Posted by: Paul Chiariello | September 6, 2011

Of Cancer and Viruses: God’s Plan & Un-Babeling the World (?)

A close friend of mine recently posted an article about a new virus that fights cancers.  And not just one particular kind of cancer in particular, but ALL cancers.


The drug is basically just a virus that locates cancerous cells, wherever they are in the body and kills them.  It lives and reproduces off of a certain kind of pathway that is unique to cancer and therefore only targets them.  It circulates, finds its host cells, reproduces, kills the host and moves on leaving the healthy cells healthy.

Too good to be true???  Well no, I don’t think so at all.  Or at least there is no reason to argue it is.  The pursuit of small pox and the hope it brought wasn’t ‘too good to be true’.  Doubling our life expectancy from under 40 to over 70 wasn’t ‘too good to be true’.  Teaching the world to read wasn’t ‘too good to be true’.  Though many said all of those things were.  Why should cancer be any different than smallpox and a 35 year life expectancy?

But unforeseen consequences are notoriously, and unfortunately, impossible to figure out beforehand.  My friend prefaced the post by pointing out “this was EXACTLY how the movie 28 Days Later starts”.  I think we all doubt the zombie ending of the movie, but the reference, and the movie itself, point to a different problem: nature evolves with our medicine and we don’t really really know what we’re doing.  But this fact itself seems to be a baseless assumption on what is impossible and ‘too good to be true’.

Lo and behold, written in the comments of my friend’s post may be our ‘salvation’.  MIT Scientists are also developing a cure for, believe it or not, viruses.  Not particular viruses, but viruses in general!

Who cares if this particular cure works.  The point is we don’t know what can and can’t in principle be developed in medicine.  The only thing we do know is that we figure out things we previously thought were impossible.  I won’t go into musing over what is impossible and what isn’t.  But only because I have already done that (see the link).  In the post I argue we have simply no way of knowing what is impossible.  History can only comment on what is in fact possible, and never gives a single mention about what is impossible.


Coming from a Christian background, however, I can’t help but give this a teleological and biblical twist.  I imagine most people reading this are familiar with the stories of the punishments and curses given to mankind in the stories of both the Apple & the Fall in Gen 3 and the Tower of Babel in Gen 11:1-8.

In the Garden of Eden the ‘ground’ was cursed and we were cursed to ‘toil’ over it for our livelihoods.  Though nothing is mentioned about viruses, bacteria or other parasites most Christians interpret this verse broadly enough to include all of this stuff as well.

So what does it mean when we have in the past conquered some of God’s creatures of punishment?  After all, aren’t these parasites merely microscopic Angels of Death?  If you believe God created them for a purpose what else but the story of Adam explains that purpose, metaphorically or literally?  If something else, where in the Bible are you getting it from?  and what role does this story play at all then?  Personally, I have never seen a defense against the ‘Problem of Pain’ that did not rely in part on Mankind’s Free Will and resulting sin.

In the story of the Tower of Babel it is a little more explicit.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

Relatively straight forward, I think.  The tower wasn’t made out of hubris to overcome God and show Him who really is boss.  It was seemingly, i.e. as far as the Bible is trying to convey anything, a genuine and straightforward desire for community.   ‘Setting up a name’ and focal point to rally around and collaborate together, which they saw as better than being divisive and spread out over the whole earth.  It wasn’t even a “Let us set up a name for ourselves… so we may be powerful and rule over everyone else”.   In fact it seems to have nothing to do with even denying God or committing any kind of sin.  What was wrong that God sought such a punishment?  A punishment that is largely the cause of so much violence and evil in human history?

Well, here is the really weird part: God was threatened by the capabilities of man working together.  That is all.  Take another look above.  A straightforward reading of the text seems to imply nothing more or less.  He doesn’t say, “look at their vain pride” or “their evil attempts to challenge me and my glory” or “why won’t they work together for the good of their community” or anything like that.   He does not even imply that we would accomplish ‘evil’ things with this potential!  And if that is what He meant you surely don’t get it out of a reading of either God’s explicit justification of his action or man’s explicit explanation of his.  You must read it into the text.  Read the whole passage yourself in Genesis 11.

God is simply threatened by the power of unified humanity.  Humanity working as one is therefore NOT what God wants, or at least it is something that can be sacrificed in light of what we might accomplish working together.


The question I pose to you, reader, is what are we capable of?

What else can we do?  and what ‘impossible’ things  is God afraid we can accomplish?

What does it mean if we can overcome such plagues and thorns?

What does it mean when we do in fact overcome them?



  1. Great post, Paul!
    I haven’t thought of the tower of babel in this way before- but it is very insightful.

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. very interesting, indeed!

    I have a thought regarding the tower of babel. In a lot of ways, the Old and New Testament mirror each other… there seems to be a parallel but inverse reintroduction to this idea of languages confused and people divided.

    In Acts 2, there is the account of the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on all the people and says that the each person heard the gospel message in his or her own tongue.

    I find this incredibly fascinating, because the background to the tower of babel (even though it was 130 prior to this story) was of judgment on the whole earth in the form of a flood that wiped out all life, except those in the ark (and interestingly enough, the ark was open until God Himself closed the door). Then over a century later, the people were still in one place, trying to make a name for themselves by building a tower to reach the heavens (really freaking high).

    I bring this up because prior to the day of Pentecost, Jesus bore the wrath of God (fulfilling the illustration of the judgment to come).

    (Not following? Check out Amos 8:8-9. Earthquakes, darkness at midday… This text is speaking of the judgment to come spoken of in Revelation, but look at the gospels and see what’s talked about… rocks splitting, the sun going black for three hours in the middle of the day… the idea here is that when Christ bore God’s wrath, He was taking our judgment that would come in the future).

    So, coming back to the day of Pentecost and the Spirit coming down (the Spirit, who described in the epistles is the bond of peace – and is the one who unites us as one people) came down on that day and then all people, by the work of God, were then united as one people, understanding that gospel message of Christ’s suffering and resurrection on our behalf.

    So, I believe the point of God dispersing the people was to reunite them, but under His name, not their own. So He would not only be Creator, but Savior as well. That’s what I believe the story is about.

    • You say, “So, I believe the point of God dispersing the people was to reunite them, but under His name, not their own. So He would not only be Creator, but Savior as well.”

      That all is no where in the justification that God himself gives. You merely must assume it to stay anywhere near consistent with the rest. I imagine God would have mentioned that if He thought it was important instead of the reasons that He ACTUALLY gives instead. Your interpretation has nothing to do with men otherwise doing the impossible. In fact the passage clearly suggests that He has no previous plans He is ENACTING but is instead merely REACTING to the possibilities that people have within themselves when working together. He is separating hem so they do not achieve everything they can – the impossible.

      What you read into God’s plan in fact needs NOTHING like a Tower o’ Babel to spark it off. If He is merely ENACTING, God would have instead looked down and saw that there were enough ppl living that He could now disperse them into linguistic groups according to a plan He had devised since the very beginning.

      You really have explained absolutely nothing and just assumed and added a bunch of details, ignoring what didn’t fit, based on speculation of a grand scheme of things you ALREADY believed in.

      You have merely given a possibility of what needs to be the case for your views to be consistent instead of reading the text that is in front of you.

      but let’s assume you are right. Instead it now appears your God causes problems so that He can fix them. But the point of this whole essay was that WE CAN FIX THEM OURSELVES because, as God acknowledges, nothing is impossible if we work together. This is were the examples of cancer and viruses come in.

      Further, as the passage gives no justification that dividing the people was the best alternative for THEM and from the clear fact that ethno-linguistic differences and lack of communication cross-culturally has been a huge, if not the biggest, barrier to peace, we can conclude straightforwardly that your God doesn’t care much of what is best for us but is acting so He can get the glory for saving people from a problem He created.

      And this is the route you choose to go down, lol.

      This idea of a reactionary God with his own agenda is also seen in the story of the flood you mentioned. Genesis 6:6 “The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” So He started anew by killing millions of people (babies? animals?).

      Note: God’s plans are apparently very easy to know when they back up the beliefs you already have, right? It’s always interesting His plans are so incredibly obvious even if they are no where to be found in the text. But if they somehow point to the Bible not being as true as it claims, well, who are we to know God’s plans?

      • Scripture has to be read in light of scripture. It’s not a bunch of random stories one after the other with a front and back cover bound in leather.

        Take a look at the garden of Eden. Why did God cast them out of the garden? It wasn’t to keep them out of the bliss of that beautiful place, but it was to keep them away from the Tree of Life, so that they wouldn’t live forever in their sin (Gen 3:22-23). Man was banished from the garden so that Gen. 3:15 could come to completion (a Savior coming from the seed of woman to crush the head of the snake, leading to the crushing of His own heel).

        I bring this example up, because the same theme is carrying through in the Babel story. I don’t think it’s reading into the text to suggest that God was disrupting their man-centered unity while they were away from Him in order to bring them near to Him and then restore that unity.

        • Lol, of course it has to be read as a whole. I’m not going to respond any more than that, since it’s beside the point.

          All of my comments remain as an obviously clearer and more straightforward reading.

          1) God gives a single and very EXPLICIT reason why He did it which has nothing to do with the post hoc rational that you claim. 2) God clearly acted in REACTION and not as if it was always part of His plan, as you claim. 3) There is no reason to assume that their ‘man-centered’ unity was in exclusion to God, which you claim. Neither they nor God refer to the men creating a unity in exclusion to God. God’s role in their unity is not mentioned by either. 4) Your explanation has NO EXPLANATORY VALUE in decoding the explicit justification God does give – that man can otherwise do the ‘impossible’. 5) You do not address the fact, and focus of the article, that we seem to be coming together ON OUR OWN to do great things sans God, which is consistent with God’s explicit fear of us doing the “impossible”. This is inconsistent with your explanation if it is God’s plan to bring us together Himself instead.

          Yes, the Bible must be taken as a whole. But my explanation gives a vastly clearer explanation of the actual text while yours ignores portions. You also are merely giving a story to stay consistent where I am trying to understand the story as it is presented.

  3. ah, I see now.

    Let’s zoom out as if we’re flying from 30,000 feet, right now. My God (and when I say that, I mean the God of the Bible) is a trinitarian God, meaning three in one: Father, Son, and Spirit. Before man was created, before earth was formed, and even before time began, God was (and is). God existed as one, but three in one, equal in power, glory, and so forth. He (they) existed in perfect unity (and thus perfect community).

    Zooming in, Genesis 1 tells us God made man in His image. Though this is hardly ever touched, I believe that means God made man to thrive in community, which is why God said ‘it is not good for man to be alone’ …this resulted in God creating woman. I don’t think the point of this is marriage, but rather, community. Because with male and female, you can get many, many more humans.

    Considering Genesis 11, humanity united can accomplish anything. God knew that. We’re not accounting for the sin taking place. Genesis 1:28 says “God blessed them and said to them [man] ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…'”

    (just an aside: and I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it’s believed all the continents at one time were one mega-land mass, but after the flood, became divided. There’s a man named Peleg who lived during this time whose name means “divided” or “separated” c.f. Genesis 10:25, I Chronicles 1:19. The land divided was a result of the flood, which was punishment for man’s sin. Man then here after the flood – over a century after the flood – still in the same location, despite the command from the beginning to fill the earth and subdue it, was in sin, as well. This resulted in the confusion of languages and separation of man, preceded by the separation of the land).

    Regarding God being a reacting God, as opposed to an enacting God, I need to take some more time to think on that. My gut reaction (no pun intended) is that if God is a reactionary God, then He’s not all-knowing.
    If He’s not all-knowing, then He’s not sovereign.
    If He’s not sovereign then He’s not in control.
    If He’s not in control, then how is He over all?

    However, if He is reacting in this situation, then that would make it likely that man didn’t include Him in this endeavor.

    • 1) You still give no real reference to the story itself. I can make ANYTHING consistent with anything else if I am allowed to assume what I want. That is all I see you doing to get your own preferable story from Babel. You have still barely touched on the content of the story of Babel itself and merely started with what you ‘know’ and then interpret what the story must mean. You must start with everything from the story and then ask questions and then see what the rest of such says about those explicit questions. That is how this game works. Otherwise I can take any story I want from anywhere else and then assume what i need to make the Babel story consistent with it. In doing your way you have STILL ignored much of it the story in question. Why does God give the reason that otherwise we would be able to do anything? If this was always the plan, why is God appearing to merely react to a group’s actions? And so on.

      2) “Made in God’s image” and the whole community such was clever but extremely weak, you must say. That ‘God’s image’ thing is so excessively vague it could come to mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. I’m sure you yourself have heard at least 1-2 dozen other explanations of it. Not to mention, if community is the prime virtue in all of this you should admit Tawhid – ‘unity’ in Arabic – is a better fit and much more explicit AND PRACTICED in Islam than Christianity. Christianity is a splintered mess by anyone’s standards. Not the kind of thing God was aiming at according to everything you have said. If it was his mark, I’d imagine we’d see something like Sunni Islam. See next point.

      3) Let me show you how your extremely fuzzy, post hoc type of thinking is by assuming the opposite of what you start with and then plugging in your own thinking. “God is One and a Unity, He mentioned this throughout the OT and Jesus constantly separates his identity and powers from the Father in the NT. This is important because…” and then just give the very same argument you gave about Him needing to form the ummah/community around Him instead of man without Him. Does a unified God or a Trinity represent community? Depends on who you ask and what they are trying to argue, lol. In practice and theology, however, Islam is vastly more collectivist. Muhammed DID create/unite a language to make a community out of warring tribes. Now Arabic is the 4th largest language in the world! His God seems much more like the God you are trying to portray – at least when looking at this story and the args you’re making. I’d love to talk more of this. The point being now – The ideas you are starting from are so fuzzy you can assume their opposites and come to the same place, if you want.

      4) Reactionary – He gave a reason for why He divided the nation based on their present actions. He is, in ANY CLEAR reading of the story doing X because ppl were doing Y. That is how it is presented. That is a reaction. However, if He was merely enacting a plan He had always had He would just have done it and given us His reasons (or not, you’re God does likes secrets). He would have needed no spark. This is the case in the Koran, btw, in 49:13. Check it out. It is basically exactly what you’ve been arguing. Or at least that is what Muslims classically get out of it. Maybe you should become a Muslim?

      5) Again, Peter, nowhere is your story found in or supported by the actual story of Babel. No where does God say He’ll bring them together later. No where does He give reasons like yours, but instead the opposite. No where does He hint this was always in the plan, but the opposite (consistent with Him ‘regretting’ his pre-flood decisions). No where does He say it was because they excluded Him in their plans. No where does it say that sin and human corruption was involved in Man or God’s rationale! If you are right – Why does the Bible so often leave out the crux of it’s main points and replace them with superficial, secondary and/or incorrect misleading points?

      6) I don’t know why you keep saying they were staying in the same place. The chapter starts off in Genesis 11:2 “And the people moved Eastward…” I hope that point wasn’t important for your argument. Also why are you acting like 100 years was a long time?? Read the genealogy after the Babel Story. After the flood ppl still lived half a millennia plus and had their first kid after between 30-70 years. A century was nothing back then. Only maybe 3-4 generations were born. They were still just a very large family, maybe hundreds of ppl, and all of the great-great grandpas and such were still there alive and well, lol. Hell Noah was probably on the building committee if Babel was only 100 years after the flood!

      7) Seriously, you believe in a Young earth and Flood geology? I over-estimated you, Peter. And do you believe this is a literal story of why there are so many languages? If so this is a different conversation than i thought, lol. I should have been pointing you to geology 101 textbooks. If you answered yes to either of these also check out my blog post and the resources there on Human Evolution.

      8) My over-all understanding now of your way of arguing, a little eureka moment, is that most (all?) of your practice talking about the Bible is with those that agree/assume its Truth. Therefore, the aim is internal consistency. “If this conflicts with that, then what must be the case for it to remain consistent?” However, if truth is up for grabs I don’t care what must be the case for it to be consistent because I believe it is not. It isn’t that I’m being unfair. I merely won’t assume whatever you want me to assume that you are willing to because you’re looking for consistency. In our argument, we should be sticking first, and only if possible, with the story itself. Then directly relevant textual sources outside of it to answer specific questions that arise. We must assume nothing, because anything you assume to come to some point, all I need to do to not come to that point is to not assume it.

  4. Gotta add one more thing about being made in God’s image:

    If made in God’s image (which includes looking for and thriving in community) then perhaps that is why humanity in community can feel complete without God. Which is why God stepped in to divide man. Because as Creator, He created us to only be fully satisfied in Him. So the greatest act of kindness He could do is separate man from each other, then someday unite them under Himself (Philippians 2:9-11 “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”).

    • That goes well with my interpretation that God does not want us together because ‘nothing will be impossible’ for us – see the cancer and virus cures such and so on.

      When I look at the world I see two things slowly forming: humanity coming together and us achieving the impossible.

      Also I’ll have to remember that in our Free Will discussions. I don’t give my gf much free will to choose me if i make it so that if she were to leave me she would be “never satisfied”.

      So let me get this straight – Your God makes it so we can only be satisfied in Him? but when we come together with no ill intent without Him He is good for splitting us up in divisive and deadly relationships? He is good for splitting us up because of a defect in us that He created?

      Do you see how you call His actions kind when all He is doing is creating a problem so that He can be the one to fill in a gap that He again created in the first place. All you’ve shown me is your God creates all of our problems.

  5. This was an interesting thread. =)

    I have a question: Paul are you suggesting that God is really afraid of humans working together or was that tongue-in-cheek?

  6. This was an interesting thread. =)

    I have one question: Paul were you suggesting that God is literally afraid of humanity working together, or was that tongue-in-cheek?

    • I’m not sure how to take your use of the ‘literally’.

      Personally, I don’t believe God is scared of anything! But only in the way I don’t believe Sherlock Holmes is either, namely because I don’t think they exist.

      Do I sincerely read the book as displaying ‘fear’ in one of its characters? Yes.

      Do I think the authors meant to display that character as such? That is a little more nuanced of a question but I would still argue yes. Only because I don’t think that they were compiling an accurate history of the world, but instead a collection of the disparate myths of their culture: see the water from the rock stories that I commented on with Peter or the two Creation myths back to back in Genesis.

      • Ah, that’s actually a relief. I didn’t realize you were of that persuasion (how naive of me).

        • I imagine it would be. Now you can just ignore me, right? :)

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