been similarly misdiagnosed for a variety GI tract / digestive issues.

    1. I was wondering this too. Either misdiagnosis, or the whole story evolved retroactively by just making shit up. The people claiming near death experiences are certainly known to do that.

    2. I don’t think you’re going out on a limb. Orac and the physicians at the Science-Based Medicine blog often discover that when the specific details of alternative medicine ‘cures’ are discoverable, the story turns out to be less remarkable — or more suspicious. Or just flat out wrong.

      The same rules apply to personal tales of UFOs, Bigfoot, prophesies, psychic powers, and so forth. Skeptic Ray Hyman is credited with a very wise dictum:

      “Before you look for an explanation for something — first make sure there is something to explain.”

    3. Yeah, that is what was thinking. Also, funny how this “miracle cure” required the intervention of first responders, a Life Flight helicopter, a fully equipped hospital, as well as teams of medical professionals to save her life so she could live long enough for the miracle cure to manifest. Some miracle…

      1. That reminds me of the drowning-man-in-a-flood joke beloved of Goddists. You know, the one that ends ‘God said “I sent you a truck, a boat and a helicopter, what more did you want?”‘

        (Link for anyone who hasn’t heard it )

        For some reason Goddy people seem to like this joke. I actually like it as it highlights the stupidity of a sector of Goddists – I’m thinking of the ones who refuse medical treatment or refuse to bother about global warming because ‘god will take care of it’.


        1. It is in a way simply the joke version of the saying “god helps those who help themselves”, which leads to an interesting paradox if the story is extended:

          If god helps all and only those who help themselves, presumably satan helps all and only those who not help themselves …

          (Credit: R. Smullyan.)

          1. Yep. Historically, the churches have been pretty good at helping themselves – to anything that isn’t nailed down.


  8. Ruined my appetite for late lunch…I suppose now the credulous are going to dive into tall hollow trees to try to cure whatever ails them…

  9. Can’t explain it = g*d did it. One of the oldest and dumbest and dishonest attributes of the religiously addled.

  10. I notice Deepak Chopra’s cover shot was either taken from the 20 year old archives or was heavily Photoshopped (or both). I saw him in a recent Big Think where he looked like a piece of semi-divine road kill (giving health advice).

      1. Yes, you are correct. The spray tan is called “Quantum Flim-Flam”. Now available at fine carnivals and back alleys everywhere.

  11. Not seeing this as a Lourdes-worthy, according-to-Hoyle miracle that could get anyone beatified in the one, holy, universal, and apostolic Church.

  12. Coincidentally, just finished a conversation with a person of faith about this topic in another forum. She would not entertain, even seemingly in principle, the notion that a naturalistic explanation could exist and isn’t currently understood.

    The words, “I don’t know” is another cherry picked phrase by believers. It’s often used only when it bolsters their faith, never when it might raise an honest appeal to agnosticism.


  13. Katy Koontz

    This may be a false parallel, or just plain coincidence, but there’s an author who shares the pretty uncommon family name “Koontz,” and if I remember my brief encounters with his jacket blurb correctly, he specialises in sword and sorcery fantasy type novel series (which have never tempted me to buy). One wonders if these two are related, or if it’s just a coincidence of rare names being chosen for noms-des-plumes?
    Dean Koontz (Wiki) : SF under various names and genres ; likely to remain on my “lift off the bookshelf, unless I see something more attractive” list ; Katy Koontz (own website) : “an award-winning freelance writer and a top-level editor, ghostwriter, and book doctor for nationally known and New York Times best-selling authors. Her focus includes spirituality, travel, and health (including complementary and mind/body medicine).”
    Yeuchh. I need to clean my keyboard now. Apologies to Dean Koontz for the association.

  14. “Previously, the former Harvard Medical School faculty member believed near-death experiences were medically impossible.”


    No one denies NDE are real. They’re experiences that people near death have. They’re not impossible. Skeptics simply suggest that the subject’s brain is the author of the experience, rather than the subject actually having travelled to heaven or wherever.

    That quote is either very bad reporting or evidence of Alexander’s very poor reasoning skills.

    1. Anyone who doubts the reality of ‘near death experiences’ hasn’t seen my driving…



  15. I hadda sit thru the trailer to this and some Jesus movie when we went to see Concussion back in January. I took that as an indication that Easter was drawing nigh. There’ll be vacations, and the family wants to go see a movie, and/or the domineering patriarch wants to drag everyone else to it.

    Box office results on these will be cause for either joy or sorrow – stay tuned, I guess.

  16. “Carl Sagan used to write for Parade, and good stuff it was, too. Now, however, the magazine has descended pandering to the faithful.”

    The growing opposition to abortion since Roe v. Wade has made me think that religiosity in the USA is on the increase. I hope I am wrong. How do you think?

  17. Let’s think about it:

    People are basically screwed, and since we are screwed, there isn’t a lot of downside and there are a lot of compensatory upside to being an optimist.

    Combine that with America’s dumbed-down Whig history and the theology of progress, and it is practically obligatory for American’s to feign optimism (or their employers will suspect that they might engage in unionization drives).

    Since people, and especially most Americans, are basically screwed, but under enormous pressure to be optimists, the cognitive dissonance this creates can only be overcome by a deeply ingrained mush-headedness.

    Parade Magazine is devoted to propogating mush-headedness, including mushheaded accounts of miracle.

    Gerry’s complaint here is essentially that it is a shame that water is wet.

    But wouldn’t you rather be surrounded by mush-headed optimists than say Jihadi’s or Jacobins [both pretty culturally pessimistic groups]?

    It’s not worth losing one’s head over silly articles in Parade.

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