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Monday, October 09, 2023

Intelligent Design Creationism and irreducible complexity

Jonathan McLatchie is an Intelligent Design Creationist who now blogs frequently on the Discovery website Evolution News [sic]. His latest post is How NOT to Argue Against Irreducible Complexity where he defends the claim that the human male reproductive apparatus is irreducibly complex and therefore must be a product of intelligent design.

You can read the post yourself to see how ID proponents argue. I want to make another point.

McLatchie thinks that the irreducible complexity argument is very powerful evidence for intelligent design. He writes,

The argument from irreducible complexity against evolution and for design has always held strong intuitive appeal for me, and it has hence become my argument of choice in discussions about the scientific merits of evolution versus design.

Let's look at the logic of the argument from irreducible complexity. Assume that we have identified a structure that's irreducibly complex. There are three possible ways to deal with its origin.

  1. There is a plausible naturalistic explanation for the evolution of the irreducibly complex structure.
  2. There is currently no detailed naturalistic explanation that accounts for the evolution of the irreducibly complex structure.
  3. It is impossible for there to ever be a naturalistic explanation; therefore, god did it.

We know that there are good naturalistic explanations for the evolution of irreducibly complex structures. In fact, McLatchie mentions some of them that refuted his earlier claims. Behe has also backed off some of his claims in light of evidence that irreducibly complex structures can evolve without the help of god(s). This establishes that the mere existence of an irreducibly complex structure is not evidence for intelligent design.

Here's how Behe explains it on page 40 of Darwin's Black Box.

Even if a system is irreducibly complex (and thus cannot have been produced directly), however, one cannot definitively rule out the possibility of an indirect, circuitous route.

In some cases there is currently no good naturalistic explanation for the evolution of an irreducibly complex structure. This could be due to a real difficulty in coming up with a plausible scenario or it could be due to the fact that no scientist has bothered to do the investigation required because they don't care. In either case, the current lack of an explanation is not, in itself, evidence for an intelligent designer.

The third possibility is the one that counts. If you can prove that a naturalistic explanation is impossible then there must be a non-naturalistic explanation such as aliens, or god(s). McLatchie says the the sperm flagellum is irreducibly complex and that he cannot imagine how it could have evolved naturally. According to creationist logic, it follows that some alien, or some god, must have designed the original sperm flagellum.

McLatchie won't tell us when this happened or why the intelligent designer was so interested in sperm, but that's typical of Intelligent Design Creationsts—they require detailed explanations from scientists but not from their fellow creationists.


Jeffrey Shallit said...

You'd think the all-powerful creator of the Universe could have foreseen his design would result in frequent bladder infections and enlarged prostates. But no.

Anonymous said...

Excuse my ignorance since I'm a layman, but "intelligence" and "design" are things observed in the universe so how do ID creationist think they occur "outside" of it?

John Harshman said...

Just curious: how does the human sperm flagellum differ from any randomly chosen eukaryote flagellum?

Mikkel Rumraket Rasmussen said...

McLatchie is a bit of a joke. Dave Farina has exposed his extremely shallow thinking. McLatchie is impervious to correction: Exposing Discovery Institute Part 6: Jonathan McLatchie.

Robert Byers said...

First things first. Thats another subject and GODS ideas on biology. IC is a obvious common sense conclusion which has employed the evolutionist presumptions of how mutations could do anything in creating the glory of biology. The real error is the impossibility of mutations being selected to make you and me. tHats the dumb thing. Its a special case of the line of reasoning leading to IC. In nfact there are probably zillions of examples that couldn't evolve in mutual assiciation to make something complex. ID thinkers just need more researchers to get more examples.

Joe Felsenstein said...

McLatchie likes to describe Specified Complexity and say that it cannot be achieved by natural processes. He seems very pleased with that. But he never explains why natural processes cannot achieve it.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Doesn’t the reproductive process look the least bit clumsy? Perhaps the result of tinkering rather than design? Consider:
Out of 200 human eggs with human sperm nearby:
Only about 168 achieve fertilization.
Only about 84 of those survive 4 weeks
Only about 70 of those survive to become a fetus
Only about 62 of those survive to term (31% left alive overall)
In other words there’s a chance the egg won’t be fertilized, a chance the zygote won’t implant (and even if it does, it could implant in a place that’s dangerous - ectopic pregnancy), a chance the implanted zygote won’t make it to fetus, a chance the fetus won’t make it to birth. So, only about 31% of zygotes (fertilized human eggs) make it to delivery. The other 69% perish along the way.
There is even “vanishing twin syndrome”—a zygote or blastula divides during the developmental process such that twins begin to form but one twin absorbs the other. Death without a corpse. Estimates indicate that vanishing twin syndrome occurs in 21-30% of multifetal pregnancies.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Further evidence of clumsy tinkering. Men produce many sperm that are deformed, many have two heads, or two tails, or squiggly tails, or heads that are too large or two small, etc. And the average human ejaculate contains two hundred million sperm of which 99.9999% perish.
Sperm are also subjected to physical stresses during ejaculation and contractions of the female tract, and may sustain oxidative damage, or even encounter the defenses of the female immune system meant for infectious organisms.
Baker and Bellis (1993) examined the characteristics of sperm loss from the vagina following coitus (also called ‘flowback’). They found that flowback occurred in 94% of copulations and they estimated that a median of 35% of spermatozoa were lost through flowback but that in 12% of copulations almost 100% of the sperm inseminated were eliminated. This suggests that less than 1% of sperm might be retained in the female reproductive tract after coitus.
Sometimes two or more sperm enter the egg before it begins to reharden, in which case the egg divides a few times then stops, or it may grow to the point of early implantation, implant on the uterine wall and then result in a miscarriage. Sometimes after the sperm enters the egg it triggers a second set of female chromosomes to be produced, and the fertilized egg dies. Sometimes the sperm enters the egg but does not go on to form a pronucleus, leaving only the eggʼs chromosomes functional, and again the process of development shuts down.
Now letʼs talk about eggs. During childhood a girlʼs ovaries absorb almost half of the million immature eggs with which she was born. Of the four hundred thousand eggs present during her first menstrual period, only 300 to 500 of them will develop into mature eggs across her reproductive life span. Her body absorbs the rest before they complete development.
Even the circumstances by which oneʼs parents meet, and the time of year or day they make love, and the position they are in during coitus, along with a host of other circumstance, can affect which sperm reaches which egg. So it appears like a crap shoot.
Up to the mid 1700s half of all children died before reaching the age of eight (according to Buffonʼs estimate).
Now add up all the ways the continuum of life naturally breaks down, all the seemingly random elements, the crap shoot of life, all the dead unused human sperm, all the flowback, all the dead reabsorbed human eggs, dead zygotes, dead embryos, dead fetuses, vanishing twins, dead newborns, dead children who never made it to eight-years-old.
Now letʼs take our discussion to the next level. If the conception of each individual seems like a crap shoot or toss of the genetic dice, then what about the evolution of a species? The human species constitutes one of a small number of extremely large-brained mammals on earth, including cetacea (whales, dolphins), elephants, great apes and upright extinct hominoids, all with far larger brains than your average mammal. However many species of cetacea, elephants, great apes, upright hominoids, became extinct, rather like the aforementioned hundreds of millions of eggs and sperm with different compliments of genes that naturally perish after coitus leaving either nothing behind or a single fertilized zygote with about a 31% chance of making it to delivery.

daedalus2u said...

Isn't the heart 'irreducibly complex'? The heart requires blood flow to sustain itself. Where does that blood flow come from without a heart to pump blood?

If the heart is irreducibly complex, shouldn't we observe heats 'poofing' into existence in vertebrate embryos?

Why don't we?