Mosquitoes vs. Intelligent Design

January 2, 2009

Malaria is my latest obsession.  Malaria and it’s history tick a lot of boxes for me and I’m sure I’ll be writing a lot about it on my blog.

Any time I read about some aspect of biology, I’m often amazed how creationists manage to keep their battered old jalopy running.  I thought I’d briefly discuss some thoughts that occured to me about what I’ve been reading lately and how I think it makes things really difficult for creationists.  To try and stop myself rambling I’ll break it down into some bite size chunks.

Point 1: If you thought eyeballs were complex…

One argument you hear from creationists is that when you look at an eyeball, and all the various parts that are required to make it work, it is much too complicated to have “just” evolved.  It’s complexity requires a designer.

Well, if you think eyeballs are complex then just wait until you see the parasite that causes malaria!  An eyeball maybe complex but at least it only exists in a single organism: the malaria parasite goes through four distinct phases and is reliant on two seperate organisms for it’s existence.  Here’s an animated presentation with commentary that attempts to explain the cycle.

A little sidenote: One misconception I had about malaria was that it was spread by mosquitoes simply by them taking infected blood from one person to another; this isn’t the case.  Mosquitoes are actually infected with malaria from human blood.  Once they’re in their second phase of infection, they are spreading the parasite in their saliva.  Humans then go through two phases of infection, and it’s only in the second phase that we can infect mosquitoes.  Anyway, I’ve probably made an awful mess of explaining all this.  Just take away this:  it’s complicated.

So the first problem for creationists is this: if cold, heartless evolution didn’t create malaria then their loving creator went to a lot of trouble to design it.

Now this has been a problem for religious people for a long time: why does God create horrible diseases like malaria?

Their counter-argument might be that we don’t know God’s plan but because he is perfect and infallible we should just trust that he is doing the right thing and shut up with all our complaining.  More on this later.

Personally I would have a lot of problems with praying to a God who thinks killing a million blameless poor, black people every year is a good plan.  And isn’t there something a bit weird about a God who hates abortion but creates a disease that results in two-hundred thousand miscarriages and stillbirths every year?

Hmmm… it sure is a head scratcher.

Point 2: Enter Sickle Cell Disease

I have not read a lot about sickle cell disease yet, but I’m sure I will soon.

Sickle cell disease affects the red blood cells.  It affects their shape and makes them brittle.  This results in many complications leaving those infected with pain, shortness of breath, joint problems, and organ damage that results in a shorter life expectancy.  Most can expect to die in their forties.

Once again it seems our designer has something against black people because they’re about the only ones who get sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell isn’t infectious and it cannot spread like a virus.  The only way you can get sickle cell disease is if both of your parents have the sickle cell trait.  Interestingly enough, having the sickle cell trait can be pretty handy…

Point 3: Two horrible tastes that taste horrible together

Here’s where it gets interesting for intelligent design.  Sickle cell trait protects those who have it against malaria.

If you have sickle cell trait you are far more likely to make it into your teenage years if you live in an area where malaria is endemic.

Yes folks, this is evolution in action!  Because malaria kills people before they can even get to breeding age this is creating a selective pressure for a trait that helps survival through infancy.  Sickle cell is an illness but it doesn’t affect the ability to reproduce and it does aid survival against malaria.

But let’s assume that malaria and sickle cell were designed.  Let’s look at the work of this brilliant designer.  He creates a parasite that reeks havoc on the population of the planet and it kills millions of people every year.  He then decides to intelligently design sickle cell trait to try to cut back on the effects of malaria.  Sickle cell results in more horrible illness which leaves people with miserable lives, but fortunately it doesn’t kill as many people in childhood as malaria does and so it catches on in a big way.

This leaves a few questions such as “Why would an infallible God create malaria and then create sickle cell?” or “Why would you pray to a God who mitigates the effects of one horrible disease with another horrible disease?”

But the biggest question of all is this: Is this the work of someone who cares about human beings?

Often I think that’s the biggest problem for religion: proving that the designer who created all this actually cares about us.  Because even if you could prove there’s a designer, that simply isn’t enough.  I might write more about that another day.

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One Response to “Mosquitoes vs. Intelligent Design”

  1. wendell Says:

    Brilliant! (And I mean it in the most common American usage: “distinguished by unusual mental keenness or alertness” and not as the general “excellent, marvellous” you Brits do.)
    You have identified the ultimate disconnect in Creationist/Religionist thinking: the evidence that an Intelligent Designer doesn’t really care much for the human species. One of my personal “spiritual” epiphanies was that the Christian image of God was somebody I didn’t WANT to work for. I’m sure you or I could come up with dozens more examples of ways The Designer Don’t Like Us faster than a God-head could come up with a single example of how He Do. But then, that’s what Faith is all about – going counter to all logical evidence – so why do the Faithful need Intelligent Design to explain things?

    Thanks for letting me rant here…


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