Pioneering work in faith healing investigation was undertaken in 1986 by the conjurer James Randi in cooperation with FREE INQUIRY magazine. This study focused on fundamentalist faith healers then active, including Ernest Angley, W. V. Grant, Peter Popoff, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, and others.(*) Faith healing had become an extremely popular part of the religious landscape, with the faith healers regularly appearing on television. They appeared in huge amphitheaters or convention centers packed with fervent and often desperate people seeking miraculous healings. Many of these latter-day faith healers claimed that they cured hundreds, even thousands, of people every night. They were not talking about ordinary cures of ulcers, alcoholism, arthritis, and other such maladies, but of life-threatening illnesses like terminal cancer, advanced diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and arteriosclerosis.
Those of us who watched their theatrical performances were stunned at the great number of believers who claimed that they were cured. People would throw away their crutches or get out of wheelchairs and walk; many claimed that their afflictions had been overcome. As reported in FREE INQUIRY, the first faith healer we witnessed directly was Ernest Angley. James Randi, myself, and a team of four others journeyed to his electronic church in Akron, Ohio. We were deeply impressed by the dramatic display, which went on for five hours, involving music, song, and prayers. Hundreds of people came forward to attest to their cures. Our procedure was to follow as many of those as we could out of the auditorium, to get their names and addresses, and later, if possible, their doctors' names and addresses, in order to do follow-up studies.
What we discovered as we investigated other noted faith healers was disheartening. First, many faith healers were all too willing and able to deceive gullible audiences. For example, as Randi reported in FREE INQUIRY, the Reverend W. V. Grant brought a truckload of wheelchairs with him. When an aged or deformed person hobbled in, often he or she would be invited to sit in a wheelchair and be rolled up front. …