Re: [asa] RE: (irreducible complexity and evolution) design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID)

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Mon Jun 15 2009 - 19:40:37 EDT


You are quite wrong. You have not understood Behe's definition at all. You have made the same mistake that Ken Miller has made. The fact that some parts of an irreducibly complex machine can be used in another machine to serve a useful function does not prove that the first machine is not irreducibly complex. The fact that the wheel and axle of an automobile can be taken out and used for a go-cart does not prove that the wheel and axle is not a necessary functioning part of the automobile. The automobile (I mean the main parts thereof, not the radio or the leather seats) remains an irreducibly complex machine.

To disprove the claim that the flagellum is irreducibly complex, one would need to rip out a part of the flagellum and have it still function *as a flagellum* (not as a Type III secretory system).

Miller misreads Behe, I believe maliciously. In your case, I will assume it is an honest error. Please read Behe's rejoinders to Miller for further clarification, from the horse's mouth, if you don't trust my answer. They're easy to find.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Iain Strachan
  To: Cameron Wybrow
  Cc: asa
  Sent: Monday, June 15, 2009 5:29 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] RE: (irreducible complexity and evolution) design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID)


  Regarding the Type III Secretory System.

  I don't think the point of Miller's example is to "solve the problem that Behe is raising" as you put it. It doesn't show us how the flagellum evolved & indeed we don't know this. The point is whether or not the flagellum is irreducibly complex.

  Miller has demonstrated the existence of smaller parts of it in another functioning organelle, and thus shows that it is _not_ irreducibly complex.

  I think that's QED. The whole case rests on the idea that the flagellum is irreducibly complex. It isn't.

  The key point is that the smaller part of it is used for a different function, but one that also has benefit.


  On Mon, Jun 15, 2009 at 9:33 PM, Cameron Wybrow <> wrote:


    Bill has partly answered your posts already, and my understanding is about the same as his, but let me try to address your objections in my own way.

    Two things must be kept distinct:

    1. The nature of an irreducibly complex system
    2. The question whether Darwinian evolutionary processes can produce irreducibly complex systems

    On point 1:

    "Irreducible complexity" is a non-historical, functional description of a system. It indicates that all the parts are necessary for the whole to function. In an irreducibly complex system, all the parts interact in such a way that the removal of one of them would cause the system to cease functioning. This is basically an engineering concept, having nothing intrinsically to do with evolution or even with biology.

    On point 2:

    We know from our experience as human beings that irreducibly complex systems can be built by intelligent agents, e.g., ourselves. We do not have experience of inanimate matter building irreducibly complex systems. (Unless the inanimate matter is following a template, e.g., as in embryonic development; but I am speaking of building them up from scratch, or from earlier systems which are quite different.) So the question is, can natural processes, unguided by any intelligence, produce irreducibly complex systems, or transform one irreducibly complex system into an entirely different one?

    Darwinian evolution says that they can. Behe's argument is that there are formidable barriers in biological systems to the production of irreducibly complex systems by means of accidental mutations, even when those mutations are culled by natural selection, because natural selection can't select for a system which does not function. So how do you get enough mutations together to make up the new system that you want, so that "natural selection" can select it?

    Behe grants that in theory there might be intermediate stages between two irreducibly complex systems, each of which has survival value. But he doesn't find much evidence in the Darwinian literature of these stages.

    Regarding Ken Miller, Miller and Behe have been at this for years. They have published several articles each on the irreducible complexity of the flagellum. I think it is important that if you read Ken Miller's criticism of Behe's argument, you read every one of Behe's rejoinders.

    First, Miller sometimes misrepresents Point 1 -- what Behe means by an irreducibly complex system. Whether this is out of lack of understanding or out of malice, I don't know. Anyhow, Behe clarifies what he means in his rejoinders. You can read them.

    Second, Miller has suggested as a possible intermediate the Type III secretory system. Let's say we grant this. It still doesn't do nearly enough to solve the problem that Behe is raising. There would have to be a series of useful intermediates, not just one, between your basic bacterium and your bacterium with a flagellum. So you still need some notion of what these stages would have been, how they would have given the creature survival advantage, how they would be generated genetically, etc. 99% of the story is missing. And in many cases in the animal kingdom, 100% of the story is missing. What are the intermediate stages? What survival value did they have? An eagle with 5% sharper eyesight has a definite survival advantage. But what about a bat with half a wing, enough to impair the normal functioning of the arm, but not good enough to fly, or even glide in a stable manner? What survival advantage would that intermediate form have? Or a malfunctioning sonar, one which sometimes caught mosquitoes very well, and other times let the bat crash into the cave wall? What survival advantage would that intermediate form have? If evolution had to work up through such imperfect partial stages, it would certainly never get to the bat. And Darwinists have yet to come up with even a single plausible sequence of intermediate forms, anywhere in the animal kingdom, that could produce complex organic machinery such as the cardiovascular system.

    We can trace the "evolution" of the motor car. We can see "intermediate stages" between the Model T and modern cars. But all of those intermediate stages were designed, irreducibly complex systems. They did not mutate into the next phase by accident. The question is, can nature do the equivalent, and manage, not just frequently but millions of times, to find its way, unguided, to useful intermediate forms? The Type III secretory system, one possible intermediate in a single type of unicellular creature, is very thin evidence upon which to rest a mechanism which is supposed to explain the entire macroevolutionary process.

    To bring this back to your original objection: Behe allows that "evolution" (not of the Darwinian kind) might have produced irreducibly complex systems. But if so, it would be "front-loaded" evolution of some kind, in which the parts were, so to speak, self-assembling, almost as if they had an inbuilt intelligence which told them when to appear and where to take their place in the new arrangement. Needless to say, such a front-loaded evolution would require a mind with an ability to handle complex interactions far beyond that of the greatest supercomputer, a superintelligence which could only be divine. So if you go for front-loading, you have to believe in God. Maybe not the Christian God, but some kind of God. Thus, Denton, who proposes such a system, speaks of God. Behe stops short of endorsing Denton's view as the correct one, but allows it as a possible means of producing irreducible complexity through an evolutionary process.

    Once again, unless you rigorously separate "evolution" from "Darwinian evolution", as I have been begging everyone here to do, you will never understand the arguments or motivations of ID proponents. The intelligent design of irreducibly complex systems is logically compatible with evolution, but not of course with Darwinian evolution.


    ----- Original Message ----- From: "Dehler, Bernie" <>

    Cc: <>
    Sent: Monday, June 15, 2009 2:18 PM
    Subject: RE: [asa] RE: (irreducible complexity and evolution) design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID)

      Bill said:
      "The issue is the number of elements that must be simultaneously
      available. If all the parts of a mouse trap are present simultaneously
      it might even be possible for a car accident to put it together, but
      highly unlikely."

      As I understand irreducible complexity (IC) , it is argued that the parts can't al be around at the same time because there is no use for them to be around. That is the whole point of the argument- since there is no use for them, they must have been created together all at once. Therefore- evolution, guided or unguided, is impossible. Evolution is all about building something more complex from more simpler building blocks. IC is all about this evolution being impossible, because there is no need for the lower building blocks to be around.


      -----Original Message-----
      From: Bill Powers []
      Sent: Monday, June 15, 2009 10:34 AM
      To: Dehler, Bernie
      Subject: Re: [asa] RE: (irreducible complexity and evolution) design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID)


      I'll let Cameron reply for himself.

      But clearly your understanding of irreducible complexity cannot be
      correct. After all, we do construct mouse traps and cars all the time.

      The issue is the number of elements that must be simultaneously
      available. If all the parts of a mouse trap are present simultaneously
      it might even be possible for a car accident to put it together, but
      highly unlikely.

      It is a matter of probabalistic resources. In order to put togehter a
      car, say on an assembly line, it is required that
      1) the available parts be simultaneously, or more carefully that they
      would be available on the time scale much shorter than the dissipative
      time scale (i.e., some measure of the effects of entropy, friction, or
      chaotic mixing).

      2) That all the pieces would be put together on a time scale short
      compared to the disordering time scale (e.g., the time for the parts to
      rust, etc.).

      Irreducible complexity, as I understand it, is a statement that the
      joint probability of both the parts being nearly simultaneously
      available, say over time DeltaT, and the probability of the parts being
      put together over a time DeltaT is vanishingly small for a non-lawful,
      non-intelligent process.

      It assumes that there is no necessity in the parts coming together
      (e.g., the parts of a mouse trap have not "lawful" reason to come
      together, although once together they remain together, implying, it
      seems short range forces). The parts must have a lifetime that is long
      compared to the time of preparation, otherwise what is put together will
      not be made of the parts, although it might be possible that even a
      rusty car could become a whole, or an "inferior" mousetrap.


      On Mon, 15 Jun
      2009, Dehler, Bernie wrote:

        Cameron quoted:
        " If the parts of the universe are so fine-tuned that they cannot help but fall together into certain biologically functional arrangements, then irreducibly complex structures will of course form through a front-loaded evolutionary process."

        I don't understand. I understand "irreducible complexity" to mean that it is impossible for nature to sequentially build something complex because all the parts would need to appear at once (like the mousetrap needing all of it's basic parts to be present at the same time). This is against evolution- guided or unguided.


        -----Original Message-----
        From: [] On Behalf Of Cameron Wybrow
        Sent: Monday, June 15, 2009 7:35 AM
        Subject: Re: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID)

        Actually, Bernie, that's not the case. Here are just three paragraphs for

        If the parts of the universe are so fine-tuned that they cannot help but
        fall together into certain biologically functional arrangements, then
        irreducibly complex structures will of course form through a front-loaded
        evolutionary process. The evolutionary process would then be analogous to
        the embryological process, in that the outcome would be planned from the
        beginning, with the changes all ready in advance. But this would be a
        planned evolutionary process, unlike Darwin's evolutionary process, the
        essential nature of which is to be unplanned. Irreducible complexity does
        not clash with "evolution"; it clashes with "unplanned evolution". Behe
        assumed that any careful reader of *Darwin's Black Box* would understand
        that he was talking about "unplanned evolution".

        Of course, there is as yet no evidence that fine-tuning can accomplish such
        an evolutionary feat. Fine-tuning at the evolutionary level essentially
        requires that the earliest DNA has the plan for the whole march of life
        implicit in it, and this claim is still highly speculative, and will remain
        so until we understand what all the apparently unused DNA is for. But this
        view is no more speculative than Darwinism itself. Each view requires one
        seemingly incredible claim. Darwinism requires us to believe that time
        after time, over the course of life, accident produces new functional
        structures, with the whole process conveniently tending upwards toward man;
        front-loading or fine-tuning requires us to believe that level after level
        of biological complexity is packed into the fundamental properties of the
        chemical elements, and this gives to biochemical necessity the awesome power
        that Darwinism gives to chance. On the face of it, it seems incredible that
        either chance or necessity could have such powers.

        The smart money, I would say, is on the view that the evolutionary process
        is in fact intelligently guided. It's a view consistent with our knowledge
        of integrated complex systems, and of the limited power of Darwinian
        mechanisms. It's a view in tune with common sense. It's the view that
        seems to be held by Ted Davis and George Murphy and Robert Russell, and
        also, I am told, by Owen Gingerich and other TEs. It is also a view
        compatible with the arguments of Behe and of many other ID supporters. But
        it is of course a view which, according to many here, is unscientific, or
        non-scientific. I never said that intelligently guided evolution was
        "scientific" in the sense of a formal scientific hypothesis, but I certainly
        believe that it is compatible with the best scientific data -- more
        compatible, in fact, than pure Darwinism is. Once again, I think that TE,
        when it is not afraid to say directly and without ambiguity that God
        controlled the evolutionary process to produce certain specific results, is
        in tune with some versions of ID.


        ----- Original Message -----
        From: "Dehler, Bernie" <>
        To: <>
        Sent: Thursday, June 11, 2009 3:19 PM
        Subject: RE: design and the nature of science (was: Re: [asa] Re: Gingerich
        on TE and ID)

          I think one TE could say "yes" (fully gifted creation- Howard Van Till),
          and another might say "No" because God needs to guide it somewhat or at
          certain times.

          Cameron said:
          ID says, "NO -- unless the properties of the atoms and the laws of nature
          are fine-tuned, which implies design."

          If ID says it could happen, then that blows apart Behe's mousetrap example
          (irreducible complexity), which is a pillar for ID I think ("Icons of ID"
          if you will).

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Received on Mon Jun 15 19:42:09 2009

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