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The Attenborough eye-worm argument against God

Published: 27 March 2021 (GMT+10)
David Attenborough

Seymour G. asks:

I saw on tv David Attenborough being interviewed as to why he doesn’t believe in God. He talked about an African worm eating a child’s eye, the implication being if God exists, he is heartless. What would you say to that?

David Catchpoole (CMI-Australia) responds:

This is not the first time we have heard of this. It seems the ‘African eye-worm’ is Sir David’s go-to answer whenever he’s asked about God. Over a decade ago, CMI-Australia’s Russell Grigg wrote an excellent response to just such an interview in his article Sir David Attenborough: so much to live for; nothing to die for! The relevant extract follows:

God and the eye worm

Andrew Denton: There are plenty of people who would say to you, ‘All very well, David, but God did that.’

David Attenborough:When people want to give God the credit, they nearly always take the example of butterflies or humming-birds or orchids or something lovely. But I think of a little boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa with a worm that is boring through his eyeball and which would certainly turn him blind within a few years. Now this God whom you say created every single species must presumably have created that worm … . I don’t find that compatible with the notion of God being a merciful creator God.

If you are a creationist you actually believe that this worm along with tape worms and everything else actually was created at the same time as Adam, and that God said, ‘Okay, I’ll make Adam, and I’ll kick him out with every one of those little animal parasites. … ’ And if He didn’t do that, what has happened presumably is that these worms were related to other worms in the Garden of Eden … in which case they have changed so they couldn’t live anywhere else than where they do now.

Comment: This is a theological argument rather than a scientific one—it is about what God supposedly would or would not do rather than about the scientific evidence. It’s ironic that Attenborough claims that evolution is about science, yet his main anti-creationism argument is theological rather than scientific!

Attenborough ignores the Fall, as do most such critics. God did NOT design things this way, but they became this way after sin entered the world. See Death and Suffering Questions and Answers. He sets up a straw man about God creating every single species; rather God created separate kinds that diversified and even speciated. See Speciation Questions and Answers.

Some of the science involved is as follows: The ‘eye worm of Africa’ is called Loa loa and is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected horse fly or deer fly. The disease is called Loiasis. It can be treated. ‘Diethylcarbamazine (DEC) 5–10 mg/kg three times per day for 3–4 weeks generally kills larvae and eliminates adult worms.’3 The worm lives ‘in subcutaneous tissue [i.e. under the skin] including back, chest, axilla [armpit], groin, scalp, and eyes of the humans’4 so it is not restricted to the eye but may migrate there. It does not need to bore through a child’s eye. Blindness is not inevitable. According to Disease Database: ‘This disease is normally mild and painless.’5

Sir David is presumably talking about the parasite worm called Onchocerca volvulus, which causes a disease called Onchocerciasis or river blindness,6 although this is not designated as the ‘Eye Worm of Africa’ and also occurs in six South American countries. It is a leading cause of blindness worldwide. It is spread by the bite of various black flies. Here too the parasite migrates through the host’s body, eventually to the skin and the eyes. Treatment is by Invermectin.

The adult worms in fact remain restricted to subcutaneous nodules. It is the microfilarial form of the parasite that causes problems by way of an intense inflammatory response (which may even be from the bacteria that ‘come along for the ride’, as antigens related to these, released by the dying parasite, seem to cause most of the inflammation). This response can be intense itching in the skin, but where the organism infects the cornea, this part of the eye can become inflamed. If the infection becomes chronic, the cornea can become scarred with resultant blindness.

Sir David has elsewhere said, and implied again in the wording of this interview, that this worm ‘can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball’. Without minimizing the tragedy of river blindness, this is on several counts technically incorrect, as we have seen. For one thing, it is not designed to live in the eyeball and nowhere else, as he implies. And as we have already mentioned, degeneration following the Fall can explain many features of today’s parasites, which did not have the same life cycle pre-Fall. See The Creation Answers Book, chapter 6 (also available in pdf).

Incidentally this is the third time (that we know of) when Sir David has regurgitated this standard skeptic line—and the second time he has told it in an interview with Andrew Denton in response to this question about God. See Why doesn’t Sir David Attenborough give credit to God? It’s time for Christians to let Sir David know, by whatever means possible, that his ‘argument’ has been refuted.

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Readers’ comments

Henry V.
Perhaps there are situations such as this one involving David Attenborough and the other one involving the National Secular Society, that would benefit from a well-written article published as a full page "advertisement" in a suitable national newspaper, to really put it in the public's mind and stoke debate and thought on the topic.
Keep the "bible bashing" to a minimum and focus on facts and rational arguments so as not to put antitheists off before they finish reading the article. A big problem seems to be getting these people to even consider the argument, because many times I get replies like "thanks for the web links but I'm not interested in creationist arguments."

I don't know how much a full page ad in a national paper would cost, but surely to save souls it's worth it to put our arguments squarely in front of the public.
Tas Walker
Looks like you have a project!
George W.
David Attenborough's argument is completely illogical. The question of the existence of God has nothing to do with the question of the degree of His benevolence. God's existence has been scientifically proven beyond any doubt. "Is God a nice guy"? is a matter of personal opinion. The issue "Should I love God even if he is somewhat sadistic?" is a tough question, but it should be posed to your clergyman or your psychiatrist, not to a scientist.
Personally, I have decided to do my best to love him, even though I would not run the universe the way he does. I have been created in his image. Since I am both loving and sadistic at times, I understand that He could be the same way. If I spit in His face and go to hell, I will never have a chance to debate him on this topic.
Nicholas S.
At 9 years old, my friend and I decided to exercise our chemistry set skills in his cubby-house: Set a test tube on a stand and proceeded to fill it with all sorts of goodies. Dishwashing liquid, laundry powder, vinegar and whatever else etc. We questioned what we would come up with. Suddenly, a very audible PHOOFF! The test tube had disappeared and only a small, concave glass section, the bottom of the test tube, remained with a small amount of remnant liquid in it. I remember vinegar and some other indescribable taste in my mouth and splatter over my face, eyes, hands and arms. We ran to the laundry, washed ourselves with copious amounts of water. Thankful we could see. Back to the cubby house, we looked for other remains of the test tube. No shards of glass, nothing, all else had vaporised/vanished except for the small concave glass and remnant liquid, as if to say, "Don't do that again!" Likewise, Sir David Attenborough mixing all manner, sketchy and generalised out of context portions of: science/ biology/chemistry/physics/astronomy/minerals and whatever else he could find etc, mixed together to formulate(?) what? When it is questioned, refuted with reasonable logic, PHOOFF! the substance of his argument disappeared, vaporised, vanished. Let's pray that he washes off the remnant and sees, the "Don't do that again!" and turns to The Creator God who knows what in context, goes with what. While we were young, Proverbs 22:15, disciplined by that little explosion but then later, when we learnt more about God and True Salvation, Matthew 18:2-4. Pray for Sir David, though temporal worldly 'rich with reputation', he will find his way, away from relying on the temporary and instead to Salvation and Complete Joy and Peace Forever in Heaven for Eternity, Matthew 19:23-26.
Paul F.
Instead of arguing such things are not God's fault, we should freely testify that even the changes in his creation which cause, e.g. blindness are engineered by God. If a child becomes blind, God did it. Sir David's premise, that a loving God wouldn't do such a thing, is false, and a faulty message from the church must be partly blamed for this confusion.

We're not to defend God against accusations of evil. He's the author of evil events as much as he is the good ones. People need to be told to fear such a great and terrible God, repent, and believe the gospel. It's only when they trust in Christ they can know God as a God of love.
Tas Walker
There are many places that point to source of such bad things, such as the words of Jesus: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. " John 10:10
Lynette R.
Has Sir David Attenborough ever read and studied the Bible? He is very learned in his sphere of knowledge & dedicated his”life” to this area but I would truly be interested to know how deeply has he studied & understood the only book holding all the answers.
Simon D.
Interestingly I was just reading up on Ivermectin as a possible antiviral (possibly for corona too). It comes from a single soil sample from Japan that hasn’t been found again. From what I’ve read it sounds like they have tried to replicate this process to find another amazing molecule all over the world and haven’t been able to. Ivermectin is considered a wonder drug like penicillin and aspirin in how much it has helped the world. It came for one unreplaceable soil sample in Japan. God gives solutions and answers. If my people shall humble themselves and pray I will heal their land.
Jeff W.
This response to Attenborough's comments seems to miss the point entirely. Other prominent people have given similar responses to why they don't believe in God, such as child cancer or other diseases, the details of the eye worm are not what this is about. People hear that God is good and caring and loving but they see injustice and suffering and innocent victims of war and disease. This seems incompatible with a loving and just God. To say that they have missed the fall and the sin of Adam and Eve and its consequences does not really answer this question. This is God's creation and God knew it would be like this and he made the garden with the forbidden tree and he also made satan. To point out that God did not design it this way is not very convincing, is he not all powerful? I would like to see a more convincing response to people who are skeptical about the gospel due to finding the suffering that they see in the world to be incompatible with a loving God.
Tas Walker
I think the answer, which draws attention to the Fall, is a good answer. It explains why there are bad things in this world plus it leads naturally to what God has done to redeem this situation. There are deeper questions, of course, such as the ones you raised, and these have important implications for the nature of God, of people, and our relationship with Him. This article about why God created Satan deals with some of these questions, and has helpful 'Further Reading' links at the bottom.
John R.
Speaking of river blindness - the natural drug Ivermectin has been used to cure for the last several decades. It is a drug that is safer than aspirin, and coincidentally has also been found to be effective against Covid-19 (ivmstatus dot com/ and trialsitenews dot com).
Sue K.
It would be wiser to attribute a child with a medical problem to Satan, who fights his war with God on Earth. God’s perfect kingdom is Heaven, not Earth. God never said Earth would be pain free or perfect. It’s not. Everything on Earth dies, including David Attenborough. The question is do you want what you experience on Earth to be the sum total of your life? Or do you want to move to that pain-free, perfect place, Heaven?
Nick W.
Man could choose to eliminate this illness if he so desired so who is at fault? God for creating something that has adapted at the fall or man for choosing to allow this to continue?
Kenny J.
Let's not forget that the child is also NOT innocent in this but is a sinful human being, just like the rest of us. As sad as it is to hear of or see children in these and other terrible circumstances we must remember that sin is to blame for all of the evil in this world. It may not be the child's sin but sin caused the Fall which has degenerated this world and it's creatures. I hurt for children like that but I must give glory to God for His mercy and His justice.
Michael S.
It is time to let him know his argument has been refuted because as you explained it wasn't designed for the human eye. In fact a good argument for creation is that diseases do arise in time. Covid for example, wasn't around in Eden, nor CJD. The point being that the further you go back in time the less diseases there seems to be implying there was a diseaseless state in the past. It also implies there was a "right way" things functioned to begin with because so many things go wrong and they can't go wrong unless they were first, "right". It seems clear no matter what disease or defect you look into there is a clear reason why it occurs where it previously would likely not have occurred.

But unfortunately David Attenborough probably won't hear the creationist response. We are considered flat-earthers to a lot of people and we don't get our voice heard. There are so many basic, good answers I come across for creation but even evolutionists I have known online for a very long time don't seem to be aware of them as though they simply don't bother to inform themselves of any proper creationist answers. It's a flippancy they have which goes deeper than intellect, their will won't allow them to listen. It's a sad fact.
Christian R.
David Attenborough has provided us with an excellent example of the double-standard nature of anticreationists. They love to whine when creationists supposedly use a PRATT (Point Refuted A Thousand Times) as part of their argument. But apparently, they don’t seem to care so much when they are the ones arguing PRATTs of their own.
Tim C.
In typical fashion, the same atheist who claims that God does not exist is also angry at God for allowing evil in the world. Unwittingly, they illustrate the natural knowledge that God has put in their hearts by their rejection.
David B.
It is interesting that at the fall, God had to either give mercy or judgment. If He just let Adam have a pass then the integrity of the foundation of God's throne would be in jeopardy. If God wasn't true to His Word regarding the consequences of Adam's actions then He could not be trusted to be true about anything and everything crumbles from that point. Fortunately, He made a way for Adam through grace and not justice. Adam couldn't pay the price justice demanded for his sin. Only Jesus could through grace and payment on the cross
Dan M.
He is reported to be a very educated man but from what I've read about him, I can spot his extensive ignorance of theology and of scientific matters. He strikes me as just another ranting atheist short on truth and self-inspection.
I read somewhere recently, (can't remember where) that more than half the world's wealth is spent on the military. Read about our world history and you'll find it contains the chronicles of war, after brutal war, killing and persecution of mankind by the powerful. Survival of the fittest, right David. Well, that's your doctrine, so don't cry about it! Turn on your TV and it is filled with filth and violence. Crime is rampant in our streets throughout the world. So David. Did God do that? The short answer is no! He tells us to obey Him, love one another and help one another but mankind is too busy abusing and killing one another to listen. God and therefore the bible is right on about the fallen nature of mankind and his/her wickedness. We could spend all that money running to other countries to help lift up mankind, and some do, but they are few and usually not atheist's. No, we'd rather go to war and kill people. That should make David happy as he sees mankind as a parasitic infestation. WE ARE THE PROBLEM! Swallow your pride, read the gospels, and you'll begin to see that we are the problem, not God! He gave us a beautiful world and we have turned it into a type of hell. But if you look closely, David, you might see the underlying beauty that once was and intended. You're just like my mother David, blaming everyone else for your own misfortune and never doing some well-needed self-examination. I've grown weary of this world and all its hate. Maranatha! Sorry for the harsh response, but I'm tired of people disrespecting my father in heaven.
Alf F.
If David Attenborough is so clever, and he puts himself over to us as a better thinker than we, why is it he doesn't know his subject as well as we do, or is willfully ignoring commonly known facts contradicting his party line? Is it because he doesn't believe in God no matter what the facts may be, or is it because he doesn't WANT to believe in God because he would have to bite his lip, step on his pride and leave his sins?
Edward B.
Do people who have a privileged position in life backed up by BBC's money and other big corporations and make definitive public statements about the non existence of God have that right. What about that little boy who is going blind and still believes in a loving God because that little boy has encountered Jesus. Yes there is suffering in the world and God entered into that suffering with His Son on the cross. Whilst on earth Christ's main ministry was healing the sick , the Blind, and the lame. David Attenborough I pray that you will look deeper into your own soul and discover what is really going on in there. Jesus said these powerful words, "I Am The Way The TRUTH and The Life." Seek the TRUTH and The TRUTH will set you Free. Yes Jesus did open my eyes to the suffering in the world and gives me strength to share in that suffering and praise Him for His great love to me and all mankind. I hope this message will be passed onto you and bless you in that part of your work that is revealing the wonder of my God's Creation. Repentance is about changing our minds. Praise God. John.B
Andrew H.
Since this answer and related ones exist on your website and in many other accessible places the question becomes why have they not been accessed?.
It is a fundamental principle in any argument that you have to know what would falsify it?
If the Lord did not rise from the dead Christianity is not just false but is exactly as many Jews described and continue to describe it (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).The Bible becomes a false witness.
You often point out that questions people raise have been addressed already on your website. The most evident way that many of these answers are addressed is silence. To publicise these answers when you can only reply with invective or hand waving is a poor tactic. The use of theological arguments by unbelievers is encouraging however because when I did this as an unbeliever I was demonstrating the truth of Romans 1:18-23. I knew where I did not want the argument to go and instinctively deflected it down another route and rabbit-hole. We can become well practiced in this.
However the conscience is an ally and God can disturb the most hardened. Saul became Paul.
Philippus S.
Many people are trying to prove or disprove God with science, theological and philosophical means, while they sit in Gods lap and are maintained by Him as he promised them He will let the sun shine, the rain fall over believers and non believers. Sometime in the near future they and believers will meet our Creator, and it is only believers that contemplate that, imagine the shock when that trumpet sound is heard, and the non believers hate the thought of that. Rev 6:15  And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 
Rev 6:16  And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 
Rev 6:17  For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? 
We know unless David Attenborough repent and find the Creator in everything he spoke about, he will search for a mountain to fall on him and that is very sad, because if he thinks himself a great man in truth, every word he spoke will come back. The wonderful aspect of it all, is every time I see and hear David Attenborough I glorify God for His perfect Creation made imperfect by the fall, God also Created Satan as much as He created Man, and both turned against God first Satan, then man, and that is what David Attenborough does not want to admit to. Both Satan and man is responsible for their own demise in the eyes of a Perfect Ineffable Sovereign Loving God, that is terrible against those that denies Him.
Heb 10:31  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
The only God that guarantees Satan and Man their freedom of choice!
Terry D P.
Re: ”…the implication being if God exists, he is heartless.”
If the ”mindless evolution god (meg)” exists, and God does not, isn't the “meg” even more heartless.

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