What Do Evolutionists Do When One of Their Own Is Honest about the Data?

Dr. Lynn Margulis, member of the National Academy of Sciences (click for credit)
Dr. Lynn Margulis is a very interesting person. When she was a young scientist, she wrote a paper entitled “On the origin of mitosing cells.” It was rejected by several scientific journals, but it was eventually published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology more than 40 years ago. In that paper, she proposed an endosymbiotic theory for the origin of eukaryotic cells.1 If you don’t recognize that term, there are two basic kinds of cells in creation: prokaryotic and eukaryotic. Just as the human body has distinct, smaller organs that each perform specific functions, eukaryotic cells have distinct, smaller organelles that each perform specific functions. Prokaryotic cells are smaller than eukaryotic cells and do not have distinct organelles. While humans, animals, plants, and many microscopic organisms are made of eukaryotic cells, bacteria are made of a single prokaryotic cell.

In her paper, which is now considered a landmark publication, she put forth the idea that the organelles in eukaryotic cells formed because one prokaryotic cell engulfed another, and they both somehow survived to work together. The engulfed cell became the organelle, while the cell that did the engulfing became the first rudimentary eukaryotic cell. While this idea did not originate with Dr. Margulis, her landmark paper was the first to provide biochemical data that supported the view. As a result, she has gotten the lion’s share of the credit for the endosymbiotic theory of the origin of eukaryotic cells.

Now there are serious problems with her theory. For example, she makes much of the fact that mitochondria (eukaryotic organelles that power the cell) are similar to bacteria. As a result, it should make sense that mitochondria were actual bacteria at one time. However, the similarities are rather trivial. There are significant structural and biochemical differences between the two, which makes the idea that mitochondria came from bacteria quite untenable. Nevertheless, endosymbiotic theory is currently the consensus view among evolutionists for how eukaryotic cells arose. Thus, it is not surprising that Dr. Margulis was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983.

While the problems associated with endosymbiotic theory are interesting, what really fascinates me is how two well-known evolutionists have reacted to her recent interview, published in Discover Magazine.

In the interview2, she said some very honest things about the evolutionary hypothesis. For example, she said:

I was taught over and over again that the accumulation of random mutations led to evolutionary change-led to new species. I believed it until I looked for evidence.

She also said that there is no fossil evidence for the gradual change you would expect from the idea that mutation-induced changes preserved by natural selection have led to what we see in nature today. At one point, the interviewer indicates that what she says sounds a lot like what Dr. Michael Behe says, and she answers with:

The critics, including the creationist critics, are right about their criticism. It’s just that they’ve got nothing to offer by intelligent design or “God did it.” They have no alternatives that are scientific.

So Dr. Margulis is definitely not a fan of Intelligent Design or creationism. Indeed, according to the interview, she actually debated Dr. Behe in the past. She doesn’t support intelligent design or creationism because she has her own hypothesis of evolution that is based (not surprisingly) on symbiosis. However, she is at least honest about the fact that the current evolutionary hypothesis is simply not supported by the data.

How have her evolutionist colleagues received her honesty? Not very well. For example, Dr. Jerry Coyne wrote:

Well, at least she’s not crazy enough to accept god as a scientific explanation. But she is crazy enough to proffer her “alternative” theory, which of course is symbiosis.

So according to Dr. Coyne, the scientist who is responsible for making endosymbotic theory the standard view in evolution is crazy! Of course, calling her names isn’t good enough for Dr. Coyne. He has to go further:

When discussing evolutionary biology, then, Margulis is dogmatic, willfully ignorant, and intellectually dishonest. She does deserve plaudits for not only her early work on symbiosis, but for having the tenacity to push for her ideas in the face of considerable opposition. But that tenacity is being misapplied here. She’s simply wrong—and wrong in the worst way a scientist can be wrong: ignoring all the data that go against her theories. But what do you expect of someone who answers the interviewer’s last question like this?:

Dick Teresi (the inteviewer): Do you ever get tired of being called controversial?

Margulis: I don’t consider my ideas controversial. I consider them right.

She’s almost religious in her fanaticism.

Now, of course, Dr. Coyne thinks his views are right as well, but he would be horrified at the characterization that he is religious in his fanaticism.

Of course, my favorite atheist (P.Z. Myers) had to pile on as well. In a short blog post entitled, “Speaking of crackpots…,” he says

Here’s another one: Lynn Margulis. HIV denial, weird ideas about spirochaetes making sperm tails, dismissing the whole field of population genetics, failing to understand evolution in general…it’s embarrassingly bad. Dr Margulis had a weird idea once about endosymbiosis, and she was right — and now she’s always off gallivanting towards the latest, weirdest, most untenable idea she can find. It’s such a waste.

I think someone should arrange a conversation between Margulis and Wickramasinghe. Their egos will either synergize and produce a spectacular explosion of time-cube level kookiness, or they’ll mutually annihilate each other. It’s a risk I’m willing to take, for the lulz.

It’s sad that people who call themselves scientists are so unwilling to engage in critical thinking that they need to insult people who are simply trying to be honest about the data. There are a lot of things that I disagree with when it comes to Dr. Margulis’s views, but I admire her for speaking honestly about how she sees the data.

Scientists like her are the ones who will improve scientific knowledge, because they honestly look at the data and discard ideas that don’t work. In addition, they seek out new ideas. Their new ideas might not work, either, but trying out new ideas is better than clinging to old ideas that don’t square with the data. Scientists who are so closed-minded that they choose to attack her rather than honestly investigate what she has to say are holding back the progress of science.

Let’s hope that in the long run, scientists like Dr. Margulis prevail.


1. Lynn Sagan, “On the origin of mitosing cells,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 14:255-274, 1967.
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2. Dick Teresi, “The Discover Interview: Lynn Margulis,” Discover Magazine April 2, 2011, pp. 66-71.
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9 thoughts on “What Do Evolutionists Do When One of Their Own Is Honest about the Data?”

    1. Unfortunately, I know Christians who also resort to insults and mockery when they perceive someone straying from what they want to be the official dogma.

  1. Dr. Wile,

    Unfortunately, I know Christians who condemn others as “really nasty” for daring to name compromise from the orthodox and apostolic tradition of doctrine, nevermind that Jesus named the Pharisees for hypocrisy and Paul named persons for compromise. Is it now a sin to name sin? The question is whether it’s merely our perception of compromise from official dogma or whether it’s actual compromise, right?

    I’m actually at a loss as to why you’ve decided to gleefully defend a Biblical compromiser like Dr. Peter Enns, who believes Paul had no right to think of Adam as an actual person because he supposes Genesis was made up as a polemic against Babylonian creation stories, over a Biblical [Young Earth] creationist like Ken Ham, who, you know, believes his Bible. Especially since you claim to [largely] hold the views Ken Ham holds regarding Genesis. It’s just as surprising that GHC [which likewise claims a YEC position] would vote to permanently ban Mr. Ham on such a nebulous charge [such an extreme penalty demands a greater burden of evidence which has not been provided; this being the case, the charge against Mr. ham’s “spirit” without providing specific instances upon which this subjective judgment was based is purest libel], yet keep the compromiser on their speaker list.

    Since you hold such similar views on this matter, forgive me if I feel compelled to ask whether you are on the as-yet-anonymous GHC advisory board?


    1. Reverend Breedon, I called Ken Ham’s actions nasty. I did not call him nasty. Instead, I encouraged people to listen to his talks, and in the comments, I regularly called him a man of God who loves the Word. I have no problem with Jesus calling people names. He knows the hearts and minds of every person. Do you? I have no problem with Paul calling people names. He was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Are you? The question is whether or not we want to obey Romans 14:1-9. I do. Do you?

      I am not sure why you think I am “gleefully” defending Dr. Enns. It saddens me greatly to publicly criticize a man of God like Ken Ham. However, when he publicly levels a false charge at a brother in Christ, it is my duty to do so, regardless of how sad it makes me.

      It is not at all surprising that GHC would ban Ken Ham. GHC’s mission is to encourage and support all Christian homeschoolers, not just the ones you deem to be theologically pure. Mr. Ham’s unkind spirit clearly prevented that, and as such, keeping him in as speaker would have harmed their mission. Given the fact that they replaced him with a man who has virtually the same views (Dr. Sarfati) shows that it had nothing to do with Mr. Ham’s position, only his spirit.

      I know you love conspiracy theories, Reverend Breedon, but I am not and never have been on the GHC advisory board. I have no relationship with GHC other than that of an invited speaker to their events this year and in some of the previous years. Given the way many young-earth creationists have treated those who disagree with them, are you at all surprised that GHC has not released the names of their board members? Given the level of vitriol that is regularly spewed by many in the young-earth creationist camp (even towards those who agree with them), it is not surprising that they don’t want to expose their board members to that!

  2. Dr Wile,

    Romans 14:1-9 deals with charity in disputable matters [specifically customs and traditions] not with essential doctrine. I realize you’re not a theologian (and I don’t recall you mentioning that you had been called and commissioned to preach), but you should realize that that you’re misappropriating this passage.

    I should also mention that you’ve thatched together a straw man by implying that we cannot judge or call someone a compromiser because we are not Paul or Christ Himself. I do not need to know the hearts and minds of every person to judge them by their fruit [as commanded by Christ]. While I may not have written the New Testament, I do have the New Testament and I am commanded to study it so that I might rightly divide it [Paul wrote that], and to preach the Word whether it’s popular or not, to rebuke, correct and encourage [Paul wrote that too]. I am promised also that the same Holy Spirit under whose inspiration Paul wrote will guide me into all truth. It is scholasticism that treats the Biblical revelation with skepticism, not faith unfeigned.

    How do you defend your claim that calling someone a compromiser is unBiblical, unChristian or unloving, Dr. Wile? You are defending a man who denies the historicity of events that Christ affirmed; that right there should have settled the matter for you, yet you defend Dr. Enns and pretend as if he were just as Biblical as a man who believes his Bible. Worse, you characterize calling a spade a spade as nasty and unkind. Ham’s charge against Enns was NOT false; it was glaringly obvious that Dr. Enns has compromised Scripture. In fact, Enns believes that Paul [that fellow you mentioned that wrote much of the New testament under the Holy Spirit] had no right to refer to Adam as a historical figure in 1 Corinthians 15. In gleefully defending Enns against Ham you purposely mislead your readers, sir. You represented Enns as a sound teacher from whom you gained some insights. You’ve never warned your constituents that he’d undermining the foundation of our faith. And that makes you a party to his sin, sir [2 John 1:10-11].

    The problem is this: You’ve come to ascribe to a sort of “big tent” orthodoxy which is not orthodoxy at all. orthodoxy is not represented by what has been traditionally allowed but by what has been handed down by the apostles. I’ve read on your site that you don’t believe that you can plainly read a young earth into Scripture over an Old earth interpretation, but you don’t base this on what Scripture says so much as what some Church Fathers [who were Young Earth but supposed the days of Creation might be nonliteral to allow God to create everything in an instant rather than a week] declared in their misguided zeal to preserve God’s omnipotence [forgetting that just because God can do anything that’s logically possible doesn’t mean He is forced to do everything with maximum efficiency; they would have arbitrarily chained him to an ultra-efficient omnipotence in Creation but allowed Him free will in His dealings with mankind elsewhere]. Your use of a few Church Fathers who were the exceptions rather than the rule, and who were still Young earth Creationists despite their nonliteral interpretation of the Creation Week; seriously, they’re even younger earth Creationists than I am by at least 6 days!] as a filter through which to interpret the Creation Week is a pretty shoddy hermeneutical dodge. Do you not realize you’re comparing apples to oranges when you compare these ultra-young earthers’ nonliteral days to an old earthers’ nonliteral days? No? Christ affirmed that God created them male and female from the beginning of Creation [not after long ages] and this Creation Week is the basis of our work week and sabbath worship. Furthermore, the OT genealogies give us an accurate and relational timeframe from Adam to Noah to Abraham and so on. You know these things of course because you at least give lipservice to the Young earth position while you’re busy defending those who compromise the plain meaning of Scripture. So while you deny that the Bible has any plain meaning [so much for the perspecuity of Scripture] where it concerns the age of the Earth, you’re not reading Scripture as Jesus and the NT authors affirmed it and thus you’re ignoring apostolic tradition to allow for extraBiblical timeframes [and thus extraBiblical creationisms].

    It pains me to have to make these rather obvious points to a man of your educational level, but the fact of the matter is that you’re just plain wrong, sir.

    Spurgeon mentioned folks like you in his day. In the midst of the Down-Grade controversy, there were folks who believed that speaking out against compromise undermined the unity of the Body. These fellows actually thought they were doing God’s will when they censured Spurgeon on this point. Spurgeon reminded folks that we are to be first pure, then peaceable. He noted that unity with liberal compromise and error was unBiblical; what hath light to do with darkness? what hath Christ to do with Belial? Men like Dr. Enns appear as angels of light [I have even heard his supporters say he will bring the Church out of the dark ages!] but they teach a pernicious undermining of Scripture. If you continue to support this compromiser for the sake of unity, you will only help usher in the age of apostasy in America that Spurgeon prophesied of Europe.

    Think about it.

    1. Reverend Breedon, I realize you are laboring under the false notion that one’s view of Genesis is essential doctrine, but it clearly is not. That is, of course, why the church has never been unified on the issue. Given the fact that it is clearly not essential doctrine, Romans 14:1-9 applies directly to the situation. It is unfortunate that in this case, you disregard the plain reading of Scripture.

      It certainly is not a straw man to claim that we should be very slow to judge. In fact, I seem to remember Christ saying that quite clearly in Matthew 7:2-5. Perhaps you should read that passage a few times.

      You also seem to be incapable of reading what I have clearly written, since I have not said that calling someone a “compromiser” is “unBiblical, unChristian or unloving.” In fact, what I said was that leveling a false charge against a brother is wrong, and that’s what Mr. Ham did. Dr. Enns’s view of inspiration is clearly consistent with 2 Timothy 3:16, and for Mr. Ham to say it is not is simply false. Dr Enns believes that the Scriptures are infallible but not inerrant. There is nothing in 2 Timothy 3:16 to even imply that they are inerrant. I personally believe that they are inerrant, but not because of 2 Timothy 3:16. Thus, Mr. Ham’s charge is clearly false. How do you defend leveling a false charge against a brother to be a Christian action?

      Of course, you seem to delight in making false charges yourself, since you claim that I “gleefully” support Dr. Enns, even though I have told you otherwise. This is not an isolated incident, either. You have leveled other false charges at me even though I have told you they are false. As a brother in Christ I forgive you for your false charges, but your words make it very hard for anyone who reads them to take you seriously.

      I have never represented Dr. Enns as a sound teacher. I have represented that he has given me some insights, but that doesn’t mean I consider him a sound teacher. I have already mentioned several times that I disagree with him on a number of issues, not the least of which is his interpretation of Genesis. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t learn anything from him. Do you mean to tell me you haven’t learned anything from theologians with whom you disagree? It seems you have learned from Spurgeon, but as is shown below, he was (according to you) a “compromiser” at least at one time in his life. It’s odd that you can learn from a “compromiser” but others are not allowed to.

      I do, indeed, base the obvious fact that you cannot read a young earth directly from Scripture on Scripture itself. In fact, you know this, because we have discussed the theology in another forum, and I used nothing but Scriptural arguments. I also go over some of those Scriptural arguments here. Once again, I forgive you for the false charge. What I have done with the early church fathers is clearly shown that something you say over and over again is simply not true. You claim that a rejection of a 24-hour day in Genesis is the result of modern ideas. That is clearly false, and the early church fathers demonstrate that. I expect that’s why you are so upset with me. However, I will not stop telling people the truth just because it contradicts the false things that you wish to communicate.

      Tell me, Reverend Breedon, if the plain reading of Genesis is so foundational to Scripture, do you accept the plain reading of Joshua 10:12-13, Habakkuk 3:11, 1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalms 93:1, and Psalms 96:10? The first two indicate that the sun moves, and the last three indicate that the earth is motionless. Thus, the plain reading of the text supports geocentrism. Have you “compromised” those verses and accepted a heliocentric model of the solar system? What about ripping out your eyes and cutting off your hand (Matthew 5:29-30)? Have you also “compromised” those verses? What about women keeping silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34)? Have you also “compromised” those verses? The point here is simple – interpretation of Scripture requires a responsible hermeneutic. Unfortunately, you seem to forget that when it comes to Genesis. I wonder why.

      I note that you continue to ascribe motives to people about whom you know very little. I don’t see the early church fathers’ theology as coming from some desire to preserve God’s omnipotence. They are simply reading the text and trying to learn from it. However, because you cannot seem to grasp the relatively simple fact that the text is not very clear on the nature of the Genesis days, you are forced to ascribe nefarious motives to them. That is quite unfortunate.

      I am obviously not comparing apples to oranges when I compare the early church fathers’ views to modern views. Some of the earth church fathers did not think the Genesis days were 24-hour days, and neither do most Evangelical theologians today. Their reasoning is very similar. Modern young-earth creationism requires that the Genesis days be 24-hour days. Several early church fathers disagree, as do most of today’s Evangelical theologians, and their reasoning is incredibly similar. In addition, early church fathers like Origen thought the Genesis account was figurative, which is exactly what Dr. Enns thinks. Thus, in some cases, the reasoning is identical. I am quite clearly comparing apples to apples here.

      Unfortunately, you are the one who is ignoring apostolic tradition when you refuse to honestly attempt to understand the views of the early church fathers. They are the ones who are most likely to represent what the apostles passed down, yet you ignore them because they disagree with your views. Worse yet, you ascribe nefarious motives to them in order to provide yourself with cover when it comes to ignoring them.

      It is interesting that you mention Spurgeon, because in your mind, he was a “compromiser.” I wonder why you are accepting teaching from him! Here is what he said on June 17, 1855 in a sermon entitled, “The Power of the Holy Ghost”:

      In the 2d verse of the first chapter of Genesis, we read, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” We know not how remote the period of the creation of this globe may be—certainly many millions of years before the time of Adam. Our planet has passed through various stages of existence, and different kinds of creatures have lived on its surface, all of which have been fashioned by God. But before that era came, wherein man should be its principal tenant and monarch, the Creator gave up the world to confusion. He allowed the inward fires to burst up from beneath, and melt all the solid matter, so that all kinds of substances were commingled in one vast mass of disorder.

      Are you ushering in a new age of apostasy by supporting Spurgeon?

      I understand that because you labor under the false notion that your view of Genesis is foundational to Christianity, you see people who view it differently from you as apostates. However, if you would actually read some serious theology, you might come to realize how wrong your view is.

      Pray about it.
      -Dr. Jay

  3. Doctor Wile, you seem to have neglected to back up with Scripture your statement that it is wrong to level a false charge against your brother. I’m sure it’s assumed, but it is so pivotal to your argument that it should be made explicit. I think the ninth commandment would be an appropriate choice.

    “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16, Deuteronomy 5:20, NIV

    Now I’ll affirm THAT is an indisputable point of doctrine.

    As to Genealogies Rev Breeden, are we not specifically told to avoid fights over them in the same ever so annoying little book that you keep coming back to for “All scripture is God breathed”?

    “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. ” 1 Timothy 1:3-4 NIV

    I find it interesting that Timothy is commanded to stop the preaching of heresies (which I’ll assume had to do with the Judadisers but could be applied to Arians [and JWs], Mormons, etc) and in the same instruction to stop the preaching of dogma, or irrelevant controversy that they elevate to the level of fundamental doctrine. In that category, by name, is genealogy.

    Therefore let the dead bury their own dead and get on with doing the work of the risen Christ Jesus.
    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”

    1. Thank you, Josiah. You are quite right that I should have backed up my statement with Scripture. I appreciate you taking care of that.

      Thank you as well for your excellent comment to Reverend Breeden. I would point out the statement that all Scripture is God-breathed comes from 2 Timothy 3:16, while the commandment that Reverend Breeden is ignoring comes from 1 Timothy 1:3-4. Those aren’t the same book, but they are close :). Nevertheless, your point is quite correct, and I pray that Reverend Breeden takes it to heart!

  4. Oops. I must confess it’s a bit of a common mistake for me to muddle up books by the same name, even for Timothy which is probably my favorite book (pair) in the Bible. I can distinguish books by author, audience, style or intent which are needed to reliably work out what it’s talking about, but when all those seem the same I generally just run them together. I used to get Timothy right, but I read the two books (and sometimes Titus) in a sitting several times recently and that doesn’t help for keeping things separate.

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