Evolution and Symbiotic Relationships

30 Aug
Symbiosis (Image from Google Images)

(Image from Google Images)

Symbiosis is defined as a relationship of mutual benefit; a close prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that normally benefits both members. The question as it pertains to evolution is: how could such a relationship occur, if the theory of evolution were true. In fact, Charles Darwin concluded that if it could be shown that any part of the organism of one lifeform could have been formed for the exclusive benefit of another, it would destroy his theory.[1]

Today, evolutionary science tries to explain the relationship of mutually benefiting species as something that occurred by chance and repetitive occurrences over many generations left the lifeforms involved mutually dependent. Notice:

“Most symbiotic relationships probably started out as facultative. Over many generations, the organisms came to depend more on the symbiosis because natural selection favored those traits and not others. Eventually, the symbiosis became the sole source of the food, shelter, enzyme or whatever else the symbiotes derived from one another.”[2]

The problem with this approach, it seems to me, is that it contradicts the theory’s idea of evolutionary improvement. Why would Natural Selection evolve a relationship which is so mutually dependent that the extinction of one marks the extinction of the other? More realistically, the logic of symbiotic relationships rather points to the proverbial: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” If one cannot live without the other, which evolved first?

An example would be the flower and the bee. A bee will fly from flower to flower gathering needed nectar which the bee will make into food. The bees cannot live without flowers, or flowering trees etc. On the other hand, the flowers, which are unable to pollinate by themselves, are aided by the bees. The plant’s pollen sticks to the bees’ bodies, and, as the bee goes from one flower to another, pollination occurs, and the flower or plant is able to produce another generation. The plant’s survival is linked to the work of the bee, and the bee’s survival is linked to the nectar of the plant. Which one evolved first?

Such a relationship couldn’t have begun facultatively, because the bee is the main means of the flower’s ability to pollinate. It wouldn’t have survived long without the bee. On the other hand, the flower is the main source of the bee’s food supply. How could the relationship be optional when the survival of both lifeforms is at stake?

Theoretically, the law of Natural Selection would not have permitted such relationships to survive, for the survival of the fittest seems to be its modus operandi. If bees need flowers and flowers need bees, and neither could survive without the other, how could either have evolved in a natural selection kind of world? The fact that flowers and bees exist, and the fact that they enjoy a symbiotic relationship, show that all lifeforms do not owe their existence to natural selection. How, then, could we account for the existence of bees and flowers?

[1] Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, New York: New American Library, 1958, p. 186-187.

[2] Ed Grabianowski, The Evolution of Symbiosis; “How Symbiosis Works” –;

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Posted by on August 30, 2013 in naturalism, theory of evolution


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