Is Measles Intelligently Designed?

This is a very serious social issue today. Measles was eradicated in the United States several years ago. Now it is back. Why? Anti-vaccination is now part of the social debate. Why is EVN not taking a firm position on safe and effective measles vaccines?

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Was Measles intelligently designed or not?

This is a really interesting article. It is the sort of questions that ID has to take seriously if they are going forward. It seems this takes the deep into theological territory. What do you think @jongarvey and @eddie, did God intentionally design measles?

So, is the measles virus the product of design as well? One of the lessons learned from Michael Behe’s new book, Darwin Devolves , is that living systems are complex, and that breaking or damaging a gene can have surprising effects. For example, as Behe says there, damaging the APOB gene in polar bears improves their ability to handle a high fat diet, rather than harming it. Likewise, a simple stick in the works in the right place in the immune system can set off a cascade that looks like it was planned by the stick, when in truth it was the information in the system that caused the cascade.

Which is it, then, design or dumb luck on the part of the virus? To answer that question would require studying in more detail the life history of the virus, and ultimately, an assessment of how much information can arise in the first place in this system without intelligence playing a role.

Well, if Axe, @Agauger, and Behe are right, it seems that they may be suffering from Slothful induction - Wikipedia. It seems that if they are right, ID must infer that God intentionally designed them. It is not clear why that “would require studying in more detail the life history of the virus,” but not in other cases. This would be in direct contradiction of, for example, Behe’s arguments.



Your argument does not work. You infer too much about what we would think. I wrote the paragraphsyou quote myself; the author is a computer scientist, and I was called in to help with the biological part of the story.
Nearly every case in biology needs to be evaluated on its own merits. Universal rules are almost universally dangerous. And stating Behe’s rule as universal (not requiring more study) when he himself does not is pretty certain to be wrong. (I hope you noticed how I avoided making universal claims?


Thanks for clarifying. I agree that I probably should have included you on that list. Would Demski agree? It seems that he really resists the notion that we need to press into these details.

@Agauger As a biologist, do you see any reason that the parents of healthy children should be allowed to opt-out of the measles vaccine?

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I can’t speak for Ann Gauger, or Mike Behe, or “ID” as if it has a unified position on theological questions. I can only give my own view.

It might well be that God would create a world in which there were certain harmful things, but in which there was an overall ecology that was good.

There is a tendency among some creationists to read “very good” in Genesis 1 as meaning: “All very sweet and nice, without any discomfort, inconvenience or difficulty of any kind.” I can understand this tendency, since many of the mythologies of the world refer to a “Golden Age” in which, it is imagined, everything is blissful for human beings, and often for all sentient beings as well. But I don’t think it’s safe to assume that Genesis 1 has the same teaching as those other stories. Therefore, I think one should be careful not to milk the phrase “very good” for more than what it was intended to convey.

Could God have willed the existence of destructive creatures? Well, we know that God sometimes creates evil (Isaiah 45). Such statements tend to be ignored by YECs and TEs alike, where OECs and ID people tend to take them more seriously. We also know from Job (where the discussion seems to be about created nature, not “fallen nature”) that predation is part of the order of things. And diseases, while horrible, can conceivably in some circumstances do good. I think the world would have been better off if Hitler had died of some disease before he began the bombing of England or the invasion of Russia, and if he had, at least some Christians would have called that “providential.” We don’t see the whole picture, either the whole picture of nature or the whole picture of history. Diseases, though bad in themselves, might well be part of an overall design which is “very good” – a design which only God can see.

And what is the alternative? Suppose some horrible disease arose not as part of any design on God’s part, but as an accident of evolution. Does that help theology any? Would God be off the hook, morally, for allowing evolution to produce horrible things whose existence he could have prevented? I don’t think so. I think the buck stops with God, no matter what. That is why the idea of a designed disease doesn’t trouble me as much as it troubles some others. We may not have a clear idea why a good God would design malaria; but we don’t have any clear idea why a good God would tolerate the accidental production of malaria by evolution, either. God is responsible in any case.

The YECs try to make God not responsible, by making physical evils the result of the Fall, and hence entirely man’s fault. But God surely was powerful and wise enough to create nature such that the Fall’s effects would be confined to evils that were spiritually educative for man (e.g., hard work, both to till the soil and to bear and raise children); surely he could have made Adam and Eve pay for their disobedience without allowing the Fall to produce horrible child diseases which were all out of proportion to a single act of disobedience (and without allowing the Fall to harm non-responsible bystanders to boot, e.g., sheep who would now be eaten by wolves). Because Adam and Eve ate an apple, tigers now have to eat lambs, and children have to die of scarlet fever or appendicitis? It seems absurd to blame Adam and Eve for that. God could have rigged things so that the punishment for disobedience would be severe, without being wantonly cruel or sadistic. He’s omnipotent and omniscient. So if Adam and Eve’s action produced a horrible distortion of nature and vast suffering, God is ultimately to blame for those consequences. YEC theologizing can’t get God off the hook for natural evil by the expedient of blaming man.

In the end, Christians have to take seriously their own words when they continually claim that God is omnipotent, and sovereign over all, and providential regarding all things. Whether he creates directly or sub-contracts the work to evolution, he is still the author of what happens.

Thus, in my view, YECs on the one hand, and TEs like Ken Miller on the other hand, end up covering up the depths of the problem of suffering, by offering crudely mechanical explanations for it (Adam and Eve ate an apple, so all of nature fell by some kind of automated chain reaction; God didn’t intend evil viruses and parasites, but evolution is out of his control once he ordains it, and they happen as unwanted side-effects). I think both the Bible and the Christian tradition see something more difficult, and more impenetrable in the existence of evil than many of our modern writers. And if ID leaves unanswered the question why a designer would create malaria, that’s no more surprising than the fact that Christian theologians throughout the ages haven’t provided a fully satisfactory account of why God permits physical evils. And Christians don’t stop believing in God just because they can’t explain why he lets a young child die of scarlet fever, or an lets an avalanche destroy a Welsh coal-mining town, or lets millions be slaughtered by a Hitler or a Stalin; so why should ID folks stop affirming design based on irreducible complexity, because they don’t know why the designer would make such a thing?

Jon Garvey’s new book on the Fall is very good on many of these points. I don’t claim to be speaking for him here, but I agree with him on many aspects of this matter.


It’s the same old “bad design” argument, and it goes back at least to the 18th century, when all the same counter-arguments were available…

… except that on one side, the design of the viruses is shown to be more astonishing than the simple outcomes of plagues looked back then, and on the other, we now know that viruses are one of the major sources of genetic innovation for evolution.

It’s a theological question, so serious theology needs to address it. And that requires remembering that, in terms of bad things happening to people, we do not live in a morally neutral state, but a fallen one.

But Eddie’s kindly referred to the fact I wrote an entire book on it, which was as least in part written as a reaction to those like Francisco Ayala and Darrel Falk following this “a good God wouldn’t create these things” line, and thereby inevitably lapsing into gnosticism - that is, belief in an incompetent demiurge (in this case evolution) messing up God’s nice ideas.


@Eddie As you live in the world and you study its past, doesn’t it continue to look exactly the way you’d expect if there wasn’t a God?

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No – it looks alternately as if there is and isn’t a God. The structure and laws of the universe, and the structure and function of living things, seem to shout out the existence of a mind behind them, but when it comes to human affairs, it often seems as if God is the most absent when his presence would be most appreciated, as victims of disease, congenital disability, torture, violent crime, and genocide can testify. On the other hand, even in human affairs the existence of gratuitous love and self-sacrifice seems to point to something higher. And of course, there is always music. :slight_smile:

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“Speaking as a biologist”, one would dispassionately lay out the mechanisms and statistics related to vaccination, the spread of the disease and the impacts on individuals/populations.

“Speaking as a citizen” or someone with any particular set of moral/ethics is another thing entirely. That conversation is where the question of “should we allow others to opt in/out of vaccination” occurs.


:thinking: Only if pathogenicity was acquired with three or more mutations in non-selective steps…