Posted by: Randall Niles | May 14, 2010

Symbiosis — Theory of Co-Evolution

Today, I received the following email…

I am a high school science teacher. I just saw one of your videos on You Tube about Interdependence and Symbiosis and I found at the end that you questioned the possibility of co-evolution and interdependence. My question to you is, “Do you have an answer?” Other than saying “God”, do you have any way to explain the existence of those interdependent relationships? The school that I work at has a strong religious population, but you can maybe imagine my situation. I, being a science teacher, am a man of science – of explanations. My fear is that you ask questions, but never offer any answers. I understand that science does not yet have an answer to every question, but what answer do you offer based in any form of evidence? Please help me out so I can try and reconcile with my students.

As we remember from high school science class, symbiosis describes the mutual relationship between certain types of organic life. Remarkably, many of these interdependent relationships are totally required for survival, right from the start.

For instance, coral reef ecosystems require “mutualism” of various organisms and algae to survive and grow. Land ecosystems require plants converting carbon from the air, and fungi extracting minerals from the ground. Herbivores need micro-organisms in their digestive tract to convert plant matter to energy, and many flowering plants require unique insects to pollinate and reproduce. If you have a moment, please watch the VIDEO for more.

Anyway, you get the point… Our planet is finely-tuned with a wide variety of necessary, symbiotic relationships. Without them, many interdependent organisms cease to exist.

The theory of “co-evolution” is the naturalistic attempt to address the myriad of plant, animal, fungi, and micro-organism relationships that are totally interdependent and required for mutual survival. In a nutshell, co-evolution declares that the countless “miracles” of Darwinian evolution didn’t just happen one at a time, in a distinct tree of changing species, but at least two at a time, side-by-side, at the exact same moment in genetic history.

Of course, I probably end the video with some sort of perplexing and open-ended, “Now that’s something to Think About.”

So, responding to the email above…

Indeed, science is science, and the scientific method is the scientific method. However, when we contemplate “the necessary historic process of co-evolution,” at best, we’re using “forensic science.” Since we can’t reproduce the naturalistic process of co-evolution in a laboratory, we gather the evidence and pose rational/logical theories. If the evidence brings us to “highly improbable,” “almost miraculous,” “nearly impossible,” “unknown for now,” etc., then I think it’s responsible to pose the “Think About” questions, even if open-ended…  If “design,” “mind,” “plan,” “crazy absurdity,” etc. are part of the string of possible answers, so be it. I don’t think asking a philosophical question jeopardizes good science in our classrooms. Actually, I think it’s our duty to students to spark questions without scientific answers.

Just Thinking,

Randall Niles

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