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?
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.
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 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.