Updated: Jun 25, 2018
Lions and antelope, barnacles and whales, wood ticks and deer—from predation to commensalism to parasitism, the creatures of the natural world have many complex relationships. However, one of the most amazing is known as "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.
The first example of mutualism that we will consider is the relationship between the clownfish and the sea anemone. When most fish swim into the tentacles of a sea anemone, they end up being stung into oblivion. However, this does not happen to the clownfish. So, when a predator is chasing the clownfish, the clownfish can hide in the sea anemone and be protected. However, if a predator is not smart enough to avoid the stinging tentacles, it may follow the clownfish into the sea anemone and ultimately become the anemone's meal. In this arrangement, the clownfish gets protection, and the anemone has an easier time attracting food. Thus, the relationship is mutually beneficial! So, why doesn't the sea anemone sting the clownfish? Well, the clownfish appears to be covered in a layer of mucous which is similar to the coating on the tentacles of the sea anemone. When a clownfish brushes against the tentacles, the anemone does not even notice that the clownfish is a foreign entity.
Our next amazing example of mutualism is that interesting type of "fungus" known as a lichen. It has long been known that a lichen is actually a combination of a fungus and an alga or cyanobacterium. Also, recent research shows that many lichens (such as that in the picture below) even have a yeast somewhere in the mix. All of these distinct entities are intricately intertwined to form a fully-functioning lichen. The fungus provides structural support; the alga provides energy via photosynthesis; and the yeast cell shapes the lichen's cortex.
The final symbiotic relationship which we will explore is the striking mutualism found between the moray eel and the cleaner shrimp. Even though moray eels enjoy eating crustaceans, the cleaner shrimp doesn't hesitate to creep into the eel's mouth and pick bacteria and food scraps from the eel's teeth. The shrimp is also not afraid to clean the rest of the moray's body. With this arrangement, the moray eel is protected from disease, its teeth are maintained, and the cleaner shrimp gets a delicious dinner of dead skin and bacteria.
So, for each of the relationships examined here, a naturalistic approach demands an evolutionary explanation. An evolutionary explanation for the sea anemone/clownfish mutualism is easy enough, as only one of the creatures has to evolve different traits. In fact, even today we see some species of clownfish acquiring this immunity (as opposed to possessing it innately) by brushing themselves repeatedly against the sea anemone's tentacles until they are no longer stung. However, the origin of the instinct which would cause a clownfish to go through this painful practice in the first place remains a mystery. Why, when, or how the first innate mucous coating on a clownfish evolved is also unknown.
Finding an evolutionary explanation for the origin of lichens is much more difficult. Evolutionists theorize that the different lichen components (fungus, alga, and yeast) joined together somehow (possibly through controlled parasitism of the algae by the fungus) in order to survive harsh conditions on the early earth. Even if evolutionists have a theory as to when (according to their timeline) lichens first arose, I have yet to see a plausible evolutionary explanation of exactly how these three distinct types of organisms incidentally joined together to form a single, functioning entity. Ultimately, the lowly lichen appears to defy most attempts at an evolutionary explanation!
Finally, in order for a relationship such as that exhibited between the cleaner shrimp and the moray eel to evolve, the eel would have to know not to eat or chase away the cleaner shrimp at the same time the shrimp evolved the instinct to feed on food scraps etc. from the moray eel's body—including the interior of it's toothy jaws! Natural selection cannot explain this relationship, as neither party would realize the benefits of the arrangement due to the unfortunate fact that one party (the shrimp) would be eaten or otherwise driven off before the system could even be tested!
Clownfish and sea anemone, algae and fungus, eel and shrimp—these and other amazing mutualistic relationships found among the world's organisms are often so intricate and complex that the odds of them evolving by some happy evolutionary coincidence remain next to impossible. The elegant designs found throughout the entire universe, of which symbiotic relationships are only one example, do not point to the random processes of evolution, but to the action of an omnipotent Creator.