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There’s Implicit ID Research on COVID-19; What About Explicit?

Michael Egnor
COVID-19
Image source: CDC, via Unsplash.

As I noted here yesterday, historian Adam Shapiro has criticized intelligent design scientists for not pronouncing the COVID-19 virus an undesigned product of natural selection. It’s true that explicit ID research, done by scientists who have the insight and integrity to publicly confirm their use of the inference to design, has as yet been mostly silent on the origin of COVID-19. 

In April a letter in Nature by Anderson et al. briefly looked at a few amino acids in the spike protein that allow it to bind to our ACE2 receptor with “high affinity.” However, they found “the interaction is not ideal.” They postulated that this interaction was therefore “most likely the result of natural selection” and “not the product of purposeful manipulation.” Yet their cursory analysis can hardly be considered a conclusive investigation of the question for the spike protein or for SARS-CoV-2 virus as a whole.

The reason for the relative silence on the origin of COVID by explicit ID scientists is simple. It’s a reason that Darwinists like Dr. Shapiro may find hard to understand: explicit ID scientists, insofar as they lack the relevant evidence, have not drawn conclusions. Explicit ID scientists, as far as I am aware, are not privy to the details about, for example, the exact circumstances in the Wuhan virology lab or to the details of the spread of the epidemic in China. Presumably such evidence is available to the (primarily government) scientists working with the CDC and elsewhere. 

Assessing the origin of COVID properly would likely require detailed experiments on the binding affinities of key proteins that give the virus its pathogenic properties (such as the spike protein). It would require asking whether their specialized features could arise naturally in a reasonable timescale for viral evolution. An entire PhD thesis could be done on this topic. 

A Natural Source or Cobbled Together?

Other questions could be asked related to the phylogenetic history of the virus and whether it has a natural source or looks artificially cobbled together. Again, it would take time for such an important question to be addressed. Such an investigation would be encumbered by the fact that we have a very limited knowledge of bat virus diversity. A proper analysis would require sampling many bat viruses to increase our knowledge of “what’s out there” in the bat coronavirus universe to possibly serve as the virus’s original source. 

As another 2020 paper in Nature stated, “further studies are needed to determine the natural reservoir and any intermediate hosts of WHCV.” Or as a recent paper in Current Biology, commenting on the peculiar similarity in the spike protein to a pangolin coronavirus, noted, “whether pangolins are natural reservoirs for these viruses, or they acquired these viruses independently from bats or other wildlife, requires further sampling” (emphases added). Likewise, a 2020 paper in Nature Microbiology highlights our “knowledge gap” regarding coronavirus diversity, which hampers our ability to answer key questions: 

Every year, additional CoV sequences are discovered. However, there is a massive knowledge gap in the field, as very little work is performed after the viral sequences are published. Therefore, it is unknown whether these viruses have the potential to emerge in human populations. 

Current methods for studying betacoronaviruses are technically demanding. Viral isolation from field samples is rarely successful and reverse genetics recovery of recombinant virus is labour intensive and expensive, as the synthesis of a single genome can cost upwards of US$15,000. These limitations are prohibitive to studying CoVs at the scale at which they are discovered. [Emphasis added.]

Looked at from a well-informed ID perspective, perhaps the virus would turn out to be of entirely natural origin. But making this determination would require extensive field work and laboratory research and financial investment. It would not take place quickly. It would be fundamentally irresponsible to speculate about answers to these questions before the research is done. 

A Contrast with Darwinism

This is in marked contrast to Darwinian science, much of which is unencumbered by evidence and prone to sweeping pronouncements of evolutionary breakthroughs based on a bone fragment, a fossil or two, lice, moths glued to trees, irrelevant experiments, bushes misrepresented as trees, fake embryos, or spit.  

Adam Shapiro notes that (explicit) ID scientists’ modest statements about the COVID pandemic haven’t addressed scientific questions for which we have insufficient evidence to draw a scientific inference:

…none of these address the question of whether the tools of their research can provide evidence for or against the accusation that a Chinese laboratory intelligently designed SARS-CoV-2.

Shapiro laments: if only scientists were studying the possibility that COVID was designed by humans in a lab…

The coronavirus presented an opportunity to demonstrate a practical application of intelligent design, one that it could credibly say was aligned with its work all along. How better to demonstrate its own apolitical nature than to apply its scientific process to debunk the Chinese lab myth…

Shapiro sets the bar for ID science: demonstrate its apolitical nature! If only he would set the same bar for all of science! More tomorrow.