By Dr Robert Carter
Does the Covid-19 outbreak support evolution?
Coronavirus Covid-19. What are we supposed to think about it? Do viruses support evolution? Can we explain them in a creation context? Can this be part of the 'very good' creation? Hold onto your hats, for I am about to turn what you think about viruses on its head.
Most viruses are beneficial
It comes as a shock to many people when they hear it, but most viruses are good for you and good for the environment. Have you heard that there are as many bacteria in and on your body as there are cells in your body? That is true. But it is also true that you have more viruses in your gut than you have bacteria! In fact, the viral population (called the 'virome'1) plays an important role in regulating the number and types of bacteria in your body.2 Without them, we might be rapidly consumed by the hungry little bacteria that live in our intestines.
Ocean water is another example: it is a highly concentrated bacterial soup that is maintained and balanced by a huge number of viruses.
It also might be a surprise to many to learn that viruses are not, in fact, living things. They are not cells. They are just little machines, and are more like a computer virus than anything else. They contain a little piece of RNA or DNA that highjacks a living cell's mechanisms, much like a malicious piece of code can hijack a computer. This causes the cell to make many copies of the virus, burst the cell, and go on to infect other cells. So viruses cannot be said to 'learn' or 'grow' or 'die', they just disintegrate under certain conditions.
Some viruses are harmful
Although creation scientists believe that everything was created "very good" (Genesis 1), clearly something like Covid-19, which is killing humans, is not good. From a big picture point of view, Christians see all evil and sickness in the world as related to the Fall of mankind, caused by the disobedience of Adam.
You might think viruses killing humans is an argument for evolution. How could that be related to Creation? The answer is really simple: This is a virus that was designed to do something different and it escaped its initial design constraints, either by accidentally jumping to a new species in which it could also live or through a mutation that allowed it to survive in a new species it was not originally designed for.
All species on earth exhibit copying mistakes in their DNA, and they are increasing with every generation. Indeed, each species is slowly devolving, not getting stronger and fitter. Mutations are therefore not an argument for evolution, as they don't improve the instructions for making the 'machinery' of an organism.
Usually, there are checks and balances in how a virus is designed to work. If one of those checks fails, the virus might be able to, for instance, reproduce much faster than it was originally designed to do. This would result in disease. Thus, a 'beneficial' virus would turn into a dangerous one. It would just take a few small mutations, like maybe a change in a cellular recognition factor that prevents the host cells from detecting, and therefore regulating, the virus.
Viruses, like Covid-19, that jump species are especially dangerous. Viruses that jump between species are called zoonotics. We have lots of evidence for zoonotic viruses, including influenza,3 the coronavirus family (Covid-19, SARS, and MERS4), and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). All of these cause disease in humans. Some of them have persisted in the human population for a very long time.
Happily, however, many new viruses burn themselves out. As they multiply, they pick up mutations, and sometimes those mutations will weaken them to the point where they are no longer transmitted. This is not always the case, though, and some viruses, like HIV or the human cold virus (yet another coronavirus), can continue to propagate despite picking up mutations. It depends on many different factors and no two viruses are alike.
By God's good design humans are often able to build up an immunity to diseases caused by viruses and that is why vaccines work. A mother also passes antibodies to her children through the placenta and breastmilk. The problem with Covid-19 is that it is a 'novel' coronavirus that nobody has been exposed to before and therefore no one has any antibodies to it. That is why, until a vaccine is developed, the only way to 'fight' it is to avoid spreading it.
The initial creation had no disease, yet diseases have arisen over the past 6,000 years. There is no reason not to expect another viral contagion to not appear in the future. This is not a reason to fear, but it should help us to soberly assess our sometimes tenuous position on this earth.
We have created all sorts of safety nets to prevent the spread of infection and the world is beginning to react more swiftly to emerging threats. Quarantines, hand washing, and vaccinations are all part of that strategy. And the scientific community has responded very quickly to the latest crisis. In a short time, multiple gene sequences for the virus were completed and posted to public databases and electron microscopes produced pictures of what we were dealing with. The speed of this was unprecedented.
The future of Covid-19
If this outbreak follows the course of previous ones, the coronavirus might burn itself out. This is apparently what happened to the human H1N1 influenza virus that swept across the world in 1917, killing millions of people. It lasted for 40 years before disappearing. It was reintroduced from a stored laboratory sample in 1976 and lasted another 33 years before disappearing again during the 2009–2010 swine H1N1 pandemic, which was also not a particularly lethal virus. The later versions did not have the lethal nature of the earlier ones, and the fact that the human H1N1 could not persist in the human population is good evidence that it was undergoing genetic entropy. In fact, the virus was picking up over 14 mutations per year while it was active and more than 10% of its genome had mutated before it went extinct.5 This also matched previously published computer simulations.6
But the coronavirus is not the flu, we cannot wait decades for genetic entropy to take its toll. Infection models are applied science, and we need to listen to the expert advice we are being given. We also need to do our civic, and Biblical, duty to protect others and ourselves from infection.
Viruses are part of God's created order. We can see that many of them play beneficial roles. Yet, we live in a sin-cursed world with much suffering, death, and disease. God has not promised us long life, nor good health. But He has promised to redeem this sin-cursed world and our disease-wracked bodies. So the hope of Christianity is not ultimately in vaccines or cures, but in complete healing and wholeness on the other side of death.•
References and notes
This article was complied with information from CREATION MINISTRIES INTERNATIONAL. See https://creation.com/media-center/youtube/ct-pandemic and https://creation.com/wuhan-coronavirus.