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Random or Designed? COVID Origin and Evolution “Conspiracy Theories”

By Kevin Barrett

Did COVID-19 jump from animals to humans due to random mutations? Or was a bat coronavirus deliberately tweaked to infect humans via gain-of-function research? The topic has been hotly debated since January 2020. But the debate was suppressed by the world’s most powerful institutions, including the medical and scientific establishments and the media, until May 2021, when suddenly it emerged as a legitimate topic of mainstream discourse.

When one compares the human pathogen SARS-CoV-2 to its bat-infecting relatives, one notices features that at first glance seem engineered. The most obvious is the spike protein that functions as a key to unlock the human cell. The odds that such a perfect “key” to a very complex “lock” would emerge naturally out of random processes might seem, at first glance, prohibitively low. To quantify the odds, one would have to know how many random mutations would have to occur to transform the key to bat cells into a key to human cells. One would also have to know the combinatorial space determining the odds that each mutation could enhance the virus’s prospects of building a key for unlocking human cells. Finally, the odds of each “beneficial” mutation’s happening to work well with other such mutations would need to be calculated.

Once we had a working idea of the probability of a human-cell-opening spike protein emerging through random mutations, we would then need to figure out how many chances the mutating virus would have had to practice its improving skills on human cells. To simplify: If the odds of a randomly-generated human-affecting spike protein emerging are one in a million, we would expect that it would take about a million bat virus contacts with human cells before one of them got lucky. We could then assess the likelihood of so many contacts occurring. If that likelihood was low enough, we could discount the natural-emergence hypothesis.

The problem of determining whether COVID-19 is random or designed parallels the larger and more difficult problem debated by neo-Darwinians and their critics: Is life itself random or designed? After reading Stephen C. Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, I wouldn’t be surprised if the media and scientific experts eventually come around, as they have in the case of COVID-19, to admitting that case for design is not a fully-debunked “conspiracy theory” believed only by obscurantists and quacks, Trump voters and religious fundamentalists, and so on, but is, on the contrary, supported by surprisingly strong evidence.

The basic problem in the evolution debate, as in the COVID origins debate, boils down to the question: Can random processes generate information? And if so, can they generate enough information to explain the phenomenon under investigation—whether it’s the origin of COVID or the origin and development of life on earth? Those responding negatively to Darwinism ground their arguments in probability theory and its cousin, information theory, as explained in the Hoover Institution video Mathematical Challenges to Darwin.

Their opponents, seemingly reluctant to debate on mathematical grounds, fling ad hominems and non sequiturs, obfuscations and diversions, mischaracterizations and stale bromides…and when all else fails, threats to reputations and employment prospects. In other words, the pro-Darwinism camp behaves like the supporters of the orthodox narratives of World War II, the JFK assassination, 9/11, Zionism, and other sensitive political issues. That in itself ought to be enough to make any fair-minded observer suspicious.

Now that the debate over COVID origins has been deemed permissible by our oligarchical overlords, we can envision a thought experiment: What if those arguing against the lab emergence hypothesis refused to debate the issue on its merits, but instead insisted that any claim that COVID was intelligently designed was inherently unscientific? That, in effect, is the main argument the neo-Darwinians use against the likes of Stephen C. Meyer. They claim that Meyer’s intelligent design hypothesis violates the precept of methodological naturalism: the insistence that science must restrict itself to investigating material causes of natural phenomena. Methodological naturalism is, of course, tautological: If we arbitrarily call something a natural phenomenon, and then restrict ourselves to naturalistic/materialistic explanations, we have illicitly evaded i.e. begged the question of whether or not it was intelligently designed. Invoking methodological naturalism to delegitimize debate is the same sort of question-begging trick used by supporters of political orthodoxy when they arbitrarily deem an argument, hypothesis, or field of inquiry “conspiracy theory” or “denial” in order to avoid having to defend their own indefensible position.

Those who support a robust debate over COVID origins, but see no reason to debate Darwin, might argue that methodological naturalism is well-suited to the latter but not the former. After all, we can easily envision how COVID might have been cooked up in a lab. The techniques are well-known. The existence of hundreds of biowar labs is a given. But we have no way of similarly envisioning what might have happened when life on Earth first emerged from a pre-biotic environment (the topic of Meyer’s earlier book Signature in the Cell). Nor can we easily imagine precisely how a Designer would have caused animals to suddenly appeared fully formed with no apparent evolutionary antecedents during the Cambrian explosion (the lynchpin of Darwin’s Doubt).

Such arguments, ironically enough, mirror the much-derided “God of the gaps” fallacy—only in this case, it’s the “Darwin of the gaps” fallacy. Actually, two fallacies are on display: the argument from ignorance (“we don’t know that God or ETs or extradimensionals seeded life on Earth 3.5 billion years ago and then came back and created animals 541 million years ago, so therefore it didn’t happen”) and the argument from incredulity (“I can’t imagine how an intelligent designer could have created life and then animals, and it violates my deep-seated belief in Darwinism, so therefore it didn’t happen.”) Once we dispel these fallacies, we see that there is no more reason to arbitrarily exclude the intelligent design hypothesis for the origin and development of life in general than for the origin and development of COVID-19. In both cases, we are looking at something that might or might not be an artifact, that may or may not be the product of a mind. And in both cases, much of the evidence in dispute involves mathematical probabilities. Some of it needs to be elucidated by specialists before non-specialists can even begin to form an opinion. But perhaps not all of it.

Ron Unz has written a series of articles arguing that COVID-19 emerged from a US biological warfare strike against China and Iran. Much of the evidence he cites is circumstantial. But circumstantial evidence can be quite strong: What are the odds that COVID-19 would first emerge at the worst possible place and time for China (Wuhan on Chinese New Year) and next migrate to Qom to incapacitate or kill a substantial fraction of Iran’s ruling elite? What are the odds that this would randomly happen at the peak of neocon-driven US 4th generation wars on China and Iran? What are the odds that this “randomly mutated virus” would turn out to be a perfect anti-economy bioweapon, hitting the “sweet spot” combining ultra-contagiousness with the requisite .5% to 1% lethality? What are the odds that a US military games team would have shown up in Wuhan at the exact moment COVID was first unleashed? And above all, what are the odds that the US Defense Intelligence Agency would just happen to issue a strongly-worded warning to guard against an impending pandemic in Wuhan more than one month before anyone else on Earth, least of all the Chinese government, knew of any such outbreak?

If we consider the wider context, the “coincidences” pile up even further: What are the odds that all of these random occurrences would perfectly mimic what we would expect from a US biological attack on China’s economy? What are the odds that such a perfect natural imitator of a biowar virus would show up in China at the precise moment in history when a pre-emptive US attack on China’s economy would seem almost inevitable to students of geopolitical history and the Thucydides Trap?

It is impossible to precisely quantify the odds against these and other items Unz cites being a series of mere coincidences. We must fall back on our respective intuitive evaluations. To me, it seems intuitively obvious that Unz is almost certainly right, or at least largely right. But what is obvious to me is apparently less so to others. To me, the circumstances of Lee Harvey Oswald’s murder by mobster Jack Rubenstein, and the subsequent cover-up, make it obvious that JFK was killed by a high-level conspiracy. To me, the obvious demolition of WTC-7 obviously demolishes the official story of 9/11. To me, Sen. Paul Wellstone’s plane crash at a pivotal moment in history, shortly after he was issued a draconian threat by Dick Cheney, was obviously a case of murder. If you notice the obvious in such cases, much less belabor it, you’ll be called a conspiracy theorist—while those who don’t notice it blithely go about their business.

Similarly, it is intuitively obvious to me that the world in general and life in particular is not just filled with, but consists of, order and meaning, and as such is obviously the product of mind. I don’t really need Stephen C. Meyer to explain to me why the odds of a randomly-mutated DNA sequence coding for a useful protein that could play a role in a beneficial mutation are so prohibitively low that the whole Darwinian paradigm collapses. (Meyer doesn’t deny microevolution, the fitness-driven changes within single populations, but rather argues that the extremely low odds of randomly-mutated DNA leading to beneficial outcomes demolishes the neo-Darwinian macroevolutionary paradigm.)

When we encounter phenomena that strike us as exceedingly unlikely to have occurred by chance, we intuitively sense a mind at work. Meyer cites the case of the Easter Island statues: Though we have no idea who made them or how they were made, we attribute them to human minds and hands. The theoretical possibility that random geological and meteorological processes produced them barely occurs to us, because it seems so unlikely.

Likewise, a string of improbable “coincidences” like those involved in the Wuhan COVID outbreak, the JFK and Wellstone assassinations, 9/11, and so on, can sometimes strongly suggest that the phenomenon was produced by human minds, which can imaginatively reach into the future and act in such a way as to produce objects and events that would almost certainly never have occurred by chance.

Can intuitive assessments of such things have any value? Consider the game of chess: Humans play chess using mostly intuitive understandings, rather than explicit calculations, of how future sequences of moves will play out. A chess player who intuits that a given move is the best option can check his intuition by running a computer program that will explicitly chart out the possible future sequences of moves.

In somewhat similar fashion, those of us who ponder whether COVID-19, and life itself, are intelligently-designed artifacts can check our intuitions by turning to specialists capable of supplementing our evaluations with quantitative precision. So just as I can predict that a computer analysis will bear out the strength of a chess move, without being able to perform that analysis on paper, so too can I predict that sooner or later the work of specialists will confirm the hypotheses that COVID-19 was made in a lab and that life on Earth has been shaped by intelligent design.

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