by David Copestake
from Signs of the Times No 52, Jan 2014
Most Christians seem to believe that God has made everything, and this is clearly stated in the creeds, church liturgy and many hymns.
Some modern religious songs such as 'Jesus is Lord' suggest that Jesus personally designed and made living creatures. However, modern biology has revealed to us some very unpleasant creatures in nature such as parasites and viruses. Are we to suppose that God has carefully designed each of these?
One such unpleasant creature is the malarial mosquito and associated parasite. This gnat is called anopheles from the Greek word for 'hurtful'. Only the female bites and she stabs the skin of humans with styles having dagger points and saw like edges.
Sir Charles Sherrington described her work in great detail in his book 'Man on his Nature' first published many years ago in 1940 by CUP. His description may need to be updated by more modern research, but the general principles remain the same.
Close behind the stabbing style is a tiny tube like a hollow needle leading from a poison-gland which injects a droplet of juice into the stabbed wound. This makes the blood vessels flush and delays the clotting of the blood. The gnat sucks the blood by a tube which leads straight to her stomach. She may be infected with the parasite of malaria or not, which in herself seems to do little or no harm. This shaped wriggling creatures, the sprorozoites of plasmodium. Once within the circulating human blood , tragedy ensues; they attack the red cells of the blood, some 5 million to the cubic millimetre of blood. Gradually the inside of the red cell is eaten out and the parasite grows. Then it splits up into a family of young. The distended and dead red cell bursts and lets them loose. Each of these in turn attacks a red cell as its parent did, and then the cycle is repeated. Our own amoeboid cells of the blood, so efficient against invading germs do not attack their own fellow-cells of the blood, and the malaria parasite seems safe when once it is within a red cell.
Since all the parasites in the blood ripen together, all the millions of infected red cells break down at the same time. The human sufferer is suddenly flooded with poisons and has a burning fever. This happens every fourth or every other day until he or she is worn out and weary, losing all heart and strength. In the 10 hours of a malaria paroxysm 10% of the total red cells may be destroyed, and this every third day. The constitution cannot cope with such loss. Faintness and distressed heart and difficult breathing follow. Dead cells and the living parasites may actually clog the smaller blood channels of the heart and brain.
In this struggle between the parasite and man a new phase emerges, sexual reproduction. At this stage plasmodium lies low and waits for the gnat to bite the malarial sufferer. When this happens the immature sexual phases of the parasite enter the gnat's stomach. Instead of being digested, they either form an egg ready for fertilization or protrude four or five lashing tails each with a tiny nucleus. These tails break off from each other and swim away. They are ripe sperm cells and find the ova ready beside them in the gnat's stomach, which they fertilize.
The fertilized egg lengthens and becomes pointed at one end. This wriggles towards the wall of the gnat's stomach and enters it, settles down and grows. It becomes a bag filled with a brood of delicate sickle- shaped cells. Distended with hundreds of these, the cyst bursts and lets them loose into the gnat's blood where they swarm in thousands. Ten days from its mating the parasite is in the gnat's poison gland ready for when the gnat bites another human.
to feed a thing not much unlike an amoeba of the pond, a protozoan parasite? Can we by any flight of fancy conceive that this speck of organised slime even gets a grain of pleasure by causing all this suffering?
What are we to make of this account theologically? I encountered a Methodist woman at a meeting I was speaking at who said that God had made all creatures, and therefore we should not kill any of them – not even the malarial mosquito! She was against draining swamps and spraying with insecticide, not for ecological reasons, but just because 'God had made them'. I was rather taken back and amazed that an adult Christian could believe this today. I heard a more realistic view given by an atheistic speaker at a conference who said 'If God had designed the malarial parasite he must be a psychopath' – and so He would be!
Religious people must grapple with this issue and with the theory of evolution and out of this construct a credible theology for today. In the light of modern knowledge, it is not satisfactory to recite in church that God has made every creature in the world and leave it to that. Theologians have declared in the past that nature is 'fallen' as a result of Adam's disobedience. There is no evidence that human society or the world was once 'perfect', a state of existence from which it later declined. But just supposing that there was a 'fall' that affected the natural world after Adam's sin, would not this be a complete over-the-top reaction by God and make him still a psychopath? All the evidence points to simple creatures evolving, emerging into awareness, with an increasing capacity for consciousness and sensitivity and, ultimately, the possibility of moral responsibility and response to God.
There is no sense in which we can talk of a 'fall' from a past perfection. There was no golden age, no perfect past where parasites did not exist, no perfect individual 'Adam' from whom human beings have now descended. Our theology will be going along the wrong track if it is based on presuppositions of an ideal past from which nature and humanity has fallen. Unpleasant creatures such as viruses and parasites were in existence long before humans emerged on the scene.
Nature is programmed to produce variant forms of life, modified by natural selection. Darwin believed that his theory of evolution alleviated the difficulty of the cruelty of Nature. It was no longer necessary to believe that parasites and ferocious beasts were separately designed by the Creator. Darwin himself believed he was exalting and not debasing our views of a Creator. He became an agnostic, not an atheist as is often claimed, and confessed that his theology was in a muddle. He said in a letter to Asa Gray, 'I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or
bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance'.