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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

Are Viruses Really “Evolving”?
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.
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We’re all familiar with the concept—viruses changing over time, appearing to perceive and then circumvent our medicinal efforts. But do they do it on purpose? Humanity appeared to have won the battle against many diseases and viruses using various drug treatments in the 1960s and 1970s. However, today it appears that we may have only toughened the battle. According to Kenneth Miller, “the culprit is evolution” (1999, p. 50). Evolutionists frequently use this idea of the “rapid evolution” of viruses as “observed proof” for evolution. Their claim is that drug-resistant strains of many types of viruses have evolved from strains that, at one time, were susceptible to these same drug treatments. Newscasters remind us frequently of viruses such as HIV that respond to certain treatments for a while, but then develop (“evolve”) immunity to that particular therapy. Scientists would have you and me believe that these microorganisms are “selectively” adapting to our drug treatments through a mechanism that involves mutation. However, a recent study indicates an alternative explanation for this acquired immunity—one that argues against organic evolution.

Researchers Monica Sala and Simon Wain-Hobson from the world famous Pasteur Institute in France recently published a paper titled “Are RNA Viruses Adapting or Merely Changing” (2000). In this particular study, 85 sets of proteins from viruses that are known to infect mammals, plants, and bacteria were studied. According to the old evolutionary hypothesis, once drug therapy alleviates the majority of viral particles, only the ones that remain have mutated during replication and thus are resistant. Evolutionists believe that this represents a new kind of “natural selection” taking place—one in which mutations purposefully confer drug resistance to viruses. Speaking about bacterial replication, Dr. Miller stated: “The result is unavoidable, given the millions of genetic duplications that occur in a bacterial population in just a few days. Sooner or later, the ‘right’ mutation shows up, and it causes the individual bacteria that possess it to prosper at our expense” (p. 50).

However, Dr. Sala’s data indicate that the changes we are seeing in viruses are due to a genetic drift (random genetic variations within the viral material) rather than a response to drugs! These studies demonstrated that this genetic drift occurred at a constant rate, even when the viruses were subjected to drug treatments (in other words the viruses changed whether or not they had been exposed to drug therapy). The appearance of “drug resistance” may not be as new as researchers once thought. Modeling studies looking at HIV-resistant mutants have demonstrated that drug resistant strains already are present before drug therapy begins (Ribeiro and Sebastian, 2000), indicating that the changes in these viruses are occurring randomly rather than in response to a particular drug. Do viruses change over time? Yes. Are they purposefully “evolving”? No.


Miller, Kenneth (1999), Finding Darwin’s God (New York: Cliff Street).

Ribeiro, Ruy M. and Sebastian Bonhoeffer (2000), “Production of Resistant HIV Mutants During Antiretroviral Therapy,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 97:7681-86.

Sala, Monica and Simon Wain-Hobson (2000), “Are RNA Viruses Adapting or Merely Changing,” Journal of Molecular Evolution, 51:12-20, July.

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