The apologetics of plague and pandemic

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In a world where it’s all about survival of the fitness and there isn’t really purpose nor personality, the idea that human beings, the very creatures that represent those two things are still standing. It has struck me that our experience through history of plagues and pandemics is deeply unhelpful to the arguments of people like Richard Dawkins.

In books like The God Delusion and The Selfish Gene, Dawkins has argued vehemently that there isn’t a creator God and the implication of this is that we humans don’t have a meaningful purpose for existing. We are not the pinnacle of creation but rather just another handy, protective receptacle for DNA as it continues its fight for survival and dominance.  However, let’s assume for a moment that Dawkins was correct. What then would we expect to see happen when a global pandemic struck, whether Coronavirus, The Spanish Flu of 100 years ago or the Black Death that scourged Europe for much of the Middle Ages?

I think there are two implications from this. First of all, we would be under no moral compulsion to try and treat the seriously ill, to put them into hospital on ventilators, nor to take steps through vaccines and NPIS to suppress the spread of the disease.  Those who survived the pandemic would merely be those whose DNA had developed and adapted enough to out survive the pandemic and those who died would simply have failed to provide effective receptacles for their genes. So why do we try to shield the elderly and the vulnerable?  Plagues and pandemics are surely a necessary and unavoidable part of the evolutionary process.

Evolutionary Theory provides no moral basis for modern medical care.  If atheism is true then our efforts to fight back against COVID are pitiful, irrational and doomed to failure.   However, I’d also push our thinking a little bit further. There seems to be an assumption that somehow we will survive the pandemic, that one day, it will be over and we will be able to return to normality. And, that’s not just wishful thinking, hence it remains the mainstream view. Science and history  both tell us that humans do survive pandemics.   Yet, if we are just vehicles for genes, then we have no reason to survive as a race. There is no reason why The Black Death, Spanish Flu or COVID shouldn’t have taken over. Surely these incredible viruses and bacteria have proven themselves the fittest?  Why shouldn’t this planet belong to them? There is no reason why humans should outlive a viral pandemic and not join the dinosaurs in extinction.

Think again about the Christian worldview and what the Bible says. We were made in God’s image and told to subdue/rule over and fill the world. Sin, means that this world is now subject to decay, to thorns and thistles so that our work to fill and subdue meets resistance and we often experience frustration. Yet the expectation is still thee that we should continue with the effort. Not only that, but God has acted in history to protect humanity from extinction by calling Noah to build an ark in response to a Global flood. God has promised that he will never flood the world again in judgement. Is it too cheeky to suggest that this also means he will not overwhelm us with the flood of a viral pandemic? We are encouraged to resist the pandemic because God still has his purpose for us.

There are two implications from this. First of all, I’ve been surprised at times by the fatalistic reaction of some believers. There have even been claims made that seeking to subdue and defeat the virus is pointless, that all we can learn from a pandemic is about our mortality. Resistance is futile because we can never win against this king of viruses.   This confuses me because as I’ve argued persistently, it is the Bible’s view of humanity that encourages us to resist coronavirus and believe that one day we might triumph in subduing it and bringing it under control. This is not so much hubristic thinking as some have claimed but rather good old faithful, Biblical obedience.

The second implication is that it is Christianity and not atheism which both offers motivation to resist the pandemic and gives us hope that we will get through.  It’s the Christian world view and not atheistic evolution that enables us to make sense, not just of this pandemic but of all the plagues and pandemics we have faced before and will continue to face in the future. If atheistic evolution were right then our defeat and extinction at the hands of a dominant virus would be inevitable and probably should have happened long ago Our survival through these things reminds us that although we are frail through sin and although we live in a fallen world subject to decay that we have purpose and hope.

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