Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Natural evil in bizarro world

As you know, Reasons to Believe has a lot in common with your run-of-the-mill young-age creationists, except for the "young-age" part. They criticize evolution, have an affinity for design arguments (especially fine-tuned universe arguments), and they like to discuss theology and biblical studies openly. By accepting the conventional age of the cosmos and earth, they pretty much dispense with Flood geology and young-age cosmogonies. They also have to accept animal death before human sin, which they would argue is permissible biblically.

The latest issue of their "ezine" New Reasons to Believe [PDF] contains an article by Fuz Rana called "Did God Create Flesh-Eating Bacteria? A Creation Model for the Origin of Human Disease." That definitely caught my eye, since I've been talking about this subject for years. The big question in my mind was how RTB would handle natural evil in a world where animal death preceded human sin?

Reading the article was a totally weird experience. Rana makes pretty much all the points that Joe Francis and I (and many other creationists) have made for years: Most bacteria are not harmful but instead helpful; harmful bacteria arise from evolution (he actually calls it that) or from bacteria moving into a new host species. Rana claims that when humans were created there were no human pathogens created at the same time. Instead,
We would assert, however, that he did create beneficial microbes that would form mutualistic symbiotic associations with humans by populating their exterior and interior surfaces. But because microorganisms can evolve, our model predicts that a small fraction of the human microbiome became pathogenic over time as a consequence of mutations occurring within the context of the large population sizes. Once pathogens emerged, they could transfer their toxin-producing genes to other microbes through horizontal (or lateral) gene transfer, creating new disease-causing strains.
Wow. I could totally be reading a young age creationist here. He even uses E. coli O157:H7 as an example, which I use in my biological origins class!

What's so weird about the article? Everything Rana writes applies only to humans not animals:
While RTB scholars would maintain that God created microbes for a variety of reasons, (including parasites that infect animals and other life-forms to control their populations), he did not create corresponding human pathogens when he made human beings.
See that part about parasites created to control animal populations? Yep, that's the bizarro part. Rana's article sounds almost identical to what any creationist might say, but then he throws in a little reminder that he's not at all arguing what we're arguing. He wants to cut off humanity from the rest of creation, even though everything he says applies equally well to animal diseases. Shoot, you could even say that disease has been an effective population control on humans!

It seems to me more biologically consistent to attribute pathogens in general to the effects of the Fall. A pathogen's a pathogen, whether it infects a horse or cat or human. Disease is disease. If we think there was no human disease before the Fall, it just seems weirdly inconsistent to say that animals had diseases. It's a bizarro world, where Fido can catch a cold but his master can't. If RTB wants to allow animal disease in the world before the Fall, then humans should have been susceptible to those same diseases from the moment they were created.

I don't see any reason to believe Rana's special treatment of humans. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.