I have written an e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which is free to anyone. To download that book, in several formats, go here.
Creative Commons License
The posts in this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. In other words, you can copy and use this material, as long as you aren't making money from it, and as long as you give me credit.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Fall and the immune system

Mike Russell, of the Eternal Perspectives blog, does some serious writing. His recent post, "Where'd that come from?" asks about the source of the human immune system. I'd like to comment on his question here. (A previous comment by me corrected his use of "auto-immune system." He meant to say "immune system." I wrote the comment more sharply than I should have, and I apologize. Sorry. As another commenter indicated, either way, it's a good question.)

Russell assumes that the first humans wouldn't have needed an immune system until after the Fall. His question is whether it was original equipment, unused until after the Fall, or added after the Fall. The obvious answer, of course, is that we don't know.

Some believers think that Adam and Eve somehow evolved from previous human-like beings, under God's direction. If so, they would have already had an immune system. Russell doesn't believe this. I'm going to respond to his question, assuming that Adam, and then Eve, were specially created in an uncorrupted state. I don't have a definite answer.

We can't be sure when mosquitoes and germs were created. Genesis 1:20 says that God created water organisms and winged birds on the fifth day, and living creatures on land on the sixth. Are mosquitoes and bacteria water or land creatures? There is nothing that clearly indicates when either was created in Genesis 1. Most insects are land organisms, but mosquitoes spend part of their lives in the water, part on land. (Moses would not have been expected to write about bacteria, because his readers wouldn't have known what he was talking about, nor would he. God knew.) If they were created, along with other creatures, during the period described by Genesis 1, were mosquitoes biting pests before the Fall? Did bacteria cause disease before the Fall? It is possible that both were created after the Fall, although the Bible says nothing about this.

After the list of entities appearing on each day is given, Genesis 1 adds the phrase, ". . . and God saw that it was good." (KJV)

Did humans need bacteria and insects before the Fall? We can't be sure. Very possibly, bees, which pollinate flowers, would have been needed. If non-fallen humans defecated, dung beetles, maggots, and bacterial decomposers would have been useful even before the Fall. Beneficial bacteria now live in our large intestine. Perhaps they did then. Leaves may have fallen, and fruit fallen off of trees, before the Fall. Decomposers, bacteria and fungi, would have been a good thing, in that case. Alcohol production requires yeast organisms. If unfallen humans drunk alcoholic beverages, yeast organisms would have been good to have.

If pest insects, bacteria, and viruses were created before the Fall, they must have been "good." We don't usually consider them good now. Romans 8:21 says that creation will be liberated from decay, or corruption. Most of us probably consider disease germs, pest insects, and weeds to be part of the corruption of the present fallen world. If the creation was free of corruption at its creation, which is implied by Genesis 1's use of "it was good," then it must have changed. The most likely time for it to have changed is the Fall. I am not aware of any explicit Biblical evidence for this, but will assume it. If new germs and insects, preying on people, were created as a result of the Fall, or if pre-existing organisms were modified at that time so as to do so, and humans didn't have an immune system yet, humans must have been modified to cope with some of the new pests at the same time.

It is possible that humans needed an immune system from the beginning, to ward off accidental invasions of decomposing bacteria. Would accidents, of any kind, especially this kind, have been possible in an unfallen world?

It is possible that humans first appeared with the ability to fight off disease germs, at a time when they didn't need it. I believe that God created some entities with properties that are of benefit to us, or to the rest of His creation, and it took us a long time to find it out, so that the benefits weren't used for a long time. For example, quinine and rubber producing plants were presumably present from before the time when humans appeared. It is doubtful if their uses in fighting malaria, or in making tires, were known to many people until within the past 500 years or less. Their uses probably weren't known to anybody in the Old World until 1400 or so. God may have deliberately pre-configured them to be helpful, and we discovered this much later. The same sort of speculation could be made about some of the chemical elements, and about other things. If that is true, why couldn't God have pre-configured humans with an immune system, before they needed it?

A little on how the immune system operates. It has the built-in capability to develop a response to almost any foreign invader. It doesn't have such responses, but the capability to develop them. That's why flu shots are given, so that recipients will develop a response from the exposure to a non-virulent invader, so that when the real thing comes along, they will already be immune to it. (They are given every year because there are new types of flu every year.) I am suggesting that, just as we have the capacity to develop immunity to invaders we haven't experienced yet, built in from our personal beginnings, it seems possible that Adam and Eve were created with an immune system, which didn't become useful or necessary until after the Fall.

Allergies to certain substances that we'd be better off not reacting to are due to the immune system. The immune system makes some pregnant women develop antibodies against their own babies. The immune system makes auto-immunity possible. Some diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, are developed because a person's immune system reacts against her own body, not against a foreign invader. The immune system, which is so important in fighting off invaders, and in policing the body for cancer cells, acts, in the cases mentioned, as if it may have fallen. It's doing things that harm us.

It seems to me that either an immune system existing before it was needed, or one created right after the Fall, are possible. I haven't answered Russell's question. However, I hope that these speculations help him, or someone else.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.


Mike said...

Sorry for the delay, but I just got around to checking Technorati.

Thanks: your post does help and I appreciate the time and thinking that obviously went into it. Your post also reminded me that I had forgotten to answer my own question - well, more accurately, to dodge my own question. I'll do that in my next post.

Thanks again!

Glenn said...

Seems to me that germs and insects (such as misquitos) qualify as "creeping things that creep upon the earth."This would place them in the order of creation just prior to the creation of man. I don't believe any new things were created after the fall, seeing as how God had rested from his work of creation prior to the fall. It seems reasonable to say that the curse of sin lead to mutations which led to harmful strains of bacteria and such. There weren't as many harmful strains early in human history, which could have been one of the factors leading to the long lifespans of the earliest humans.

God ordained before creation existed that His son would die for the sins of a fallen world. I think it's reasonable to think he would have had the foresight to include a perfectly functional immune system in Adam.

Hannah Im said...

These are interesing thoughts. I also think it is quite possible that God created Adam and Eve with a functional immune system and maybe it was useful to them even before the fall.