Parasites From God. Where else could they come from?
A religious friend insisted “God created all life in the six days of creation.” So, I asked, “Did God create parasites too?”
Suspecting an ambush he was reluctant to answer. After all, why would God create all those nasty little beasts that cause so much suffering and death? What divine purpose do parasites have? Did Noah save parasites from the great deluge, and if he did, why? These are difficult questions to answer and I was not surprised that my friend was reluctant even to try. After all, if God designed parasites he is a fiend, if not, the scriptures are incorrect and everything in them is suspect. As Tom Paine wrote in The Age of Reason, if you find even one mistake in scriptures how could you be sure of anything else they claim.
If you have not thought about parasites, perhaps you should. Malaria is the biggest killer humans have ever encountered (one million people die per year) and yet we seldom remember that it is caused by plasmodium falciparum, an “intelligently designed” parasite spread by an “intelligently designed” mosquito. What could God have been thinking?
Evolution gladly takes the blame for malaria because this lethal parasite evolved from the first single cell creature like the rest of us, or so say those secular scientists. But, if you are a believer, and you are fair, you have to give God the credit, or … blame, not evolution.
Let me refresh your memory about parasites. They are organisms that live on or in another organism and depend upon it for sustenance and protection. They sometimes harm their host, sometimes are neutral, and sometimes help their host. But, mostly they are thought to be harmful. While plasmodium is harmful, the parasite that inhabits your eyelashes, demodex follicolorum, does no harm. It’s just a small arthropod mite that drinks your tears. Amazingly, it has its own parasites. Yes, parasites have parasites, it’s only fair.
An example of a beneficial parasite is our common gut bacteria. If you wipe out your normal probiotic gut bacteria by taking antibiotics, you might want to replenish the little buggers by consuming a few acidophilus capsules or yogurt. The capsules each contain about 66 billion friendly parasites that will inhabit your gut walls, crowd out harmful bacteria and resume the job of digesting your food. Termites are equally grateful for wood digesting bacteria, that never tire of preparing gourmet meals for them. Oh, by the way, we humans have five times more bacteria cells in our bodies than we have body cells, and they account for about 15% of our body weight.
No doubt some people will give God the credit for these miraculous little critters that make life possible and impossible. But, when Plasmodium kills a million humans a year, Satan gets the blame. Huh? Literal bible believers suffering from GPD (Godly Parasite Dilemma) have a ready answer. They simply deny science. It’s what they did when science proved the earth was not the center of the universe, only to change their minds later after being overwhelmed with evidence. It’s what they did when science proved the earth was not flat, only to change their minds later. It’s what they did when it was proven the sun did not move across the sky, and then stand still for old Joshua, and then change their minds. It was what they did when Darwin discovered evolution. Fundamentalists have not yet resolved that problem.
Religious dilemmas such as the above are never fatal to the faithful. True believers recovered from what should be lethal scientific data before, and they will again. The GPD is easily explained by the simple understanding that without disease and parasites there would be no reason to pray to God for help. An occasional anecdotal story of a healing is enough to perpetuate the belief in the efficacy of prayer. Without sickness, heath hath no meaning. It’s a good answer if you don’t think about it.
Another reason we should praise parasites is that occasionally their DNA combines with their host DNA and voila, a new creature is created like the lowly lichen, which is part fungus and part algae. This “unholy” combination of two creature’s DNA is called symbiogenesis. Symbiogenesis is “fast forward evolution” or “short cut creation.” Stephen Jay Gould called it punctuated equilibrium. Gould did not give natural selection total credit for evolution. He thought evolution plodded along slowly with intermittent fast-forwards. Chance played more of a role than scientist thought. He was probably right. We have much more to discover about evolution.
Parasites occasionally play doctor and prevent disease. Lack of upper digestive bacterial and viral parasite infections in youth is thought to provoke autoimmune diseases later in life. So, parasites have the potential to be our best friends. Those good old parasites, I love them. I just want to make my own selections about which ones I want to live with.