left biblioblography: IRREDUCIBLE DUPLICITY

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I began reviewing the ‘irreducible complexity’ argument, just for my own peace of mind. (So of course, I went to my favorite site, answers.com. I usually defer to this because: even though it’s a Wikipedia subsidiary (?) – it incorporates a vast majority of cross-references from Britannica to Encyclopedia, rather than redirecting the reader to external links.)

And, surprise surprise – it’s junk.


The argument from irreducible complexity is a descendant of the teleological argument for God (the argument from design or from complexity). This states that because certain things in nature are very complicated, they must have been designed. William Paley famously argued, in his 1802 watchmaker analogy, that complexity in nature implies a God for the same reason that the existence of a watch implies the existence of a watchmaker. This argument has a long history, and can be traced back at least as far as Cicero's De natura deorum, ii. 34 (see Hallam, Literature of Europe, ii. 385, note).”

Wait: what? The watchmaker analogy? Hasn’t that been debunked already?
Why, yes it has.
Here is a good breakdown.
Hey, waitaminnit, didn’t I demolish it myself? Yes, I did, here.

“While he did not originate the term, Charles Darwin identified the argument as a possible way to falsify a prediction of the theory of evolution at the outset. In The Origin of Species, he wrote, "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. But I can find out no such case." Darwin's theory of evolution challenges the teleological argument by postulating an alternative explanation to that of an intelligent designer—namely, evolution by natural selection. The argument from irreducible complexity attempts to demonstrate that certain biological features cannot be purely the product of Darwinian evolution.”

Hey, hold on a sec: wasn’t Charley a big fan of Paley? Oh my stars and garters, yes he was.

“Darwin became particularly enthused by the writings of William Paley, including the argument of divine design in nature. In his finals in January 1831, he performed well in theology and, having scraped through in classics, mathematics and physics, came tenth out of a pass list of 178.”

Hmmm: how…intriguing. Must’ve been some huge evidence, for him to change his mind, dontcha think?

“An early concept of irreducibly complex systems comes from Ludwig von Bertalanffy, a 20th-century Austrian biologist.[5] He believed that complex systems must be examined as complete, irreducible systems in order to fully understand how they work. He extended his work on biological complexity into a general theory of systems in a book titled General Systems Theory. After James Watson and Francis Crick published the structure of DNA in the early 1950s, General Systems Theory lost many of its adherents in the physical and biological sciences. Jacques Monod's Chance and Necessity provides a good discussion of the "triumph" of the mechanistic view in biochemistry. However, Systems theory remained popular in the social sciences long after its demise in the physical and biological sciences.”

Only in the social sciences? How..interesting.

More snippets:(Snip)” Irreducible complexity is not an argument that evolution does not occur, but rather an argument that it is "incomplete". In the last chapter of Darwin's Black Box, Behe goes on to explain his view that irreducible complexity is evidence for intelligent design. Mainstream critics, however, argue that irreducible complexity, as defined by Behe, can be generated by known evolutionary mechanisms. Behe's claim that there is no scientific literature on the evolution of biochemical systems is demonstrably false.”
(End Snip)
Here’s a good illustration of how the mousetrap analogy fails miserably:
“It is illustrative to compare a mousetrap with a cat, in this context. Both normally function so as to control the mouse population. The cat has many parts that can be removed leaving it still functional; for example, its tail can be bobbed or it can be spayed. Evolution has endowed it with redundant eyes, so if one eye goes blind, the cat can still catch mice. Comparing the cat and the mousetrap, then, one sees that the mousetrap (which is not alive) offers better evidence, in terms of irreducible complexity, for intelligent design than the cat. Even looking at the mousetrap analogy, several critics have described ways in which the parts of the mousetrap could have independent uses or could develop in stages, demonstrating that it is not irreducibly complex.
(End Snip)
Here’s another brilliant example:(Snip)
“According to critics, another overlooked source of "irreducibly complex" features in a sexually reproducing organism is the handicap principle. Sexual selection often favors those who can demonstrate to their mates a surplus of energy by maintaining a feature or behavior that is unnecessary for basic survival—sometimes even a hindrance. Examples include certain horns and antlers, display feathers, skin or hair colors and patterns, bony structure, scents, songs, symmetry, and elaborate ritualistic behavior. It is not unreasonable to imagine a handicapping feature eventually developing a useful purpose in a changing environment or for two or more handicapping features to become useful when combined. Conversely, a useful feature may evolve to become a handicapping feature, but through sexual selection the feature is passed through generations to again become useful in a completely different context. In this new context, it may seem impossible to us that it was naturally selected to its purpose.”
(End Snip)

Allow me to top this off with one more snip:”We therefore find that Professor Behe’s claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large. (17:45-46 (Padian); 3:99 (Miller)). Additionally, even if irreducible complexity had not been rejected, it still does not support ID as it is merely a test for evolution, not design. (2:15, 2:35-40 (Miller); 28:63-66 (Fuller)). We will now consider the purportedly “positive argument” for design encompassed in the phrase used numerous times by Professors Behe and Minnich throughout their expert testimony, which is the “purposeful arrangement of parts.” Professor Behe summarized the argument as follows: We infer design when we see parts that appear to be arranged for a purpose. The strength of the inference is quantitative; the more parts that are arranged, the more intricately they interact, the stronger is our confidence in design. The appearance of design in aspects of biology is overwhelming. Since nothing other than an intelligent cause has been demonstrated to be able to yield such a strong appearance of design, Darwinian claims notwithstanding, the conclusion that the design seen in life is real design is rationally justified. (18:90-91, 18:109-10 (Behe); 37:50 (Minnich)). As previously indicated, this argument is merely a restatement of the Reverend William Paley’s argument applied at the cell level. Minnich, Behe, and Paley reach the same conclusion, that complex organisms must have been designed using the same reasoning, except that Professors Behe and Minnich refuse to identify the designer, whereas Paley inferred from the presence of design that it was God. (1:6- 7 (Miller); 38:44, 57 (Minnich)). Expert testimony revealed that this inductive argument is not scientific and as admitted by Professor Behe, can never be ruled out. (2:40 (Miller); 22:101 (Behe); 3:99 (Miller))." (Pages 79-80)”

Let me toss my nickel’s worth in on this: this is a prime example of circular reasoning. Design infers a teleology, which is defined as: “in philosophy, term applied to any system attempting to explain a series of events in terms of ends, goals, or purposes. It is opposed to mechanism, the theory that all events may be explained by mechanical principles of causation. Aristotle argued that all nature reflects the purposes of an immanent final cause. Frequently, teleologists have identified purpose in the universe with God's will. The teleological argument for the existence of God holds that order in the world could not be accidental and that since there is design there must be a designer. A more recent evolutionary view finds purpose in the higher levels of organic life but holds that it is not necessarily based in any transcendent being.”

I’m going to have to agree with Lucretius, who said: "Nothing in the body is made in order that we may use it. What happens to exist is the cause of its use."

And so there you go. Any questions?

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Bacon Eating Atheist Jew said...

If you haven't seen Millers video on how he defeated ID in Dover, watch it.

He really shuts down the IC argument.

Miller even believes in the Great Invisible Trickster.

say no to christ said...


Did you see Richard Dakins last night on the Colbert Report? He was very charming and quite funny.

say no to christ said...

I thought you might like this link. :0)


karen said...

I saw him. He was quite charming. I wish he'd had more time.
Colbert's Word for the day on marriage was very funny too.

Mesoforte said...


What worries me is what is at stake with the ID movement. Allow one 'divine intervention' as a scientific explanation and all science goes out the window.

But, Bacon Eating Atheist Jew, that is an interesting video. I hadn't heard of it before.


Krystalline Apostate said...

Thanks for the video - whenever I get time, I'll give it a view.

I don't have cable, so I'm kinda reduced to awaiting a youtube video.

Allow one 'divine intervention' as a scientific explanation and all science goes out the window.
I dunno: science has managed to hobble along thru the centuries despite religious interference.

Mesoforte said...

I dunno: science has managed to hobble along thru the centuries despite religious interference.

Yes, but we've never excepted it as a scientific explanation. It just worries me sometimes.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Yes, but we've never excepted it as a scientific explanation. It just worries me sometimes.
As well it should.
We need more scientists as heroes.

say no to christ said...

KA said:"We need more scientists as heroes."

If I get a chance while I get my book signed by Richard, I'm going to ask him if he will let Brian Sykes a genetist and co-worker at Oxford, whos books I have read, that I would like to see him speak out louder against religion.

beepbeepitsme said...

Even if there is proven to be something which is "irreducibly complex" (and I don't think that Behe has been able to do this), it is a still a huge leap from irreducibly complex to - therefore god exits.

It is the same old worn out argument used when we thought that the atom was irreducibly complex, and that illogical argument didn't prove the existence of god either.