Allopathic Medicine’s long struggle with the Bible

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

Allopathic Medicine especially the fields of neurology and psychiatry had a long  uphill battle against the New Testament. According to the New Testament many a  diseases were due to influence of demons as Jesus, may peace be on him, worked  as an exorcist. The earliest Gospel that is the Gospel of Mark talks about this  in the very first chapter. Let me quote:

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home  of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they  told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The  fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the  people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town  gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also  drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew  who he was. (Mark 1:29-34)

In Matt. 17 Jesus, on whom be peace, gives recipe for casting out the demons:

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. ( Matt 17:14-20)

The world of the New Testament compilation was one with abundant demons and ghosts. Here are a few verses from the conclusion of the Mark, which talk of Mary Magdalene being possessed by seven demons, one may have metaphorical interpretation of these today but when these verses were written, demons meant demons:

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. (Mark 16:9-13)

Two of the four canonical gospels carry the story of a woman who asks Jesus to exorcise a demon from her daughter. Unfortunately for her, she isn’t from Israel. (She is ‘Canaanite’ in one gospel, ‘Syrophoenician’ in another.) Jesus takes this into account and replies, with one of his less flattering allegories, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Pathetically, the woman answers, “Yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,” (Matthew 15:27) after which Jesus relents and tosses her some crumbs by tossing out the demons.

Defenders of Jesus universalist status might say he was just driving home the fact that Gentiles can find salvation through faith. Indeed, that is the way the story plays out in Matthew, as Jesus exclaims, ‘Great is your faith!’ But in Mark, the earlier telling of the story, there’s no mention of faith. What wins Jesus’s favor, it seems, is the woman-master-dog metaphor; with the woman bowed before him, Jesus answers only, ‘For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.’ (Matthew 15:28 and Mark 7:29)

In other words this story highlights the primitive nature of the society and their medieval beliefs, more than anything else.

To learn some of the early history of neurology and psychology, click here.

A quick word search for ‘demon,’ in the Bible, gave me the following references:

  1. Deuteronomy 32:17
    They sacrificed to demons, which are not God— gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear.
  2. Psalm 106:37
    They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons.
  3. Matthew 7:22
    Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’
  4. Matthew 8:31
    The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
  5. Matthew 9:34
    But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”
  6. Matthew 10:8
    Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
  7. Matthew 12:24
    But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
  8. Matthew 12:27
    And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.
  9. Matthew 12:28
    But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
  10. Mark 1:34
    and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

A History of Warfare of Science with theology in Christendom

by Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918)

Andrew Dickson White

The Church has somehow survived the fierce blows from the development of science especially the theory of evolution. The fundamental doctrine of ‘Original Sin’ lost all its philosophical footing with the scientific revolution as evidence piled in the fields of geology, archaeology and biology. The Church, however, has been able to successfully ignore the evidence or push it under the rug and away from the consciousness of the masses. The dogmas of Christianity seem to have survived the blows of Darwinian evolution. But they cannot survive the evolution of printing press into internet and websites, as that allows for the skeletons and demons to revisit centuries later and often!

This is a detailed and a wonderful history book by Andrew Dickson White, who was the founding President of the Cornell University.

Because the suppression of scientific thought by the medieval Church represents one of blackest periods of human history, many scholars have studied this period with great care. Worth special mention is a remarkable two-volume treatise by Andrew Dickson White entitled A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, published in 1896. The whole text of the two volumes of the book can be read on  Here is one example:

The doctrine of the spherical shape of the earth, and therefore the existence of the antipodes, was bitterly attacked by theologians who asked: ‘Is there anyone so senseless as to believe that crops and trees grow downwards? . . . that the rains and snow fall upwards?’ The great authority of St Augustine held the Church firmly against the idea of the antipodes and for a thousand years it was believed that there could not be human beings on the opposite side of the earth – even if the earth had opposite sides. In the sixth century, Procopius of Gaza brought powerful theological guns to bear on the issue: there could not be an opposite side, he declared, because for that Christ would have had to go there and suffer a second time. Also, there would have had to exist a duplicate Eden, Adam, Serpent, and Deluge. But that being clearly wrong, there could not be any antipodes. QED!

The book has fairly detailed chapters on the subject of this article, how scientific development struggled with the Bible and the Church.

Chapter number 15 of the book is titled, From ‘Demoniacal Possession’ to Insanity; the next chapter is titled, From Diabolism to Hysteria.  Let me share a sample here from his compelling book:

In this atmosphere of theologic thought medical science was at once checked. The School of Alexandria, under the influence first of Jews and later of Christians, both permeated with Oriental ideas, and taking into their theory of medicine demons and miracles, soon enveloped everything in mysticism. In the Byzantine Empire of the East the same cause produced the same effect; the evolution of ascertained truth in medicine, begun by Hippocrates and continued by Herophilus, seemed lost forever. Medical science, trying to advance, was like a ship becalmed in the Sargasso Sea: both the atmosphere about it and the medium through which it must move resisted all progress.  Instead of reliance upon observation, experience, experiment, and thought, attention was turned toward supernatural agencies.



Especially prejudicial to a true development of medical science among the first Christians was their attribution of disease to diabolic influence. As we have seen, this idea had come from far, and, having prevailed in Chaldea, Egypt, and Persia, had naturally entered into the sacred books of the Hebrews. Moreover, St. Paul had distinctly declared that the gods of the heathen were devils ; and everywhere the early Christians saw in disease the malignant work of these dethroned powers of evil. The Gnostic and Manichsean struggles had ripened the theologic idea that, although at times diseases are punishments by the Almighty, the main agency in them is Satanic. The great fathers and renowned leaders of the early Church accepted and strengthened this idea. Origen said: “It is demons which produce famine, unfruitfulness, corruptions of the air, pestilences; they hover concealed in clouds in the lower atmosphere, and are attracted by the blood and incense which the heathen offer to them as gods.” St. Augustine said: “All diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to these demons ; chiefly do they torment fresh-baptized Christians, yea, even the guiltless, newborn infants.  Tertullian insisted that a malevolent angel is in constant attendance upon every person. Gregory of Nazianzus declared that bodily pains are provoked by demons, and that medicines are useless, but that they are often cured by the laying on of consecrated hands. St. Nilus and St. Gregory of Tours, echoing St. Ambrose, gave examples to show the sinfulness of resorting to medicine instead of trusting to the intercession of saints.  St. Bernard, in a letter to certain monks, warned them that to seek relief from disease in medicine was in harmony neither with their religion nor with the honour and purity of their order. This view even found its way into the canon law, which declared the precepts of medicine contrary to Divine knowledge. As a rule, the leaders of the Church discouraged the theory that diseases are due to natural causes, and most of them deprecated a resort to surgeons and physicians rather than to supernatural means.”[1]

In addressing this issue further we could at the same time handle the infallibility of papacy as well.  The saintly, Andrew Dickson White writes:
Other developments of fetich cure were no less discouraging to the evolution of medical science. Very important among these was the Agnus Dei, or piece of wax from the Paschal candles, stamped with the figure of a lamb and consecrated by the Pope. In 147 1 Pope Paul II expatiated to the Church on the efficacy of this fetich in preserving men from fire, shipwreck, tempest, lightning, and hail, as well as in assisting women in childbirth ; and he reserved to himself and his successors the manufacture of it. Even as late as 1517 Pope Leo X issued, for a consideration, tickets bearing a cross and the following inscription : “This cross measured forty times makes the height of Christ in his humanity. He who kisses it is preserved for seven days from falling sickness, apoplexy, and sudden death.”
Naturally, the belief thus sanctioned by successive heads of the Church, infallible in all teaching regarding faith and morals, created a demand for amulets and charms of all kinds; and under this influence we find a reversion to old pagan fetiches. Nothing, on the whole, stood more constantly in the way of any proper development of medical science than these fetich cures, whose efficacy was based on theological reasoning and sanctioned by ecclesiastical policy.  It would be expecting too much from human nature to imagine that pontiffs who derived large revenues from the sale of the Agnus Dei, or priests who derived both wealth and honours from cures wrought at shrines under their care, or lay dignitaries who had invested heavily in relics, should favour the development of any science which undermined their interests.[2]
Several additional references to exorcism can be cited from the Bible.  For example:
O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain … ( Matt 17:14-20).


  1. Andrew Dickson White. A History of Warfare of Science with theology in Christendom. D Appleton and Company, 1896. Page 26-28 of volume II.
  2. Andrew Dickson White. A History of Warfare of Science with theology in Christendom. D Appleton and Company, 1896. Page 29-30 of volume II.

13 replies

  1. Catholic Church’s misunderstanding about miracles
    When is a cure a miracle? This question introduces a guaranteed conflict between Christianity and science. The standard understanding of Christianity is that miracle breaks the law of nature. The Islamic concept as understood by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is that miracles are within the realm of laws of nature, even if we do not understand, at a given time. It is in the improbability of the situation to achieve a certain end that underscores the awe and mystery of miracle and not its basic conflict with the laws of nature. For example, some suitable laws and timing delivered the Israelites at the time of exodus and drowned Pharaoh’s army and people did not know about those laws 3 millennia ago and may only imperfectly understand them even today.

    When we examine the records of the sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, sixty four cures have been declared as miracle by the Lourdes Medical Bureau over the decades. The original apparitions at Lourdes took place between 11 February and 16 July 1858. After this time, reports of apparently miraculous cures began to accumulate, prompting calls for the Roman Catholic Church to recognize these events as miracles. The earliest investigations of these cases were carried out by an Episcopal Commission of Inquiry led by Canon Germain Baradère and reporting directly to Mgr Laurence, bishop of Tarbes. The commission’s earliest work was conducted without medical consultation, with only clerical opinion being sought as to the nature of the cures.

    In 1859, Professor Henri Vergez from the Faculty of Medicine at Montpellier was appointed medical consultant to the Episcopal Commission of Inquiry. Vergez’s views were often at odds with those of his clerical colleagues. Vergez decided that only eight of the early cases were genuinely inexplicable.

    In 1883 a body called the Bureau des Constatations Médicales was established by doctors affiliated with the sanctuary. This was the forerunner of the current Medical Bureau. Its first titular head was the nobleman Baron Dunot de Saint-Maclou, and the Bureau was housed at the residence of the Garaison Fathers in Lourdes. Following the establishment of the Bureau des Constatations Médicales, the number of recognized cures dropped dramatically, from 143 in 1883 to only 83 in 1884.

    In 1905, Pope Pius X decreed that claims of miraculous cures at Lourdes should ‘submit to a proper process,’ in other words, to be rigorously investigated. At his instigation, the current Lourdes Medical Bureau was formed and has investigated these cases with the tools of medical science. In our opinion, some of these cases may have been fraud and others genuine and reflecting the power of suggestion and heartfelt prayers.

    The problem lies in how the Catholic Church, in their zeal to support the dogma and history of the Church, wants to define miracles as violation of the laws of nature. They create an unnecessary conflict with science and the Muslims should not be bracketed with them on this issue. The Promised Messiah, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has written in his book the Blessings of Prayers, “If God has created the universe, then one can be certain that in keeping with His infinite entity, He would have left innumerable ways to influence the universe; so that His divinity is not suspended in any way, at any time!” This concept clearly sets the Muslim understanding apart from the Christian confusion about miracles.

    As far as the Lourdes Medical Bureau is concerned only if no conventional treatment is being administered in a given case that a miracle is claimed; as if a miracle is violation of the general laws of nature and this introduces a fallacious concept of the supernatural in human affairs contrary to the Quranic belief. The Transcendent God of the Holy Quran has an attribute Al-Baatin the Hidden, He operates in a subtle manner, through the laws of nature and quantum physics at the very basic level of the universe could be one such possible explanation.

    The issues pertaining to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes and medical science have been examined in one of the articles available on Alislam. For additional details and links go to:

  2. Someone’s proof that Jesus is God
    I could not resist sharing what I read on a website trying to prove Jesus to be God:

    “Jesus cast out demons from demon-possessed people. One man was possessed by 6000 demons. They all left him at Jesus’ command.”

    Now this is very interesting, as there are no demons in reality and at least they do not possess people, so Jesus is not God! QED

  3. Witchcraft and Medicine
    Belief in witchcraft goes far back into prehistoric times. It continues today, not only among primitive peoples, but also in many civilized nations. Witches’ covens, Satanism, black magic ~ these are among the concepts recognized by numerous people both here and abroad.

    When early Christians incorporated the Old Testament in their doctrines, they inherited with it the pelief in witches manifested in such passages as “Thou shalt suffer no witch to live” (Exodus xii, 18)and “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” (I Samuel 15:23). The account of the witch of Endor (I Samuel 28:7-25) is familiar to most industrious Sunday School pupils. While some scholars argue that the original Hebrew terms should not be translated as “witch” or “witchcraft,” those were the words officially accepted and thus interpreted by the Church.

    The procedures and organization of witch trials were based on the Church’s trials for heresy by the Inquisition, a tribunal established by Pope Lucius III in 1184 for the repression of all kinds of breaches of orthodoxy. The dividing line between heresy and witchcraft was not at first very clear. Every heresy was diabolical, and anyone convicted of practicing magic was a heretic.

    The original attitude of early Christians to witchcraft resembled provisions of Roman law – witches were not punished unless they harmed someone. With the exception of St. Augustine, Church authorities opposed the belief in witchcraft. Their opinions were expressed especially in the so-called Carron episcapi (Council of Ancyra, 9th cent.). However, in the 13th century, witchcraft became a crimen magiue and witch trials started sporadically.

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