As has been widely reported within the last few days, the European Medicines Agency has given a positive scientific opinion on the safety and effectiveness of the anti-malaria vaccine, Mosquirix. Malaria kills over half a million people a year, most of them children under five in sub-Saharan Africa, so this breakthrough is very welcome news. The scientific community is, as always, being cautious and is avoiding the hyperbole of the 'miracle' tag so beloved of journalists everywhere, not least because the vaccine has actually had mixed results. It was most effective among children aged five to 17 months where cases of severe malaria were reduced by a third after this group received three jabs and one booster. Disappointingly, the treatment did not prove very effective in protecting young babies against severe malaria.
Not quite a miracle cure then, just a real-life-is-messy scientific advance built upon painstaking research, rational thinking and dogged determination.
But why not a miracle? I'm sure that Christians, along with the rest of us, will see this development as a Good Thing and some of them may even thank the Lord for it. I'm quite sure too that many of the parents of those half a million dead children every year would have been frantically pleading to God, asking him to intervene, as they watched their innocent, precious babies lose their grip on life and slip into oblivion. Why did he not answer them?
Christian apologists point to the miracles of Jesus as evidence of his divine nature: proof of his claims to be the Special One, the Messiah, the Son of God. So why not a modern-day miracle to convince a world grown sceptical of those ancient stories?
Here's my challenge to all Christians: call a world conference and pray for the sudden, unequivocal, immediate eradication of one of our terrible diseases.Choose any one: malaria, cancer, diabetes - you decide. Then, when God answers your prayers he will have proven his existence and demonstrated that he really cares about us. At the very least, that will give us sceptics something to think about, won't it?
But Christians won't do this, will they? Not just because it's difficult to organise; not just because they won't be able to decide which denominations to invite; and certainly not because they don't care about suffering; but because they know - they absolutely know in their heart of hearts - that God will not answer these prayers. He will reject their pleas as certainly as he rejected those of the desperate parents who lost their children.
So, why would God behave like this? Is healing on such a scale beyond his capability? Clever humans have wiped smallpox off the face of the earth through brilliant science and political good-will; how much easier would it be for an omnipotent divinity? Too difficult, apparently.
Maybe God simply doesn't care for those who suffer. I know a fundamentalist evangelical preacher who believes that most of Africa's woes could be attributed to the continent's embracing of Islam and other non-Christian beliefs; an opinion that luxuriates in its own ignorance and cruelty but which does, at least, have some resonance with the biblical myths of God's merciless treatment of mankind.
In reality, Christians merely make excuses for God's inactivity. The truth is that God is no longer in the miracle business, and nor was he ever, in all probability. If we want miracle cures we have to find them for ourselves: we have to fund the research; we have to work out the science; we have to slog away at the politics; we have to make it happen.
We have to play God because if we don't, nobody will.
Paul Beaumont's acclaimed debut novel A Brief Eternity was nominated for the Dundee International Book Prize and is available on Amazon and other retailers.
For further reading see, Malaria Vaccine gets 'Green Light' http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-33641939Suggest a correction