Ebola, Science and Religion
The recent rise in the spread of the Ebola virus provides proof of the fact that the law of nature is totally unalterable. So much so that it cannot be changed by god himself. It raises doubts among sceptics of religion of god’s infinite power. It begs the question of god’s selective intervention into earthly catastrophes and presents him as a benefactor of scientific interventions. Therefore, the uneasy question has to be asked does he really exist or is his divine intervention manufactured by religious historians and reinforced by Pastors, Imams, Rabbis and other spiritual gurus?
Ebola is not the first pandemic to leave a frightening and devastating trail of death in the word. The Black Death disease arrived in Europe by sea in October 1347 when 12 Genoese trading ships docked at the Sicilian port of Messina after a long journey through the Black Sea. The disease was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people and peaking in Europe in the years 1345–6. In other reports it is estimated to have killed 30–60% of Europe’s total population. Overall, the plague reduced the world’s population from an estimated 450 million down to 350–375 million in the 14th century.
Some Christian theologians at the time of the black plague thought that the devastating plague had been sent by the almighty as a divine punishment for their sins. The only solution, some claimed, was to rid the world of the blasphemers, and to once again win the approval of the Almighty. Thousands of citizens were slain in the late 1340s in order to appease God and win back his approval. Once the majority of the plague outbreak had passed in Britain, many of the surviving peasants felt that they had been saved for some divine purpose. This had a dramatic impact on the mind- set of the peasants, which contributed to great changes for them later in the 1380s where religion became more entrenched.
Fast forward to the 21st Century, cases of Ebola were first reported from forested areas in South-Eastern Guinea in March 2014. The outbreak has rapidly evolved and several districts and Conakry have reported cases and deaths that begun to spread rapidly. The Ebola virus came to light only in 1976, the first known outbreak. Forty years later, scientists are just starting to answer some of the most important questions about it. A small number of suspected cases and deaths have also been reported from neighbouring countries with all of them having crossed from Guinea. Confirmed cases have been reported from Guinea and Liberia where the virus is currently rife and the body bags are currently increasing and are drawing international attention. A number of Pseudo scientists and conspiracy theorists have taken to social media and the tabloid press to capitalise on the issue by exploding unhelpful myths as to the origin of the virus
The most useful and credible scientific explanation from the WHO is that it originated in Africa. Fruit bats are believed to be the natural hosts of the Ebola virus. The virus is transmitted from wildlife to people through contact with infected fruit bats, or through intermediate hosts, such as monkeys, apes, or pigs that have become infected through contact with bat saliva or faeces. People may then become infected through contact with infected animals, either in the process of slaughtering or through consumption of blood, milk, or raw or undercooked meat.
Ebola then spreads through human-to-human transmission via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids. Edward Holmes, a famous biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia recently opined. “I understand why people get nervous about this, but as scientists we need to be very careful we don’t scaremonger.”
The U.S. government now has more than $1 billion available to fight the spread of Ebola from three West African countries, where it has killed more than 4,500 people. David Cameron has laid down a challenge to European leaders to stump up 1 billion Euros to help tackle Ebola. Meanwhile British Prime Minister David Cameron posited this week that the spread of the deadly virus was the ‘biggest health problem for a generation’ – but some leaders were not doing their bit. He has written to Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, to say Ebola should be placed on the agenda of next week’s Brussels summit. Mr Cameron said the 1 billion Euros would pay for 2,000 health workers to fly out to the affected West African countries, to help stem the spread of the disease.
The late Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus was an English cleric and scholar in the seventeenth Century who was influential in the fields of political economy and demography. In his essay on the Principle of Population, he observed that sooner or later population will be checked by famine and disease, leading to what is known as a Malthusian catastrophe. Malthus believed that the power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. Protagonists of a contemporary Malthusian philosophy on population check see diseases like the Black Plague and the Ebola virus as nature’s way of checking the population. This position is somewhat untenable as in developed countries a surplus of food is being dumped while the global south is starving. It is therefore prudent to critically assess whether or not diseases like the black plague and the Ebola virus are nature’s way of regulating the global population rather than seeing it as a backlash of a pious and vengeful god’s response to man’s perceived evil.
A search for the cure for Ebola is currently on in earnest but what makes it complicated to come up with a cure is that there is more than one strand of the virus. There are currently virologists working hard in the scientific labs at the major centres of scientific research across the world for an urgent cure. Pious pastors, Imams and Rabbis have their hands clasped in prayer waiting for a scientific breakthrough so that they can claim it on behalf of god, Allah and Yahweh.
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher. He was also historian, economist, and an essayist. He is known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He posited that no matter how scientific or rational a civilization became, the belief in miracles would never be eradicated. Human nature is such that we love the marvellous and the wondrous stories of religious, miraculous cures. The more wondrous the religious miracle sounds, the more merit we bequeath to the gods. According to Hume, history is littered with stories of vanity; delusion and “zealotry” that have led to more than one pious fraud supporting a holy and meritorious cause with gross embellishments and outright lies about witnessing miraculous events.
There are other sets of unscrupulous benefactors waiting in the wings to profit from the misfortunes of victims of the Ebola virus. They are pseudo-scientists, Obeah men, crooked fraudsters and unprincipled spiritual healers. We can expect in the current or near future a number of persons to come out of the wood work purporting to have potions and backroom manufactured tablets that can cure the Ebola virus. Like religious hacks, the criminal underworld always sees disasters as a way to fleece victims of major catastrophes. As we continue to track the impact of this disaster and await a cure it is very useful to not to make ourselves vulnerable, as science has a way of eventually sorting things out even though religion will be the eventual benefactor.
This article was written jointly by Donovan Reynolds CEO and Kevton Foster Managing Editor of Kingston-Mouth .com. Both are Independent Bloggers and Human Rights Activists who are of Jamaican descent and are legal academics that have an interest in Human Rights and International Development issues. Viewers wishing to give feedback on this article may do so in the space provided for commentary on this blog.