Older people will remember the accusation, when they were young, against the existence of God – Why did God create viruses? It was intended to be a rhetorical question. Viruses are bad, full stop, so there is no good God. These shrill voices have been mute for some time, but why? Viruses are not as obviously bad as had been assumed.
The development of gene therapy may have quietened this line of questioning, along with many other lines that have gradually withered on the vine. It is no longer a rhetorical question because viruses are being used to treat genetic diseases by counteracting abnormal genes.
The latest example is the possible cure of some forms of haemophilia, the bleeding disease that disables those who have it. This treatment uses viruses. Just as antibiotics target an invading bacteria, so these viruses target an abnormal gene.
Gene therapy uses various techniques. One method is to ‘silence’ the offending defective gene, which has had encouraging success with Huntington’s disease, a devastating neurodegenerative disease compared to a mixture of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease rolled into one, and fatal in middle age.
Viruses infect living cells without necessarily killing them and this facility is being used to ‘find and replace’ a faulty gene. The virus can carry and insert a normal gene where one is needed or cut out, deactivate or ‘silence’ a faulty gene. This technology is one of the biggest breakthroughs in recent decades, carrying enormous potential for future medical treatment of many intractable diseases.
Intuition and logical thought
A moment of serious thought should long ago have silenced these critics of God’s creation. There are countless viruses around us. Some people estimate that there are more viruses in the world than stars in the Universe. If they were all bad for us they would have killed us and the biosphere long ago. Rather, there must be a symbiotic relationship between them, but the relatively few deleterious infections is enough for ungodly critics to manifest their prejudices against God our Creator. It permeates much of their thinking, speech and behaviour.
I have believed for many years that there are many infectious diseases yet to be diagnosed, simply because there are so many viruses and bacteria. My late father was the senior pathologist in infectious diseases in the West of Scotland and in his retirement completed a massive three volume textbook on The Pathology of Human Viral Infections and Associated Conditions of over 2300 pages summarising more than 30 years of medical knowledge in a specialised field. With such personal proximity to infectious diseases, I was therefore among the first children to have childhood vaccinations administered to them, and two decades later I was among the last group of UK medical students to be given smallpox vaccination, because smallpox was diminishing at that time and it is now eradicated from the world. The treatment of childhood infectious diseases has been a success story of the 20th century, but there is much more to be done. With so much biography in one paragraph, possibly I should wish my father’s namesake, my own son James, a happy birthday in far away Dubai airport on his way back from a week in Bali where the Agung volcano is threatening to burst into life. My own grandfather had his own volcano to face in 1917.
Along similar lines, it is now standard evolutionary theory that the mitochondria in every human cell are actually bacteria which invaded and then embedded themselves in human cells. Similarly chloroplasts in plant cells are thought by evolutionists to have been free-living organisms in the distant past.
Not many people will publicise the anomalous fact that this hypothesis is Lamarckian rather than Mendelian and therefore it does not fit in with the standard evolutionary hypothesis. This does not stop the popularising zeal of such propagandists as Richard Dawkins and Steve Jones peddling this hypothesis as if it was truth.
The increasing knowledge about genetic diseases is being matched with increasing knowledge of how to treat them, which is a welcome ‘God-send’, and who can say how far this will go in alleviating so many more undiagnosed diseases afflicting human beings?
Technology is marching ahead, while secular social experimentation is increasing the tensions in society. Evolutionary hypothesis does not stand the close examination of the facts, and it is time to listen to our Creator.
God challenges us: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth?’ Job 38:4.
The shortest poem on microbes is Fleas by American poet Strickland Gillilan in the early 20th century:
“AdamLines on the Antiquity of Microbes
31 May 2018 Dr Jennifer Doudna, the biochemist who pioneered Crispr/Cas9 was interviewed on BBC HARDtalk today. Crispr/Cas9 is a gene editing tool that could be used to cure genetic diseases, especially inherited ones like Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anaemia, as well as cancer and a host of other diseases. It is the greatest biological breakthrough in decades and will lead to a genetic revolution. It will no doubt be abused, but the abuse of something does not detract from its beneficial use. We should be thankful to God for such discoveries and learn from Him how to restrain evil in the world.
15 Aug 2018: the role of viruses in the biblical Millennium.
19 Sep 2018: only a few of the 7000 species of wasps interfere with human happiness; the vast majority of wasps are beneficial for our environment. This should have been intuitively obvious, rather similar to the argument above about viruses. In other words, the global ecosystem has a natural built-in balance and when it goes out of kilter it leads to another equilibrium until something else comes along to upset it and form another equilibrium.
It should remind us of the faulty thinking in those who use ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ arguments to try to disprove the goodness of God and thus the existence of God. Rather, without the current ecosystem we could not enjoy life at all. The food chain is a fact of life and does not prove the non-existence of God.
20 Apr 2019: Bill Gates on gene drive in malaria.
8 May 2019: viral phages are a last-line defence when antibiotics fail.
14 Jun 2019: the last UK stocks of rinderpest virus have been destroyed. Smallpox and rinderpest are the only diseases to be eradicated from the world and the viruses are held in various laboratories. This shows the success of vaccination but I am not a supporter of destroying viable genetic material. This defeatist attitude is a secular attitude. Who can say how valuable such viral material may yet prove to be once we know how to use it for its original God-given purpose?
22 Jul 2019: this link is an academic discussion challenging evolution, using arguments long ago expained by Christian theology, such as micro-evolution demonstrated by natural selection contrasted with macro-evolution postulated for speciation, and ‘the Cambrian explosion’ in the fossil record.
30 Jul 2019: I am told that the thousands of mushroom spores under the surface of one’s grassy lawn, occasionally springing up above ground as the fruiting body, are beneficial for the most part, living in symbiotic harmony with the underground environment. Unlike bacteria and viruses, these are fungi. They are so good that the spores are sold even on Amazon. Further discoveries of the wonders of God’s creation will be a prominent benefit of the biblical Millennium. [Update: BBC Tomorrow’s Food – Episode 3: the root system of mushrooms can suck the bitterness out of chocolate so that it needs half the sugar.]
5 Mar 2020: the benefits from coronavirus.
21 Mar 2020: George Galloway asked Dr Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman of the World Health Organisation (WHO), on his Sputnik programme today: “Why do viruses exist? Can you think of a good reason for viruses to exist?” She replied along the lines that some people think that they are involved in evolution. My contribution to the debate online was removed; charity makes me think that there may be a policy against supplying links in comments. I would be disappointed if it was because I mentioned God. The comment had been removed by 30 Mar 2020. It was:
“George asked Dr Harris from WHO: “Why do viruses exist? … can you think of a good reason for viruses to exist?” There are many good reasons. Here are a few links:
3 Apr 2020: numbers cannot be exact but, as a mnemonic, human beings have in the order of 6 trillion cells, 60 trillion bacteria and 380 trillion viruses all living happily together in a symbiotic relationship. 4 Dec 2020 the earlier link no longer works. Estimates vary enormously, such as 30 x10^12 (trillion) cells in each human being, but a few extra zeros doesn’t change the overall message when the numbers are this large. To get an idea of large numbers, click here.
15 Apr 2020: National Geographic’s article about the number of viruses and why do only some infect us?
18 Jul 2020: viruses commonly jump from animals to humans, have done so for a very long time and continue to do so, especially as human are invading wildlife habitats and encountering novel viruses to which we are not immune.
26 Jan 2021: the human cost of viral disease is experienced by individuals but the economic cost can be measured internationally. In 2003, SARS in 37 countries cost $40-54bn; in 2013-2016 Ebola in West Africa cost $53bn; AIDS has cost $563bn; influenza costs $570bn every year; and the coronavirus pandemic will cost even more. Slowly the international community is learning 1. to put ecology before economy; 2. to act together. They have still to learn that this is God’s way of knocking international heads together who will not usually speak to one another – the same as climate change.