“If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.” Exodus 15:26
Which has benefited humanity more, science or religion? Most atheists would say science. The hard-fought advances in knowledge, won by the unrelenting application of the scientific method, have consistently improved humanity’s lot—enabling us to live longer, healthier lives.
Skeptics often ask, “Can Christianity, or any religion for that matter, boast of the same accomplishment?”
In this context a skeptic recently asked me, “If there was a deity who made and loves humanity, and communicated with humans through the Bible, why wouldn’t he provide information that would help human beings live healthy lives?”
According to the questioner, if people had to rely on religious systems exclusively, we would still be living in the medical “dark ages.” And thanks to science we don’t.
But, as it turns out, the Bible does impart medical wisdom that allows humans to live long, healthy lives, as cutting-edge advances in the war on AIDS attest.1
Male Circumcision and the Spread of AIDS
Researchers have discovered that African boys, who are circumcised as part of the rite of passage to adulthood, contract AIDS at a much lower rate than those who aren’t circumcised. In fact, the odds of contracting AIDS are reduced by about 57 percent.
Based on these promising statistics, thirteen countries have implemented programs to try to get 80 percent of men in Africa circumcised by 2015. If successful, this mission will not only dramatically reduce the number of AIDS cases, but also will save almost $17 billion compared to the current treatments that involve the lifelong administration of antiviral agents.
Male Circumcision and Cancer of the Penis
Male circumcision confers other benefits as well. The medical community has observed that the incidence of penile cancer is practically nonexistent among men who have been circumcised. While medical experts are still uncertain why removal of the foreskin protects against cancer, a significant amount of statistical data supports the prophylactic benefit of the procedure.2
Male Circumcision and Cervical Cancer
New research has determined that male circumcision also promotes female health as well. For example, a recent study discovered that the incidence of cervical cancer in women is reduced when their partners have been circumcised.3
None of These Diseases
In the classic work, None of These Diseases, physician S. I. McMillen demonstrates that the commandments given to Israel thousands of years ago serve as an extraordinary manual of preventive medicine.4 Clearly, the commands given to Israel had purposes other than the medical benefits they would provide. Still, the fact remains that by adhering to these laws, God’s chosen people derived very real health benefits.
Such is the case when it comes to circumcision.
God commanded Abraham to perform circumcisions on the eighth day after birth (Gen. 17:12). As McMillen points out, this is the ideal time to carry out the procedure because it ensures that the infant’s blood readily clots after circumcision. For the first four days after birth, an infant has a limited amount of vitamin K and clotting factors in its blood. On day five, the level of these materials increases, reaching the maximum level on day eight.
Additionally, God commanded that a flint knife be used to perform the circumcision (Josh. 5:2). According to McMillen, this practice is significant because when a flint knife is sharpened the surface layer is removed, leaving behind uncontaminated stone that would have minimized infection.
To be certain, the Bible does not focus on healthy living or on dispensing medical advice. It is a book about God’s plan of redemption. Still, the commands that God gave to the Israelites—instructions designed to reveal His plan for humanity—if carefully followed, provide (as a secondary consequence) protection against the diseases that plagued Egypt. And as medical science advances, the wisdom found in the pages of Scripture is substantiated again and again, giving believers confidence of its divine inspiration.
- Katherine Harmon, “Can Male Circumcision Stem the AIDS Epidemic in Africa?” Nature from Scientific American (November 30, 2011): doi: 10.1038/nature.2011.9520.
- Brian J. Morris et al., “The Strong Protective Effect of Circumcision against Cancer of the Penis,” Advances in Urology (2011): Article ID 812368, doi: 10.1155/2011/812368.
- Salynn Boyles, “Male Circumcision Cuts Women’s Cervical Cancer Risk,” WebMD (January 6, 2011).
- S. I. McMillen, None of These Diseases, revised, updated, and expanded edition, ed., David E. Stern (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1984).