And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)
A high school sophomore was required to read Survival of the Sickest: The Surprising Connections Between Disease and Longevity by Dr. Sharon Moalem as a summer reading assignment. According to this student, the book takes different diseases or illness and traces them back to their origin and provides scientific research to back up why a particular disease was once beneficial to our ancestors. Such strong “evidence” challenged the young man’s creationist worldview and raised several questions in his mind:
- If God did create diseases did he have any good intentions or did he want them to destroy us?
- Is God still creating diseases today, or are the ones He created just now being discovered?
- Is this book right when it says that as humans we adapt overtime based on certain genes that help us survive?
The student offered one example of the disease hemochromatosis, which is a genetic disorder “that causes high amounts of iron to be present in the body, and overtime the human body ‘rusts’ away until the person affected dies” according to the student. The Mayo Clinic says that “hemochromatosis causes your body to absorb too much iron from the food you eat. The excess iron is stored in your organs, especially your liver, heart and pancreas. The excess iron can poison these organs, leading to life-threatening conditions such as cancer, heart arrhythmias and cirrhosis. Many people inherit the faulty genes that cause hemochromatosis — it is the most common genetic disease in Caucasians” (emphasis added).
As reported by the student, Moalem “suggests that this disease helped people to survive during the bubonic plague. The bubonic plague was easily contracted and once it was in your system would rapidly progress feeding off of the iron available in the blood stream and within days kill you. Those who were lucky enough to have hemochromatosis, however, had almost all of their iron inaccessible to the plague since it was all in ‘locked’ form. This prevented the disease from spreading and enabled people to survive.” This was offered by Moalem as one example of the evolutionary theory of natural selection and how adaptations helped many people to survive.
I have not read Moalem’s book, so the information I have is secondhand. However, the error in thinking seems pretty clear to me. The example cited about hemochromatosis is an example of a genetic defect. The people with this genetic defect die because their bodies cannot make use of the iron in their system. The fact that it protected them from the bubonic plague did not save them from the eventual death caused by their genetic disorder. They still eventually died prematurely because of their inherited disease!
The same is true for those with sickle cell anemia. It is a genetic defect that brings about the early death of those having the defect. However, the defect makes them immune to malaria, and although they are safe from malaria, they eventually die an early death because of the disease. Personally, I do not see the benefit in either of these cases!
Genetic studies are showing that we are not improving health-wise. Our knowledge of how to combat some of these diseases continues to improve as new diseases continue to crop up. Studies have shown that we transmit 60 to 200 mutations every generation, and those mutations are either neutral or harmful; none are beneficial.
The question of human adaptation, as far as survival in different environments, I think has more to do with man’s intellect than it does genetics. However, as Brian Thomas, science writer for the Institute for Creation Research, points out, “It’s plausible that the Creator ‘front-loaded’ Adam and Eve’s genomes with full complements of a wide variety of both essential and non-essential genes, as well as genetic and epigenetic factors to facilitate rearrangement of those genes. Thus, as humans have spread out and thrived in various environments across the globe since their dispersal at Babel, their traits have also spread out.”
As for God creating diseases, in a certain sense, He did. God is sovereign and all of creation is subject to His control. However, in another sense, God did not create disease. Genesis 1:31 tells us that God’s assessment of His creation was that it was “very good.” Such an assessment coming from a perfect God can only mean “perfect” – “flawless.” Death, decay and disease came as a result of man’s sin. “Because thou … hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake” (Genesis 3:17, emphasis added). It is because of man’s sin that disease entered into the world, not because God created it – at least not initially. In the beginning man was created not to die; in fact, nothing that God created was intended to die. The Bible calls death “the enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). So, our genetic degradation is due to sin. However, God will not allow us to degenerate to extinction. When Christ returns, He will restore everything back to its original perfection (Revelation 21:1). That should give us great hope!
Here are some other articles on the human genome that you may find interesting:
 From the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hemochromatosis/DS00455
 Brian Thomas, “More Mutations Mean More Diseases, Less Evolution” http://www.icr.org/article/mutations-mean-more-diseases-less-evolution/
 Brian Thomas, “The Human Mutation Clock Is Ticking” http://www.icr.org/article/human-mutation-clock-ticking/
 Brian Thomas, “Recent Human Variation Is Not Evolution” http://www.icr.org/article/recent-human-variation-not-evolution/