We are continually looking for examples of intelligence and design in the world around us. One of the most incredible examples is the human immune system.
During the 2020 pandemic, we have all heard discussions among the experts about antibodies and how they can protect us from COVID-19. Scientists have also talked about who is vulnerable to the virus and herd immunity. We may not have thought about how our bodies were designed to fight diseases, virtually all of which come to us from animals.
Built into the human body is the ability to produce antibody proteins whenever a harmful antigen enters the body. This protein is a Y-shaped molecule that destroys the antigen. The antigen can be bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses. Once the antibody enters the bloodstream, it can last for a very long time.
More recent studies of people who survived the 1918 flu virus (which killed 50 million people worldwide) showed that survivors still had the antibodies in their blood years later. Dr. Eric Altschuler at the University of Medicine in New Jersey said, “Our immune system has a steel-trap memory. It’s incredible that the Lord has blessed us with antibodies our whole lifetime. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
The question arises as to whether this means we should let people get the COVID-19 virus until we all have antibodies to prevent getting it again. The problem with that view is that this virus can do great harm to our bodies, even if we survive it. The virus can perhaps also mutate and be re-introduced to our bodies.
One of the most destructive luxuries of many people is to take an animal from its wild environment and make it a household pet. Every year, 224 million live animals are imported into the United States. This is destructive in many ways. The Center for Biological Diversity, associated with the United Nations, reports that at the present rate of the wildlife trade, a million species are facing extinction in the wild.
The idea of humans having animal pets is alien to the Bible. In the Garden of Eden, humans were gatherers using plant material for food. After Adam and Eve left the garden, people domesticated animals, and sheep became the primary source of clothing and meat. In Genesis 8 and 9, Noah brought the animals onto the ark for safety. While God allows us to use animals as food (Genesis 9:3), there is a clear understanding of the separation of wild animals and humans. “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that lives on the earth and upon all the fishes of the sea…” (Genesis 9:2). The wildlife trade is foreign to the scriptures.
No matter what political party you support, you have to admit that it is a difficult time in America and the world. The issues today are complicated and dangerous. Dealing with racial differences has been a weak spot in American history. COVID-19 has taxed our medical establishment. Abuse of the Earth has to be a concern to all of us as our air, water, and oceans become polluted.
Is there any hope for our country and our world? We need to look at the belief system on which America is based. There were differences among political leaders in the past, but they had a common foundation from which they operated. What is happening now is that “survival of the fittest” and looking out for their own interests are our politicians’ primary goals. We think that those are not the beliefs and operational methods that most Americans believe in.
You can take” In God we Trust” off our currency, but you cannot take it out of our hearts. Extremists can bad-mouth the Bible and abuse the teachings of Jesus Christ, but periodically Christian actions surface in the common people. The food banks, homeless shelters, and medical establishments built and maintained by common people show us that Christ’s teachings are still alive and well in America.
When Jesus taught how to recognize His followers, He never referred to political figures or governments. He talked about those who served others. Passages like Matthew 25:31-46 and the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7 make it clear. Rather than marching or doing physical or financial harm to anyone, we need to express our allegiance to Christ by our service and devotion to others. In doing that, we will ultimately save America and the world.
One of the issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has raised is the use of animals for food. People in many Asian countries eat animals that Americans would not think of using for food. An example is eating dogs for dinner.
Many years ago, while lecturing in London, a Chinese friend took me to an oriental restaurant for dinner. Since the menu was in Chinese, my host suggested that I let him order the meal. He said that he would get a variety of food so I could experience the diet of people who live in the area where he was born. I agreed but wrote down each item that was brought to me to sample.
When I got back to Indiana, I asked one of my students who spoke Chinese what I had eaten. He didn’t want to tell me. The first item was horse, the second was dog, and the third was cat. It was actually very good, but if he had told me that I was eating dog before it came to me on a plate, I am sure I would have balked at eating it.
The Week magazine (August 28, 2020, page 11) reported on eating dogs for dinner. The report says that the North Korean government is confiscating all pet dogs for use as food. Hungry North Koreans regard feeding a pet as wasteful, and the Communist government labels keeping a pet as a “bourgeois extravagance.” Authorities in North Korea are forcing households with pet dogs to surrender the animals for dog-meat distribution to restaurants and meat markets.
The COVID-19 issue originating in Chinese wet markets reminds us that what we eat can be an essential factor in human diseases. Knowing what dogs eat, where they go, and what their hygiene is like raises some serious concerns about what diseases they might carry. The Bible tells us to take care of our bodies as they are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Being careful about what we eat and how our food is handled and prepared should be part of caring for our bodies.
There are many lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most tragic of these lessons has been the vilification of science. Many politicians and preachers have acted as if science is something to be opposed and feared. Many of our national leaders view science as an enemy of the economic welfare of the United States. Some preachers have portrayed science as an attempt of Satan to shut down the Church and prevent Christians from meeting together. What is the truth about science and COVID-19?
The first problem here is a failure to understand what science is and how it works. Webster’s Dictionary defines science as “systematic knowledge.” Knowledge is simply an understanding of facts. God gave Israel into the hand of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. One of the first things Nebuchadnezzar did was to separate the best of the children who were “well-favored, and skillful in all wisdom and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science” and take them to Babylon (Daniel 1:3-4). This led to Daniel becoming a huge asset to Israel. The Psalmist repeated over and over that scientific information builds faith. Psalms 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech and night unto night shows knowledge.” Psalms 119:66, and 139:6 praise knowledge. Proverbs 1:22 and 1:29 talk about people who hate knowledge. Colossians 2:3 tells us that God has within Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Peter admonished Christians to escape corruption and add to their faith virtue and knowledge (2 Peter 1:5-6).
In 1 Timothy 6:20, Paul tells Timothy to “keep that which is committed to your trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings and oppositions of science falsely so-called.” There is a vast difference between knowledge and babblings or oppositions. Science deals with the facts of the COVID-19 virus. How we respond to what we know of the facts is up to each of us.
Science tells us to practice social distancing or wear a mask. The motivation behind rejecting those health practices are worldly pleasures and greed. Trying to test God by expecting Him to void the logical consequences of our actions is like handling snakes or drinking poison.
We hear all the talk about “flattening the curve” concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. There is another pandemic without a direct viral cause, and the curve of that pandemic keeps getting steeper. Suicide is the other pandemic.
Since 1999 the suicide rate in the United States has risen over 33%. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in the U. S. among people ages 10 to 34. Males have a higher suicide rate than females, and both show a rate increase of over 2% a year. The Center for Disease Control tells us that among young people between the ages of 10 and 19, suicide attempts increased 8% every year between 2006 and 2015.
The experts are giving all kinds of explanations for why this is happening. Some blame the use of digital devices, with cyberbullying being a significant factor. Research shows that there is a one-to-one connection between unemployment and suicide rates, and the collapse of the economy in the COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive unemployment.
We would suggest that the growth of atheism and the rejection of God is a major factor of why suicide is the other pandemic. Christianity teaches that the body is the dwelling place of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and the description of the judgment in Matthew 25:34-39 make it clear that Jesus expects his followers to use our lives in a productive way. In Philippians 1:21-26, Paul made it clear that he wanted to leave this life and go and be with Christ, but he knew God wanted him to help address the problems of the Church and humanity.
If I base my life’s decisions on being the most fit and realize that I have no hope of ever being the fittest, ending this life seems like the logical thing to do. Atheism and agnosticism offer no motivation to continue living. If I know I cannot find pleasure as I once did and the future looks bleak, why would I want to continue to live? Life has no ultimate purpose without God, and suicide is a way out.
Job’s wife told him to curse God and die (Job 2:9). If you do not have a purpose in life, that option can look very attractive. When you read Job 42:1-6, you see Job coming to a full understanding. He realized that he is part of something so grand and powerful that he can only vaguely understand it. We, too, may not fully understand what God is doing through our lives, but destroying ourselves so that God can’t use us is a huge mistake with catastrophic results. (See 1 Corinthians 3:11-23.)
One of the interesting aspects of the story of Adam and Eve is the environment in which God placed them. Genesis 2:8 tells us that God planted a garden, and verse 9 tells us that He planted every tree that was pleasant and good for food. The Bible doesn’t say how long God took to plant the garden and what was involved in the garden’s growth. Verse 15 tells us that “God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” After establishing the man’s environment, the Genesis account turns to man’s spiritual nature. But the planted garden with every tree is our focus here as we think about deforestation and disease.
The Bible describes the first humans as what anthropologists call gatherers. Agriculture was a long way off. The eating of animals isn’t even suggested until chapter 4 when Abel brings “the firstlings of his flock” as an offering to God. An article in Scientific American (June 2020, page 8) points out how modern agricultural methods have led to the three major highly infectious viruses since 2002 – SARS, EBOLA, and COVID-19.
Slashing and burning to create land for crops, such as palm oil, reduces biodiversity and puts humans in contact with wildlife that carry microbes able to kill us. Species that survive the clearing are more likely to host illnesses that can be transferred to humans. In addition to the three main viruses of our time, the Scientific American article mentions some other diseases have come from rain forest inhabitants – Zika, Nipah, malaria, cholera, and HIV.
The COVID-19 virus has been too lethal to ignore. This pandemic makes us realize that there are many viruses out there, and the current one is just the tip of the iceberg of what is possible. As early as AD 165 to 180, pandemics killed massive numbers of people. Smallpox killed 5 million, and bubonic plague killed 25 million on four different occasions starting in 541. Researchers today are attempting to catalog links between animal viruses and human illness. They estimate that there are probably 1.6 million animal viruses yet to be discovered in mammal and bird populations and that 827,000 of them could cause disease in humans.
Viruses are part of the natural world in which we live. They serve useful purposes in aiding animal digestion, reproduction, and elimination of wastes. The problem is that each animal has its own set of viruses suited for that animal’s diet and living conditions. If an animal’s virus jumps into another species with a different diet and living conditions, the results can be destructive. That is the connection between animal viruses and human illness. Most of the viruses we know about came into the human population from rodents, including rats, bats, birds, chimps, and mosquitos. Some have jumped through several animals such as bats giving the virus to cattle and camels, which gave it to humans.
The Old Testament laws had health restrictions, which made virus transmission less of a problem. People were also not in such proximity to one another or to animals that had destructive viruses. Living in very arid conditions reduced disease transmission, and the dietary laws worked against most virus transmission. When you read through Deuteronomy and Leviticus, you see elaborate precautions that we now understand had hygienic benefits to minimize viral transmission.
In the New Testament, many of these rules were continued. There was a prohibition against drinking blood, and the increased use of baking and boiling foods contributed to a low virus transmission rate. Moral rules that reduced the spread of disease included the elimination of polygamy and polyandry and the strong condemnation of prostitution. In time, the keeping of exotic pets and the acceptance of foods previously forbidden to Israel tended to thwart human attempts to fight disease.
God has given us the capacity to understand viruses and the connection between animal viruses and human illness. God has also given us the tools to control these virus issues. He has also given us hope for something better. Will we use the tools and techniques God gave us to stop the pandemics, or will we open our culture to more viral events in the future? Time will tell.
One of the enduring questions with the COVID-19 virus is its origin. We know that it came from the wet markets in Wuhan, China, but it is essential to look at what practices led to this pandemic. No one in the scientific community denies that epidemics and pandemics begin when a pathogen moves from one species to another. We need to consider how God’s hygienic food laws which He gave to the Israelites prevented epidemics and pandemics.
When you read the Old Testament, you see all kinds of restrictions on food. Those include not only what the Israelites could eat, but also how it was procured and prepared. From the earliest times, eating blood was forbidden (Genesis 9:4). Any preparation that allowed blood to remain in the meat was prohibited, so an animal that was strangled could not be eaten. Eating anything that had died on its own was forbidden (Exodus 22:31 and Leviticus 17:15). Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 give a long and tedious list of what could be eaten and what could not. There were even instructions on how to prepare the meat (Exodus 12:8-9).
The practice in the Old Testament was that eating meat of any kind (other than fish) was a rare situation and usually only for the wealthy. The main diet was grains and fruits. When humans began to build cities, this dietary practice changed, but the early Christians retained much of the Old Testament diet and restrictions. (See Acts 15:29; 21:25.)
As humans moved away from the biblical instructions of God’s hygienic food laws and the handling of animals, they instituted some very dubious practices. The July/August 2020 issue of Skeptical Inquirer (pages 20-24) carries a discussion titled “Did Superstition Cause the COVID-19 Outbreak?” The article describes traditional Chinese beliefs about meat and other byproducts of wild animals.
In China, much of the food is distributed in wet markets. In these markets, fish and a variety of other animals such as bats are slaughtered and gutted on-site to guarantee freshness. In places like Wuhan, the ground is wet with melted ice and the blood of various species. The animals to be slaughtered are kept alive in closely packed open cages where the blood and feces intermingle.
When we read through Leviticus and Deuteronomy, we may feel burdened with what appears to be an endless list of restrictions and rules. However, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand that the wet markets’ environment is conducive to the spread of disease. Epidemics of the past can be related directly and indirectly to cultural practices that would not have happened in the Israelite culture in the day of Moses. We have new problems today because of the size of the human population and the closeness of animals of all kinds and humans. The COVID-19 tragedy is a reminder of the wisdom we see in God’s hygienic food laws in the Old Testament.
One of the funniest stories in the Bible is about religious hucksters (Acts 19:13-16). A group of “vagabond Jews” tried to conduct a religious healing of a man. These seven religious “healers” were the sons of a priest named Sceva. They performed their chanting, which included mentioning the name of Jesus Christ. Then the evil spirit in the man they were trying to heal spoke up and said, “Jesus I know and Paul I know; but who are you?” The patient jumped on the seven “healers,” ripped their clothes off, and ran them out of the house “naked and wounded.”
Today we see religious hucksters promoting all kinds of things that are supposed to heal people of the coronavirus or prevent its infection. Atheists use these charlatans to attack belief in God. In the June 2020 issue of the Center For Inquiry, there is a full-page article on Jim Bakker, the former TV evangelist. Bakker has a “silver solution” containing colloidal silver which he claims can cure COVID-19.
Silver is dangerous when it is in solution with other chemicals. Silver nitrate is an important tool in chemistry for use in qualitative analysis. One thing students learn early in chemistry is that silver nitrate will turn their skin to a blue/black color. The National Institutes of Health has issued a warning saying, “Colloidal silver can be dangerous to your health.” The Center for Inquiry article says “..Bakker and those like him don’t care whether their drugs work – as long as they sell.”
The story in Acts 19 is a warning to us that religious deception is as old as humanity, and we need to trust God and not modern “snake oil” hucksters like Bakker. Atheists will continue to use religious hucksters to destroy people’s faith in God. Educating ourselves and others about the false claims of people who pretend to speak for God is one way we can defend our faith and avoid adding tragedy to people already in pain.