The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) released its report on the flu cases in the early part of this winter. They reported that in the United States, cases of the flu were down 98%. Almost all of this report’s data was gathered before any COVID vaccine was available, although regular flu vaccinations were the highest on record. However, flu shots alone are not enough to explain why flu cases are down so much.
The CDCP attributes the decrease in flu cases to the following:
1) Mask wearing.
2) Fewer people traveling
3) COVID prevention measures such as working from home and school closings
4) Flu shots
It would appear that flu cases are down because of some of the things we don’t like about the COVID-19 pandemic. We should keep that in mind to say healthy in the future.
Recently there have been many articles and news stories about Artificial Intelligence (AI). Some leading scientists are worried about what may happen in the future as machines or robots become available with higher levels of AI. Already we have “Weak AI” with computers and phones speaking in human-sounding voices and answering our questions. The next step is “Artificial General Intelligence.” That would be a general-purpose speaking machine that can think and perform specific tasks better and faster than humans. The main concern here is the loss of jobs that humans now perform. Perhaps we need to be concerned about an invasion of amoral intelligence.
What worries or even frightens some experts in the field is “Artificial Superintelligence.” We are talking about an artificial intellect that could outperform the most brilliant human minds, achieve new levels of creativity on its own, and display social skills that could not you could not distinguish from humans. It would be able to continue learning at a fantastic speed, shape its own future, and act in its own interest. Its desires and motivations could be very different from the interests of its creators or humanity as a whole. It could develop its own agenda even to the destruction of humans. This is the stuff of science fiction movies, and the current prediction is that somewhere between 2040 and 2050, science could achieve this level of AI.
Human life is guided by a conscience that our Creator put into us. Every human being recognizes that there are moral values and that some things are right and good and other things are wrong and evil. No matter if this moral sense becomes distorted by teaching, experiences, or even mental illness, it is still there. Even an atheist such as Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer has some limits, even though he argues that humans are just animals not deserving status above any other species and that parents should have a month to decide whether to keep or euthanize their newborn children. That seems like a shocking moral code, but an Artificial Superintelligence would not necessarily have even those moral limitations.
Humans have a built-in moral quality becauseGod created us in His image. The result of humans making a machine with superhuman thinking abilities and no moral conscience should cause us to step back and carefully consider the possible invasion of amoral intelligence.
The ancient Israelites’ diet consisted of very little meat, and most of that came from animals they raised. That was not true in the rest of the world. For many people in China and Africa, survival meant hunting animals and using them for food. We now know that many of the animals people ate were intermediate hosts for viruses. A virus can exist for many generations in a wild animal and mutate until it can jump to human populations, creating zoonotic diseases. The list of viral and bacterial diseases that have originated in wildlife grows constantly. A partial list includes SARS, MERS, Ebola, AIDS, Zika, Lyme Disease, rabies, swine flu, and COVID-19.
Wet markets, common in parts of Asia and Africa, are a significant source of zoonotic diseases. There animals, including rats, snakes, birds, bats, and monkeys, are kept in cages and killed when people purchase them for food. The filthy environment allows saliva, urine, and feces to become mixed with the blood of animals slaughtered on the spot. Experts say 376 wildlife species are known hosts to zoonotic pathogens, and at least 700,000 different viruses have the potential to jump to human populations. Christian Walzer, executive director of health for the Wildlife Conservation Society, calls wet markets “cauldrons of contagion.”
In Old Testament times, the Jews had very strict rules about what meat they could eat and how to prepare it. One of the priest’s jobs was to inspect the meat that people consumed to make sure it conformed to specific rules preventing zoonotic diseases. That was the world in which Christianity began, and early Christians benefitted from the rules they inherited. The instruction of the apostles was not to eat blood or animals that had been strangled. (See Acts 15:20,29 and Acts 21:25.)
In Acts 10:11-16, we read the account of God telling Peter, “What God has cleansed you should not call common.” The message was that all people are precious to God, but it also implied that there was no longer religious significance to eating the meat of various animals. The dietary laws that God gave Israel centuries before were “nailed to the cross” of Christ (Colossians 2:13-17). However, what is religiously acceptable is not always biologically advisable.
It seems that the battle of the 21st century may be zoonotic diseases caused by eating animals that carry viruses to which humans are not immune. There were good hygienic reasons for the instructions God gave to ancient Israel.
For almost 2000 years, from ancient Greece to the nineteenth-century, the most common procedure performed by surgeons was bloodletting. The doctors would cut the patient to allow blood to drain because they thought this would drain disease from the body. In truth, if it didn’t kill the patients, bloodletting at least left them weaker. The medical establishment didn’t realize that life is in the blood.
Even though William Harvey disproved the effectiveness of bloodletting in 1628, doctors (and barbers) still practiced it for another 200 years. It can take a long time for false ideas to be abandoned, even by doctors and scientists. In some areas such as China and the Middle East, people still practice a form of bloodletting today known as hijama or cupping.
While they were still practicing bloodletting, doctors began to experiment with blood transfusions. Early experiments in the seventeenth-century involved transfusions of animal blood into humans, usually with disastrous results. Doctors didn’t realize that there are different blood types among humans and even among animals. Different blood types have a different molecular structure in the red blood cells. If a patient is given blood of the wrong type, it can cause a reaction that can be fatal, because the patient’s immune system attacks the foreign blood cells as invaders.
In 1901 Karl Landsteiner found that mixing blood from different patients sometimes caused clotting. This led him to classify blood into three types—A, B, and O. Scientists have discovered more blood groups since then, making transfusions much safer today.
If those who practiced bloodletting had paid more attention to the Bible, they might have realized much sooner that it was a bad idea. “The life of every creature is in the blood” is stated twice in Leviticus 17 verses 11 and 14. With that admonition, God commanded the ancient Israelites to refrain from eating blood and to sacrifice the blood of animals to cover their sins. But the final redemption for sins came when “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood” (Romans 3:25). Life is in the blood, and eternal life is in the blood of Christ.
One of the most exciting experiments conducted on the Space Station has been the twin study in space. Mark and Scott Kelly are identical twins, and both are astronauts. Scott lived aboard the International Space Station for a year. Mark remained on Earth and lived his normal lifestyle. Both men took daily blood and urine samples so that scientists could evaluate any changes caused by living in space.
Life aboard the space station is very regimented and very different from Scott’s previous life on Earth. On the Space Station, fluids swelled around Scott’s upper body and head, his immune system worked overtime, and his metabolism was altered. Of greatest interest to scientists was that Scott’s genetic makeup – his DNA – had been damaged.
There are protective structures called “telomeres” at the ends of our chromosomes. These structures get shorter with age and put the person more at risk for age-related illnesses. In Scott’s case, the telomeres temporarily lengthened and then became shorter. This means that space flight could put the body at risk for age-related conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
What conclusion can we draw from the data of the twin study in space? First, the human body was designed for living on planet Earth. Even a small change in environmental characteristics can make genetic changes that can be detrimental to human health.
How does insulin control blood sugar levels? How do antibodies fight coronaviruses? Questions like these have been at the frontier of biochemical research for as long as we have known there were such things as proteins. Understanding proteins and how they are made is a challenge that continues to be the focal point of a great deal of work.
The human body contains at least 20,000 different proteins, and their shapes are controlled by how their component amino acids are twisted and folded. In the medical field, the importance of understanding proteins is enormous. Not understanding proteins and how they are made would be like trying to fix a car engine when you don’t know how it works or how it was put together.
The Week for December 18, 2020, quotes Janet Thornton of the European Bioinformatics Institute, saying, “This is a problem that I was beginning to think would not be solved in my lifetime.” What has changed is that computers can do in hours what would take a human years to solve. Scientists have analyzed protein structures for malaria, sleeping sickness, and leishmaniasis (a disease caused by parasites) to find new methods of treating those diseases.
Amino acids are the basic building blocks of life, and we know that they exist in outer space and can be produced in the laboratory. Using these building blocks to make proteins that govern how life works is extremely complex. The amino acids bend and fold in origami-like structures to make proteins. To suggest that proteins can result from some chance process of organic evolution is stretching credibility to the breaking point.
Genesis gives us the simple statement, “And God said ‘It is good.’” As biochemistry begins understanding proteins and how they are made, we see how complex God’s creation is. Those simple words wonderfully describe what we are starting to understanding as a work of incredible intelligence and design.
There are many long-term consequences for the things we do in life. In the Old Testament, we see a constant principle at work, that when humans engaged in things contrary to God’s will, there were ultimate harmful consequences. Moses said it concisely in Numbers 32:23: “… you have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out.” Our behavior has consequences.
Many times, the Old Testament tells about long-lasting consequences because someone sinned. David’s family suffered for years because of His sin with Bathsheba. Unfortunately, innocent people can be afflicted because of the sins of someone who lived long before them. The COVID pandemic has taken place mainly because people failed to follow good health practices and the medical establishment’s advice. I have personally seen that play out in the life of my son, Timothy.
Tim lived in a group home with two other men who, like him, were afflicted with past medical problems. The organization running the home took care of the men, providing meals, laundry, bathing, and medical care. Tim suffered blindness, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, schizophrenia, and mental disability, but all of those conditions had been static for years.
In early November, one of the caregivers tested positive for the virus, and two weeks later, Tim became ill and tested positive. His condition deteriorated rapidly, and he was hospitalized. After a week of treatment, including being on a respirator, Tim was released from the hospital and sent back to his apartment. The COVID virus had weakened him to the point where he could not take care of himself. He had to be fed, and he couldn’t dress himself or go to the bathroom on his own. His speech had deteriorated to the point where it was almost impossible to understand him.
After two weeks of attempts to help him resume some of the normal self-care, it became clear that he was progressively weakening and had to go back to the hospital. This time he didn’t have the COVID virus, but it had catalyzed the muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy, and he was in serious trouble. At this writing, Tim is in a nursing home where he spent Christmas, unable to sit up or eat any food that is not pureed. Tim is an innocent victim of the mistakes others have made and evidence that behavior has consequences.
It’s a mistake to believe that if I don’t see immediate negative consequences of my actions, they must be okay. That applies in all areas—not just COVID-19. We see it in decisions involving child-raising, marriage, sexual relationships, money management, and social relationships. James says it well when he reminds us that our lives are but a vapor lasting only for a very short time. (See James 4:13-17.) We need to be consistent in conduct, conforming to the lifestyle to which God calls us. Because behavior has consequences, failure to do so results in problems for ourselves and others.
We often take plants for granted, but their design has allowed animal and human life to exist and offers great hope for the future. We are amazed at the incredible diversity of plants.
Plants not only sustain life on the land but also in the oceans.Seagrass meadows exist all over the planet. Studies in England have shown that 92% of seagrass meadows have disappeared due to pollution, industrial development, and other threats. That has led to a decline in fish and shellfish populations. Yesterday we talked about seahorses, which depend on seagrass for food and protection. The World Wildlife Federation has begun a project called Seagrass Ocean Rescue to reverse the damage by collecting seeds and replanting them in huge plots. The project has protected shorelines and provided nursing grounds for countless species in the hope that coastal life will rebound.
The redwood and sequoia trees that grow in California are very different plant designs. Those giant trees bring water into what would otherwise be a very dry area. The redwoods and sequoias can extract water from fog and rain because of their size, providing a rich soil ecology for other plants. A giant sequoia will weigh around 640 tons – equal to about 107 elephants. They can grow to heights over 300 feet and live for well over 3000 years. You can find information about California’s 1.6 million acres of redwoods and the 48,000 acres that depend on the giant sequoias at www.savetheredwoods.org.
Because of the incredible diversity of plants, we find them growing underwater and in deserts, but some plants known as epiphytes grow in the air. They have exposed roots that pick up moisture and nutrients from the perspective, and they are a food source for many organisms. Closely related are water plants that don’t need soil but can use the nutrients released by fish and other animals that live in oceans and lakes.
Science has developed new aquaponics and hydroponics methods to grow plants in water to produce food for people. In aquaponics, the plants receive their nutrients from the waste products of fish living in the water. In hydroponics, the plants receive their nutrients artificially.
We find plants of all kinds growing everywhere, and because of that, animals can live everywhere. With creative agricultural practices, we can produce enough food to feed the growing human population. Our geologic studies show us that, from the beginning, plants have provided the oxygen that we breathe while removing the carbon dioxide we produce. The plant diversity God has given us makes it possible to produce food, remove pollutants, and recycle carbon. Without the incredible diversity of plants, animal and human life would not be possible.
The natural world is incredibly complex, with a staggering number of things that we are not even aware of. Every cubic meter of air above a grassy field can contain more than 100,000 living things, many of which we can’t see. We seldom realize that it is these tiny living things that make life possible.
In 2008, Dr. Thomas Kunz at Boston University helped to establish a new scientific discipline called aeroecology. Dr. Kunz and his team used radar, telemetry, thermal imaging, and acoustic monitoring devices to study our lower atmosphere. Other scientists have continued studying aeroecology, which provides useful information in biology and such diverse areas as weather, wind turbines, conditions around airports affecting airplane safety, and disease control.
Aeroecology also involves controlling and maintaining insect populations. Insects are pollinators, and they are critical in a variety of food chains. Recent problems with bee die-offs have affected food production in many areas. Birds and bats help control airborne insects, and their survival is essential to maintain healthy conditions for the success of farming. A purple martin will eat about 20,000 insects yearly, which means this one species removes roughly 412 billion bugs from the atmosphere every year. Some birds stay in the air eating bugs for months at a time, like the alpine swifts of Europe and Africa. They can fly continuously for up to seven months while eating, drinking, and even sleeping.
All of this atmospheric life has a direct bearing on our bodies. We take in massive numbers of bacteria from the atmosphere. Studies by the germ-free research center at Notre Dame University have shown that microbes are critical for life. Researchers found that germ-free rabbits were unable to reproduce. Babies exposed to antibiotics during the first six months of their lives are prone to being overweight. A lack of microbes alters the serotonin levels in humans, affecting many areas of our health. Healthy humans have 1000 microbial species in their mouths and more than 10,000 species in their digestive systems.
The bottom line is that the life of a plant or animal is not just about the organism itself. It is also about the tiny living things that make life possible. The air and the soil are full of these supporting organisms. This indicates design by an Intelligence far beyond what humans can comprehend.
As we get more and better tools to look into the very small, we are astounded by their complexity and function. The Bible simply says God created life. We don’t see any detail, nor should we expect to. How would you explain bacteria to a man with no microscope? “We can know there is a God through the things he has made” (Romans 1:20). Our ability to understand the tiny living things that make life possible leaves us in awe of what God has done.
Footnote: In 2011, Dr. Thomas Kunz was struck by a car and severely injured, ending his career. In 2020, Dr. Kunz, who introduced the science of aeroecology, died from an airborne disease—COVID-19. You can read more about his remarkable life HERE and HERE.
In the Dark Ages, nuns of the Roman Catholic Church would put a “baby box” near the door of the convent where they lived. They did this because people were leaving babies on the doorstep, frequently in unsanitary conditions. The baby boxes contained swaddling clothes and were kept clean. In America today, an organization called Safe Haven Baby Boxes has revived the baby box idea with some 21st-century technology.
The Safe Haven Baby Box is installed in an exterior wall of a fire station or hospital. It has an exterior door that automatically locks upon the placement of a newborn inside. There is an interior door that allows a worker to reach the baby from the inside. When someone places a baby in the box, it triggers an alarm, so workers know to pick up the baby. The boxes are temperature controlled to prevent risk to the baby, although the average wait time to pick up the infant is three minutes.
The baby box idea has had strong support from Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. It’s an obvious response to the abortion problem in America. It allows a woman who has a baby a “red tape free” way of making sure the child has a legal adoption while keeping the birth mother anonymous. Since the program began in April of 2016, there have been 52 baby boxes installed in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. Eight babies have been surrendered in Safe Haven Baby Boxes, and three were surrendered to firefighters at baby box locations. Also, Safe Haven has referred over 500 women to crisis pregnancy centers.