‘Religion in the ancient world helped more than hindered it’
Do you agree?
Religion did not help more than hindering medicine in ancient times. However, this is only true in some aspects, and not others. Overall, religion helped as much as it held back medicine in all periods of ancient times - the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans; as well some aspects. An example of when religion helped medicine is mummification, as Egyptians believed that bodies were needed in the after life, therefore learning basic anatomy. On the other hand, only one of the many examples of religion hindering medicine is when the Egyptians wore amulets, believing specific ones (like the god Bes, who was believed to bring good luck) could cure diseases or bring good fortunes.
Religion played a huge role in treatment, because even though doctors were there to treat the illnesses, there was also a continuous belief in gods and supernatural treatments, such as Asclepius, the god, in the Greek and Roman eras. During the Egyptian period, people who treated the sick were called medicine men. This is just about an equal to a doctor; however, if the cause of the patient’s illness was believed to be supernatural, then the cure was up to a priest. This is obviously one way in which religion hindered medicine, as the Egyptians believed in many gods which could cure diseases. On the other hand, Egyptians also used herbal cures and drugs to cure disease. This helped progress a lot, but it wasn’t influenced or caused by religion. In the Greek and Roman civilisation, their supernatural beliefs were just as bad, if not worse, as the Egyptians’. Their main mindset, the god, Asclepius is an example. The Greeks built temples for people to sleep in, and believed that during the night, Asclepius and his daughters would come and heal you. In reality, this did actually make people feel better, but mainly because the temples included a stadium, baths etc. Nowadays, an asclepion (the temple) would be equal to a spa. In addition to being an example of religion helping, this is also an example of chance; the motion meaning to be religious, yet turning out to be physical, although helping nevertheless. In all three ages, herbs, among other things were used as medicine equally. In the aspect of treatment, religion helped a little more than it hindered medicine overall.
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Causes of disease varied a lot from Egyptian to Greek time periods, but the Romans pretty much agreed to the Greek ideas, but made a continuance of god related causes. The supernatural was blamed for most diseases by the Egyptians, even though they used herbal cures in conjunction with prayers. It was thought that evil spirits entered the body, and made the person ill. The religious view of evil spirits held up medicine, as it obstructed any further research into cause. This being said, the Egyptians still recognised physical injuries like broken bones or cuts. Amazingly, the Greeks developed a clashing theory of what causes for disease were. Hippocrates, the doctor, came up with the four humours. The idea was that the four humours that the body was made out of: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile, should always stay in balance. Despite this being mainly inaccurate, it is an improvement from believing in supernatural causes. All in all, religion did not help more than it hindered knowledge of causes.
Religion helped kick-start anatomy quite well with the Egyptians and the process of mummification. Mummification (a method including removing the main internal organs) was inspired, as it was mentioned earlier, with the Egyptians’ belief in the afterlife. This is a good example of how religion helped medicine thrive in the ancient world, helping gain a more than basic knowledge of the human body. Mummification also helped them conclude a later theory on channels in the body. Most of the idea came from watching the river Nile, but seeing veins inside of the body seemed to give them evidence to this theory. In contradiction, mummification held back any further dissection into the body, which in addition stopped any further knowledge of the body; being another example of religion stopping medicine from progressing. The Greeks didn’t make any immense discoveries of the body, and only had a rough knowledge of major organs. However, during the Roman period, it was made legal to dissect bodies in Alexandria, which advanced their knowledge. Generally in this case, religion boosted attainments in medicine, getting the all-important basic anatomy.
Key individuals are the utmost important factor which forced change in many traditional thoughts and theories. As noted before, Hippocrates gave a shocking theory of the four humours, and also introduced a process of treatment; diagnosis – prognosis – observation – treatment. He emphasised the importance of observation and recording your observations, to supervise other discoveries in medicine and treatment. Later, in the Roman era, Galen, the key individual of the time exaggerated Hippocrates ideas, including ones on public health. These include keeping clean, exercise and eating a ‘healthy’ diet. In spite of these ideas bringing a new lifestyle, religion had no influence on them whatsoever, which shows that religion was not the only factor that progressed medicine.
Though not being the only factor, religion did help medicine advance more than hindering it. In some areas, it only hindered and held back progress, like causes for example; in others it did both, helping and hindering equally - anatomy. Yet, still in others, religion only helped and didn’t hold back at all. Although this wasn’t common, when religion did help, it was most needed. The main example is again anatomy, more precisely – mummification. Here it gave an all-needed boost of expertise, which led to advance in other areas like treatment.