Marx of Suspect Healing

The so-called “leg growing miracle” has a long history. Despite the fact that it’s a well-known illusionist’s trick which has also been proven to have been faked by many unscrupulous faith-healers around the globe, it still makes periodic returns to the charismatic church scene. Seemingly it has become fashionable again, and there is no shortage of faith-healers claiming to be able to work this orthopaedic wonder. The performance of the wonder changes slightly from healer to healer, but the basic routine is pretty much the same. The evangelist has a person with some sort of pain – usually back, hip, or leg – sit in a chair. He remarks that such pain can be caused by one leg being shorter than the other. Lo and behold, when he lifts the person’s legs up one is shorter than the other by 1-3 inches. After a minute or two of prayer – or, oddly, directly commanding the leg to grow – the “shorter” leg appears to grow out until it’s the same length.

I’ve been following the work of one such healer called Mark Marx, who is based in Causeway Coast Vineyard Church in Northern Ireland. Youtube has many videos of Marx performing this wonder, and I was referred to his most recent work here:

I will discuss this video in more depth shortly.

Why should any rational person believe what they are seeing when someone claims to demonstrate the power of Almighty God by making a slightly shorter leg grow a little? What good reason is there to believe that these demonstrations require any kind of otherworldly explanation? Of course, the gullible require no such reason. After all, the temptation to believe one has witnessed a special wonder of God is a strong one. Not only is there no good reason to believe these demonstrations are miraculous, there is a multitude of reasons to react with scepticism, (though remember that the burden of proof rests with the healer, not the sceptic). Here are just a few:

1. This feat (pardon the pun) is incredibly easy to fake, and anyone with a little training or effort can learn to do it. There are several ways to achieve the effect and I’ve been able to replicate Marx’s wonders with my 9 year old son as a volunteer. I made his right leg grow out to match his left, but I made it too long and then made his left leg grow out to match his right! It’s very easy – try it yourself at home and amaze your friends! (Interestingly, in Marx’s videos it’s almost always the left leg that is shorter. The only occasion I found of the right leg being lengthened seemed to be a case when the person in question identified that leg as a problem).

2. The trick actually has been faked by certain faith-healers trying to pass it off as the work of the Lord. For instance, in his documentary “Miracles for Sale,” which can be viewed in full here (I strongly recommend it): https://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=bouAp1pGBwk, Derren Brown demonstrates one method of achieving the effect. Later on in the documentary Brown and his team paid a visit to the church of the faith-healer WV Grant, where Brown was called out using a fake name he had written on a prayer card before the service, but which of course Grant claimed had been supernaturally revealed to him. Grant then proceeded to perform the leg growing trick on Brown using exactly the technique Brown had earlier demonstrated.

3. Leg-growing has been used as a common sideshow illusionist’s trick, as revealed by the mentalist James Randi who discusses several ways in which the trick can be performed (with reference also to the discredited faith healer AA Allen who fooled the masses with this and other tricks and claims). This is highly significant. Suppose I met a man who claimed to be able to saw a person in half and then stick them back together again totally unharmed. He then proceeds to do so right before my eyes. What would I make of this? Well, if I was a caveman who lived several thousand years ago I might well be impressed. However, I am well aware that this is a common magician’s trick – in fact I also happen to know exactly how the trick is done – so I remain sceptical. Am I not right to remain equally sceptical in the face of a much less impressive wonder?

4. Those that perform this wonder are unable to bring healing to certain ailments which are not so easy to fake. Youtube contains no videos of Marx growing out a missing leg, and yet this should be no less difficult for the omnipotent creator of the universe to achieve. Of course, some healers claim the miracle is legitimate because it is accompanied by pain relief. However, relieving pain is not in the same category as re-growing a limb or curing Down’s Syndrome. Pain is incredibly susceptible to the power of suggestion. I invite the reader to look at Brown’s documentary – from about 57 minutes in – to see how Brown uses a fake healer he has trained to bring pain relief to many people they meet on the streets using nothing but psychological techniques. Further, an ex-member of Causeway Coast Vineyard Church testified to me how the leg-growing wonder was performed on her without the accompanying pain relief. In fact, she never had anything wrong with her legs, but rather suffered from pregnancy-related back pain. She was told she should have more faith – a rather sickening ploy that is all too common: blame the ill and infirm for their illnesses, thus adding guilt to injury.

5. I’ve yet to come across a case which includes a proper diagnosis by a medical professional. Marx simply sits the person in a chair and lifts their legs up. It doesn’t take a degree in orthopedics to see the flaw here. This is not how such conditions are diagnosed. When a person sits in a chair there are many variables at work, given the number of joints and muscles at play: from the lower back right down to the ankle. A slight change in movement or positioning can make it look like one leg is shorter than the other. Marx is not a medical professional. He has no authority or legitimacy to diagnose any orthopaedic condition and yet he does so time and time again. In leg growing videos few people ever appear to have been properly diagnosed with the condition of having a shorter leg. The first they hear of it is when the healer sits them down, lifts their legs up, and points it out. Note that if they subsequently go to their doctor and are told that their legs are fine it looks as if the healer has worked a miracle, when in fact they had nothing wrong with their legs in the first place.

6. Faith healers are notoriously reluctant to be investigated. See this article – https://stephenjgraham.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/faith-healers-pulling-our-legs/ – where I discuss how difficult it was trying to engage with Marx and several other members of his church. Getting information from a faith-healer is like trying to get blood out of a stone. You are shunned and met with silence at every turn; honest questions and expressions of scepticism simply are not tolerated.

7. Even though faith-healers rarely co-operate with objective investigation, there remain highly plausible explanations for what might be going on in such cases – aside from the possibility of fraud and trickery. Take, for example, the ideomotor effect. This occurs when, through the mechanisms of suggestion or expectation, the body undergoes some sort of involuntary movement – often incredibly slight – without the person being aware of it. American psychologist Roy Hyman concludes that tests on the ideomotor effect show that “honest, intelligent people can unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations.” Chris French, Professor of Psychology at Goldsmith’s University of London, cautions: “The ideomotor effect is capable of producing powerful illusions that can be exploited by the unscrupulous. Those whom they fool are usually well-intentioned, often highly intelligent individuals. But the demonstrations used to convince them of the claims are never carried out under properly controlled conditions.” It is the ideomotor phenomenon that is responsible for what happens during activities such as Ouija boards or table turning, and could very easily explain the phenomenon of leg growing (assuming there’s no fraud or trickery at work).

These are just a few of the reasons why we are rightly sceptical of this supposed miracle. Have a look at the video of Marx above. Note at the beginning how the young woman is already seated with her shoes off even before we know she has the malady. Note also how Marx is at pains to stress that he’s glad she’s not wearing shoes because there has been a criticism that the wonder is explained by manipulating a person’s shoes. Seemingly Marx is well aware of the version of the trick demonstrated by Derren Brown (and used by WV Grant) which involves manipulating the shoes of the healee. But, as I indicated above, there are other ways to achieve the required result, and I performed the wonder on my barefoot son a few nights ago using two methods: firstly, moving his legs slightly sideways, and also by pushing the bottom of one heal with my hands in exactly the same position as Marx’s hands are in this video. Anyhow, note how Marx then tells the young woman that he hopes she does indeed have one leg shorter than the other – presumably so he can prove to all of us sceptics that it’s not shoe manipulation but a miracle! And, well, whaddya know, when he lifts up her legs there is one shorter than the other! Fancy that! (I will note in passing that the difference is much less pronounced than in videos showing people with their shoes on). To be honest, if Marx was a charlatan I don’t think the rest of the video would run any differently, since the effect would be exactly the same.

As things stand I find no reason to think there is anything remotely miraculous going on here. What would be more impressive is if we had an actual medically documented case; one where a person had actually been diagnosed by a medical professional as having a shorter leg which was then grown out miraculously and confirmed by an independent objective medical professional. We never see this, despite the fact that Marx and others come across a rather uncanny number of people with this malady – (there’s damn near an epidemic of this condition wherever these guys go!) – such that it shouldn’t be so difficult to provide objective medical evidence. One member of the Vineyard Church replied to me on Youtube that medical evidence doesn’t matter so much. Instead, what really matters is the “fruit” – the person experiences pain relief. Isn’t that all the matters? Well, no. If that’s all that matters then presumably we should see every African witchdoctor as a genuine miracle worker when he brings pain relief to the masses with his mixture of tonics, enchantments, and quack medical procedures.

Many might conclude that Marx is just another fraud, a trickster building himself a lucrative ministry as an in-demand speaker and healer, and earning money off the gullible. That isn’t my claim here. My claim is far more restrained – a simple call for scepticism in the face of supposed wonders. To put it simply: if a faith healer performs an alleged instance of healing that has been shown over and over again to be false, used by charlatans to manipulate the faithful (and extract money), and which is quite easily faked, then he bears a burden of proof to show that his version of the healing is genuine. Until such time as he does so, we are right to disregard his ministry and reject his claims.

Stephen J. Graham

See my follow-up article also: https://stephenjgraham.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/marx-of-suspect-healing-a-follow-up/

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15 Comments

Filed under Charismatic Movement, Faith-Healing

15 responses to “Marx of Suspect Healing

  1. Pingback: The Charismania Collection | stephenjgraham

  2. Pingback: Marx of Suspect Healing – a follow up | stephenjgraham

  3. YOU PUT YOUR LEFT LEG IN……………..
    A video of Mr Marx ‘growing out’ three left legs! He just happened to meet three youths who shared the same problem as most other people that he comes in contact with,a short left leg.The fun starts at 3.09 with the lady in the glasses who also had her leg lengthened. Guess which one?

  4. Who gives a rats ass if a leg grows or doesn’t grow when later mark prays for a blind person a deaf person pancreatic cancer,a malformed hand and they are healed is that a charlatans tricks I don’t think so-saw it with my own eyes

    • Firstly, if a healer claims to perform a wonder then it actually does matter if said wonder has occurred in the real world. Therefore, it’s perfectly right to give a rats ass if a leg grows or not. Secondly, have you medical evidence to support your other claims? Thirdly, who gives a rats ass if you witnessed some wonder? After all, I once witnessed a guy saw a woman in half and stick her back together unharmed right before my eyes! Present evidence of your claims please, then we’ll talk further, agreed?

      SJG

      • Rob

        The problem is Stephen, if I pray for someone and they tell me their pain is gone or their leg has grown, or their eyesight has improved then I am perfectly reasonable to accept what they say – after all, they are the best witnesses of their condition, and most people are not in the habit of lying about their symptoms simply to make someone else happy. Unless it was something life-threatening it would be very odd to say to that person, “Go to the doctor and check with them that your back pain has gone or your leg has grown, because, (after all), you’re not really competent to make that assessment on your own.”

  5. Rob

    ” To put it simply: if a faith healer performs an alleged instance of healing that has been shown over and over again to be false, used by charlatans to manipulate the faithful (and extract money), and which is quite easily faked, then he bears a burden of proof to show that his version of the healing is genuine. Until such time as he does so, we are right to disregard his ministry and reject his claims.”
    I don’t think so. If the person being prayed for says something has happened, then that is pretty good testimony. The standard of proof in civil cases is simply on the balance of probabilities i.e 50% +1 is enough to win the case. If someone is saying their pain has gone or their mobility has improved then for anyone who is unbiased, that is pretty credible testimony – certainly more than enough to satisfy the balance of probabilities test. You would have to pretty biased not to accept that. It’s also a little patronising to be so sceptical of what the prayers are saying – they are not incompetent and they are not children. They are ordinary people who hold down responsible jobs, look after their families, raise their children, pay their bills on time – mostly what they say can be trusted.

  6. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for engaging. Needless to say I find your comments far from convincing. Pain relief is particularly common, but the problem is we know it’s incredibly susceptible to the power of suggestion. Derren Brown was able to train a guy in suggestive techniques, and this guy was able to bring pain relief to the masses without fail simply by using these techniques. For the intriguing details see his documentary “Miracles for Sale.” Pain relief “miracles” are the least convincing.

    I disagree with you that people are the best witnesses of their own condition. Many people don’t have a good grasp of their own conditions and in the immediate aftermath of a healing in often the worst time to hear a testimony – people are inclined to sex-up their stories. In any event this article is about leg growing, and the evidence simply isn’t there. For one thing, most of the people Marx “cures” do not even know they have one leg shorter than the other until he lifts up their legs and tells them (a technique that would be laughed at by any trained orthopaedic expert). So, I agree it would be pointless to go and see their doctor – he’d just tell them their legs were fine – but they already were fine! Anyhow, could a person really tell if their leg had grown an inch or not? To me if they are medically registered as having this condition then having it checked IS a reasonable request – and the same goes for any other condition. Isn’t it responsible to tell a cancer sufferer that he must get checked out by his doctor even if he FEELS he’s been healed? There’s nothing unreasonable in that, and frankly it would be downright dangerous to let him go off thinking he’s healed from cancer and not going back to his doctor.

    Just because people think they’ve had a leg grown doesn’t mean they have. The visual illusion can be quite convincing when one is on the receiving end of it – but it’s an illusion nonetheless. As it is, in these cases, we’ve every right to remain sceptical, unless you or Marx or anyone else would like to provide actual hard evidence that a leg has grown. If this condition exists all over the place then it shouldn’t be difficult to medically confirm just one instance. If there really was evidence you guys wouldn’t have to rely on anecdotes. But you do, because there isn’t. Leg-growing is fake, a stunt, an illusionist’s trick.

    Stephen J. Graham

  7. Pingback: False Hope on the Streets | Second Journeys

  8. Tom

    When I meet a person of faith I usually ask them two questions, one of which, is, “have you ever experienced a miracle so obviously a miracle that an atheist would have a hard time explaining it away as mere coincidence or suggestion.” 99.9% of those I ask answer “no”.
    I’m a Christian and I believe in miracles but I think it is important and proper to test those miracle for their validity. Doing so allows us to truly scream “hallelujah” Backing a miracle up with scientific evidence validates and actually makes the message of the miracle more powerful. Of course, skeptics are likely to reject even those that present medical evidence.
    But on the topic of leg growing, I went to a “healing” service at my church last night. I didn’t know it was gonna be this and it was my first ever. It was nothing crazy. People weren’t falling down all over the place or anything like that. It was simply praying for people. I was prayed for in three areas by members of the church that happened to be sitting around me. Not by the preacher himself. 2 of the areas prayed for have been restored I think.
    I am also somewhat of a skeptic and I am not likely to accept a “healing” until it has been proven out over many days. I am concerned about the power of suggestion. I assume that reduction in pain through suggestion will simply return within a day or two.
    Now the first thing with me was my knee. It becomes mildly sore when ever i shock it, stand on it to long, or sit in a position that twists the knee ever so slightly like when sitting with your legs straight out in front of you but crossed.
    The second was my left neck/shoulder area. For 10 years now or so my left side would feel stiff, soar, and I would pull my muscle there once or twice a year. A couple of years ago I stated going to a chiropractor twice a year roughly, and that fixed it. I’m a new man. Well, back in June I went on a trip in which I slept in a car for the duration. I came back with the same ole neck problem on the left side but I work out of town so I have never had the time to run by my doctor.
    I can say that after prayer my left side problems are completely gone. The right side is a little sore so I plan on going in on Tuesday anyways but I also plan on talking to him a little about this experience. I’m curious to see what will come from the examination.
    My knee also seems to be fine as well. I’ve been climbing lately in a gym and they have 12 foot “bouldering” walls built. I have always had to be careful when dropping from that height. I had to concentrate on landing a little left foot heavy and with my legs square and I would finish with a roll to my left side or my knee would get sore and I don’t want to make it worse. Today I jumped off that wall all day without thinking twice about it. We will see what happens with it in the following weeks.
    After all this happened it made me want to look up these “healers” on the internet and see what else is going on. So thats what I did last night for an hour or so but when I got to the leg growing part my skepticism flags popped up all over the place. It wasn’t the first time but rather the addition of the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, etc, etc. times.I thought “wow, there sure are a bunch of short legged people out there.” It really came across as a gimmick to me.
    So one of the healers made a point of saying, while holding up the feet, that he was pushing in on them and not pulling out. He prayed, released pressure and wallah the leg grew. Later, what started to get to me was in fact that he push instead of pulled. I thought, “what would likely happen if you pushed on someones leg and then let go.” I hypothesized that with the release of pressure/compression there would be a relaxing of the muscles and the appearance of growth.
    So I put it to the test with my wife. I didn’t tell her what i was doing or why. I simply told her to sit down. I picked up her feet and saw that by moving the legs left or right a degree or two, I could create the appearance of mix matched legs. I then pushed on both legs for 10 or 15 seconds and released the pressure. Guess what…. Her leg “grew”. I didn’t move them back to a position that would even them out. Her leg elongated to the point of equality with the other.
    I am still a believer in miracles, but I think the request that these miracle stories be backed up by medical examination is reasonable and could only serve to bolster the message behind those that are real.

    Faith is a gift, but truth is more important than fantasy.

  9. Francine Graham

    Hi Stephen, your article saddens me. You are of course entitled to your opinion, although I find it very sad you have no faith, and feel the need to inform others why they shouldn’t believe. Reminds me of Saul/Paul in the new testament. Mark isn’t doing the healing, God the Father is in the name of Jesus. I know because our family have all been healed of food allergies this year after a very simple and loving prayer from Mark Marx. My 4year old was very ill if she had any dairy, gluten, egg or soya. As you can imagine this made life very restrictive for us and was hard for her to understand (especially when she couldn’t have cake at a birthday). I asked Mark to pray with us, so I approached him, he didn’t know us and had nothing to gain. He prayed and my daughter was instantly healed. I let her have a doughnut straight after and with little faith waited to see the effects come, they didn’t and haven’t since, all praise to God for I know its not man who heals but God who created us and loves us. He loves you too Stephen.

    • Why do you say I have no faith? I don’t believe that these sorts of miracles are genuine. That’s not the same thing as having no faith, is it? In order to be genuine Christian am I to beleive whatever miracle claims come my way? That would certainly be an odd approach to faith!

      As for your own case I cannot comment on it, though I wonder are you telling the whole story. Your 4 year old has a really bad gluten allergy but still you gave her a donut – which could have made her really ill, right? – just to see if she had been healed? That strikes me as a very odd thing to do.

      • Francine Graham

        Jesus heals and He healed my beautiful daughter and our whole family and I am thankful He heals. Our lives are forever changed and it really doesn’t matter if you believe or not. It does sadden me that you think you are doing the public a favour by trying to discredit the healing Jesus has brought into so many lives through Mark Marx and other genuine believers, but I guess you are answerable for yourself and before God.

    • Hi Francine,

      Thanks for taking the time to respond again.

      I’m not denying that God heals people. I believe God can heal whoever he wants. What I’m saying is that Mark Marx regularly performs an alleged miraculous feat which is a well-documented fraud. Whether you choose to accept that is up to you, it doesn’t change the fact that leg-growing is a hallmark of charlatanism. I have no intention to discredit genuine healings. However, I do investigate healings to find out if they are genuine or not and don’t just believe a story because someone tells me to (if we did that we would have to believe healing claims by Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, etc too). I have found a lot of reason to be very wary of Mark Marx and I have written about my findings. If people disagree – as you do – that’s fine. However, if I am able to warn people off very suspect ministries then that is something I regard as good. I’ve seen too many people let physically crushed and spiritually shipwrecked by dubious healers.

      When all is said and done, you are right – I will have to give an account to God. If I’m right then I’ll stand vindicated. If I’m wrong then God knows my intent is not to destroy genuine ministries but to use discernment and reason to separate the wheat from the chaff.

      That I see Marx differently from you doesn’t mean I’m any less Christian.

      Stephen J. Graham

  10. It might be worth mentioning that when Mark Marx did this with me he never touched either of my legs. He did this to a number of people sometimes with shoes on and sometimes not and sometimes touching and sometimes not.

    Do you know of anyone to do this trick on a person that doesn’t involve physically touching them.

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