Terry Virgo – leg lengthening miracle or parlour trick?

It was as a child that I became fascinated with magic. I remember being completely mesmerized by David Copperfield and his incredible ability at sleight of hand. Even as a child I knew I was being deceived but that was part of the fun. I wanted to be deceived. Trying to work out how he did his tricks was enjoyable.

As I have got older my love of magic has been paired by an outrage for those who use magic and mentalism to attempt to convince people they have special powers that they know fully well they do not have. There are a good many people out there claiming to be psychic or able to have supernatural knowledge about other people who are merely abusing techniques that are well known by professional magicians, can be performed much better by professional magicians, and which have a very natural explanation. This deception also extends into the Christian church without doubt.

One person I have long respected for exposing such practices is the British magician and mentalist Derren Brown. In recent years Brown has regularly exposed frauds due to his professional expertise, knowledge, and careful research. You could say he is Britain’s answer to James Randi. DerrenBrowncSeamusRyan7-1024x770If there are Christian leaders caught using such techniques then it seems fair that they should be publicly challenged and that is the intention here. Terry Virgo is a well known Christian preacher and church planter in the charismatic tradition here in the UK. You can find out more about him here:

Wikipedia – Terry Virgo  10464375_901175099899984_1716624247018436600_n

I am not claiming to know for certain, or to have proven beyond doubt, that Terry Virgo performed nothing more than a visual deception. I do, however, encourage you to carefully compare the two video clips below.

First I would like you to watch this clip from the Derren Brown’s expose called Miracles for Sale. This was a programme where Brown trains a non-religious person to become a fake Christian miracle healer using lots of showmanship. This particular clip is where Brown explains how to give the illusion that a leg has been lengthened.

Now I would like you to compare Brown’s tutorial with this clip of Terry Virgo supposedly healing a man’s leg by lengthening it. The clip of Virgo begins at 1:33 minutes in:

If you watch the second video back carefully and pick a mark on the carpet behind the man’s left shoe you can actually see that it is the left shoe that is being pushed back rather than the man’s right leg being lengthened (as Virgo is praying out loud for). This is why, if you stop the video at 2:26 you will see the man’s left foot is left in a ridiculous angle compared with his right. This angle is not at all odd if the heel has been pushed in. This would strongly suggest that we have an example of the shoe on the normal leg being pushed in rather than the short leg being lengthened. The evidence certainly suggests to me that this was not a miracle healing but a visual trick. This would also explain why the gentleman in question appeared to be unaware of the difference in length between his feet (which appears more than a little odd) and also his apathy at having been ‘healed.’ If you listen to their conversation we are being asked to believe that the man being healed was completely unaware of a one inch difference in the length of his legs! I find that hard to take seriously. When I was a child (thirty years ago) there was a boy in my class who had this problem and even then he wore a shoe with a thicker sole to solve the problem. Are we really to believe this poor chap has been wandering around with this problem in normal shoes his whole life?

If it can be demonstrated that this was not a sleight of hand magic trick then I will remove this post and I will write a retraction and a full apology. Until I see evidence to the contrary I am afraid the evidence suggests this is not a genuine healing. Worse than that it appears to be a deliberate and premeditated attempt to fool people into thinking a healing took place when that was not the case.

As the theologian Roger Olson has said:

“I never believed in “leg lengthening ministry.” Can God heal a short leg to make it normal? I don’t doubt it. Does he give that gift to certain healing evangelists? Are there thousands of people being healed in that manner in charismatic healing revivals? I don’t believe it. Never have.”

Update August 2019: No further evidence has come to light to indicate this supposed miracle really took place. What did happen is the original video was made private and I have had to source the footage through a third party. I think this is further evidence that Virgo is a charlatan.
Miracles for Sale – Derren Brown:

About aRemonstrant'sRamblings

I graduated in philosophy of religion many years ago and have since acquired my PGCE and now teach religion, ethics and philosophy.
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22 Responses to Terry Virgo – leg lengthening miracle or parlour trick?

  1. Gene Brode, Jr. says:

    He absolutely pushed the far shoe in. The camera was still and the heel moved back! It’s surprising that faith healers would bother with something so obvious. This reminds me of the David Blaine levitation trick where you hide your rear foot from the audience and lift yourself with the hidden toe of your rear shoe. I think you’re on to this guy’s trick here. What a shame, doing that in the name of Jesus.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      It looks that way to me too. Yes that form of levitation is similar. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. He has not “absolutely pushed the far shoe in”. Why would the man being prayed for have a shoe half-hanging off his healthy leg to begin with? It’s true that the angle that his left foot is pointing changes, but by 0:56 the back of the left heel actually seems to be behind the heel of the right foot, which, you could argue, wouldn’t be the case if the left leg was an inch shorter. Of course, this is not conclusive. The video proves nothing either way. It should be noted, however, that Derren Brown’s trick is to pull out the shoe of the shorter leg, which clearly doesn’t happen here.

    But more to the point, I know Terry Virgo and have seen him both at home and in church meetings. He is an utterly genuine follower of Christ with more humility than the vast majority of people I’ve ever met. You’ll notice that there’s no showbiz element to what he was doing in the video, no drawing attention to himself (this is the first time I’ve ever seen or heard about someone filming him whilst he prays for healing). He doesn’t even seem to be aware that the camera is on him. He’s not Benny Hinn in a white suit. Nor is prayer for healing the core of his ministry.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      I didn’t say it was “conclusive” Rob but what I did say is that I think my reading of the overall evidence is the more logical one.

      If you pick a spot on the carpet at the base of the left shoe you can visibly see the shoe furthest away from the camera being pushed back in. It’s quite clear that is what is taking place.

      The point about the shoe on the left foot being loose is easily explained. It’s because the person doing the supposed ‘miracle’ loosens it themselves. This can easily be done since Terry touches the shoe numerous times under the guise that the man must not lift his legs himself. Think about it. Why would that need to be a factor if God is doing the healing? It’s perfectly natural to have some tension in your legs if a stranger picks them up. Why would the healer need them to be limp? Is God constrained to heal only limp legged people? However, in magic there is always a reason for everything and it’s clear that this little routine makes it possible for him to play with the shoes several times before the camera comes in for the close up.

      Your comment also reveals you did not bother to watch the Derren Brown clip carefully enough. Brown loosens one shoe making the leg look longer and then pushes it back in (contrary to what you claimed) so it is done exactly the same way Virgo does it. (And even if it were an opposite routine and he was pulling one shoe out that wouldn’t make it a genuine healing either would it?)

      The other question you have to ask yourself is how on earth is it possible for a person to have a one inch difference in the length of their legs and be completely unaware of it?!? According to their conversation he is completely unaware of any such difference. That is utterly ridiculous. How is it possible the man (and most likely his GP) has not noticed this significant difference?

      I see that the reason you are responding is because you know and like the man but his general conduct does not rule out having made mistakes and it does not rule out having pretended to heal. Pointing to how someone is in general does not get one off the hook when there is a specific incident with very clear evidence. In fact your closeness to him could be a reason you cannot be objective about this incident.

      Whether he draws attention to himself or not is not relevant to the question of whether this is a genuine healing or not. Benny Hinn himself frequently states he is giving God all the glory when he does his ‘miracles’ – does that mean they are genuine miracles? Of course not.

      If God is lengthening people’s legs through Terry Virgo then let us see it happen with the shoes off can we? And if legs are being lengthened then how about the regrowth of a limb? I would be willing to bet that is not going to happen anytime soon.

  3. Yes, fair point about the Brown video. He pulls out the shoe in order to push it back in again. Nevertheless, given what we can make out from the other video, which I’ve replayed a number of times, you simply cannot allege that the man’s solid looking, laced-up shoe is demonstrably loosened by an inch and then pushed back up against his foot. Even if I was looking for a fraud I wouldn’t offer this particular explanation.

    What I’m not doing is claiming that the video clearly shows a healing, whereas you are claiming at the very least that a visual deception has taken place – if I understand the wording of your post correctly. Terry is not an osteopath and mistakes in this area are possible, but you are going straight to the worst case scenario.

    The suggestion of confirmation bias on my part can be obviously be batted back over the net to your side of the court, as none of us can look at inconclusive evidence and not bring in our own presuppositions to fill the gaps. What I can offer you is a character witness of the man doing the praying and tell you that, from what I’ve seen, deceiving people who ask to be prayed for healing would not offer him anything that he wants from life.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thank you for looking back at the Brown clip and correcting your previous statement.

      Of course I can allege that. That is precisely what I am doing. I am claiming it was a parlour trick and that that explanation is the most rational response to what we are seeing.

      I suggest you have a go at the trick and use someone who has a “solid looking, laced-up shoe.” It’s surprisingly easy to do. All you have to do is pull it down half an inch and angle the legs slightly. The person won’t even feel it happening.

      Of course we all bring our own presuppositions to any set of evidence (that is hardly contentious at all and I am not arguing otherwise) but in courts of law we don’t stop using a jury – we just ensure that jury members are not friends or family. 😉

      The character witness just suggests that this is not normal practice for him. I am pleased to know he does not go around doing this all the time but that does not negate that he did it on this occasion. One does not have to be a habitual liar to tell a lie!

      The bottom line is that the video footage makes it quite clear that the shoe furthest from the camera was pushed back in. I cannot help someone who cannot see that other than to suggest you see an optician.

  4. OK, yes you can “allege” anything of course, but what I dispute is that the video demonstrates what you allege. In fact, as soon as the man’s feet are lifted up into the view of the camera, there is what appears to be a difference in leg length, which means that the initial manipulation must have taken place between 0:20 and 0:25, when Terry’s arm is in the way of the camera. So you’re assuming that he did something at the point without actually seeing it for yourself.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      I think that’s the difference between us Rob. I’m not saying you cannot disagree with me. Of course you can. I am even allowing your comments so others can see you disagreeing with me. You appear to think I cannot come to the conclusion, and express it publicly, that he performed a trick instead of a miracle. I am afraid that is the conclusion I have come to.

      My view is not based, as you claim, on what I could not see but rather on what I can. I have said a number of times that anybody can see the left shoe being pushed back with their own eyes. Comparing the heel moving with the carpet behind it makes that obvious. Therefore my conclusion is not based on a mere assumption. It is based on empirical evidence of what can be seen. I have also cited other logical reasons which suggest a miracle simply does not make sense in this scenario (such as the implausibility of a person having a one inch difference in the length of their legs without having ever noticed it). As such I think the probability of my explanation is far superior to those who would cry “miracle.” Those people have their work cut out. Anyone who wants to suggest this was a miracle has to explain the left heel moving back, the request for a limp leg, the man’s inability to have noticed his serious medical condition, and his apathy at having been healed by Virgo. Anyone would have thought he’d just been handed a free McDonald’s toy given his reaction!

      Personally I find the trick explanation far more rational having so much greater explanatory scope and I’m afraid nothing you have said has made me think this was a genuine miracle. I think your friendship / admiration of Virgo is getting in the way of you seeing the obvious truth.

  5. Hi there its amazing how much people want to believe these things. Faith isn’t faith if it isn’t based on reason. There always has to be reason for faith. I attended a New Frontiers conference where Terry was speaking. Excellent speaker…but then the prayers for the sick started and he kicked it all off by calling everyone who had back pain up. Of course thats a lot of people and he said God had given him the ability to pray for shortened legs. At that point my alarm bells went off, because if knew the trick and multiple ways to do it. Terry was always very adamant that the person relax and put the full weight of their legs in his hands. At one point a lady didn’t relax and he told her two or three times to relax. Why? God doesn’t need relaxed legs! Terry needed relaxed legs for his trick! Relaxed legs can be swayed left to right very slowly to create the elusion. That coupled with one shoe loose at the heal makes an even bigger impression. I walked out of that meeting appalled at the level of deceit. Some evangelists justify this fraud reasoning their “priming the faith pump” No doubt there are genuine healings, not because of guys like Virgo…but inspite of them. With all the “short legs” to grow out it used up all the time and Terry conveniently slipped out before any seriously ill people could be prayed for. Makes me sick.
    My cousin came to me after, he said Terry had prayed for him and his leg grew out and that he had insoles and didn’t think he needed them any more. I told him how grieved I was by this whole sharade, I sat him down and did the whole thing again for him showing him how easily I could trick him into thinking his newly grown leg was too short again or too long. That was two years ago and my cousin still has bad feet and needs insoles.
    God pity the poor flock that is being ravaged and raped by such pitiless shepherds! I believe God works miracles…but even if a man does a genuine miracle, it does not mean that they are a genuine servant of Christ. I grew up in Africa..any dark witch doctor or charlatan can do some genuinely freaky stuff. Miracles are no sure sign of authenticity. Unfortunately cases like Terry Virgo’s leg growing…are the easy ones to weed out.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thanks for sharing that Don. I obviously agree but it is worrying to hear that he does this a lot. It’s just hilarious to think that these people could be walking around with a one-inch (or more) difference in the lengths of their legs and never have noticed! I’m glad someone else is outraged too. To be tricking people who are ill or in chronic pain is one of the most disgusting practices a person could do. Thanks for your comment. Best wishes.

  6. New Frontiers is a cult!

    I paid to go to the church’s leadership conference. At the end, Terry Virgo made all of us dance in a chain and give more money, telling us that God loves a cheerful giver. We didn’t have a choice. We all had to dance, smile, follow in a train and give money.

    Giving money should be a choice. It is not under compulsion. He told us that we would be blessed if we give.

    At David Stroud’s New Frontiers church in London, they got a couple up in front of everyone who said that they could not afford to tithe – give 10% and pay their rent. After discussing this with their friends, they decided to tithe anyway. Miraculously on the day when their rent came out, their friends had put money into their bank account.

    I was a full time student working part time. If I gave 10% I would go into my bank overdraft.
    My group leader, and the people in my life group told me to give 10%, and were upset that I wasn’t giving 10% and looked down on me. I am a full time student, working part time in a very expensive city. I do not have rich parents like them.

    Jesus came and broke the Old Testament rules. In the Old Testament, the tithe was given out of produce and crops, and they created a fund to give to the poor.

    Old Testament
    “Tithe” means a tenth or 10 percent. The tithing system described in the Bible was designed specifically to meet the needs of the religious, economic and political system of ancient Israel. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel, except the tribe of Levi, initially received an allotment of land in the promised land of Canaan. The Levites were assistants to Israel’s priests and were supported by a tithe offering from other eleven tribes. All families of those eleven tribes were to give a tenth of all produce, flocks, and cattle to the Levites. In turn, the Levites were to give a tenth of that to support the priests (Leviticus 27:30-33, Numbers 18:21-28). Tithes were also used to meet the needs of foreigners, orphans and widows. (Deuteronomy 26:12-13)

    So I gave 10% of my earnings and didn’t go on holiday for a year while David Stroud sent his 3 children to private school, around 20k a year and they went on holiday.

    David Stroud asked us if we were cheating God – it is emotional blackmail, looking back at it. He also said that Jesus came so we could give more than 10% and we must give so it hurts. And we must give the higher number that came into our mind. God will bless us if we give.

    I think the leaders of the church including Andy Tilsley and David Stroud should really consider their effects on people when telling people to get into debt. Church is a big money making operation. We must also give 10% of our salary before we are taxed.

    If you read the bible, it is relative. The widow gave her coppers but that was what she had to live on. The others gave out of their wealth. God knows your heart and your circumstances.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Sorry that was your experience. I know not everyone in NF is in it for the money but the teaching on tithing is completely laughable and ridiculous. They do seem to assume most people are middle-class though since almost everything they organise is expensive and there’s only so many times you can ask for help!

    • akevangel says:

      That is a very sad story but I’m sure it is not uncommon. I think you should write or meet up with that leader and challenge him to his face about your experience. As someone once said for some , tithing is too much and foe others tithing is too little,

  7. Dan Therrien says:

    It is real. I personally experienced this at church yesterday and saw one leg lengthen about 1 1/2 inches right before my eyes. No parlor tricks. Whether you call it leg growing or spinal alignment when you pray in the spirit God knows what you’re asking. Those who doubt just don’t have the faith to take God at his word. He is the healer.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      I’m sorry you believe that. I think facing the evidence is a better road to go. If you can provide evidence from the man’s doctor that his leg grew then I would take that more seriously. But this never happens. What is far more probable is that you were duped just like Terry Virgo dupes people. I have no tolerance for these charlatans. I feel sorry for those being deceived by them.

  8. It’s very said that people can come to such conclusion without first investigating and comparing evidence. I have been to meetings where Terry Preached and prayed for people and many have testified that GOD has healed them. Knowing the kind of a person Terry is(Which I don’t think u do) he has never drawn people to himself or to things that He has done, but always pointing people to what God has done.

    Now explain this to me: Few years ago I used to have Kidney stones, they were so bad that I started taking pills to ease the pain, that continues for months and when Terry came to speak at one of the conferences we have at our local church I went to the conference and got prayed for, I haven’t had pain in my kidney since then, it has been more than 8 yrs. I can think of many people who had all sorts of diseases in their body, many have testified that God has healed them, not because Terry prayed for them, but because God uses people to accomplish his purposes. I have seen countless miracles of people been prayed for in New Frontiers where the results are unbelievable and I have also seen people not getting healed when they were prayed for. This is all God’s doing.

    Sometimes we look for reasons on things that not even science can prove and we come to conclude because our minds are limited to what we can prove. Looking forward to the response. I can share stories of people and even point to articles where people were prayed for by Terry or any other person… and were healed… not because they got prayed for by a special person, but because they got healed by a loving God.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Sorry Nelson but I find it difficult to take that first sentence seriously. It is precisely because I HAVE investigated and considered the pertinent evidence that I have come to such a conclusion!

      Your personal experiences with Virgo are interesting but they hold no evidential value to this particular claim of a miracle. I would simply like to see these people’s medical records with accounts from the medical profession.

      As it happens I was in a New Frontiers Church myself for many years so I know a fair amount about the guy and I know how much he is held in high esteem by that denomination.

      So then you ask me to explain your own claimed miracle. Erm… excuse me but you have the burden of proof the wrong way around. The burden of proof is on those claiming miracles took place (if they wish to use them as arguments to convince others). An argument which says basically “I don’t know what healed me therefore it must have been God” is a classic god-of-the-gaps argument and even most academic theistic philosophers denounce those types of arguments.

      This is what began to bother me about miracle arguments (even while I was a theist). I began to wonder why so many medical people were completely unimpressed by these arguments (unless they were already theists of course). This is because those high up in medicine freely admit there are a huge number of things we still cannot explain. To leap to a god-hypothesis is highly presumptuous. What you really mean is you cannot fathom any other explanation therefore God-did-it! Well this is convenient for the believer but it holds little philosophical value as a form of argument. Also worthy of consideration is how God appears to have far less interest in healing people with severed limbs. I mean why is it that 0% of those types of disabled people NEVER get healed. There is not one single medically agreed case of a miraculous reappearance of a severed limb in recorded history. Not one! Instead all of these medical ‘miracles’ are things which could have perfectly natural explanations.

      Make no mistake… You have not seen one single miracle. You have BELIEVED you have seen miracles. You have wanted to see God at work and therefore you have believed people’s testimonies (probably largely without any investigation). There have been numerous documentaries debunking ‘miracle healers’. People have been found months and years later and either the problem has returned or some natural cause was found to be the explanation. You ‘see’ miracles because you wish to see miracles. It’s nothing more than wish-fulfillment. Sorry but I must be plain with you here and not mix my words.

      You ending paragraph just goes to show how weak these miracle testimonies are. The argument quickly runs into the ‘what-we-don’t-know’ fallacy. Now suddenly your argument appeals to how limited out knowledge is. Well that’s self-defeating for your argument! You cannot claim to have substantial evidence for miracles and then appeal to the frailty of human knowledge. You’re shooting yourself in the foot.

      You could send me dozens of such testimonies but what I’m interested in is why haven’t their doctors published their experiences in peer-reviewed journals? As far as I know medicine the consensus is that there is not enough evidence to draw such conclusions and I think the medical profession has the knowledge to declare that to be the current situation. It’s not me you need to convince – it’s the medical profession!!

      These are also the main reasons arguments from miracles do not currently fair too well in philosophical circles either. I’m sorry to be so negative in response to your views but I think this is a very important area where people are often being manipulated by some church leaders and the scandal is that these people are the most vulnerable people to be taking advantage of.

      I’m curious what you make of the video. You don’t actually suggest a better account of the evidence. Can you not manage to see he’s pushing the shoe in? I mean it’s pretty darn clear he is. Pick a spot behind the left shoe and you can see it quite clearly. At the same time he’s claiming the right leg is being lengthened. His cameraman did too good of a job!!

  9. jutecity says:

    First encountered the ‘leg lengthening miracle’ at a John Wimber conference back in the 80’s.
    My wife had just completed a course in orthopedics and was curious to know how the healer was able to measure the leg. In the medical word it is agreed that legs are notoriously difficult to measure, and a cursory stretching them straight whilst a person is sitting on a chair is not the way it is actually done.This method just creates too many variables that can easily be exploited, even unwittingly as in the video above. In orthopedics X-Rays are often used to get an accurate result as length discrepancies are not necessarily noticeable.
    It is surprising why this parlour trick is not being called out by health care professionals more often than it is. A strong case of cognitive dissonance?

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Interesting. I didn’t know Wimber engaged in this prank as well. You raise a good point there. These supposed healers are also pretending to be able to diagnose the problem in the first place. I’m with you on how awful this practice is. It’s a disgrace.

  10. Mike Heath says:

    I think the term “pulling my leg”, meaning “trying to make a fool of me”, is nothing to do with Victorian robbers, but is connected to America and the fake healers of the late 19th century. We are familiar with snake oil salesmen at that time, and the “religious affections” as Jonathan Edwards called them, but although I read someone else’s comment about this somewhere, I can find no actual evidence. Nevertheless, the term seems more applicable to this kind of fake healing that to anything else that has been proposed.

    Any insights?

  11. Iain says:

    The Terry Virgo leg lengthening clip is incorporated in this video.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thank you so much Iain. I thought we had lost the footage when the original video was taken down. I’ll add this video to my main article.

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