Vs. Atheist David Madison #37: Bible, Science, & Germs

Vs. Atheist David Madison #37: Bible, Science, & Germs December 10, 2019

Dr. David Madison is an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University.  You can see (by the number in the title) how many times I have replied to his videos or articles. Thus far, I haven’t heard one peep back from him  (from 8-1-19 to this date). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. All I’ve seen is expressions of contempt from Dr. Madison and from his buddy, atheist author and polemicist, the extraordinarily volatile John Loftus, who runs the notoriously insulting Debunking Christianity blog.

Loftus even went to the length of changing his blog’s rules of engagement, in order for himself and Dr. Madison to avoid replying to me. Obviously, I have “hit a nerve” over there. In any event, their utter non-responses and intellectual cowardice do not affect me in the slightest. No skin off of my back. If I want to critique more of their material, I will. If my replies go out unopposed, all the better for my cause.

This is a reply to a portion of Dr. Madison’s article, Christianity Gets Slam-Dunked (8-16-19).  Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue below.

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A review of Tim Sledge’s Four Disturbing Questions with One Simple Answer

. . . I always welcome books that expose the flaws, especially one that is as highly readable as Tim Sledge’s short new book (120 pages), Four Disturbing Questions with One Simple Answer: Breaking the Spell of Christian Belief. With ease and precision, Sledge focuses on just four realities that do indeed shatter the Christian spell.

. . . for thirty years he was an evangelical Southern Baptist minister, a Number 10 Christian. In his longer book, Goodbye Jesus: An Evangelical Preacher’s Journey Beyond Faith [my review is here], Sledge mentions his practice over the years of relegating his reservations—things about the faith that didn’t make sense—to a corner of his mind that he labeled, Exceptions to the Rule of Faith. Eventually the items deposited there became too weighty.

In his new book he distills many of these into four knockout categories, hence the title, Four Disturbing Questions:

(1) The Power Failure Question
(2) The Mixed Message Question
(3) The Germ Warfare Question
(4) The Better Plan Question

[. . . ]

This is the Germ Warfare Question:

“Why didn’t Jesus say anything about germs.” (p. 46)

We may wonder: Just when did Jesus become a full participant in the Holy Trinity, i.e., knowing everything that God knows? John’s gospel tells us that Jesus was present right there at creation. It’s bit difficult to reconcile this with a Galilean peasant preacher who could very well have been illiterate.

Really? It’s pretty tough to be illiterate when one reads biblical texts in a synagogue:

Luke 4:16 (RSV) And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read;

Moreover, there are the several instances of Jesus rhetorically asking about whether His detractors had read various Old Testament passages (ones that He had obviously read), with the words, “have you not read . . . ?” And there are His many references to “scripture[s]”: with which He was obviously familiar. But I guess this is the sort of “higher-level learning” and logic that is (amazingly enough) beyond Dr. David Madison, doctorate (in biblical studies) and all. For him, Jesus was — more likely than not — illiterate.

But if John got it right, why not use his time on earth to pass along really useful knowledge?

Sledge provides a helpful survey of discoveries about microbes in the 19th and 20th centuries, after billions of humans had suffered horrible deaths from disease. Yet we have a thousand pages of Bible that gives no information at all about how the real world works. “But it’s hard to argue,” Sledge says, “that any time was too soon for humans to learn about the microscopic organisms that cause so much sickness and death—germs.” (p. 35)

Yet Jesus the moralist was more concerned about sin. “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” (Mark 7:15). Sledge is generous, but gets in his zinger: “…Jesus was focused on the importance of inner spiritual change over outward religious ceremony. But wouldn’t this have been a great time to explain that they should wash their hands for health purposes, a good time to tell people about germs, a good time to talk about why they should be careful where they get their drinking water, along with a few tips about sewage disposal?” (p. 42)

“Why didn’t the God of the universe—walking among mankind in the flesh as Jesus—do a sidebar talk on germs?” (p. 43)

“God had been watching silently for thousands of years by the time Jesus came along. It was late in the game, but couldn’t the Son of God—the one described as the Great Physician—have made a greater contribution to human health than healing a few people while he was on earth?” (p. 46)

Horrendous suffering—both human and animal—is built in; it’s just how the world works. Any theism that posits a caring, Master-Craftsman god, collapses on that fact alone, and this Sledge chapter is a good primer for those who rarely consider the implication of germs for their concept of a good God.

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It so happens that I have already thoroughly answered this challenge. Atheists mostly recycle old chestnuts in their arsenal of Christian-bashing pseudo-pseudo [fallacious] supposed “arguments”. Thus, we observe that atheist Bob Seidensticker, whom I have also refuted 35 times (and again with utterly no reply back, since he is just as much an intellectual coward as Dr. Madison) brought this up in his hit-piece, “Yet More on the Bible’s Confused Relationship with Science (2 of 2)” (12-2-15), where he pontificated:

10. Germs? What germs?

The Bible isn’t a reliable source of health information. . . . physical health and basic hygienic precautions are not obvious and are worth a mention somewhere. How about telling us that boiling water minimizes disease? Or how to site latrines to safeguard the water supply?

I’ll re-post my lengthy and (I think) devastating reply to this accusation in a moment. But first let me provide my previous answer to his closing lie / potshot:

Let me close with a paraphrase of an idea from AronRa: When the answer is known, science knows it. But when science doesn’t know it, neither does religion.

That’s not true. As shown, Hippocrates, the pagan Greek “father of medicine” didn’t understand the causes of contagious disease. Nor did medical science until the 19th century. But the hygienic principles that would have prevented the spread of such diseases were in the Bible: in the Laws of Moses.

St. Augustine in the 5th century and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th, both rejected astrology long before modern science, while even the most prominent modern scientists in the 16th-17th centuries, such as GalileoTycho Brahe, and Kepler firmly believed in it.

I could go on and on, but just a few examples suffice to decisively refute a foolishly ignorant universal negative claim.

And of course, modern science (virtually the atheist’s religion: “scientism”), for all its admirable qualities and glories (I love science!) is not without much embarrassing error and foolishness, and skeletons in its own closet: like belief in the 41-year successful hoax of “Piltdown Man”. This is true even up to very recent times, as I have detailed for atheists’ convenience.

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Here, then, is my reply (from over two months ago, contra Seidensticker’s similar “argument”) to the supposed “slam-dunk” against Christianity (made by Tim Sledge and ballyhooed by Dr. David Madison): alleged ignorance of God and the Bible regarding germs and their devastating effects:

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Once again, five minutes searching on Google would have prevented Bob from spewing more ignorance about the Bible. The Bible Ask site has an article, “Did the Bible teach the germs theory?” (5-30-16):

The Bible writers did not write a medical textbook. However, there are numerous rules for sanitation, quarantine, and other medical procedures (found in the first 5 book of the OT) . . .

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818 –1865), who was a Hungarian physician, . . . [He] proposed the practice of washing hands with chlorinated lime solutions in 1847 . . . He published a book of his findings in Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. Despite various publications of his successful results, Semmelweis’s suggestions were not accepted by the medical community of his time.

Why was Semmelweis research rejected? Because germs were virtually a foreign concept for the Europeans in the middle-19th-century. . . .

Had the medical community paid attention to God’s instructions that were given 3000 years before, many lives would have been saved. The Lord gave the Israelites hygienic principles against the contamination of germs and taught the necessity to quarantine the sick (Numbers 19:11-12). And the book of Leviticus lists a host of diseases and ways where a person would come in contact with germs (Leviticus 13:46).

Germs were no new discovery in 1847. And for this fact, Roderick McGrew testified in the Encyclopedia of Medical History: “The idea of contagion was foreign to the classic medical tradition and found no place in the voluminous Hippocratic writings. The Old Testament, however, is a rich source for contagionist sentiment, especially in regard to leprosy and venereal disease” (1985, pp. 77-78).

Some other interesting facts regarding the Bible and germ theory:

1. The Bible contained instructions for the Israelites to wash their bodies and clothes in running water if they had a discharge, came in contact with someone else’s discharge, or had touched a dead body. They were also instructed about objects that had come into contact with dead things, and about purifying items with an unknown history with either fire or running water. They were also taught to bury human waste outside the camp, and to burn animal waste (Num 19:3-22; Lev. 11:1-4715:1-33; Deut 23:12).

2. Leviticus 13 and 14 mention leprosy on walls and on garments. Leprosy is a bacterial disease, and can survive for three weeks or longer apart from the human body. Thus, God commanded that the garments of leprosy victims should be burned (Lev 13:52).

3. It was not until 1873 that leprosy was shown to be an infectious disease rather than hereditary. Of course, the laws of Moses already were aware of that (Lev 13, 14, 22; Num 19:20). It contains instructions about quarantine and about quarantined persons needing to thoroughly shave and wash. Priests who cared for them also were instructed to change their clothes and wash thoroughly. The Israelites were the only culture to practice quarantine until the 19th century, when medical advances discovered the biblical medical principles and practices.

4. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine” (born 460 BC), thought “bad air” from swampy areas was the cause of disease.

See also: “Old Testament Laws About Infectious Diseases.”

The entry on “Health” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology reveals that ordinary medicinal remedies were widely practiced in Bible times. There wasn’t solely a belief that sin or demons caused all disease (as Bob often implies in his anti-Christian writings, and in this paper: “According to the Bible, evil spirits cause disease.”). There was also a natural cause-and-effect understanding:

Ordinary means of healing were of most diverse kinds. Balm ( Gen 37:25 ) is thought to have been an aromatic resin (or juice) with healing properties; oil was the universal emollient ( Isa 1:6 ), and was sometimes used for wounds with cleansing wine ( Luke 10:34 ). Isaiah recommended a fig poultice for a boil ( 38:21 ); healing springs and saliva were thought effectual ( Mark 8:23 ; John 5 ; 9:6-7 ). Medicine is mentioned ( Prov 17:22 ) and defended as “sensible” ( Sirach 38:4). Wine mixed with myrrh was considered sedative ( Mark 15:23 ); mint, dill, and cummin assisted digestion ( Matt 23:23 ); other herbs were recommended for particular disorders. Most food rules had both ritual and dietary purposes, while raisins, pomegranates, milk, and honey were believed to assist restoration. . . .

Luke’s constant care of Paul reminds us that nonmiraculous means of healing were not neglected in that apostolic circle. Wine is recommended for Timothy’s weak stomach, eye-salve for the Thyatiran church’s blindness (metaphorical, but significant).

Doctors today often note how the patient’s disposition and attitude has a strong effect on his health or recovery. The mind definitely influences the body. Solomon understood this in several of his Proverbs: written around 950 BC (Prov 14:30; 15:30; 16:24; 17:22).

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Further note of 12-10-19: since Jesus observed Mosaic Law, including ritual washings, etc., He tacitly accepted (by His example of following it) the aspects of it that anticipated and “understood” germ theory. The knowledge was already in existence.

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Photo credit: Portrait of Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818-1865), the Hungarian-Austrian physician, who discovered the principles of germ theory and hygiene, some 3000 years after Moses taught them in what became the Old Testament. Better late than never! This file comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. Refer to Wellcome blog post (archive). [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license]
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