When humanity confronts a threat to life as we know it, which includes widespread human suffering and death, conventional perspectives on the nature of reality, including divine reality, are thrown into a tailspin. This is the old theodicy question that troubles many faithful religious devotees, including Christians.
Confronting the coronavirus, the question across the globe becomes especially acute. Each of the world’s religions has their own answers to the question “Why?” but answers seem never to be satisfactory. There are even multiple answers to the question within the Bible and its commentary. In their efforts to make sense of an extreme circumstance such as the pandemic, many people find the concept of evil useful as a way to describe a force that causes suffering with no apparent goal. But can you really call a virus that is not even really alive evil? And how can we turn our meditations from speculation about causes and goals to a call to action?
On July 16, 2020, Sinai and Synapses Fellowship alumnus Arvin Gouw presented at the Institution on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) as part of “Science, Religion and Society,” its monthly webinar series. Arvin’s talk has been excerpted and transcribed here, but the full webinar, including a response from Ted Peters and a Q&A, is available here.Read Transcript
So “Theodicy Models in Facing COVID-19.” I like this comic, because I think it summarizes a lot of what is going on currently during this pandemic time. I thought of this topic because I read Tom Wright’s article, as many of you may have. He wrote this article in Time Magazine that “Christianity offers no answers about the coronavirus, and it is not supposed to.” I was rather surprised; I kind of understood what he meant, but I was surprised because if, you know, you look at his book “Evil and the Justice of God,” he does have, you know, several answers for the problem of evil.
So in short, I agree, not because there are no answers, but because they are too many answers. Some of these answers I’ve written at Patheos and also at Sinai and Synapses for the intersection with science. How do we explore these possible answers, then? And that’s going to be the task for today’s talk. And here’s the outline: Part 1, I will be talking about the general vs. special problem of evil, and then going into Biblical responses to suffering. In part 2, I will talk about COVID-19 scientifically, and the problem of evolutionary evil. And then part 3, trying to reconstruct everything that we’ve talked about and are talking about in the current advances in COVID-19 research. As a disclaimer, the opinions expressed in this presentation are my own, and not of the organizations that I’m affiliated with.
All right, the general problem of evil. The problem of suffering is a problem for all belief systems, right? Why we suffer, and why there is evil in this world, is something that most belief systems have to address. And that’s why this is called the “general problem of evil.” And let’s look to China for the non-Biblical explanations of the cause of evil and suffering. One of the oldest philosophical ideas in Chinese philosophy is from Taoism, that suffering is in the mind. Here in Tao-Te Ching, it says “Even in paradise the fool will turn the emotions clouding his mind into the reality of suffering.” So it’s in our minds. “The Taoist sage has a mind empty as the blue sky. She avoids the avoidable, and faces the inescapable with equanimity.”
Does it mean that suffering is not real? This is, I think, the critique in Chinese philosophical history as well. So Confucius came into the scene and he says, “Well, suffering is real. Where does it come from? It comes from wrongdoings, it comes because people do not obey their proper duties, their proper roles, in the country and society, and in their family.” That’s the Confucian framework of society and and governance.
Well okay, but what about sufferings that are not consequences of wrongdoings? And basically in the Middle Ages, in Chinese philosophy, you have the Chu-Si, who kind of summarizes, or tries to integrate, both the Taoistic strands in Chinese philosophy with the Confucian strands, with other strands within Chinese philosophy, and some of Buddhism as well perhaps. And here he argues that yes, suffering comes from disobedience, but disobedience kind of comes from emotion. So here you have both aspects.
Now, will this hybrid explanation suffice to address the problem of evil? So Chinese philosophy here, if we look at the summary – you know, a very very crude one in four slides – that evil is an illusion of the mind, that suffering can also come from duty. You combine those in the Middle Ages, not unlike Thomas Aquinas integrating everything in the Middle Ages and Western Europe. Chinese philosophy here seems to largely explain only moral evil, but not natural evil. And perhaps the absence of the divine limits their response to this.
Now, from the general atheistic philosophy, can we go into early religions? Where do we go to? Let’s go to the ancient Near East, early civilizations. And we go there, we find one proposal, for example, that evil comes from an evil god, [in] Zoroastrianism. That there is a good god called Ahura Mazda, there’s a bad god called Ahriman, and the two have been in battle since the creation of the universe. This is one of the first explanations as to the source of evil. And Zoroastrianism influenced Roman beliefs, looking at Mithraism in the first century, in the earliest centuries, and influenced it even further through St. Augustine Manichaeism. So this is a very, very dominant idea.
In general, though, even back then, there is this feeling that “Well, why is evil so powerful that there has to be a constant battle all throughout the ages?”. Kind of the same thing St. Augustine was asking. Has polytheism solved the problem of evil, including natural evil? And what if one of the solutions is – what if we make one of the gods slightly higher? You know, why don’t we make the good god slightly higher, then the evil comes from the lesser gods? This is Henotheism. We find this actually in early Israel, and even in the Bible. It kind of creeps in in Psalm 82. James Crenshaw here argues that Psalm 82 endorses this view of a pantheon of gods, that suffering comes from the inability of the gods, the lesser gods, to assure justice on earth. The indictment of these derelict deities by a single heavenly being, Elohim, the Israelites’ god, marks the first truly revolutionary moment in Biblical thought, the death of the gods and ensuing monotheism.
Now, did Henotheism improve or make things worse? I think it might have made things worse in terms of addressing the problem of evil. That’s why, when it comes to monotheism, we have a special problem of evil – now you’re down to one god, one agent, this god is omnipotent also benevolent, and yet evil exists, right.
Maybe go back to the general problem of evil. For example, Confucianism does not believe in God explicitly, so automatically premises 1 and 2 disappear, and the problem is solved. In Taoism, even if they have some kind of divine ideas, they deny premise #3, that evil exists. It’s a solution in the mind– sometimes it’s called a religion of solution. In polytheism and henotheism, you basically deny premise #1, that God is omnipotent. Why? Because you have multiple gods. They’re all equal in power, or one higher than the others, right. [It’s] only in the monotheistic religions, where you obliterate the other gods and you only have one god, that we accept all three premises – in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. And this is where the special problem of evil arises.
Now, I’m funneling here from general philosophy to polytheism, henotheism, monotheism, and now to Christianity. Now, let’s look at the Biblical responses to the special problem of evil within Christianity. One of the first solutions, one of the first answers, is that evil is a punishment for breaking the Covenant. This can be found in the Torah and the book of Genesis, Genesis 15, where we saw this Abrahamic covenant as a legal contract. And in a legal contract, in the Hittite contract form, there is a section of blessings and curses – meaning what happens if you fulfill the contract, and what happens if you break the contract. And this became the source of the idea that suffering comes as a result of punishment for breaking the contract. This also helped explain this idea of corporate retribution, where a whole group can be punished for the error of a member of the group in the contract – the theory of federation, for example. Is it fair to punish the whole for the fault of the few?
To give a different answer, evil comes from disobeying wisdom. We see this in wisdom literatures. In Proverbs, we see “Do not be afraid of sudden panic, or of the storm that strikes the wicked; for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.” Meaning, if you’re not wicked, if you follow the rules, if you follow the laws, you’re wise, then you will not be struck by the storm, right.
And I think the Book of Job is an example of anti-wisdom – it questions this. “But why do good people still suffer?” Does the Bible have another proposition? Yes. Good people still suffer because it is part of God’s plan. It’s above that. And you see these ideas, for example, in the prophetic literature, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, all began to de-emphasize the retribution idea, whether it’s retribution from breaking the Covenant or from breaking the law, as the source of evil here. Jeremiah 29:11 is one of my favorites, though it’s an interesting application of this first to defend the divine plan. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Now the question then arises: if it was God’s plan to give us hope and a future, why does it have to include suffering? Well, the suffering is a necessary part of a test. And we find this in Peter’s letters: “Beloved, do not be surprised if the fiery ordeal among you which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” So here we can see the cross of Christ becomes the cruciform pattern for all Christians. This cruciformity can be understood as the need for Christians to undergo trials and tests, just as Jesus did.
Well, if God is the testmaker, and this test includes suffering and evil, does that not mean that He is also the author of evil? The Gospels and the Revelation, by this time, the devil has evolved from God’s right-hand man, from the early Old Testament writings, to more of God’s opponent or adversary in the New Testament.
And here, my favorite, is Luke 22: “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.” So now it’s the devil’s fault.
Well, does that mean that all suffering comes from the devil? Is it always the devil’s fault? Paul says, “Well, not quite, suffering comes also from original sin.” In the Romans, he says “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” The sin takes place at multiple levels for Paul – personal level, social, economic, political, and cosmic. The social, economic and political implications of sin come from the more postliberal readings of Paul, more new perspectives on Paul, right, and the cosmic implications of sin come from the more apocalyptic reading of Paul, but also from Romans 8. You have a cosmic implication of the original sin.
So then we have here original sin, because we broke the Covenant. Did we just come full-circle to breaking the Covenant? Have we come into a circular argument here with the problem of evil? I think this is the problem that we have. We have too many, perhaps, Biblical answers. Evil comes from breaking the covenant of evil, comes from this disobeying wisdom – part of God’s plan, part of a test from the devil, from original sin. Are there only six answers? Do we have to memorize everything? Well, you know, there’s this very important work edited by Antti Latto and Johannes de Moor, covering, basically, collecting expert Biblical scholars, going through each book in the Bible, and seeing what theodicy answers, or what answers to suffering each book provides. Even in the apocryphal books, that’s about 900 pages. It’s encyclopedic in its nature. Do we have to memorize all that – is there an organizing principle behind them? And this is one of my first tasks when I saw this. Is there an organizing principle behind them? And my proposed paradigm is – let’s simplify things. Maybe there are two general clusters here. There are responses that tend to be etiological, meaning trying to find the source – it’s usually in the past. That source of suffering is the devil, or the abuse of our freedom, the necessity of our free will, or original sin, our fall.
But there are also responses that tend to be teleological, which means looking at the purpose of suffering. This includes the divine plan, the test view, the moral contracts view, which basically means we have to know the bad in order to know the good. We have to go through suffering in order to cultivate our virtues, right. So this is kind of looking at the purpose of suffering. And these are the two paradigms that I see across all the various models.
What is the rationale behind this proposed paradigm? And the rationale is pretty Aristotelian, in my opinion. When we ask about why something happens, we look at causation. And we look at primary, efficient, and formal causes. But we also look at final causes, in terms of what it is for.
So what do churches do? I think churches integrate the two models, right. So for example, you have the Catechism of the Catholic Church, [which] in addressing natural evil, integrates even Satan’s agency and natural evil, right, although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God. And although his action may cause grave injuries of a spiritual nature, and indirectly, even of a physical nature, to each man and to society, right, it’s integrated here. They are all permitted by Divine Providence.
So here you have a teleological language. You have a nice combination of etiological and teleological models you’re embedded in. Given my reformed background, of course I have to summon the Westminster Confession. Here you also see similar language – sins of angels and men, etiological notions, but also language of Providence, and of control, of ordering and governance by God. So again, you have a mix of these two.
Now, it seems that the classical models, the six Biblical answers, can be extended to the respond to natural evil. I’m trying to get to the natural evil because I’m trying to target COVID here, right. Basically, the devil could cause disasters, our free will could cause some anthropogenic evil. There’s this notion developed by Celia Deane Drummond, for example, that our actions cause global warming. So natural disasters maybe are not so natural after all. Original sin can cause cosmic corruption. And in the teleological models, perhaps nature could be incorporated. Natural suffering, evolutionary suffering, could be incorporated into the divine plan, test view, and moral contrast view.
Okay. Now, can these models address COVID-19? Now we’ll go to part 2 of my talk, where we will explore the science of COVID-19 a little bit.
So what’s COVID-19? Well, it’s SARS-COV-2. There’s a nice paper here from JAMA, just a few days ago, basically talking about the pathophysiology, transmission and diagnosis of COVID-19, coronavirus disease 2019. So basically SARS-COV-2 is a virus, inside it are viral RNA. When the SARS-COV-2 binds to two receptors on our lung cells, the TMPRSS2 and ACE2, the virus then can enter by endocytosis. When the virus particle enters, it releases its RNA materials to our cells, and hijacks our cells to keep producing even more viruses so that more viruses can be produced. When more viruses are produced, what happens is that our immune system responds, right. So a lot of T-cells are being recruited – lymphocytes, monocytes, neutrophils, and they release cytokines to recruit even more immune cells to come in. And this is the early stages of COVID-19.
In the later stages of COVID-19, when you have a lot of white blood cells coming in, you’re basically making the wall of the lungs somewhat permeable, right, you’re increasing permeability. And this is why you can have a fluid intake pulmonary edema in the lungs. And moreover, this constant battle of the immune system against the infection causes the formation of scar tissue, which stiffens the lungs. This combination of the stiffening, and the liquid, and the edema, manifests as troubled breathing symptomatically, right. That’s why it’s very interesting for me to hear people say “Well, SARS-COVID-2, is that really the cause? It’s our immune system. If we’re perfectly fine, immune-wise then we’ll be OK.” Uh, I’m not sure. And I think that’s a complicated discussion with immunologists, right, because it is precisely because our immune system is reacting that you have such heavy recruitment of our immune cells.
And in terms of categorizing COVID, it’s interesting. What is a virus? A virus is not alive, but it’s not really dead either. The fact that it’s not alive sometimes makes people think “Well, was it lab-created?” No, SARS-COV-2 comes from bats and pangolins. So for example, if you look at, here, the viral RNA of the SARS-COV-2, you can look here for the part of the nucleotide that codes for the spikes. And it codes for the amino acids here, for S1 and S2 of the spikes. You can see that in both, and you can compare that the human sequence is very very close to the bats and the pangolins.
So this is an early Nature Medicine paper that I think is very important. This is still evolving now. Yes, it is still evolving in humans. This is a nice tracker, where you can see – this is color-coded by country. But you can see every person that’s been genetically sequenced. You can see, for example here, in this patient in the US, July 7th, 2020, the virus has already evolved, it has already passed nucleotide mutations and amino acid mutations.
So what are the implications of this viral evolution? Not great. So the G-614, for example, has increased infectivity. So the earlier form of the virus, the D-614 of SARS-COV-2, was found earlier on in abundance, but in the end of February in Europe, the G-614 mutation arises, and since then it has taken over and become the dominant form. Why? Because G-614-SARS-COV-2 produces a lot more virons, viral particles. So it reproduces a lot faster. And moreover, if I remember correctly, this isoform also is less detectable in blood, so if you were to get tested by PCR, the levels are slower, because they tend to aggregate in the lungs, and to cause the more severe phenotype there. So then they’re less detectable. The people who are detectable, who probably have D-614, they’re hospitalized or kind of quarantined for everybody, and it doesn’t spread as much. While the G-614, they’re more aggressive, and less detectable. So then they’re selected for, right, and this is evolution taking place.
So I guess the question with COVID-19 theodicy is, what is going to allow the evolution of this half-alive, half-not-alive virus, however you want to categorize viruses? How do our theodicy models address COVID-19? Looking back to the etiological models, for example: is the virus from the devil? Well, I mean, it’s from animals, and it’s a virus, so we know that. Is it due to our abuse of free will, our freedom? It has been suggested that overpopulation and the use of wildlife for food resources, markets that cause cross-contaminations across species, and evolutions of viruses across species, created the SARS-COV-2.
Is this original sin? I’m not sure, I think that’s an untestable hypothesis beyond the realm of science. Now, in terms of the teleological models, it’s interesting. If this is a divine plan, if COVID-19 is the divine plan, my question is “Divine plan for whom? For those who survived? For those who died?” Similar with the test view. Is this for people who survive? What about for those who died? Is it for the families who lost their loved ones? These are difficult questions to answer, and with the moral contrast view, do we really need COVID-19 to know what is good and to do what is good? And fundamental to all of this, I think, is COVID-19 a moral or a natural evil? I think this is still an interesting puzzle, and a unique case for theodicy, where you are usually categorizing by moral or natural. COVID-19, I believe, it is neither a moral nor natural evil, it’s an evolutionary evil, as it is an evolutionary problem.
Are there any responses specific to evolutionary evil? Fortunately, yes, thanks to IRAS and thanks to Zygon. This is the issue from two years ago celebrating Christopher Southgate’s birthday and the introduction of Arthur C. Petersen as the editor. This whole issue is dedicated to evolutionary theodicy.
Now, what are some of those evolutionary theodicy models? I feel like I’m explaining to my own teachers here, so I hope I’m quite accurate in my presentation. Let’s start with Christopher Southgate, because it was his issue is dedicated to. Here, for Christopher Southgate, there is glory of God and creation. “Glory” here is not necessarily beauty or radiance, but it’s better understood as a sign of the unknowable depths of God. Glory may be discerned in the natural world, which includes situations of pain and suffering. For Christians to be “transformed from one degree of glory to another,” it might mean becoming a sign of the great sign of god that is Christ, and conforming our longing to God’s longing for the Kingdom to come.
Now, I think the critique through this idea is: Is random evolutionary suffering required to bring about God’s glory? Or: Is this the only way for God to bring glory in creation? Holmes Ralston III says “No.” He doesn’t think that nature is a random mixed bag of good and bad through chaotic, somatic, and evolutionary processes and natural selection, as proposed by Southgate. All suffering leads to the flourishing of all kinds of life in the end, according to Ralston, and this is because creation is cruciform in its structures. In developing a cruciform nature, one can question, then, well, “If God created the cruciform nature, and within the cruciformity there is evolutionary suffering, then God is still the author of that evolutionary suffering?”
Here Celia Deane-Drummond makes an interesting move, “Well, that’s attributed not to God, but to the Lady Wisdom.” And let’s construct the stage beyond just man, but to all of creation. So influenced by Hans Urs von Balthsar, Celia expands the notion of a theodrama to include other species as actors in the drama of creation, and all of nature as the stage. Influenced by Sergius Bulgakov, this is where she makes some interesting moves. Celia introduces another character to the theodrama, which is Lady Sophia. Which, [as] has been known to Orthodox theology, the Sophia manifests both the presence and hides the presence of God in creation. There’s a mystery to it. And Sophia, being the ordered wisdom within creation, gives room to evolutionary suffering in nature.
The critique of this would be, “Well, why would, in His wisdom, God include evolutionary suffering?” Here, being a Barthian and influenced by Barth, Neil Messer argues that there’s no form of evil or suffering that is part of divine plan, intentional or permissive, right. This is Barth’s notion: evil is completely out of it. Evil is a nothingness, das Nichtige, recalling Augustine. So the source of evolutionary suffering is just this potentiality of nothingness, inherent in nature, yet not something that was ordained by God.
I guess the problem with such a privation idea is, “Well, how can the threat of non being be so real?”. William Dembski resorts back to a conservative idea that “Well, the Bible says… in Genesis 1-3, suffering comes as a consequence of the fall of Adam.” Well, how do you explain the suffering of animals, the death of animals, prior to Adam? He says that has a retroactive effect, that the fall of Adam has a retroactive effect, or that God pre-emptively sets up nature to include all this pain and suffering, knowing that Adam would fall. So Dembski thinks that he’s in a middle position between Ken Ham, Young Earth Creationist, where there’s no suffering from prior to Adam’s fall, but also in between Ham and also Hugh Ross and RTB, which is the belief that animal suffering is not due to the Fall.
But how does this model explain natural evil? Here Boyd, earlier on, argues against Ralston, Nancy Murphy and George Ellis. He doesn’t like the natural – God’s natural cruciform design – because God is still the designer. But he’s also not content with the free-will defense of Plantinga and the soul-making theodicy of John Hick, because natural evil is at a much larger scale than humanity. Marilyn McCord Adams also attests to this. How can human free will and the consequences of human free will can bear – you know, as an explanation for the evolutionary pain of all of creation, which is at a much larger scale than big history?
So for Gregory Boyd, the solution is, well – the only being capable of wreaking such havoc in nature would be Satan. Now, was then Satan created to demonstrate God’s glory? Have we come full circle again to Christopher Southgate’s idea? How do we reformulate these ideas, and what are the future directions, so to speak?
I think the proposed theodicy framework still works, that these evolutionary theodicy concepts that I just went through still fall under these two categories, I think, in terms of the big picture. Some of them are looking for the sources of suffering, the etiological model. Boyd finds a source of suffering from the devil. Celia finds it in Sophia. Dembski finds it in the fall of man. And Messer finds it in das Nichtige. And some other evolutionary theodicy models find the kind of purpose of suffering. Christopher Southgate finds that purpose in glory, in God’s glory.
I think the ones that I have not discussed here, Nils Gregersen, Denis Edwards and Elizabeth Johnson, use deep reconciliation as the purpose. That Christ’s coming is a deep incarnation that will reconcile all of creation, the big history. And the purpose is deep reconciliation.
And then the cruciform participation, that we have to go through suffering to come to be resurrected again, to come to new creation. And I think these are the ideas of Rolston, and Nancey [Murphy], and George Ellis. Which model do you like best? What are the weaknesses of these models? When are the models not applicable? Do some of the models contradict each other? Are the models constructed by only the victor, meaning by only the ones that survive? Consider Job’s children, who died throughout that whole process. What was the purpose in all that? What can we reconstruct? What are the strengths of each model? Which models go together? Can one model be a dominant model – the divine plan as the dominant model? Do all models build up to a meta-model? – it’s the same way of asking the question.
Now perhaps a different approach is: Do different circumstances demand different models? Because Biblically, different circumstances gave different responses in Scripture. Do different personalities favor different models? And does the strength actually lie in the flexibility of the network of these various models, rather than in any one or in any meta-structure? I think these are interesting discussion questions that can be discussed later.
Now let’s go back again to the framing of the special problem of evil, to try to reconstruct things. The special problem of evil in monotheism,I think is interesting. The way it is framed, I think, gives us an insight. God is omnipotent, God is benevolent, evil exists. Why is this special problem unique to monotheism? Is this a problem of balancing divine attributes in the presence of evil? I think so, because if you get rid of the presence of evil, for example, questioning evil’s existence like St. Augustine, and then followed by Aquinas and Barth – evil is a privation of good, privatio boni. Thus the suffering happens due to, maybe, God’s absence. And the remedy is reconciliation. The problem with this is probably, well, how much more real does evil needs to be, to be considered to exist?
Now, the technological models, if you take a closer look, I think the technological model tries to emphasize God’s omnipotence. It’s all still part of God’s plan, and a test to bring glory to develop virtues within us. God has everything under control, and everything will be all right. Whether in this life or in the next, God is in control. But how benevolent is God here? On the other hand, I think the teleological models emphasize God’s benevolence. God never wanted people to suffer. The source of suffering is never God. The source could be our sins, other people’s sin, the devil, or even Lady Sophia, but not God, right. However, God loves us, so he suffers with us in solidarity, […] suffering on the cross. But how omnipotent is God here?
So it seems like there is a balancing of divine attributes, that perhaps the etiological model de-emphasizes divine omnipotence, while the teleological article model emphasize divine benevolence. Do we keep trying to balance the two sides ad infinitum? We’ve seen Biblical writers and theologians and contemporary scientists, people in the theology of science, try to navigate through this.
“What would Jesus do?” This is the pastors in the pulpit pushing the theologian to answer. You’re right; Jesus doesn’t juggle models, he never had to have a discourse on theodicy with his disciples. He simply helped those in suffering.
And I think, for me, now the conversation will switch, because I’m a scientist. What are we scientists doing in response to COVID-19? And if scientists are doing this, Christians and non-Christians, religious and non-religious, I think it compels all of us to respond.
All right, so what are scientists doing? I think there is a rise of coronavirus tech. These are all the various companies now that are blossoming, trying to approach COVID diagnostics, detection, patient monitoring, from various angles. Any promising ideas? Yes, from the very moment that we knew of the SARS-COV-2 mechanism, there have been proposed targets, drugs to target the attachment entry of the SARS COV-2, targeting the uncoding of the virus particle, and unloading its RNA. There are targets here, for example, remdesivir, to target the replication of the viral RNA.
So these are a priori approaches. We know what the virus does, what do we do? Now, what about agnostic approaches – inductive. What if we just look at the virus and see what it’s doing? So this is a very good paper, this was, I think, 2 weeks ago or so, a phosphoproteomic map, which basically tries to study – if you look at the SARS-COV-2 protein from the virus, the red diamonds here, what human proteins do they interact with? So here you can see this diamond protein interacts with that human protein, the gray circle, right. And what does it do? Upon interacting, what happens is that this human protein, from 0 to 24 hours after encounter, after infection, that phosphorylation increases. Or it goes blue, phosphorylation decreases.
So by looking at phosphorylation patterns of these human targets, we can tell which genetic programs are being turned on and off by the virus. Do we have targets that are promising? Yes. So they narrowed down the key viral particles that are on the surface that are actually interacting. They identified the human proteins. And after they identified the human proteins they look at what these human proteins actually affect downstream. After they identified all this, then they were able to try to map this to existing drugs associated with them. And this is the list. There are many potential repurposed drugs, drugs that can be repurposed to target these various aspects. And this is a great start, these are drugs that can be repurposed, existing drugs.
You might ask “Well, can we, instead of using drugs that are not supposed to be for COVID but hoping that it’ll work on COVID, are there efforts in creating completely novel drugs?” Yes, this requires a lot of money. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, the biopharma venture capital funding has been increasing – it’s actually been the highest [it has been] in the past decade. This is an article yesterday from Forbes. I was very surprised because I keep thinking “Recession, recession, recession, the stock market’s gonna crash,” but here we see, actually, in terms of biopharma, that the funding is increasing. So this allows for a lot of innovation.
Am I doing anything in particular for COVID-19 – what am I doing now? So I’m a cancer researcher, so I’m trying to reorient and develop my cancer nanotechnology system – instead of detecting floating cancer cells in the blood using nanotechnology, use it detect to COVID-19 instead, and use it to screen existing and potential novel drugs. And finally, if a drug is discovered, when they’re put into patients, we can hopefully monitor the therapeutic response in the patients using this system.
And perhaps giving this talk is also a way to encourage us all to do something. And I’m not alone in these efforts, and I’m indebted to so many people. And I’m acknowledging these various organizations for their support on this slide. And this is a summary of my talk today. Thank you very much.