Responding to “Creating Coronavirus”

Editors Note: David MacMillan is a self-proclaimed former creationist who currently makes his name mocking his former allies, including his own family members who are still creationists. He has engaged in a slander campaign against Answers in Genesis and the Ark Encounter and participated in the mockumentary “We Believe in Dinosaurs”. Normally we ignore him. However, he is now attempting to enhance his name on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, a despicable move that has motivated us to respond.

Unless there had been a major development, we were not planning on addressing Coronavirus again after the release of today’s podcast and tomorrow’s article. It’s a subject which has been done to death at this point, with almost every major Christian and creationist group putting out a response to it.  However, when David MacMillan posted his attempt at painting creationists as partly responsible for the spread of coronavirus because they reject “science”, it wasn’t something we could let go. It was a pathetic attempt to profiteer off public panic and is a typical leftist response to any crisis.

Credentials and Politicians

MacMillan leads off discussing his credentials as a former creationist and claiming to have once written for AiG. If he did, the article is no longer on the site, so put an asterisk next to that claim. He claims to have a degree in physics and I know from elsewhere he is now studying law.  He makes sure to call creation science pseudoscience in the first paragraph, just to establish himself in the atheist community he moves in, though he himself does not identify as an atheist.

He goes on to issue a whole paragraph that basically just attacks Republican politicians for believing what he calls pseudoscience. Honestly, this paragraph reveals his political bias more than saying anything about the politicians he criticizes, given that Democrat Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia in 2010 voiced fears that stationing additional Marines on the island of Guam would cause it to capsize, something literally everyone agrees is bad science. He also ignores the innumerable politicians, mostly Democrats, but other political parties are not immune, who have claimed abortion is not murder, despite science universally declaring that life begins at fertilization. I guess facts only matter when they can be used to paint one side as ignorant science deniers.

At the close of his paragraph attacking politicians, he appeals explicitly to the massive amount of evidence for evolution and the consensus of scientists.  There are two problems with this. The first is that all of the evidence that points to evolution also points to creation. It is in the zone of overlap between the two ideas. The problem is the evolutionists simply assume that any evidence that points to evolution can only point to evolution. That simply is not how science works. In order to validate an idea, it must be demonstrated that all other ideas are excluded. You cannot arbitrarily exclude an idea simply because you do not like it, but that is what evolutionists do, repeatedly, and periodically admit it. “Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic,” said Scott Todd in a 1999 letter to Springer Nature. Todd’s sentiments echo throughout the scientific community, which leads us to MacMillan’s second point, scientific consensus. This is a form of appeal to the majority fallacy of logic. In other words, might does not make right.  Just because a lot of scientists believe it, does not make it so.  The majority of scientists once believed that the solar system was geocentric, yet now the scientific community mocks those who believe geocentrism. The majority of scientists once believed that life could come from non-life.  They were forced to acknowledge this was not possible by men like Redi and Pasteur and will still pay lip service to a lack of spontaneous generation, even as they try to undermine it to demonstrate evolution. Clearly, the scientific consensus is not always right.

Creationists Can Do Science

MacMillan then asks the question: “In the face of a public health crisis like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, what role do pseudoscience and denialism play?” Having already set up the strawman of creationists as science deniers, it is clear who MacMillan means. He mentions the infamous Bill Nye’s comments about creationists being pseudoscientists and harming America’s ability to compete scientifically and does not point out Nye’s error.  He then points out that, as a creationist, Nye’s comments always rankled him because he knew creationists could do science. He points to his own father, a chemist with patents, as well as the list published by Answers in Genesis as examples. So clearly creationists can do science, something he admits. While the admission is refreshing and rare, it does not fit with the article’s attempt to paint creationists as promulgators of pseudoscience.  These paragraphs appear to be there to paint creationists as picky of what science they accept, a point MacMillian returns to later in the article.

Equivocation, Evolution, and Coronavirus

After all the background and setting up his familiar strawman, MacMillan finally gets into talking about the coronavirus.  Most of what he presents as pure science is accurate, but he equivocates on the word “evolution”.  He claims SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19, is evolving rapidly because its genome is rapidly mutating.  This is not evolution, however. Change over time in a viral genome is expected. This is due to the small size of the viral genome and its short generation time. Mutations build-up quickly in a viral population because the virus duplicates itself so frequently.  However, mutation build-up is not evolution and making such a claim is a fine example of the fallacy of equivocation.

MacMillan shows a chart that shows the divergence of 681 viral genomes from the original in Wuhan. Unsurprisingly, they are widely divergent by location. Mutations occur quickly and genomes of daughter viruses are going to be similar to their parent virus. That is not an area where creationists and evolutionists disagree. The problem of evolution is getting a coronavirus in the first place, a problem MacMillan simply ignores. He instead calls this “evolution before our eyes”. It’s actually devolution.  The viral genome is breaking down. Drs. Robert Carter and John Sanford have done excellent work on this with the H1N1 flu virus. Published in a secular journal, Carter and Sanford pointed out that the viral genome degraded over time and that the virus gradually had gotten less host-specific as it degraded.  While SARS-CoV-2 is burning hot right now, just as H1N1 did back in 2009, it is likely following the same pattern.

A Foot in the Past?

MacMillan then has a stab at explaining the coronavirus from a creationist perspective at the behest of one of the We Believe in Dinosaurs directors.  His explanation is actually not bad.  Here it is, in its entirety.

It’s misleading when evolutionists talk about how viruses and other pathogens ‘evolve’ because this is an example of microevolution, not macroevolution. Mutations can allow a virus that previously only infected animals to cross over and begin infecting humans, but those mutations also make the virus less likely to survive in the animal population so it represents a LOSS of information. Macroevolution requires an INCREASE in information which has never been proven. Viruses are still viruses, they are not changing into bacteria or fungi or some other KIND of organism.

“In addition, if evolution was true, no one would survive coronavirus. The fact that our immune systems are able to recognize a completely new virus and fight back is PROOF of God’s design, since complex systems like our immune response cannot evolve by random chance.”

The second paragraph is a bit of a reach but there is some sense in it. The first paragraph also is not bad, though it lacks depth. That’s not terribly surprising, given MacMillan is not a biologist. It could be improved by pointing out that there are different kinds of viruses and we’ve never observed say a pandoravirus into a coronavirus. Further, it could be tightened by pointing out that any mutation represents a loss of information. It does not have to be deleterious to do so.

Misinformation Galore

Of course, MacMillan no longer accepts his own explanation, calling it cringeworthy and flatly wrong.  He claims this by saying that macro and microevolution are not terms that evolutionists use or are well defined. he claims such terms are only used by creationists to “obfuscate.” In making such a statement MacMillan is either ignorant or lying.  A quick search of google scholar returned 39,200 results for the word “microevolution” and 32,800 for “macroevolution”.  Further, the University of California Berkely website, which has what is considered an authoritative lay tutorial on evolution, defines both macro and microevolution. Macroevolution is “evolution on a grand scale — what we see when we look at the over-arching history of life: stability, change, lineages arising, and extinction.” Microevolution is ” simply a change in gene frequency within a population. Evolution at this scale can be observed over short periods of time — for example, between one generation and the next, the frequency of a gene for pesticide resistance in a population of crop pests increases”  Clearly a difference in meanings. Did MacMillan simply not do basic research before making that claim? Or are facts subordinate to the agenda again? One has to wonder.

He then goes on to talk about the specific mutation that made this virus able to infect humans, as well as the virus not being designed in a lab like many on the internet have claimed. So far as I can tell, what he says is accurate here and the source he quotes is also accurate.  How that is relevant to his point that creationist pseudoscience is somehow responsible for people’s reactions during a pandemic is beyond me.  It is his comments on information that are incredibly revealing.

Genetics and Function

MacMillan claims that speaking of new information is irrelevant because all that matters is the arrival of new functions. The problem is, functions arise because of the underlying DNA. Morphology does not exist in a vacuum. The phenotype, the part that functions, only exists because of the underlying genotype. So the question is not about morphology, it is about genetics. To get a new piece of equipment as it were, new code must be provided. This new code is information. It must either spring spontaneously into existence or be acquired from somewhere else. Mutations do not bring in new code, nor do they cause new code to spring into existence. Mutations just break things. No truly beneficial mutation has ever been discovered. The best we have are tradeoffs like the HIV resistance mutation or tetrachromatic vision. They help or enhance one thing in a certain situation, but otherwise are detrimental.    While this could be viewed as a new function in a sense, it is not an example of macroevolution and it is debatable whether it is even microevolution. MacMillan’s arguments have no legs. Perhaps they should evolve some?

Science Denial?

MacMillan finally gets to the point, what he terms “the fruit of science denial” in the bottom quarter of the paper. He claims that creationists must toss away any contradictory evidence, no matter how bad it is, citing himself as an example. If he actually acted that way, rather than seeking answers, I’m not surprised he ended up where he is. Everything he brought up in this article has answers, many of them very simple. He claims that this “suspicion” of science then bleeds out into other areas, such as disease control. He cites a recent AiG article which pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic is not as bad as it is being portrayed. I think this statement by AiG is justified given that the New York Times published claims that 2.2 million people could die of coronavirus despite there only being 270,104 cases recorded as of this writing (03/20/2020). He then claims creationists deny man-made climate change (guilty, with good reason, see https://cornwallalliance.org/   for reasons why) and tries to link mainstream creationists with vaccine denial, something most mainstream creationists aren’t actually against. But hey, strawmen are easier to fight. He also questions the validity of giving Dr. Jean Lightner her proper title, putting quotation marks around it, as if to say it is not valid, even though Dr. Lightner was a licensed veterinarian for years. It’s a petty thing, but it just points out how low MacMillan is willing to go to score cheap points.

Bad Logic

MacMillan’s final statement is as follows “…creationism has taught a broad suspicion of science and public health that weakens officials’ ability to do their jobs. That’s the real shame here.” Wait what? This is a total non-sequitur. It does not follow from creationists do not accept your preferred scientific explanation that they teach a suspicion of public health workers or science in general. I have a degree in science and I am hardly the only one. Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson is a Harvard trained scientist. Again, MacMillan has brought out the strawman.  Worse, his logic is totally flawed. There is no reason why creationists can’t say “evolution is wrong” and also say “wash your hands, follow CDC guidelines.” None. But again, much easier to misrepresent your opponent than actually deal factually with their claims.

What MacMillan and other evolutionists want to do is paint evolution as equivalent to science. Again, this is simply not true.  While some of the claims of evolution can be tested empirically, others cannot. The same can be said for creation. Both ultimately are not science but worldviews, ways we interpret life. They are fundamentally incompatible as well, though some, like MacMillan attempt to meld the two by throwing out parts of the Bible. Obviously, this should not be the position of someone who claims to be a Christian yet sadly it frequently is because many Christians do not want God as their ultimate authority.

Unfortunately, despite his background, or perhaps because of his contempt for it, MacMillan commits the same fundamental errors as atheistic evolutionists. In fact, his article is such that an atheist could have written it. While he does not outright say it, his implication is that creationists are responsible for some of the poor response to the coronavirus pandemic.  This is both false and slanderous to a whole group of people. Of course, given his history of promoting slanderous level lies about Answers in Genesis and the Ark Encounter, I’m hardly surprised.  MacMillan is adhering to the one tenet of leftism: never let a crisis go to waste.

 

Do you know what’s going to happen when you die? Are you completely sure? If you aren’t, please read this or listen to this. You can know where you will spend eternity. If you have questions, please feel free to contact us, we’d love to talk to you.

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