Atheist's Attacks

Answering Humanist's Accusations Against the Bible

Christian Resources

Are We Still On The Subject of the Supernatural?

Does God, or demons, or both cause sickness and affliction?

THE HUMANIST'S CLAIM IS: Based on biblical teachings, Christian theologians during those centuries thought the plagues were caused by the anger of God or the malevolence of Satan. The Bible gave them ample support for their belief. It contains numerous instances of God punishing people by means of pestilence (e.g., Exodus 32:35; Numbers 16:44-49; Jeremiah 21:6). And in describing Jesus’ healing miracles, the New Testament attributes the following afflictions to demons: blindness (Matthew 12:22); muteness (Matthew 9:32-33); lameness (Luke 13:11,16); epilepsy (Matthew 17:14-18); and insanity (Mark 5:1-13).

Those teachings led the early church leaders to promote the idea that demonic activity is the primary cause of disease. For example, St. Augustine, whose views strongly influenced Western thought for over a thousand years, said in the fourth century: “All diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to these demons. . . .”

With the coming of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, there was little change in the Christian attitude toward the causes of disease. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, repeatedly attributed his own illnesses to “devils’ spells.” He also stated: “Satan produces all the maladies which afflict mankind, for he is the prince of death.

We seem to have gotten far off the topic of supernatural miracles... although on the humanist's web site we're still in the topic of "Harms of the Supernatural Outlook." It is actually difficult to figure out what the humanist author is talking about and what his purpose in writing this is. So I'll have to guess. I'm thinking that the humanist is saying that it is harmful to believe in demons. Demons are from the spiritual realm, but it may be that humanists don't understand that demons don't have supernatural powers.

Note: This is a rather long page. You don't need to read it all. Here is a summary: we don't judge the Bible based on what fallible people teach (Christian theologians, Augustine, Martin Luther, etc.). We judge the quality of the theologian by how accurately they teach about scripture. If men get it wrong, that is not the fault of God nor scripture.

What Powers Do Demons Have?

The spiritual realm is real. Demons are real. They are fallen angels... and angels are real, although they are not like they are pictured on TV and in the movies.

Demons serve Satan, the father of lies. You'll find that much of what demons do involves lies and deception.

Angels can manifest themselves as people, or other types of living things. Since demons are fallen angels, they can do the same thing. They can also interact with the material world, but they are not part of the material world. For example, they can move through what we see as solid objects.

Demons and Satan are eternal. They do not die. But they are not omnipresent, omniscient, nor omnipotent. In other words, they can only be in one place at a time, they don't know everything, and they do not have the power to do supernatural miracles... but they are incredibly smart and powerful. And keep in mind, they have over 6,000 years of experience with mankind.

Nonbelievers can be "possessed" by demons, meaning they are, to some degree, physical under the control of one or more demons. Believers cannot be possessed by demons. We have Christ living within us. Demons cannot live in the same place as Christ.

Can demons cause disease and afflictions? Yes. Are demons the cause of all sickness and afflictions? No.

From descriptions in scripture it appears demons indwell people, mess with our minds, possibly put thoughts in our heads, and it appears they can interact with our nervous system to some extent. So they can give us the symptoms of a disease. They can also lead people into situations that are likely to result in harm or sickness... and in that way cause someone to become sick.

The Bible in no way implies that all disease, sickness, and affliction comes from demons. While some people may assume demons are at the root of all these things, there is no evidence that is true.

Also, there are not an unlimited number of demons. They can't be everywhere. So if they want you to be sick, it is much better for you to become sick through natural means than for a demon to give you the symptoms of the disease.

Does God cause disease or sickness?

He can, but He in most cases He is not the direct cause. Most sickness and afflictions are simply the result of the fall.

But, there are examples in the Bible of God directly causing disease or affliction: King Uzziah suddenly broke out with leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:19-20). The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was "driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle" (became insane) until God return his sanity to him and he understood that “the Most High rules in the affairs of men” (Daniel 4:28-37).

Then there is Exodus 15:26

And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians;

God is actually saying two things here. One is that, if they follow all of His laws and statutes, and that includes the sanitary laws and food laws, they will not be as likely to be exposed to germs and thus be free from disease. And second, speaking of His laws in general, if they obey Him, He will bless them. One way He does that is by protecting them and keeping them healthy.

Directly Addressing The Humanist Claims

Quoting from above: Based on biblical teachings, Christian theologians during those centuries thought the plagues were caused by the anger of God or the malevolence of Satan.

To be accurate, this should be reworded as: Based on a misunderstanding of biblical teachings, some Christian theologians during those centuries thought the plagues were caused by the anger of God or the malevolence of Satan. What people believed the Bible taught, and what the Bible actually teaches are often very different.

But... we also need to be careful in how we understand what "Christian theologians" actually believed. God is in control of everything. He either directly causes, or He passively allows everything that happens. So in that sense you can say all sickness is caused by God. But, is that what the "theologians" referenced here by the humanist meant? We don't know.

The humanist identifies his source for this information as: Andrew D. White, writing in "A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Vol. II" published in 1910 as his source. Here is what Wikkipedia says about this book: "There is no evidence that White examined any primary sources, and many of the claims are complete fabrications." So the humanist is not exactly referencing a reliable source.

The Bible gave them ample support for their belief. It contains numerous instances of God punishing people by means of pestilence (e.g., Exodus 32:35; Numbers 16:44-49; Jeremiah 21:6).

Context is important, but including the complete context would require another web page of significant size. The following look at the referenced scripture only includes the near context:

Then the Lord smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made. - Exodus 32:35

Lead by Moses the Israelites had escaped slavery in Egypt. But, while Moses was talking with God on Mt. Sini, they fashioned a golden calf (a major deity in Egypt) and began to worship it and give it credit for bringing them out of Egypt. God had just saved them, and they turn away from God and back to the false Gods of Egypt. Not good. Not good at all.

Moses called the people to action, and the Levites killed those who persisted in idolatry. While scripture is not specific, it is thought that "the Lord smote" in the referenced verse refers to what the Levites did.

There is a lot more to the story (read Exodus 31-33), but the bottom line is that they were fresh out of Egypt, very spiritually naive and prone to follow false Gods, and the death penalty for the 3,000 worst offenders was needed, just, and appropriate in order to protect the remaining 3 million people.

...and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.” Then they fell on their faces. Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the Lord, the plague has begun!” Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked. But those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah. - Numbers 16:44-49

The context is that the people had rebelled against God and Moses. (I commented on this in a previous page). 250 people died as a result of the previous rebellion, but wickedness and a second revolt against God and Moses began (Numbers 16:41) This time they unfairly attacked Moses blaming him for the death of "the Lord's people." This was more serious than the first revolt. The people had not learned. The prescribed penalty for revolt against God is death... and a deadly plague starts spreading among the people. Moses and Aaron intercede on behalf of the people and the plague is stopped after killing 14,700 people, victims of their own folly

The people knew that the penalty for rebelling against God was death. They had just seen that happen shortly before this. Yet they rebelled again, turning against both God and Moses. The just and appropriate penalty had to be applied, and God imposed that penalty Himself this time.

I will also strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast; they will die of a great pestilence. - Jeremiah 21:6

This is part of a prophecy telling the Israelites what will happen when Babylon conquers Jerusalem. We previously looked at a similar prophecy in Ezekiel 9. In brief, Israel had turned away from God. This had been going on for a long time, and Israel had been warned that punishment was coming... a 70 year captivity under the Babylonians. God brings this about by withdrawing from Israel... withdrawing His protection and His blessing. That is appropriate. Israel had withdrawn from God, so now God leaves them.

Without God's protection the powerful Babylonians are able to lay siege to Jerusalem, causing hunger and disease to spread in the city. Eventually the city falls and the Babylonians take many Israelites into captivity. Babylon captures Jerusalem three times and eventually transports nearly all of its residents to Babylon.

The punishment fits the "crime." It is just and appropriate.

New Testament attributes the following afflictions to demons: blindness (Matthew 12:22); muteness (Matthew 9:32-33); lameness (Luke 13:11,16); epilepsy (Matthew 17:14-18); and insanity (Mark 5:1-13).

Yes, demons can do these things, or create symptoms that make it appear these "afflictions" exist in a person. But, the Bible in no way teaches that these "afflictions" are always caused by demons. Jesus cast out many demons in order to heal people. But, what was more common was that Jesus just healed people, with no need to get rid of demons... because the sickness or affliction was not caused by demons.

What St. Augustine believed, or what Martin Luther believed, must always be compared with scripture. Even the greatest Biblical scholars are fallible. The Apostle Paul commended the Bereans for checking what he taught against scripture:

The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these [the Bereans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. - Acts 17:10-11

Yes, both St. Augustine and Martin Luther could be, and were wrong. No mater how great the man, if what they say or teach is not supported by scripture, they are wrong.

Conclusion: The Bible does not teach that sickness, disease, plagues, and afflictions all come from God or demons. Very, very, very few come from God and that only in rare and very specific circumstances that are not repeated today. Demons can also cause affliction, and the symptoms of diseases, but that is also rare. Based on the Bible, the most common cause of disease and affliction is the fall and the resulting corruption of humanity and nature.

There is still more: As a result of believing in supernatural causes of disease, theologians taught that plagues could be averted or stopped by seeking supernatural assistance. And the way to obtain God’s help, they thought, was to perform religious acts. These included repenting from sin; providing gifts to churches, monasteries, and shrines; participating in religious processions; attending church services (which often only increased the spread of disease); and killing Jews and witches (since it was thought Satan used them as his agents in causing illness). Religious leaders largely ignored the possibility of physical causes and cures of diseases.

Can "religious acts" cure disease? What does the Bible say? Get the real answer... click here.