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Creationist article ‘saved my favourite cow’

Image Wikimedia.org Cattle

A Dr T.W. (his doctorate is not to do with medical or veterinary sciences) wrote saying :

I was travelling in New Zealand and met a man (he was a farmer)who said that an article by CMI’s Carl Wieland about ‘superbugs’ [Supergerms not super after all—Ed] saved his favourite cow.

This cow apparently had mastitis and the vet had tried a whole range of antibiotics and nothing worked. [Mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary gland or udder, the part designed to suckle its calf. The bacteria normally enter through the teat opening—Ed]

They tested to find a suitable antibiotic but could find nothing, he said. So the vet suggested they put the cow down.

The farmer had just read Carl’s article which explained how superbugs (those which are resistant to many antibiotics) said that the superbugs were less able to compete with normal bacteria and he wondered where he could get normal bacteria.

He got some dirty water from the ground with cow manure in it and he injected some of the liquid (filtered, I assume) into the cow’s udder. The vet was furious. But the mastitis cleared up and the cow survived. A few days later the cow got mastitis again but this time the normal antibiotics fixed it.

The cow is still alive and well after several years. He told me that he was always intending to tell Carl about it if he had the chance. I thought you would like to know.

The author of the article, Carl Wieland (who used to practice as a medical doctor) replies, along with a very important caution towards the end:

Dear Dr T.W.

Thank you for letting me know of that. It’s encouraging, of course, and given the way many evolutionists claim that their belief system, not creationism, gives rise to practical results, I can see how one might want to use it as an example of creationist principles at work in a practical setting.

Is evolution really necessary for biology?

The challenges one hears from many evolutionists about such matters are in any case mostly wrongheaded. See for example this feedback I wrote in 2002, or this section in the response to recent National Academy of Sciences evolutionary agitprop. Most medical and scientific advances, even in biology, have had little to do with evolution (see this feedback).

We have also noted that evolutionary theory has held back science, e.g.:

What happened with the cow’s superbugs?

In this case of the cow, if one were to assume that the farmer’s ‘treatment’ actually caused the cure (and I’ll return to that question shortly), one could rightly say that it would not have been thought of without first demolishing the standard belief that superbugs really are ‘super’ (stronger, better), a belief which best fits the evolutionary notion.

But the real facts about superbugs can still be held to by evolutionist ‘true believers’, i.e. fitted into their framework. Indeed, evolutionists did promote a similar therapy to cure antiviral resistant HIV, which evolutionists crowed about, but of course it was also consistent with the creation model, as my colleague Dr Sarfati wrote:

HIV resistance to drugs

This episode claims that Darwin didn’t really see evolution in action, but now we do. Supposedly the HIV, the cause of AIDS, evolves resistance to drugs faster than we can make them. Because the virus can produce billions of copies per day, it can ‘evolve’ in minutes to hours. One researcher said that this rapid change would be a ‘surprise’ if we didn’t have the concept of evolution. There were also attempts to tug heartstrings, by portraying AIDS patients as ‘victims of evolution’.

First, we see the equivocation—HIV producing HIV is supposed to show that particles could turn into people; but they’re still HIV—they haven’t changed into something else. Second, in Episode 4, it’s made clear that the related phenomenon of antibiotic resistance in bacteria took the medical community by surprise—this means that it wasn’t a prediction of evolution, except after the fact. Third, they fail to demonstrate that new information is involved, and the next segment shows that the opposite is true:

Veronica Miller of Goethe University in Germany experimented by ceasing all antiviral drug treatments to a patient. Then the few surviving original (‘wild’) types easily out-competed the vast numbers of resistant forms. She said this was a risk, because the wild types were also more dangerous, more efficient. The superior efficiency and reproductive success of the wild type implies that the others have acquired resistance due to a loss of information somewhere. This should not be surprising, because the same is true of many examples of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. E.g. the bacterium has an enzyme that usually has a useful purpose, but it also turns an antibiotic into a poison. So a mutation disabling this enzyme would render the antibiotic harmless. But this bacterium is still disabled, because the useful process the enzyme usually enables is now hindered, so it would be unable to compete in the wild with non-resistant ones. The information loss in both HIV and the bacterium is the opposite of what evolution requires. CMI has already explained antibiotic resistance in Superbugs: Not super after all, and answers the question Has AIDS evolved?

This shows that such experiments neither prove creation nor disprove evolution as such. The major error in much evolutionary propaganda is equating natural selection with evolution. In reality, natural selection was discovered by creationists before Darwin, is an important part of the biblical creation model, and is a culling rather than a creative force.

An interesting question, though, is whether the farmer’s initiative (certainly worth a try for him, seeing as he was told the cow was otherwise doomed) was actually what led to the cure. In the clinical sciences, isolated reports of cures (as opposed to larger-scale controlled trials) are of very limited value, especially when they are anecdotal. I’m sure that all of us have heard of sensational cures, where someone you know took wonder pill X or magic herb Y and, lo and behold, whatever it was all went away. There is a well known fallacy in formal logic called the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy (Latin for ‘after this, therefore because of this’). Sometimes shortened to be called simply the ‘post hoc’ fallacy, it’s easy to understand. Someone may have been eating a carrot two minutes before having a heart attack, but it doesn’t follow that therefore eating carrots causes heart attacks. See more in the article Logic and Creation.

Would the recovery have happened anyway?

The short answer is that there is no way of knowing. Cows as well as humans have amazingly designed mechanisms for repair and recovery. Spontaneous cures do occur, even in situations where one’s normal clinical judgment, based on what ‘usually happens’ and ‘should happen’, says otherwise. In my own former medical life, for instance, had I accepted the same cause and effect reasoning, I would have had to share the beliefs of the patients in question that:

  • Epsom salts cured severe arthritis in someone whose joints were so deformed and inflamed they could not even walk.
  • A pencillin injection cured a viral illness (penicillin targets bacteria, not viruses).
  • Rubbing a mixture of kerosene and violets picked at midnight onto the chest reversed advanced secondary lung cancer.
  • And several more.

One should also not overlook the possibility that the simple act of injecting the udder might have contributed to the cow’s natural defences being able to overcome this, perhaps by relieving pressure or allowing builtup infection to drain in some way.

Warning–don’t try this at home!

Photo by Kelly Stroud photo of kids playing in the mud

Most importantly of all, I would give a major caution, before anyone decides to ignore antibiotics and inject themselves with dirty water! When my article on superbugs referred to rolling in the dirt as a way of more rapidly overcoming the ‘superbugs’ on my skin, this was not in the context of treatment for an established infection. As the article indicated, these bugs were passively colonizing my skin, so the ‘roll in the dirt’ advice I received from a specialist was to ensure that the population on the skin shifted progressively in favour of the more ‘home-brand-normal-variety’ germs. But that is not the same as having a raging infection, and then injecting one type of germ to somehow ‘fight’ another. To inject such ‘homeboy germs’ in any situation would be inviting potential disaster. As I said before in this feedback to someone,

‘a raging infection with a superbug is regarded as more ‘serious’ than one of the same species that is not multiply resistant only because of the fact that the usual antibiotics don’t work. The ‘ordinary’ Staph. aureus that are not multiply resistant are very capable of causing very serious infection, it’s only that antibiotics are effective against such infections. In fact, as pointed out, the nonresistant ones are if anything more capable of causing such infection; they are more virulent, if anything, i.e. ‘stronger’ than the so-called ‘supergerms’.

And of course, there are many different types of bacteria. To inject oneself with something derived from ‘garden dirt’ is particularly serious, because this often contains the spores of the germs that cause tetanus and gas gangrene. These types of bugs love to multiply in an environment with little oxygen. That is why a seemingly insignificant puncture wound by a contaminated nail or thorn is far more likely to have a fatal outcome with one of these diseases than if the injury were a slash with a razor, for instance, with profuse bleeding; the oxygen in the blood saturating the area would be unfavourable to these particular bugs. Whereas a puncture wound with no bleeding means that the very small blood vessels feeding an area of tissue will have been crushed, rather than cut. Even a tiny amount of ‘dead’ tissue with no blood supply carrying oxygen to the area will be a fertile breeding ground for these sorts of deadly germs, especially if the individual is unvaccinated.

In short, while it is possible that the treatment attempted on this cow was the cause of its recovery, it is by no means certain. (The fact that the recurrent infection a few days later seems to have been by antibiotic-sensitive bacteria, seemingly a different type to the original infection gives a little bit of support to the hypothesis, but does not prove it.)

As much as one would love to use this interesting incident to answer the common objection that evolution, not creation, leads to scientific advances, I would resist it. Especially since it is quite unnecessary. As Dr Marc Kirschner, founding chair of the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, said:

‘In fact, over the last 100 years, almost all of biology has proceeded independent of evolution, except evolutionary biology itself. Molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, have not taken evolution into account at all.’2

What difference does origins make?

It’s not hard to see that practical results in operational science or medicine are generally going to be independent of the philosophical origins framework within which one interprets ‘the facts’ (see Naturalism, Origins and Operational Science). But that means we need to be careful in making similar claims for ‘creationist results’, also.

We have shown a number of places where a biblical worldview has helped in operational science. But the main difference between the worldviews is not in science but in meta-science: i.e the justification for science itself. We have pointed out that science requires certain presuppositions to work, and these presuppositions are logical deductions from Scripture but don’t follow from an evolutionary worldview. It is thus no wonder that science flourished in the Judeo-Christian culture of Western Europe whereas it had been stillborn in Greece and China—as experts on history have realized whether they were Christian or not (e.g. Rodney Stark, Stanley Jaki, Loren Eiseley, Stephen Snobelen and James Hannam).

Yours in Christ,

Carl W.

Published: 1 November 2008


  1. Wieland, C., Junk moves up in the world. J. Creation 8(1):125, 1994. Return to text.
  2. Quoted in Dizikes, P., Missing Links, The Boston Globe, 23 October 2005; boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2005/10/23/missing_links. Return to text.