Though you might not see an exhibit dedicated to it when you visit the Ark Encounter, there was an enormous “elephant” on board the Noah’s Ark: germs.
We live in a germophobic society, so it’s ironic just how many germs must have actually made it on board the Ark. Even though there are mostly good germs, many people tend to focus on only the bad germs—pathogens that seem to exist only to make us sick. So skeptics of the biblical account question whether pathogens (e.g., syphilis) were present on the Ark.
There’s nothing more toxic or deadly than a human child. A single touch could kill you. Leave a door open, and one can walk right into this factory; right into the monster world.
– Henry J. Waternoose III, Monsters, Inc.
Today’s culture is afraid of germs. With the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and life-threatening diseases like Ebola in the news, we have become germophobes without realizing it. You can’t go out in public anymore without seeing hand sanitizer dispensers. You can wipe your grocery cart clean with a sanitizing wipe or get some hand gel while visiting the doctor’s office front desk. My PhD is in microbiology, so I’m not inclined to be germophobic because I actually enjoy growing germs. In particular, my passion is Escherichia coli.1 But when I talk about E. coli, most everyone responds with fear and dread because they only know about the disease-causing E. coli.2
A Course: Small Germs, Microbiology, and You3
Microbiology is the science that studies germs. I often refer to microbiology as the biology under a microscope because it is difficult for some people to think about living things that are invisible to the naked eye. Many are afraid of what they can’t see (e.g., the bogeyman when we’re children or death when we’re adults). The irony of being afraid of what we can’t see is that we can’t see germs, yet we accept germ theory. Germ theory is the concept that there are microscopic organisms responsible for causing disease. Germ theory was developed by several prominent scientists, including Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur. No one wanted to believe that germs existed almost 200 years ago, but today we have an over-awareness of germs. This over-awareness has led to some unique problems in industrialized nations like the United States. We have an unhealthy fear of germs, unnecessarily washing our hands too much and abusing antimicrobial products wherever available.
However, the overwhelming majority of all germs do not cause disease. In fact, nearly all known germs are good and promote health. Only about 5% of bacteria cause disease and make us sick, which is not what you would expect by the presence of hand sanitizer everywhere. In my microbiology classes, I have students use a cotton swab to look for germs in their environment; they inevitably choose places like the bathroom and their cell phone.4 Upon discovering that some of their personal items have germs on them, many students immediately clean what they touch in their everyday lives. Obsessively cleaning off what we normally touch is probably what actually causes some diseases we’re facing today, like multi-drug-resistant bacteria. Our normal germs don’t have a chance to defend us against invading microbes since helpful germs get wiped clean, making us more susceptible to germs that cause diseases.
Our myopic view of the vast amount of good microbes prevents us from healthy living in the long run.
It is estimated that the biomass of microbes in one acre of soil is the equivalent to nearly an entire octopus!5 If germs were the problem, then every step we take outside ought to make us deathly ill. But this doesn’t happen. In fact, pathogens (i.e., disease-causing germs) have only developed recently because of the Fall (i.e., pathogens have not existed for millions of years—they have only been around for thousands of years). Even secular scientists have begun to recognize the shortcomings of thinking about the word pathogen because they recognize that every bad germ originated from a good germ. The fact that pathogens come from good germs very clearly supports Scripture and confirms that “in the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth”—including the microbes, which were included in what was pronounced “very good”.
Were Germs on Noah’s Ark?
Up to the early 1900s, the number one cause of death was infectious disease. Infectious disease is still the leading cause of death in developing and third-world countries worldwide. By inference, Adam and the patriarchs leading up to Noah very likely did not live in a world with very many pathogens.6 The infectious diseases during the time of Genesis 3–11 must have been only a fraction of a percent (based on current known mutation rates and observed rates of emerging infectious diseases).7 However, there are lingering questions about just what kinds of germs were aboard the Ark.
Skeptics often cite the presence of pathogenic germs on the Ark as a reason not to believe the biblical account. Skeptics will point out that there are a number of disease-causing bacteria that only exist inside of humans as a host. It is not uncommon to find the same diseases in animals and in humans, but the diseases that are found only in humans can seem like a problem if there was a global Flood because diseases found only in humans means that these diseases would’ve had to have been inside Noah and his immediate family to exist after the Flood. Furthermore, the Flood lasted for an entire year, and that could possibly mean that Noah and his family would have carried these germs with them for an entire year. Of course those arguing against the Ark assume that every disease-causing germ existing today must have existed during the Flood in the exact same form as today. But is there any evidence that every known germ present today was present in its exact same form during the Flood?
While we know that most bacteria do not harm us, we are called to help alleviate the suffering of our fellow man. In a Darwinian worldview, there is no reason to practice medicine because the unfit should be left to die; however the biblical creationist sees value in all life that God gives. It is important that we understand the proper history for all germs before we make an inappropriate assumption about germs either way. We need to protect ourselves from either destroying all germs or allowing every germ to grow; allowing for either extreme could put us in a situation that God never originally intended.
First, we must restate that God created all microorganisms. Even though the word germ does not appear in Scripture, that does not mean that God didn’t create them. Many other modern words such as trinity, dinosaur, or Pixar are not in the Bible but we know that they exist. Bacteria were created early in Creation Week and were part of what was pronounced “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Due to Adam’s sin, all of creation was cursed to varying degrees; the genomic deterioration of microbes began at that time. We cannot know for certain that microbes immediately became pathogenic and began to kill living things right after the Fall, but we do know that the origin of “molecular” thorns and thistles could have happened at that time because of the thorns and thistles on plants (Genesis 3:17–18).
Continue reading below…