Demons Cause Influenza, Suggested Peer-Reviewed Medical Journal Paper. But it Gets Worse.
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Aug 25, 2010 at 11:01:35 AM EST
"One final consideration that one might have is whether the illness was inflicted by a demon or devil. The Bible always tells if an illness is caused by a demon or devil... The victims often had what sounded like a convulsion when the demon was cast out. In our index case, demonic influence is not stated, and the woman had no apparent convulsion or residual symptomatology." --- from "Influenza or not influenza: Analysis of a case of high fever that happened 2000 years ago in Biblical time" published in Virology Journal on July 21, 2010

Can demon possession cause Influenza ? To even ask the question presupposes a lot - that demons exist, for one thing, that they can infest humans and, obviously, that they can cause disease.

It's one thing for a peer-reviewed medical journal to publish a paper that makes such claims. But what if leading American politicians could be found praying together with religious leaders who claim homosexuality is caused by demon possession and who practice exorcism ? What if leading politicians are friends with professed witch hunters?

Several weeks ago Virology Journal published a report, written by working, credentialed medical researchers (and  peer-reviewed by other credentialed scientists according to Virology Journal head editor Dr. Robert Gary of Tulane University) that speculated a woman described in New Testament scripture as having been miraculously healed by Jesus may have had influenza. Here's the beginning of the article abstract:

"The Bible describes the case of a woman with high fever cured by our Lord Jesus Christ. Based on the information provided by the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, the diagnosis and the possible etiology of the febrile illness is discussed."

The report has been roundly (and appropriately) mocked - Biblical scripture was the only data cited, and as LiveScience's "Bad Science" column writer Benjamin Radford put it,

Had the researchers examined some newly found document, mummified body, or other forensic evidence, that would be one thing. But using the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke in the New King James version of the Bible as the entire data set made "Virology Journal" look like "Mad" magazine or "The Onion."

Other than the likelihood that if the article had been from the Onion the writing would have been snappier, Radford's observation was apt and the Virology Journal article was retracted several days ago, three weeks after being published. In an accompanying statement Robert F. Garry apologized,

"As Editor-in-Chief of 'Virology Journal' I wish to apologize for the publication of the article, which clearly does not provide the type of robust supporting data required for a case report and does not meet the high standards expected of a peer-reviewed scientific journal... The speculations contained within this article clearly would be better expressed outside the confines of a peer-reviewed journal."

National Public Radio's Scott Hensley picked up the flap, as have Fast Company, Nature magazine's blog and Discover magazine, which got perhaps closest to the heart of the matter, in a post titled Retracted Study: Biblical Woman Had Flu, Not Demonic Possession

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology Tara C. Smith, writing at her Aetiology blog was flabbergasted, and Pharyngula blogger and biologist PZ Meyers caustically quipped, in a post titled But what if she had vapors, or an imbalance of humors?,

This paper in Virology Journal has to be seen to be believed.... favorite parts were the bits where the authors noted that Jesus did not take her temperature because the Fahrenheit scale wasn't invented until 1724, and the part where they seriously rule out the possibility that the woman's illness was demonic possession. Another cheer for science!

Critics were correct to go after the Virology Journal story but, as is almost always the case, they missed the larger context, the widespread nature of such demon-haunted beliefs in the modern world, including in America.

Back in June I wrote a post that provided some notable data points on this:

"God said a curse would fall on a land which turned its back on him, and one consequence would be more tragic deaths at the hands of predatory animals." - thus spake evangelist Bryan Fischer, referring to a recent deadly bear attack on a 70-year old man in Yellowstone National Forest. Earlier this year, Fischer made waves with his claim that a trainer at SeaWorld in Florida died from a Killer Whale attack because SeaWorld didn't pay proper attention to Biblical scripture. Fischer is a confirmed scheduled speaker at the upcoming Family Research Council's Voter Values Summit. Other confirmed speakers for the event are Mike Huckabee, and Republican Congressional Representatives Michelle Bachmann, and Mike Pence.

Though this might seem a bit over the edge to those unfamiliar with the contemporary Christian right it's arguably the predominant belief, from the Christian Reconstructionist wing of the movement over through the more numerous charismatic evangelical camp, that all manner of disasters, from hurricanes and earthquakes, tornadoes and floods, murder and crime, economic downturns and stock market crashes, sickness and even death itself are divine vengeance,  predictable outcomes of America's failure to follow every last jot and tittle of Old Testament law.

For example, Christians United For Israel founder and mega-pastor John Hagee has claimed that Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans because of a planned gay parade.

That sort of mindset fits into a wider worldview that stresses the need to fight alleged witches and demon spirits (Alaska witch-hunter Mary Glazier is a personal friend to Sarah Palin, who's linked to at least two professed witch hunters) which are said to cause everything bad (and everything that Christian right leaders allege to be bad, such as being gay.)

Last December 16, 2009 the Family Research Council's Prayercast Against Health Care Reform, attended by Republican Senators Jim DeMint and Sam Brownback and GOP  Congressional Representatives Michelle Bachmann and Randy Forbes, was emceed by evangelist Lou Engle, who has arguably become the Republican Party's new, unofficial prayer leader. Engle says gayness is caused by demon possession, and one of Engle's sons specializes in casting those "gay demons" out.

In this bold new demon-haunted worldview that leading Republican Party figures seem to be gradually buying into, it's possible to construct an entire alternative healthcare system based on exorcism of demon spirits said to cause all manner of ailments - from headaches, backaches and toothaches, to depression, gynecological complaints, cancer, bad breath, and dandruff. There's even a demon that causes cigarette addiction.

Truck with demons can even impact the economy, according to New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) leader C. Peter Wagner, who claimed in a 1990's video that the early 1990's Japanese stock market downturn was caused when the Japanese emperor had intercourse with a succubus. Lou Engle, who I've identified as the GOP's new unofficial prayer leader, is a prophet in Peter Wagner's NAR movement.

And so it goes.

There are a sizable number of Greek and Egyptian medical documents, plus lay accounts of illnesses in Greek, Latin, Egyptian histories and epigraphs. I have no clear conception of Mesopotamian / Babylonian medically related documents, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were some.

An article comparing theory of illness and actual medical practices of the 1st century CE Roman colony of Palestine with that of contemporaneous Greece, Rome (in which the favored doctors were Greek), and Ptolemaic Egypt - that would be interesting.

M.D.s have often written speculative letters to medical journals hypothesizing on a historical figure's illness. Mozart seems to be a favorite. No one takes these letters for anything other than what they are, an entertainment for writer and readers.

by NancyP on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 06:28:42 PM EST

Carl Sagan's last book (1996) is a wonderful exposition on the dangers of the erosion of scientific thought. I highly recommend it. Now more than ever! "I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges near, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us - then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir." from "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark"

by tom104 on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 08:59:13 PM EST

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