“Conspiracy theory is the ultimate refuge of the powerless. If you cannot change your own life, it must be that some greater force controls the world.” Roger Cohen link
This is a very, very long post. How does one cover the issue of HIV, AIDS, conspiracy theories and Christians who are HIV/AIDS deniers? If you want to get a shorter overview, I would recommend that you read The Evidence That HIV Causes AIDS. Then, the Wikipedia article on Peter Duesberg and the one on AIDS Denialism are pretty good and correspond, in the big picture, to the 40 or so articles that I read in preparation for this post.
The first time my daughter was operated on for her brain tumor, she bled so badly that they could not continue the operation after 10 hours. Normally, there isn't much bleeding in the brain but the tumor had developed its own blood supply which made it dangerous. She was given many units of blood which had been unexpected. This was in 1991.
Besides being told that my daughter's prognosis was very poor, I was also told that she might not be able to speak and that she might have great difficulty learning. They had to remove a good chunk of brain which is seen quite clearly, even by untrained eyes, on her MRI. As if this wasn't devastating enough, the Issue of HIV and AIDS came up. By 1991, the blood supply was being carefully checked, especially blood that was being used in children, but there was still some questions about the ability of HIV to slip through the testing. So, my dear daughter was also regularly tested for HIV which she never developed. For those of you who don't know, she is now a nurse in a Surgical/Trauma ICU at a well known university. I am grateful every day for her life.
So, this story is personal as well as interesting to me.
We are so grateful to our readers who often give us interesting information. So, this past week, a reader told us that Doug Wilson, beloved of The Gospel Coalition and good friends with John Piper, believes that HIV does not cause AIDS. I keep saying that you cannot surprise me anymore but I am wrong. I did some reading and have come to understand that there is more to this issue than just a simple denial of the seriousness of HIV. It touches on the very human trait of following "conspiracy theories." These theories transcend educational backgrounds. By this I mean that Nobel Laureates and middle school children all can get sucked into a juicy theory, myself included. For example, I followed the disappearance of the Malaysian jetliner, postulating theories like "The terrorists got it and are outfitting it with a bomb."
I remember Ronald Reagan quipping, on his way out of the White House, "I forgot to ask about Area 51." (I am desperately looking for a link but I heard him say it so I am going with it).
Think about this question as I review the issue of HIV and AIDS. Why do you think some people would want to deny that HIV causes AIDS?
Dr Peter Duesberg published his book, Inventing the AIDS Virus, and causes an uproar.
For convenience, I am going to use the biography in Wikipedia since I have checked it out in over 2 dozen sources. It is important to note that Duesberg did some cutting edge research research in the area of cancer and oncogenes which got him elected to the National Academy of Science, no small feat. He is to be admired for that work.
…(Born 1936) ….a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is known for his cancer research and for his central role in AIDS denialism as an early and vocal proponent of the belief that HIV does not cause AIDS.
Duesberg received acclaim early in his career for research on oncogenes and cancer. With Peter Vogt, he reported in 1970 that a cancer-causing virus of birds had extra genetic material compared with non-cancer-causing viruses, hypothesizing that this material contributed to cancer. At the age of 36, Duesberg was awarded tenure at the University of California, Berkeley, and at 49, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. He received an Outstanding Investigator Grant (OIG) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1986, and from 1986 to 1987 was a Fogarty Scholar-in-Residence at the NIH laboratories in Bethesda, Maryland.
What exactly is HIV and Aids?
Here is a good description from the Department of Health and Human Services. I provide this because it will help in understanding the controversy.
“HIV” stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. To understand what that means, let’s break it down:
H – Human – This particular virus can only infect human beings.
I – Immunodeficiency – HIV weakens your immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. A "deficient" immune system can't protect you.
V – Virus – A virus can only reproduce itself by taking over a cell in the body of its host.
HIV is a lot like other viruses, including those that cause the "flu" or the common cold. But there is an important difference – over time, your immune system can clear most viruses out of your body. That isn't the case with HIV – the human immune system can't seem to get rid of it. That means that once you have HIV, you have it for life.
We know that HIV can hide for long periods of time in the cells of your body and that it attacks a key part of your immune system – your T-cells or CD4 cells. Your body has to have these cells to fight infections and disease, but HIV invades them, uses them to make more copies of itself, and then destroys them.
Over time, HIV can destroy so many of your CD4 cells that your body can't fight infections and diseases anymore. When that happens, HIV infection can lead to AIDS, the final stage of HIV infection.
However, not everyone who has HIV progresses to AIDS. With proper treatment, called “antiretroviral therapy” (ART), you can keep the level of HIV virus in your body low. ART is the use of HIV medicines to fight HIV infection. It involves taking a combination of HIV medicines every day. These HIV medicines can control the virus so that you can live a longer, healthier life and reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others. Before the introduction of ART in the mid-1990s, people with HIV could progress to AIDS in just a few years. Today, a person who is diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is far advanced can have a nearly normal life expectancy.
No safe and effective cure for HIV currently exists, but scientists are working hard to find one, and remain hopeful.
AIDS” stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. To understand what that means, let’s break it down:
A – Acquired – AIDS is not something you inherit from your parents. You acquire AIDS after birth.
I – Immuno – Your body's immune system includes all the organs and cells that work to fight off infection or disease.
D – Deficiency – You get AIDS when your immune system is "deficient," or isn't working the way it should.
S – Syndrome – A syndrome is a collection of symptoms and signs of disease. AIDS is a syndrome, rather than a single disease, because it is a complex illness with a wide range of complications and symptoms.
As noted above, AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, and not everyone who has HIV advances to this stage. People at this stage of HIV disease have badly damaged immune systems, which put them at risk for opportunistic infections (OIs).
You are considered to have progressed to AIDS if you have one or more specific OIs, certain cancers, or a very low number of CD4 cells. If you have AIDS, you will need medical intervention and treatment to prevent death.
Dr Peter Duesberg claimed that HIV is not dangerous and does not lead to AIDS.
It is important to understand that very few support him on this matter within the scientific community. And before you quote the Nobel Laureate, Kary Mulls, you should note that the support is only that he believes Duesberg has a "right" to dissent.
Again from Wikipedia:
Duesberg began to gain public notoriety with a March 1987 article in Cancer Researchentitled "Retroviruses as Carcinogens and Pathogens: Expectations and Reality". In this and subsequent writings, Duesberg proposed his hypothesis that AIDS is caused by long-term consumption of recreational drugs and/or antiretroviral drugs, and that HIV is a harmless passenger virus.
By passenger virus, Duesberg means that the virus is found in tumors, etc. but it does not cause the disease. Basically, he believes that recreational drug usage and even the antiretroviral agents used to treat HIV causes AIDS. In other words, the drugs, that are given to fight HIV, cause it.
Some conservatives jumped on the bandwagon.
Duesberg also believed that lifestyle choices in the gay community, along with concomitant drug usage, led to AIDS which seems to resonate with certain conservatives.
he began espousing the theory that AIDS was the result of lifestyle choices—in particular, illicit drug use—implying that people with AIDS
were in some sense responsible for their disease. But although this message didn’t play well in the Castro, says UCSD’s Epstein, it did among some political conservatives, including Bryan Ellison, a Berkeley graduate student who became Duesberg’s main collaborator; conservative journalist Tom Bethell; and Charles Thomas Jr., a former Harvard University bio-chemistry professor who has argued that AIDS is a “behavioral” rather than an “infectious” disease.
Epstein cautions that “political onfigurations in the Duesberg controversy are more complex than simple labels can suggest.” Yet he also concludes that “the particular appeal of Duesberg’s views to conservatives—certainly including those with little sympathy for the gay movement—cannot be denied.”
A willingness to attribute AIDS to specific lifestyle choices wasn’t the only reason Duesberg’s message found receptive audiences outside the scientific community. Another is that his attacks on AIDS researchers as greedy self-interested mythmakers clicked into a growing disenchantment with the medical establishment.
The evidence that HIV causes AIDS
If you read one article on this issue, this is the one to read. It was put out by the NIH. Here is an overview of the evidence. Please read the article to get links to the studies which back up these claims.
- AIDS and HIV infection are invariably linked in time, place and population group.
- Many studies agree that only a single factor, HIV, predicts whether a person will develop AIDS.
- In cohort studies, severe immunosuppression and AIDS-defining illnesses occur almost exclusively in individuals who are HIV-infected.
- Before the appearance of HIV, AIDS-related diseases such as PCP, KS and MAC (diseases associated with AIDS) were rare in developed countries; today, they are common in HIV-infected individuals.
- In developing countries, patterns of both rare and endemic diseases have changed dramatically as HIV has spread, with a far greater toll now being exacted among the young and middle-aged, including well-educated members of the middle class.
- In studies conducted in both developing and developed countries, death rates are markedly higher among HIV-seropositive individuals than among HIV-seronegative individuals.
- HIV can be detected in virtually everyone with AIDS.
- The availability of potent combinations of drugs that specifically block HIV replication has dramatically improved the prognosis for HIV-infected individuals. Such an effect would not be seen if HIV did not have a central role in causing AIDS.
- Nearly everyone with AIDS has antibodies to HIV.
- The specific immunologic profile that typifies AIDS – a persistently low CD4+ T-cell count – is extraordinarily rare in the absence of HIV infection or other known cause of immunosuppression.
- Newborn infants have no behavioral risk factors for AIDS, yet many children born to HIV-infected mothers have developed AIDS and died.
- The HIV-infected twin develops AIDS while the uninfected twin does not.
This article goes on to answer a host of objections that HIV is related to AIDS. Here is one as an example.
MYTH: HIV is not the cause of AIDS because many individuals with HIV have not developed AIDS.
FACT: HIV disease has a prolonged and variable course. The median period of time between infection with HIV and the onset of clinically apparent disease is approximately 10 years in industrialized countries, according to prospective studies of homosexual men in which dates of seroconversion are known. Similar estimates of asymptomatic periods have been made for HIV-infected blood-transfusion recipients, injection-drug users and adult hemophiliacs (Alcabes et al. Epidemiol Rev 1993;15:303).
As with many diseases, a number of factors can influence the course of HIV disease. Factors such as age or genetic differences between individuals, the level of virulence of the individual strain of virus, as well as exogenous influences such as co-infection with other microbes may determine the rate and severity of HIV disease expression. Similarly, some people infected with hepatitis B, for example, show no symptoms or only jaundice and clear their infection, while others suffer disease ranging from chronic liver inflammation to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Co-factors probably also determine why some smokers develop lung cancer while others do not (Evans. Yale J Biol Med 1982;55:193; Levy. Microbiol Rev 1993;57:183; Fauci. Nature 1996;384:529).
Duesberg's theories led to some pretty serious consequences. People died without treatment.
1. Thousands of deaths in South Africa along with thousands of children being born with HIV.
President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa bought into Duesberg's theories and had him consult on how to handle the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Here is what happened as documented in a paper from Harvard titled Researchers estimate lives lost due to delay in antiretroviral drug use for HIV/AIDS in South Africa
More than 330,000 lives were lost to HIV/AIDS in South Africa from 2000 and 2005 because a feasible and timely antiretroviral (ARV) treatment program was not implemented, assert researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) in a study published online by the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (JAIDS). In addition, an estimated 35,000 babies were born with HIV during that same period in the country because a feasible mother-to-child transmission prophylaxis program using nevirapine (an anti-AIDS drug) was not implemented,
…was an HIV-positive activist and promoter of AIDS denialism (the belief that HIV is not the cause of AIDS). She was the founder of Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives, an organization which disputes the link between HIV and AIDS and urges HIV-positive pregnant women to avoid anti-HIV medication. Maggiore authored and self-published the book What If Everything You Thought You Knew about AIDS Was Wrong?
Maggiore's promotion of AIDS denialism had long been controversial, particularly since her 3-year-old daughter, Eliza Jane Scovill, died of Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia, considered to be an AIDS-defining illness. Consistent with her belief that HIV was harmless, Maggiore had not taken medication to reduce the risk of transmission of HIV to her daughter during pregnancy, and she did not have Eliza Jane tested for HIV during her daughter's lifetime. Maggiore herself died on December 27, 2008 after suffering from AIDS-related conditions.[
To make matters worse, Maggiore breast fed her baby. Here is a good description of how HIV is transmitted.
HOW DO YOU GET HIV?
Certain body fluids from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV. These body fluids are:
- Semen (cum)
- Pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum)
- Rectal fluids
- Vaginal fluids
- Breast milk
Maggiore sued the coroners office for releasing the cause of her daughter's death. When Maggiore herself died of pneumonia, her family refused an autopsy and said that she died from a "holistic cleanse."The death certificate has been removed from the Internet. From Wikipedia:
(cause of death) disseminated herpes virus infection and bilateral pneumonia, with oral candidiasis as a contributing cause, all of which can be related to HIV infection.
An entire editorial board of deniers died of AIDS.
Jody Wells, Huw Christie and Michael Baumgartner published London’s Continuum Magazine which served as an outlet for AIDS denialism, including pseudoscientific “studies”. Continuum ended after the editors all died following long bouts with AIDS.
Doug Wilson still stands by his positive review of Peter Duesberg's book Inventing the AIDS Virus
Wilson reviewed this book here. The book was published in 1996 and I assume since other books in that same issue were published in the 1990s, this review took place sometime close to the publication date. Since that time frame is approximately 17 years ago, I wrote Doug Wilson and asked him if he still stands by his positive review of Duesberg's book. He replied:
Dee, I haven’t studied that issue for many years, but I haven’t changed my mind on the basic issues. So yes, you can cite anything I have written as representative of my views. I would simply ask you to note the date of the piece, with the understanding that this would affect how some things might be phrased if I were writing today.
In light of current evidence, his analysis of this book is concerning.
This book demonstrates that AIDS is not infectious in any way, shape, or form, and that the AIDS research establishment has been poleaxed by all the federal billions being, ahem, invested in AIDS research. Furthermore, the media has behaved herself like a kept woman, allowing the story of the century to walk right on by. If reporters were to seriously research the unbelievable scientific holes in the current AIDS "orthodoxy," they would lose their access to all the important bunglers. And they don't want that.
He claims that Duesberg proved that Koch's postulates were not met.
As Duesberg demonstrates in meticulous detail, in order for either a bacterial or viral disease (or "syndrome") to be considered infectious, it must first meet three criteria known as Koch's postulates.
In fact, the NIH proves that these postulates have been met. Please read the entire section of the report. Here is one excerpt.
Postulate #3 has been fulfilled in tragic incidents involving three laboratory workers with no other risk factors who have developed AIDS or severe immunosuppression after accidental exposure to concentrated, cloned HIV in the laboratory. In all three cases, HIV was isolated from the infected individual, sequenced and shown to be the infecting strain of virus. In another tragic incident, transmission of HIV from a Florida dentist to six patients has been documented by genetic analyses of virus isolated from both the dentist and the patients. The dentist and three of the patients developed AIDS and died, and at least one of the other patients has developed AIDS. Five of the patients had no HIV risk factors other than multiple visits to the dentist for invasive procedures (O'Brien, Goedert. Curr Opin Immunol 1996;8:613; O'Brien, 1997; Ciesielski et al. Ann Intern Med 1994;121:886).
Wilson claims AZT is toxic.
This was discussed earlier. AZT saves lives. Not giving patients AZT has resulted in untold deaths in the United States, South Africa, and around the world.
About a million Americans are "infected" with the HIV virus. One of the worst things that can happen to such a person is for someone with the authority to write prescriptions to find out about it, and to start giving that person AZT–an FDA-approved, rush-job treatment of AIDS. The drug is highly toxic, and can worsen or bring on AIDS.
Guess who Wilson calls suckers? Those conservative Christians who believe anything other than what Peter Duesberg says.
Conservative Christians were involved in all this Henny Penny running around because conservative Christians are suckers for the doomsday stuff. It gives them goosebumps and makes them think the Second Coming is just around the corner. And that is why conservative Christians got taken for a ride–along with everyone else.
Wilson ends with this quote. In light of the above, it is dangerous advice.
Having said this, a few things should be said about AIDS. If by AIDS you mean that the HIV virus is present in your body, then I would refer you to the book Inventing the AIDS Virus by Peter Duesberg. It is quite possible that your situation does not warrant abstention from sex at all – but only because the HIV virus is harmless.
In 2012, American Family Association endorsed Peter Duesberg's theories.
From the Daily Kos link
…Earlier this month, AFA policy chief Bryan Fischer's guest on Focal Point was prominent cell biologist and AIDS denier Peter Duesberg. For those who don't know, Duesberg believes HIV doesn't cause AIDS, and that HIV is an elaborate hoax cooked up by researchers who want to keep their grants–claims Fischer strongly endorsed.
…Apparently somebody forgot to tell Fischer and Tim Wildmon about how dangerous this is, because Fischer doubled down on it in his blog post. He actually claimed that it isn't possible for a virus to stay dormant for several years before roaring back to life. Apparently Fischer doesn't know that the chicken pox virus can stay dormant for several years before returning as shingles. It can also go to your brain as viral encephalitis.
…What makes the AFA's endorsement of this claptrap even more dangerous is that so many people who live in a Christian cocoon (filtered Internet service, homeschooling their kids, SkyAngel, no secular radio) actually rely upon it for news and information. Wildmon and Fischer better hope nobody dies from following their advice–it could, no, WILL, get them sued out of business. And that wouldn't be a bad thing.
By partnering with Duesberg, Fischer brought AIDS denialism closer to the mainstream of evangelicalism. In response, Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay recently issued a statement to me about Fischer’s and Duesberg’s denial of the HIV-AIDS link. Among evangelicals, the Warrens have been pioneers in outreach to AIDS victims.
Duesberg’s denial of the entire body of research, and his rejection of thousands of scientific trials and papers, would be laughable if millions of lives weren’t at stake. But his view is deadly. Unfortunately, Duesberg convinced some people in Africa that HIV was not the cause of AIDS and as a result many people there needlessly became infected with the virus, and some have subsequently suffered and died.
It is frustrating – and frightening – for those of us in AIDS ministry to see someone like Dr. Duesberg play to people’s bias and prejudices. For the past eight years we have worked with thousands of churches around the world and in America who have ministries to those infected and affected by AIDS. No one deserves this illness, and we must not ignore those among us who are infected or affected by HIV and AIDS. There are numerous ways to acquire the virus – sexual activity, blood transfusions, being born to an HIV positive mother, dirty needles – but what matters isn’t how a person became infected as much as how we will respond. People with living with the virus are people that Jesus created, loves, and died for. Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan teaches us that when you find someone bleeding on the side of the road, you don’t say “Was it your fault?” You just help them in love!
So, this leaves us in the land of conspiracy theories.
There is a well known paper produced by the NIH titled Conspiracy Theories in Science.
I think it is vital to understand that anyone, no matter how intelligent, can fall prey to conspiracy theories. These sorts of theories are difficult to disprove because one argues in the negative. Let's say I tell you that I believe the Malaysian jetliner is sitting on a landing strip in Afghanistan, getting ready to be retrofitted to carry a nuclear bomb. Can you prove that I am wrong? I could think of all sorts of ways to rebut the arguments that the jet went down. Has it been found? Can you trust the Malaysian government?
Here are some quotes from the article.
Conspiracy theories appeal to people who are discontented with the established institutions of their society and especially with elites in that society. They are likely to believe that conditions are worsening for people like themselves and that the authorities do not care about them. A conspiracy theory gives believers someone tangible to blame for their perceived predicament, instead of blaming it on impersonal or abstract social forces. The meme becomes a habit of thought: the more people believe in one conspiracy, the more likely they are to believe in other
…conspiracy theories include claims that a major drug company hid reports that its leading anti-inflammatory drug caused heart attacks and strokes (Specter, 2009); environmental scientists have conspired to keep refereed journals from publishing papers by researchers sceptical that global warming is a crisis (Hayward, 2009; Revkin, 2009); physicians or drug companies have conspired to suppress non-mainstream medical treatments, vitamins and health foods; and that big business and the medical establishment have conspired to obstruct the search for a cure for AIDS so they can continue to sell their ineffective drugs and treatments (Nussbaum, 1990).
Conspiracy theories are dangerous when the meme is used to discredit scientific evidence in a public forum or in a legal proceeding. The conspiracy meme is part of the standard repertoire of memes used by lawyers to discredit evidence offered by ‘experts' of all kinds. Lawyers focus on the motivations of the experts, on who hired them, what they are being paid for their testimony and so on. They also seek out an ‘expert' who will testify on their side, implying that expertise is for sale to the highest bidder and that opinion is divided on the issue in question.
This article then highlights the issues surrounding Peter Duesberg. Duesberg used his position as a member of the National Academy Sciences to rebut each and every submission on HIV. His rebuttal did not involve scientific "proof." It was mostly rhetoric. This privilege had been, until Duesberg, offered to these elite scientists. Look what happened.
The conflict between the debating meme and the scientific expertise meme was pronounced in the dispute between Nature editor John Maddox and biologist Peter Duesberg, who opposes the theory that HIV causes AIDS. Relying on the norms of fairness in debate, Duesberg (1995) sought the right to reply to scientific papers defending mainstream views. At a certain point in the debate Maddox refused to continue to give him the right of reply, arguing that Duesberg had “forfeited the right to expect answers by his rhetorical technique. Questions left unanswered for more than about ten minutes he takes as further proof that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. Evidence that contradicts his alternative drug hypothesis is on the other hand brushed aside.” Maddox argued that Duesberg was not asking legitimate scientific questions, but making demands and implying or saying: “Unless you can answer this, and right now, your belief that HIV causes AIDS is wrong” (Maddox, 1993).
Conspiracy theorists typically overlook lapses by their supporters but are quick to pounce on any flaw on the part of their opponents
Maddox observed that “Duesberg will not be alone in protesting that this is merely a recipe for suppressing challenges to received wisdom. So it can be. But Nature will not so use it. Instead, what Duesberg continues to say about the causation of
AIDS will be reported in the general interest. When he offers a text for publication that can be authenticated, it will if possible be published.” As an editor of a scientific journal, Maddox was justified in saying that he would publish papers that offered new findings, not ones that just picked at unanswered questions in other people's work. But he was realistic in realizing that his refusal to publish additional comments by Duesberg would be portrayed as censorship by believers in the AIDS conspiracy theory.
Duesberg appears to demonstrate a certain meme which is that of the "courageous, independent scientist rejecting orthodoxy." In other words, "they did it to Galileo and now they are doing it to me." (Problem: Galileo was attacked by the church.)
But being a dissenter from orthodoxy is not difficult; the hard part is actually having a better theory. Publishing dissenting theories is important when they are backed by plausible evidence, but this does not mean giving critics ‘equal time' to dissent from every finding by a mainstream scientist.
So, why do you think a Christian might want to debunk the fact that HIV is a precursor to AIDS?
I think I will end with a quote from my husband. He is a cardiologist and I am a nurse. Both of us have had AIDS patients and patients with HIV. When I asked him what he thought about HIV/AIDS denialism, he was flabbergasted that people believe this. He said to me,
This is simple. Do you remember how many people got HIV, then AIDS and then died? Well, today, most people with HIV and AIDS are living long lives. Thank God for the antiretroviral medications."
And he went to bed, shaking his head.
Lydia's Corner:Daniel 9:1-11:1 1 John 2:18-3:6 Psalm 121:1-8 Proverbs 28:27-28