In contrast to the idea that only scientifically illiterate individuals would doubt that natural selection is a sufficient “force” to power all the diversity we see on earth today through evolution, there are a number of scientists with unimpeachable credentials who doubt that natural selection is up to the task. Here is a bit, today, about one: Dr. Lynn Margulis, who died last November.
The late Dr. Margulis, an ex-wife of the famous Carl Sagan, was no creationist. Her theory of life’s history on the planet focused on the idea of constant interaction–symbiosis–between life forms, virtually arguing that even human beings are, in a way, nothing but bacteria who, given enough time, got their act together. She argued that the dynamic of symbiosis, not natural selection, has been the true engine of the biological change and of the climb in complexity in life forms on the planet envisioned by evolutionists. (This Wikipedia entry on symbiogenesis covers some of those thoughts pretty well.)
Do I agree with her? No. But I don’t doubt her sincerity concerning evolution, nor do I see any reason to pretend that she is a creationist, nor do I see a big flaw in her academic credentials. It’s hard to see how the normal ad hominem sorts of attacks that are normally leveled by Neo-Darwinists could stick to her.
Yet she is clearly no fan of natural selection. In her interview in Discover Magazine a year ago (“Lynn Margulis Says She’s Not Controversial, She’s Right”), Dick Teresi asks her, “And you don’t believe that natural selection is the answer [that is, to the question of what drives evolution]?” She replies (emphasis mine):
“This is the issue I have with neo-Darwinists: They teach that what is generating novelty is the accumulation of random mutations in DNA, in a direction set by natural selection. If you want bigger eggs, you keep selecting the hens that are laying the biggest eggs, and you get bigger and bigger eggs. But you also get hens with defective feathers and wobbly legs. Natural selection eliminates and maybe maintains, but it doesn’t create.”
Later in the interview, she comments, “I was taught over and over again that the accumulation of random mutations led to evolutionary change—led to new species. I believed it until I looked for evidence.”
(That last sentence is a kicker, isn’t it?)
Between those comments, she discusses how the laws of genetics discovered by Mendel emphasize stasis over change and that one of the reasons, in her opinion, that Darwinists are so zealous about the idea that natural selection is sufficient to account for the changes claimed by evolutionists is that they have too often failed to “go out of their offices” and truly observe what nature is really doing, more like Darwin, himself, did.
Though an evolutionist, herself, like many who oppose evolution in general Dr. Margulis points to the glaring lack of smooth continuity in the fossil record, pointing out that the term “punctuated equilibrium” suggested by Stephen Jay Gould may have provided a name to describe the discontinuities in the appearance of new forms, but it doesn’t help explain the fact of them.
She even says that Darwin’s famous Galápagos finches with their varying beaks provide evidence against speciation by natural selection rather than in support of it. Heresy if I’ve ever hear it. 🙂
Her complaint about intelligent design is nothing new. In the interview, she said that she believed, as many wrongly do, that it isn’t science. However, she isn’t as critical of intelligent design ideas as her more mainstream evolutionists, which is illustrated in this exchange:
Teresi: Some of your criticisms of natural selection sound a lot like those of Michael Behe, one of the most famous proponents of “intelligent design,” and yet you have debated Behe. What is the difference between your views?
Margulis: The critics, including the creationist critics, are right about their criticism. It’s just that they’ve got nothing to offer but intelligent design or “God did it.” They have no alternatives that are scientific.
I disagree with the idea that exploring evidence that there is intelligent designer behind life on earth is somehow an unscientific pursuit–a completely indefensible position, even with a commitment to naturalism (methodological or, for that matter, metaphysical). But I appreciate her willingness to admit that critics of the supposed creative powers of randomness+natural selection are, indeed, correct. If science really is supposed to represent an unbiased pursuit of the truth, then there should be no one saying things like, “You can’t say that–the creationists will have a field day with it!” Truth is truth.
Her exchange mentioning Richard Lewontin and the comment about computer results versus field observations was, at least to me, very funny–and, if a true account, rather damaging to much of the computer modeling “evidence” used to bolster evolution:
Teresi: You have attacked population genetics—the foundation of much current evolutionary research—as “numerology.” What do you mean by that term?
Margulis: When evolutionary biologists use computer modeling to find out how many mutations you need to get from one species to another, it’s not mathematics—it’s numerology. They are limiting the field of study to something that’s manageable and ignoring what’s most important. They tend to know nothing about atmospheric chemistry and the influence it has on the organisms or the influence that the organisms have on the chemistry. They know nothing about biological systems like physiology, ecology, and biochemistry. Darwin was saying that changes accumulate through time, but population geneticists are describing mixtures that are temporary. Whatever is brought together by sex is broken up in the next generation by the same process. Evolutionary biology has been taken over by population geneticists. They are reductionists ad absurdum. Population geneticist Richard Lewontin gave a talk here at UMass Amherst about six years ago, and he mathematized all of it—changes in the population, random mutation, sexual selection, cost and benefit. At the end of his talk he said, “You know, we’ve tried to test these ideas in the field and the lab, and there are really no measurements that match the quantities I’ve told you about.” This just appalled me. So I said, “Richard Lewontin, you are a great lecturer to have the courage to say it’s gotten you nowhere. But then why do you continue to do this work?” And he looked around and said, “It’s the only thing I know how to do, and if I don’t do it I won’t get my grant money.” So he’s an honest man, and that’s an honest answer.
Could she have said all those things because she had deceived herself into ignoring the (supposedly) vast evidence supporting natural selection by her love for her own, competing theory? Certainly. Just as it is possible that those who believe in the (supposedly) vast creative powers of randomness+natural selection have deceived themselves. We’re all subject to force of Jeremiah 17:9, after all.
However, I found the interview refreshing and thought I would pass it along. Dr. Lynn Margulis died last November, not too long after I first found the interview on Discover’s website. I look forward to her resurrection one day, during a time when not only she but all of us will get a good look at how life really came about in earth and its history after creation–explained to us by the One who created it and sustained it for His purposes.
Check out the whole interview for yourself.