How the “Lowly” Lichen Causes Problems for Evolutionary Theory


Lichens and evolution You’ve seen them in forests, parks, and perhaps even in your front yard. But you’ve probably never really looked at them. They are lichens - amazing creatures that have a fascinating story. You see, a lichen is not a single organism. It is composed of two creatures: a fungus and an alga. “Gross,” you say? Oh, no. These guys tell a captivating tale!

You see a fungus is an organism that has a sturdy protective coating. Think of a mushroom. Mushrooms are growths from fungi and have pretty tough exteriors. That means they can endure harsh conditions. A fungus can retain moisture when the environment is dry. It can withstand cooler temperatures, too. But fungi have to take in food from another source. They have to feed off of dying material, such as decaying tree trunks or leaves.

Now the type of algae living in a lichen is not too sturdy of an organism. It requires a narrower range of environmental conditions to survive. However, an alga (the singular for algae) can make its own food. It can photosynthesize, taking energy from the sun and using chemicals in the earth and the air, converting them to sugars.

Well, a lichen is composed of a fungus and an alga living together in what is called a symbiotic relationship. Symbiosis is a situation where two or more organisms live together and at least one benefits from the deal. There are actually three types of symbioses: parasitism, where one organism benefits and the other is harmed. (Most of us are familiar with the term, parasite, and we know we would not want one living in a symbiotic relationship with us because WE would be the one being harmed.) The second type of symbiosis is commensalism, where one partner benefits and the other is neither helped nor harmed. The third type is mutualism, where both organisms benefit from living together. Now, there are literally thousands of examples of mutual symbioses in the world.

Symbiosis, especially mutualism, is a difficult phenomenon for scientists to explain via evolution.

Think about our lichen. It is not a single organism, but a symbiotic mutualistic relationship between an alga and a fungus. In a lichen relationship, the alga will photosynthesize and provide enough food for itself and for the fungus. Yes, it will share. In return, the fungus provides protection from the elements.

When these two organisms live together, they can actually live in places that neither one could endure alone. Lichen are often found growing on rocks, at very high altitudes, or in places that are too harsh for other organisms. This is because the fungus has its sturdy, chemically fortified cell walls that can withstand the elements, and the alga living inside can photosynthesize to produce enough food for the both of them. The alga gets a protected place to live, and the fungus gets a constant supply of food. This is mutualism. But is a special type of mutualism where these guys could not possibly live without the other one. Scientists call this situation Obligate Symbiosis. They are “obliged” to live together and cannot survive without one another.

How the “Lowly” Lichen Causes Problems for Evolutionary Theory

In fact, these two organisms are so reliant on one another for survival, that when a lichen is ready to reproduce, it will make a special disapore (a lichen “egg”) that holds the spores of the fungal and the algal reproductive cells together!

That way, when the diaspore lands in a new location, the alga and the fungus can grow simultaneously so they will survive.

Now, think about mutualism from the view of an evolutionist. These guys had to have evolved into this living situation. Fossils similar to modern lichens have been found in rock that evolutionists date to the Devonian Age (supposedly 400 million years ago). So they have not changed in appearance in all of these years, and are considered to be simplified creatures, supposedly coming early in the evolutionary timeline.

Yet evolution is supposed to be a result of random mutations which will occasionally produce a trait that might be beneficial to help the organism better survive and pass this new trait on to the next generation. But for a lichen to be formed, a free-living fungus must have mutated to a form where it needed help to survive AT THE VERY SAME TIME as a free-living alga that mutated to a form where it needed help to survive. And they found each other at just the right moment, before the fungus died of starvation and the alga died of exposure, resulting in a new living situation that would be self-propagating!

So we would have to expect that the alga mutation and the fungus mutation had to occur at the same time in history and at the same location on the planet for them to find each other, too!

Because non-deadly mutations are so rare, to imagine the probability of two organisms with slightly detrimental mutations (instead of deadly, which is more common) to occur in their DNA simultaneously in history is absolutely improbable, and I would even say impossible. And to call this evolution is even more absurd. EVEN IF these guys mutated and happened to find a living solution before they died, this is not adding MORE information to the DNA of either organism. It is less information, resulting in a weaker organism. This is not an example of evolution as it is defined today, and it is a situation that is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to explain from that theory.

So when you take your next hike and notice some lichen growing on a rock or tree, think of their unique design. Remember their complex living situation and how they work together even to produce a dual spore so more lichen can grow. And give glory to our Creator for His amazing, creative design!