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Behe, Lenski and the “Edge” of Evolution, Part 3: Tinkering Over the Edge

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November 2, 2012 Tags: Genetics
Behe, Lenski and the “Edge” of Evolution, Part 3: Tinkering Over the Edge

Today's entry was written by Dennis Venema. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: In this series, we reexamine the claim made by Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe to have found a limit to “Darwinian” evolution in light of recent results from the laboratory of Richard Lenski.

In the last post in this series, we discussed how the development of Cit+ bacteria in the Long Term Evolution Experiment (LTEE) took place in three stages: potentiation (necessary mutations that allowed the Cit+ trait to evolve much later), actualization (the mutation step that converted a Cit- cell to a Cit+ cell), and refinement (mutations subsequent to actualization that improved the nascent Cit+ function). We then went on to examine the details of how the actualization step took place, and noted that it was a significant “gain-of-FCT” mutation according to the criteria of Intelligent Design (ID) proponent Michael Behe.

As interesting as the details of the actualization step are, the other steps (potentiation and refinement) are even more significant when considering Behe’s claimed “edge” to what evolutionary processes can achieve. Before we consider the impact of these findings on Behe’s ideas, a thorough investigation of these details is in order.

Potentiation: setting the stage

As we noted back in 2011, the LTEE culture that eventually went on to evolve the Cit+ trait had a mutational event at around generation 20,000 that was necessary for future actualization. One of the challenges for determining the details of the potentiation step is that this mutation (or possibly mutations) does (do) not produce an obvious change in the organism that a researcher can detect at the time. The only change they produce is to allow for future rare events (i.e. conversion to Cit+), making them tricky to identify.

In any other experimental system, it would be pretty much impossible to track down these potentiating steps, or even to conclusively determine that any potentiation steps occurred at all. In the LTEE, however, we have access to the ancestors of the future Cit+ bacteria, since they were frozen down and saved for later studies. This allowed the Lenski group to thaw out selected ancestors from various generations, re-run the evolution experiment from these selected time points, and watch to see if the Cit+ trait would evolve again. In the re-run experiments they observed numerous Cit+ actualization events, allowing for a statistical analysis of the results. These results, combined with extensive sequencing to place the various Cit+ cells from the re-run experiments into groups, demonstrated that at least two separate potentiation mutations occurred in the original LTEE, and that these mutations were separated by a few thousand generations. Once these two potentiating mutations were in place, cells were able to become Cit+ through the actualization mutation event we discussed in detail in the last post in this series. As we noted back in 2011, however, this actualization step produced only a very weak Cit+ ability. Further mutations that improved Cit+ function would soon follow.

Refinement: honing a new function

Once the (albeit very poor) Cit+ ability arose in the LTEE, it provided only a very slight selective advantage. These first Cit+ cells, when placed in competition with their descendants, are easily outcompeted – indicating that an additional mutation, or mutations, improved the nascent Cit+ trait. Work by the Lenski group showed that later, more robust Cit+ cells had duplications of the original tandem mutation that lead to the original Cit+ cell – effectively increasing the copy number of the new citrate / succinate transporter gene with its altered regulatory DNA. As the refinement process proceeded, the Lenski group found cells with three copies, four copies, and even nine copies (!), all of which most likely increased the amount of the citrate / succinate transporter made under aerobic conditions. Cells later on in the refinement process settled on a four-copy system, which the Lenski group hypothesizes to be more stable (based on research on tandem arrays in other systems). This switch from a predominance of high copy number cells (i.e. nine copies) back to cells with a more moderate number (four) predominating suggests that additional mutations are arising that allow the four-copy cells to outcompete the nine-copy cells, and find a balance between (unstable) high copy number and the Cit+ function derived from each copy. Some candidates for these additional mutations identified by the Lenski group include mutations in the citrate / succinate transporter itself, and two enzymes involved in citrate metabolism. Future work will be needed to determine if these mutations were the ones that had a significant effect on the Cit+ refinement process, or if other mutations were responsible.

Taking stock

With these details in hand, we can now improve our accounting for the number of mutations involved in the entire process, from potentiation, through actualization, and on to a certain point of refinement (which remains ongoing in the LTEE):

The first potentiation mutation (total = 1)
The second potentiation mutation (total = 2)
The actualization mutation (total = 3)
Duplication of the Cit+ tandem array (at least once, more likely twice) (total = 4 or 5)
Mutation(s) to improve Cit+ function with moderate copy number (at least one, likely more) (total = 5 or 6, or more)

As we can see, at a minimum the entire process involved at least 5 mutations, and more likely 6 or more. An additional important point to note is that these mutations did not occur simultaneously, but were spread out over thousands of generations.

Implications for Behe’s “edge”

In the last post in this series, we noted ID microbiologist Ann Gauger’s response to Lenski’s results. Two features are important to note: the number of mutations she claims are postulated for the Cit+ transition, and her reasoning that this transition is within Behe’s “edge” of what evolution can accomplish:

“When is an innovation not an innovation? If by innovation you mean the evolution of something new, a feature not present before, then it would be stretching it to call the trait described by Blount et al. in "Genomic analysis of a key innovation in an experimental Escherichia coli population" an innovation…

The total number of mutations postulated for this adaptation is two or three, within the limits proposed for complex adaptations by Axe (2010) and Behe in Edge of Evolution. Because the enabling pre-adaptive mutations could not be identified, though, we don't know whether this was one mutation, a simple step-wise series of adaptive mutations, or a complex adaptation requiring one or two pre-adaptations before the big event.

Presumably, Gauger is counting only potentiation and actualization and omitting refinement altogether. As we have seen, the entire process requires at least 5 mutations, and probably more. Even more interesting, however, is that she generalizes Behe’s “edge” beyond the formation of protein-protein binding sites (the focus of Behe’s claimed limit to evolution) to a number of mutations needed for a new function. This might seem odd, but in fact this generalization is absolutely in keeping with Behe’s model. Behe’s calculation for his “edge” is an estimate based on simultaneous mutations – in other words, Behe proposes a limit to the generation of protein-protein binding sites as a specific application of his general rule that multiple, simultaneous mutations are vanishingly rare. For those interested in a detailed discussion of how Behe’s model is based on an assumption that simultaneous mutations are required for the evolution of new protein-protein binding sites, I have discussed it at length in a previous series. The point here is a simple one: Gauger fails to note that Behe’s edge is based on simultaneous mutations. If indeed all five (or more) mutations needed for this transition to Cit+ in the LTEE were required simultaneously, we could be confident that the trait would never arise.

Put more simply, Behe is right that numerous mutations occurring simultaneously are too rare to expect in evolution. What he has not demonstrated, however, is that evolution must proceed only by numerous mutations occurring simultaneously. With the LTEE, we have direct evidence of what Behe defines as a “noteworthy gain-of-FCT mutation” occurring step by step, without the need for simultaneous mutations.

In the next post in this series, we’ll explore Behe’s ideas further, and examine the second source that Gauger cites as a limit for complex adaptation – the work of ID biologist Douglas Axe.

For further reading:

Blount, Z.D., Barrick, J.E., Davidson, C.J. and Lenski, R.E. (2012). Genomic analysis of a key innovation in an experimental Escherichia coli population. Nature 489; 513- 518.

Michael J. Behe, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (New York: Free Press, 2007).

Michael J. Behe (2010). Experimental evolution, loss-of-function mutations, and “The first rule of adaptive evolution”. The Quarterly Review of Biology 85(4); 419-445.

Dennis Venema is professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. He holds a B.Sc. (with Honors) from the University of British Columbia (1996), and received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2003. His research is focused on the genetics of pattern formation and signaling using the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. Dennis is a gifted thinker and writer on matters of science and faith, but also an award-winning biology teacher—he won the 2008 College Biology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers. He and his family enjoy numerous outdoor activities that the Canadian Pacific coast region has to offer. Dennis writes regularly for the BioLogos Forum about the biological evidence for evolution.

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Bilbo - #74254

November 9th 2012

Hi Roger,

The asteroid event can help us understand different views of the meaning of neo-Darwinism:

1)  The direction of evolution is entirely contingent upon chance events.  Therefore the appearance of intelligent, human-like creatures was completely serendipitous, and wouldn’t have happened under different circumstances.

2)  The direction of evolution is towards higher levels of intelligence.  If the asteroid event hadn’t happened, highly intelligent, human-like dinosaurs would eventually have appeared.

3)  The asteroid event was part of God’s plan to guide the evolutionary process toward the development of human beings.

There may be other interpretations.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74274

November 9th 2012


The asteroid event tells us that neo-Darwinism is a deeply flawed view because to fails to do what it claims to do, that is give us an explanation as to how evolution works.

Darwin compared his theory with Newton’s at the end of The Origin, however people now understand that Newton’s understanding of gravity has been replaced by Einstein’s.  Darwin’s understanding of evolution has not been replaced even though as the asteroid indicates it is not accurate.      

Bilbo - #74287

November 10th 2012

I agree that there are problems with neo-Darwinism.  But not the one that you suggest.  Neo-Darwinism only claims to understand how organisms evolve, given a certain environment.  It doesn’t claim to know that those environments will be.  Now there are differences among neo-Darwinists.  Some think it is biased to evolve in certain directions, regardless of the environment;  others do not think there is a bias, and that the direction of evolution is completely dependent upon the environment.  Simon Conway Morris would be an advocate of the first view.  Stephen Jay Gould of the second.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74288

November 10th 2012

Bilbo wrote:

Neo-Darwinism only claims to understand how organisms evolve, given a certain environment. It doesn’t claim to know that those environments will be.

Thank you for your response.

My point is, if that is the case, neoDarwinism is not really Darwinian because it denies the reality of Natural Selection which is an integral part of Darwin’s theory. 

No one is claiming to know what “those environments will be” to produce particular results, but the importance of environment and environmental change is to create the need for evolution and determine the direction for evolution.  Thus it is impossible to understand evolution at any level without factoring in ecology which is what neoDarwinism does not do, so it utterly fails to understand how evolution works. 

I do understand that there are differences between evolutionary theorists and I was basing my opinion on Dawkins’ gene’s eye view, which seems to have a broad acceptance.     

In terms of from where does the direction of evolution come, while I am closer to the views of which you atrtibute to Stephen Jay Gould, reference please, I would agree with Morris that genes certainly also play an important role.  Both originate in nature and nature is created by God the Father through God the Logos, so they work together to create all forms of life. 

That is what evolution is about, not about Variation only.    

Bilbo - #74295

November 10th 2012

Gould’s book, Wonderful Life, is one long argument that the direction of evolution is completely contingent, and if we re-ran “the tape of life,” we would get completely different results.  Therefore, the appearance of intelligent life was a fluke.

Ironically, Gould’s book depends upon the research of Conway Morris, who late disagreed with Gould, arguing that the many examples of convergent evolution demonstrate that there is a built in bias for certain features and forms of life to appear.  Morris does not say where or how this bias is located.  We don’t know if he thinks it’s in the genes or something else, maybe even some kind of Platonic universe at work.

I think both Gould and Morris would acknowledge the role of Natural Selection in shaping evolution.  I don’t think I understand your objection.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74303

November 11th 2012


Gould and Morris are not Dawkins and Dennett.

It is well known that Dawkins has been a fierce critic of Gould.  As far a I can tell most evolutionists follow Dawkins, whose views you have not addressed.

The question is not Natural Selection per se, but the kind of Natural Selection, Malthusian survival of the fittest or ecological Natural Selection.

In terms of Gould he is basically mistaken.  There are similar species in Africa, South America, and Australia where the ecology is very similar.

Therefore my position is different from Gould because ecology is the guiding force for evolution, from Morris in that ecology is the guiding force, and Dawkins because it is the guiding force of Natural Selection. 

Bilbo - #74315

November 11th 2012

Hi Roger,

You probably know more about this than I do.  I’m not positive but I think Morris would argue that features can evolve in different ecologies.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74317

November 11th 2012


I am not really interested in what Morris thinks.

What do you think and why?



Bilbo - #74421

November 15th 2012

Hi Roger,

I think the major problem for neo-Darwinism is that there is a limit (Behe’s “edge”) to the number of unselected (either neutral or deleterious) mutations that can be invoked to explain evolution of new proteins or new features, and that this number appears to be too small to explain the vast amount of complexity in organized complexity in living things.  Neo-Darwinism may turn out to be true, but it has a long way to go before we call it a well-supported theory.  For biologists to insist that we accept it as true is an unreasonable demand.  At most we should accept it as a reasonable hypothesis.  But in that case, I see no reason for not accepting ID as a reasonable hypothesis.

As to whether including ecology in the theory makes neo-Darwinism stronger?  I don’t see how it overcomes the the problem of the edge.

Meanwhile, Behe has responded to Dennis:


Eddie - #74427

November 15th 2012

That’s right, Bilbo, and I hope that Dennis will respond to Behe’s careful discussion.  However, before he does that, I hope he will respond to Kirk Durston’s latest post, which has been up for a few days now without a reply, and also represents careful thought:



It’s such a treat to have a polite exchange between ID and TE scientists, arguing about science rather than culture war stuff, that it’s a shame that it’s so many days between replies.  I know Dennis has been unwell, and I hope he’s better soon, and I look forward to his reply whenever he is able to produce it.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74428

November 15th 2012


Thank you for your reply and the link to Behe’s article.

My point would is that Behe has a negative critique of Darwinian mutation, while I have a positive critique.  We both disagree with aspects of neoDarwinian theory, but Behe says neoDarwinism does not give a good explanation of evolution without giving a valid alternative, while I agree while giving what I see as a valid alternative.

Let me explain why the Lenski experiment was important from my point of view.  The e. coli were grown in a less that optimum environment because it could not use citrate as a nutrient in the presence of oxygen and there was limited other nourishment available.  If the e. coli were grown in a glucose rich environment, there is no reason to expect that any changes would have occured.  It should be noted that these changes did not occur in all strains of the experiment, so the changes were not “automatic.”    

I would not say that the citrate rich, oxygen rich, and glucose poor environment caused the e. coli to adapt, but clearly it gave it the incentive to do so.  The mechanism that it used to adapt is significant, but secondary.  The process in some sense was random, but the result was not, and this is what I mean by ecological natural selection.   

The process may be similar to brain storming, throwing out ideas until something clicks.  Whatever it is, it is clear from observation that organisms adapt their environments, their ecological niches in many creative ways, rather than the environment adapts to organisms, although every organism does change its environment.  Turtles do not fly.  

In my opinion DNA is rich enough in possible diversity to account for evolution.  I would agree that in the end evolution is not random, but this is because Nature, or better God, because Nature cannot think, is the Source of both DNA and ecology.  Variation is random, but Selection is not because it is based on the ecology which is determined by rational order.     

GHitch - #74436

November 15th 2012

Whatever may be said of Lenski’s experiments, which to date clearly do not support Darwinism, Darwinian evolution as per “macro evolution” is impossible under the current laws of nature, unless intelligent intervention occurs, or again, unless the adequate programming sequence is already built in to the genome.

E. coli developing citrate digestion over 50,000 generations is an accusation against the Darwinian hyposthesis in itself. 
An approximate equivalence to 50 million years of human evolution with nothing but trivial adaptation!?

The reason why macro evo is currently impossible is because of the laws of information and especially because algorithmic information cannot arise by any stochastic process.

But that’s DNA, an immense system of algorithmic, and yes even meta-information.  Meta-information i.e. information on information - like say a database index or a glossary - cannot exist without intelligent origin.
That is implied in its very definition. Just as is implied in the word “code”.

Symbol systems are not something nature does, period. Only intelligence can develop symbols.


“No empirical evidence exists of either RSC of OSC ever having produced a single instance of sophisticated biological organization.”
“Self-ordering processes preclude both complexity and sophisticated functions. Self-ordering phenomena are observed daily in accord with chaos theory. But under no known circumstances can self-ordering phenomena like hurricanes, sand piles, crystallization, or fractals produce algorithmic organization. Algorithmic “self-organization” has never been observed [70] despite numerous publications that have misused the term [21,151-162]. Bone fide organization always arises from choice contingency, not chance contingency or necessity.”  - Abel and Trevor http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1742-4682-2-29.pdf

There is no such thing as prescriptive information or algorithms without intelligent origin.

As long as the Darwinistas refuse to understand the nature of DNA or its vast complex of highly organized, functional - and clearly algorithmic - information, they will do as they have always done, continue chasing their tails while shouting and screaming that they’re right because there is no God.


No empirical evidence exists of either RSC of OSC ever having
produced a single instance of sophisticated biological organization.

Bilbo - #74445

November 16th 2012

Hi Roger,

I think the question is whether you opinion is correct:  Is DNA rich enough in possibility to account for evolution?  And by that we mean that evolution has never needed to go over the edge.  Your opinion may be correct.  But opinions do not make well-supported scientific theories. 

Meanwhile, it’s not clear to me that Behe has not offered a valid alternative to neo-Darwinism.  We Christians believe that God sustains everything in existence.  If quantum mechanics is correct, then randomness occurs at the most basic level of physical reality.  Since God is the one sustaining such randomness, there seems to be no reason why God cannot load the dice, so to speak, and make certain random outcomes much more likely, not just in terms of the environment, but also in terms of the mutations happening in organisms, allowing evolution to go over the edge.  And that would be one scenario of ID.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74447

November 16th 2012


You still do not get it.

There is no evidence or claim that evolution is random.  Therefore there is no reason to load the dice.  The problem is to find the basis of Natural Selection. 

If you look at any discussion of speciation or coevolution, that is Natural Selection, you will find that ecology is the basis of this change, not Variation.

If God works through natural means, that is quantum physics to create evolution, then this should show up scientifically.  If God works through natural means, that is ecological processes to create evolution, and God does, then that show show up scientifically and it does.        

Bilbo - #74461

November 17th 2012

Hi Roger,

I think I “get it’ just fine.  The question isn’t whether evolution is random.  The question is whether mutations are random.  Whether God causes certain mutations to occur and not others may or may not “show up.”  If the edge of evolution is five unselected mutations, but it took six unselected mutations to achieve a certain feature, but this all took place a million years ago, then that may be completely undetectable by science.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74470

November 17th 2012


Variation, or mutations, is always occuring.  The question is whether the right variation will occur at the right place at the right time, which is determined by Natural Selection.  That means what determines how Natural Selection determines what is the right variation at the right place and the right time and that is ecology. 

If it is the wrong variation at the right time and place it will be rejected.  If it is the right variation at the wrong time and right place, it is rejected.  If it is the right variation at the right time, but the wrong place, it is rejected. 

This makes sense theologically because the Christian Triune God is the God of history, of time and place, not the static God of static being.  It is God Who does the selecting, but God uses natural means of ecological selection. 

God does create Variation also, but this is a vast pool of possibilities that Selection chooses from to make evolution work, based on the ecological harmony God has created.  When humans mess up this harmony, bad things like Katrina, Sandy, etc happen.   

Humans could have evolved a prehensile tail, but we dont need a prehensile tail and monkeys do.  Maybe monkeys could have evolved a opposible thumb, but they get along very well without it and humans make good use of our thumb.   

Bilbo - #74476

November 17th 2012

Hi Roger,

Now it’s my turn to tell you that you still don’t get it.  Variations occur.  But the question is how many unselected mutations must occur to get, for example, from a tail to a prehensile tail.  If too many unselected mutations are required, then there won’t be anything for Natural Selection to select, and hence no prehensile tail, no matter how much it would fit the environment.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74478

November 17th 2012


We seem to have a problem with terminology.  For me an unselected mutation would be a variation that is selected out.  Now I understand that this blog is talking about intermediate variations or steps that result in a cumulative major change.

Still it is my understanding that each these steps or variations must still be selected in before they become a part of the species.  Even genetic drift must be neutral in respect to natural selection.

I do not know why there would be a limit on these steps.  The only limit I would see would be established by Natural Selection.   

Bilbo - #74479

November 17th 2012

Hi Roger,

I think there is a limit to the number of consecutive neutral or deleterious mutations that can be invoked for an explanation because of the amount of time needed for these mutations to become fixed in the population.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74481

November 17th 2012


That is theoretical.  How do we be sure we know how long it takes fix changes in a population?

Also we know that symbiotic changes can speed up the time of change considerably. 

If the environment does not change during the time of change there is no problem.  If it goes in a different direction, away from the change, then there would be a problem.  If it goes in a direction with the change, then it would make it more important that it takes place.

Again it seems to me that there should be no arbitrary limits.  The limits are based on the need to adapt to the environment, which is based on both Variation and Selection, and God’s overall plan. 

Bilbo - #74482

November 17th 2012

As far as how we know how long it takes for neutral or deleterious mutations to become fixed in a population, being but a layman, I wouldn’t know, but I think that’s something that geneticists have determined. 

Yes, symbiotic changes, such as Lynn Margulis championed, would probably speed up changes considerably.  But then Margulis thought neo-Darwinism largely false and that most major changes were the work of symbiogenesis.  So far, I think most biologists believe there is little evidence of symbiogenesis playing a major role in evolution. 

I don’t think the environment would play a major role in the fixing of neutral mutations.  I think I could see where a deleterious mutation in one sort of environment might be a useful mutation in another.  Thus sickle cell.  But do biologists think that deleterious mutations played a major role in evolution?  I wouldn’t know.

How do you know that God’s overall plan didn’t include making the necessary mutations that nature by itself would have taken too long to produce?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74483

November 17th 2012


To my knowledge the ideas of Lynn Margulos concerning symbiosis have been largely upheld.  Symbiosis is considered a major cause of evolution and has been used to counter the ideas of ID.

The major objection Margulis and Lovelock have against Darwinism is with Malthusian Natural Selection, which is the objection I have with it and most Christians say they have with it. 

It seems most strange to me that when I put forward an alternative scientific understanding of Natural Selection that is consistent with good theology, Christians do not take it seriously.  Maybe Christians really do think that Darwinism is truer than good theology.   

The environment determines what makes a mutation helpful or harmful.  As you point out sickle cell is helpful in places whare malaria is a problem, but not where it is not.  

Changes in the environment determines the need for changes in life forms.  I think that evolutionary theory has become hung up with genetic drift which is the big NEW THING, but in the long run is not really important.  As I say Darwinism has lost its focus and lost its way by being totally involved in Variation as opposed ot Natural Selection.  

Why and how would God set up a process that would not work properly?  Does it not make sense to expect the opposite? 

I holpe that Dennis and family have recovered and will comment. 

Bilbo - #74485

November 18th 2012

Hi Roger,

Other than mitochondria and perhaps chloroplasts, I don’t think most biologists think symbiogenesis accounts for much of evolution.  I would be happy to find out that they do.  But Margulis’s main objection to neo-Darwinism was not its understanding of Natural Selection, but its belief that an accumulation of genetic mutations could be the major cause of novelty.  If you think otherwise, then you haven’t read much of what she had to say about it.

You ask, “Why and how would God set up a process that would not work properly?

But you are assuming that neo-Darwinism is in fact the process that God set up.  But how do you know that it is?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74489

November 18th 2012


I was reading that many were crediting her for the idea that she was responsible for the discovery that

I think that you have to be careful because believe it or not scientists do have egos and do not like to admit that their ideas are wrong.  Especially people like Dawkins and Dennett who have a strong intellectual and emotional investment in Darwinism.  This can be seen very clearly in their reaction to E. O. Wilson’s conversion to group selection.

If you read Lynn Margulis’ book on evolution, Symbiotic Planet, you would know that she considered symbiosis the basis of evolution.  She was right, even though she did not develope this idea as well as she could have. 

Symbiosis as noted by Frank Perry is contrary to Darwinian view of how nature works.  Darwinian evolution is based on conflict, while symbiosis is based on mutualism.  These are irreconciliable models of reality. 

Dawkins & Dennett are justified in saying that there is no evidence that God exists if they can demonstrate that the universe is without order.  They use Darwinian Natural Selection as prime evidence for this.  Malthusian Natural Selection is not Cosmos, but Chaos.  Symbiosis is Cosmos, not Chaos. 

Therefore I agree with Margulis that evolution is about Symbiosis, not about conflict and chaos.  I have made my analysis available in DARWIN’S MYTH, if you are interested.

If you believe that Darwin was right about natural selection, you are entitled to your opinion.             

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74491

November 18th 2012


I started to write something above and then did not finish it.   

In 1995, prominent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins had this to say about Lynn Margulis and her work:

I greatly admire Lynn Margulis’s sheer courage and stamina in sticking by the endosymbiosis theory, and carrying it through from being an unorthodoxy to an orthodoxy. I’m referring to the theory that the eukaryotic cell is a symbiotic union of primitive prokaryotic cells. This is one of the great achievements of twentieth-century evolutionary biology, and I greatly admire her for it.[8]

This quote should explain much of the importance of Lynn Margulis and symbiosis.  As you know the eukaryotic cell is the basis of all multicelled life.

Eddie - #74492

November 18th 2012

Roger, you are not hearing what Bilbo is saying.  He is not denying that Margulis gave symbiosis the major role in evolution; he said:  ”I don’t think most biologists think symbiogenesis accounts for much of evolution.”

In other words, Bilbo is saying, most biologists do not agree with Margulis.  They accept her explanation of the origin of the mitochondrion, but they think she overplays the importance of such events in evolutionary history.  And from what I have read, Bilbo may well be right.  I have heard many mutterings against Margulis.


Eddie - #74493

November 18th 2012

Regarding 74491 above, it is important to note that while Dawkins praised Margulis for her theory about the origin of the mitochondrion, he did not agree with her on everything, and he sharply disagreed with her at times.  You cannot cite Dawkins as a supporter of her extended views.

Your account of Margulis is confused, probably because you are not a biologist.  She explicitly endorses natural selection; her quarrel with the neo-Darwinians is not over the existence of selection but over the origin of novelty.  She sees novelty as generated primarily by the recombination of genomic elements, as opposed to stepwise accumulation of random mutations.  She discusses this in her interview in the Altenberg 16 book, among other places.

I note also that you have not answered Bilbo’s question (74485):

“But you are assuming that neo-Darwinism is in fact the process that God set up.  But how do you know that it is?”



Roger A. Sawtelle - #74495

November 18th 2012


I think that you might be confusing the eukaryotic cells with the mitichronrion.

The issue is not what biologists think.  The issue is not Variation althought I think that she might have a point.  The issue is Symbiosis vs Conflict based Natural Selection.  This is where Darwinian evolution is wrong and Margulis, ecology, and I are right. 

Do you agree with Darwinian Natural Selection?  If not what is your alternative?

Since when have I said that the process of evolution that God set up should be described as neo-Darwinian?  I have not.  It seems to me that ID is claiming that evolution is neo-Darwinian enhanced by ID input.     

Eddie - #74498

November 18th 2012

No, Roger, I went to university on a science scholarship, and I am not confusing eukaryotic cells with the mitochondrion (which you spelled incorrectly).  And the fact that you think I am doing so, tells me that you do not understand what Margulis means by endosymbiosis.  But that is not a surprise to me.  Your comments about evolution on this site show that biology is not your area of training.  I tried to correct you many times on your understanding of Dawkins, selection, mutation, etc., but you were impervious to criticism and unwilling to retract any error.  And now Bilbo is having the same problem with you that I had.

Your question in your last paragraph should be directed at Bilbo, not me.  He is the one who raised the issue with you, and you did not answer him.

ID is not claiming what you say it is claiming.  ID people do not believe that neo-Darwinian mechanisms could account for the main developments in evolution.  Which ID books have you read from cover to cover?  I weary of people who comment on ID based on rumor and hearsay and don’t take the time to familiarize themselves with ID writing.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74507

November 19th 2012


The problem for you and Bilbo and everyone else is Symbiosis.

Why is it that you run away from it as fast as the Darwinians?

Eddie - #74510

November 19th 2012

Did you read anything that I wrote in 74498?  If so, did you understand any of it?  And therefore what a reply to it should look like?  And therefore that what you have written in 74507 is not a reply, but a complete non sequitur, as if your mind was on Mars when you were supposed to be trying to grasp my objections, explanations, and questions?  Do you have any college-level training in how to engage in intellectual conversation with others?  

As for your comment on symbiosis (which needs no capital letter), you don’t know what you’re talking about.  Neither Bilbo nor I have “run away” from symbiosis.  We are pointing out that it is far from universally accepted as a central engine of evolutionary change, despite its acceptance as the explanation for mitochondria.  You clearly have no knowledge of the debate within the community of professional evolutionary biologists about the value of Margulis’s ideas.  Your conception of evolutionary theory is—as one can infer from your comments—formed from reading popular works written in layman’s language for those with no scientific training.  You shouldn’t be making grand pronouncements about mutation, selection, symbiosis, ecology, etc. without much more biological knowledge than you appear to possess.

You seem to have a desire, on this site (where you seem to post under virtually every column, whether the subject is in your area of training or not), to act as a teacher.  It seems to me that it would be more appropriate for you to act as a student.  For example, there is a thread where Durston and Venema, both highly-trained people, are debating evolutionary mechanisms.  I notice that you have many posts on that thread. In not one of those posts do you approach Venema or Durston as an inquiring student, and ask them to explain this or that about what they wrote, or to explain something else about evolutionary biology to you.  In fact, you ignore their discussion, and pontificate on your own views of evolution, cluttering up the discussion of two professionals with the improvised opinions of an amateur.  You use someone else’s column as your own podium.  It is as if you think that your opinion on these subjects should carry as much weight as theirs, as if you think yourself their peer.  I find that attitude astoundingly presumptuous.  

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74513

November 19th 2012


If you want to stop my enquiry concerning symbiosis, then you will have to respond to it.

If the information that you refer to is available in publications, then please refer me to them.  If it is not, then you will have to give it to me yourself.

How do sceintists expect for lay folk, not professional scientists, to understand the science of evolution if they do not communicate that information? 

Some people spend time and effort complaining that laypeople do not understand science, but how can we if the information is not available? 

Really the problem that we are discussing is not technical, which requires technical knowledge of how genes replicate, which professionals in the field would be accainted with, but general questions which are addressed in experiments and studies like Lenski’s which are public knowledge.    

Feel free to join our discussion and share your extensive knowledge of the subject. 

Bilbo - #74523

November 19th 2012

Hi Roger,

Here’s a link to Lynn Margulis’s interview with Discover Magazine:


Bilbo - #74524

November 19th 2012

And a link to Susan Mazur’s interview of Margulis:


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