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Friday, August 12, 2011

Blown Out of the Water

Barry Arrington tries to convince us that Intelligent Design Creationism is scientific [The ID Hypothesis].

He writes about "complex specified information" (CSI) and "irreducible complexity" (IC). According to Barry Arrington ...
The answer is that the hypothesis is, in principle, falsifiable.

All it would take is even one instance of CSI or IC being observed to arise through chance or mechanical necessity or a combination of the two. Such an observation would blow the ID project out of the water.
We need a good definition of irreducible complexity. I like the one proposed by Michael Behe in Darwin's Black Box.
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. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional.
If you read this carefully you'll see the catch. What Behe is saying is that a true irreducibly complex system can only arise by a single mechanism, namely one where the precursor has the same function. But the precursor can't, by definition, have the same function if it's missing some of the parts required in the final version. Thus, the only way for an irreducibly complex system to arise—by definition—is if it is created instantaneously as a complex system.

Behe is correct in his claim that such systems cannot evolve by any known mechanisms of evolution. Therefore, if a true irreducibly complex system exists, it cannot be as a result of evolution.

Let's look at an example. The citric acid cycle is a cycle of eight interacting enzymes that catalyze the oxidation of a 2-carbon molecule (an acetyl group) to CO2. The pathway won't work if you remove any one of the enzymes. Thus, it seems on the surface to be an example of an irreducibly complex system.

However, we have a very good understanding of how the citric acid cycle evolved from simpler pathways. Most species of bacteria don't have a citric acid cycle. Instead they have two separate pathways, reductive and oxidative, that are similar to the left and right halves of the citric acid cycle respectively. We can easily construct a plausible scenario that joins the two branches to create a cycle. Does this mean that we have a good example of the evolution of an irreducibly complex system, thus blowing ID out of the water?

Of course it does. But the IDiots will never admit it. Instead, they note that such a pathway involves precursors that don't have the same function as the complete citric acid cycle; therefore, the citric acid cycle wasn't really irreducibly complex. In order to be irreducibly complex, sensu Behe, it has to be impossible for it to arise by evolution.

The bacterial flagellum is another example of a postulated irreducibly complex system. But we now have a pretty good idea of how it evolved. It evolved from a primitive type III secretion mechanism. Even if the IDiots were to accept this explanation—they don't—it would not refute irreducible complexity since the type III secretion mechanism has a different function. All this means is that the bacterial flagellum wasn't really irreducibly complex to begin with because irreducibly complex systems can't arise by natural means. You can't win.

Where does that leave us? It leaves us with a tautology: "... a series of self-reinforcing statements that cannot be disproved because the statements depend on the assumption that they are already correct." Irreducibly complex systems are, by definition, things that cannot evolve. If you postulate that something is irreducibly complex, then show later on how it evolved, it wasn't irreducibly complex to begin with. The definition is not falsifiable. The best that can happen is that the number of postulated irreducibly complex systems gets smaller and smaller until there are none left. The number is not likely to ever reach zero since the IDiots are really good at combing the scientific literature in order to discover something that almost nobody is working on.

This is not science. It is simply a rhetorical attack on the concept of evolution. That's what Intelligent Design Creationism is all about.1

1. Attacking evolution is scientific. After all, lots of us question certain aspects of evolution and still call ourselves scientists. It's the concept of Intelligent Design Creationism as an explanation for observed events that's not scientific. Intelligent Design Creationism never explains anything. You're never going to see an IDiot explain how the bacterial flagellum arose—not even in a creationist textbook.


lee_merrill said...

Behe actually revised his definition of irreducible complexity, so maybe it would be better to work with that: "An irreducibly complex evolutionary pathway is one that contains one or more unselected steps (that is, one or more necessary-but-unselected mutations). The degree of irreducible complexity is the number of unselected steps in the pathway."

"That definition has the advantage of promoting research: to state clear, detailed evolutionary pathways; to measure probabilistic resources; to estimate mutation rates; to determine if a given step is selected or not. It allows for the proposal of any evolutionary scenario a Darwinist (or others) may wish to submit, asking only that it be detailed enough so that relevant parameters might be estimated. If the improbability of the pathway exceeds the available probabilistic resources (roughly the number of organisms over the relevant time in the relevant phylogenetic branch) then Darwinism is deemed an unlikely explanation and intelligent design a likely one."

I believe this also addresses a number of Prof. Moran's objections. Detailed scenarios are most welcome.

Cubist said...

Behe's argument is bullshit, but not for the reason you state; rather, the bullshit lies in his presumption that an IC system cannot possibly have any evolutionary precursor.
The steps of any evolutionary process can all be found in one of three distinct classes: One, "add a new bit that wasn't there before". Two, "remove a bit that was there before". Three, "modify a bit that was there before". By Behe's definition of IC, it's obviously true that the final step of any process that produces an IC system cannot be "add a new bit"... but what about a process whose final step was "remove an existing bit" or "modify an existing bit"? Yes, "an IC system with one bit missing" cannot possibly function. But what about "an IC system with one extra bit" or "an IC system with one bit modified"?
In short, Behe's error is that he ignores 2/3 of the full range of evolutionary change. Wotta maroon!

Z said...

I know enough about evolutionary biology to know that I really don't know anything about it. I approach it from what I feel is common sense. Clearly anything that someone would term as irreducibly complex ('IC') had to get here somehow. There is no evidence for things appearing out of nowhere; and when such appears to happen it's because we lack information, and know this.

It's always been because we lack the appropriate knowledge. Always! Never has this not been the case. Logic (weak as this might be) says that upon seeing something that seems irreducibly complex we should first understand that we are lacking knowledge and seek more of it rather than to presume this proves something else that otherwise has no proof.

Based on this logic I feel confident in dismissing ANY claim that something is irreducibly complex until it is scientifically proven to be so.

Now, not being a biologist I can comfortably take note of this one in my 'wait and see' log book and wait for fine folk like yourselves to show us the additional information that is required to understand this situation thoroughly. Thanks for being 'those' folk.

Is it simple hubris to believe that even one case of 'IC' is proof of a designer? Even if that were true, it says nothing about such a designer. One can easily imagine the name of such a designer as Lucifer with equal validity as any other name. This reduces the value of finding something that is 'IC' to nothing more useful than a clarion call for better research. Anything else would be hubris in light of the information we have at hand about other IC claims.

Jud said...

lee_merrill quotes Dr. Behe:

If the improbability of the pathway exceeds the available probabilistic resources

More than half a century after the mathematics for evolutionary population genetics were worked out in detail, Dr. Behe and other "Intelligent Design" partisans treat it as if it had never occurred. They intentionally use spurious calculations "proving" mutations couldn't possibly have happened. So the alternative definition is simply another attempt to dishonestly impugn evolution.

Anonymous said...

Hi Z.
You had posted:
"There is no evidence for things appearing out of nowhere; and when such appears to happen it's because we lack information, and know this."

That is not exactly correct.
"According to present-day understanding of what is called the vacuum state or the quantum vacuum, it is "by no means a simple empty space",[1] and again: "it is a mistake to think of any physical vacuum as some absolutely empty void."[2] According to quantum mechanics, the vacuum state is not truly empty but instead contains fleeting electromagnetic waves and particles that pop into and out of existence."

Anonymous said...

Hi Z.
Do you acknowledge what I posted concerning the quantum vacuum?

Anonymous said...

For others who might be reading, it is significant that "particles pop into and out of existence."
That being the case, we already have evidence of an invisible realm that interacts with our material world.

We do not need to speculate whether such an invisible world exists. We do not need to argue about it. There is evidence for it.
Eventually biology will catch up.

Anonymous said...

The phrase "pop into and out of existence" cannot be quite right.
It should actually say "pop into and out of our ability to perceive with our senses".
In other words the quantum vacuum exists but is not perceivable by our senses.

It is the scientific way of pointing to a higher, invisible (to the senses) realm.

No description of reality can be complete that does not include this invisible (to the senses) realm.

Chris said...

"No description of reality can be complete that does not include this invisible (to the senses) realm."

Fortunately, our scientific description of reality does include this - indeed, science was responsible for discovering it.

Your attempt to analogize QT to the appearance of irreducibly complex biological systems is a failure, since there is evidence for QT, and exactly zero evidence of biological systems 'popping' into existence wholesale - not to mention a mountain of disconfirming evidence that they did not - they evolved.

I take it you are a "lumper."

Anonymous said...

My point is that biology has not yet caught up to the facts and the significance of the quantum vacuum.
Chris, you can pontificate as much as you like.

steve oberski said...

My question to anonymous is were you born the way you are or is the the result of years of practice ?

Sort of a recapitulation of the heredity versus environment argument.

Chris said...


The only 'implications' here are that you don't know what you are talking about. The fact that particles pop into existence from the quantum is not relevant to biological systems, which are far, far too large to even be subject to quantum effects. Even such tiny and simple objects as viruses are too large to simply be popped into existence out of the ether.

And, as I pointed out, there is actual evidence of evolution, and, to date, exactly no evidence of biological systems popping into existence like quantum particles, or being designed 'as is.' So your analogy is unsuccessful on multiple levels, making it a poor one and invalidating the point you are trying to make.

steve oberski said...

Hi Anonymous,

Do you acknowledge what I posted or do you admit that you are a wack-a-loon cutting and pasting random screeds from IDiot web sites ?

Anonymous said...

I began this by responding to Z,
who proclaimed that "There is no evidence for things appearing out of nowhere"

I have shown that to be an incorrect statement.

It seems that everyone is now agreeing with me and have moved on to arguing about how influential these particles from "nowhere" might (or might not) be.

Jud said...

Anonymous writes:

My point is that biology has not yet caught up to the facts and the significance of the quantum vacuum.

Of course it has. Chemistry and biochemistry courses took full account of quantum effects back when I was in college 40 years ago.

You know, when you continually engage in this tactic of trying to write pseudo-authoritatively about things you know nothing about, you convince your readers of exactly and only that - i.e., that you know nothing of the things you're writing about.

Anonymous said...

A "point mutation" can be significant. A set of point mutations can be very significant.
"A point mutation, or single base substitution, is a type of mutation that causes the replacement of a single base nucleotide with another nucleotide of the genetic material, DNA or RNA."

Here is some on about nucleotides:
"Nucleotides are molecules that, when joined together, make up the structural units of RNA and DNA."

We already know that:
"According to quantum mechanics, the vacuum state is not truly empty but instead contains fleeting electromagnetic waves and particles that pop into and out of existence"

It would be interesting to see how many of these particles would be necessary to modify a nucleotide. One? A set?

Anonymous said...

lee_merrill (by all appearances an IDiot who should be ashamed to be responsible for a load of bullshit),

I believe this also addresses a number of Prof. Moran's objections.

No it doesn't.

Detailed scenarios are most welcome.


1. Behe realized that his proposed "IC" systems were actually reducible, so he revised the definition without actually changing its meaning in hopes to keep IC alive, at least in appearance (it was a stillborn).

2. Lee is a full blown IDiot.

3. Lee is instead just too credulous and invested in his believes, and lacks enough understanding to notice Behe's bullshit tactics.

4. Example: lee might see that a phrase such as: "then Darwinism is deemed an unlikely explanation and intelligent design a likely one" contains a false dichotomy whereby only two options are offered when multiple natural options might be applicable. Evolution is not just "Darwinism" any more.

.... et cetera.

Jud said...

Anonymous writes:

It would be interesting to see how many of these particles would be necessary to modify a nucleotide. One? A set?

Sorry, that's not the way virtual particles work (that's the name in quantum physics for particles having only temporary existence). They don't change any biochemical processes from those that are expected and observed. In fact, on a subatomic scale, these virtual particles are necessary to account for the expected and observed biochemical processes. This is because of course biochemical processes must obey fundamental physics, part of which is quantum physics, part of which is virtual particles.

So now you have a choice:

- stop speculating about virtual particles changing anything in evolutionary biology

- learn something about quantum physics so you can intelligently discuss virtual particles

- keep blathering on without knowing anything of what you're writing about

I've got my own guess about which it'll be based on your history here. It would be nice if you'd surprise me.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


Anus., the utmost IDiot, does not even know what a particle means there. Anus. just browses through words and takes whatever seems to support whatever "it" (Anus.) wants to support. Takes a quote, does not really understand anything but "pop into and out of existence," ignores or simply does not understand any possible context for such events, thus puts them into an ridiculously inappropriate context, such as mutations, and expect people to be convinced of some kinda expertise. That might have worked for Anus. among uneducated people like itself. It could also just be troll tactics: get whatever words from anywhere, even if you don't understand them, and produce mayhem. I would not be surprised, this is a classic tactic in creationist argumentation.

What this means is that your explanation is like hieroglyphics to Anus. Yet, Anus. might take a word or two, or the only sentence that "it" could make sense of, and use that as a primer for more nonsense and context-free quotations.

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