Godly Viruses

XMRV virusesFrom the Creationist perspective, why are there bad things in a world that was created perfect?

The standard answer to this is “the fall.” One problem with this is that it still doesn’t explain anything scientifically, just theologically. Today Brian Thomas of the ICR heroically charges into the mess to attempt to clear up how the most problematic of “bad things” – viruses – could have come into existence. Were Viruses Created or Evolved? he asks. I wonder

The DpSU is based on a paper in Science from back in May: Recombinant Origin of the Retrovirus XMRV. I have “obtained” a copy of the full text and put it here.

The study found that a retrovirus (XMRV) that had previously been linked to cancer etcetera couldn’t have caused it, was probably the result of contamination of samples and most likely traces its origins back to a “recombination event” sometime between 1993 and ’96 between two related viruses inhabiting the genome of a presumably rather unlucky mouse. Where has B.T. spun this?

Viruses have a bad reputation. They are ultra-tiny, well-designed machines that copy themselves in a process that sometimes causes disease in the organisms in which they reside.

He begins by attempting to alleviate the problem, and make an escape hatch – viruses, apparently, aren’t all bad.

One class called retroviruses is equipped with machinery that splices its own viral code into the DNA of a host cell. Retroviruses have been portrayed as genetic “leftovers” from an evolutionary past, but how did they really originate?

“Leftovers from an evolutionary past” and variants thereof is a very common phrase in the ICR’s lexicon. I think Brian Thomas is missing the point here. Retroviruses “originated” the same way as any other virus, but insert into the genome “proviruses” which could, in some cases, be called “evolutionary leftovers” (a common variant of the quote)  if they have been just sitting there for a while. Others have found their way into important roles in general bodily functions.

A report published in Science showed how one retrovirus was “born.” Researchers discovered that a retrovirus named XMRV was formed when two DNA sequences called “proviruses” were brought together through “recombination.”1 This occurs during gamete development when genetic material from the parent cells is rearranged into new combinations of genes in the offspring, resulting in more genetic variations.

Could other—or perhaps all—viruses have entered the world by recombining unique DNA sequences that were already present in animal genomes?

No – the proviruses that formed the virus were formed themselves from pre-existing retroviruses that had done what retroviruses do. Indeed, to argue that viruses can and are formed from recombination (or any other change in the genome) is to argue that such things can “make something new,” something that is generally argued against by Mr Thomas and his friends.

If so, He certainly did not form them to cause disease. At the end of that week, He declared His works “very good.” But like many other created features, their original purpose was warped because of “the bondage of corruption” brought about by mankind’s sin. For example, God made sharp teeth to equip animals to eat vegetation, but many have long since abandoned herbivory and become carnivores.

Yeah, no. We know how teeth work, and if predatory animals didn’t eat meat at the start of the whole shebang then we have evidence that the Fall was planned from the start. And how exactly have they been ‘warped’? As in: What mechanism is behind the Fall? This is a question that the creationists at the ICR do not seem to be in a hurry to answer.

It is possible that God made viruses as tiny robots to carry life-enhancing genetic information from one cell to another. At some point after the Fall, the once-balanced cell-virus interactions would have begun to falter and fail.

And why would He need to do that, in His perfect creation?

Another implication of this research concerns evolutionary claims regarding human-chimpanzee ancestry. Both species appear to share certain retrovirus-like DNA sequences. These have been assumed by evolutionists to have originated from a retroviral infection of the ancestral population that supposedly gave rise to both chimpanzees and humans.

This assumption, however, ignores the fact that in the supposed six million years since the species diverged, the useless retroviral DNA would have mutated beyond recognition.

I fail to see how they would have mutated “beyond recognition” in only a million-or-so generations.

It also presumes that the virus came first. The Science study demonstrated that the animal DNA came first and brought forth a retrovirus.

But the study also demonstrated that the retrovirus caused the animal DNA – it does not help Mr Thomas’ cause.

The finding also implies that the “provirus” DNA sequences that combined to become a retrovirus were situated on the chromosome right where they could be joined by the precise cellular machinations that perform recombination. Thus, what appears to be shared retrovirus infections in chimps and humans could have come from “proviruses” in their genomes—created for originally good and similar purposes—that were later activated by recombination.

Certainly, the even was unlikely (one-in-a-trillion, they estimated). But why was it set up by god then? And the proviruses bear all the hallmarks of known, extant (and bad) viruses, rather than something that could have been good but went out of hand. And how many other improbable things didn’t happen?

So, yeah – he can’t provide any good evidence that they were created. While that alone doesn’t mean that they had to have evolved, I’d say that the evidence is strong that they did. So, were viruses created or evolved? Evolved, probably.


One thought on “Godly Viruses

  1. Pingback: Your Mitochondria May Be Infected « Eye on the ICR


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