Whipworms and Crohn’s Disease

I came in from playing with the snow this evening and loaded the ICR‘s DpSU page to find their latest masterpiece. In it Brian Thomas asks the world Why Would Parasitic Worms Help Bowel Disease? Help with bowel disease, I should point out.A Whipworm egg from ye olde wikimedia image emporium

It seems that whipworms – of a kind that normally infects pigs rather than humans, presumably so they don’t stick around long* – can be used to help treat the inflammatory disease called Crohn’s Disease.

Pig parasites used to treat human disease. How can parasites possibly help?

An interesting question. Apparently, according to Mr Thomas:

Crohn’s disease patients suffer from an irritable bowel because of inflammation of the intestinal lining. A communication error in the immune system is thought to cause specialized white blood cells, called T cells, to mistakenly attack intestinal cells, thinking they are harmful invaders.

He says that the whipworms can help regulate said T cells. What’s his point?

But if intestinal worms evolved, why and how would they have achieved an ability to regulate T-cell activity in host tissues? If evolution were true, then worms should try and survive by eating more and reproducing faster. This would leave no time, energy, or ingenuity to develop the intricate and specific biochemistry required for precise interspecies tissue communication. In other words, it looks as though these worms were made for a purpose—intestinal tissue regulation.

I think Mr Thomas has missed the point entirely about how evolution would’ve done this (as is not unusual).

For starters, to take the general view, evolution does not ration out “time, energy, [and] ingenuity” for the things that it is doing. Indeed, the mutations that cause the changes which natural selection acts on happen everywhere on the genome, rather than in specific places. This means that evolution can and does happen in multiple places simultaneously.

To go a tad further, it should be said that everything that helps the survival of an organism helps, by definition. The idea of this whole thing is that, with everything else the same, people who have had exposure to these parasites do better than those who don’t (for starters they don’t get Chron’s disease, a major plus). Now, with parasitism as a general rule what is best for the host is best for the parasite. In short, then, a parasite that can prevent the host getting Chron’s disease (if it helps, consider that diarrhoea from the inflammation could potentially flush out the parasite) will do better than one that wont. Guess which evolution will favour. This is not hard Mr Thomas.

He concludes:

Communication breakdowns within and between different organisms’ tissues can result in disease, and this is a manifestation of the curse under which all creation was placed as a direct result of human sin. However, the fact that vestiges of such a complicated communication apparatus still exist testifies to an original creation of high order.4

The benefits that worms apparently provide could only exist because of well-designed, purposefully created systems. Though marred, such design suggests that parasitic worms were originally created as part of a very good creation.

I’ll ignore the theology and talk a moment about cite #4, an old DpSU called Intestinal Bacteria: A Delicate Balance.

We can see from it that this misunderstanding about the intestines is not new. Mr Thomas expresses wonder that the bacteria could exist in a balanced state without a creator. This is silly – things naturally balance. Consider a simple predator-prey relationship. Increase the number of prey and you increase the number of predators until the population stabilises. There is a negative feedback cycle, which makes it hard for the situation to leave, an if it does it is pulled back to the equilibrium point. There are innumerable cases in nature where ‘balance’ just happens, in the same way that rivers naturally flow downwards. Indeed, intervention – whether intelligent or not – is required to upset such balances, not create them. Consider also what happens to a bacterium that kills it’s host because it stepped out of line and broke the balance. It happens, certainly, but it is good for neither bacterium nor host – plenty of fodder here for natural selection to work on and refine.

In short, yet another post where Mr Thomas reveals that he doesn’t quite grasp the situation.


*So that Big Pharma can keep the poor sufferers relying on their medicines forever, of course.

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One thought on “Whipworms and Crohn’s Disease

  1. A theory so simple and yet understanding it eludes so many. Because they can’t or because they don’t want to, I have to wonder.

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

    And studying the Bible is infinitely easier than learning, you know, actual science…

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