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Peer-Reviewed Research Paper on Plant Biology Favorably Cites Intelligent Design and Challenges Darwinian Evolution

Casey Luskin

A new original research paper on mutagenesis comprising 240,000 plants in the journal Floriculture and Ornamental Biotechnology favorably cites to “intelligent design proponents,” including Michael Behe, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, and Stephen Meyer, as advocating one of various legitimate “scientific theories on the origin of species.” The paper was authored by Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, a recently retired biologist from the Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Germany who investigates the origin of certain features of flowering plants, or angiosperms. Citing to skeptics of neo-Darwinism such as Behe and “the almost 900 scientists of the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism,” the paper notes that:

Many of these researchers also raise the question (among others), why — even after inducing literally billions of induced mutations and (further) chromosome rearrangements — all the important mutation breeding programs have come to an end in the Western World instead of eliciting a revolution in plant breeding, either by successive rounds of selective “micromutations” (cumulative selection in the sense of the modern synthesis), or by “larger mutations” … and why the law of recurrent variation is endlessly corroborated by the almost infinite repetition of the spectra of mutant phenotypes in each and any new extensive mutagenesis experiment (as predicted) instead of regularly producing a range of new systematic species…

(Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, “Mutagenesis in Physalis pubescens L. ssp. floridana: Some Further Research on Dollo’s Law and the Law of Recurrent Variation,” Floriculture and Ornamental Biotechnology Vol. 4 (Special Issue 1): 1-21 (December 2010).)

Lönnig focuses on the origin of a particular trait found in some angiosperms, where longer sepals form a shelter for developing fruit called inflated calyx syndrome, or “ICS.” According to Lönnig, phylogenetic data indicate that under a neo-Darwinian perspective, this trait was either lost in multiple lineages or evolved independently multiple times. If the trait evolved multiple times independently, then why do so many plants still lack such a “lantern” protective shelter? After noting that some proponents of neo-Darwinism make unfalsifiable appeals to unknown selective advantages, he concludes that neo-Darwinism is not making falsifiable predictions and finds that this “infinity of mostly non-testable explanations (often just-so-stories) itself may put the theory outside science.”

However, there is another possibility, namely the scientific inclusion of intelligent design. In contrast to neo-Darwinism, Lönnig notes the ID-based view can “be falsified by proving (among other points) that the probability to form an ICS by purely natural processes is high, that specified complexity is low, and finally, by generating an ICS by random mutations in a species displaying none.”

Lönnig recounts the many phrases Darwin used to explain that his theory of evolution requires “innumerable slight variations,” and argues that the ICS could not evolve in such a stepwise fashion. After reviewing the multiple complex steps involved in forming an ICS, he states that it “appears to be in agreement with Behe’s studies (2007): it seems to be very improbable that the current evolutionary theories like the modern synthesis (continuous evolution) or the hopeful monster approach (in one or very few steps) can satisfactorily explain the origin of the ICS.”

In closing, Lönnig cites further to Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity and Dembski’s arguments regarding the universal probability bound, contending that the ICS may be beyond the edge of evolution. Nevertheless, he leaves the present question open for further research, which is definitely invited. Yet, citing to the work of Stephen Meyer, William Dembski, and Robert Marks, he concludes that “it appears to be more than unlikely to generate the whole world of living organisms by the neo-Darwinian method.”


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.



plantsscienceWolf-Ekkehard Lönnig