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Surveying Peer-Reviewed Pro-Intelligent Design Papers by Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig

Among the more prolific authors of pro-intelligent design (ID) peer-reviewed articles in our updated listing is Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, a geneticist who recently retired from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Germany. We’ve discussed Lönnig’s work here on Evolution News & Views in the past.

Lönnig’s publications show that experimental research on plant breeding can have positive implications for intelligent design. A 2007 paper by Lönnig and three co-authors in Bioremediation, Biodiversity and Bioavailability attempted to trace the evolutionary history of two taxa of flowering plants that evolutionary biologists believe to be closely related. The authors used mutagenesis experiments in an attempt to cause the plants’ traits to revert to a more “primitive” form. They were unable to do so. Citing the work of Michael Behe, their explanation for their observations supports a basic tenet of intelligent design:

Most new characters arise, not by simple additions but by integration of complex networks of gene functions rendering many systems to be irreducibly complex (Behe 1996, 2004; for a review, see Lönnig 2004), such systems cannot — in agreement with Dollo’s law — simply revert to the original state without destroying the entire integration pattern guaranteeing the survival of a species.

The article favorably cites works from ID-friendly scientists such as Doug Axe’s articles in Journal of Molecular Biology; Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box; Behe and Snoke’s 2004 article in Protein Science; David Berlinski’s writing in Commentary; William Dembski’s books The Design Inference, No Free Lunch, and The Design Revolution; and Stephen C. Meyer’s article in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, and his work in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education; and also cites pro-ID entries from Debating Design.

Another paper by Lönnig in Floriculture, Ornamental and Plant Biotechnology also cites Darwin’s Black Box and other articles by Michael Behe about irreducible complexity, as well as the work of Dembski and Meyer, and notes the “limits of the origin of species by mutations.” The paper continues:

All the models and data recently advanced to solve the problem of completely new functional sequences and the origin of new organs and organ systems by random mutations have proved to be grossly insufficient in the eyes of many researchers upon close inspection and careful scientific examination.

This 2007 chapter on carnivorous plants by Lönnig and Becker in the John Wiley & Sons volume Handbook of Plant Sciences notes that “it appears to be hard even to imagine the clearcut selective advantages for all the thousands of postulated intermediate steps in a gradual scenario, not to mention the formulation and examination of scientific (i.e. testable) hypotheses for the origin of the complex carnivorous plant structures examined above.” They go on to favorably cite the work of Michael Behe, stating:

The reader is further invited to consider the following problem. Charles Darwin provided a sufficiency test for his theory (1859, p. 219): “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.” Darwin, however, stated that he could “not find such a case.” Biochemist Michael J. Behe (1996, p. 39) has refined Darwin’s statement by introducing and defining his concept of “irreducible complexity”, specifying: “By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.” Some biologists believe the trap mechanism(s) of Utricularia and several other carnivorous plant genera (Dionaea, Aldrovanda, Genlisea) come at least very near to “such a case” of irreducible complexity.

Finally, Lönnig published a research paper in 2010 titled “Mutagenesis in Physalis pubescens L. ssp. floridana: Some Further Research on Dollo’s Law and the Law of Recurrent Variation.” The article cites skeptics of neo-Darwinism such as Michael Behe and “the almost 900 scientists of the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism,” noting:

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…

Lönnig’s study 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 the paper, phylogenetic data indicate that under a neo-Darwinian interpretation, this trait was either lost in multiple lineages or evolved independently multiple times. If the latter, then why do so many plants still lack such a “lantern”-shaped 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 hypothesis of intelligent design. In contrast to neo-Darwinism, Lönnig notes that the ID 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.” After reviewing the multiple complex steps involved in forming an ICS, he states that his research “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.” He concludes, “It appears to be more than unlikely to generate the whole world of living organisms by the neo-Darwinian method.”

You’ll find additional papers by Lönnig at our pro-ID peer-reviewed articles page.