Were Viruses Created or Evolved?

Viruses have a bad reputation. They are ultra-tiny, well-designed machines that copy themselves in a process that sometimes causes disease in the organisms in which they reside. One class called retroviruses is equipped with machinery that splices its own viral code into the DNA of a host cell.

Retroviruses have been portrayed as genetic "leftovers" from an evolutionary past, but how did they really originate?

A report published in Science showed how one retrovirus was "born." Researchers discovered that a retrovirus named XMRV was formed when two DNA sequences called "proviruses" were brought together through "recombination."1 This occurs during gamete development when genetic material from the parent cells is rearranged into new combinations of genes in the offspring, resulting in more genetic variations.

The study authors wrote, "We conclude that XMRV was generated as a result of a unique recombination event."1

Could other—or perhaps all—viruses have entered the world by recombining unique DNA sequences that were already present in animal genomes? Perhaps God made viruses during the creation week as integral parts of plants and animals.

If so, He certainly did not form them to cause disease. At the end of that week, He declared His works "very good."2 But like many other created features, their original purpose was warped because of "the bondage of corruption" brought about by mankind’s sin.3 For example, God made sharp teeth to equip animals to eat vegetation, but many have long since abandoned herbivory and become carnivores.4

It is possible that God made viruses as tiny robots to carry life-enhancing genetic information from one cell to another.5 At some point after the Fall, the once-balanced cell-virus interactions would have begun to falter and fail.

Another implication of this research concerns evolutionary claims regarding human-chimpanzee ancestry. Both species appear to share certain retrovirus-like DNA sequences. These have been assumed by evolutionists to have originated from a retroviral infection of the ancestral population that supposedly gave rise to both chimpanzees and humans.6

This assumption, however, ignores the fact that in the supposed six million years since the species diverged, the useless retroviral DNA would have mutated beyond recognition. It also presumes that the virus came first. The Science study demonstrated that the animal DNA came first and brought forth a retrovirus.

The finding also implies that the "provirus" DNA sequences that combined to become a retrovirus were situated on the chromosome right where they could be joined by the precise cellular machinations that perform recombination. Thus, what appears to be shared retrovirus infections in chimps and humans could have come from "proviruses" in their genomes—created for originally good and similar purposes—that were later activated by recombination.

This study is consistent with the idea that retroviruses, and even the retroviral-like DNA sequences found in genomes, began as created genetic features and were not the products of evolution.


  1. Paprotka, T. et al. 2011. Recombinant Origin of the Retrovirus XMRV. Science. 333 (6038): 97-101.
  2. Genesis 1:31.
  3. Romans 8:21-22.
  4. Criswell, D. 2009. Predation Did Not Come from Evolution. Acts & Facts. 38 (3): 9. 
  5. Indeed, viral machinery is exploited by man for gene therapy. If man can use viruses to accomplish a good purpose, then so can God.
  6. Thomas, B. 2010. Evolution's Best Argument Has Become Its Worst Nightmare. Acts & Facts. 39 (3): 16-17.

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on September 2, 2011.

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