Creationists and Ebola

The title of this article by Answers In Genesis is a good question:

Where Did Ebola Come From?

*shrug* Look, I love making fun of Creationists, but this is a great question!

Ebola is not 'supposed' to be a human pathogen. Like many emerging infectious diseases, the natural reservoir for ebola is bats. Specifically, fruit bats.

By studying the genomes of many small mammals, we have determined that ebola-like viruses have existed on Earth, infecting small mammals, for 12 to 24 million years.

YAY! Straight forward answer to an interesting, valid question.

...... But with Creationists, things are never this easy. They dont want a straight forward answer. They want that straight forward answer smashed and mangled through their bizarre, personal interpretation of their bizarre, personal choice of voodoo so their bizarre, personal view of reality remains intact.

Creationists do not want to talk about endogenous viruses and 12-24 million year time-frames. They want to talk about nonsense.

Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites in the world today. This particular lifestyle presents some complications for an originally good creation.

Heh. Funny wording. Indeed, viruses *are* obligate intracellular parasites in the world today, but were likely quite independent at the start of the RNA world, but I dont think thats what the author meant. I think he meant that after Creation and before The Fall, ebola wasnt killing people. It was just infecting coconuts. Ebola kills now because of The Fall, but you can still see how some viruses retained their Good:

The question becomes one of whether there is any kind of good that can come from viruses.7 Researchers at the University of Arizona found a particularly interesting relationship with wasps, aphids, and viral-infected bacteria. The news agency writes, “The term ‘beneficial virus’ sounds like an oxymoron.”8 Without going into too much detail, the viral-infected bacteria helped protect aphids from attack by wasps. A second intriguing observation comes from the evolutionist science writer Carl Zimmer. In one article, he highlights how almost all mammals have one or two genes that appear to have come from a virus and are essential to proper development of the placenta.9 If our genome did not have this bit of apparently viral DNA, then none of us would ever be born. So we have examples of good viruses and essential viruses, which helps explain how not all viruses are bad.

Okay, ignore the fact a Young Earth Creationist is using co-evolution and gene co-option/divergence as evidence for YEC. Ignore that. Ugh. No what I think is funny is that YECers have everything *backwards*. Viruses do not start out 'good' and go 'evil'. When a virus first crosses into a new species-- that is a very tumultuous time for the virus AND the new host. A virus spreading into a new species is a deadly war for *both* sides. Viruses incapable of making the transition are killed. New hosts that are unable to manage the infection are killed.

We are seeing this right now with Ebola.

Again, humans are *not* the natural host for this virus. We are an 'accident', from its perspective, and everyone is paying the price.

When evolution is allowed to take place, eventually, the viruses that dont kill their hosts so quickly are selected for. New hosts that are able to manage the disease better survive. And eventually the relationship reaches a happy-medium. For examples of viruses that have made this 'jump'-- look at mononucleosis or HSV-1 or CMV or HPV. Look at ERVs. There is no doubt these viruses can still cause problems, but for the most part they are adapted to us, and us to them, for a 'Meh' on both sides.

I also think its cute how this YEC is well aware of the fact we have traced ebola-like viruses back 12-24 million years, but uses *that* research to attack evolution:

Much to the amazement of many researchers, the whole Ebola genome (DNA) has been found within the genomes of several animals (including guinea pigs, opossums, wallabies, and insect-eating bats).11 Understanding the origin of this particularly deadly virus helps explain parts of why it is so difficult to treat. If Darwinian evolution were true, then these elements should be considered junk DNA and eliminated from the gene pool by natural selection.

Unless there is a clear, terminal effect of carrying that bit of DNA (it was likely immediately epigenetically silenced), there is no way for a genome to purposefully extract any bit of DNA. It will be there and mutate at a set rate. There are no 'whole ebola genomes' in anyones DNA.

The observation that most of the mammalian sequences have ORF disruptions and possess only truncated NP-like genes... Only Monodelphis has more than one different filovirus-like gene and these (the NP and L protein-like sequences) are on separate chromosomes.

We also see an appearance of the classic YEC claim "We will never know because no one was there to observe it!"

Does that mean that this particular outbreak of Ebola can be traced back to one of these animals? I don’t know. No one knows. It is particularly difficult to determine the exact origin of this outbreak because no one was there to observe it.

Actually, we can figure out exactly how outbreaks start BECAUSE OF EVOLUTION.

Emergence of Zaire Ebola Virus Disease in Guinea

We obtained all 48 complete genome sequences of filoviruses that are currently available from GenBank and aligned them with the new EBOV Guinea sequences (18,959 nucleotides). We used software designed to perform statistical selection of best-fit models of nucleotide substitution (jModelTest12) to identify the general time-reversible model of sequence evolution with gamma-distributed rate variation among sites (GTR+gamma) as the model that best describes the phylogenetic data. We used the Bayesian Markov Chain Monte Carlo method, as implemented in MrBayes 3.1.2 software,13 to infer the composition of one phylogenetic tree, using two runs of four chains with 1 million steps with a burn-in rate of 25% and the GTR+gamma model. A second tree was inferred for the same alignment with a maximum-likelihood method implemented in PhyML software14 under the GTR+gamma model with 1000 bootstrap replications. A reconstruction of the EBOV phylogenetic tree with the use of molecular clock models is provided in Fig. S1 in the Supplementary Appendix.

Thats a fancy way of saying they compared viral sequences to one another and figured it out.

The world changes, but Creationists stay the same.


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...and yet: you are the mirror image of the worst creationists attacking science with biased fallacy.

Example: Implying that because "Creationists do not want to talk about...12-24 million year time-frames", they therefore want to talk about "nonsense".

They have a narrative to make sense of the world that may be less informed by, and less consistent with much other knowledge generally regarded as science, but it's hardly “nonsense”. It is a structure built in order to provide the same thing good science provides. Given available evidence in the past, it was a very good framework for explanation and prediction. “A framework for explanation and prediction” sounds awfully much like a necessary (if not sufficient) criterion for science, doesn’t it?

Much of creationism may be ignorant or even depraved, but bloviating as if scientists have not proven equally capable of adjusting their web of belief (Quine) to preserve core beliefs betrays a profound ignorance of science history and psychology as it really plays out.

Try reading the recent "Systematicity - The Nature of Science" by Paul Hoyningen-Huene. It has significant gaps & errors, but provide a decent basic foundation of current understanding in, and a framework for distinguishing better science from worse. You and your readers may benefit.

By Buck Field (not verified) on 24 Oct 2014 #permalink

They have a narrative to make sense of the world that may be less informed by, and less consistent with much other knowledge generally regarded as science, but it’s hardly “nonsense”.

I agree. Nonsense is too gentle a word. A child thinking she will score a goal if she wears the right colored socks is nonsense. A more accurate descriptor for Creationism would be purposeful perversion of known facts and actively misinforming people for social/political/monetary gain.

Buck Field: "“A framework for explanation and prediction” sounds awfully much like a necessary (if not sufficient) criterion for science, doesn’t it?"

No, it doesn't. Science is specifically empirical and relies on hypothesis testing. If what you say were true, various religions, especially ones like Christianity that have a systematized and (supposedly) logical Apologetics as part of their tradition, would have disappeared up their own coelomata.

"A more accurate descriptor for Creationism would be purposeful perversion of known facts and actively misinforming people for social/political/monetary gain."

i agree entirely, creationists don't get equal, respectful treatment in intellectual debate because they are bigots, and to offer them even the slightest room to say such nonsense is irresponsible. we have facts on our side, and blogs like this to poke fun at them. if nothing else, this offers the impressionable among us a chance to evaluate their snake oils. hopefully they don't buy any.

A few days late, but if anyone's reading, can ya answer a question?

"Viruses incapable of making the transition are killed."

K, so what happens to the original flavor ebola which has a reservoir species or 3? Let's say an ebola variant evolves so that gives most people a flu-like episode and happily zips to the next host. New Ebola then travels the world as a small annoyance much like, eh, Hello Kitty. But Original E is still in the stockroom and busts out occasionally. I can see no mechanism by which it is displaced.

Am I missing something?

By Spectator (not verified) on 11 Nov 2014 #permalink

@Spectator - "Viruses incapable of making the transition are killed." That section of the comment refers to things that are happening in the new host, rather than entire viral species, I think. So yeah, if you, personally, get infected with a zoonotic virus, some of the virus variants will fail to replicate in you - that's the end of the line for them, in you, this time - and some of the virus variants may succeed, and might make you sick, and maybe even get you to pass them on to another host.
But as an addendum to what you are describing (I don't think you were really missing anything), don't forget that viruses aren't static. The Original E in the "stockroom" (reservoir hosts) is also evolving, in tandem with and against the reservoir host. This can produce a virus that is far less likely to succeed in a jump to a new species, or it can produce a virus that is more capable of making that jump. When it does (or fails) to make the jump, the virus can also be better or worse at making the new host sick.
At the same time, in your scenario, if we've encountered the flu-like variant of Ebola, we now thwart the original virus before it can even come close to making us sick because we have cross-protective immunity. Or, if we're talking about longer timelines, we've been evolving, and maybe we've encountered other viruses that have driven our evolution with a new mechanism of preventing infection, so the old, bad Ebola doesn't even gain a foothold in us anymore.
Only some of this was directly related to your question. The rest was just fun :)

Abbie wrote: "viruses *are* obligate intracellular parasites in the world today, but were likely quite independent at the start of the RNA world..."
Assuming there was an RNA world (which I understand is very likely), what was the difference between a virus RNA and any other bit of RNA? I can see that sequences could be more parasitic or more cooperative, but a 'quite independent' virus is just confusing me.
I like to say that viruses (today) are always cell products, so cells come first in the chicken-egg question. Proximally it's true, but ultimately? - I dunno. Are there viruses that are known (reliably inferred) to have originated from previously well-behaved, adaptively functional, chromosomally inherited gene clusters, rather than traffic only going the other way?

By John Scanlon (not verified) on 16 Nov 2014 #permalink