The intelligent design issue has sent atheists scurrying to try to find examples of bad design in the creation. Many atheist sites have been promoting the Guinea worm as the ultimate example of how one cannot believe in God because of terrible things that exist in the creation. It also shows how far atheists will go, and how much sarcasm and derision fills most atheist sites. A frequently quoted phrase is this one: "God's plan [for the Guinea Worm] is ... carefully engineered pain machines, self sustaining, spreading ever-wider and deeper through the world ... the Worm is the very incarnation of God's plan."
A careful study of this situation is useful not only to answer the challenges of atheists, but to better understand the design issue and how God functions in the world and in the affairs of mankind. The Guinea worm is a creature that is unquestionably a real horror story. The life story of the animal begins with Guinea worm embryos being eaten by small lobster-like water fleas (see picture at right). Once this happens the embryos mature into larvae. These two pictures by Mike Urban are taken from A Color Atlas of Tropical Medicine and Parasitology from Peters and Gilles (1991); To see more pictures, go to http://www.smith.edu, then search for "dracmed." The larvae will be in fresh water ponds, and when humans drink the water from the pond the water fleas with the larvae get into the human stomach where the fleas are digested, but the Guinea worm is not. They will find their way to the small intestine where they burrow into the wall of the small intestine and pass into the body cavity. During the next 10-14 months, the female will grow to as much as three feet and will be as wide as cooked spaghetti, and will migrate to the lower limbs of the human (see picture at left). The worm will chew its way to the surface of the skin where it will emerge from a blister which causes a painful burning sensation. The only way to get relief is to put the foot or leg into water. When this is done the female will release a milky white liquid which has millions of larvae into the water contaminating the water supply.
Once the worm emerges through the skin, you can pull it out, but you can only move it a few centimeters each day, because if you break the worm it will cause massive infection in the human body. It can take weeks to pull a worm from a person's body. A person who has this parasite is likely to have many worms in his body and can be totally incapacitated by this terrible worm.
Our purpose in this article is not to "gross you out" as my high school kids liked to say, but rather to look at the question of why such horrific creatures exist and how issues like this relate to the concept of a loving and compassionate God. Many other examples could be given--from mosquitoes to the AIDS virus, and the points we want to make here apply to all of them.
The Guinea Worm Is Not a Creation of God. It is important to understand that many things that exist in the creation are not here because God created them, but as a consequence of something else. As a simple example--God did not create war, but because God created man, there is war. Similar statements would apply to pornography, sexual abuse, and any number of other social issues. In the biological arena, there are many things that exist because something good has been mismanaged, misused, or are a product of an environment that man has created that causes nature to function in a way it was not designed to function. One of my favorite evolution stories is a series of reports on the praying mantis that came out many years ago. The papers concerned the fact that after mating, the female mantis would chomp off the head of the male and devour him. All kinds of wonderful evolutionary explanations were given as to why this happened, and then it was discovered that this happens in captivity, but not in the mantis' natural environment. There are many examples of animal behavior that turn out to be aberrants, caused by the duress of captivity and not by the normal function of the organism. In other cases natural processes have caused similar changes. Seventy-five percent of all mosquitoes are pollinating insects, and do not depend upon blood to survive. It appears that like the medfly and many viruses, mutations have caused changes in what was a positive organism and turned it into a negative one.
Recent studies of the genetic material of the Guinea worm have shown it to be related to other worms which have positive roles in the environment, and it appears that this terrible parasite is a mutant whose origin may soon be understood. Our point is that assuming that this is something God created to torture mankind is an assumption that is due to the vested interests of those making the claim, not what the evidence shows.
The Number of Guinea Worm Infections Is Small and Is Decreasing. In 2003 there were 32,193 cases of Guinea worm infections world-wide, and in 2004 that number was reduced to 16,026 cases. In 2005 the number was 10,662. The worm has been eradicated from Asia and is mostly found in Ghana and the Sudan in Africa. The idea that this is a spreading pandemic is gross misrepresentation of the facts.
Guinea Worm Infections are Due to Misuse of the Environment. The worm is totally transmitted by humans drinking from contaminated water. Filtering water to remove the water fleas would stop the disease. Drinking from underground water sources would prevent it. The water sources given to the Israelites in the Old Testament would never have allowed the Guinea worm to exist. Not allowing humans to enter water supplies would stop the disease. For the most part, the disease has occurred where war has forced people to extreme situations and conditions. God has told mankind how to live. Man was commanded from the beginning to have dominion over the earth and all that is on it, and to "take care of the garden, to dress it and keep it." Mismanagement of the natural world has caused massive hardship for humans, but to attribute this to a design or plan of God is to simply be dishonest with the circumstances that produce damaging agents like the Guinea worm.
Christian Organizations Have
Been Leading the Battle Against the
Guinea Worm. Atheist complaints against agents like the Guinea
would be much more convincing if they were instrumental in fighting it.
One of the leading organizations that has done massive work in
defeating the Guinea worm is the Carter Center, a
work of former
President Jimmy Carter. "The Carter Center Guinea Worm Disease
Eradication Program" began attacking this problem in 1986 and has done
wonderful work in this area. You can read about it on their web site at
www.cartercenter.org/health/guinea_worm/index.html. In fact, this is
what Christianity is about--helping others, especially those who are
less fortunate and who are victimized by the selfishness and arrogance
that exists in the world political sector. It is Christianity that
characteristically rises to meet natural disasters, human disasters,
and human needs and suffering on any scale. Pointing to errors made by
people who claim to be Christians is not a response to the massive good
done in response to the commands of Jesus to feed the hungry, care for
the sick, visit the imprisoned, and defining pure and undefiled
religion to be "visiting the widows and orphans in their affliction" (James 1:27).
Jesus said "By their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:20)
and the Guinea worm is just one more demonstration of the truthfulness
of that statement.
Back to Contents Does God Exist?, NovDec06.