A recent episode of The Daily podcast from The New York Times ominously warned, “The Mosquitoes Are Winning.” Mosquitoes, believe it or not, are mankind’s deadliest predators, carrying disease that result in over 219 million infections and over 400,000 deaths every year. Even that number is dramatically reduced from previous highs. Highly effective efforts to combat malaria through bed nets, vaccines, and insecticides have reduced global deaths by more than a third.
Today, however, the world’s deadliest insect is making a comeback. A new breed of mosquito, Anopheles stephensi known to researchers as “Steve,” has adapted to evade old methods of pest control. Not only does it reproduce year-round and in water as shallow as a bottlecap, but it also lives primarily in cities rather than more rural areas. Between 2019 and 2021, global malaria deaths rose by 8%, primarily because “Steve’s” range expanded from Asia into Africa.
Pensées is a collection of writings from Blaise Pascal that were found and compiled after his death. It contains Pascal’s astute observations about the human condition. For example,
What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe! Who will unravel this tangle?
Pascal was a brilliant mathematician who converted to Christ late in his life, a life that ended with his untimely death at just 39 years old. Many of his writings that can be found in Pensées are responses to the skeptics of his day. He especially wrote about the failure of these skeptics to grasp the human person. In one of his best-known passages, he wrote,
Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.
Had Pascal known, he may have referenced the mosquito instead of a vapor. After all, a child can swat a mosquito, but nothing has been more deadly in human terms than this little insect.
Despite his young faith, Pascal brilliantly articulated humanity’s value, as well as our complex relationship with the rest of the world. His words stand in contrast to both pagan thinkers, who thought of humanity as subject to the whims of capricious deities, and to the utopian idealists of his day, who believed that man would soon fully master nature.
Today as well, different views of the human person emerge from different worldviews. Philosophical naturalists see human beings as animals, shaped purely by instinct and desire. Eastern pantheists think of human beings as part of the divine Oneness that includes all things. You might say that, for the atheists, humans are animals. For the New Ager, humans are gods. The truth, according to Scripture, is that we are made in the image of God but tend to act like animals.
Even the smallest living things remind us of our fragility. Contrary to the promises of transhumanism, we will always be forced to reckon with human frailty, both in our mortality and our morality. Yet, our situation is not as hopeless. We alone, among all of God’s creation, have the capacity to shape the world around us.
The mosquito story is case in point. Malaria vaccines exist but need better methods of transportation and delivery. Better infrastructure can reduce the amount of stale, standing water, but building it requires capital supported by a robust private sector. Research and strategies that could improve things are often bogged down by government regulations.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Mistaken for our mother, [nature] is terrifying and even abominable. But if she is only our sister—if she and we have a common Creator—if she is our sparring partner—then the situation is quite tolerable.” Even more, Christians know that the end of the story is God restoring all things, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Thus, as “thinking reeds,” fragile and powerful, we have every reason to do our best to advance good, reduce evil, and restore God’s world in whatever ways we can.
This Breakpoint was co-authored by Kasey Leander. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org.
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