Christians sometimes ask themselves—even if they don’t verbalize it—why the Creator made harmful molecular structures like viruses, capable of ending human lives. Others, from their antireligious skeptical perspective attempt to mock or ridicule Christians by challenging them with any number of questions, “Why would a loving all-powerful God allow Covid-19 to kill so many people? Is he not malevolent rather than merciful? Does he even exist? How could a good Designer create such a horrible virus?” Let’s begin by considering what a virus is, how it works and why the coronavirus can do what it does.
The Latin origin of the word “virus” (lit. “venom”) does not do justice to the function of most viruses. Those that are malignant or damaging to humans or other organisms are an insignificant handful as compared to the thousands that have beneficial ecological functions. Viruses consist of fragments of nucleic acids (DNA or RNA) wrapped in a coat of proteins that account for their different forms, since they can be shaped as spheres, polyhedrons, cylinders, mosaics, helixes, etc. The genetic information they contain is minimal compared to that of human cells and can be as tiny as the one-millionth part of the human genome.
Some viruses are capable of reproducing within the cells of other organisms using the host’s own genetic materials. Thus, they are submicroscopic acellular agents (since they cannot be seen with traditional optic microscopes nor are considered cells) capable of infecting living organisms (animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, and even other viruses, that by definition are not living organisms). But it is important to emphasize that viruses are incapable of reproducing themselves unless it is through the genetic materials of the cells they parasitize. At present, there are some 5,000 known distinct viruses, although some virologists believe there may be millions yet to be discovered.
We know that viruses collaborate in natural processes of gene transfer between species; that they have existed from ancient times, although there is much speculation regarding their origins; that certain environmental aggressions can provoke their malignancy; and that the vast majority play a beneficial ecological role, as important—if not more so—than bacteria.[i] In a liter of marine water, there are approximately 10 billion viruses. They contribute in maintaining the balance between the different species that comprise marine plankton and the rest of the food chain in the oceans. They are capable of destroying bacteria when they exceed optimal quantities, thus enriching the amount of nutrients in the water. Furthermore, the sulfur that results from this process contributes to the formation or nuclearization of clouds. These, on the other hand, provide shade, temperature reduction, rain on land and sea, etc. Thus, the pathogenic behavior of viruses—contrary to popular belief—is extremely minoritarian. Obviously, if viruses were our competitors in the struggle for survival, man would have disappeared a long time ago.
Malignant viruses can reach humans through other living beings capable of transmitting them. Those of vegetarian origin tend to spread via insects that feed on the sap, while animal viruses (present in camels, pigs, bats, chimps, pangolins, badgers, hedgehogs, otters, etc.) do so via blood-sucking insects or by direct consumption and later by air via coughing, sneezing, via oral or fecal, through hands, food, and contaminated water, via sexual intercourse, etc. Usually, the host’s defense mechanisms tend to destroy most of the infecting viruses, producing an immune response that provides permanent immunity. There are also many viruses that reproduce without causing any harm to the infected organism. However, when the immune system is unable to eliminate the virus, it replicates many times in the cells of the patient (regarding Covid-19, in the lung cells) destroying them and causing severe health problems. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses; thus, it is necessary to develop antiviral medications against those infections that can be lethal.
The proteins that coat a virus can be compared to keys that open specific locks. These proteins should fit well in the protein receptors found in the cell membrane. If not, infection is not possible. But if they fit, the “thief” opens the cell’s door and begins to steal what’s inside. How can the keys of certain animal viruses open the lock of our human cells? Normally, these animal keys cannot open human cells, but sometimes accidental viral mutations take place and change the shape of the key, allowing it to fit the lock. If someone is in direct contact with animals carrying the mutated virus, it can jump or invade the person. This is what happened, for example, in the market at Wuhan (China) with the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus early in the 21st century and killed almost 800 people; or in Arabia with the MERS virus (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) that also resulted in a similar amount of deaths ten years later; and it is happening again now, starting in Wuhan, with Covid-19.
Are viruses the result of multiple mutations in a blind evolutionary process or were they intelligently designed from the beginning? All viruses, including those most dangerous to humans, like Ebola, HIV, or Covid-19, exhibit a deliberate and precise organization that allows us to affirm that they are originally the product of intelligent design. If this is so, does it mean the Creator is evil? I don’t think so. As we have mentioned, most viruses have no negative effect on humans, but rather perform necessary functions for the well being of the biosphere. It’s the random mutations, a product of a fallen natural world subjected to evil, that render some viruses malignant and eventually convert them into lethal weapons against mankind. Especially in those places where certain host animals are crowded near humans or form a part of their regular diet. However, this is insufficient reason to believe that viruses were not designed from the very beginning or that the Creator is evil.
Those that counter the virulence of certain viruses and the suffering they create for man with the omnipotence and divine goodness in order to conclude that God does not exist, forget that the Almighty may have good reasons for allowing such tribulations. Sometimes the suffering and pain can clearly have positive effects. For example, if my tooth hurts, it means I must seek the help of a dentist. If God spares me that annoying pain, wouldn’t he be unjust with me by allowing the cavities to advance without my knowing about it? Pain alerts us of an ailment and allows for it to be treated. There are occasions where suffering has pedagogic meaning.
On the other hand, the problem of suffering is much more difficult to explain for the atheist than for the Christian. How is evil and suffering conceived in materialistic naturalism? According to atheistic evolution, man is the survivor of a large natural process of suffering, deaths, and mass extinctions. From that perspective, Covid-19 would not be evil in and of itself. On the contrary, it would be considered beneficial to the human species since it would eliminate the weak. Natural selection would be favoring the evolution of those who possess a more efficient immune system. However, when the severity and malignancy of this pandemic are pointed out from the atheistic perspective, what are they really saying? It is an appeal to a moral standard of good and evil that is not part of materialistic naturalism or the natural order. The only basis for such a moral code is the biblical prescriptions revealed by God. Paradoxically, when the coronavirus is considered evil, it is implicitly affirming the existence of a good God.
The Bible teaches that God was not the creator of evil in the world, but that it arose as a consequence of human pride and disobedience. It is what the Bible calls sin, and it had distorting consequences for all of creation. Thus, dangerous viruses like Covid-19 and all that produces suffering, pain, and death, are all the consequence of our own sin. We were created free, but we didn’t choose good, instead, we opted for evil, thus opening Pandora’s box of sufferings, such as this virus.
In the face of this sad reality where we find ourselves today, we must be humble and responsible to adopt the necessary measures to ensure the well being of the majority of the world population. Panic, collective hysteria, the unnecessary hoarding of provisions, anxiety, selfishness, promoting conspiracy hypotheses, etc., do not help the situation. In fact, they make things worse. Christians should continue to trust in the Creator of not only the universe but also of all the viruses, molecules and atoms found in it. We must be wise, patient and not lose hope in His immense love for mankind. Our lives don’t depend on any malignant virus, but on God alone. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread” (Isaiah 8:1-13, NIV).
[i] Sandín, M. 2006. Pensando la evolución, Crimentales, Murcia, p. 86.
Dr. Antonio Cruz is the President of the Sociedad de Apologistas Latinos (Society of Latin Apologists). He has a Ph.D. in Biology from the University in Barcelona. He is a lifelong professor of biology. He worked as a research biologist of the ‘Animal Biodiversity Resource Centre’ of the Department of Animal Biology of the University of Barcelona. ” He is a member of the court of professors and distinguished member of the «Spanish Association of Entomology» of the «Institució Catalana Natural d´historia» and the «Société Française d’ Història Naturelle». He has worked in various zoological research projects and discovered numerous species of isopod crustaceans. He has published numerous articles in Spanish and European scientific journals specialized in biology and zoology, as well as articles on science in different newspapers and magazines. Dr. Cruz also has a Ph.D. in Theology and has written 17 books on apologetics, sociology, bioethics, postmodernism, and biblical studies.
READ this article in Spanish at ¿Es Dios responsable del Covid-19?