Saturday, March 21, 2020

Virus Profusion and COVID-19

Many lay Christians, pastors, teachers, and theologians have been focused on explaining the presence of the current COVID-19 pandemic in terms of God’s relationship with the human race. Pandemics, both virus and bacteria caused, have been a recurring concern. Natural disasters, horrors of war, and other sources of personal tragedy are also difficult to rationalize in terms of the benevolent Creator of All Things revealed in Holy Scripture.

Our science/faith blog during current events is somewhat more focused on scientific knowledge about infectious agents. God is the author of theological truth. Scientific and theological truth may be conflated in satisfying ways. During the High Middle Ages a phrase became popular among scholars: “Theology is the queen of the sciences.” Philosophers have addressed the meaning of this statement for centuries. We continue to discuss the overlap of science and Christian faith.      

Our previous post may have startled readers by stating the incredible myriad of virus particles (virions) which rain down each moment from the atmosphere and abound in virtually every environment inhabited by humans. Non-living virus particles far outnumber living bacterial organisms. Prevalence of benign, or even beneficial microorganisms outnumbers harmful microorganisms significantly. The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has assumed a prominent role in our human experience. Discovering scientific truth and dealing with the presence of the current pandemic is linked to our Christian worldview.

Statistics of viruses, virus particles, and viral infections in our environment can be overwhelming. The majority of human pathogens are virus-caused. At the same time some viruses are capable of helping our bodies fight off invading bacterial microbes. These interactions are complex and understandable by those trained in bio-medicine. The prevalence of viruses by the numbers is overwhelming. Trillions is not an easily grasped mathematical concept. When trillions of viral particles rain down on us from outer space or can be found in our water and soil, we are overwhelmed.

As we write this post, we are reminded of the dual nature of viruses. Our society could be negatively impacted if we fail to find a medical or natural solution for abating and defeating the current COVID-19 phenomenon. It is one of over 200 virus species causing infections in only 23 virus families. Different sources report varying statistics. Novel viruses develop by mutation each year. Many human pathogens are viruses. A minority of human pathogens are bacteria.

Most bacteria are not harmful. This situation is more complex for viruses, because they must always invade living cells to reproduce. They functionally thrive within host cells when the virus particles become integrated with host cells, but they are unable to capture or store free energy. They are far smaller than bacteria. Viruses occupy a unique position in the world of biology. They possess some features of living things but they are not considered to be living micro-organisms. However, they have a genome of either DNA or RNA, are able to code for several proteins, and are able to adapt to changing environments. At best, these nonliving infectious entities can be said to lead a sort of ‘borrowed life.’ Viruses coexist with life wherever it exists.

We repeat the staggering truth concerning the ubiquity of microorganisms. One liter of seawater contains 10 billion bacteria and 100 billion virus particles. Such microbes are on us, within us, and around us. BMC (BioMedical Central), reported (2017), “The number of viruses and bacteria on earth is staggering and they occupy essentially every environment…..The vast majority of microbes are harmless and many play essential roles in plant, animal, and human health.” 

In Nature Reviews Microbiology, an article entitled “Microbiology by Numbers,” (2011) the authors state, “In total, there are approximately 1400 human pathogens (including viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and helminths), and although this may seem like a large number, human pathogens account for much less than 1% of the total number of microbial species on the planet…..Estimates for the total number of microbial species vary wildly, from as low as 120,000 to tens of millions and higher.”

Viruses and bacteria have the physical appearance of being designed organisms. Even the simplest cyanobacterial cells which comprised the first elemental life on Earth were morphologically simple but biochemically complex—an indicator of an intelligent Creator who initiated the design process. Virus particles are simpler than bacterial cells but also possess exquisitely designed structure. Another term used by microbiologists is virome—the collection of all the bewildering number of viral species surrounding us.

Viruses and viral pandemics are part of the ‘created order.’ Likewise, bacteria and other pathogens are part of that order. We must understand that humanity has not been placed in a ‘perfect world.’ The perfect world is being prepared for those redeemed by Jesus Christ (John 14:1-3). It is partially defined by accounts of the New Creation described in the Book of Revelation, Chapters 21-22. Until we experience the New Creation in our eternal home we must be content to exist in the good and very good creation of the here and now. There are episodes of natural evil with which we must periodically cope.

In recorded human history there have been numerous pandemics and multiple natural tragedies. In a previous post entitled “Universal Perfection” (9-22-17) we also discussed periodic episodes of natural evil:

We humbly pray for the safety and health of all people negatively impacted by this dreadful COVID-19 pandemic.