Evolution Icon Evolution

Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig Rebuts Latest Tall Tale of Giraffe Evolution

Casey Luskin

German geneticist Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig Tackles The Latest Claims on Giraffe Evolution

Darwinists sometimes think that they can account for the evolutionary origin of a complex biological feature simply by citing some kind of experimental or theoretical evidence showing that the complex feature would have provided a selective advantage to its owner. However, such Darwinists forget that, as many have recounted, natural selection only accounts for the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest. Evidence that a given feature–when fully formed–provides some selective advantage does not demonstrate that the feature can be evolved in a step-wise, mutation-by-mutation fashion. If Michael Behe is correct, then irreducibly complex features require many parts to be present all-at-once in order to get any functional advantage whatsoever.

As Charles Darwin famously wrote, such features defy a Darwinian explanation:

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.

Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, senior scientist at the Max Planck Institute for plant breeding research in Cologne, Germany, takes Darwin’s challenge seriously. He has recently responded to a paper entitled “Winning by a Neck: Tall Giraffes Avoid Competing With Shorter Browsers.” As might be expected from the paper’s title, it addresses the survival of the giraffe’s long neck but not the arrival of the giraffe’s long neck. In short, the paper assumes that a complex feature like the giraffe’s neck could arise “by numerous, successive, slight modifications” (Darwin’s words) and assumes that merely accounting for the advantage given by such a complex feature is sufficient to demonstrate its Darwinian evolution. Dr. Lönnig writes in response:

One of the basic problems with natural selection, however, is that — to illustrate — it only acts like a sieve which selects (screens) tea leaves from a certain size onwards 11 but, of course, sieves never create the tea leaves themselves (for a detailed discussion on the limits of natural selection, see http://www.weloennig.de/NaturalSelection.html.). Hence, it is necessary to clearly distinguish between selection and the rich but limited genetic potential for phenotypic variations of any species (the range of ‘tea leaves’, so to speak, that it can offer for survival to the sieve of natural selection). So for the smaller browsers this definitely means that phenotypic variation is limited too. Moreover, whatever ‘selection pressure’ may exist, one may safely predict it will never transform them into 6 m tall animals at all. And naturally this was true for the past as well.

(Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, Appendix on Cameron & du Toit (2007): “Winning by a Neck: Tall Giraffes Avoid Competing With Shorter Browsers” of the Paper: The Evolution of the Long-Necked Giraffe: What do we really know?.)

Lönnig provides an excellent critical analysis of Cameron & du Toit’s paper, observing that even if their data is correct, “it would prove nothing concerning evolution by the postulated random mutations and natural selection.” Lönnig concludes that “Cameron and du Toit are trying to force the state of being of the giraffe and other browsers into the Procrustean bed of perpetual Darwinian evolution by natural selection, taking for granted that mutations have produced the genetic variation necessary to evolve all the animals now found.”

Read Lönnig’s full response to the Cameron & du Toit paper at http://www.weloennig.de/Giraffe_Note_on_Cameron_and_duToit.pdf.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig