Hygiene Hypothesis and Disease

Hygiene Hypothesis
A new medical study is looking into something called the hygiene hypothesis.

Atheists often challenge the existence of God based upon their belief that the presence of diseases shows that there is no God. They conclude that an all-powerful God would not disease to exist. We have pointed out that a huge percentage of the maladies that afflict humans are the result of human abuse–pollution, drug use, foolish use of chemicals. etc. (See the doesgodexist.today posts for January 23, 2018; November 25, 2017; November 15, 2017; November 7, 2017; October 18, 2017).

Another dimension to the question of diseases is whether we have catalyzed the rates of contracting diseases by defeating the design of our immune system—the hygiene hypothesis. Major outbreaks of polio first began in the late 1800s. Multiple sclerosis doubled worldwide in the second half of the twentieth century. Type 1 diabetes rose dramatically in the 1950s. All of these diseases involve immune system problems.

In MS the immune system attacks the protective covering around certain nerve cells. In type 1 diabetes the body’s immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. The hygiene hypothesis says that exposure to various viruses or bacteria allows the immune system to protect the individual against what seem to be unrelated illnesses. It is not completely understood yet, but somehow the infections allow the developing body to learn how to deal with pathogens. The absence of exposure can prompt the immune system to attack the body itself.

In the early 1900s, one or two children under the age of 15 developed type 1 diabetes. In Finland, that number is now 60 children per 100,000. Between 1998 and 2010 the incidence of type 1 diabetes jumped by 40%. We need to point out that this is not caused by obesity. Type 1 diabetes happens in children who are not obese at the same rate as in those who are.

The evidence seems to indicate that there is a viral trigger and the type of viruses causing the diabetes are enteroviruses which are normally found in the intestines. A child exposed to those viruses at an early age develops a resistance to the enteroviruses and is not likely to contract the disease. If the viruses are not present in the environment, then later in life the immune system is defenseless against the enterovirus, and the immune system attacks the pancreas. At least, that is part of the hygiene hypothesis.

There is a great deal that science does not understand about how the immune system works. It is very complex, but it has worked remarkably well in humans throughout our history. Some of the diseases we are facing today seem to be occurring because the immune system of children has not been “tuned” by the viruses in the environment. Perhaps God’s design which served humans well in the past has been shut down by our rules for hygiene and the overuse of chemical agents. On the positive side, this study may eventually provide us with a vaccine which will eradicate the germ-caused diseases.

To read more about this see Scientific American for February 2018, page 56-59, or click here.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Mental Health and Christian Faith

Mental Health
A recent mailing by the National Alliance on Mental Illness said that one in five adults in the United States will experience mental illness. Seventy-five percent of all lifetime incidents of mental health issues occur by age 24. It goes on to say that 90% of the people who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. As a public high school teacher for 41 years I was frequently associated with students who threatened suicide, or in a few cases committed suicide.

There are cases in the Bible of people who were mentally disturbed. King Saul and his relationship with David certainly shows some severe mental problems. (See 1 Samuel 18:10-16 and 28, 29.) In Luke 8:26-39 we see Jesus dealing with a man who was deeply disturbed. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul tells us that Christians should help those who are struggling with mental issues.

Biblical Christianity is a guilt-relieving faith. Many people who call themselves Christians have bombarded their followers with a guilt message. You don’t see hell mentioned as a motivational tool in the preaching of the apostles. The word is only used twice in the New Testament by the inspired writers–once in James 3:6 in reference to the tongue and once in 2 Peter 2:4 regarding angels. The gospel is good news, not threats of damnation. Christians are called to a message of love, not to a fear-driven faith based on condemnation. God does not want anyone to be lost. (See John 3:17 and 2 Peter 3:9) God wants to restore everyone to the relationship Adam and Eve had with Him in the beginning.

Christianity should not be adding to the guilt-load that people in our world have today. Instead, Christian faith should be reducing fear and stress. “Hell-fire and damnation” preaching may have motivated people to run to obedience out of fear, but it is not helpful to peace and mental health. Love for God and His love and care of us is a far better motivator both mentally and spiritually.
–John N. Clayton

Gene Editing and Better Babies

Gene Editing
A major debate is in the works as scientists experiment with gene editing using CRISPR/Cas9 to fix mutations that cause heart and blood disorders. CRISPR/Cas9 acts as molecular scissors to alter human DNA. The technology is advancing so rapidly that scientists and ethicists are holding conferences to discuss how the technology should be used.

The Hastings Center, which is a bioethics research institute, is sponsoring discussions among experts attempting to give some guidelines for the proper use of gene editing. A panel of ethicists convened by the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering and Medicine has said that gene editing should be used to correct diseases, but not to create characteristics that don’t have to do with health.

Movies like Gattaca have given an awareness of the potential problems with genetic engineering. The Center for Genetics and Society has pointed out that people who are taller and fair-skinned tend to make more money than the general population. The question of whether parents should edit the genes of their children to give those characteristics is an extreme example of how gene editing might be misused.

In the past, we have pointed out the difficulty with any new scientific discovery. We raised the question of whether cloning would be used to produce better crops and save endangered species, or whether it would produce a strain of super-humans endowed with the characteristics of a demented ruler like Hitler–the Boys from Brazil scenario.

From a biblical standpoint, we have to realize that when God created the first humans, they were physically perfect. Many of our diseases and disorders have to a great extent been the product of human greed and foolishness. Pollution, misuse of chemicals and radiation, and a host of recreational drugs have produced a large number of maladies in humans. To be able to go into the cells and edit the DNA to correct genetic disorders may be appropriate, but the potential for misuse is always there.

The moral conviction of the people making these decisions becomes the critical factor. Rather than decry advances in science, we need to join the search to find answers to disease and suffering. Gene editing is the future, let us encourage the best minds in the Christian community to use their God-given talents and abilities to find solutions and direct the use of our knowledge and technology.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Data from Science News, January 20, 2018, pages 4-5.

Human Suffering Human-Caused

Human Suffering Human-Caused
There is a constant flow of books, articles, television shows, and blogs dealing with the question of why God allows human suffering. All religions deal in one way or another with this issue, and atheists have attempted to dance around it by denial or avoidance.

We have suggested over the years that Christianity offers the only rational solution to the issue because:
1) The question is only for this life and in the context of eternity is of extremely short duration.
2) Suffering allows ministering to others that Christians are uniquely called to do.
3) To be human there has to be choice, otherwise love is impossible, and choices can have consequences.

Most logical people would agree that if you jump off a bridge, you can’t blame God when you hit the bottom. The fact is that massive amounts of human suffering are because we refuse to live as God calls us to and we do things that bring suffering upon ourselves. God doesn’t cause wars and human actions that cause droughts and famines. God also does not cause us to make bad choices that lead to our own suffering and the suffering of others.

Science News in their last issue for 2017 gave a summary of the latest data in four areas where human suffering is human-caused:
1) 13.4 million U.S. adults misused or abused opioids. (Data from 2015).
2) 19 children die or are medically treated for gun-inflicted wounds every day.
3) 9 million people died directly from pollution.
4) 46% of U.S. adults have high blood pressure largely due to poor diet and lack of exercise.

It isn’t 100% of the pain and suffering issue, but a vast percentage of the pain in this world we bring on ourselves. It is not caused by an angry or malicious god who likes to see us hurt.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Anthropomorphism Extreme

It is very easy to anthropomorphize the behavior of animals. According to Wikipedia anthropomorphism is, “the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities…It is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.” When your dog cowers after you scold it for doing something, is the dog indicating guilt or remorse? It may look that way, but it may be that the dog has learned that by showing that behavior it will receive less scolding.

There has been an upsurge of scientific material suggesting that humans are not unique in their expressions of grief, guilt, patriotism, devotion, love, hate, etc. Several books have been written promoting the view that no human emotion is missing from members of the animal kingdom. How Animals Grieve by Barbara King and Beyond Words–What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina are two examples. There have also been numerous articles in scientific journals promoting anthropomorphism.

The problem is that it is very difficult to avoid anthropomorphism of animals. Frequently we see articles describing how an animal reacts to the death of its offspring. A recent magazine has pictures and discussions of giraffes, whales, dolphins, elephants, gorillas, baboons, chimps, and zebras seeming to grieve at the death of an offspring or a mate for periods of days. (National Wildlife magazine for February-March 2018 page 30-39) The question is whether this is an evolutionary trait of all life and humans are just more highly evolved, or whether we are anthropomorphizing the behavior we see. We have all been influenced by Disney with stories like Bambi, so the question is complicated.

The biblical definition of humans is that we are the life-form created in the image of God. We see that image reflected in the things that humans do that are not physical in nature. We worship. We create art and music and express our emotions in art and music. We feel sympathy and experience guilt. We have an agape type of love that is unrelated to reproduction or survival. We can be taught to think. These properties are made possible by our spiritual nature. We can debate whether all of these characteristics are really unique to humans or whether they have survival value, but our uniqueness as a species is not a function of our intelligence or any physical characteristic.

The difficulty in interpreting animal behavior is that we cannot easily ascertain the role of instinct. Reproduction in animals is instinctively driven. In most mammals the role of the female is determined by her reproductive capacity. It is the lioness that drives the pride, not the male lion. The wonderful work that has been done on gorillas and chimpanzees has shown the role of reproduction in determining the social structure of the entire troop. Study of baboons and chimps shows that stress hormones called glucocorticoids increase when a close relative dies. The release of the hormone oxytocin which inhibits glucocorticoid increases when there is physical contact with other partners after the death of a close relative. What we see in animal behavior is the result of the instinctive drives being disturbed.

There is no question that animals think and that they have emotions, but we should avoid excessive anthropomorphism. Animal emotions are tied into their instinctive drives–not to political or religious values. We suggest that those instincts are part of the design of these animals which provides them with the greatest probability of survival.

The unique nature of all humans should motivate us to value human life. We are not instinctively-driven robots that obey the drives built into our DNA. We can change the world in which we live both physically and spiritually. Valuing all human life and working together to solve the conflicts that divide us is a necessary product of understanding our spiritual uniqueness. When Jesus taught us to love our enemy and to do good to those who do evil to us, He was calling us to express that which makes us human–our spiritual nature created in the image of God.
–John N. Clayton

Abortion Ban at 20 Weeks?

Abortion Ban at 20 Weeks?
The abortion battle continues with the “20-week abortion ban” being the present focus of pro-life advocates. Last October The House of Representatives approved a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks, but the Senate has never taken it up. Seventeen states have already adopted 20 weeks as the cut off for an abortion. On Friday President Trump spoke to the marchers in the annual March for Life in Washington, and he called for the Senate to pass the bill and send it to his desk.

It seems that the 20-week ban which would allow abortions up to 20 weeks after conception is a compromise that many people are willing to accept. Promoters of the bill say that 60% of Americans are supportive of the 20-week cutoff. The reason for 20 weeks is that some data shows that “babies can feel pain in utero” at that time.

Everyone knows that this is a compromise, but it still has enormous problems. Determining when a baby feels pain is subjective at best. Outward signs of pain in the womb are difficult to detect and interpret. That statement that “babies feel pain” means that they are babies! The major question is when does a human become a human? Is it at 20 weeks? The fact is that the baby is still a baby at 19 weeks. It is not a cow or a pig or a fish; it is a baby.

Our culture cannot dance around the fact that when the sperm meets the egg and conception occurs it is a child at that point. We apparently are willing to practice infanticide, but we don’t want to call it that. Certainly, the earlier a pregnancy is terminated, the less traumatic it will be for the baby and the mother, but the fact is that it is still the destruction of a human life.

Let’s be honest and call it infanticide and work to prevent the conception by following God’s laws as to how we are to conduct ourselves morally. Where that fails, let us allow the child to live and give a parent like me the joy of raising the child. I have three adopted children, and I thank God that those three mothers had the courage, strength, and love for the child to allow my children to see life beyond birth and bless myself and my wife with the joy of raising them.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

IQ Tests, Intelligence, and Being Human

IQ Tests and Intelligence
An interesting area of discussion in talking about what makes a human is the question of intelligence and IQ tests. For several hundred years there have been debates among intellectuals about whether intelligence is related to race, sex, or genetics. Some interesting experiments have been conducted to measure intelligence in animals, and scientists have found that creatures from bees and ants to dolphins and crows demonstrate intelligence.

My first master’s degree was in the field of psychometry, the study of testing and measurements. One of the things I learned very early was that there are different kinds of IQ tests. Our mentally challenged foster son Tim was tested at an early age and had a Stanford Benet IQ of 42. One-hundred was the average among humans. When Tim entered the public schools, he was tested with the Otis IQ test, and his score was 110. Why were the scores so different? The Otis was verbal so that it could be administered to many people at a time. Tim’s verbal abilities are very high because my wife read to him constantly when he was a child.

Tim knows the words, but his application skills are sometimes lacking. One of our favorite stories about Tim was when he was angry with me one time he yelled at me “… and you’re causing me to commit adultery!!!” He knew that adultery was bad, but he had no idea of why.

When I was a college student, there were psychologists who maintained that Afro-Americans were less intelligent than Caucasians, because they scored lower on IQ tests. The problem was that the tests were loaded with cultural distractors that were not a part of the students’ ethnic background. In my years of teaching science in inner-city schools, I saw no variation in intelligence among kids from different backgrounds. However, to this day I hear people say that Asians are superior in intelligence and Afro-Americans are inferior. For most of my 41 years of teaching physics at the secondary level, I fought with administrators and counselors who maintained that girls were less able in the physical sciences than boys. I know that isn’t true from experience.

The bottom line is that intelligence means different things to different people and IQ tests do not show who is important or valuable. The ability to solve problems is frequently considered to be a measure of intelligence, but problem solving is frequently a function of experience or trial and error–not reasoning. For anyone to attempt to use intelligence to tell who is human and who isn’t, who should have the right to vote and who shouldn’t, or who should be allowed to survive and who shouldn’t, is illogical and in violation of everything God has taught us.

My mentally challenged foster son with a very low IQ score is still created in the image of God. It is his soul that makes him human, not his physical appearance or his IQ. Galatians 3:26-29 says that all the ways of dividing people are done away with in Christianity “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Ancient Animal Butchering by Humans Is a Croc?

Ancient Animal Butchering Is a Croc
One of the things I love about science is that because of the nature of the discipline, errors eventually get corrected. Data on ancient animal butchering by humans just received a correction.

“In a field where researchers reap big rewards for publishing media-grabbing results in high-profile journals … there’s a push to publish extraordinary findings, but evolutionary researchers always have to weigh what is interesting versus what’s correct.” That statement was made by David Braun, an archaeologist at George Washington University in Washington D.C. He was responding to an announcement that what scientists thought was human butchering work with stone tools was apparently crocodile bites.

The date of tool use by early humans has been pushed back again and again as microscopic investigations looked at the shape of marks on the bones of horses and other animals. Carnivores like hyenas leave U-shaped marks on bones. Scientists had assumed that V-shaped incisions with internal ridges were caused by ancient animal butchering by humans using stone-age tools. The new finds show that crocodile bites can leave the same pattern on bones as stone butchering tools.

The traditional and biblical views of early humans show that they were gatherers and that butchering animals came along sometime later. The picture of the real human history is based on the evidence, and it is a constantly changing picture. The picture gets modified as scientists discover new evidence. The model indicated by Scripture and the scientifically-accepted picture will get closer to agreement as new evidence comes to light, and old evidence is re-examined.

Data from Science News December 9, 2017, and the November 6 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Physician-Assisted Suicide and Wise Choices

Physician-Assisted Suicide
Citizen Magazine reported in August that over 50% of “Christians” approve physician-assisted suicide. As we get older, we have relatives and friends who no longer want to stay alive because their quality of life is poor and they see no hope of getting well. The question really is a matter of alternatives.

In previous years there was a group known as The Hemlock Society who campaigned for and supported physician-assisted suicide. They have renamed themselves Compassion and Choices. The title suggests that we need to have compassion for the dying and allow them to kill themselves with the assistance of a physician to make sure the suicide isn’t bungled.

They have it only half right. We must have compassion for the dying. In this culture and this time of medical advances, there is no reason why anyone should have to endure massive pain as life ebbs toward its end.

Seventy years ago my paternal grandmother had spinal cancer that was causing her massive pain. The doctor severed her spinal cord in a way that stopped the pain but rendered her unable to walk or control her bladder or bowels. She lived for 15 years after that surgery. I remember visiting with her, being taught by her, playing games with her, and hearing about ancestors that I would never see. She was positive and encouraging to me.

Suicide doesn’t allow some vital things needed by those left behind. My younger brother is suffering a similar disease situation as I write. He too has had surgery on his spine that has confined him to a wheelchair. It allows him to continue to enjoy family, his grandchildren and working with his wife on family issues and problems that she otherwise would have to face alone.

Humans are not robots. We are created in God’s image, and our relationship to God and one another is different from animals. The statement by a euthanasia proponent that putting down a human is no different than putting down a dog is incredibly ignorant. We need to have compassion for the survivors as well as the dying and make choices that benefit everyone.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Girls Harming Themselves

Girls Harming Themselves
On November 21, The Washington Post reported on a 15-year study showing that there has been a dramatic increase in American girls harming themselves. Cutting, swallowing poisons and pills, and other forms of self-harm have increased 8.4% annually among middle-school girls between 2009 and 2015. Hospitals across the country provided the data for the study. The lead author suggests that suicide is linked to the same causes.

Our culture’s obsession with sex and the discarding of the purpose God has for sex and replacing it with struggles for power, popularity and social status has to be a major part of the problem. The authors blame cyberbullying, and smartphones, but also include social isolation in their list of causes. Society makes girls feel like they are objects and not special creations of God. The media tells them that their bodies are the focus and not the biblical concept of being created in God’s image. When nobody tells them that they have a purpose far beyond competing for physical beauty, their feeling of self-worth suffers.

Girls harming themselves is a product of our sex-saturated culture. We will continue to see social isolation and people struggling with feelings of poor self-worth as long as our society rejects God’s plan for family and the roles for men and women.
–John N. Clayton © 2017