Christian Scientists claim that disease is not caused by physical abnormality, but by a mental error. Skeptics sometimes use this argument against that: "Suppose somebody drinks a glass of water that contains a poison, but nobody knows that it is poisonous. If Christian Science is right, then that poison could not kill that person. If medical science is right, then it can kill that person. And it is obvious which is true.". How do Christian Scientists respond to that argument?

Such things, although very rare, do happen in reality. Maria Curie died because of radiation which nobody back then knew was harmful. So did the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang die because of mercury poisoning which nobody back then knew was harmful.

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    It is true that, due to disbelief and erroneous thinking, sin entered into the world, and death by sin. But the hayfever I suffer from is caused by pollen. And my arthritis is caused by inflammation of the joint due to my immune system operating overmuch. And when I got Covid a few months ago, it was because of a virus. There are two things need to be separated in regard to the subject. The causation of sin. The spread of disease. It will be interesting to see how both are regarded. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 18:34

1 Answer 1


Checking through the Christian Science website on “Belief and Teachings” (link below) I hoped to find some information on that particular point. However, it was just a brief summary of Mary Baker Eddy’s tenets — or key points — that briefly summarize the teachings of Christian Science. This lady was the founder of this religious group. But given two of the tenets here, some idea of how the dilemma expressed in the question might begin to attract a response can be commented on.

Tenets of Christian Science Point 3 We acknowledge God's forgiveness of sin in the destruction of sin and the spiritual understanding that casts out evil as unreal. But the belief in sin is punished so long as the belief lasts.

Tenets of Christian Science, Point 5 We acknowledge that the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection served to uplift faith to understand eternal Life, even the allness of Soul, Spirit, and the nothingness of matter. Christian Science: Beliefs and teachings

Now, if sin has been destroyed, and spiritual understanding casts out evil as unreal, and matter is nothingness, this would surely lead to the logical conclusion that it is mental understanding (and agreement about) such a tenet that keeps a Christian Scientist from becoming ill. If Soul and Spirit are ‘all’, and matter is ‘nothingness’, then there could be no material illness for the person whose spiritual understanding enables them to totally subscribes to such a tenet. The idea seems to be that, as belief in sin brings punishment, so belief in illness will bring the punishment of illness. The idea might then arise regarding a physically sick member of the group that it is their lack of spiritual understanding that has caused the illness.

That would apply just as much to a known poison, as to an unknown one; to a medically identified virus as an unidentified one. Logically. Further substantiating that view is this quote. Wikipedia: Christian Science says that

"adherents believe …that disease is a mental error rather than physical disorder, and that the sick should be treated not by medicine, but by a form of prayer that seeks to correct the beliefs responsible for the illusion of ill health. The church does not require that Christian Scientists avoid all medical care – adherents use dentists, optometrists, obstetricians, physicians for broken bones, and vaccination when required by law – but maintains that Christian Science prayer is most effective when not combined with medicine.”

In principle, it should make no difference to a Christian Scientist whether an illness has been caused by poison known to have been ingested, or an unknown poison that was unwittingly taken into the body (one way or another). At the first hint of unwellness, the Christian Scientist with sound ‘spiritual understanding’ would rely on prayer and their faith to prevent any apparent symptoms progressing to harm or death. If it is "mental error" that is the whole problem, and not any "physical disorder" (given that matter is nothingness), I suppose a good test of that would be any case histories of Christian Scientists unwittingly eating poisonous mushrooms and not dying. That would be worth hearing about.

However, the skeptic's argument (posed in the question) would not really apply when it claims that "that poison could not kill the person". If the person's faith in the edicts of Christian Science was a bit wobbly - lacking, when push came to shove - and the person died, the group could argue that if the individual had exercised unwavering mental assent to their edicts, they would not have died.

That causes me to wonder how they might explain a member suddenly collapsing with an unknown fatal heart condition that strikes without warning, causing death in two or three minutes. But that is another question. If this answer to this question is short of the mark, undoubtedly a Christian Scientist will make the correction.

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