Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Explaining illness with belief in evil

Live Science reports:

Where did the spiritual concept of evil originate? One possible explanation might be people’s attempts to understand and cope with infectious diseases.

Linking diseases and their symptoms to mysterious evil forces is a practice that emerged in traditional belief systems prior to the mid-19th century, when germ theory was introduced, scientists wrote in a new study. Germ theory revealed that microscopic pathogens, rather than malevolent spirits, were the cause of illness.

However, the connection between religious convictions about good and evil and the presence of infectious disease lingers today, the researchers discovered. They found that, in geographic regions with high incidences of disease, people also demonstrated stronger convictions about agents of evil, such as demons and witches.

Historically, many cultures in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America have used supernatural forces to explain and guide their responses to disease. One notable example was the surge in witch hunts in medieval Europe when the continent was ravaged by the Black Death, the researchers reported. [Continue reading…]

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