Uh-oh. Michael Egnor is writing about me over on the Discovery Institute site. He’s commenting on that summary of the origin of SARS-CoV-2 virus I wrote the other day, which is fine. What isn’t fine is that he agrees with it.
I threw up in my mouth a little bit.
Reading further, though, he agrees with it for all the wrong reasons, so I feel a little better.
Myers, like the Nature Medicine scientists, uses the scientific inference to intelligent design to search for (and discount) human intelligent agency. Design science is at the forefront of research on the emergence of coronavirus. Based on the available evidence and using the inference to design as a scientific hypothesis, intelligent design of the COVID-19 virus seems unlikely.
That is incorrect. “Design science” is not at the forefront of the research. The authors of that paper came to their conclusion by extensive comparisons of the viral sequence with viruses in other organisms, and by a functional analysis of the structure of the receptor binding domain. Conspiracy theorists and creationists have been poisoning the global conversation with nonsense about the virus being “designed”, so they addressed and dismissed that idea. The primary interest was in the original source, and what properties of the virus make it dangerous to us.
They also pointed out two major adaptations of the virus spike protein: changes to the receptor binding to allow it to bind effectively (but not optimally) to the human ACE2 protein, and an insertion that adds a polybasic cleavage site which also allows the linkage of glycans to the protein that assist in immunoevasion. Two mutations at once! Doesn’t his pal Michael Behe have something to say about the improbability of multiple mutations?
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.
Not for the virus, it wasn’t a destructive process. What was undergoing natural selection here was the virus, not us, and it has acquired attributes that make it wildly successful — it is now colonizing vast fields of billions of human beings, producing uncountable numbers of progeny, infecting more people at an accelerating rate. The virus is stronger and thriving thanks to those features, and doing very well thank you very much.
Humans are now possibly undergoing a round of natural selection in response. I don’t know if there’s a pool of heritable resistance to the virus in the population, so it’s possible we’re experiencing a field of bullets scenario, where nothing heritable is being selected for, but if there is a genotype that has an advantage here, natural selection would increase their frequency over time. Natural selection could make us more resistant as a species to SARS-CoV-2, and definitely wouldn’t be a destructive process.
Also, one of the features of the virus is the addition of short sequences, so SARS-CoV-2 may have had a slight increase in complexity over its predecessors.
Egnor is basically wrong about everything. Balance is restored to the universe.