There are limits to how much creationists can deny

Here’s a headline for you: H5N1 virus in latest human case has mutated, officials say. This is not a surprise. This is the lesson we are thoroughly familiar with in biology, that everything changes over time. Of course H5N1 is evolving.

Testing of the latest human case of bird flu has revealed a “notable” mutation in the virus, officials have said.

The case, which was identified this month in a dairy worker in Michigan, marks the second human infection linked to the multi-state H5N1 outbreak among US cattle.

Genomic sequencing has now found a change in the virus compared to an earlier infection in a dairy worker in Texas, raising concerns that the virus is evolving to better infect humans.

The slight change in the virus’s genetic makeup is “associated with viral adaptation to mammalian hosts,” the Centre for Disease Control said in a statement published on Friday.

Mutation and adaptation are inevitable. We ought to be teaching that with a heck of a lot more confidence, because some people don’t get it. Answers in Genesis is in the business of spreading doubt and confusion, and they have their own stupid opinions about bird flu.

However, many media outlets and health authorities have expressed the fear that the virus could “mutate” to a form which is capable of directly spreading among humans. The 1918–19 “Spanish flu” outbreak, which swept the world and killed more than 20 million people (more even than the just finished war, and than the Black Death in 14th century Europe), is believed to have possibly started in birds and spread to humans.

They are very fond of scare quotes.

Unfortunately, the words being used to describe the feared change in the virus, such as “mutate” and “evolve” carry with them all sorts of Darwinian baggage. This will become especially pointed if the dreaded change does eventuate. Viruses, like actual living things, do mutate (the term is properly applied) and change. The issue is, as always, not to be misled by the “psychological link” between such terms and the idea that pond scum has turned into pelicans, palm trees and politicians.

Eventually, even the ignorant turdlets at AiG are compelled to admit that organisms actually do mutate, and change, and adapt, they have to desperately insist that that does not mean that viruses will evolve into human beings. Yeah, we know. No one has predicted that they would. You can use as many quotes as you want, but you’re still forced to admit that life “mutates” and “adapts” and “evolves.”

Evolution is a real and ongoing process, and that’s why we should be concerned about H5N1.


  1. raven says

    There are limits to how much creationists can deny

    Are you sure about that?

    They were mostly silent during the Covid-19 virus pandemic. But not all of them.

    This was a classic case of a virus mutating to jump from an animal host to humans and then evolving to better adapt to that human host.
    The Covid-19 virus is still around, and still evolving rapidly to evade our immune system defenses i.e. antigen escape.

    It’s hard to not see the 1.4 million dead Americans with tens of millions suffering from various long Covid syndromes.

    Even so, there were a lot of fundie xians who were Covid-19 virus deniers and/or Covid-19 antivaxxers. Many prominent fundie xian leaders managed to catch the nonexistent virus and die a slow and lingering death in the hospitals and rehab centers.

    The number of US antivaxxers who caught the virus and died is around 330,000.
    Reality denial can kill.

  2. raven says

    Okay, now I’m worried. Because if this stuff still has its original fatality rate, we’re screwed.

    IIRC, the original fatality rate was 60%.

    You can worry but it isn’t that bad.

    When we first heard about the new Covid-19 virus pandemic, in late 2019, I said to my friend, that this new virus would be a lot less dangerous if the fatality rate was 20% like SARS, than the relatively low fatality rate of 1-2%.

    For two reasons.
    .1. Viruses with fast onset and high fatality rates don’t spread as easily. This is because the hosts get sick and die quickly. (HIV had a fatality rate of 100% but it took years and decades to kill. OTOH, it was also easily avoidable.)

    .2. If the virus has a high fatality rate, we are going to be a lot more serious about keeping the spread down and coming up with drugs and vaccines as fast as possible.
    (If the Covid-19 virus pandemic is a guide, most people will be serious about avoiding the virus. Some people won’t bother though. Many of that group will get sick and die.)

    .3. We’ve seen dozens of new and emerging viruses over the last century. We’ve learned a lot.
    When you see one, you have to get on it fast and eradicate and control it before it gets away and becomes endemic.
    We’ve done that with the original SARS, Zika, West Nile, Swine Flu 2009, etc..
    We missed with HIV and look what happened there.

    The best time to fight the Avian flu pandemic is…right now.
    While we have some sick cows and 2 human cases.

  3. awomanofnoimportance says

    We were lucky — if lucky is the right word — that Covid has a low virulence rate. There are probably lots of other bugs hiding away in remote areas that have as yet not found their way into major population centers. What happens when something with a virulence level of, say, 50%, manages to hitch a ride to New York? Especially since the precedent set during Covid was for deniers to flat out refuse to admit there was a problem, refuse to comply with public health guidance, and claim their God-given right to help spread the disease. There will come a day when their ignorance and stupidity actually will pose an existential threat to humanity itself.

  4. kome says

    How can they deny that pond scum can become a politician? Have they not seen Ted Cruz?

  5. christoph says

    “The issue is, as always, not to be misled by the “psychological link” between such terms and the idea that pond scum has turned into pelicans, palm trees and politicians.”

    I think that was just a feeble attempt at humor.

  6. seattlesipper says

    A friend of mine solves this problem with a simple assertion. Classic, large-scale “Darwinian evolution” is not a thing (he asserts), but “micro-evolution” is a thing. We can have (he asserts) small changes such as insect wings getting darker due to air pollution settling on bark, but species-to-species evolution as described by Darwin is not real (he asserts). Somehow the creatures under study recognize that some molecular mutations are valid and preserve species differentiation, but other molecular mutations would cross species boundaries and are avoided (he asserts).

    As for me, I was and remain skeptical of his assertions. It seems like such an odd limitation for mere mortals to place on an all-powerful being.

  7. says

    seattlesipper@9 your friend got that idea from one of the creationist “science” groups. They’ve been pushing that excuse for years.

  8. KG says

    Viruses with fast onset and high fatality rates don’t spread as easily. – raven@4

    Indeed. That’s why there was no smallpox epidemic after Europeans introduced the virus to the Americas.

    Oh, wait…

  9. pilgham says

    The Atlantic has a good article by Katherine Wu on the current H5N1. The way influenza evolves is even more interesting than the usual way. P.Z. could do a video on it. Or at least explain that diagram. It only just struck me that the phrase “bugs hiding away in remote areas” is kind of inaccurate. The ancestors of the next nasty bug are out there. but the bugs are constantly evolving and they have to be lucky to get the chance to jump species. On the other hand they have a trillion or so tries. That’s why I can’t give the lab leak theory much credence (it’s possible, but anything is possible) when there are uncountable “labs” in wild areas doing “gain of function” experiments a trillion times a day.

  10. Walter Solomon says

    Pond scum turning into a politician would, in fact, be a case of devolution.

  11. Rich Woods says

    @kome #7:

    Senator Cruz is doing a remarkable job of evolving into Senator Blobfish all by himself.

  12. Kagehi says

    Creationists gave up the “Nothing evolves” BS a long time ago, and its all, “Minor changes are possible, but only magic can cause something via such minor changes to become a new species, therefor its still not real!!” Its sad, really, and at some point no longer all that hilarious to even watch someone shred the insane nonsense they believe. I can’t stand watching one youtube channel I used to, which addresses the latest nonsense from Kent Hovind, for example. The take downs are kind of at the point where you are watching someone pick on a learning disabled child, and it no longer feels remotely funny.

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