Throughout the ages, billions of people have suffered and died of infectious disease. Global pandemics of Spanish influenza, tuberculosis, smallpox, bubonic plague, typhus, leprosy, and other pestilences have wiped out whole villages and as much as a fourth of entire continents at a time. New plagues of West Nile Virus, malaria, cholera, measles, AIDS, SARS, and now avian flu presently threaten entire populations. Colds, the flu, ulcers, cavities, chronic sickness, and daily diseases—why are we plagued with such common misery? We know that sin interfered with God’s “very good” creation in the beginning, but just how did infectious diseases arise? This is an important topic for us to understand because more deaths during man’s existence (thousands of years) have been due to infectious disease than any other cause.
Creation, Corruption, and the Edenic Curse
Infectious diseases had no place in the original creation. According to Genesis, everything was not only good as God pronounced it to be, but after the creation week He pronounced it very good. Within that definition we find no allowance for death, suffering, disease, or major catastrophe. Therefore, it is evident that disease has no origin in the beginning; furthermore, disease itself was not created, because that would not be consistent with God’s nature and the perfect creation.
Genesis 1 describes a good God making a very good creation. It was God’s intent for man to live in Paradise. Bacteria and other microorganisms were originally designed to manufacture vitamins in man and animals, fix nitrogen, serve essential functions in soil maintenance, recycle elements, and assist in purification processes in nature. However, when man chose to sin, God cursed the earth. The earth included the soil and all that was within it, including millions of microbes.
“And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:17–19).
Microbes in a Fallen World
Most likely, bacteria and other microbes underwent mutation and other degenerative processes. Thorns and thistles appeared and everything began to decay. To mirror this degeneration, some bacteria have now become the “thorns and thistles” among otherwise beneficial bacteria. With the loss of genetic information, bacteria began to use a host for functions that they could no longer do themselves; this marked the emergence of infectious disease.
Since the worldwide Flood of Noah, only in this century has man been enabled to live longer. That, in part, is due to vaccinations, asepsis in surgery, and antibiotics. What factors have led to this widespread suffering, misery, and death from infectious disease? In this chapter, a mechanism and model on the genesis of germs is presented from a creation perspective.
The Devolution of Microbes, Man, and Mobile Genes
There is no written historical record of how, when, where, or why infectious diseases began. The Bible does not say precisely when contagious diseases began either; so creationists and evolutionists alike have formulated their ideas regarding the origin of diseases based upon limited evidence. After a review of the medical, evolutionary, and creation literature, a multifaceted model is given at the end of this chapter. This model attempts to explain the origin of many infectious diseases, especially those caused by bacteria. As one studies the Bible and current microbiological research, one can conclude that the cause of the deadly microorganisms can be attributed to the fall of man and its subsequent curse that lead to an overall decay of the originally good creation of man, microbes, and mobile genes. The genesis of germs, also known as the origin of infectious disease, appears to be explained by three major decay factors: man’s defenses (i.e., the human body and its immune response), the microbe, and “mobile” genes.
Man’s Body Deteriorates
Beside the decay of microorganisms, the deterioration of the human body is another explanation for how illness became a part of life. For example, Adam, Eve, and their immediate descendants may not have been susceptible to the effects of typhoid that is produced by Salmonella. According to microbiologist, Dr. Kevin Anderson, their bodies probably were not susceptible to the effects of the molecule that those bacteria contained. Many people in the 21st century think that the human body is superior because the average person is living longer than those in the past few centuries. However, there is increasing evidence that we are physically degrading. There was a time when man commonly lived to ages much greater than the average life span today (see Genesis 1–11). The human body appears to have degraded enough over the generations that it suddenly appears to be susceptible to microbes with which it was once able to safely interact. We are physically very inferior (based upon life span) to the humans that lived at the time of the Flood of Noah’s day.
Body Boundaries Blur and Break since the Beginning
The Creator made the world and the human body with boundaries. However, since sin entered the world, these natural barriers have been compromised; the original function is blurred, and then some barriers break. Soon, an infection (colonization by bacteria) becomes disease. Varying susceptibility to diseases can be seen today. Genetic factors also play an important role in individual susceptibility to infection. Some people may have genes that are similar to those of Adam and have very few problems with infectious disease. Their body defenses, barriers to infection, and boundaries are still intact. But others, like David Vetter (the “bubble boy”), have very few body defenses. There is reasonable evidence that the body defense variation involving the blood, enzymes, and cell membranes has been maintained by relative resistance to different diseases. Varying genetics may reflect varying susceptibility to bacterial, viral, and yeast infections. There is increasing evidence that some people are “born” with innate immunity to various diseases, such as dental caries, gastritis, and typhoid fever. Bacteria cause cavities, ulcers, and typhoid, but not everyone has bad symptoms.
As far as human health, microorganisms are actually interwoven with the human body’s immune system. The skin is covered with good microorganisms that serve a beneficial purpose. The microorganisms provide a protective layer on the skin against pathogens. The pathogens cannot easily become established because competing skin microflora kills it. For instance, the mouth, throat, and sinus cavities have native microorganisms that make an unfavorable environment for pathogens. Other protective boundaries in the human body are likely to have undergone decay, such as weaker enamel on teeth.
The Decay of Teeth
One structural example of devolution in the human body is teeth and their susceptibility to dental caries (the most common infectious disease in the world). The number of dental caries (cavities) that a person develops during their lifetime appears to be related to the enamel strength, pits and fissures in teeth, food type, and pH of the oral cavity. Some people rarely get cavities and seem to have the “genetics” that might have typified Adam and Eve. The structure of their enamel remains strong throughout their life. Others constantly get cavities in spite of good hygiene habits. What accounts for the difference in susceptibility? Perhaps, the answer can be found in the amount of “decay” in their genes that code for tooth enamel and their tooth anatomy (e.g., pits and fissures versus an even surface).
When understanding how and why diseases emerged, another factor to consider is the one of God’s absence. When God physically left the Garden of Eden and put into place a “natural” means of maintenance, deterioration and decay would happen at a more rapid rate. We can imagine that in the beginning the Creator, who is orderly, was taking a more proactive role in sustaining the earth and the body of Adam, in case an “accident” were to happen. The same Creator who walked with Adam daily was the one who healed the blind man, cleansed the leper, made the mute talk, and helped the lame man walk.
Disease Focus 9.1
Typhoid Mary – A Picture of How the Human Body May Have Once Interacted with “Deadly” Bacteria
Infection by microbes does not necessarily mean disease. Microbiologists call the former colonization and the latter infectious disease. Over the years, many people have had pathogenic bacteria colonize their bodies without causing disease. Information about these people that never get sick from such “germs” provides a picture of how the body’s original design was made to handle mutations (i.e., deadly bacteria). The most famous example of a convalescent carrier was Mary Mallon. Mary Mallon (1869–1938), also known as “Typhoid Mary,” was an Irish immigrant who was the first known healthy carrier of typhoid fever in the United States. Ms. Mallon may represent a picture of how the human body previously interacted with Salmonella typhi. She contracted the bacteria that caused typhoid fever at some point, but she had no noticeable symptoms. Her body was apparently designed to safely handle the Salmonella typhi and remain healthy; however, she was still capable of spreading the disease to others. Mary worked as a cook in the New York City area between the years 1900 to 1907. During this part of her working career, she infected more than fifty persons with the disease, some of whom died. Mary was a cook in several homes in New York when the residents showed symptoms of typhoid. Mary spent months helping to care for the people whom she made sick, but her care may have unwittingly worsened the victims’ illness. She changed employment many times, and people were infected in every household in which she worked. A dessert of iced peaches, one of Mary Mallon’s favorite recipes, frequently transmitted the disease.
It was not until a sanitary engineer, named George Soper, made a careful investigation of the typhoid epidemic that Mary was identified as a carrier. He approached her with the news that she was spreading typhoid. She protested his request for urine and stool samples. Soper later published his findings in a prominent medical journal in 1907. This persuaded a New York City health inspector to investigate and find Mary to be a carrier. This information caused the inspector to put Mary in isolation for three years at a hospital located in New York. After a series of isolation and release, the result was the same each time. She remained a healthy carrier of typhoid; she felt fine, but then she transmitted the deadly bacteria to others. Finally, she was seized after a decade of transmission and confined in quarantine for life. She became something of a celebrity, and was interviewed by journalists who were forbidden to accept as much as a glass of water from her. She died in 1938 of pneumonia, and was buried in Bronx, NY. The autopsy of her body revealed that her gallbladder was still actively shedding typhoid bacilli.
Today, Typhoid Mary is a term for a convalescent carrier of a disease who is a potential danger to the public because they refuse to take certain precautions or cooperate with the authorities to minimize the risk. However, in her defense, it should be pointed out that gall bladder surgery was very risky at that time and she may have saved her own life by refusing the operation. Today, we know about people with immunity to a variety of infectious diseases because their body is able to “handle” the microbe. It is very likely that in the beginning, man’s body (like Adam and Eve) was designed to interact with a variety of microbes. Boundaries were intact and able to handle corrupted bacteria and other microbes. Mary Mallon represents a type of early humans who had bodies that could successfully “handle” potentially pathogenic bacteria, thus explaining how people before the great Flood could live for centuries.