Can Evolution Evolve Symbiosis and Mutualism?

A mutualistic symbiotic relationship is a relationship between two or more creatures in which all parties involved benefit in some way. In this article, we will examine specific examples of mutualism and see how these examples defy evolutionary explanation.

Except, we have evolved mutualism in the lab. The basic pattern is “first, add something, then make necessary.” Turns out that this is easy to do with evolution. Perhaps @J.E.S can explain…

If you are saying: since intelligent intervention was required in order to make mutualism happen in the lab, intelligent intervention must have been necessary for mutualism to happen in nature as well; then I would agree with you.

However (to avoid being disingenuous :wink: ), I am reasonably certain that that is not what you meant.

That aside, I would be greatly interested in hearing some specific examples of mutualism being “evolved” (although created almost sounds like a more accurate word) in the lab, and I would also really appreciate it if I could hear of a plausible evolutionary mechanism for the origin of lichens (although I am beginning to doubt that one exists). When writing the article, the source that had the closest thing to an evolutionary explanation for lichens was Wikipedia, and I am hesitant to use Wikipedia as a source (as @cwhenderson can attest :wink: ).

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The best use of Wikipedia is to harvest its footnotes… which usually lead to solid books available for review on Google Books (at least partial review). And in those books, there is a NEW wave of footnotes to harvest!

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Ah, @gbrooks9, but therein lies the great woe of my previously enumerated situation:

Directly beside the evolutionary “explanation” of the mechanism for the origin of the lichen (at least, one of them) was this most disheartening message: [Citation Needed]. :wink:

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@J.E.S, well then … ALMOST all your troubles are over !!!

I BUILT you a citation for that missing citation!

Margulis, Lynn. “Symbiosis in Evolution: Origins of Cell Motility.” Evolution of Life: Fossils, Molecules and Culture, edited by Syozo Osawa and Tasuku Honzo, Japan: Springer-Verlag, 1991, (chapter 3.6, pp. 305-324), p. 322. doi:10.1007/978-4-431-68302-5_19. ISBN 978-4-431-68304-9.

And here’s the actual page!

But wait, there’s more!

I also have most of the references Margulis ever made!

But wait, there’s even more!

Google Book Link: Lynn Margulis’ article “Symbiosis in Evolution”

There’s no telling how much other material you might find interesting, even though the book is a little dated.

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No intervention required. Have you read about this?

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I think this is a pretty important finding … buried within one of the hundreds of YouTube videos on Evolution !

Protists that fed on algae cells swallowed some that would not be digested and did not die… and they were lucky they did! Those algae cells helped the Protists survive starvation - - and provide an exquisite parallel to the acquisition of proto-mitochondria by one celled life ages ago…

Link to YouTube video:


I’m not sure why you are so allergic to the idea that God has all of natural law doing what it does to accomplish the specifics of His purpose.

Setting aside the questionable use of “intervention”…

I see no downside to allowing the THEOLOGICAL option (not a scientific one) that all of natural law is under control of God… including "bacterial endosymbiosis in amoebae’!

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Interesting! Sounds a bit like the evolutionary explanation for the origin of the mitochondrion as well…

However…(there is almost always a “however” :wink: )…Just because we see some sort of mutualism “evolving” in protists/bacteria, does that necessarily translate to the rest of the natural world? For instance, the example of certain types of shrimp and fish cleaning the teeth of certain predatory sea creatures is a totally different arrangement from bacteria/protists etc. What are your thoughts on that example?

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Life finds niches wherever it can. There are no doubt multiple patterns.

In my “God-Guided-Evolution” mind-set… the word intervention doesnr seem the best choice:

If a clay maker is making a pot…is he intervening when he stops the wheel to attach a handle? Not really… it’s all the potmaker… it’s all the process.

Now some say the handle can be miraculous engagement… while making the pot is analogous to natural law: thus - they want to say God’s miraculous work is intervening in the natural process. I suppose if everyone is willing to use the same definitions… that is fine.

The one consideration I would add to all this is: if it occurs because of natural law, then it is a specific engagement of God. If it occurs because of a miracle… it is STILL A specific engagement of God.

I have no problem with God’s action. I do see a problem with bad arguments for his action. The fact that these arguments fail does not somehow challenge the fact that he very well could have acted in our origins.

It is. That is why think this is at least part of the story of how it happened.

The question is the other way around. You raised an argument against “evolution”, arguing that it cannot give rise to mutualism. We have seen that it can, quite easily. So the real question is to ask (1) if the argument applies in one area you were convinced evolution could not solve the problem, (2) evolution apparently can solve this problem (with or without God, we do not know), then (3) why do we think this is a problem in any of the examples you raise?

I think it is should be fairly clear that there is no fundamental difference between any of these examples, and we have demonstrated direct observation that this is possible in evolution. The argument is toast.

That should be our response. God just used evolution to accomplish is purposes.

This is not an argument against God’s action. So @J.E.S, even if evoltuion can’t do it “on its own”, as a Christian you can always presume that evolution did not do it “on its own.” As @gbrooks9 is wont to emphasize, maybe God guided it.

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Interactions between organisms in nature run the gamut from parasitism to neutralism to mutualism. Game theory has also provided understanding how these relationships may arise.


There is one area in particular that I personally find fascinating: The acquisition of chloroplasts (plastids). I think the consensus is that plastids are monophyletic or have a single origin. What is interesting is that some groups of organisms have acquired plastids in secondary endosymbiotic events. That is, some organisms acquired their plastids by acquiring eukaryotic endosymbionts that already had plastids, like this: Host>>eukaryotic endosymbiont>>plastid. So, in some cases we find plastids contained within a secondary membrane. Within that secondary membrane we sometimes find remnants of the eukaryotic nuclear DNA from the aqcuired eukaryotic symbiont. There are also cases of tertiary acquisitions: Host>>eukaryotic endosymbiont>>eukaryiotic endosymbiont>>plastid.


I’m not sure if that is correct…


Perhaps in that one case. However, I would very much like you to show me how evolution can account for the other example(s) I brought up, as I am unconvinced that all the examples of mutualism are “fundamentally the same.”

If something is possible (and happened) in one case, that does not mean that it happened (or even necessarily that it is possible) in another case. Furthermore, just because something could have happened does not mean that it did.

So, you must first of all show me that evolution can account for symbiosis (which you have done to some extent, but still must do in the specific examples I have shown) and, if you can succeed in demonstrating that, you must show me that evolution does account for these specific examples of mutualism (although these two requests are closely linked).

Until you can provide a refutation that actually holds water (in all cases), or convince me that there is no fundamental difference between any of the examples, then the arguments and examples presented in the article still stand strong.

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@J.E.S, even if they aren’t fundamentally the same … what is it that you think keeps it from happening?

I don’t get your concerns?

The most extreme case of Mutalism and Symbiosis HAS to be the one where one cell EATS another … and only after the “food” refuses to die… they arrive at a mutually beneficial system.

Do you know anything MORE extreme than that? And the fact we seem to have found at least 2 of these … well, it shows that anything can happen!

So, explain yourself… what keeps you from thinking nature is amazing?!

@J.E.S this isn’t that complex.

It is clear that unguided evolution can do non-intuitive things (see my example), however that does not prove it can do everything ascribed to it. That requires a leap beyond science. The real questions are different.

  1. Is God powerful enough to have created everything by common descent, in a guided process of evolution?

The answer is, “obviously yes.”

  1. Do we see positive evidence that common descent is the way God created us? Is common descent one of his design principles?

As I have covered else where, I think the answer is “yes.”

  1. Does this comport with theology and Scripture?

We have all been arguing the answer is “yes” too.

If that is all the case, the real question might be this:

  1. Why not choose peace?
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Perhaps reading the article will give you a satisfying look at my ideas here, @gbrooks9 :wink: :

Nature is incredibly amazing. However, the interesting and complex things we find there point to the actions of an intelligent designer, not the random processes of evolution.

And you are surrounded by people whose stance is that God is the designer.

What exactly are you worried about?
You see, the thing about the sentence: “the interesting and complex things we find … point to the actions of an intelligent designer…” is that this sentence can be ignored or memorized… it doesn’t change how scientists describe what they are seeing.

There’s no way around that…

Are you complaining that scientists don’t STATE that an intelligent designer made it possible for one cell to eat another … there is no solution to that.

Once again, I would greatly appreciate it if you would address my questions/examples.

I do not presume you are saying that I am surrounded by people who are tacitly admitting the the truth of ID?