Re: irreducible complexity and intelligent design (was Empirical Evidence)

Stephen E. Jones (
Fri, 20 Aug 1999 06:24:01 +0800


On Tue, 17 Aug 1999 15:26:54 -0700, Brian D Harper wrote:

BH>At 03:45 PM 8/16/99 -0700, Hapi Daiz wrote:

>HD>Is there any empirical evidence or are there any scientific tests and/or
>>models that support a theory of intelligent design?

HD>Hi and welcome to the list.

Welcome to the list from me too, Hapi.

HD>You ask a very good question. Since I'm not a supporter of ID

I'm glad Brian clarified that!

HD>my approach to answering this question would
>be to look at what supporters have proposed. Let's take testability.
>>From my reading there seems to be a particular type of test that
>is proposed very commonly by IDers. Let me illustrate with Mike
>Behe since he recently visited Ohio State. During the Q/A session
>following his talk someone asked him how he would test ID. He answered
>immediately that it would be very easy to test. All one has to do
>is show how some irreducibly complex structure could be produced
>by a slow, incremental process. If one could show this then one
>would conclude that this structure was not intelligently designed.
><<I'm paraphrasing from memory. Mike, if you are listening in and
>you find I've botched this, please let me know.>>

I would suspect that Brian has "botched this". Proving that something was
irreducibly complex would refute *Darwinism* as a Designer-substitute, but
it would not of itself establish that it was intelligently designed:

"Darwin knew that his theory of gradual evolution by natural selection
carried a heavy burden:

`If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could
not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight
modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.' 24 (Darwin C.,
1872, "Origin of Species", 6th ed., 1988, New York University Press: New
York, p154).

It is safe to say that most of the scientific skepticism about Darwinism in
the past century has centered on this requirement. From Mivart's concern
over the incipient stages of new structures to Margulis's dismissal of
gradual evolution, critics of Darwin have suspected that his criterion of
failure had been met. But how can we be confident? What type of
biological system could not be formed by "numerous, successive, slight

Well, for starters, a system that is irreducibly complex. By irreducible
complexity I mean a single system composed of several well-matched,
interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal
of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.
An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by
continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the
same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system,
because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a
part is by definition nonfunctional. An irreducibly complex biological
system, if there is such a thing, would be a powerful challenge to
Darwinian evolution. Since natural selection can only choose systems that
are already working then if a biological system cannot be produced
gradually it would have to arise as an integrated unit, in one fell swoop, for
natural selection to have anything to act on."

(Behe M.J., "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to
Evolution," 1996, p38).

An Intelligent Designer can produce reducibly complex (RC) structures as well
as irreducibly complex (IC) structures. An example is engineers building-in
redundancy (ie. the `belts and braces' approach), so that if one system failed,
another would take over.

Indeed, building-in redundancy against a future contingency, is what one
would expect of a far-sighted Intelligent Designer, but not what one would
expect of a `blind watchmaker'.


"Reduced to the initial and still crude form in which it is now emerging in
the modern world, the new religious spirit appears, as we have said (cf. I),
as the impassioned vision and anticipation of some super-mankind ... To
believe and to serve was not enough: we now find that it is becoming not
only possible but imperative literally to love evolution." (Teilhard de
Chardin P., "Christianity and Evolution", 1971, pp183-184, in Bird W.R.,
"The Origin of Species Revisited", Regency: Nashville TN, Vol. II, 1991,