The names appear in the papers every day in some negative connotation--salmonella in eggs, E-coli in hamburgers, campylobacter in chicken--all capable of making us miserable or even causing death. The message that comes through to many of us is that bacteria are evil--the vehicle of misery and sickness. Some might even question why God would allow such creatures to exist or question whether their existence is a rebuttal to God's design and wisdom in the creation.
The fact is that bacteria are vital to our own existence in a variety of ways and actually are a classic demonstration of God's wisdom and planning in the creation. The first point that needs to be made is the incredible number of bacteria that exist. Recent estimates are that there are five million trillion trillion (that is 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) bacteria on this planet. If you took every living animal on this planet and weighed them, the bacteria would weigh 10 times as much. In recent years, scientists have discovered bacteria living in hot springs, salt lakes, volcanic vents under the sea, frozen arctic lakes, and even highly acidic ponds. There seems to be almost no environment that bacteria cannot live in.
The most important point we would like to make is how important bacteria are to us. Bacteria and algae manufacture half of the oxygen we breathe. A bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus exists in our nose and prevents harmful agents from getting into our lungs. Bacteroides fragilis is the name of a bacteria that exists in our colon and releases Vitamin K as well as helping digest our food. Lactobacillus acidophilus is a bacteria that prevents yeast infections. Bacteria process garbage and keep us from being overrun with wastes. They process nitrogen and sulfur so plants can use them. Leuconostoc bacteria turn milk into cream cheese. Bacteria are actually used in disease-fighting antibiotics including penicillin, erythromycin, and streptomycin.
The bacteria that surround us are balanced in the natural world. Bacteria can mutate rapidly, but the design of our world has numerous bacteria that protect us from the mutants. As man has produced antimicrobial agents, they have destroyed the protecting bacteria as well as the mutants, leaving us open to new bacteria. Like most natural disasters, it is not the design of the system that is at fault, but man's ill-conceived use of the system.
Bacteria offer us great possibilities. We are finding ways to cure cancer, to remove pollution, to grow food that is better faster, and to make new tools to improve our lives. Bacteria are good things--given to us to use, created to allow us to exist, and destructive only when we misuse them. "And God saw all that He had made and it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). Data from "The Invisible Emperors" by Charles W. Petit and Laura Taylor, U.S. News and World Report, November 8, 1999, page 22.
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