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Friday, January 05, 2007

The Fall and the immune system (repost)

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. Not knowing doesn't stop me from musing.
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. I suppose that most Christians 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, by giving them an immune system.

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.

Taken from a post of February 26, 2005.


elbogz said...

We ask the question, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? We then pull out our micrometer and our bible and pursue the answer. We ask a question about Genesis, and then look toward science for the answer, or ask a question about science and look toward Genesis of the answer. Either way we come to the same conclusion, we don’t know. The danger for me has been that this mental gymnastics is really tearing away at my faith.

I spent the better part of the year listening to an apologetics program on the radio for my drive home. It dawned on me that if I kept listening, with in month’s I would talk myself out of believing in God. When you try to understand the bible, like a historian trying to understand the battle of Gettysburg, or a scientist trying to understand fossils in sandstone, thinking there is some clean answer to it all, you find yourself even more confused. There is no geologic proof of Noah’s flood. If there is, it is hidden from us. There is no archeology proof of the Exodus from Egypt. If there is, it’s hidden from us. When people point to rocks or to DNA or to a monkey and say “LOOK PROOF OF GOD!” (or) LOOK PROOF THERE IS NO GOD!” neither are right.

My big “ah ha!” moment came one day as I tormented my way though the book of Deuteronomy.

Deu 29:29 "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

We argue over question that have no answer. Perhaps God meant it that way. Part of being God’s children is to know there are questions with no answers.

Martin LaBar said...

That's quite a comment!

I think there are some things we are not supposed to know, such as, for example, the relationship (sexual and otherwise) between Adam and Eve. But we can muse about them, and be curious.

We have been told the essential things that we need to know.


Jeremy Pierce said...

While I don't think I disagree with anything you said, I have another option for your consideration. Isn't it also possible that God gave Adam and Eve immune systems as a way of fighting off potential threats and that he made it just work perfectly? Then there wouldn't ever have been illness, and there also wouldn't have been overreaction. It would just work exactly as it ideally would. Then the fall came, and the immune system fell too. People got sick because their immune systems weren't perfect anymore, and people overreacted to things that weren't threats because their immune systems were no longer perfect. As with the above options, this is at best mere speculation, but if we're going to speculate we might as well include this option as well (if for no other reason than to be less confident about any of this speculation).

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks! I hadn't thought of that, and I should have. That is definitely a possibility, and, in fact, it makes a lot of sense.

Thanks for reading and commenting.