Saturday, November 05, 2005

What's up with creationists and HIV?

First Billy Dembski, king of all Intelligent Design Creationists, weighs in on France, approvingly quoting some remarks reminiscent of a racist creationist screed. RSR dug a little deeper than I did on that.

Now he highlights the "myths exploded" by The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, including evolution, global warming, genome sequencing, stem cells, and

The AIDS epidemic in Africa: how it has been trumped-up (requiring the imputation of Hollywood lifestyles to rural Africans) to support the media’s myth of heterosexual AIDS and exponential increases in funding for AIDS research.
Yep, the AIDS epidemic in Africa is a myth. His commenters are divided over this, some supporting the idea that AIDS is a "gay disease," others less certain that that's good PR.

AIDS orphans in South Africa
Dembski isn't alone. Godfather of the modern IDC movement Phillip Johnson is an HIV denier. Dean Esmay, who never passes up a chance to take a shot at evolution, also denies HIV causes AIDS.

Why should creationists also deny the link between HIV and AIDS? I have a hypothesis, but I don't quite know how to test it. You see, before AIDS was linked with HIV and became what we in the world of science call a "retroviral" disease, it was considered a "gay" disease. People talked about it being a plague sent to smite the gays for their "Hollywood lifestyles" and butt sex.

How could such a disease come to be, you might ask? If it just evolved, that's not really a "gay disease," it's just a disease. But what if the "intelligent designer" designed the disease? We've restored teleology to disease, and can go back to stigmatizing AIDS victims and feel superior about the way they're being punished.

Which is pretty sick.

Now I don't mind arguing about creationism. I think creationism is wrong, and if it went away, I'd be happy as a clam, but I'm happy to go 'round and 'round that tree. But I have a problem with academic debates like this when lives are at stake. Set aside the fact that I know people who died of AIDS. Set aside that AIDS is a preventable disease because we understand how HIV is transmitted, and simple precautions can prevent its spread. Set aside the fact that despite all our knowledge, 13-24 year olds are showing no change in infection rates, while other age groups are decelerating, changing their behaviors to limit risk.

AIDS orphans per nationIt bothers me most because of AIDS orphans in Africa, as well as their parents and their nations. Africa has had about 14 million people die of AIDS. When those people have children, the children are often stigmatized, and even if they aren't, their community is often so heavily ravaged by AIDS and other disease that no one can care for them. So there are orphanages all around Africa to care for these children. Hospitals are full of people wasting away from AIDS, siphoning resources away from the developing public health system, draining the nascent social safety network in these countries.

The toll on the parents reduces the workforce, leaving less revenue to care for the sick, and the eventual AIDS deaths of the orphans who are infected salts the earth.

Thanks to research on the virus and an understanding of how it has evolved, scientists have devised wonderful anti-retroviral drugs. While there's no cure yet and no vaccine, scientists are getting closer to those. There is a way to protect newborns. If the mother is treated through the end of pregnancy, and the infant is treated as well, there's a good chance that the mother will not pass the infection to her child. She's still doomed, but her child has a chance.

To make that work, mothers need education and opportunity. As long as people are needlessly muddying the waters to make a point about "Hollywood lifestyles," it's harder to get these countries to make the social changes necessary.

Uganda has the highest number of AIDS orphans on the map. But the number of infections is dropping because of simple reforms. Uganda teaches people, especially people at high risk, to be Abstinent, Be faithful, and use Condoms. By teaching that and making condoms available, Uganda has slashed its rate of new infections, saving lives.

Creationists have nothing to offer those children who already lost their parents to AIDS. Nor do they have anything to offer to prevent any more victims from dying the horrible death that is AIDS. And until they do, they should stick to things that matter less.

"Drug Me" by Dead Kennedys from the album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980, 1:54).

"I Kill Children" by Dead Kennedys from the album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980, 2:01).