Some atheists say the Bible is unscientific because it encourages “faith-healing,” or praying for the sick instead of treating them with medicine developed through human ingenuity. These critics then cite tragic stories of “Bible-believing” parents who chose to pray for their very sick children instead of taking them to a hospital. This is then used as evidence in support of the idea that religion is inherently dangerous.
But as tragic as these and other stories are, they only tell us about the danger of specific individuals’ beliefs. They don’t tell us anything about religion itself, because the vast majority of religious believers see faith and medicine as compatible. This viewpoint is even supported in the Bible itself.
Ezekiel 47:12, describes leaves that can be used for healing and in Jeremiah 8:22 the Lord rhetorically proposes that his people are ill because “there is no physician” in the land of Gilead. In Colossians 4:14 Paul calls Luke “the beloved physician” and Jesus himself said that, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mark 2:17).
Some people object and say that 2 Chronicles 16:12-13 condemns medicine and encourages faith healing. It says,
“In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe; yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians. And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign.”
But this passage comes at the end of the Chronicler’s description of how Asa continually ignored the Lord and put his trust in human authorities like the King of Syria. His trust in doctors to save him instead of the Lord (even if the Lord would have saved Asa through physicians) was the final sign of his refusal to trust in God. The text does not condemn Asa for relying on doctors, but only his decision to not seek after the Lord during any of his ordeals.
So in conclusion, the Bible does say we should pray and ask God for all kinds of help, including help when we are sick. The Bible also records numerous instances of people who could not be cured by man-made medicine but could be cured through divine intervention (Mk. 5:25-29). But the Bible never says we must only pray in the face of illness. As the book of Sirach says,
“when you are sick do not be negligent, but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you . . . And give the physician his place, for the Lord created him; let him not leave you, for there is need of him. There is a time when success lies in the hands of physicians,for they too will pray to the Lord, that he should grant them success in diagnosis and in healing, for the sake of preserving life” (Sirach 38: 9,12-14)