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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?

LeMousquetaireAnonyme Sun 10-Mar-13 05:53:25

Surely if Allah made the smallpox he also gave man the ability to get rid of it as some kind of a lesson <? baffled>

I am atheist too and can't understand the logic of god directing everything but not man's evolution and the way of dealing with its environment.

It is a good thing for now. There is probably something we missed and will bite us in the ass later though, as with every progress but we will be able to deal with it when the time arise.
<that is purely a scientific opinion though not what you are after>

specialsubject Sun 10-Mar-13 12:28:24

tell them to look up the effects and history of smallpox.

Knowsabitabouteducation Sun 10-Mar-13 12:37:53

Is this thread just targeted at Muslims?

crescentmoon Sun 10-Mar-13 14:30:27

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

crescentmoon Sun 10-Mar-13 14:37:36

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

sashh Mon 11-Mar-13 03:21:55


Thank you once again for your clear explanations of Islam. I wasn't arguing it, just asking for the Islamic view.

I'm assuming from your post that vaccination is, in Islam, the same as treating and curing that illness. Is that right?


Not just for Muslims, it just happened to be a Muslim person I was talking to.

laptopwieldingharpy Mon 11-Mar-13 05:28:01

crescentmoon i so enjoy reading your informed posts!

crescentmoon Tue 12-Mar-13 02:56:11

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

mummytime Tue 12-Mar-13 03:16:56

Variolation or the inoculation against Smallpox using live material, was actually introduced to the UK via Turkey and Persia. (So the Islamic world.)
In fact the Islamic world preserved and advanced a lot of Scientific and Medical knowledge through Western Europe's Dark and Middle Ages.

crescentmoon Tue 12-Mar-13 03:37:21

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Tue 12-Mar-13 07:38:14

"Yes I am running away from a fate that God has determined, to a fate that God has also determined"

This quote epitomises religious texts in general. It effectively says that whatever someone does, they can explain that it's what their god had planned for them. Pretty meaningless really.

In terms of the vaccine, it along with every other vaccine we have developed is a testament to the incredible work which our scientists do every day. To suggest that god expects us to find these cures is an insult to science.

Snorbs Tue 12-Mar-13 07:51:31

I build a trap-filled maze. There is one safe way out but it's very difficult to fond and every wrong turn will either kill you outright or at least cripple you.

I drop a load of people in the middle of the maze. Eventually someone makes it out alive.

As I have effectively provided them the "cure" (a safe way out) am I morally justified in making the "disease" in the first place?

Snorbs Tue 12-Mar-13 07:52:08

That should, of course, be "find".

sashh Tue 12-Mar-13 09:41:50


I may have to get that book. Teaching IT at the moment but if/when I get back to health and social care it will be useful for the debate I do.

I think I've said it on here before but basically I tell students they are nurses on a ward with an elderly man. He does not speak English, you do not speak his language.

His son has told you that he is a Muslim and very devout so he does not want to take any opiates

It is the middle of the night, the old man is in pain. You have opiate painkillers. They have been prescribed to him what do you do?

And regardless of what you do what impact will that have on you as a person?

crescentmoon Tue 12-Mar-13 11:27:07

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

crescentmoon Tue 12-Mar-13 11:39:31

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

crescentmoon Tue 12-Mar-13 11:54:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

PedroPonyLikesCrisps Tue 12-Mar-13 22:55:27

Crescentmoon, I don't really understand your first point. It doesn't matter what religion the scientist were or where they brought the science from. It's still an incredible achievement for mankind which shouldn't be washed down with the suggestion of divine intervention.

And on your second point, science doesn't suggest that individuals' actions are predetermined. There are many ways that particles interact and interfere with each other to change their course (so to speak).

peacefuloptimist Wed 13-Mar-13 06:45:32

"I build a trap-filled maze. There is one safe way out but it's very difficult to fond and every wrong turn will either kill you outright or at least cripple you."

I think your analogy is flawed. You are suggesting that the only way we can deal with disease is through fatal trial and error (taking a wrong turn and dying or getting seriously injured) and that our only mechanism for dealing with disease is to find a cure.

Yes there are diseases however, God has provided us with different tools to deal with it not just one. Firstly, we are not just sitting ducks unable to help ourselves. We have intellect. We can observe the world around us and learn what is likely to be harmful to us and cause us to be sick and die. Therefore we can avoid those things. It is not inevitable that I will catch potentially fatal diseases. I can take precautions to avoid them. In fact it is very easy to avoid catching many diseases such as STDs, food-borne diseases and sanitation related diseases. We are also able to observe what makes a difference to the illness so are able to learn how to treat the symptoms of disease and how to improve our chances of not dying.

Secondly we have language so we can pass the knowledge that we have gained on to others so that they may benefit and be able to prevent themselves catching diseases, transmitting them or even so that they know how to treat the disease. People have been using herbal/plant remedies to treat diseases for thousands of years. Researchers found that people in different parts of the world tended to use the same or similar plants for the same purposes. 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.

Thirdly and most importantly our bodies have natural defence mechanisms to protect us from disease and are equipped with the means to cure ourselves if we do catch a disease. Im talking about our immune system of course. Think about it. You are exposed to millions possibly billions or even more microorganisms that have the potential to make us sick (pathogens) every single day but how often do you get sick? For most people this is not very often. Of those times that you do get sick how often do you actually need to get treatment? The diseases that the majority of us are afflicted with the most often (influenza, colds etc) we are most of the time able to recover from them without any medical intervention. We are capable of producing something like 10 billion different types of antibodies leading scientists to state that our bodies are naturally equipped to fight virtually any microbe that exists. Also once we get a disease and are able cure us of the disease we become immune to it for life. That is a serious weapon in our arsenal of getting out of the maze. Vaccinations against infectious disease utilise this natural innate defence mechanism possesed by all human beings to protect us from diseases. Even babies who have the most vulnerable immune systems can be protected from within by their mothers breastmilk which we know produces antibodies.

I hope this makes sense (my brain is a bit sleepy so I may be rambling at points).

Snorbs Wed 13-Mar-13 08:46:59

Take polio (or malaria, or smallpox, or whooping cough). The human race as a whole didn't have the capabilities to develop an effective anti-polio vaccine until the 20th century. Until that point, millions of people throughout the preceding millennia had been disabled or even killed by poliomyelitis and there was little if anything we could do about it.

The people disabled and killed by polio before we had a vaccine are the people who are injured or killed stumbling around the maze in my analogy.

If I follow you correctly, you are stating that a god created both the polio virus, and the intellectual capability in humans to eventually produce defences against that virus. If so, does that absolve that god from any moral responsibility towards the huge numbers of people who were crippled before the vaccine was able to be developed?

That my maze has a safe exit and it's their fault if they can't find it, does that absolve me of any moral responsibility towards those people who were injured or killed because they didn't know the way out?

niminypiminy Wed 13-Mar-13 09:48:28

Snorbs your problem is an interesting one because of the assumptions it builds in about God.

Firstly, it is anthropocentric - it puts humans at the centre of the maze - and conceives of the problem of God's purposes as concerning humans over and above all other life forms.

Secondly, it assumes a strong version of divine determinism, in which the possibilities for human agency are decided in advance by God.

I cannot speak for Islamic conceptions of God, but neither of those assumptions accords with the Christian conception of God.

In the first place, Christians hold that while humans are made in the image of God, his entire creation is equally dear to him, and that his purposes encompass his whole creation, not just the human part it. The Ebola virus is equally a part of creation, equally dear to God, and equally part if his purpose. We cannot wholly know what his purposes are -- we have glimmers of them -- and so we cannot know what role pathogens play. What we can say is that the creation as a whole is an extraordinarily various outpouring of his love.

Secondly, and following on from that, free will is central to Christian ideas about the creation. Each life form has its own free will -- in the most minimal sense, this would be that it is free to be the thing that it is. The Ebola virus and human beings equally have free will. For God to protect humans from the Ebola virus would mean taking away the free will of the virus.

Rather than a one-exit trap, a rather different image (and one that I think would more accurately reflect Christian conceptions of God) would be an entangled bank, clothed with plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling about in the damp earth ... all these forms complexly dependent on one another, including on each others' deaths, and all striving to be what they are to the fullest extent.

Snorbs Wed 13-Mar-13 10:47:12

I put humans at the centre of the maze because, as far as I am aware, no other species uses intellect to adapt its environment to anywhere near the extent that humans do. Eg humans develop vaccines, rats don't.

Whether an antropocentric view of creation accords with your particular version of Christianity or not is interesting. My Christian schooling told me that humans were the Abrahamic God's special creation and that we had dominion over every other animal. I think there was more than one Bible verse that backed that up. And it wasn't like the Abrahamic God asked a bunch of hamsters to built the Ark, was it?

Of course, you are entirely free to believe what you want and still call yourself a Christian. It's no skin off my nose. But do bear in mind that many other Christians may not agree with you so you may want to be a bit cautious about making sweeping statements concerning what Christians as a whole do and do not believe.

I'm not sure where divine determinism comes in. I was talking ethics. Specifically, I was talking of the morality of the stated Islamic position that the Abrahamic God created both disease and remedy and that it's up to us to find it.

Creating a world and its inhabitants and then torturing them with terrible diseases is, in my opinion, morally reprehensible. I was trying to come up with an analogy to explore if also providing a (potentially) hard-to-find remedy makes that moral position any better. I'm not sure it does.

The Ebola virus and human beings equally have free will. For God to protect humans from the Ebola virus would mean taking away the free will of the virus.

So you are saying that a central tenet of Christian belief leads to the inescapable conclusion that viruses have free will equal to our own. How do they exercise that free will? If viruses are equally as cherished a part of Creation as us, does that mean that there will be Ebola in Heaven?

We cannot wholly know what his purposes are -- we have glimmers of them -- and so we cannot know what role pathogens play. What we can say is that the creation as a whole is an extraordinarily various outpouring of his love.

Sorry, but that's bizarre. "He created us and the many things that kill us in horrible ways. We don't know why but we do know He did it with love!" Huh?

niminypiminy Wed 13-Mar-13 11:29:39

<briefly, because I have to go to work> I know that Christians have different views -- I should probably have said 'one possible Christian position is...'. You are raising what is known in theology as 'the problem of evil', and I was giving one possible answer to that problem.

It is true that there are Bible verses that speak of man as the dearest of God's creations, and having dominion over the animals. Theologians, however, generally don't have a simplistic and literal view of the Bible.

As to whether there will be viruses in heaven, I have no idea. But it's not something that especially troubles me because I'm not very given to thinking about heaven in that way at all.

Is it not possible that he loves viruses? After all, they are extraordinary things.

Snorbs Wed 13-Mar-13 11:46:33

With respect, your stated answer to this problem of evil seems to essentially boil down to "I have no idea whatsoever why god does what he does. But I'm sure there must be a good reason."

I would find that intellectually unsatisfying. How about you?

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