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Did the coronavirus pandemic originate in a Chinese lab?
In February 2020, when COVID-19 had infected only fifteen Americans, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark) discussed the origins of the virus on Fox News. Regarding the research lab in Wuhan, China, at the center of the controversy, he said: “We don’t have evidence that this disease originated there, but because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says.”
The Washington Post immediately criticized the senator for “fanning the embers of a conspiracy theory that has been repeatedly debunked by experts.” The New York Times similarly called this idea a “fringe theory.”
That was then; this is now.
The status of the question
The Wall Street Journal reported on May 23 that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology became so sick in November 2019 that they sought hospital care. A State Department fact sheet issued during the final days of the Trump administration said their symptoms were “consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illness.” This information is fueling the question of whether the virus originated in the Wuhan lab.
On May 2, science researcher Nicholas Wade published a long article exploring this question. He concluded: “Neither the natural emergence nor the lab escape hypothesis can yet be ruled out. There is still no direct evidence for either. So no definitive conclusion can be reached.”
However, he added: “That said, the available evidence leans more strongly in one direction than the other. Readers will form their own opinion. But it seems to me that proponents of lab escape can explain all the available facts of SARS2 considerably more easily than can those who favor natural emergence.”
In response, former New York Times science reporter Donald McNeil admitted that while he had previously dismissed the lab escape theory, the argument that the virus could have leaked out of a lab in Wuhan “has become considerably stronger than it was a year ago, when the screaming was so loud that it drowned out serious discussion.” (For more, see this article in the May 25 edition of The Morning Dispatch).
Four origin theories
To summarize: there seem to be four possibilities regarding the origin of the pandemic that as of today has killed more than 3.4 million people, more than 590,000 of them Americans.
- The virus originated in a food market in Wuhan or from some other natural source and migrated to humans. (This is known as zoonotic disease transmission.)
- The virus was engineered by China as a bioweapon and then released into the world.
- The virus was being studied by Chinese researchers who were inadvertently infected and spread it to others.
- The virus was being modified by Chinese researchers. This is called “gain of function.” These researchers were then accidentally infected and infected others.
Some believe that some American authorities have believed, or at least suspected, one of the last three theories but have been unwilling to confront the Chinese leaders.
Since I am not a virologist or medical professional, my purpose today is not to take a scientific position regarding these options. Rather, it is to explore the cultural story behind the story.
The latter three theories presume that Chinese and/or American leaders would mislead the public on a massive scale, presumably for the sake of their personal or political status. This possibility is not even being debated since it seems so self-obvious.
Tragically, this presumption reflects reality, and not just about the leaders in question.
How to predict behavior
Theologian Paul Tillich notes that humans are “estranged” from what we essentially are and ought to be. We compensate by seeking to become what we wish to be, even if we must choose sinful means to this end.
I learned years ago that if I could determine what was in a person’s individual self-interest, I could often predict their behavior. I do not claim to be different—even in writing this article, I am tempted to impress you more with myself than with my Lord and his word. Such self-interest is at the core of our fallen humanity as we seek to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5).
This fact exposes the dominant cultural narrative of our day as a deception. As I have noted in recent days, our post-Christian society emphatically insists that personal “authenticity” is the key to flourishing, that we must reject any and all institutions or truth claims that oppose our right to self-determination. Such rejection encompasses biblical morality and its constraints on so-called sexual freedom, but it also includes everything from birth and abortion to death and euthanasia.
However, if we are driven by self-interest at the expense of other selves, even to the degree that governmental leaders would plausibly create or cover up the worst pandemic in a century, can we be trusted with personal autonomy and allowed to seek personal authenticity that rejects God’s word and will? Is such self-interest in the interest of others and the common good?
In his magisterial work, Christian Theology, Millard J. Erickson offers the only remedy for our plight: “The cure for sin will come through a supernaturally produced alteration of one’s human nature and also through divine help in countering the power of temptation.”
Our clear choice
Understanding the origins of the coronavirus pandemic is vital for predicting and stopping the next viral pandemic. Understanding the origins of the sin pandemic is even more vital for defeating our tempter and pursuing holiness.
Jesus made our choice clear: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). As a result, it is in our self-interest to choose Christ’s interests, to submit to his word in the power of his Spirit. And it is in the interest of everyone we influence for us to live so fully like Christ that our lives draw others to Christ.
Charles Spurgeon noted: “In proportion as a church is holy, in that proportion will its testimony for Christ be powerful.”
How powerful will your testimony for Christ be today?
NOTE: For my response to the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s tragic death, please see my website article on this event and its abiding significance. For more on winning the battle between truth and deception, please see my website article, “Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar says Israel has no right to exist: Why this is a spiritual battle we must fight on our knees.”