Smallpox and God

(67 Posts)
sashh Sun 10-Mar-13 05:36:21

One of my classes of ESOL students can't understand that I'm an atheist so they brought in a friend with good English to try co convert me or at least educate me.

One question I asked was that, if Allah made everything in the world for a reason, was it a good or a bad thing that smallpox has been eradicated.

From my point of view it is a triumph of science and undoubtedly a good thing.

I wondered what other people think. I don't think I'm going to change my mind, but I think it is an interesting point.

So, is the eradication of smallpox a good or a bad thing?

niminypiminy Wed 13-Mar-13 11:58:47

I don't find it intellectually unsatisfying. It would be more intellectually unsatisfying to adopt one of the other responses to this problem (it's for our own good, which is bollocks; it's what we deserve, which is even more bollocks; and it's because the world isn't the way God planned it, but is fallen, which is better but still not quite as satisfying, for me, as 'I really don't know').

'I don't know' seems to me intellectually honest -- and not that dissimilar to the position atheists adopt.

Snorbs Wed 13-Mar-13 12:21:57

"I don't know why disease exists" is indeed intellectually honest.

"I don't know why God created disease but I'm sure it's because He loves us" is verging on the non sequitur.

niminypiminy Wed 13-Mar-13 12:32:43

It's not a non-sequitur, although it would be a facile thing to say. But I didn't say it.

crescentmoon Wed 13-Mar-13 12:35:55

im just at work now so just posting a link about the neuroscientist's position on determinism pedro, i quoted yday and gave links to who they were but heres an article where you can read about it yourself...

and this is an interesting forum - the Skeptics Guide to the Universe - debating if determinism is the only logical course for atheists....

i used to be able to spend all day on these threads, interesting posts as always niminy, as for disease and sickness...

if i give my child medicine am i trying to undermine the will of God? or sticking two fingers up at God? no because it is God's will to 'take the medicine'.

are scientists who research diseases and try ot find strategies to cure/stop the spread are they working against the will of God? no because it is considered amongst the highest work and with the blessing of God.

if i try to feed a poor person is it trying to thwart the will of God? subversive? no because God wants that human beings take care of each other and feed the poor.

if i try and help an oppressed person? a refugee? am i thwarting God's will? no because the Quran says God loves those who stand firm for justice of the oppressed, and those who help those who leave their homes because of oppression.

we are at a time and place in human history where we can actually eradicate world hunger, and have the capacity to eradicate disease but its humanity that hasnt the will for it.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Wed 13-Mar-13 12:46:46

"Some may be off the mark completely but others do work, which is why alot of scientific research is now going in to investigating herbal medicines and testing medicinal benefits of chemicals found in lots of plants."

Science has ALWAYS tested the benefits of chemicals in plants, the stuff that works becomes "medicine". All medicines come from nature originally, they have to, that's all we have. Some are now manufactured artificially, but it's not like there's some kind of recent drive to try out herbal remedies.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Wed 13-Mar-13 12:52:07

"we are at a time and place in human history where we can actually eradicate world hunger, and have the capacity to eradicate disease but its humanity that hasnt the will for it."

I disagree. Perhaps you can explain how this would be achieved?

And in fact, many of the issues we have with eradicating disease, especially in third world countries is religion. Case in point, anti retro viral drugs for AIDS in Africa were touted by Catholics in power as a method for western medicine to sterilise Africans and were convinced to reject them. It's not humanity that doesn't have the will, it's organised religions.

niminypiminy Wed 13-Mar-13 15:56:34

Crescentmoon determinism is currently fashionable in some scientific circles, and I find it an interesting coincidence that we are currently seeing a combination of materialist determinism (everything I do is determined by a combination of genes/chemical reactions in my brain) and solipsism (there is no authority outside the self) as fashionable ideas. Very interesting!

It's interesting, Pedro that you picked up on disease (and then concentrated on HIV) rather than hunger. Perhaps this might be because so many of the organisations campaigning on food equality have religious affiliations. Your account of the Catholic position on ant-retrovirals sounds like a parody to me. But in any case, I would have thought the major factor in the spread of HIV is people (principally men) refusing to practicse safe sex. But, there, we are back to (human) free will again!

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Wed 13-Mar-13 21:02:54

Niminy, I picked disease over hunger purely because I think it's grossly arrogant to suggest that there's a method by which we could cure world hunger and was asking the question of how.

But in the meantime here's a quote:

"Archbishop Francisco Chimoio, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Mozambique, on Wednesday said that two European countries are manufacturing condoms that deliberately have been tainted with HIV as part of a plan to 'colonize the continent'"

crescentmoon Wed 13-Mar-13 21:45:48

"because I think it's grossly arrogant to suggest that there's a method by which we could cure world hunger and was asking the question of how."

grossly arrogant? to say we could do it but we dont want to do it?

lets talk stats. out of a global population of 7billion people 20% of the worlds population is overweight - 1.4billion here

whilst 925 million people were undernourished around the world, thats roughly 13%.

so it is not that the earth cannot give abundantly, or that there isnt enough food to go around. theres enough food on this planet that 500 million can even gorge themselves to obesity. its just not a priority - the resources are there, the ingenuity, just not the will.

forget talking about africa how many food banks have opened up across the UK alone in the last 12 months? serving upto 200 thousand people? in britain, here, your eye doesnt need to look far to find hunger and malnourishment.

and yet, every year the fishing industry throws out 1 million tonnes of good quality fish back into the sea because they cant sell it due to quotas. so theres people in the UK eating bad quality food and high quality fish is taken out of the sea but because its not the right kind gets thrown back in, dead, not eaten, not alive to swim away, willfully. wastefully. thats human priorities - its just not scandalous or shocking enough.

(a video by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall on trawler discards)

as for disease, if all the money spent on weapons research, space technology, football clubs, zany architectural projects was concentrated on finding the cure to cancer, AIDS, TB, how quickly would we find it? we have the human capital, the resources, but from free will humanity doesnt pursue the eradication of disease.

"of the 1,556 new drugs approved between 1975 and 2004, only 21 (1.3%) were specifically developed for tropical diseases and tuberculosis, even though these diseases account for 11.4% of the global disease burden. " here

even people with diseases have different outcomes depending on what access to medicine they get? how torturous is that? the treatment is there and known, the cure is there. poor people with HIV/ AIDS die within months or a few years, people with HIV in the West can live 20/30 years. so preserving patents and profits more important than preserving life. thats human will and free choice there. it hurts, but thats it.

again dont look far. think of the difference in outcome for a poor sick person in America who needs healthcare and a poor sick person in the UK? is that God's will or is that a difference in priorities amongst the people, the exercising of free will, whether it damns you or kills you or improves you.

crescentmoon Wed 13-Mar-13 22:24:49

"nd in fact, many of the issues we have with eradicating disease, especially in third world countries is religion. Case in point, anti retro viral drugs for AIDS in Africa were touted by Catholics in power as a method for western medicine to sterilise Africans and were convinced to reject them. It's not humanity that doesn't have the will, it's organised religions."

even after the MMR lancet paper was retracted and the author was shown to have falsified his evidence there are still people in 2013 in the UK who fear their children being given the triple jab in case it causes their children to have autism. and now theres a rise in measles cases in the uk.

i dont know about catholics. but i know, myself, i wouldnt trust vaccines that white anglo saxon men havent tried on themselves, those are the gold standard ones.

Glaxosmithkline fined over vaccine trials; 14 babies reported dead Argentina

then authorities wondered why those same people didnt trust the polio vaccine programmes in 2003, saying it was superstition when many children had died or were left disabled 7 years beforehand because of experimental vaccines. Pfizer only admitted guilt and paid compensation in 2011. how does the MMR controversy compare to that?

peacefuloptimist Thu 14-Mar-13 11:05:26

Apologies for taking ages to come back to the thread. I was held up from responding by real life.

‘Creating a world and its inhabitants and then torturing them with terrible diseases is, in my opinion, morally reprehensible.’

Your assertions remind me of a particular passage in the Quran regarding the conversation between God and the angels before the creation of human beings. I hope you dont mind if I go in to a bit of Islamic theology with you.

‘And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, "Indeed, I will make upon the earth a vicegerent." They said, "Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, "Indeed, I know that which you do not know."’ Holy Quran: Chapter 2; verse 30

The same questions you are asking about polio the angels asked God that about us according to the Quran. Isnt it morally reprehensible to create a being that is capable of tremendous cruelty, malice and evil? From their perspective that is all that we were; corrupt, violent and disobedient creatures as opposed to themselves who were good, perfect and obedient to God. It reminds me of William Blakes poem ‘The Tiger’ where the tiger is portrayed as evil and dreadful in comparison to the lamb. But is the Tiger inherently evil? Are we human beings inherently evil? Well God at least doesnt think so as you see when the verses continue.

‘And He taught Adam the names - all of them. Then He showed them to the angels and said, "Inform Me of the names of these, if you are truthful." They said, "Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise." He said, "O Adam, inform them of their names." And when he had informed them of their names, He said, "Did I not tell you that I know the unseen [aspects] of the heavens and the earth? And I know what you reveal and what you have concealed."’ Holy Quran: Chapter 2; verse 31-33

God demonstrates to the angels that this being is an intellectual being that is capable of thinking and acquiring knowledge. In this way he is superior to the angels who are programmed to have a limited amount of knowledge which is necessary for them and are unable to think for themselves. Why did human beings need intellect and the ability to acquire knowledge? Because in the earlier passage God makes it clear that ultimately this being was designed to live on earth and to be God’s vicergent on Earth. For those who are unfamiliar with what vicergent means (Im not being patronising I was unfamiliar with the exact meaning of the word) it is ‘A person exercising delegated power on behalf of a sovereign or ruler’. So God, according to the Quran, created mankind with the intention of them being a representative of His on Earth to exercise His will (in the same way that a deputy would exercise the will of the ruler) and in order for them to fulfil that role they had to have the ability to reason and think.

This is where the Quran differs from the Bible. Islam rejects the Christian concept of original sin and the notion that all humans are born sinners due to the actions of Adam. God says in the Quran:

“And no bearer of burdens shall bear another’s burden.” (Quran 35:18)

Human beings were not sent to earth as a punishment for Adam’s actions and were not made to carry the burden of his sin. It was the intent of God in the first place that Adam and his descendants would live on Earth for a period of time. God tested Adam so that he could learn and gain experience. By eating from the tree and disobeying the orders of God he showed that he was capable of making a decision on his own even if it was the wrong one. He then learnt that whenever he commits a mistake (which he and his descendants were bound to do because they have free will) the approptiate response is to seek the forgiveness of God. In this way God prepared Adam for his role on earth as a caretaker and a moral being.

This is all theological background to the Islamic response to the problem of suffering but the part that is applicable to your statement and made me think of you is where it says ‘“ know what you reveal and what you concealed”.’ What is revealed in the earlier passages (in the question of the angels) is the human beings capability to do harm but what is concealed is their ability to do good. Human beings are also capable of using their intellect and free will to do a tremendous amount of good: i.e. to be kind, generous, loving, selfless and thoughtful. There were two sides of humanity and you just focus on one you are doing an injustice to the greater proportion of humanity who are good.

Your question focuses on one negative aspect of life which is that we can catch diseases which cause us pain or can kill us and you blame that on God. However that is not the whole story. We also experience and see beauty, health, prosperity, life, birth, wisdom, intelligence, growth and progress. Dont you also attribute these blessings to God? You want to attribute only the negative aspects of life to God and ignore all the positive aspects and that is unjust. Yes we experience suffering in the world but is that the norm or is it the exception. I would say it is the exception. We get sick sometimes but most of the time we are healthy. There are famines but most of the time people have enough to eat. There are natural disasters occassionally but most of the time there are no earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes etc. Those times where things do not go right God is not doing nothing about it. He has created human beings to act as God’s representatives and it is at these times where we intervene to end suffering that we are acting out His Will.

“Allah will say on the Day of Judgment, ‘O son of Adam, I was sick and you did not visit Me.’ He will say, ‘O my Lord, how could I visit You, when you are the Lord of the Worlds.’ Allah will say, ‘Did you not know that My servant so-and-so was sick and you did not visit him? Did you not know that if you had visited him, you would have found Me there?’ Allah will say, ‘O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not.’ He shall say, ‘O my Lord, how could I feed you and you are the Lord of the Worlds?’ And Allah will say, ‘Did you not know that My servant so-and-so was in need of food and you did not feed him? Did you not know that if you had fed him, you would have found that to have been for Me?’ ‘O son of Adam, I asked you for water and you did not give Me to drink.’ The man shall say, ‘O my Lord, how could I give You water, when You are the Lord of the Worlds?’ Allah will say, ‘My servant so-and-so asked you for water and you did not give him to drink water. Did you not know that if you had given him to drink, you would have found that to have been for Me.’ (Hadith Qudsi. Muslim, Hadith no. 4661)

The above hadith reinforces that it is not God’s intent for us to accept suffering or to allow it to continue but that we are expected to do something about it. I hope that makes sense. We are the divine intervention because we have been given the capability through our reason to solve many of the problems we face on Earth.

Snorbs Thu 14-Mar-13 12:17:53

Your question focuses on one negative aspect of life which is that we can catch diseases which cause us pain or can kill us and you blame that on God.

Not quite. Crescentmoon posted a number of quotes from the Qur'an that claimed that the Islamic Allah created diseases and their cures. Niminypiminy claimed that the Christian God created diseases. I am taking those claims and exploring the morality and character of a god who would do such things.

Personally I believe that infectious agents such as smallpox and polio are an inevitable consequence of how life started and evolved on Earth. No divine guidance or intervention required, no ethical conundrums resulting.

You seem to be repeating Crescentmoon's position that, as Allah created both the disease and either the cure and/or our intellect to allow us to find the cure, the responsibility for discovering and utilising that cure is ours. Allah is absolved from condemnation for actually creating the disease in the first place. That millions have died between us being created and us having the science to cure the disease seems to be our fault.

To go back to my analogy, I create the deathmaze and dump people in it, but because I made sure there is a safe way out I am absolved from condemnation for putting in the rotating knives. That lots of people get killed between the time I first put them in the maze and the time the safe way out is found and communicated back is their fault.

DioneTheDiabolist Thu 14-Mar-13 12:26:24

I'm not sure your analogy works. A trap is not the same as an ecosystem.confused

Snorbs Thu 14-Mar-13 12:54:12


The number of posts in this thread picking holes in what is a simple analogy because the analogy is not an exact representation of the entirety of creation,


The number of posts that are responding to the central point of the analogy, ie to explore the morality of a creator-deity who creates disease.

DioneTheDiabolist Thu 14-Mar-13 13:44:48

So you think any creator deity should only create a system in which people live forever?confused

peacefuloptimist Thu 14-Mar-13 13:53:15

Dione you took the words right out of my mouth. thanks

Snorbs Thu 14-Mar-13 14:03:56

So you think it's ethical for a creator-deity to cripple people with polio or kill them off with necrotizing fasciitis? confused

DioneTheDiabolist Thu 14-Mar-13 17:18:35

I have no idea Snorbs. My understanding of Ethics for Creator Gods is non-existent. But maybe it's totally ethical. Maybe to mess with the virus or bacteria will land a creator deity in hot water with the Divine Ethics Commitee.grin

headinhands Thu 14-Mar-13 17:20:52

Why would god create diseases and immune systems to fight them off? The posters who defend the idea of god creating diseases to kill us off out of kindness, do you ever take antibiotics or have vaccinations? Why?

crescentmoon Thu 14-Mar-13 18:39:26

Il be on in abit to answer you snorbs but just to say i quoted the narrations of Muhammad (pbuh) on seeking cures and treatments for disease, i didnt quote the quran. (I gave the references so other people could look them up.)

I would say it was a good thing it was eradicated.

As a Christian I would say that when God made the world it was good, all good, so if there were viruses they would be good too! But that the world is a fallen place, no longer perfect. So when someone dies of a virus, it is not that God wills them to die, and it is not good, it is just because the world is no longer perfect. God has chosen to allow these things in the world. I think heaven is perfect so if there were to be viruses in heaven they would be kindly ones! But I don't think they will be there! I know it is not a satisfying answer for many, possibly not even for other Christians! I guess the premise of the question at the start sashh is that if God created small pox was it good that it was eradicated? So I would say it was a good thing it was eradicated.

crescentmoon Fri 15-Mar-13 00:35:58

You ask about the morality of God snorbs because you assume the intentions to be similar to humans.

as humans we tend to wish ill upon those who hurt us and for them to struggle and we wish ease for our loved ones.

When we want to reward others we give gifts and money and when we want to punish/ abase we take away. This association of being 'honoured' or 'loved' by having something - health/wealth - or being 'dishonoured/abased' by NOT having something - health/wealth - is a human assumption.

And so we ascribe these intentions to God. How can it be anything but an an abasement to be poor? how can it be anything but an abasement to be sick? Because we associate the state with status. Humans either want to think it is a punishment and was earned- through some bad action that individual had done - or that it is an injustice committed against oneself...

'why would God punish me' in hardship and

in ease we assume 'ahh God has exalted me'.

this is because as humans we look to the outward, the physical, the material, and we use that to denote status. and we anthropomorphise God and thinking 'this is why humans do that so this must be why God is doing that'. Either God is being just or God is being cruel because the assumption is disease is being disfavoured and health is being favoured. its a strong human association.

crescentmoon Fri 15-Mar-13 00:53:38

Muhammad (pbuh) tried to break that among his own followers by connecting hardship with trial not evil. In Islam it always comes back to what the purpose of life is - which is to be tested as to our resolve and commitment to do good in any diverse situation.

what would i say to a muslim crippled by disease? id first ask them to pray for me, because Muhammad (pbuh) said ""When you visit an invalid tell him to make supplication for you, for his supplication is like that of the angels."

id narrate the words of the prophet (pbuh)... "Whenever God wants good for someone, He tries him with some hardship".

It sounds opposite but in Islam the more faith someone has, the more they are tested..."The most in their suffering among the people are the prophets, then the best, then the (next) best. One is afflicted in accordance with his faith. If his faith is firm his affliction is hard, and if his faith is weak, his affliction is light." [Ahmad, Tirmithee]

another hadith...."For every misfortune, illness, anxiety, grief, or hurt that afflicts a Muslim -even the hurt caused by the pricking of a thorn - God removes some of his sins." Anything - no matter how little - that is a discomfort or a trial I am being raised in rank with God, not lowered.

as muslims we take alot of lessons that Muhammad (pbuh) himself suffered many hardships and trials in his life. he was an orphan at a young age, his father died before he was born, mother died with he was 4, grandfather died when he was 9 before he was raised with his uncle. he suffered alot of loss as a child - so that we would reflect and realise that the outward state is not indicative of the inward.

of Muhammad's (pbuh) 7 children, 3 boys died in infancy, 2 daughters died as adults before him (pbuh). so we take from that he suffered pain also, and that we would not think if those things happened to us it was because we have something to be punished for. he was of humble means, had to work for a living, endured the same daily problems as everyone else.

and he used to get sick with fever or illness the same as any other people. in between being a leader and guide for his people he used to have to see medicine men same as others for different ailments. Lady Aisha was renowned for her expertise in medicine and when she was asked how she came to learn she said it was because Muhammad (pbuh) was often unwell and had healers visit him so she asked them to teach her their work. we took from that high status or low status with God is not by how we would judge a person with their beloved. we remind ourselves with this so that we remember hardship is not with the intention of ill will by God.

Aisha (RA) narrated that once some pain afflicted Muhammad (pbuh) causing him to suffer and turn about in his bed. she said: "^Had one of us done this, you would have blamed him.^" He (pbuh) replied: " An ailment is intensified for the righteous. whenever a believer is afflicted by a hardship, whether it is a thorn or more, a sin is taken off from him because of it, and he is elevated by one rank (in Jannah)." Muhammad (pbuh) told his followers it was a purification and a chance for being raised in, not this life, but the next life.

Jabir ibn Abdullah narrated that Muhammad (pbuh) said “On the Day of Resurrection, when people who have suffered affliction are given their reward, those who are healthy will wish their skins had been cut to pieces with scissors when they were in the world.” (Al-Tirmidhi, 1570).

so why bother trying to preserve health or get well if there is something spiritually meaningful and good in hardship? because the teachings are about being resilient and maintaining hope and tranquility in all situations. that to be a Muslim Muhammad (pbuh) said, “How amazing is the case of the believer; there is good for him in everything, and this is only so for the believer. If he experiences something pleasant, he is thankful, and that is good for him; and if he comes across adversity, he is patient, and that is good for him.” [Muslim].

most people of faith believe some variation of this.

of course it wouldnt be much comfort to a person with no faith at all though.

sashh Fri 15-Mar-13 07:47:10

crescent that's very generous of you. Thank you.

Yes the debate doesn't have an answer, it doesn't have several answers.

The HSC students mainly go into nursing, some to other health related professions so I try to get them to think about things like that before they get there.

It gets more interesting if I have students from a wide variety of backgrounds/cultures/faiths.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Fri 15-Mar-13 08:37:04

Crescent, you've missed the point entirely. Clearly it is obvious that there's enough food in the world to feed everyone, but it's not in the places it's needed. Why do you think a large proportion of the USA is overweight? Because they have a ton of useful, natural resources. Why are so many Africans malnourished? Because they don't have the resources.

But aside from that, there's so much more that has to go on to sustain the world as it is. Picking on a single problem and saying we easily have the resource in the world to fix it is all well and good, but sadly it's not that simple. Even the basic example of getting food from an abundant area to a sparse one, you need to transport the food, so you need someone to build a vehicle, let's say a plane, you need a lot of people to build a plane, designers, engineers, etc. You have to pay them, so you need an economy which sustains large scale engineering projects either government funded or private venture.

You need to fuel your plane, so you need people to extract oil, you need a lot of people to extract oil, build oil rigs, transport that oil to somewhere useful (you need a lot of people to build a boat.... And fuel it..... You see where this is going...)

So you have your plane and you have your fuel and for argument's sake let's say the plane happens to be exactly where the food is. You need people to load the plane, you need people to fly the plane. And this is all the very, very basics.

We could dig in to issues of education, you need educated people to understand how to build a plane, how to fly one, how to extract oil. So you need an economy which supports a strong education. This economy must get money from somewhere to fund a strong education system. Money comes from taxation, but you have to balance the taxation against income to ensure that the people can still support themselves and spend money which generates the tax.

In California, they have a 'fat tax' on unhealthy food. This raises government funds to support education, manufacturing, alternative fuel research, etc, etc. And thus is an almost direct source of funding for people to fly food in planes to poor people in Africa. So yes, to suggest that there's no will in the world is naive and arrogant. There's simply so much more to consider than simply "there's enough food so we should be ok"

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now