Science, Medicine and Technology

Mutations of Viruses; A Grand Design of a Masterful Designer

Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.


Professor Amtul Razzaq Carmichael , UK

During a Homeopathy class on June 20, 1994, the Fourth Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh) discussed viruses and their mutations. He provided various reasons and explanations for why viruses are able to mutate and adopt various forms, including explanations from a religious point of view. He explained that in fact, mutations to viruses cannot be deemed random, rather there are certain angels specifically commissioned to ensure the survival of all forms of life. When that life is under threat, these angels employ various means in order to ensure the preservation of life.

In light of this, Prof Amtul Razzaq Carmichael takes a deeper look into the the mutation of viruses

Viruses are a rudimentary form of life which consist of the extremely basic genetic material. There are two main types of viruses: DNA and RNA viruses based on their genetic components. For their survival, viruses find a host cell and use the host cells to make millions of copies of the virus; scientists’ call this replication. Viruses cannot divide by themselves. A study of viruses provides an excellent insight into evolutionary biology as viruses have a short generation time, high numbers of offspring (copies of their genetic make-up) and have a simple structure.

What is Viral Mutation?

Viruses continuously adapt to the conditions of their host or their host populations, a process generally understood as mutation. This can be described as errors that occur during the process of replication (division of viral genetic material).  How fast and how much viruses mutate is measured by the mutation rate and the substitution rate. [1]

The mutation rate is the speed at which errors are made during the division of the viral genetic material. When viruses evolve and mutate, initially these mutations are temporary and limited to a small percentage of viruses. With time these mutations become permanent or fixed or are present within all individuals of the virus species, called substitution rate.

RNA viruses tend to have higher mutation rates, probably because of their genetic make-up. These viruses have an enzyme called RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RdRp), which facilitates the viral genetic material to divide and reproduce (replication). In some viruses, this enzyme also has proofreading capabilities and can correct any mistakes made during the process of replication. This enables viruses to have a larger genetic structure. Scientists have found that coronaviruses have this proofreading enzyme, and hence keeps the mutation rate in check.  

How Do Viruses Mutate?

Viruses adapt to their host is to enhance their chances of survival; it is suggested that the ideal scenario is to evolve into a problem-free coexistence between the host and the virus. Viruses aim to achieve this role by a variety of complex and fast-moving mechanisms; some of these are listed below:

  1.  Changing the markers by which host defences can recognise viruses, so evading detection (the antigenic diversity).
  2.  Changing to become less harmful (a minimization of virulence) so that the virus can live in its host without causing illness. An example is that of hepatitis G virus (GB virus C) which was initially isolated from patients with liver inflammation, seems to persist in many people without causing illnesses.
  3. Developing resistance to the anti-viral drugs.
  4. Developing mechanisms to evade host defences mechanisms such as antibodies. For example, a virus can change the shape of the marker to which antibodies will attach.
  5. Developing the capacity to migrate from one host to another as we see with corona virus.
  6. Increasing the capacity to survive in a host; a good example of this is seen these days. Covid-19 has mutated to enhance its ability to transmit between human hosts with greater efficiency.

This demonstrates that viruses, a primitive life form with no conceivable consciousness, display the capacity to mutate towards a definite goal. Viruses achieve this in a coherent manner by bringing about the right changes in their structure and behaviour at the right time.

So, the question is, what enables viruses to possess these effective means to promote their survival?  

Is ‘Natural Selection’ and ‘Survival of the Fittest’ the Whole Story?

Viruses demonstrate the capacity to maximise their growth rate, fitness, and adaptability. With precise, sophisticated, co-ordinated, organised, and timely mutations, viruses demonstrate an ability to escape the defense mechanisms of their host organism and outnumber other viruses of the species (same types of living beings); scientists call it a process of natural selection. This helps the viruses to adapt to their host environment and species, maximising their chances of survival.

The concepts of “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest” would suggest that when a virus population gets adapted to its host environment, the process of mutation should come to an end or slow down. However, this does not happen. [2] Science clearly demonstrates that viruses are permanently evolving. [3] Viruses continue to mutate and develop mutations that are harmful to themselves (deleterious mutation) and consequently, viruses with lower mutation rate take over. Evolutionary biologists have long grappled with the question that given the detrimental effect of mutational load, why mutation rates do not evolve to zero. The continued evolution does not totally conform with the concept of natural selection. If natural selection favoured the fittest to survive, then why would a perfectly adapted form of the virus continue to mutate to a lesser life form? Science yet does not explain this fact of evolutionary biology.

The complexities of evolutionary biology are mind-boggling. It is difficult to understand why and how so many species continue to survive in the face of potentially adverse survival conditions, as Carl Sagan famously said, ‘Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.’This seems to be supported by the statistic that over 99% of all species that ever lived are now extinct. However, it can be argued that no species ever became extinct that did not first survive. [4] The true exception is not survival, but continued survival!

Survival of a simple organism, such as a virus, which lacks the processes of independent existence, is an extraordinarily complex, structured, and regulated process. For this process to work, it requires numerous precise factors to work synchronously in a highly coordinated manner at the right time. The Holy Qur’an says, ‘… and ponder over the creation of the heavens and the earth: “Our Lord, Thou hast not created this in vain; nay, Holy art Thou…’[5] Witnessing the live process of continued evolution by observing the mutations of covid-19, is an opportunity for us to contemplate and question, what enables viruses to undergo such complex, well structured, streamlined and highly processed evolutionary processes of mutation? Who is responsible to ensure continued survival?


The Islamic Perspective

The Holy Qur’an resolves this conundrum in an eloquent way. It says, ‘Have they been created from nothing, or are they themselves the creators?’ [6] The Holy Qur’an explains that the timeliness and co-ordination of the process of creation and survival is too optimised, too defined and too well-coordinated to be relegated to “chance” or “throwing of dice”. The Holy Qur’an questions the wisdom of assigning the capabilities of intention, designing, planning and well executed survival to ‘the created’ rather than ‘the Creator.’

To create anything, however small, the creator needs to have intention, resources, planning, capabilities, and the power to make things happen. In the context of mutation of viruses, this verse scrutinises that can a virus, which is constituted of the most basic of genetic material, who possess no consciousness, mastermind its own mutation and survival? Can a virus have the know-how of all the sophisticated, complex, and highly precise processes, required to mutate for continued survival and create new viruses? The Holy Quran states that life is purposefully designed and created; for its survival, the Designer and the Creator of life has put systems in place to select the right option at the right time.  The intricacy, sophistication and complexity of these biological systems, their immense scientific wisdom and their technical know-how are far beyond the powers and capabilities of the created life forms. It is God Who, stage after stage, makes choices to ensure survival with purpose, design, and direction. 

In the Holy Qur’an, God says to the human race, ‘Is it you who have created it or are We the Creator?’ [7] The Holy Quran challenges by reminding that life, even at its most rudimentary level, needs to be constantly protected. The capacity to survive is inherent in living organisms; for example, the soul is inherent in the sperm. Every law is created, every process is designed to support life in one way or another. The Holy Qur’an stresses this point that nothing can be created without a creator; no life form can create itself from nothing as creation requires intention, design, resources, and execution. There is a Designer of the grand system and every action, event, or physical thing happens for a reason.

Once created, the Holy Qur’an supports the idea of evolution of life into more advanced forms with superior faculties and greater senses. The demonstration of continuous evolution is one of the greatest attributes of the wisdom and knowledge of God Who has the power to precisely guide the processes to safeguard life. But this is not blind evolution based on accidental events, it is a purposeful design to support life.  A Supreme, All-knowing Creator governs everything in accordance with His Divine plan. The Holy Qur’an says, ‘And thy Lord creates whatever He pleases and chooses whomsoever He pleases. It is not for them to choose….’ [8] The main thrust of this verse is that the task of selection is primarily the prerogative of the creator and the two cannot be separated. God proclaimed himself to be that Creator Who selects from His own creation.  The Holy Qur’an teaches us that neither death is accidental, nor life. They go side-by-side like night and day to weave the yarn of conscious existence.  

The mutation of Covid-19 during recent months is living proof of the inherent processes and systems that God has put in place to safeguard all life forms as a part of His grand design. A greater understanding of the process of mutation demonstrated by this primitive, but lethal life form, gives an insight into the immense power of the Creator and His Prowess to instil masterful biological processes in living beings. Inherent in these primitive life forms are complex biological processes that respond to threat and aid survival. These protective processes cover the entire span of life, offering advancement and protection along the course of evolution. This is described as an all-pervading law covering the entire scheme of things. [9] This is, indeed, the Grand Design of a Masterful Designer, a Conscious Wise Creator Who is also the Selector.

About the Author: Professor Amtul Razzaq Carmichael MD, M Ed, FRCS (Gen Surg.), MBBS, is a consultant. She qualified in 1987 with gold medals for academic Excellence and undertook her surgical training at major teaching hospitals in London, Edinburgh and Philadelphia. She has authored many articles for major peer-reviewed scientific journals. She is a senior member of The Review of Religions Editorial Board as well as Assistant Manager.


  5. The Holy Quran Chapter 3; Verse 192
  6. The Holy Quran Chapter 52; verse 36
  7. The Holy Quran Chapter 56: verse 60.
  8. The Holy Quran Chapter 28; Verse 69
  9. Page 408.

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  • Quite insightful and enlightening. Clearly, the Masterful Designer of the evolution of life, of survival and extinction can only be Allāh, the Creator, not the created, the designed. To Prof. Amtul Razzaq, I say jazakumullāh khayran.