Quantcast

«

»

Apr 25 2014

Irreducible complexity, again?

We’ve had a creationist named “biasevolution” babbling away in the comments. He’s not very bright and he’s longwinded, always a disastrous combination, and he tends to echo tedious creationist tropes that have been demolished many times before. But hey, I’m indefatigable, I can hammer at these things all day long.

He brings up irreducible complexity (IC), Behe’s ever-popular contribution to the creationism debate. Behe’s version of the idea was published in 1996, so we’ve had almost 20 years to refute it — successfully! — so it gets a little old seeing it brought up again and again.

If you really, really understood IC you WOULD NOT argue with it. You would find that it would be as silly as say arguing against variation or heredity, or the principle of flotation. The reason is this: if you must design a system towards some given function or set of function you would need critical parts. For one, you must have a source of energy for that system. Two, it must have a set of interacting parts that work towards the function you want, you can even add parts to fine-tune it to better perform that function (eg adding capacitors to fans to smoothen out voltage reduced). To then argue that an eye ain’t IC is laughable. All the accounts supposedly falsifying IC or showing how it evolved routinely assume simple IC precursors or point to other IC systems lacking a part and say IC is refuted for a system as Miller did in the blood clotting cascade (akin to arguing because some cars don’t use clutches cars ain’t IC).

I do understand IC quite well. I’ve read Behe’s books. I’ve had it thrown in my face many times, often by creationists who don’t understand it (Jerry Bergman’s claim that carbon all by itself is irreducibly complex was particularly memorable). Biasevolution’s version isn’t quite that bad, but it’s still awful.

And it’s wrong.

First, there’s the problem of begging the question: if you must design a system towards some given function. You’re trying to argue that something is designed, and the first thing you do is demand that we accept the premise that it is designed?

The whole point of the IC concept is that if you examine a final ‘design’, and there’s no way to remove a piece of the structure without destroying its function, then it could not have evolved in a stepwise fashion, as evolution would predict. That’s really all it says: that evolution is falsified if you identify a pathway, for instance, that would not be functional if you removed a piece. It’s naively appealing — but only if you think evolutionary change must be symmetrical and reversible. But we actually evolve irreducibly complex systems all the time.

Let’s work through a simple example. Here’s a pathway, or circuit: a battery, a switch, and a light bulb (I’ve left out the one wire to complete the circuit, just to simplify it all; don’t take it too literally.) You close the switch, the bulb lights up. Simple.

circuit1

Here’s a simple expansion of that circuit. I’ve merely duplicated the switch, so now there’s two of them: close either one, the bulb lights up. This might not be a trivial change to an electrician, but it is to a geneticist — genes get duplicated all the time, and typically all it would do is add a redundant element. So this is a routine variation of a kind that is frequently observed in biological systems.

circuit2

Now we change one wire, shifting the output of the first switch from directly activating the effector (the bulb) to feeding into the second switch. Now to light up the bulb, you must close the second switch, but the first switch is redundant.

circuit3

The biological analog to this would be if, for instance, a protein in a biochemical pathway lost its ability to bind a terminal substrate, but could still activate an intermediate protein. Again, this happens.

Now you could imagine a mutation that destroyed the first switch, and the whole system would simply revert to the initial condition, in which a single switch controls the bulb. That happens, too — we find dead genes (called pseudogenes) all over the genome.

Or, just as possible, what if you kept the first switch but lost another wire?

circuit4

This is an interesting change. Now, to light up the bulb, you have to close both the first and second switch. It also fits Behe’s description of an irreducibly complex system, because removing any part, the battery, the first switch, or the second switch, produces a pathway that cannot light up the bulb. It’s a dead system. It is most definitely irreducibly complex by any reading of Behe’s hypothesis.

But does that mean it could not have evolved by the incremental addition or subtraction of parts, with every step retaining the full capability of lighting up the bulb? Of course not. I just led you through each step, and in all four of the cartoons above, you can turn the lightbulb on. The fact of ICness does not vitiate the idea of incremental evolution.

So naive creationists will look at the fact of the organization of the eye, that you cannot remove the optic nerve or the retina and still have a functional eye, and fallaciously argue that that means it could not have evolved. This is logically false. I can point to lots of biological systems that can be called irreducibly complex: I am personally irreducibly complex, for instance, because I would stop functioning if you cut out my heart or gave me a brainectomy or deleted a big chunk of my immune system — but that fact is not sufficient to demonstrate that evolution couldn’t have done it.

I’ve been pointing this out to creationists for well over a decade, and all I ever get from them is stupefied stares and the occasional splutter. I don’t expect it will sink in this time, either. But I do derive a certain rude satisfaction from the fact that creationists repeatedly exhibit that same dumb incomprehension every time, so I’ll keep puncturing them with it.

92 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Seize

    PZ, I’ve been reading here for years — you are on FIRE this week!

  2. 2
    leftwingfox

    Good analogy with the switch. There used to be a website page a long time back with the irreducibly complex mousetrap evolution. Always wished I could find it again, but you just made the same point quickly and simply. :)

  3. 3
    Gregory in Seattle

    The circuit analogy is brilliant, I will definitely borrow that.

  4. 4
    Menyambal

    I can’t say that cars ain’t irreducibly complex? There’s a sample of cars out in my driveway, all missing a piece or two, but still functioning.

    Those cars are designed, of course, but I can argue that they evolved in response to market forces and financial competition.

    The believers just believe the crap they have been sold, and disbelieve any explanations about how they are wrong. Faith is their friend.

  5. 5
    mikeyb

    Another way of saying this is scaffolding. Evolution has a way of removing the previous scaffolding making the final product appear irreducibly complex. By Behe’s logic the Empire State Building is irreducibly complex, since all the scaffolds used to build it are gone as it stands now. It still staggers me how Behe and his ID trolls can buy into such an infantile easily refutable manifestly false notion, and think that they’ve said something novel and clever. How the hell did he get his PhD? And to think this is the central dogma and practically the only argument put forth as the case for irreducible complexity. Sheer idiocy.

  6. 6
    Donnie

    Can a graphic designer/artist along with a biology person get together and make a nice long chart (like the ABCs in elementary school) and show how a organism can evolve from no eyes, a light disc, etc to a fully functioning eye? Place the evolution over the million of years so a teacher can point, is this an improvement?

    Note : “improvement” is a misnomer but short hand for “will this improvement aid to the survival and improve adaptation to an environment ensuring future offspring have this adaptation, etc, etc, etc”

    Note 1 I hate Dawkins for his twitter failures and such, but his writing in books is great. In his “The Magic of Reality” his analogy of a long, long, long, long, list of pictures of family would not look very different over many generations, but taking it back many, many, many, many and showing the differences between now and X (many) really helped me understand “change over time”. My idea for the eye would be similar.

  7. 7
    specialffrog

    @Donnie: There is actually a good Dawkins video covering this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nwew5gHoh3E

  8. 8
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    More for the lurkers, than for our IDiot, PBS Nova episode call Judgement Day, about the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, where intelligent design was shown to be son of creationism, therefore a religious idea, not scientific one. In fact, it shows Behe on the witness stand admitting that for intelligent design to be considered a science, even astrology could be considered a science, as it fully required essentially anything somebody called scientific to be considered as scientific without solid evidence to back it up.

    It also shows Behe bending the truth on several occasions. Like saying there was nothing written about evolution and the immune system, whereby the lawyer dumped a pile of books with titles like Evolution and the Immune System on the witness stand.

    This is the concept that they wish us in science to consider? *snicker*

  9. 9
    john

    @Menyambal #4

    The car analogy fails on many points, chiefly being that car evolution need not be incremental. While automobile technology improves incrementally, the car models themselves can be put together freely from anything in the toolbox. Organisms can only proceed by modifying–slightly–things that already exist in their model.

    Designed objects, for example, violate the nested hierarchy that strict vertical evolution must always produce. There are no winged cats nor bovine frogs, and if there were then evolution would be falsified.

  10. 10
    dmgregory

    From his comment about “simple IC precursors,” it sounds like biasevolution might respond to this by saying, “sure, but the initial system of the battery lighting the bulb is itself irreducible” – or analogously, “yeah there’s an evolutionary pathway from a photosensitive spot to an eyeball, but the organism with the photosensitive spot itself couldn’t have evolved.”

    This is classic shifting of goalposts – the IC proponent’s argument about a modern/derived system failed, so they pretend they were arguing about an ancestral system all along – so I thought I’d call out that particular bit of dishonesty before anyone tries it. ;)

    More universally, a big problem the use of IC as an argument against evolution is that it’s an argument from ignorance. Someone could look at that picture of the two switches in series, or an eyeball or flagellum and say “I can’t think of any way that could have developed from a previous functioning system” but in each one of those cases it can be demonstrated that a way does indeed exist, it’s just not obvious on its face – the gap is in the IC proponent’s imagination, not in the system at hand.

    So someone arguing that a system cannot be evolved has to do much better than “I see no possible solution” – they must rigorously demonstrate that there CANNOT be one. To date, I am unaware of anyone doing so successfully.

  11. 11
    tfkreference

    I was there when Bergmann claimed that carbon was irreducibly complex. I gotta admit that questioning the building block of life is a great rhetorical strategy – not an intellectually honest one, but it probably worked on the creationists I overheard on the way out (“he [PZ] should attend a creationist fair; he would learn a lot”).

  12. 12
    Bronze Dog

    Sometimes I wonder if Creationists are terrible at puzzle games. I’ve solved some adventure game puzzles that involved maintaining some state while fiddling with all the components. Stuff like “make sure there’s always at least one beam of light shining on the eye statue or it’ll lock the door at the end and force you to start the room over.” Cue manipulation of mirrors, prisms, and lenses where I have to use or create extra beams to trigger other devices to even get to the end while always maintaining one beam for the eye statue.

    If it’s impossible to evolve IC structures, how did I beat all those puzzle dungeons? The answer I anticipate: The puzzle is solvable because it was designed, not because the available components have defining properties and functions that allow solutions to emerge. That, in turn, makes me wonder if they think design is an act of divine witchcraft that just happens to work out, rather than something that requires thought.

  13. 13
    azhael

    From his comment about “simple IC precursors,” it sounds like biasevolution might respond to this by saying, “sure, but the initial system of the battery lighting the bulb is itself irreducible” – or analogously, “yeah there’s an evolutionary pathway from a photosensitive spot to an eyeball, but the organism with the photosensitive spot itself couldn’t have evolved.”

    I suspect the same. Unfortunately for him evolutionary theory can definitely explain how you get to an organism with a photosensitive spot. Not that these people care….

  14. 14
    fmitchell

    Carbon is irreducibly complex? Pfft. Energy is really irreducibly complex. It turns into light, heat, motion, even mass. It’s neither created nor destroyed. But how, then, did energy come to be? How do you get from something that isn’t a form of energy to energy? From nothing to energy? Scientists can’t explain it, except for the ones who can, but they don’t count because I don’t understand them.

    Clearly energy can only be explained by an Intelligent Designer, who through a proof too trivial to mention can only be the God-Emperor of Mankind. Bow before him, heretics, or we’ll burn this whole planet!

  15. 15
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ PZ

    (I’ve left out the one wire to complete the circuit, just to simplify it all; don’t take it too literally.)

    Add one of these to either end to obviate responding to such narrow-minded criticism.

  16. 16
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ fmitchell

    a proof too trivial to mention

    Hehehehe… Inderdeed!

  17. 17
    aggressivePerfector

    The reason is this: if you must design a system towards some given function or set of function you would need critical parts.

    There is a special name for this kind of error: the base-rate fallacy.

    The probability to have eye components, assuming that an eye was built by a god is indeed high:

    P(eye parts | eye designed) = 1

    But this is most definitely not the same as P(eye designed | eye parts)

    If this is difficult to see, ask yourself if the following are identical:

    (i) P(rain | clouds)

    (ii) P(clouds | rain)

  18. 18
    busterggi

    There are fewer clear examples of evolution than that of the Christian god. As Yahweh was originally conceived in the OT he was just one of a council of gods having been awarded the Hebrews by his father El and he happily enjoyed his consort Asherah. Little by little the Hebrews edited him into being the only god and managed to pretend that they had never worshipped their other gods (though they kept forgetting that their book said they had) and they made him more powerful & semi-wise (he remains fairly ignorant at the end of the OT). Then Christians rebooted him into a three-headed mutant (after killing off most other competing views over their first few centuries) with completely contradictory characteristics (all-loving & the creator of eternal torture, all-just yet still capricious & petty, etc).

  19. 19
    johnharshman

    You can’t talk about eye evolution without bringing up the classic paper:

    Nilsson, D., and S. Pelger. 1994. A pessimistic estimate of the time required for an eye to evolve. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B 256:53-58.

    Well, at least you shouldn’t.

    I think the biggest problem (yes, there are plenty of others) with Behe’s IC is that it assumes the parts you add to be invariant, thus disallowing the possibility of incremental changes within parts, including coevolution of parts. And so it’s irrelevant to evolution.

  20. 20
    Desert Son, OM

    Bronze Dog at #12:

    That, in turn, makes me wonder if they think design is an act of divine witchcraft that just happens to work out, rather than something that requires thought.

    As someone who likes the occasional puzzle game myself, I think your example is very interesting, and I want to thank you for posting it. I think your rumination at the end speaks to an aspect of what it must mean to be a design/goddidit enthusiast.

    At a certain point in “It was designed that way/goddidit” a person necessarily abandons thinking further about possible explanation or exploration. Any exploration by humans reaches some kind of limit of knowledge (which is why development of literacy has been such a totally amazing thing, so we could record stuff and refer to it later, including stuff we don’t know about but someone else does) that may be supplanted later.

    In scientific exploration, reaching the limit of knowledge produces several possible things: 1) admission of limit of knowledge (it’s science that says “I don’t know” more readily than religions ever have); 2) continued curiosity about that which remains unknown; 3) questions about what steps might be taken to find out more; 4) efforts to follow up on those steps (experimentation/exploration).

    In allegiance to design/goddidit, though, at some point, such adherents must stop asking further questions. It’s actually right there in the ultimate assertion: goddidit isn’t the continuation of knowledge, it’s the end of knowledge, the active cessation of exploration and understanding, not just practically but philosophically.

    And because it’s the end, it becomes easy to then shuffle any unknown (previously encountered or newly discovered) into the greatest of all intellectual cul-de-sacs: goddidit! Variations on goddidit include such favorites as “god works in mysterious ways,” “god has a plan,” “god is not tested,” “god loves you,” “free will,” and the bonus New Age Mysticism hit: “Mystery!” all included on this two CD collection: Stop Thinking and Start Believing!, yours for only $19.95 plus shipping and handling.

    I think your pondering about design/goddidit advocates and how they think about processes like puzzle game components, environments, and laws, shows exactly the difference I’m trying to suggest (and I am probably not explaining well). Your questions are essential to success, to uncovering new knowledge: How does this puzzle work? How does this continue? What happens when I change this variable, or this one, or both simultaneously? When I move to the next puzzle, what can I take from this puzzle’s solution and mechanics that may help me there? But for design/goddidits, it almost doesn’t matter, in a way, because eventually you move far enough into the puzzle, reach the limit of knowledge, and then insist on the cul-de-sac. It’s the intellectual equivalent of drawing “Here Be Monstyres” on the blank portions of the map of experience, instead of gathering others around and asking, “Do we have enough water, food, rope, pitch, vitamin C, and curiosity to see if this ship will sail a bit farther into the waters and find out if anything is there?”

    Thanks for your post.

    Still learning,

    Robert

  21. 21
    woozy

    ” But we actually evolve irreducibly complex systems all the time.”

    So are we accepting the term “irreducibly complex” as consistent and with meaning. I’m fine either way.

    “To then argue that an eye ain’t IC is laughable.”

    So we’re saying the eye is IC but it evolved?

    Sometimes I wonder if Creationists are terrible at puzzle games. I’ve solved some adventure game puzzles that involved maintaining some state while fiddling with all the components.

    I’ve often thought the exact same thing playing Scrabble. I frequently come up with perfect outcomes but to achieve them I’d have to extend multiple words simultaneously rather than one at a time. Hence I wistfully sigh “irreducible complex” and do a lesser move. Yet at the end of the game these complex word conglomerates populate the board. Occasionally I’ll get a lucky draw or my opponent will set up a side hook but usually two things just happen to fall into place at once or I’ll build up on “scaffolding”.

    That, in turn, makes me wonder if they think design is an act of divine witchcraft that just happens to work out, rather than something that requires thought.

    Well, I think we’ve all debated with them enough that they *do* think design requires thought. Their argument is that an irreducible system wouldn’t occur “by accident” but would require thought. The light circuit would occur if PZ plots out the steps but wouldn’t occur randomly because…. well, I’m not sure why not; something to do with no-one picking out the dead ends and getting them out of the way. Or maybe no-one looking at the progressive in between steps and saying “getting there, getting there”.

    I wonder if these creationists never look at “once in a lifetime shots”. Frequently when I’m bored I fact out numbers with arbitrary rules of tossing factors in and out just to see what eventually sifts out. In this method I “evolve” rather large primes. I also like to scoop up and gently sift out twigs and see if twigs randomly fall together and mutually brace each other up to create “irreducibly complex but undesigned” bridge systems. They *always* do. They are usually simple and fall apart with the slightest jolt but every once in a while I get something really quaint and remarkable.

    Or have they never played draw or stud poker? Deal five cards and the random hand is probably a jack high or if you are *really* lucky a pair. select and draw a few times and … well, you get *poker* hands. Or a better analogy would be gin rummy. You think getting ten cards in a three-three-four pattern ain’t irreducibly complex? Ha!

    Basically *any* system where you modify and filter your results will end up with remarkably complex results. The computer program “Game of life” is my favorite example. Thus gliders and traffic cones and shooters or incredibly complex and ingenious and yet they *always* occur from utterly random initiations. The creationists tend to claim that the programmer acts as the “designer” yet they fail to acknowledge that, if so, the designer is dumb as dirt and utterly uninvolved and as completely surprised by the results as any-one.

  22. 22
    doubtthat

    @8 Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    The decision and case transcripts are pretty compelling, in their own right.

    Being an attorney, that decision always amused me because I deal with quite a few judges. There are only a handful that I could envision rendering such a well-reasoned opinion with so much science discussion flying back and forth.

    It was either really bad luck on the part of the IDiots or really good strategy on the other side that caused that case to be in front of that judge.

  23. 23
    Rob Grigjanis

    Speaking of reducible complexity, I enjoyed Neil Shubin’s explanation of the development of the mammalian middle ear, in the latest episode of Your Inner Fish. Exaptation is a neat word.

  24. 24
    reverendrobbie

    I’ve never heard this analogy but I love it!

    I’ve often used an analogy of building a bridge: You use all kinds of structures in the process of building the bridge. At some point in the process, you have a fully functioning (yet somewhat ineffective) bridge with a bunch of materials (some sort of scaffolding I guess) that allow you to traverse the river but won’t be part of the final product. When you’re done and have a working bridge, you take away those other materials.

    If someone took out a section of the bridge, it would most definitely cease to function, but that doesn’t mean that bridge had to come into being exactly as it is. In order to truly reverse the process, you would have to start by adding parts, like the scaffolding I referred to, before you would remove the bridge section.

    Potential problems with my analogy: (1) IC supporters might say that the scaffolding was added for the specific purpose of building the bridge across the river, with a destination in mind, which at least indicates some sort of intelligent design. That’s simply a weakness of the analogy but does not refute it as an example of reducibility. (2) IC supporters might say that the scaffolding or some element of the bridge must be IC. That simply begs the question as the whole bridge analogy is an analogy anyway and could be applied to the process of building scaffolding.

  25. 25
    plutosdad

    So first they argue the eye is irreducibly complex. Then when it’s pointed out that all these proto-eyes and different versions of eyes are out there even now, and in the fossil record, they say “yes but that means nothing without the optic nerve and the brain”.

    Moving the goalposts, much?

    It stopped believing when I realized all these apologetics writers and advocates were utterly dishonest.

  26. 26
    mothra

    @25, plutosdad- This is exactly why I try to use humor when dealing with IDiots. One cannot ‘win’ against dishonesty directly, but one can show in a humorous way why a thing is dishonest. In a recent seminar I used the example of a puffer fish and puffer fish nest v fugu chief and plate of fugu. The example not only got across the idea that one cannot define what is intelligently designed, but everybody (save a few creationists in the crowd) got a laugh. I also borrowed (with atribution) a page from a talk PZ gave using the Nike swoosh and added that same swoosh pattern as occurs on one of the giant silk moths- Hyalophora euryalus.

    The new varient is specified complexity. Irreducible complexity is so pre-Dover.

  27. 27
    twas brillig (stevem)

    the problem with the bridge analogy is, as you pointed out, it is an a priori a designed object, implying a designer. FAIL. A somewhat better version of the bridge analogy is pointing out that natural bridges exist, that the occurrence of which can easily be seen to be entirely the result of non-designed natural processes. But they won’t listen … … …

  28. 28
    richardelguru

    Also, if the eye was designed, how come gods had to have so many tries with insects and ‘inside-out-ish’ vertebrates and other unfavoured creatures, before they finally got it right with squidipuses ?

  29. 29
    duncanbooth

    @leftwingfox, the page you are thinking of may be http://udel.edu/~mcdonald/mousetrap.html

  30. 30
    Leo Buzalsky

    Why is the light bulb giving off light when the circuit is broken (open)? Checkmate, atheists! :p

    On a serious note, I don’t think one even really needs to “understand” IC to realize it’s flawed because it’s trying to demonstrate a negative. And that’s all one really needs to know. Anything that tries to demonstrate a negative is likely going to be nothing more than an argument from ignorance.

  31. 31
    Menyambal

    Back when I was helping design an appropriate-technology vehicle, one of our best design moves was not making it irreducible. We used one size of nut-and-bolt through the vehicle, and put in as many as were needed in any area, instead of just using one bigger one. We had redundancy at the cost of compactness, but that wasn’t the point. We only had to buy one size of bolt, and the assemblers could just carry a pocketful (our kits just included a big bag). We could also get by with one size tool in the shop, and drop one wrench in as a tool kit.

    That, to us, was intelligent design. It worked for our style in those circumstances.

    I have learned to look for the constraints in any system, and I have staked my lack of an immortal soul up against the IC and ID crowd. There is no intelligent design in nature, and irreducible complexity means nothing.

  32. 32
    John Horstman

    @dmgregory #10: Indeed, IC is yet another specific formulation of, “I don’t know, therefore God.” Poor gods, always getting wedged into ever-shrinking gaps: I’d feel a bit bad for them if they existed.

  33. 33
    Holms

    The thing that gets me when these idiots use the ‘what use is half an eye’ drivel, is that it is common knowledge that we don’t have the best visual acuity, good though it is. Ask a creationist what term they use for a person with great sight at long distance and see if they come up with ‘eagle eyed’. That alone is plenty of evidence that, not only are humans not at the pinnacle of eyesight in the animal kingdom, but it also shows that the creationist is well aware of that fact.

    Meaning, the creationist is also well aware of the fact that there is a pregression of increasing sight as we incrementally change the eye, they just didn’t put two and two together.

  34. 34
    reverendrobbie

    @Twas: I’m with you, and I’m definitely not married to my bridge analogy, but my point is that the flaw in the analogy is not in the irreducibility, rather in the invocation of intelligence. Surviving the discussion long enough to articulate this nuance to a creationist would be nearly impossible, of course.

  35. 35
    Kevin Anthoney

    I like Ian Musgrave’s research into the bacterial flagellum – it’s not only an epic takedown of the whole principle of IC, it’s an excellent example of how science works.

    So, the IC’ists were crowing about how the flagellum couldn’t possibly have evolved, because removal of any of the parts would break it. Musgrave doesn’t know, so he trawls the literature (you know, the data) to try and find a protein that resembles one of the proteins in the flagellum. And he finds one in the bacterial excretory system.

    This protein is a ring-like structure that pumps waste stuff out of the bacteria. It doesn’t function as a flagellum. However, if it tries to export a long, stringy protein out of the bacteria, which accidentally gets stuck, it’ll act as one as the stringy protein thrashes around. From there on it’s just refinement – any bacterium for which the stringy protein is more likely to get stuck is likely to get an advantage, until you get to the stage that the flagellum is produced every time.

    Brilliantly simple, and it shows that while the intermediate stages have to act as something, they don’t have to act as a flagellum, thus refuting the whole premise of IC.

  36. 36
    grayhame

    Love this analogy!

  37. 37
    otrame

    The Nova Dover Trial episode mentioned above is a very well done, but I found the transcript of the trial, available at the NCSE website, a fascinating listen–I say listen because I was getting ready for company and doing serious housework that day, so I had the computer read it to me while I worked.

    Things of particular interest: The Discovery Institute. They convinced those ignorant board members that ID was a way to get their creationist ideas into school. Then when things got tough DI abandoned them.

    Their lawyers were apparently completely incompetent. They should have asked “So have you ever said, ‘We want creationism’ in public? and when they said yes, they should have explained how to deal with that without committing perjury. They should have explained in words of one syllable that they had to be honest while under oath, even when it seemed being honest would hurt their cause, because believe me, their perjury pissed off the judge.

    The behavior of one of the board members was reminiscent of a not-too-bright 6 year old when he didn’t get his way. His pouting was epic and an embarrassment to adults everywhere.

  38. 38
    moarscienceplz

    The Argument from Irreducible Complexity is in reality the Argument from Arrogance. All IC arguments boil down to this:

    I don’t see how a such-and-such could have evolved. And since I can’t figure it out, no one else can, or ever will.

    The fact that the people making such claims are usually almost totally ignorant of biology just makes their argument that much more arrogant and stupid.

  39. 39
    rickk

    Ah yes, the irreducibly complex bacterial flagella.

    A falcon’s wing can evolve through natural processes, or a giraffe’s neck or a cheetah’s legs. Planets, stars, galaxies, black holes and super clusters can form through natural causes. The Grand Canyon, the rings of Saturn and Everest’s peak are all the result of unguided, natural processes.

    But God, the Intelligent Designer, the Creator of the Universe had to get personally involved when it came time to fashion the spinning hair on a germ’s rump.

    And to think THAT is an image funded almost entirely by the Religious Right.

  40. 40
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    But God, the Intelligent Designer, the Creator of the Universe had to get personally involved when it came time to fashion the spinning hair on a germ’s rump.

    This always brings up the obvious question (obvious to scientists and skeptics), how did the designer come to be? The silence is deafening, followed by handwaving idiocy like “eternal” and “outside of space and time”, which I always translate into “I don’t know”. Meaning they are bullshitting.

  41. 41
    Ichthyic

    Anything that tries to demonstrate a negative is likely going to be nothing more than an argument from ignorance.

    usually, yes, but that’s only because those who prefer arguments from ignorance tend to gravitate towards them.

    however, it’s a myth to say you can’t logically prove a negative.

    Carrier wrote an exhaustive essay on the subject a while back:

    http://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/theory.html

  42. 42
    mikeyb

    For fun I looked up a creationist website on the question – who made god, just to see how they address the question? According to this website answer, logic made god, and has the power to make eternal uncaused causes come into being and create universes. Plus they bring in the entropy canard, just to add flavor. Just as Nerd says, pure sophistry just as I expected.

    “None of the arguments forwarded by philosophical naturalism—(1) the universe is merely an illusion; (2) the universe sprang from nothing; (3) the universe eternally existed—satisfactorily account for the existence of the universe. Logically, we can turn only to the possibility that “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). If that’s the case, however, it immediately brings up the question—who made God?

    First, unlike the universe, which according to modern science had a beginning, God is infinite and eternal. Thus, as an infinite eternal being, God logically can be demonstrated to be the uncaused First Cause.

    Furthermore, to suppose that because the universe had a cause, the cause of the universe must have had a cause simply leads to a logical dead end. An infinite regression of finite causes does not answer the question of source; it merely makes the effects more numerous.

    Finally, simple logic dictates that the universe is not merely an illusion; it did not spring out of nothing (nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could); and it has not eternally existed (the law of entropy predicts that a universe that has eternally existed would have died an “eternity ago” of heat loss). Thus, the only philosophically plausible possibility that remains is that the universe was made by an unmade Cause greater than itself.”

  43. 43
    rabbitscribe

    I’m ashamed to say that I’m about as scientifically illiterate as they come. But the illustration above is crystal-clear and I understand the analogy thoroughly. Very, VERY well done.

  44. 44
    Amphiox

    Using Behe’s formulation of IC when applied to design, IC features correlate with *bad* design. Design that lacks foresight and as a result fails to include redundancy for resiliency against unforeseen future challenges.

    PERFECT design would have NO IC features at all. Only imperfect designers, restricted by limitations, produce IC designs.

    Evolved systems are full if IC features, moreso than any designed system, and that is evidence that they are produced by a blind process WITHOUT foresight.

  45. 45
    Hank_Says

    I would just like one of these ID/IC/Creobots to answer a simple question:

    If, for the sake of argument, evolution was rendered invalid and every biological system and structure and function was definitively shown to be irreducibly complex and intelligently designed, how precisely does that point toward a deity being responsible (as opposed to, say, powerful extra-terrestrials), much less the specific god you’re all thinking of (but whom many of you disavow depending on who you’re talking to)?

    I ask because the implication – “Object X couldn’t have evolved, so it must have been a purposeful product of a highly specific depiction of Abraham’s God” – is a false dichotomy. What’s the reason for limiting the potential explanation to just two options?

    It would be one thing to show evolutionary theory was not a valid explanation for biodiversity, quite another indeed to demonstrate said biodiversity was – or necessarily had to be – the work of the God of the Bible.

  46. 46
    zetopan

    “I don’t see how a such-and-such could have evolved. And since I can’t figure it out, no one else can, or ever will.”

    Actually, in my experience creationism goes beyond that argument to: “I don’t want to know and I don’t want anyone else to know”.

    Every creationist that I know subscribes to willful ignorance; that being the only way that they can continue to embrace their absurdities. And they are also very openly proud of the state of ignorance that they have achieved.

  47. 47
    carlie

    PZ, that was an amazingly clear description. Would you mind if I use it in my classes, with the full context and citation as being your blog post?

  48. 48
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    “I don’t see how a such-and-such could have evolved. And since I can’t figure it out, no one else can, or ever will.”

    That’s because they expect the eye to be formed in toto in one generation. I’m always amazed that they believe either everything is in place at once, or it never happened. Which is the anti-thesis to evolution, gradual small changes adding up to big changes over deep time….

  49. 49
    waldteufel

    PZ, I never thought I would read anything by anyone else as obtuse and stupid as good ol’ Robert Byers or FL at The Panda’s Thumb, but your new pal biasevolution gives those cretins a run for their money. He’s a great example of the Dunning-Kruger effect let loose.

  50. 50
    gardengnome

    Behe has had just one idea in his life it seems, his meal ticket, irreducible complexity, and that idea has been quickly and thoroughly debunked. His hand-waving dismissal in the Dover trial of a pile of papers and books on the evolution of the immune system as not “answer(ing) the question I’m posing” when he hadn’t even read most of them shows that if he’s convinced of anything it’s his own cleverness.

  51. 51
    brianpansky

    @41
    mikeyb

    lol, how do people not see how useless that is?

    They give a very odd list of materialist arguments put forward…

    None of the arguments forwarded by philosophical naturalism[...](2) the universe sprang from nothing; (3) the universe eternally existed—satisfactorily account for the existence of the universe.

    First, unlike the universe, which according to modern science had a beginning, God is infinite and eternal.

    That’s all they’ve got. The assertion that all of material reality began with the big bang. Sorry, but that claim does not follow from “modern science”. They are simply lying about modern science.

    And even if it did, it doesn’t indicate a “non-material mind”. The concept of a non-material mind hasn’t even been shown to be possible or coherent. This makes their god of the gaps just as reasonable as an infinite number of fictions I could come up with. Such as a “non-material storm”, or a “non-material hypotenuse”.

  52. 52
    Al Dente

    brianpansky @50

    The concept of a non-material mind hasn’t even been shown to be possible or coherent.

    The concept of souls has the same problem.

  53. 53
    brianpansky

    @51

    well ya, I think the “souls” they talk about are either just another name for “non-material mind” or a subset of them.

  54. 54
    LykeX

    Mikeyb #41

    Furthermore, to suppose that because the universe had a cause, the cause of the universe must have had a cause simply leads to a logical dead end. An infinite regression of finite causes does not answer the question of source; it merely makes the effects more numerous.

    In other words, “If you keep asking about causes, you’ll end up with an infinite regress… so, I’m just going to stop asking.”

  55. 55
    Jerry

    It is the ignoramuses in favor of “intelligent design” who have to justify themselves. They are adding unnecessary complexity (hah) to their argument by positing not just a designer, but a *bad* designer. Just three examples of bad design- Mammalian eyes have the light sensors _behind_ the wiring (nerves & blood vessels). Who would design a complicated biological system worse than a simpler human-designed camera? Human eyes lack the light reflective surface (tapetum lucidum) at the back of the retina that cats have, making cat eyes much more sensitive than human eyes under low light conditions. Human eyes lack the light absorbing molecules to see into the infrared or ultraviolet portions of the spectrum, unlike other animals. Who would design multiple models of a very similar visual system? Who would design the visual system of the “apex” of “creation” worse than those in “lesser” creatures? Don’t the creationists know any of this? My guess is either “no, they’re ignorant” (99.9%) or “they know and they’re lying about it” (0.1%), depending on the particular ignoramus in question. Yes, I know that humans evolved in different conditions than eagles, cats, bees, or octopuses, but 99.9% of the ‘irreducible complexity’ crowd use it as a gotcha question- they don’t expect or want a reply, never mind expect questions in return. They’re so arrogant they can’t believe they don’t even know 1/10 of the details that a common scientist like me knows, never mind a developmental specialist like Prof. Myers. It is not unfair for me to ask questions in return.

  56. 56
    mikeyb

    @50, @53 Yep when I read this I was saying, yes and what else….is this an inside joke, I don’t get it, there’s no argument being made whatsoever, just a gross assumption disguised as a logical argument.

  57. 57
    A. Noyd

    Jerry (#54)

    Mammalian eyes have the light sensors _behind_ the wiring (nerves & blood vessels).

    The quote in the OP from biasevolution is part of a response they made to me in Thunderdome. You want to know what they said when I pointed out this fact about the human eye, which I deemed it sub-optimal? This:

    When you design a better eye let me know. In the meantime feel free to cut your eye out. I find dysteleology arguments disgusting for four reasons. 1) they shift scope from the design argument into an ad-hominem attacks on the design quality 2) they typically ignore the fact that we are still learning about the eye and are unaware of the constraints and range it is designed for 3) they are done by people who can’t even design better eyes 4) the pretence part is the worst of all because when ‘evodoesit’ it’s good enough but ‘goddidit’ is bad, bad BAD!

    I’m not sure if that fits “ignorant” or “lying” or some other category involving deflection, denial and fallacies. But there’s just so much wrong there it’s hard to know where to even start.

  58. 58
    rorschach

    It would be one thing to show evolutionary theory was not a valid explanation for biodiversity, quite another indeed to demonstrate said biodiversity was – or necessarily had to be – the work of the God of the Bible.

    Even “Aliens did it” would be a more parsimonous explanation than “invisible man with superpowers posited by one particular middle eastern tribe in literature edited a thousand years after the fact”. Also, Clarke’s third law and all that.

  59. 59
    TheBlackCat

    Very good analogy, although, as others have said, biasevolutuon has already stated he/she won’t accept it.

    There is an alternative method this analog could work: a new circuit, followed by a new lightbulb.

  60. 60
    Lyn M: G.R.O.S.T. (ADM) -- Membership pending

    @ zetopan #45

    “I don’t see how a such-and-such could have evolved. And since I can’t figure it out, no one else can, or ever will.”

    Actually, in my experience creationism goes beyond that argument to: “I don’t want to know and I don’t want anyone else to know”.

    And further yet. “Anyone who says they know, even with good examples that I can see are right there showing how it could be, is a) wrong b) lying c) spawn of satan 4) all of the above.”

    Sure makes life simpler, so long as you are prepared to go around with your hands over your ears, singing la la la at the top of your lungs.

  61. 61
    TheBlackCat

    I disagree that it is an argument from ignorance. I would say it is more of a bait and switch. “Look, this particular thing couldn’t evolve backwards, therefore it couldn’t evolve forwards.” But if you wrap it in enough techno-babble it makes the switch harder to detect.

    The bait-and-switch is pretty explicit when Behe claims the Darwin quote about not being able to find a forwards evolution somehow supports his model about looking for backwards evolution.

    And yes, I know there isn’t such thing as “forwards” and “backwards” evolution, but many creationists don’t.

  62. 62
    McC2lhu doesn't want to know what you did there.

    It’s been brought up in a few books about evolution that the so-called irreducibly complex eye system is still available in various things alive right now to show the stages of evolutionary development. From plants that track sunlight, to starfish, to nautilus and so forth. The stages are there for observation and example to show how any previous incarnation of light gathering to vision has been a vital component of that living thing’s ability to adapt and survive. Not a single one of those critters has need of a perfectly finished human eyeball. And that goes without mentioning that our ‘perfect’ eyeballs are rather shitty, since we no longer can see into the portions of the light spectrum that allow other animals to see at night and at least 30% of all humans require corrective lenses after only a few years. Intelligent Design my aunt fanny.

    Also, the horse has been flogged ad nauseum pointing out that even if there were foolproof evidence of IC components in animals, it wouldn’t be evidence for any of the shoddy and inconsistent deities manufactured by any of the human religions. And it wouldn’t excuse the deranged and utterly stupid, rather than intelligent, design causing vagus nerve heart attacks, inguinal hernias and a complete lack of redundant systems that a real engineer would have used for hearts and brains. Dr. Who had a more competent designer, and that was just a BBC writer.

    It has to be willful ignorance to continue with the IC argument. Use the example upthread of how Behe behaved on the stand at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial. He hand-waved and fibbed and flustered because he is well aware of the reality, and all he has left are the lies he tells himself so that his imaginary friend still thinks he’s special. Anyone with even an inkling of awareness for disingenuous behaviour should be giving the widest berth to Behe and his ideas, not citing him in an argument.

  63. 63
    azhael

    I am myopic, i had an inguinal hernia at 15, a hiatus hernia and i´ve got scoliosis and kyphosis (neither are serious, but they cause pain and discomfort). Intelligent Design my arse. Besides, even if the ridiculous christian god existed, the old testament is enough to show that he can´t design for shit so we could still get rid of the “intelligent” in ID. Luckily there is no need to entertain such preposterous speculations since neither gods, competent or not, nor ID are real.

    Biology is beautiful, stop trying to soil and cripple it with your imaginary non-sense.

  64. 64
    Al Dente

    Evolution gives products which work well enough to get by. A competent intelligent designer should try to optimize the product. Since life forms work but are not optimized, then either the designer is not competent or the life forms aren’t designed.

  65. 65
    David Marjanović

    Mammalian eyes have the light sensors _behind_ the wiring

    All vertebrates, not just mammals.

    Human eyes lack the light reflective surface (tapetum lucidum) at the back of the retina that cats have, making cat eyes much more sensitive than human eyes under low light conditions.

    Maybe it makes trouble under high-light conditions? Or maybe the advantage of losing it was just that growing and maintaining it was more trouble than it’s worth.

    Human eyes lack the light absorbing molecules to see into the infrared or ultraviolet portions of the spectrum, unlike other animals.

    Actually, it’s even worse. Our “blue” receptors do absorb into the near UV – but our lenses aren’t colorless; they’re ultra-yellow, if you know what I mean. People who’ve had their lenses surgically removed do see a bit into the near UV.

  66. 66
    Christopher

    When you design a better eye let me know.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cephalopod_eye

    Why didn’t the octopus designer talk with the mammal designer? Shouldn’t they have used a common parts supplier like current automotive designers do? If we’re so special, why did we get the C student engineer instead of the A student the cephalopods got? If we start worshiping the cephalopod designer instead of our shitty designer, will we get better eyes (hey a testable experiment, science!)?

    Inquiring minds want to know. Pity the godbot is banned. There will probably be another to take it place though…

  67. 67
    nich

    If we start worshiping the cephalopod designer…

    PZed is way ahead of you!

  68. 68
    brianpansky

    @54
    Jerry

    They are adding unnecessary complexity (hah) to their argument by positing not just a designer, but a *bad* designer.

    Ya, there was a creationist who said that evolution isn’t good enough to produce life forms, clearly a supers mart god must be needed.

    I replied with sarcasm something to the effect of: yes, how clever of this god to make designs that are better than evolution by making them look exactly as if they had evolved! Especially making it look like we had evolved from lung fishes! (which is the reason children who are trying to eat food sometimes die of suffocation. The food and breathing holes are connected) It must be intelligent design by merciful loving god!

  69. 69
    twas brillig (stevem)

    Finally, simple logic dictates that the universe is not merely an illusion; it did not spring out of nothing (nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could);…

    Oh, really? I know it is a dirty word round here, but QUANTUM says your “simple logic” is WRONG. Quantum allows stuff to come from nothing, and just ask Casimir, who has seen it happen. Don’t be misled by “Big Bang” which was just a phrase Hoyle used to disparage the concept of a non-eternal steady-state universe. Our current mathematical model of spacetime, says that even with nothing in it, energy always exists and can snap into mass and spacetime can stretch the mass into a diffuse sprinkling over all of it. in short: Yes, Something CAN come from Nothing. :D

  70. 70
    Bronze Dog

    Desert Son @20:

    Thanks for your post.

    I’m glad you appreciate it.

    Nerd of Redhead @39:

    The silence is deafening, followed by handwaving idiocy like “eternal” and “outside of space and time”, which I always translate into “I don’t know”. Meaning they are bullshitting.

    My response to the ‘outside space and time’ is usually along the lines of “what does that mean?” I also don’t like the idea of defining something primarily by what it’s not, rather than what it is, and pretty much everything we know of is defined in terms of how it works in space and time. Without a coherent idea of how something can work outside space and time, it’s just a deepity.

    brianpansky @50:

    The concept of a non-material mind hasn’t even been shown to be possible or coherent. This makes their god of the gaps just as reasonable as an infinite number of fictions I could come up with. Such as a “non-material storm”, or a “non-material hypotenuse”.

    And we get to another instance of defining things by what they’re not. Even if they start using affirmative-sounding words like ‘spiritual’ or ‘supernatural,’ those words are typically defined as what they’re not.

    On the topic of souls being non-material minds, I got something of a materialist kick out of the anime series, Bleach. Souls exist in the show, but far from being the clean ‘no moving parts’ ethereal fluff popular with dualists, they have anatomy. One of the villains bragged about his regenerative ability, noting that the only parts he couldn’t regenerate were his internal organs and his brain. Said villain had no physical body, only a spiritual one.

    If someone were to prove that souls exist, the natural question that’d come to my mind is ‘how do souls think?’ If people don’t like knowing that consciousness emerges from physical brain activity, how exactly would positing spiritual brains fix that problem? The alternative is to arrogantly and presumptuously declare that we can never know how souls think. It seems rather contradictory to me, since I think they’d need to know everything about souls to know that they’re unknowable.

  71. 71
    brianpansky

    @69

    ah, but they are just “mind stuff”!

    thoughts are just thoughts!

    I may have been wrong, perhaps the concept wasn’t too impossible seeming or incoherent way back before very much science was understood. Back then, we really didn’t know the “how” of anything, never mind ‘how do souls think?’. They didn’t know about chemistry, or electrons…Everything was just a kind of mysterious “stuff”, so to the pre-scientific people, “mind stuff” would have been just as sensible as “flamible stuff” maybe.

    You know those old alchemy ideas of 4 elements, earth water fire and air? Well I’ve seen some that include a 5th element: spirit/soul. It fits right in, that’s exactly the level of thinking involved.

  72. 72
    Amphiox

    Why didn’t the octopus designer talk with the mammal designer? Shouldn’t they have used a common parts supplier like current automotive designers do? If we’re so special, why did we get the C student engineer instead of the A student the cephalopods got?

    I have heard it said, though I don’t know if it is true, that the position of the blood vessel layer in the Cephalopod idea results in the photoreceptor cells being supplied with nutrients at a slower rate than vertebrate ones, meaning that it takes the cephalopod retina longer to resupply their photoreceptor cells with opsin proteins when those proteins bleach out in bright light, making vertebrate eyes superior for the transition from water to land, and hence Tiktaalik and not Tikteuthis.

    If this is true, then I wouldn’t be so eagerly giving the Cephalopod designer an A. Particularly when, even without this, it saw fit not to give the nautilus a lense, despite the fact that the main benefit of a lense is concentrating light in a low light setting, and the nautilus lives in a dim environment. Maybe it farmed that one out to its kid brother?

    Maybe it makes trouble under high-light conditions? Or maybe the advantage of losing it was just that growing and maintaining it was more trouble than it’s worth.

    There is a small nocturnal primate known for its HUGE eyes. Those eyes are huge because primates don’t have a tapetum, instead, this poor primate has to suffer through the metabolic demands and increased vulnerability of eyes that are almost as big as its skull, and several times bigger than its brain. The primate designer really should have had a talk with the cat designer….

    When you design a better eye let me know.

    Every cell phone camera, every telescope, every microscope, is a superior optical instrument than the vertebrate eye.

    Indeed I could design a better human eye right now. Make the lense as clear as the cornea, and that yellow coloration that blocks out near UV goes away. I wouldn’t know how to manufacture such an eye, but we’re talking about design here, not manufacture.

    they typically ignore the fact that we are still learning about the eye and are unaware of the constraints and range it is designed for

    Constraints are only relevant when talking about imperfect, ie bad, designers.

  73. 73
    azhael

    @67

    Especially making it look like we had evolved from lung fishes!

    Lunged fishes for sure, but not lungfishes (Dipnoi). We didn´t evolve from them, they are the sister clade to all tetrapods.
    Sorry, i had to…

  74. 74
    Bronze Dog

    bryanpansky:

    I may have been wrong, perhaps the concept wasn’t too impossible seeming or incoherent way back before very much science was understood. Back then, we really didn’t know the “how” of anything, never mind ‘how do souls think?’. They didn’t know about chemistry, or electrons…Everything was just a kind of mysterious “stuff”, so to the pre-scientific people, “mind stuff” would have been just as sensible as “flamible stuff” maybe.

    You know those old alchemy ideas of 4 elements, earth water fire and air? Well I’ve seen some that include a 5th element: spirit/soul. It fits right in, that’s exactly the level of thinking involved.

    I think it may have been Shasta who first introduced me to the idea, but in a way, many woos are “hyper-reductionists” because they only see “stuff” as you’re describing. Souls, life force, and such. By implication, they deny the possibility of emergent phenomena.

    I suppose it would also explain a lot of conspiracy theories. Instead of viewing, for example, America’s obesity problem as a consequence of multiple causes, they view it as a deliberate plan by Big Pharma and Big Agriculture to create health problems and profit from fixing them. Because there’s no way something “big” like that would happen without a singular “big” cause.

    You might want to get your phlogiston checked, by the way.

  75. 75
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re putnisite:

    a researcher at the South Australian Museum and the University of Adelaide, in a statement. “Nature seems to be far cleverer at dreaming up new chemicals than any researcher in a laboratory.”

    Take that!

  76. 76
    LykeX

    twas brillig #68

    Our current mathematical model of spacetime, says that even with nothing in it, energy always exists and can snap into mass and spacetime can stretch the mass into a diffuse sprinkling over all of it. in short: Yes, Something CAN come from Nothing. :D

    Depending on your definition of “nothing”. Is empty space “nothing”? Is spacetime “nothing”? Is energy “nothing”?

    Frankly, the definition of that term has always been the major problem of arguments like this. Arguably…

    1) Any term which is not clearly defined cannot be part of a logical argument without rendering the argument invalid and meaningless.
    2) “Nothing” cannot be clearly defined, since anything clearly defined isn’t “nothing”, but something, defined by that very definition.
    3) Therefore, “nothing” cannot be a part of a valid and meaningful logical argument.

    I have a big problem with any argument that involves the term “nothing”.

  77. 77
    raven

    Irreducible Complexity is simple and simple minded. And wrong.

    Adult humans are irreducibly complex. Take out our brain or heart, and that is it, we are dead.

    So does this mean an invisible magic Sky Fairy made us?

    No. We developed from a single cell. Natural processes can produce complex structures with many irreducibly complex parts. To see one, all you have to do is…look in a mirror or at your cat or dog.

  78. 78
    chris61

    I’ve never understood that argument for intelligent design when at a cellular and molecular level we and other biological organisms are anything but irreducibly complex. There is incredible redundancy built into even the simplest of biological organisms.

  79. 79
    RobertL

    Menyambal @31 the original Jeep was like that. It had one size of nut for most things – from wheel nuts to the ones that held the carburetor on. Also you could unfasten wingnuts on the back of the headlights and spin them 180 degrees to illuminate the engine bay.

  80. 80
    Lofty

    I’m sure there are scientists working on the design of a better eye.
    http://www.livescience.com/22373-an-artificial-eye-that-can-see.html

  81. 81
    biasevolution

    I do understand IC quite well. I’ve read Behe’s books. I’ve had it thrown in my face many times, often by creationists who don’t understand it (Jerry Bergman’s claim that carbon all by itself is irreducibly complex was particularly memorable). Biasevolution’s version isn’t quite that bad, but it’s still awful.

    Thanks for the sly insult.

    And it’s wrong.

    Nope.

    First, there’s the problem of begging the question: if you must design a system towards some given function. You’re trying to argue that something is designed, and the first thing you do is demand that we accept the premise that it is designed?

    I was using an analogy with humans and the designs they use. So your point here is moot.

    The whole point of the IC concept is that if you examine a final ‘design’, and there’s no way to remove a piece of the structure without destroying its function, then it could not have evolved in a stepwise fashion, as evolution would predict. That’s really all it says: that evolution is falsified if you identify a pathway, for instance, that would not be functional if you removed a piece. It’s naively appealing — but only if you think evolutionary change must be symmetrical and reversible. But we actually evolve irreducibly complex systems all the time.

    Evolutionary change can be reversible. If I recall right tha point was made on UC Berkeley’s ‘misconceptions about evolution’ article. The only IC systems evolved are in the context of living systems or those done by man using intelligent input.

    Let’s work through a simple example. Here’s a pathway, or circuit: a battery, a switch, and a light bulb (I’ve left out the one wire to complete the circuit, just to simplify it all; don’t take it too literally.) You close the switch, the bulb lights up. Simple.

    This is the first and most crucial line of error you evolutionists make. You start refuting IC using an IC system. Would you dare deny that this circuit you described is IC ? If it is IC it’s game over from the start.

    Here’s a simple expansion of that circuit. I’ve merely duplicated the switch, so now there’s two of them: close either one, the bulb lights up. This might not be a trivial change to an electrician, but it is to a geneticist — genes get duplicated all the time, and typically all it would do is add a redundant element. So this is a routine variation of a kind that is frequently observed in biological systems.

    Okay.

    Now we change one wire, shifting the output of the first switch from directly activating the effector (the bulb) to feeding into the second switch. Now to light up the bulb, you must close the second switch, but the first switch is redundant.

    The biological analog to this would be if, for instance, a protein in a biochemical pathway lost its ability to bind a terminal substrate, but could still activate an intermediate protein. Again, this happens.

    Okay.

    Now you could imagine a mutation that destroyed the first switch, and the whole system would simply revert to the initial condition, in which a single switch controls the bulb. That happens, too — we find dead genes (called pseudogenes) all over the genome.

    Oh really? So you still won’t learn from what IDists are saying about the ENCODE project. Or functionality uncovered in pseudogenes found to be regulatory even if not coding for proteins.

    Or, just as possible, what if you kept the first switch but lost another wire?

    This is an interesting change. Now, to light up the bulb, you have to close both the first and second switch. It also fits Behe’s description of an irreducibly complex system, because removing any part, the battery, the first switch, or the second switch, produces a pathway that cannot light up the bulb. It’s a dead system. It is most definitely irreducibly complex by any reading of Behe’s hypothesis.

    I would even first question the ability of random mutations to effect new functional proteins, before dealing with coordinating them as done in cells. ‘Analogywise’, you yourself should know that making a battery, a switch or a wire isn’t a trivial thing.

    But does that mean it could not have evolved by the incremental addition or subtraction of parts, with every step retaining the full capability of lighting up the bulb? Of course not. I just led you through each step, and in all four of the cartoons above, you can turn the lightbulb on. The fact of ICness does not vitiate the idea of incremental evolution.

    I’m sorry but it does. You started out with a base IC system and modified it. Random mutations lack that foresight and will much more likely destroy an existing IC system than add or meaningfully tinker with functionality as you do in your examples.

    So naive creationists will look at the fact of the organization of the eye, that you cannot remove the optic nerve or the retina and still have a functional eye, and fallaciously argue that that means it could not have evolved. This is logically false. I can point to lots of biological systems that can be called irreducibly complex: I am personally irreducibly complex, for instance, because I would stop functioning if you cut out my heart or gave me a brainectomy or deleted a big chunk of my immune system — but that fact is not sufficient to demonstrate that evolution couldn’t have done it.

    In other words, “La la la, I won’t listen to reason. Because ‘evolutiondidit’.” And let me make it clear you don’t give a good explanation of how arguing from IC is false. You simply assert that you are IC (using your heart to show this) but saying it doesn’t mean evolutiondidit. How in the world does that show the creationist argument to be logically false?

    I’ve been pointing this out to creationists for well over a decade, and all I ever get from them is stupefied stares and the occasional splutter. I don’t expect it will sink in this time, either. But I do derive a certain rude satisfaction from the fact that creationists repeatedly exhibit that same dumb incomprehension every time, so I’ll keep puncturing them with it.

    Some creationists are better than others at articulating why evolution is wrong. But honestly, those creationist who were stupified were stupid to be unable to point out the gaping holes in your thinking.

  82. 82
    Al Dente

    I would even first question the ability of random mutations to effect new functional proteins

    The argument from incredulity just means you’re ignorant. It doesn’t mean something isn’t possible. How about nylonase as a functional protein which arose from random mutation? Or are you going to pretend it was it isn’t new or isn’t functional or some other shit to hand wave evidence which refutes your ideology?

  83. 83
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Nope.

    Scientific evidence needed, not your fuckwitted sophistry.

    I was using an analogy with humans and the designs they use.

    Which has nothing to do with your imaginary designer and its lack of design.

    This is the first and most crucial line of error you evolutionists make. You start refuting IC using an IC system. Would you dare deny that this circuit you described is IC ? If it is IC it’s game over from the start.

    Whereas the curcial error IDiots make is that they must show the existence of their designer with conclusive physical evidence. Which you haven’t and can’t do.

    So you still won’t learn from what IDists are saying about the ENCODE project. Or functionality uncovered in pseudogenes found to be regulatory even if not coding for proteins.

    Gee, show some scienteific evidence, not throw irrelevant sciency sounding blather about. If all you can do is muddy your own arguments, don’t make them. Science sees clearly, you don’t.

    I would even first question the ability of random mutations to effect new functional proteins, before dealing with coordinating them as done in cells. ‘Analogywise’, you yourself should know that making a battery, a switch or a wire isn’t a trivial thing.

    Your questioning is irrelevant, as there are solid mechanisms for the formation of new proteins. But DNA is more than just proteins, it also has a regulatory function. And that is where changes are easily made.

    I’m sorry but it does.

    Unevidence asssertion, dismissed as blather. Either cite the scientific literature, or you have nothing. And your whole argument is nothing.

    In other words, “La la la, I won’t listen to reason. Because ‘evolutiondidit’.”

    And you will actually listen to and acknowledge scientific evidence supplied with scientific papers supporting evolution when? You don’t listen, as you don’t understand. All you can do is disbelieve.

    How in the world does that show the creationist argument to be logically false?

    Who in the world do the creationists show themselves to be scientifically correct. The same way as scientists. By using science, not belief. Only more science refutes science. You present no science, as your ID isn’t science. You delusionally think it is.

    Some creationists are better than others at articulating why evolution is wrong. But honestly, those creationist who were stupified were stupid to be unable to point out the gaping holes in your thinking.

    You have it backwards, like all creationists. You cannot prove creationism by complaining about evolution. You must show your theory is scientific, and that it works as you claim to explain it all, and does a better job than evolution. But the major stumbling block you have is you need to prove the existence of your imaginary creator. Not one creationist has done so to date, as solid and conclusive physical evidence is required. Philosophical arguments, the babble, and theology aren’t solid physical evidence, and are dismissed as fuckwittery.

  84. 84
    Al Dente

    Some creationists are better than others at articulating why evolution is wrong. But honestly, those creationist who were stupified were stupid to be unable to point out the gaping holes in your thinking.

    Instead of trying to poke holes in evolution, why don’t you creationists tell us what’s great about creationism? What questions does GODDIDIT answer? What predictions can GODDIDIT make? How does GODDIDIT succeed in increasing human knowledge? In short, how does a 2500 year old creation myth some Hebrew priests stole from the Babylonians tell us anything except the Babylonians and Hebrews didn’t have a fucking clue about how life works?

  85. 85
    originalantigenicsin

    @biasevolution #80

    You claim IC systems can’t evolve, but the analogy cleary shows one IC system evolving into a different IC system. So how do you know the first IC system didn’t evolve?

  86. 86
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Evidence refuting ID: Kitzmiller v. Dover, where ID was shown to be the direct intellectual descendant of creationism, and that was designed *snicker* to get around the SCOTUS decision that creationism is religious, and cannot be taught in science classes.

    Biasevolution, you would do well to watch the Nova program about that decision, found at the PBS website for free, or read transcripts of the court decision. It shows Behe lying and being caught in several lies. IC was dead at that point, as it was direct evidence it was made up to sound like a science, but wasn’t. His paper is rightly ignored by real scientists, and his old department has condemned his lying. But then, religious folks like yourself think books of mythology/fiction are inerrant *snicker*

  87. 87
    consciousness razor
    Our current mathematical model of spacetime, says that even with nothing in it, energy always exists and can snap into mass and spacetime can stretch the mass into a diffuse sprinkling over all of it. in short: Yes, Something CAN come from Nothing. :D

    Depending on your definition of “nothing”. Is empty space “nothing”? Is spacetime “nothing”? Is energy “nothing”?

    To answer your questions: no. twas brillig is just playing a stupid game. The criticisms of Krauss’ book on the subject seem not to have sunk in yet for some people. It’s only been two years, so maybe it’s too early to consider it a lost cause.

    Frankly, the definition of that term has always been the major problem of arguments like this. Arguably…

    1) Any term which is not clearly defined cannot be part of a logical argument without rendering the argument invalid and meaningless.
    2) “Nothing” cannot be clearly defined, since anything clearly defined isn’t “nothing”, but something, defined by that very definition.
    3) Therefore, “nothing” cannot be a part of a valid and meaningful logical argument.

    I have a big problem with any argument that involves the term “nothing”.

    Thus, you have a big problem with your own argument. You are arguing that the argument which you’re giving is total crap. Let that sink in for a moment first.

    2) “Nothing” cannot be clearly defined, since anything clearly defined isn’t “nothing”, but something, defined by that very definition.

    You just defined “nothing” right there. It is that which can’t be “clearly defined.” That even turns out to be a fairly clear definition. It’s just not the right definition, since you’re actually defining incoherence and/or vagueness, instead of nothingness or an empty state of existence. There’s no contradiction or vagueness about a concept of nonexistence. It’s consistent and descriptive, just like “existence” is.

  88. 88
    LykeX

    consciousness razor #86

    Thus, you have a big problem with your own argument.

    Indeed, but then that’s my point. My argument fails, exactly for the reason I’m pointing to.

    You just defined “nothing” right there. It is that which can’t be “clearly defined.”

    That’s not my definition of “nothing”. Rather, I’m defining “something (definite)” as that which can be clearly defined and objecting to using terms in an argument which do no fall into that category. As you point out, there are terms beside “nothing” which might lack clear definition.

    Anyway, I’m not actually interested in an abstract discussion about “nothing”. My point is simpler: I object to the use of “nothing” in arguments about reality.

    Much (much!) more could be said, but these discussions give me a head ache and I honestly can’t be bothered. Sorry to cut and run, but the thought of going down that road again is just too fucking depressing.

  89. 89
    LykeX

    biasevolution #80

    This is the first and most crucial line of error you evolutionists make. You start refuting IC using an IC system. Would you dare deny that this circuit you described is IC ? If it is IC it’s game over from the start.

    So, you agree that, if we start with the simple system (battery, switch and bulb), we can evolve the more complex system (with multiple switches), even though this more complex system is irreducibly complex, according the the definition of Behe? You agree that this is possible with simple, step-wise, constantly functional changes, right?

    We can discuss the origins of the simple system later; that wasn’t what this argument is about. Trying to switch the argument to the simple system without first dealing with the subject at hand is dishonest (or stupid). Let’s settle the point about the complex system first. Once that’s dealt with we can move on to the simple system, if you like.

    You may argue (and indeed you seem to do just that) that evolution couldn’t have produced the original system, and that’s fine; we can have that discussion… later. First, let’s settle this simple point:
    A system being irreducibly complex does not, in and of itself, mean that it couldn’t have evolved from a simpler precursor. Agreed?

  90. 90
    Owen

    I would even first question the ability of random mutations to effect new functional proteins…

    And this is where the point of PZ’s analogy goes floating over your head. Given an existing cellular apparatus random mutations can and do “effect new functional proteins”. See for example nylonase and Hox gene clusters.
    Also, LykeX @89 has boiled things down very neatly. Can you answer that?

  91. 91
    David Marjanović

    …Turns out biasevolution doesn’t quite exist. The comments posted under that name are copied from those by Iredia on debate.org, currently latest page here, probably without Iredia’s knowledge.

    However, those comments are still wrong.

    Oh really? So you still won’t learn from what IDists are saying about the ENCODE project. Or functionality uncovered in pseudogenes found to be regulatory even if not coding for proteins.

    ENCODE is a load of crap. Cells are awash in useless RNA. Anyone who’s interested should search the archives.

    And pseudogenes, by definition, aren’t regulatory DNA.

  92. 92
    Michael Butler

    Decent analogy, useless circuits.

Comments have been disabled.