By Brian Lowther
Below I share with you a very controversial portion of an editorial column Ralph D. Winter wrote for Mission Frontiers magazine in July 1997. In addition to being controversial, this may have been the very first time he publicly elucidated his growing concern about disease and who deserved the blame for it.
Destructive Intelligent Design
By Ralph D.Winter
July 1, 1997
Okay, there’s now no problem in recognizing “intelligent design,” What about the evidence of “destructive” intelligent design? That is, both “intelligent love” and “intelligent hate”? And what should we do about it? Does this have anything to do with missions?
Thanks to Michael Behe and his marvelous book, Darwin’s Black Box (he took his career in his hands to write it), believers now can dare to say that our immune cells are intelligently designed for good. Okay. Isn’t it equally possible, then, that we can observe that, say, the tuberculosis bacillus is intelligently EVIL?
The August 22 Los Angeles Times reported that researchers...finally discovered how the tuberculosis bacterium and its cousin leprosy invade cells...The bacteria hijack one component of the immune system and use it like a Trojan horse to sneak into immune cells...which they then destroy.
Hmm. Intelligent! Hmm. How dangerous is TB? The article mentions that tuberculosis infects an estimated one-third of the world’s population. Who would design something like that? Not God!
Funny, isn’t it, how reluctant “politically correct” thinking is to recognize inherent evil in nature. An example: Science (August 1, p. 635ff.) tells of modern explorations of earlier man, and how difficult it has been for scientists to accept the fact that cannibalism has been found in virtually all cases—and not just in the case of ancient man. This story includes the Aztecs and the recent ancestors of today’s Pueblo Indians. A 1970 paper was greeted with “total disbelief ” at a time when supposedly earlier “Indians... were all peaceful and happy.” But now “30 years and 15,000 skeletons later,” the evidence is overwhelming. Why is EVIL so pervasive?
Take smallpox: one of the most horrible diseases in the history of life on earth. For the millions and millions who died agonizing deaths it was too late to penetrate its mysteries. But a tiny handful of far-seeing souls did seek a way to work intelligently against the incredible EVIL of this (intelligent) scourge.
As we suggested in an earlier issue: consider the theology of Jonathan Edwards, that godly, brilliant genius of a man, that earnest colonial revivalist, that valiant Calvinist. He did not blame all this agony on God’s will somehow, and then simply go around preaching repentance. Edwards died young, trying out on himself an experimental vaccine against the evil of smallpox.
Are Evangelicals today too “spiritual” to fight this kind of evil at this level? Who knows? Probably quite a few individuals here and there are actually involved. But I don’t read about them. Are pastors recruiting young people for this kind of a mission? Does the National Association of Evangelicals include a division that helps coordinate Evangelical efforts in this sphere?
What ARE Evangelicals busy doing? We believe, well— here is our principal article of faith—that all we need to do is to call individuals to “a personal decision for Christ.” And, God will do the rest?
Do our Christian colleges and seminaries fight malevolent microbes? Is there room for a Christian organization that will galvanize efforts to fight evil at tiny levels? Note that a former missionary to Africa co-directed the team discovering the gene that produces cystic fibrosis!
Please tell me if there is anyone reading this who knows of an association of microbe hunters or cell-level researchers who, under God, are at those levels straining to beat back the ingenious evil of the Evil One. I will gladly highlight such activity in these pages and try to reinforce those efforts. In fact, to highlight the crucial need for that kind of mission may be one reason my wife, specifically, has a very resistant form of cancer.
This material immediately aroused the concern of many readers. One prominent pastor, a close and longtime friend of Winter, wrote him in a state of shock, wondering how Winter could lean towards such a simplistic and profoundly unbiblical solution to the problem of evil.
This same pastor sent Winter a list of scripture passages that opposed Winter’s conjectures. In questioning Winter’s inference that God did not design destructive microbes he offered Mt 10:29, “Not one bird falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father.”
He countered Winter’s conclusion that God could not be the one behind a third of the world having tuberculosis with Rev 9:15, which describes four angels who are kept ready for a specific moment when they will kill a third of mankind.
His most compelling opposition to Winter’s line of thinking was built on Rom. 8:20, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope...” He explained that our world with all of its suffering and natural disasters has been subjected to futility not of its own will, not of Satan’s will, but on account of the one who subjected it IN HOPE. “This,” he explains, “can only be God.”
He finished his letter with warm regard for Ralph and Roberta, but appealed to God’s complexity in commanding Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the people go while simultaneously hardening Pharaoh’s heart.
I recently found a short reply written by Winter. Rather than respond to his friend’s theological concerns, he thanked his friend for the thoughtful letter and said, “I think what I am saying does not really disagree with the force of your emphasis.” Winter agreed that God is ultimately in control and the only true God. But added, “the demons in the New Testament throwing children into the fire (Mk 9:22) are not puppets where God holds the strings. Satan does. Isn’t that right?”
He ended his response by saying that he would write a decent respectful letter but would wait until his pastor friend could read his next editorial which carried the same argument further.