The Faces of Miracles

André Kole: the face of professional stage magicians

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Table of Contents

André Kole and the face of professional stage magicians

World-renowned magician, illusionist, and skeptic André Kole believes that the faith healers who promise miracle cures to millions are in the same business he is — magic and illusion. They use the power of suggestion, distraction, sleight-of-hand, and emotional appeal to create the perception of healing when all they’ve done is play tricks on the audience’s senses the same way magicians do. The key difference is that magicians freely admit they’re there to entertain while the healers insist their powers are real and use that false claim to deceive desperate people.

Kole knows all the tools the miracle healers use to create the impression that they’re healing the sick. A key tool is the power of suggestion. In an interview with the authors, Kole explained, “People get caught up in the excitement, the entertainment, the methods used to lead people down that road that what they are witnessing is legitimate and real. Add that to the fact that many of these people are actually healed! But as most doctors will tell you, somewhere between 80 percent and maybe even 90 percent of sickness is psychological. When there is real legitimate organic disease involved, those people are not healed by these fakers, and what may be worse is what they then go through trying to figure out why others were healed and why they were not.”[1]

Healers take advantage of the audience’s expectation of being healed and their sense of desperation. “People just want so badly for something to believe in,”[2] Kole says, and these healers are happy to supply it along with the assurance that the more money people donate, the more likely their miracle becomes.

For years Kole featured a séance segment in his performance. Before he began, he reminded the audience that what they were about to see was for entertainment only; he had no supernatural power. Yet he saw time and again that “when things are presented in a serious manner, where honesty and integrity are taken for granted, even the very elite will be deceived.”[3] Much of the success depends on an audience’s expectations. Because they’re looking for something supernatural, they’re likely to see it.

Kole sums up two main reasons to doubt the claims of miracle healers. First, he sees them using the same tricks and techniques he uses for entertainment in order to produce the appearance of healing. Second, Kole believes that miraculous healing comes only from Christ and Christ doesn’t schedule his miracles to accommodate TV evangelists. “As a Christian, I believe that only God possesses the power to perform the miraculous,” he says. “We are to believe and have faith, but part of that faith in God is to believe in his will and not ours.”[4]

Natural Means, Supernatural Effect

Kole first investigated the miracles of Christ more than fifty years ago. Reviewing biblical accounts with the eye of an expert illusionist, he concluded that miracles in the Bible were real. (This was one of the reasons he became a Christian. The other was seeing the actions and attitudes of the Christians he knew.) The miracles of Jesus as documented in numerous eyewitness accounts were “far beyond anything a magician can accomplish today” and done “without any modern technology or elaborate equipment,” he says.

Kole can imagine an illusionist reproducing some of those miracles today — feeding the 5,000, walking on water, turning water into wine, raising the dead — but it would take millions of dollars and tons of sophisticated modern equipment. “His miracles were witnessed by thousands, confirmed by the doctors and scholars of his day,” Kole points out, “yet no one has ever been able to come up with an alternative explanation for Christ’s power. He could do miracles, and the fact attested to his divinity.”[5]

Kole believes in the supernatural power of God “to move beyond the bounds of nature and Christ’s demonstrated miraculous ability over the natural world.”[6] What he doesn’t believe is that supernatural power can be transferred to human beings. Faith healers and anybody else who claims to have special powers don’t actually have them. The mistaken belief that some men and women have divine power, Kole believes, stems from incorrectly interpreting Scripture through experience rather than experience through Scripture. Very few Christians who see miracle healers are expert illusionists themselves, so they don’t spot the trickery.

Every instance of “healing” that André Kole has seen in his long career has been a case of tricks and the power of suggestion. “A magician is one who uses natural means to accomplish a supernatural effect,” he says. “There is nothing supernatural about what he does; he only creates the illusion of the supernatural.”[7] To Kole, magicians and miracle healers are one and the same.

Information Pollution

In today’s information age, it’s reasonable to think that people would grow more skeptical about miracle healers than in the past and insist on stronger proof. Yet the trend seems to be for the public to be more trusting of what they’re told and less willing to ferret out solid evidence on their own. “Information in our society is growing at an incredible pace,” Kole says. The pace of scientific discoveries in the past forty years exceeds that of the previous forty centuries. But an alarming amount of that vast flood of information is false. “As we increase the amount of information we increase the amount of bad information,” Kole notes.[8]

Kole’s friend and fellow skeptic professor Ray Hyman appeared in the last chapter, where we saw that he was also a friend of James Randi and that he put himself through college as a palm reader. Hyman describes the proliferation of false information in our day as “information pollution.” He adds, “The worldwide web has an immense amount of information — much of it totally wrong.”[9]

As Hyman sees it, scientists are not particularly good at detecting fraud because they are too literal. “It is fairly easy to fool a scientist because he thinks very logically,” he says. “Scientists can cope with nature because nature doesn’t change the rules.”[10] However, magicians, psychics, and faith healers are always ready to change the rules, taking advantage of the audience’s logical way of thinking to deceive them.

Inundated with Charlatans

“As believers,” Kole states, “we must be able to distinguish between the acts of God and the chicanery of men who are using God as a means to promote their own selfish ambitions… They are like a cancer in the body of Christ, drawing people away from the truth.”[11]

Kole agrees with Christian writer Chuck Swindoll about what constitutes a legitimate miracle. According to Swindoll, the following consistent pattern appears whenever God performs a miracle: “First, God alone is glorified. Second, there is no human showmanship involved. Third, the unsaved are impressed and brought to the Lord. Fourth, biblical principles and statements are upheld, not contradicted.”[12]

Christ warned believers to be wary of faith healers and others who would imitate his miracle-working power: “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:5,24).[13]

“As magicians,” Kole says, “we take pride in our profession, and we resent those who misuse our methods, designed for entertainment, to lead others to believe they have supernatural power.”[14] Kole’s concern is that paranormal powers are not only a hoax “but that Christians are being duped into believing in them.”[15]

In his book Mind Games: Exposing Today’s Psychics, Frauds, and False Spiritual Phenomena, Kole writes, “Experience has shown us that many reported miracles simply do not hold up under scrutiny… American culture has been inundated with charlatans proclaiming to have ‘healing powers.’ While we do not think it is outside the realm of reason to think God could intervene in our world, at the same time we don’t have to assume every claim of supernatural power is genuine. Besides, if God really exists, it is doubtful he needs phony miracle-makers to prop up his reputation.”[16]

Searching for Proof

Kole attended a healing service featuring a star evangelist that thousands had come to see in hopes of experiencing a miracle. When it was over some left elated, thinking they were miraculously healed, while others wept in disappointment. “The faces that only an hour ago had shone with anticipation now betrayed a deep and bitter dejection,” he wrote. “They had come hoping for a miracle, but left bewildered, wondering why God had not healed them after the preacher’s assurance that they could expect to be healed.”

For every claim of healing there are “also many silent tragedies — people who are hurting because God chose not to heal them physically. Many suffer deep guilt because they believe they did not have enough faith to be healed.”[17]

Kole believes some healers are probably sincere, thinking that they’re giving people hope and encouragement. Others know they’re a sham and are in it strictly for the money, preying on the hopes of the suffering. Regardless of the healer’s true motives, Kole sees no hard evidence of success. Out of all the countless thousands of healings claimed by media-savvy miracle workers over the years, Kole thinks that not one has produced hard, irrefutable medical documentation of organic healing.

John 5 tells the story of a lame man healed on the spot by Jesus. John 9 says that Jesus healed a man born blind. John 18 describes Jesus reattaching a severed ear — all accounts of instant and permanent healing. In André Kole’s decades of investigating healing claims, he has never personally found a single verifiable case of someone being healed of an organic disease after attending a healing service. His standing offer of $25,000 to anyone who has documented proof of such healing remains unclaimed.

Yet despite such absence of proof, crowds still flock to a long list of self-proclaimed TV miracle workers. They hear the testimonials and want desperately to believe they are true. As Kole noted earlier, most physical suffering has a psychological component, and it is the psychology of the sufferer on which the faith healers focus.

In his book Mind Games, Kole quotes Eric Chico, who explains why people who go to healing services say they feel better — for the moment: “In the high festive and emotionally charged atmosphere of a faith-healing service, the brain can be stimulated to release endorphins into the nervous system which science says are pain suppressants 200 times more potent than morphine. This is why people can honestly say ‘the pain is gone’ and sincerely believe they are healed — until the effect wears off hours or days later.”[18]

While positive thinking and the power of suggestion can relieve pain for a while, true divine healing ought to be complete and permanent, and can happen any moment. Faith healers (including Thurman Scrivner in chapter 3) often accuse patients of lacking faith when they’re not healed. In other words, it’s the sick person’s fault and not the evangelist’s. “But God doesn’t need excuses,” responds Kole. “Our lack of faith never negates his power. He can heal us even if we do not believe. That doesn’t mean we don’t need faith, for the Bible clearly teaches that we ought to exercise our faith. But our faith or our lack of it doesn’t change God’s power.”[19]

Faith healers are very careful to concentrate on functional diseases rather than organic ones. A functional disease is one with no demonstrable change in body tissue such as high blood pressure, back pain, depression, breathing problems, and so forth. Organic diseases include broken bones, congenital defects, gallstones, and the like. If someone has an allergy or arthritis, they can claim they are better and no independent proof is possible.

“Even serious illnesses can sometimes respond to this sort of psychological healing, particularly if the disease is one of degree,” Kole writes. “For instance, we have seen patients with multiple sclerosis claim to be somewhat better after visiting a faith healer. They are not cured, but the placebo effect allows them to ‘feel’ better for a while. Organic illnesses on the other hand — broken bones, brain hemorrhage — will not respond to a mental suggestion.”[20]

With everything in the world seemingly captured on YouTube and our whole lives recorded and shared on social media for all to see, it’s almost unimaginable that there are no undisputed instances of miraculous healings on internet video. If Benny Hinn and Todd Bentley have healed thousands upon thousands of people, why isn’t a single unambiguous example posted on their websites? Why don’t doctors send their most serious or most hopeless cases to them?

The reason, André Kole reiterates, is that these faith healers perform no genuine miracles. Christ teaches that we are saved by faith, and that people should believe in him because of the miracles that they see him do. Taking these two statements together, we could conclude that perhaps we are not meant to be led to faith by others performing miracles.

Psychic Surgeons Debunked

Like William Nolen in chapter 5, André Kole has carefully studied psychic surgeons, personally watching more than 300 operations in Asia and Latin America. These healers claimed to perform surgery with their bare hands, without surgical tools or anesthesia. A few have developed international reputations. Kole considers the best examples to be in the Philippines. Along with Time magazine correspondent David Aikman, André watched more than fifty operations there.

A typical surgery was in the abdominal area. By moving a hand over the spot, these practitioners seemed to make an incision without touching the skin. Then they apparently reached in and removed the offending tissue — tumor, cancer, inflamed appendix, or whatever was causing the problem.

In fact, Kole learned from careful observation that the incision was made with a razor blade hidden in one hand and the “diseased tissue” was hidden in the other. These healers performed “some of the most clever sleight-of-hand” Kole had ever seen. Their dexterity was world-class. “It quickly became clear that these miracle healers were not surgeons at all but rather a group of men who had learned a few magical illusions that eventually deceived millions.”

The “tissue” they removed was cotton or animal tissue like raw chicken liver soaked in red liquid (animal blood or betel nut juice) and hidden nearby in the healer’s hand, under his clothes, or in the patient’s bed. Healers curled their fingers and pressed them into the folds of skin to make it look like they were reaching inside the patient’s body. “In every case the surgeon used sleight-of-hand,” Kole reported. “Regardless of how genuine it appeared, it was all a trick.”

As with the faith healers in the United States, Kole saw these psychic surgeons as nothing more or less than illusionists. He continued, “What people are seeing when they watch a psychic surgeon is an experienced magician at work… He has no supernatural power. What he has is showmanship, some sleight-of-hand skill, and a heart so cold that he is willing to steal money from people with serious illnesses.” Evident successes “did not result from the operations, which were fake, but from the operations’ psychological effect on people who believe they are real.”[21]

Scriptural Warnings

As he traveled the world during his career, Kole sensed that people in undeveloped countries are more likely to believe in miracles and turn to them for help than in the West. “It does seem that people in the developing world are more inclined to hope for miracles,” he said during our interview. “Maybe that has at least in part to do with less access to medical care. Also, as they tend to lead more simple lives less encumbered by all the technology and fast pace of the modern world, they are perhaps more inclined to spend more time with God and may have a deeper faith than many in the modern world. The flip side of that is that many of them may indeed be more readily deceived, especially when the methods used are something they are not aware of.”[22]

Wherever his travels and his research have taken him, Kole has a universal and deeply rooted need to believe in a higher power that can help suffering people in their trials. “I believe people in general want something to believe in, and no matter what part of the world you are in, that is what the charlatans and fakers use to deceive people.” According to Kole, the Bible is a safeguard against these deceivers, guiding people to what is true and away from what isn’t. “Those that do have good understanding of the Bible and its teachings in other areas of the world would have a better understanding of this kind of fraud and what to watch out for even if they did not understand the techniques used, as there are many warnings about those who would try to deceive others in the scriptures.”[23]

Do the Filipinos and other less developed populations experience more miracles than the West? Kole has no opinion here: “Whether people in the developing world receive more miracles than we do I have no idea. That is entirely up to God.”[24]

Kole believes that countries with a Christian heritage, whether developed or developing, have the best chance of encountering miracles. “As Christian countries are more aware of the Bible and more of the population believes in it as the word of God, they would be more inclined to believe in miracles and have a more positive attitude toward them,” he says. “That is not to say there are no non-Christians who believe in miracles, but I think Christian countries would have an attitude of more acceptance to such things. But again, as Christians we are to believe in God’s will and it may be his will to perform mighty miracles in non-Christian countries as he sees fit — perhaps at times to help reveal himself to those people. We don’t know his will and it is not our place to know or question his will.”[25]

In considering God’s will on the subject of miracles, André Kole sees a reason why so many people believe in miracle healers despite the lack of hard evidence. The exposure of Peter Popoff and Robert Tilton as frauds has not kept them from raking in millions of dollars a year from devoted followers ready to ignore their misdeeds. The absence of clear medical evidence or even a single indisputable miraculous cure in the ministries of  Benny Hinn or Todd Bentley, after all the thousands of healings they claim to have performed, seems not to bother those who send in their money hoping to gain favor with God and receive a miracle. Why does the public still support these faith healers?

Kole believes people listen to these fakers because Satan wants to deceive people using the same argument he did in the Garden of Eden — believe what I say and you will be like God: you can call on the power of miracles whenever you think you need one.

Miraculous Interventions

For all his work exposing the deceptive claims of today’s miracle healers, André Kole is personally a firm believer in miracles. It isn’t clear, he says, whether God has actually given certain individuals the gift of healing or uses them as conduits for God’s own healing power. “What I do believe,” he explains, “is there are times when God has chosen to reveal himself and perhaps used others as an instrument of His will. God bestows gifts on all of us if we are open and willing to be in tune with his will in our lives through the Holy Spirit. I would not know if God has bestowed the specific gift of healing in modern times. But it seems to me with all the things I have experienced in my life ­­— seen, or heard about from credible sources — there are just too many instances of what seems to be miraculous intervention to chalk it up as mere chance. I believe there are times when God has used someone as the instrument to accomplish his will.”

Kole continues, “It seems silly to think all the claims of miraculous healing are true based on the many fraudulent cases I’ve seen in more than fifty years of research and investigation. It seems even more silly though not to believe at least some of these instances were times that God chose to reach out his hand and divinely heal people.”[26]

Kole believes he has personally experienced miracles.

In one case, he got word that his friend and fellow magician Jim Munroe had been diagnosed with one of the most rare and deadly forms of leukemia. Jim’s only hope was a bone marrow transplant. In a database of seven million possible donors only eighteen were possible matches. Further testing showed that of the eighteen only one was likely to help him and even that wasn’t a sure thing. Yet the procedure was a success in spite of these seemingly impossible odds. Kole heard that statistically it equated “to about the same as being bit by three sharks and struck by lightning three times. Could this case, like so many others, be merely a statistical anomaly?”[27]

In another case, a pastor he knew was diagnosed with cancer. After the news came out, hundreds of people began praying for his healing. Doctors had found cancerous lesions in his colon, so people prayed specifically for the Lord to take the cancer away. “When surgery was performed,” Kole writes, “the doctors found all the cancer was gone, even though the medical records proved it had been evident just two weeks earlier. The surgeon admitted he didn’t believe in prayer, but he had no other rationale to explain what had happened.”  An important point Kole adds is that this result is independent of the observer’s degree of faith. “It requires faith to believe that God healed Jerry’s pastor,” he says, “but it does not require any faith to believe the man is now cancer free.”[28]

A Midwestern pastor told Kole about “being severely burned in an accident when he was a boy. As he was rushed to the hospital, his parents prayed for him. When the nurses unwrapped him at the hospital, the burns were gone.” This type of demonstrable healing, Kole says, seems to represent less than five percent of healing claims. Yet these are the claims with true power, examples reminiscent of biblical healing showing that divine healing is timely and complete.[29]

There are other experiences from his fifty-plus years of performing around the world that he counts as possible miracles. Once when he was performing in Mexico City a mob planned to attack him during the show. He heard them shouting while he was onstage but didn’t know what was going on at the time. After the show, one of the men explained through an interpreter that they had been sent to stop the performance. He gave his men orders to attack three different times, but each time the men felt “as if they were being held down, unable to move from their seats.” Was that some kind of miracle? “To me it certainly seemed like some type of supernatural intervention.”[30]

Another time, he recalls, “I was preparing to travel from India to Singapore for shows the next day and the last plane out was delayed until the next day. This meant that for the first time in fifty years of performing in eighty countries I would not be able to make a show. When we arrived the next day, we learned that during the exact time we were to have performed, the entire steel and wood stage collapsed and anyone on it would certainly have been badly injured if not killed. Was this a miracle or some other type of godly interaction? It would be very hard for me to believe otherwise.”[31]

Have Faith and Believe

For everyone who receives a true miracle there are many more who do not. Some wait years — even a lifetime — for a miracle that never comes. If they believe that God can heal and yet he does not, this is one of the hardest aspects of faith to understand. When faithful, humble, good people pray diligently for a miracle and wait in vain, what happens next? How long should they wait?

“I would say never give up or stop waiting,” Kole advises. “We should always have faith and believe. As Christians we are to have faith and believe in God’s will, not ours. His will may not be what we had hoped for.”[32]

Even for those who are not healed in this world, André Kole is confident they will be healed according to the providence of God. “There is a saying that God heals everyone in this life or the next,” Kole explains. “It is not up to me or anyone else to try and interpret God’s will or timing. We are to believe, and have faith, and to constantly try to grow that faith in God through Jesus Christ. The Bible also speaks about us as Christians to yearn for heaven and to start our new lives with God. Only God could ever decide when a miracle would take place.”[33]

Kole is certain that sometimes, though we have a hard time believing it, our suffering is better in the long run as a part of God’s larger intention for the world. Like Joni Eareckson Tada, the acclaimed Christian writer and speaker who has lived all her adult life as a quadriplegic (see chapter 12), André’s wife Aljeana prayed for miracle healing. She had a brain tumor that she and her friends faithfully prayed would go away. André believes now that “divine healing would not have been nearly as great a demonstration of God’s power as her demonstration of faith and peace in the midst of the suffering she endured.”[34]

Asked what comfort we can give to people who pray diligently and faithfully for healing but are never healed, Kole answers, “Perhaps we can only pray for them ourselves, pray that the Lord will reveal himself to them and comfort them in their time of need.”[35]

Kole concludes, “God shapes the path of our lives. He sometimes allows bad things to happen, because that is how we grow.”[36]

Yet not all bad things that happen stay that way. Sometimes, to reverse those bad things, God does seem to bring about miracles. That was the case when a desperate woman followed her faith to a healing shrine, with life-changing results.

Chapter Notes

[1] André Kole, author interview, June 1, 2016. Written questions and answers were exchanged through André’s son, Tim Kole.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Kole, André, and Jerry MacGregor, Mind Games: Exposing Today’s Psychics, Frauds, and False Spiritual Phenomenon (Nashville: ACW Press, 2002), pp. 94-95; includes quotation on absence of modern technology.

[6] Ibid., p. 96.

[7] Ibid., p. 7.

[8] Ibid., p. 30.

[9] Ibid., p. 30.

[10] Ibid., p. 53.

[11] Ibid., p. 20.

[12] Ibid., p. 224.

[13] Ibid. p. 21.

[14] Ibid., p. 28.

[15] Ibid., p. 71.

[16] Ibid., p. 33.

[17] Ibid., pp. 208-209; includes “left bewildered” quote above.

[18] Ibid., pp. 198-199.

[19] Ibid., p. 222.

[20] Ibid., p. 199.

[21] Ibid., pp. 194-198; includes quotes in previous paragraph.

[22] Author interview, op. cit.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.; this is a continuation of the quote in the previous paragraph.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Kole and MacGregor, op. cit., p. 96.

[29] Ibid., p. 221.

[30] Author interview, op. cit.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Kole and MacGregor, op. cit., pp. 222-224.

[35] Author interview, op. cit.

[36] Kole and MacGregor, op. cit., p. 240.