The Point of Contention

Here’s a key excerpt from an interview with Lynn Margulis

Francisco Ayala is presenting at the “evolutionary mechanisms session” in Rome. He was trained in Catholicism, Spanish-style, as a Dominican. We were in California at a meeting with Whiteheadian philosopher John Cobb. At that meeting Ayala agreed with me when I stated that this doctrinaire neo-Darwinism is dead. He was a practitioner of neo-Darwinism but advances in molecular genetics, evolution, ecology, biochemistry, and other news had led him to agree that neo-Darwinism’s now dead.

The components of evolution (I don’t think any scientist disagrees) that exist because there’s so much data for them are: (1) the tendency for exponential growth of all populations — that is growth beyond a finite world; and (2) since the environment can’t sustain them, there’s an elimination process of natural selection.

The point of contention in science is here:

(3) Where does novelty that’s heritable come from? What is the source of evolutionary innovation? Especially positive inherited innovation, where does it come from?

It is here that the neo-Darwinist knee-jerk reaction kicks in. “By random mutations that accumulate so much that you have a new lineage.” This final contention, their mistake in my view, is really the basis of nearly all our disagreement.

Everybody agrees: Heritable variation exists, it can be measured. Everybody agrees, as Darwin said, it’s heritable variation “that’s important to us” because variation is inherited. Everyone agrees “descent with modification” can be demonstrated. And furthermore, because of molecular biology, everybody agrees that all life on Earth today is related through common ancestry, as Darwin showed.

Everybody agrees with ultimate common ancestry of Earth’s life, because the DNA, RNA messenger, transfer RNA, membrane-bounded cell constituents (lipids, the phospholipids) that we share – they’re all virtually identical in all life today, it’s all one single lineage. So that part of Darwinism – that we’re all related by common ancestry –no scientist disagrees with.

The real disagreement about what the neo-Darwinists tout, for which there’s very little evidence, if any, is that random mutations accumulate and when they accumulate enough, new species originate. The source of purposeful inherited novelty in evolution, the underlying reason the new species appear, is not random mutation rather it is symbiogenesis, the acquisition of foreign genomes.

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11 responses to “The Point of Contention

  1. Hi Mike,

    Yeah, I think this interview is a couple of years old. Then Ayala came out at the conference spouting neo-Darwinism.

    But Margulis lends credibility to Behe’s argument against neo-Darwinism. So I buy your FLE, but I’m not sure we can rule out further acts of design.

    But I’m waiting patiently to see how far your hypothesis can take us.

  2. For me, one “point of contention,” and one reason (I have many more, btw) why I have no problem declaring Neo-Darwinism a false and obfuscating doctrine, is that it has failed consistently to deal with the complexity of the variational properties and processes intrinsic to life itself.

    For exactly the same reason I reject Margulis’ one word theoretical gloss, “symbiogenesis.” I have no reason to assume that speciation is any less complicated than the variational processes themselves. I don’t presume there is going to be simple answers to such questions. Symbiogenesis is not a simple process and I am unaware of a single example worked out in sufficient detail to give me much confidence in it. Even though I believe it has occurred. Is Margulis suffering under the delusion of “Ameghino’s complex”? The “discoverer’s bias”? Surely she doesn’t believe symbiogeneis is the cause of all speciation.

    I’m not even sure “speciation” is the real problem (solution) its made out to be by Darwin and the Neo-Darwinists. I mean to say it is a problem—but why is it an “issue”? Because of creationists? The problem remains, but the “issue,” is an anachronism. The “immutability of species” is a dead issue. The problem remains, if you see what I’m trying to say, while the issue properly belongs to a previous era in science. Proving that species speciate solved the immediate problem, answered the immediate question, Do species speciate? The issue is the Neo-Darwinists’ assertion that it is and was the only real question to be answered.
    Once you recognize that species speciate then the entire history of life on Earth falls into place, exactly in accordance with our expectations. Yikes! I don’t think so. I think it’s a bit more complicated.

    [Everything is too freakin’s complicated 4 me! What is my problem?!]

  3. It’s possible. Ask yourself why gene silencing is seriously considered as a major player in evolution.

  4. Hi Guts,

    What’s possible? And why is gene silencing considered such a major player in evolution (and who knew that)?

  5. I was referring to Margulis’s suggestion, although she goes a lot deeper into it in Acquiring Genomes. When genomes fuse together, by silencing some of the genes that come in and changing the way they are expressed, the organism has a better chance to survive.

  6. Dang, I actually read that book. Too bad I don’t remember what I read.

  7. Rock,

    You raised many excellent points. I think Margulis misses the true significance of symbiogenesis. Your critique of her focus on speciation is spot on. The true significance is in the way it highlights how the neo-Darwinian view “has failed consistently to deal with the complexity of the variational properties and processes intrinsic to life itself.” Neo-Darwinism doesn’t deal with it because it has inherited Darwin’s strong insistence on strict gradualism. As long as strict gradualism shapes thinking, there is nothing of interest in variational properties. Symbiogenesis teaches us not only that strict gradualism is not always true, but beckons us ponder how it happened.

  8. Bilbo,

    But Margulis lends credibility to Behe’s argument against neo-Darwinism. So I buy your FLE, but I’m not sure we can rule out further acts of design.

    I don’t rule out further acts of design. But early in chapter 7 of the DM, I lay out several reasons why I focus on a one-time “design intervention.”

  9. Hi Guts,

    When genomes fuse together, by silencing some of the genes that come in and changing the way they are expressed, the organism has a better chance to survive.

    It’s a good thing the diversity of life is skin deep, otherwise symbiogenesis would probably not work.

  10. But early in chapter 7 of the DM, I lay out several reasons why I focus on a one-time “design intervention.”

    So RM+NS only needed the addition of one “front loading” event to produce the results?

  11. Alan Fox:

    So RM+NS only needed the addition of one “front loading” event to produce the results?

    The mutations wouldn’t necessarily be random and the selection could be directed.

    However a targeted search could get away with random mutations, if done correctly.

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