Behe Explains the Coronavirus

What would we do without the Discovery Institute? Their brilliant researchers are bringing us new knowledge on almost a daily basis — and it’s knowledge we desperately need. A good example just appeared at their creationist blog, titled Evolution, Design, and COVID-19.

It was written by one of their most respected scientists, Michael Behe. He’s not only a Discoveroid Senior Fellow, he’s also a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University. His colleagues at Lehigh are so impressed by his brilliance that they publicly disassociated themselves from him by issuing this statement: Department Position on Evolution and “Intelligent Design”.

Now that you know what we’re dealing with, here are some excerpts from Behe’s new post, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

I’ve been asked to comment on the coronavirus epidemic and evolution. Much of what I wrote six years ago during an outbreak of Ebola virus applies to the current predicament as well. [Footnote links to an earlier Discoveroid article.] The bottom line is that, while of course the virus is dangerous, the situation can be compared to a strong storm on the ocean.

A storm on the ocean? Behe explains:

The waves may be huge and the surface roiling, but the deeper waters continue as they always have, essentially undisturbed. In a similar way, although superficially it changes very rapidly, some researchers think that the coronavirus and many other virus types have remained basically the same for tens of millions of years.

What’s he saying — viruses don’t evolve? Then where was this coronavirus thing before now? We’re not told. Instead, in his next two paragraphs Behe describes viruses in general. There’s nothing said that applies to the problem we’re facing today, so we’ll skip that stuff. Then he says:

So, do I think viruses were designed? Yes, I most certainly do! [We’re not surprised!] The viruses of which we are aware — including the coronaviruses, Ebola, and HIV — are exquisitely, purposively [sic] arranged, which is the clear signature of intelligent design.

Ooooooooooooh! Viruses bear the “clear signature” of the intelligent designer — blessed be he! After that stunning revelation, Behe tells us:

Well, then does that mean the designer is evil and wants people to suffer? No, not necessarily.

No? How does Behe reach that conclusion? He explains:

I’m a biochemist, not a philosopher. Nonetheless, I see no reason why a designer even of such things as viruses should be classified as bad on that basis alone.

If Behe sees no reason, that should be good enough for you, dear reader. He continues:

I started this post with an analogy of a storm on the ocean. Certainly, if we were on a ship in a powerful storm, we might be excused for thinking storms are bad. But in calmer moments we understand that on balance the ocean is very good and that, given an ocean and the laws of nature, storms will arise from time to time. What’s more, we just might get caught in one.

Brilliant analogy! We can’t blame the designer for every little thing — or plague. Let’s read on:

In the same way, most viruses do not affect humans and may well have a positive, necessary role to play in nature of which we are currently unaware. (I would bet on it.)

Ooooooooooooh! Viruses are good for us — but we don’t yet recognize how wonderful they are. At the end of his post, Behe emphasizes that point:

From time to time a storm arises in the virosphere and affects humans. But that’s no reason to think either that viruses weren’t designed or that the designer of viruses isn’t good.

And so, dear reader, please remember to thank the designer — blessed be he! — for the wonderful gift of viruses.

Copyright © 2020. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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47 responses to “Behe Explains the Coronavirus

  1. So: if deadly viruses are the lovingly hand-crafted work of a benevolent Intelligent Designer (Blessed be He/She/It/Them), then surely we are ungrateful blasphemers when we develop vaccines to counter them!

  2. As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods.
    They kill us for their sport.

    King Lear: IV-1

  3. “Nonetheless, I see no reason why a designer even of such things as viruses should be classified as bad on that basis alone.” Quite right. We should also add in such things as the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and the parasites that cause malaria.

  4. Jim Roberts

    Archangel Gabriel: So, uh, I know that you said day nine of creation was going to get, uh, “hella crazy,” but, um, viruses?
    God: Yeah, aren’t they awesome!
    Gabriel: They’ve already wipe out, like, nine species. And counting. They mutate like crazy, adapt to immune responses, and they’re so simply designed that they reproduce like nothing.
    God: Don’t worry, I gave them a lipid layer on the outside – all they need to do is wash with soap.
    Gabriel: Oh, okay, so there’s a plan. Tomorrow you’re making soap, then?
    God: Nah.
    Gabriel: When?
    God: Day 1576312.
    Gabriel: … What?
    God: Oh, and I’m only giving it to humans. The rest of the animals will just have to get by.
    Gabriel (leaving, calling on cellphone): Yeah, Lucifer, so about this “angelic uprising” event. Pencil me in as a “maybe” …

  5. Desnes Diev

    “I’m a biochemist, not a philosopher”

    He did not use his biochemist skills to demonstrate the Designer’s intervention – it’s more a feeling – but we should consider him one when he should elaborate on his Designer’s characteristics. Reminds me to never play a ball game with someone who changes goalposts as fast as Behe.

  6. How flexible one can be when talking about “design” and “designers”.

  7. Michael Fugate

    Viruses are involved in creating variation in eukaryotic genomes – may be that they are the “intelligent” designers Behe is looking for?

  8. Regarding Behe’s line: “I’m a biochemist, not a philosopher” we present to you a long list of similar statements by Star Trek’s Doctor Leonard McCoy: A List of Doctorisms, including every Trekie’s favorite: “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!”

  9. Anyone who thinks viruses don’t evolve either doesn’t know much about them or hasn’t thought very carefully about them. Virus genomes change very rapidly, especially single strand RNA viruses including corona viruses. That’s one reason why viruses that initially affect one type of vertebrate (as, of course, intelligently designed by various people’s favorite god(s) (blessed be their names, of which there are too many to list here) “evolve” easily to affect a different mammal. We’ve seen many instances of that in the last couple of decades.

  10. Opps, I forgot my full disclosure statement: I received my PhD from the Biology Department at Lehigh University and at that time they had a very good virology course which included information about their evolution.

  11. Our dear SC is puzzled: “What’s he saying — viruses don’t evolve?”
    Variation within a kind. And that’s the creacrap answer to Abeastwood’s comment as well. As that great German philosopher whose name I can’t seem to remember so astutely wrote:

    “iron law of Nature–which compels the various species to keep within the definite limits of their own life-forms when propagating and multiplying their kind.”
    “The fox remains always a fox, the goose remains a goose, and the tiger will retain the character of a tiger and the virus will never be anything but a virus.”

  12. I remember the abominable Andrew Weil, challenged to justify one of his eccentric natural food recommendations, saying “I’m a doctor, not a scientist”.

  13. Re: virus evolution, we have this: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Mar 21;114(12):E2401-E2410. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1621061114. Epub 2017 Mar 6, “A comprehensive sequence and structure analysis of major virion proteins indicates that they evolved on about 20 independent occasions… throughout the course of evolution by the recruitment of diverse host proteins that became major virion components.”

    So no, viruses are not all of one kind, but of at least 20 different kinds. However, they would not have been a major space problem on the Ark.

  14. Does that not fall under “micro evolution”? I think that even Ken Ham would allow that.

  15. I’m surprised that he didn’t mention bacteriophages as possibly “good” viruses.

  16. @TomS, Won’t that depend on whether or not they attack good bacteria?

  17. Michael Fugate

    The proper way to look at this is – “no matter what my God does, my god will always be good. That is a given; I had to sign some statement of faith that claims it is true.”

  18. Karl Goldsmith

    So the designer wanted ebola to go on killing for a couple of years, perhaps we should get Behe to ask his designer how long the COVID-19 will kill for.

  19. @Michael Fugate
    And, by that reasoning, if the Bible contains a false statement, that’s OK.

  20. Michael Fugate

    One just denies that it is false – call it fake news.

  21. Off-topic, but has anyone noticed that FB troll Otangelo Grosso is now listed as an ENV author?

    Just when we thought it couldn’t be worse, ENV lowers the bar!

  22. I’d noticed. Whata re we supposed to do these days instead of face palm? Otangelo is at which I can’t get onto. Can any one else? His twitter blurb says “Swiss/italian, entrepreneur, proponent of intelligent design. Science, philosophy and theology point to creation. Dislikes false claims of naturalism.” No bio at EN and not among listed authors

  23. Michael Fugate

    On LinkedIn Grosso’s skills listed are:
    “cut and paste”

  24. Timothy Horton

    “Scientist” Otangelo Grasso today.showed up at Joshua Swamidass’ blog Peaceful Science. Don’t bother rushing over, it’s the same vacuous BS he’s C&Ped everywhere for the last decade.

    For your amusement here is some interesting background on Mr. Grasso.

    New Poster is a Serial Troll

  25. @Michael Fugate
    I realize that the creationists do not take the action that I suggrsted: it’s OK if it’s false.
    My point is that the policy of excusing actions of God applies equally to false statements.
    It’s OK if God kills. that is not murder.
    It’s OK if God takes property, that is not theft.
    It’s OK if God makes less than perfect design.
    So, too, if what God says is deliberately misleading, that is not lying.

  26. I hope the designer doesn’t decide that Behe should get the coronavirus.

  27. Theodore Lawry

    Behe’s description of the universe, especially that bit about the ocean, sound more like universe run by mindless laws of nature, not by an Intelligent Designer. Behe doesn’t seem to be aware of that.

  28. @Theodore Lawry
    To design means to work within the limits of the laws of nature.
    If you aren’t constrained, then you don’t have to resort to design.

  29. Michael Fugate
    Genomic analysis of the virus transmission…

  30. Dave Luckett

    A few folks were kicking around the idea that if God creates (or allows to occur) evil things like, oh, coronavirus, or cholera bacilli, or guinea worms, to name but a few of the myriad of agents of human woe, then God must have an evil nature. But God also created sunsets and daffodils and dogs, so He can’t be all bad. He has a good side, too; so really, He’s a bit like us.

    But hang on, if he’s like us, what are we doing worshiping Him? The answer appears to be found in the last chapters of the Book of Job, in God’s reply to Job’s plaintive question, “Why have you done this to me?” It is, essentially, “Because I can.” He can do anything, so we should worship Him because of that. Huh. And with that, any notion of ethics is punted straight into the weeds. “Socrates, old boy, the gods are good because they’re gods, not because they’re good, and we just have to suck it up. Who knew?”

    Well, we can’t be having that, can we? Gods that stroll about conducting mass killings and smitings of the innocent? Like in plagues and disasters, floods, stuff like that? Socrates might have been able to take refuge in that (although he didn’t) because Socrates could wear the idea of multiple gods. But, we monotheists… not so much.

    So we need to concoct some explanation of this evil side, without resorting (Heaven forbid!) to the idea that there’s more than one of Him. Such an explanation is called a theodicy…

    Sadly, none exists. Oh, there’s attempts at one. All of them are observably false to reality or internally inconsistent. The usual Holy Roller line is that we caused it all ourownselves by disobeying and sinning and stuff, and that God just had to curse us with death because He said He would, gave us fair warning and all. It’s not surprising that He’d tinker with His own Creation to provide agents of death, like disaster or disease, to deliver His curse. Sure. Only that implies that God is OK with vicarious punishment, because He visits it on animals and the new-born innocent, those who have no capacity to sin at all. Vicarious and unjust punishment is the tool of a tyranny, and surely evil, don’t you think?

    Well, apparently God doesn’t agree, because He visited it – in a particularly horrible form – on the one sinless adult human being who ever lived. And for why? On account of a perfect sacrifice was required, we are told.

    Come again? Required by whom? Required by what? His own nature? What, God can do anything but forgive without demanding blood sacrifice? So there’s something He can’t do? Only He demands that very thing of us. So there’s something we can do that He can’t.

    Maybe we’re gods, too, then. Jesus actually mentioned that possibility, with approval. I know Our Host dislikes scriptural cites, but perhaps he will allow just one: John 10:34. How about that?

    So here we are back where we started. God’s like us. A little good, a little bad, some things OK, some not so OK, what do you want, perfection?

    The answer, alas, is “yes”. If we’re talking about God, singular, that’s the answer. So a theodicy would have to reconcile a perfect and sinless God with vicarious punishment of the innocent. And that’s impossible.

  31. @Dave Luckett
    And describing God as a designer is to make God like us, constrained by the ways of the world.

  32. @ Dave Luckett: Well said.

    Theodicy resembles nothing so much as it does the rationalistions of a dreadfully battered spouse who nonetheless refuses to leave an appallingly abusive partner.

  33. @TomS, we may have discussed this before, but if so I’m not sure we reach a conclusion.

    I see nothing self-contradictory in the idea of a creator God who chooses to work within a set of constraints, which from our point of view constitute the laws of nature, in the same way that an artist may choose to work with a limited palette, or those who take part in a sport agree to be constrained by a set of rules.

    You could of course reply that such a God would be limited by his own choices, but I could reply that if he was not allowed to choose to be so limited, that in itself is a limitation on choice. There was a time when people took such questions very seriously

  34. @Dave Luckett, One of my friends, a believing Christian, simply says that the problem of evil is a mystery to which he does not know the answer. Make of that what you will.

    You are probably familiar with the idea that God Is actually omnimalevolent, with such apparent good as may exist serving the function of making greater evil possible; expounded byJohn Zande at and by the philosopher Stephen Law among others:

  35. David Luckett

    Paul Braterman, you describe the traditional retreat of the Christian church when confronted with a contradiction, whether it be Christology, the nature of the Trinity, or the problem of evil: declare it to be a mystery, to be met with a dogma and a declaration of faith.

    Yes, I was aware of the omnimalevolence of God idea, somewhat along the lines of observing that Hitler built the autobahns and launched an anti-smoking campaign. It seems to me that the practical answer is that the Universe behaves in a manner that is indistinguishable from how it would behave if there were no God at all, and that it is unnecessary to ascribe to Him either benevolence or malevolence.

  36. @PaulB: “I see nothing self-contradictory in the idea of a creator God who chooses to work within a set of constraints.”
    As so often it’s a semantic matter, depending on the definition of “creator god” and especially “omnipotence”. As even creationists are incapable of reaching consensus on such a definition attempts to reach any conclusion are futile. So I prefer to take TomS’ remarks as a way of pointing out that creationists (and possibly some other apologists) contradict themselves.
    Perhaps the topic is best described a la the Eutyphro Dilemma:

    “Is God’s creation limited because God determined constraints or is it limited because God is constrained?”
    Such dilemmas are only interesting if we attribute some absolute features to a god. Some believers do, some others simply will go “huh”?

  37. Humans are the product of Special Creation. Only problem is that they aren’t that special at all:

    No doubt Behe has an explanation for all this too.

  38. @Paul Braterman
    What I am interested in is the Argument From Design.
    This argument is intended to point to a designer because of some characteristics of the natural world, calked “design”.
    And I claim that this is inconsistent with the “designer” being without limits of the natural world, what I call “spernatural”. “Omnipotent” wuld be a variety of “supernatural”.
    My claim is not against the claim that there is the supernatural which is somehow responsible for the natural world.
    What does “design” mean as it is used in the Argument From Design? Whatever it means, it has to mean that there is some phenomenon in the natural world which is incompatible with only the working of natural laws.
    What is the action of a designer, but action which is compatible with the working of natural laws?

    William Paley touched on the difficulty:
    ” Why should not the Deity have given to the animal the faculty of vision at once? … Why resort to contrivance, where power is omnipotent? Contrivance, by its very definition and nature, is the refuge of imperfection. To have recourse to expedients, implies difficulty, impediment, restraint, defect of power.” (all of these quotatons are cited from Wikiquote)
    To which John Stuart Mill Replied
    “It’s not too much to say that every indication of Design in the Kosmos is evidence against the Omnipotence of the Designer. For what is meant by Design? Contrivance: the adaptation of means to an end. But the necessity for contrivance — the need of employing means — is a consequence of the limitation of power. Who would have recourse to means if to attain his end his mere word was sufficient? The very idea of means implies that the means have an efficacy which the direct action of the being who employs them has not. … Wisdom and contrivance are shown in overcoming difficulties, so there is no place for them in a Being for whom no difficulties exist.”
    William Paley resonded to his own question:
    ” amongst other answers which may be given to it; beside reasons of which probably we are ignorant, one answer is this: It is only by the display of contrivance, that the existence, the agency, the wisdom of the Deity, could be testified to his rational creatures.”
    And John Stuart Mill addressed this thus:
    “If it be said, that an Omnipotent Creator, though under no necessity of employing contrivances such as man must use, thought fit to use them in order to leave traces that would enable man to recognize his creative hand, the answer is that this equally implies a limit to his omnipotence. For if he wanted men to know that they themselves and the world are his work, he, being omnipotent, had only to will that they should be aware of it.”

  39. @TomS, I’m on Paley’s side in that last exchange. A believer would say that God has chosen to give humans free will, incompatible with God imposing on them the awareness of his existence.

    As to how God’s omnipotence (or, for that matter, physical causality) can be reconciled with free will, and how free our will is, and free from what, let’s not go there

  40. re viruses play a positive role: COVID 19 caused Trump to close the borders thereby preventing Europeans from bringing their disgusting dangerous secular ideas. Praise the Lord!

  41. @TomS: which shows Pailey’s intellectual honesty, something creationists almost by definition lack.

  42. @Paul Braterman
    As I see it, Paley is gvig examples of how God can act as a designer, that is, witin the constraints of nature. To show omniotence one must so how God can act outside of the constraints of nature.
    If there were a magic crystal which could instantly give factors of large numbers. (Assuming that it is a “hard” problem.) Or that there is a person who can do that.

  43. @TomS, My understanding from what I’ve heard (I’ve not read Paley himself) is that, like for example Cuvier, he did not see how the adaptedness of organisms in their environment could have come about without direction. So I imagine he thought that different kinds of living things (whatever that may have meant to him) had been crafted by some supernatural process, in order to make them fit to survive according to the Universe’s proceeding, once the creation process was over, in accordance with natural laws

  44. Michael Fugate

    Isn’t that why Cuvier proposed successive creations to allow for animals adapted to different environments through time?

  45. @Michael Fugate, again just going from secondary sources, my understanding is that Cuvier proposed several separate periods of creation, with the extinctions between them, in order to explain the fossil record and the fact that the fauna had changed over time. Remember that he was dealing with an extremely scant record, and therefore had no reason to suspect continuous change

  46. Michael Fugate

    I am not criticizing Cuvier – if organisms couldn’t adapt, then extinction when the environment changes would be inevitable.

    By the way, this editorial in Science applies to creationists as well.

  47. @Paul Braterman
    It will be distracting to get into too much detail about Paley. We are interested in what today’s argument from design is about. But Paley did not argue against the science of his day.
    And I think that he argued from the design of individual things. In the 18th century, there were certainly people who used the watch analogy, etc. to argue for preformationism.