Excerpts from Lynn Margulis' “Evolving Genomes: Acquiring Genomes: The Theory of the Origins of the Species”

(Basic Books, 2003)

Ó 2005, Casey Luskin www.ideacenter.org

This first quote is a Margulis classic on the insufficiency of mutations:

“We agree that very few potential offspring ever survive to reproduce and that populations do change through time, and that therefore natural selection is of critical importance to the evolutionary process. But this Darwinian claim to explain all of evolution is a popular half-truth whose lack of explicative power is compensated for only by the religious ferocity of its rhetoric. Although random mutations influenced the course of evolution, their influence was mainly by loss, alteration, and refinement. One mutation confers resistance to malaria but also makes happy blood cells into the deficient oxygen carriers of sickle cell anemics. Another converts a gorgeous newborn into a cystic fibrosis patient or a victim of early onset diabetes. One mutation causes a flighty red-eyed fruit fly to fail to take wing. Never, however, did that one mutation make a wing, a fruit, a woody stem, or a claw appear. Mutations, in summary, tend to induce sickness, death, or deficiencies. No evidence in the vast literature of heredity changes shows unambigious evidence that random mutation itself, even with geographical isolation of populations, leads to speciation. Then how do new species come into being? How do cauliflowers descend from tiny, wild Mediterranean cabbagelike plants, or pigs from wild boars?” (Lynn Margulis, Dorion Sagan, Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of the Species, pg. 29 (Basic Books, 2003))

Here are additional worthy quotes:

1. “Anyone whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties than to the explanation of a certain number of facts will certainly reject my theory.” Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, 1859

2. “Actually, the incorporation of a new genome is probably a very slow process extending over many generations. But even if instantaneous, it will not be any more saltational than any event leading to polyploidy.” (Acquiring Genomes, herein “AG,” pg. xii)

3. “Amid all the recent interest in complexity, many point out that the future of science belongs more to biology, the study of complex systems, than to physics.” (AG, pg. xv)

4. “[T]o understand the true complexity of life—the main source of evolutionary novelty Charles Darwin sought—one must understand how organisms come together in new and fascinating ways, and how their genes are donated and acquired.” (AG, pg. xv)

5. “Selfish genes, since they are not ‘selves’ in any coherent sense, may be taken as figments of an overactive, primarily English-speaking imagination.” (AG, pg. xvi)

6. “We suggest that if organism A belongs to the same species as oragnism B, then both are composed of the same set of integrated genomes, both qualitatively and quantitativel.” (AG, pg. 6)

7. “No visible group of organisms is descended ‘from a single common ancestor.’” (AG, pg. 7)

8. “[R]andom mutation is wildly overemphasized as a source of hereditary variation. Mutations, genetic changes in live organisms, are inducible; this can be done by X-ray radiation or by addition of mutagenic chemicals to food. Many ways to induce mutations are known but none lead to new organisms. Mutation accumulation does not lead to a new species or even to new organs or tissues. If the egg and batch of sperm of a mammal is subjected to mutation, yes, hereditary changes occur, but as was pointed out very early by Herman J. Muller (1890-1967), the Nobel prizewinner who showed X-rays to be mutagenic in fruit flies, 99.9 percent of the mutations are deleterious. Even professional evolutionary biologists are hard put to find mutations, experimentally induced or spontaneous, that lead in a positive way to evolutionary change.” (AG, pg. 12)

9. “Random DNA base changes of course play a role in the evolutionary process. They are like printers’ errors that crop up in the copying of books. They rarely clarify or enhance meaning. Such small changes are nearly always inconsequential or detrimental to the work as a whole. We do not deny the importance of mutations. Rather we insist that random mutation, a small part of the evolutionary saga, ha been dogmatically overemphasized.” (AG, pg. 15)

10. In the familiar phylogenetic tree, the acquisition of heritable genomes can be depicted as an anastomosis, a fusing of branches. The major proposition put forth here, of fusion of evolutionary lineages, is sometimes decried as an alternative to classical darwinism. But symbiogenetic acquisition of new traits by inheritance of acquired genomes is rather an extension, a refinement, and amplification of Darwin’s idea. Such evolution requires new thought processes. New metaphors to reflect on permanent associations are needed. Symbiosis, merger, body fusion, and the like cannot be reduced to replacing ‘competition’ as a major motive force in evolution with ‘cooperation.’ Ultimately, an anthropocentric term like ‘competition’ has no obvious place in the scientific dialogue. Rather we would propose a new search in the social sciences for terms to replace the old, tired, social darwinist metaphors. If survival is owed to symbiosis, rather than overemphasized intraspecific competitive struggles, what then are the consequences for nonbiologists interested in evolution.” (AG, pg. 15)

11. “The entire panoply of neodarwinist terminology reflects a philosophical error, a twentieth-century example of a phenomenon aptly named by Alfred North Whitehead: ‘the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.’ The terminology of most modern evolutionists is not only fallacious but dangerously so, because it leads people to think they know about the evolution of life when in fact they are confused and baffled.” (AG, pg. 16)

12. ‘Symbiosis is always a physically close relationship between organisms of different kinds.” (AG, pg. 17-18)

13. “Honest critics of the evolutionary way of thinking who have emphasized problems with biologists’ dogma and their undefinable terms are often dismissed as if they were Christian fundamentalist zealots or racial bigots. But the part of this book’s thesis that insists such terminology (Table 1.2) interferes with real science requires an open and thoughtful debate about the reality of the claims made by zoocentric evolutionists.” (AG, pg. 18-19)

14. “[A] problem with modern ‘evolutionary biologists’ is that their examples are nearly always derived from people or other animals, especially other land mammals.” (AG, pg. 21)

15. “The very temr ‘progress,’ with its moral overtones, denotes a complex quantity that is unmeasurable and anassesible. The descendants of these reptiles lost complexity—they are simplified relative to their ancestors—but we cannot say that they ‘regressed.’ They evolved to have fewer vertebrae, that’s all. That some directional progress in evolution led to us, Homo sapiens, on our peak at some Olympian summit is an untenable concept. As more of Earth became covered with more life, life did expand, but whether it ‘progressed’ is questionable” (AG, pg. 22-23)

16. “Darwin’s book The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life … is laced with hesitancies, contradictions, and possible prevarication. Darwin made it clear that Man, like all live beings, survived to the present preceded by an immense and daunting history. No God had made either Man or tomato. Nor had any other form of life been created separately in seven or fewer days. Yet Darwin, perhaps mainly for reasons of political acumen, did reserve the possibility that God had begun life in the first place.” (AG, pg. 25-26)

17. “The ‘struggle for existence’ has been accepted uncritically for generations by evolutionary biologists with the Origin of Species quoted like so much Holy Writ, yet the origin of species was precisely what Darwin’s book was not about.” (Australian biologist George Miklos, quoted in Acquiring Genomes by Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan, pg. 26)

18. ‘All life, whether or not made by a deity in the very beginning, is connected back through time to preexisting, proximally similar life forms. Today, with our better understanding of cosmic evolution and the chemistry of life’s origins, any requirement for a deity can be pushed back still further, to the mysterious origins of the cosmos in the Big Bang.” (AG, pg. 26)

19. “ ‘Natural selection’ for Darwin did not imply a lugubrius elderly powerful inhabitant of a cloudy sky—there was no ‘Natural Selector.’ Instead the expression denoted the survival and reproduction of the chosen few relative to the prodigious many. Darwin conceded that the naturally selective process, by itself, did not seem to create novelty; rather, from the vast store of variants, differing organisms in nature, it only eliminated offspring that already existed by their failure to reproduce. How then did Darwin’s intrinsic, inherited variation arise in the first place?” (AG, pg. 27)

20. “Ultimately, however, Darwin equivocated on where these ‘sports,’ ‘mutants,’ or ‘heritable variants’ came from. He simply did not know.” (AG, pg. 28)

21. “In nearly thirty years of work, the Grants have recorded some extraordinary changes in population structures and morphology. They have documented strong responses on the population and on the species level to the obvious selection pressures of wet and dry. They recorded changes in beak size along with alterations in the ability of these oral tools to crack open seeds. The differences in beak sizes between two highly selected groups of finches have gone from no difference (0 percent) to 6 percent. New work on birds by Mayr and Diamond (20010 shows unequivocal correlation of bird species with the geographical isolation on Melanesian islands. Yet here’s the rub: Speciation, the details of the appearance of any given new species of bird, whether Ecuadorian or Melanesian, has not been documented. The differences in beak measurements between the six distinguishable species of ground-dwelling finches is about 15 percent. No changes of this magnitude, correlated with other traits that would produced a newly named species of the Galapagos finch, were seen by the Grants—or anyone else. The Darwinian paradigm is operating exactly as it should: Different traits (whether within species or among species) are varying in prevalence according to the demands of the environment. Obviously, the genes that would produce these traits are varying in like fashion. But there is no evidence whatsoever that this process is leading to speciation. Speciation, whether in the remote Galapagos, in the laboratory cages of drosophilosophers, or in the crowded sediments of the paleontologists, stil lhas never been directly traced. The closest science has come to observing and recording the actual speciation in animals is the work of Theodosius Dobzhansky in Drosophila paulistorium fruit flies. But even here, only reproductive isolation, not a new species, appeared. The reproductive isolation occurred where a fully fertile population living at moderate temperatures became two populations—one cold-dwelling and the other warm-dwelling.” (AG, pg. 31-32)