Lynn Margulis, Controversial Evolutionist Remembered

In 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded evolution theorist Lynn Margulis the National Medal of Science Award. Amazingly, in 2008, Margulis was awarded the Darwin-Wallace Medal by the Linnean Society of London.  Margulis, who died on Tuesday in Amherst, Massachusetts, however, was no friend of the Darwinian theory evolution.

At the center of the raging theory of evolution debates, Margulis emerged as a strong critic of Darwin during the late twentieth century. In the words of Margulis, “Darwin’s claim of ‘descent with modification’ as caused by natural selection is a linguistic fallacy”.

In an interview with Australian journalist Suzan Mazur, Margulis poignantly explains her aversion to the Darwinian notion of evolution:

Darwin wrote about the Struggle for Life and attributed change to Natural Selection. He made it easy for his contemporaries to think and verbalize Mr. Big Omnipotent God in the Sky up there picking out those He wants to keep. He has been conceived as the The Natural Selector, He throws the others away.

Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, promoted the theory that natural selection was the driving force of evolution to advance the origin of new species. For Margulis, however, “natural selection is an elimination process”, not creative of life or new species.

Margulis was not even a friend of the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution that developed in the early twentieth century based on the population genetic work of J.B.S. Haldane and R.A. Fisher, either:

The notion is that if we accumulate enough gene change, enough genetic mutations, we explain the passage from one species to another. This is depicted as two branches in a family tree that emerge from one common ancestor to the two descendants. An entire Anglophone academic tradition of purported evolutionary description was developed quantified, computerized based on what I think is a conceptual topological error.

In the words of Margulis, “neo-Darwinists are a… religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon Biology… Speciation by accumulation of ‘random DNA mutations’ has never been adequately documented.”

“I work in evolutionary biology,” Margulis opined, “but with cells and micro-organisms. Richard Dawkins, John Maynard Smith, George Williams, Richard Lewontin, Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould all come out of the zoological tradition, which suggests to me that, in the words of our colleague Simon Robson, they deal with a data set some three billion years out of date.”

Margulis highlighted the plague of the modern evolution industry: “Scientists, like anyone else, follow the money flow.”

Margulis proposed to replace the various versions of Darwinian evolution with a more friendly version of evolution based on symbiosis. Bruce Weber in the New York Times, explain: “Dr. Margulis argued that a more important mechanism was symbiosis; that is, evolution is a function of organisms that are mutually beneficial growing together to become one and reproducing.”

Margulis’ gentler theory of symbiosis is in sharp contrast to Darwin’s angry “survival of the fittest” theory later coined as “nature red in tooth and claw” by poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. They were born in the same year−1809.

In the Scientific American article, “R.I.P. Lynn Margulis, Biological Rebel”, John Horgan noted that “Lynn Margulis was among the most creative challengers of mainstream Darwinian thinking of the late 20th century.”

Margulis was not alone. The evolution industry is now composed of a range of evolutionary scientists like Margulis.  Larry Moran, Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto, categorizes evolutionists based on three different points of view−the Standard View, the New View, and the Radical View.

In the Standard View, the likes of Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Sean B. Carroll, and Ken Miller continue advocating the traditional basic tenets of Darwinism. The New View, as supported by Stephen Jay, Michael Lynch, and Eugene Koonin, only retains a basic notion of Darwinian natural selection. The Radical View, to which Moran categorizes Margulis, completely abandons Darwin’s theory of evolution. Marc Kirschner, John Gerhart, James Shapiro, Dorion Sagan, Massimo Pigliucci, and Gerd B. Müller are included in Moran’s Radical View category.

Reflecting on the life of Lynn Margulis provides the time evaluate the state of the evolution industry. Moran laments the fact that after 150 years since the publication of The Origin of Species, a unified theory of evolution still continues as only an elusive abstraction.

The problem: “People are always more loyal to their tribal group,” Margulis protested, “than to any other abstract notion of ‘truth’—scientists especially.” Out of fear, tribal theories of evolution reject the truth to maintain tribal loyalty.

With the technology available, the reach of science to discovering the origins and meaning of life has reached a scientific dead-end. The concept of evolution continues only as a philosophy, not as a science.

Evolution was once a theory in crisis, now the evolution industry is in crisis without even a theory. Margulis will be remembered.

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Darwin, Then and Now is a journey through the most amazing story in the history of science - the history of evolution. The book encapsulates who Darwin was, what he said, and what scientists have discovered since the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859.

With over 1,000 references, Darwin Then and Now is a historical chronicle of the rise and fall of the once popular theory of biological evolution.