Creating Coronavirus

Are mutated viruses a challenge for those who deny science?
From @David_MacMillan on Medium

Creationists love to claim that mutations “create no new information” and that “new genetic information” can only come from an intelligent designer. But speaking of “information” in these terms is nonsensical. What matters is whether new functions are able to evolve. Not only did SARS-CoV-2 evolve a new function, but the new function was so effective that researchers were able to use it to rule out any possibility of “intelligent design” for this new pathogen. We know what design — in this case, laboratory genetic modification — looks like, and we know what evolution looks like. This is evolution.


If @swamidass will allow it, this is the picture that comes into my mind when I think of what it would take to convince an ID/creationist that evolution has produced new information:



@David_MacMillan Great paper. Thanks.

Things that are too obvious to be denied, like the mutation of SARS-CoV-2, are explained away as “not evidence of evolution” rather than denied outright.

Exactly right. Rather than do something immediately ridiculous like deny that mutations even occur, creationists elect instead to couch it in rhetoric. It’s loss of functions or loss of information, or as he says, microevolution. Occasionally you get someone who will say that “it’s a pre-existing ability to adapt”, but will insist that adaptation has nothing to do with evolution. One has to wonder what it even is they think evolution is supposed to be if not trans-generational adaptation.

This is where we are fed the usual bovine faeces about “the primaxy axiom” which is and remains a delusional creationist fantasy with zero basis in actual evolutionary theory.

The idea with this “primary axiom” straw-man that creationists have concocted is that, if it doesn’t simultaneously result in macroevolution(increase in number of species), grandiose morphological transitions(bacteria becoming multicellular, pigs growing wings), increases in the number of protein coding genes (that have to evolve de novo, not by duplication, homologoues don’t count), new information (and it has to be more than 500 bits of FI), and completely new functions (not just “similar” ones), then it’s not evolution and “the primaxy axiom” is false.

The terms “microevolution” and “macroevolution” do not have clearly-agreed definitions within the broader scientific community

I can’t agree with this. Both terms have quite well established definitions. A common one is that macroevolution is evolution above the species level. Changes in the number of species is macroevolutionary change under that definition.
Extinction and speciation thus become macroevolutionary events. Microevolution is evolution below the species level. As in evolution that doesn’t result in changes in the number of species, so evolution that does not cause extinction or result in speciation.

Creationists love to claim that mutations “create no new information” and that “new genetic information” can only come from an intelligent designer. But speaking of “information” in these terms is nonsensical. What matters is whether new functions are able to evolve.

Exactly right. The whole “information” stuff is rhetoric. What matters is if new functions can evolve. If an organism has offspring that is different from what it was before. If it is, it’s new. The virus can infect humans, it could not do that before. That’s a new function. And it evolved.


Evolutionary processes are amazing. They produce new information.


Glad you enjoyed the article! Thanks.

The macro/micro bit is tricky. It is very easy to articulate good definitions for these terms, but a survey of term usage doesn’t necessarily fall along with those lines. Part of that is explored at more length in an article currently in peer review…


i dont think that ID guys says that a new function cant evolve. they are talking about complex new function.

It varies depending on who you ask. The difficulty is that ID offer no way to distinguish between what can and cannot evolve. You might have seen me ranting about this a few times before. :slight_smile:


what about something that looks design (and thus cant evolve), vs something that not necessarily looks design and thus might be able to evolve?

Assuming your conclusion.


Start with something that might have evolved. The trouble is design can never be ruled out, even in the simplest examples, even when the change is actually observed in the laboratory. It might have been the Designer at work. That’s why ID is not science.

*** Except for that paper by Winton Ewert. He proposed a testable hypothesis, but that is the only such example in all of the ID literature.

They mean by “complex new” function one that is just a little more complex and a little newer than the example that we point out.


New DI article related to covid-19. Seems like a back peddle away from “God designed the virus which took away grandpa the other day”. Final paragraph:

But there is another lesson about design and evolution to be learned from scientific research on this virus. Natural selection, if understood as undirected variation and differential reproductive success, is a destructive process. Natural selection destroys biological functional complexity — it produces diseases, cancer, and pandemics. It weakens and kills. Natural selection does to living organisms what rust does to a machine. Natural selection corrodes and destroys life, and plays no role in creating it.

…Uh, from the standpoint of the virus, natural selection, understood as undirected variation and differential reproductive success, is just peachy.


Of course a religious organization like the DI just knows humans were Created “special” so everything must be considered only from the human viewpoint. A hungry lion which preys on an unlucky human is destructive natural selection to the human but a lucky Happy Meal to the lion. :slightly_smiling_face:

It seems that, in that ENV article, that Meyers really misunderstood the paper he was quoting:

While the analyses above suggest that SARS-CoV-2 may bind human ACE2 with high affinity, computational analyses predict that the interaction is not ideal and that the RBD sequence is different from those shown in SARS-CoV to be optimal for receptor binding. Thus, the high-affinity binding of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to human ACE2 is most likely the result of natural selection on a human or human-like ACE2 that permits another optimal binding solution to arise. This is strong evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is not the product of purposeful manipulation.

Yeah, see, if I were a nefarious super-villain, we already have an even better RBD we could yank out of other viruses, and I would have used that to build a deadly virus. But instead, the SARS-CoV-2 RBD is some clunky variation that came out of nowhere, by accident, without any other signs of intentional manipulation.

The way design was ruled out was using a model of human design, to show the solution did not look like how a human would design it. It isn’t that the SARS-CoV-2 RBD is clunky and doesn’t work well. Rather, it is just surprising how it is built, so we don’t think it was designed by any human.

More importantly, its shows that design is inferred with a robust model of the designer in science.


Why would they expect natural selection to select for a viral adaptation that only helps the host?


Exactly. Lucy works at the Discovery Institute:

“Hey Charlie Brown, give me an example of evolution producing complex specified information!”–Lucy

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Perhaps they now believe that natural selection must degrade wonderful dog-eat-dog world we know into a damaged world, where these functions are lost, and therefore full of altruism and symbiosis?

I would like to see their justification for those beliefs, especially given the success of predation and parastism in so many lineages. I would also like to see how they justify a situation where a less successful predator is able to outcompete fellow predators who are more successful. Herbivory has the same problems with the only difference being the type of species that is consumed.

That was satirical, so I doubt they would phrase their position this way, nor would they try to justify what I wrote. I am sure you know this, right @T_aquaticus?