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Friday, April 17, 2020

The Novel Coronavirus and Christian Faith

Viruses frighten and disgust me. Always have. 

Not enough people realize that viruses are not alive. 

People keep calling in to public-service radio talk shows and asking questions like, "If I put something in the freezer, will that kill the virus?"

Sure, freezing would kill the virus ... if it were alive. It's not alive, and we really should have schools that taught people basic facts like that. 

Viruses, outside of their hosts, are inert packages of information. These packages gain power only after gaining entrance to a host cell. 

Virus propagation is diabolical. 

You get a cold. Your nose runs. Your eyes water and itch. You touch your face to address the runny nose and watery eyes. Your hands are now covered with viral material. You touch doorknobs, cooking utensils, and a loved one's face. 

You have done the virus' work for it. You have spread disease to those about whom you care. 

Once the virus enters its host, it penetrates the host's cells. The host's cells go on to use their own machinery to produce copies of the virus. Tens of thousands of copies may result. This is called viral burst size

Then, the cell dies. 
Is there a better definition of diabolical? 

And it isn't even alive. It's just a little package of genetic material a package that is "smarter" than the human beings it has been parasitizing for all of human history. 

We have conquered Earth, from pole to pole, from jungle to desert, from Everest to Death Valley; tigers have devolved from the fearsome enemies that snatch our children to characters in a Netflix miniseries; we have landed on the moon, and we can't lay a glove on the common cold, something that isn't even alive. 

They say that the word "virus" comes from the Latin for "poison." Poison makes sense. Poison is not alive, but it kills us. But poison doesn't manipulate us to aid its deadly mission. Poison doesn't lure us into touching our eyes and nose with our hands, thus increasing the chance that the poison will go on to hurt others. 

They also say that no one knows for sure how viruses came to be.

Viruses look, to me, like life itself in its ugliest form. No driver, no intention, no telos, all destruction. And I don't know how to understand that without looking at life in a much darker way. And without looking at the author of life in a much more questioning way. 

Viruses cause me to look again at the life that entrances me. I look at birds in all their wonder and can't not believe in God. I confront viruses and I really wonder. God, was if you who created life after all? As described in Genesis, even if that is just a poetic account of deeper truths?

Or was it just blind chance after all? 

Life just seems like an ugly accident. Something that reproduces stupidly and blindly. What could be more blind or stupid than a motive-less package of genetic information penetrating a cell only to kill that cell? What could be more blind or stupid than the cell obeying its murderer's orders? 

Humanity is so naked and helpless in the face of viruses. Why? Why haven't we studied them more, rather than spending money on the space program? 

Why can't we communicate with our cells, and tell them, "No, this invader is bad. Don't let it in." 

We do. We have vaccines, and they are wonderful, and their development includes wonderful stories. Jonas Salk, for example, who developed a polio vaccine, has a well-deserved reputation as a real hero. Louis Pasteur is another world-famous hero in the war against viruses and disease. And the list of heroes grows everyday, in the martyred police officers, nurses, doctors, aides, and other health care professionals, family members, and other helpers  who are giving their lives to the fight against the coronavirus. 

I have to get back to work, so I must tie this up.

Heroes aside, I am face to face with a virus. It looks like life as one big result of the chance collision of molecules, not as the magnificent handiwork of a benign creator. 

I'm hoping and praying that a believing Christian or Jew who understands something about viruses will read this and get back to me. 

1 comment:

  1. "Is there a better definition of diabolical?" - I don't think that's the right word to use. It's anthropomorphic. Rain clouds and nuclear reactions do the same thing. I'm trying to think of a chemistry experiment that might show the same cascading effect.

    One possible way of looking at this is that in spite of all the hurdles that the universe holds against life, life finds a way of flourishing. Evolving into grander and grander things. There's a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo that says something along the lines that if you study the universe, the sky, the world and all the moving parts you will finally see the face of God. I think maybe life and it's resiliency is part of that face.

    We grew up being taught in school that life on Earth started with some simple chemical in water that had the right set of circumstances and a little spark that combined into a more complex set of chemicals that had a clever way of replicating. More recent theories involve bits and pieces of complex chemicals spreading across the universe on the backs of comets and meteors and seeding the Earth. Skipping rocks across the "lake" if you will.

    Viruses are part of the chain on a very long road we're on. No malicious intent, just existing and evolving as the universe ticks along. Someday we'll be viewed in a similar fashion no doubt for the harm we do out of human limitations and capabilities.