Word of the Day: Irreducible Complexity

A novel about Christian apologetics and atheismMicrobiologist Michael Behe coined the term “irreducible complexity” to describe a system in which every part is mandatory. Here is his definition:

By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.1

Let’s look at a popular example, the remarkable bacterial flagellum. Built of several dozen different proteins, this tiny motor with a whip-like appendage can propel a bacterium 60 cell lengths per second. Compare this to the cheetah, the fastest land animal, which sprints at 25 body lengths per second. (Here’s a good agenda-less video showing the structure of the flagellum.)

The irreducible complexity claim is this: imagine turning the clock of evolution back. Which protein was the last to be put in place? Remove any protein from the flagellum and it doesn’t function. So if one step back in time from the working flagellum was something useless, no matter which protein you remove, why would evolution have created this thing? Evolution doesn’t spend effort slowly building elaborate nonfunctioning appendages on the remote chance that with a few more mutations over 100,000 generations it might get lucky and create something useful. But Intelligent Design comes to the rescue by postulating a Designer that put everything together all at once.

We can topple this thinking by considering an arch. Which was the last stone to be put in place in an arch? If you try to turn the clock back by removing the central keystone, the arch falls. So that one couldn’t have been last. But try removing any stone from the arch and the same thing happens. This makes the arch irreducibly complex, using this Intelligent Design thinking, with a Designer levitating the stones into place all at once as the only explanation.

But of course this is nonsense. If you imagine watching a movie of the building of an arch played backwards, the first change you’d see was not a stone removed but the last piece of scaffolding put into place. Then the remainder of the scaffolding to support the stones, then the stones removed one at a time, and then the scaffolding removed.

In the same way, the step that preceded the bacterial flagellum might have been the removal of an unnecessary piece of scaffolding.

There is much more to say about why the idea of irreducible complexity has not won over the science of biology, including attacks on how good an example the flagellum is of irreducible complexity, but that is a tangent for this post. For more on this topic, check out the links below.

Science may well have unanswered questions regarding the origin of the flagellum, but “I don’t know” is no reason to invent a Designer. And you can be sure that once the origin of the bacterial flagellum is sufficiently well understood, this argument will be discarded like a used tissue and some other complex feature of biology (and there’s always something) will be seized upon by the Intelligent Design advocate as the wooden stake that will finally destroy the monster that is evolution.

If the past is any indication, our ID friend will have a very long wait.

1 Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (Touchstone, 1996), p. 39.

Photo credit: harrymoon

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  • Bob Calvan

    Your “arch” argument falls apart and is self refuting. You are talking about scaffolding, stone removable. A plan ( some kind of mind is needed for a plan) to build the arch. Your example requires an intelligence. Also where did the stones, and scaffolding come from? How did matter come from non-matter? What neo Darwinian micro mutational evolution teaches. This “complex arch” just appeared over millions of years by random chance from nothing. Wow! Blind faith no science.

    • Rick T

      I agree with Bob Calvan’s response on this. I would add, find us ONE example of a NATURALLY OCCURRING stone arch made of individual stones, not made by erosion (either wind or water). The erosion arches are understood. An arch like you depicted has no natural examples anywhere in the known universe. Add to that, with the irreducible complexity argument examples, you have the structures being self-replicating, self-repairing, having a specific function (locomotion, for instance) and having not just shape but energy transformation into action.

      Where is that arch example fitting these characteristics, again? I seem to have misplaced it somewhere…

      And this is just the surface of the irreducible complexity argument you attempted to shred. Not so fast.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Rick T:

        find us ONE example of a NATURALLY OCCURRING stone arch made of individual stones

        Can’t do it.

        Now, with that enormous but irrelevant admission out of the way, can we return to the actual topic? We’re talking about the steps in a process, not the intelligence (or not) behind it.

        Where is that arch example fitting these characteristics, again? I seem to have misplaced it somewhere…

        A common error! But don’t feel bad. You perhaps thought that I was simply repeating the flagellum example (“a flagellum is like a flagellum”).

        No, I’m using what’s called an “analogy.” I’m saying that a flagellum is analogous to an arch in a way that’s relevant to the topic at hand.

        And this is just the surface of the irreducible complexity argument you attempted to shred.

        Yep, I’m just taking a baby step. Let’s get some clarity on the “irreducible complexity” idea first.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Bob C:

      A plan ( some kind of mind is needed for a plan) to build the arch.

      That’s true, but that’s irrelevant to my analogy. Other differences that you may not have picked up on: the arch is stone and the flagellum is protein; the arch is really big and the flagellum is really small; the arch was built by living things while the flagellum is part of a living being; and so on.

      If you want to ask other questions, that’s fine, but those are off the topic of the post. In fact, I’m guessing that those are deliberately off topic.

      As the blog makes clear (but I’ll repeat here since you don’t seem to have gotten the point), the arch is an example of something where the “but it would fail without every single part!” argument is meaningless. Perhaps like the flagellum.

      • Rick T

        Bob,

        I was thinking about this blog post and your responses to Bob C and me last night. I know, slow Saturday night. It occurs to me that the problem here is that you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the intelligent design (ID) argument, and a very poor understanding of its strengths.

        ID does not simply address cases where we have a system that is strengthened by the addition of the last piece of the puzzle. The ID argument s that the entire system and its subsidiary components are without function unless all of the components are in place. It is not as if the system works inefficiently without that last piece. It is that unless ALL of the pieces are in place and finely tuned to make the system work, there is no imperfect system to be naturally selected and passed along until — SHAZAM! — the last piece improves it a bit. It is, instead, a totally unworkable set of pieces that can’t function AT ALL unless and until all of the pieces are in place, finely tuned to work together, and in a larger and more complex but uniquely designed environment in which they may function to accomplish an even greater goal of keeping the organism alive.

        Michael Behe’s book, “Darwin’s Black Box,” detailed this concept eloquently using several sorts of systems, each a better example than the arch. He used things like cell metabolism, clotting of the blood, vision, and so on to demonstrate the concept. Your use of the arch and its simply needing a last stone is woefully inadequate to demonstrate (or to attempt to refute) the argument. And yet, your admission that you can’t find even one naturally occurring example is made with a “so what?” air of dismissal. This is part of the reason I am convinced you either don’t understand the argument, or else you are attempting to dismiss it with very poor slight of hand intellectualism. It doesn’t work well in this case to do so.

        You commented recently that if someone finds that a reasonable concept conflicts with his views, he ought to be wiling to reconsider his views. This would be a fine time to seriously think about your own views and whether they are adequate to the task at hand. My sincere hope is that you will reconsider this one seriously. It is a serious challenge to your position, and you have not laid a glove on it as of yet.

        Best wishes,
        Rick

        • Bob Seidensticker

          you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the intelligent design (ID) argument

          Sure, that’s possible.

          But my focus with this post is simply on the issue of irreducible complexity. I’m not trying to wrestle with the evolution vs. Creationism/ID question here.

          It is, instead, a totally unworkable set of pieces that can’t function AT ALL unless and until all of the pieces are in place

          I was simply addressing the question of every piece in the flagellum being essential. Seems like a win for the ID argument, right? But the arch illustrates that turning the clock back may not have given a version without one piece but with the addition of one piece. (And since one fewer pieces gives us just junk, that’s not likely what the preceding step was.)

          Your use of the arch and its simply needing a last stone is woefully inadequate to demonstrate (or to attempt to refute) the argument.

          I don’t see the problem. You see in this comment what I was trying to show. Success, right?

          your admission that you can’t find even one naturally occurring example is made with a “so what?” air of dismissal

          Of course! You can ask me to find a natural arch made of individual pieces. You can ask me the trillionth digit of pi. You can ask me for a resolution to the Social Security problem that will please all parties. I throw in the towel on each of these because none of them was my goal.

          You want to turn the conversation away from my arch example to the question of design, just like you want to turn the abortion question away from the spectrum argument to the question of where to draw the OK/not-OK line. This is because those are areas where you have something to say. Fair enough; perhaps we’ll get to those topics later. But let’s first reach agreement on the topic I’m talking about.

          Unless, of course, your dismissing this post is what it seems like it is—that you have nothing to say about it and are just granting that those arguments are valid. I doubt that’s what you intend, but that’s what it looks like.

          This is part of the reason I am convinced you either don’t understand the argument, or else you are attempting to dismiss it with very poor slight of hand intellectualism.

          No, I’m definitely sticking to the topic. Let’s reach agreement on the issue I’ve raised before finding something else to talk about.

      • Retro

        If I can’t demonstrate every step that the Egyptians used to build the pyramids, does that mean aliens must have done it?

        If so, I need to first show the evidence that aliens exist.

        If God does not exist, then He could not have designed things with irreducible complexity.

        Step one in your irreducible complexity argument should be proof that your God actually exists.

        How do we know it was YOUR God that did it, maybe it was a different god, or a group of gods?

        • Rick T

          For Retro, ID doesn’t make any statement about a specific God. Just that an intelligent cause is the best explanation for the apparent design that we see all around us. It attempts to go no farther, nor can it. ID simply makes the argument that complex design necessitates some intelligent causal agent, or designer. It is evidence, not proof, but reasonable and strong evidence that a designer exists. The identification of what God may be the intelligent designer is worth considering only once we all agree there is one. A far different topic. Thanks for bringing it up, though. Let us know when you are at the point of recognizing there is a designer, and we can discuss that designer’s identity.

          For Bob S., your responses don’t address what I raised. My comments were an attempt to better define the issues of that make up the ID argument, and your comments don’t address them in a substantive way. You simply tried to deflect the substance by saying you were focusing on a subpart of intelligent design concerning the “last piece.” As my discussion above clearly described, ID is not about the “addition of one piece.” it is about an entire subsystem in which NONE of the component parts have ANY function (let alone be candidates for natural selection) apart from the whole system being in place, finely tuned, and functioning to support a greater goal of an organism. So the discussion of the addition of a final piece is not a sufficient rebuttal of the concept of intelligent design. I didn’t dodge the issue. I told you what the ID argument was about.

          I won’t respond further to your rebuttal, since you didn’t address my attempt to help describe ID accurately, and further back and forth clearly won’t do accomplish that goal. I’ll let the other readers decide whether you even responded to my points, or whether you are moving the goalposts again.

          This is, unfortunately, too typical of conversations here. Bob makes an assertion, and others try to respond. He rebuts them with some redefinition of the original post and too often ignores the point of the rebuttal while changing the subject. Not very profitable once we get into arguing over points that are at best tangential and at worst complete side trips from the original discussion point. And they are not even remotely correlated with “clear thinking about Christianity.” They are some other kind of thinking by an atheist.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick T:

          For Bob S., your responses don’t address what I raised.

          If you’re saying that I’m dodging the intelligence part of your argument, you are correct. And sports and economics. I’m trying to focus on the original topic, while you’re desperately trying to change the subject.

          Instead of you wriggling away to talk about something else, I’d like to find agreement on the issue discussed in this post. After that, let’s talk about something new.

          ID is not about the “addition of one piece.”

          OK. The topic here is “irreducible complexity.” The title should’ve been your clue.

          If we’re on the same page with irreducible complexity, let me know so we can move on.

          So the discussion of the addition of a final piece is not a sufficient rebuttal of the concept of intelligent design. I didn’t dodge the issue. I told you what the ID argument was about.

          Dodge, avoid, whatever–since we’re talking about irreducible complexity, let’s resolve that issue first.

          I won’t respond further to your rebuttal, since you didn’t address my attempt to help describe ID accurately, and further back and forth clearly won’t do accomplish that goal. I’ll let the other readers decide whether you even responded to my points, or whether you are moving the goalposts again.

          Painting me as the bad guy when it was actually you who’s been struggling to change the subject, I see.

          Deliberate or inadvertent? I’ll let the other readers decide.

  • Rick T

    Another thought for Retro reference. “If I can’t demonstrate every step that the Egyptians used to build the pyramids, does that mean aliens must have done it?”

    No, but the design apparent in the pyramids DOES mean that an intelligent agent designed and implemented the building of the Pyramids. Would you disagree with that? The identification of the builder in no way jumps to God, Aliens or the flying spaghetti monster (in honor of Richard Dawkins’ favorite entity). It simply means there was such an entity. I would vote for smart Egyptians long before I’d jump to aliens, as the high priests of naturalism tend to do. Again, this is all ID attempts to demonstrate. Why in the world would you jump to aliens?

    • Retro

      I would vote for smart Egyptians long before I’d jump to aliens, as the high priests of naturalism tend to do.

      Why exactly? Are aliens more far fetched than smart Egyptians? Of course they are.

      Again, this is all ID attempts to demonstrate. Why in the world would you jump to aliens?

      Why in the world would you jump straight to God?

      • Rick T

        I didn’t. I jumped to smart Egyptians. We agree! Hooray!

        • Retro

          I didn’t. I jumped to smart Egyptians. We agree! Hooray!

          And when asked, “Where do smart Egyptians come from?”… you jump to God.

        • Rick T

          Reference Retro’s comment, “And when asked, “Where do smart Egyptians come from?”… you jump to God.”

          Jump? Not so! Science can’t take me there. Science demonstrates that a very orderly pile of rocks in the shape of a pyramid must be organized by a greater intelligence than the pile of rocks. It also tells me that no entity in existence is known to come from something less complex that the entity itself. So the smart Egyptians must have come from something an order of magnitude more complex then they are just as the pile of rocks came from a much more complex organizer (smart Egyptians).

          The identity of the organizer of the Egyptians is determined based on a whole range of evidence, but in no case would a rational thinker conclude objectively that the Egyptians came from random, undirected chance and the process of mutations yielding complexity.

          Why do you jump to the god of random chance, Darwinian processes and “natural selection?”

          Your faith is greater than mine.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick T:

          [Science] also tells me that no entity in existence is known to come from something less complex that the entity itself.

          … except for evolution. That’s the amazing thing about evolution–it explains how something more complex comes from something less.

          in no case would a rational thinker conclude objectively that the Egyptians came from random, undirected chance and the process of mutations yielding complexity.

          Agreed. But you throw in natural selection, and we’ve got evolution! Bingo–there’s your Egyptians.

          Your faith is greater than mine.

          A snappy tagline! Unfortunately, evolution is the scientific consensus. For the layman, that’s Game Over, I’m afraid.

        • Retro

          Rick T wrote: Science demonstrates that a very orderly pile of rocks in the shape of a pyramid must be organized by a greater intelligence than the pile of rocks. It also tells me that no entity in existence is known to come from something less complex that the entity itself.

          And of course, you have no problem with God Himself coming out of nowhere and not needing a more complex creator. How convenient.

          So the smart Egyptians must have come from something an order of magnitude more complex then they are just as the pile of rocks came from a much more complex organizer (smart Egyptians).

          We know that natural forces on a macro level do not self assemble stones into pyramids. Chemicals, however, do self assemble.

          Why do you jump to the god of random chance, Darwinian processes and “natural selection?”

          So you mock Dawkins for allegedly proposing panspermia, but your God proposal is really no different. Panspermia invokes a superior extraterrestrial biological existence, you invoke a superior extraterrestrial supernatural existence.

          Your faith is greater than mine.

          Oh ye of little faith…

          If it’s a bottom up design, then everything makes sense. Simple things can become more complex over time by natural processes.

          If it’s a top down design, then nothing is ever actually explained. Your Intelligent Design argument argues for the impossibility of evolution increasing complexity. The only way you can ever possibly support your argument is to give DIRECT evidence for your God claim. Without this evidence, your God claim is no different than any other claim about intelligent aliens from outer space.

          Jesus is a man, and is still physically alive, correct? If Jesus shows back up on Earth, you win the design argument hands down!

          Does it ever make you wonder why Jesus had to take off? Why is it that the best direct evidence you could ever possibly have flew up into the sky 2,000 years ago, not to be seen since? Why?

          What possible excuse is there for Jesus not being here physically on Earth? No one burst into flames in the presence of Jesus back then, so why can’t He show up today? Also, no one had their free will removed in the presence of Jesus back then, so why would it be any different today? Seriously, I want a good reason for the absence of the physical Jesus.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Retro:

          And of course, you have no problem with God Himself coming out of nowhere and not needing a more complex creator. How convenient.

          Dude, God is without cause by definition!

          Bam–pwned!!
          ;-)

  • Rick T

    “Wriggling away? … Struggling to change the subject?” REALLY, Bob??

    I’m going to ignore the rebuke and respond as gently but as clearly as possible. Remember, this is really my territory, Bob. I’ve been teaching end writing on this topic for over a dozen years, and I do get it.

    Let’s start in 1996. Michael Behe released his seminal book on intelligent design, “Darwin’s Black Box.” I don’t know exactly when, but certainly within a year of that time, I read the book and recommended it to you. As of our last discussion on that topic, (many years ago) you declined to read it. I think you said something like you didn’t have time for book length reading assignments. Have you done so yet? It has been at least ten years, so there has clearly been enough time for you to have read the book you are now critiquing in this blog post.

    Whether or not you did, you ought to understand that the central argument of intelligent design IS irreducible complexity. Since that is the topic of your blog, I assumed you understood it, and that is what I have been addressing. Behe goes to great lengths in the book to make clear that irreducible complexity is the crux of the argument. It essentially says that you can’t reduce the complexity at all in any single component without having the remaining components become absolutely incapable of contributing to the organism’s survival.

    Now your description, if I understand what you correctly, is that a system may be partially effective—at least enough to be selected for replication due to its improvement in the organism’s survivability. But the LAST piece (like the last stone in the arch) improves that survivability of the system, and therefore the organism. But this idea is not to be found in the ID discussion. In fact, this concept is specifically repudiated. That’s why your arch is such a poor example to use for discussing irreducible complexity.

    Behe uses the mousetrap as the extreme oversimplification of the concept. But it helps in understanding, so he uses it that way. A mousetrap with any of its component parts absent, poorly proportioned or improperly assembled will not catch LESS mice. It will catch NO mice. Hence an incomplete set of parts will not be preserved to wait for the last one to be in place. No natural selection will occur at all, because the function of catching mice can’t happen unless ALL of the parts appear as a unit. Then, and only then, is the function of the mousetrap—catching mice—possible.

    This leaves out of course, that the biological functions described by Behe are infinitely more complex than the mousetrap, are really subsystems inside larger systems of systems, are assembled correctly and are both properly proportioned and fully functional. And all the coding for the proteins and component parts is embedded in a set of essentially software-like information content and switching instructions we now know to be the genetic structure unique to each organism.

    Think of the complexity! It is really far more complicated than any computer software ever devised, yet it’s thought by naturalists, evolutionists and, dare I say, atheists, to have somehow sprung into existence. Whether it comes into existence by a single swoop or through multiple steps over time, it is a far more complex process than could ever be reasonably explained to have been random and undirected. And you still have to account for the supposed large step functions of evolutionary myth such as the Cambrian explosion.

    Bottom line–I reject your assertion that I am changing the subject and/or don’t understand the issues. The problem here is that you haven’t refuted the irreducible complexity argument that forms the basis for the intelligent design argument. In fact, you can’t even account for a far simpler structure, the arch in your example, except by intelligent intervention. And it isn’t coded in DNA or any other such software device. It doesn’t occur in nature, and can only be considered proof of intelligent agency involvement. In fact, if you found a Roman arch like you used in your picture on the Moon or Mars, we could both agree that some intelligent source put it there. Just like the obelisk in the movie “2001, A Space Odyssey,” it would provide convincing proof. And like your Roman arch, any time we find one, we assume that men (or really smart aliens!) were there to design and execute its construction.

    In your flagellum discussion, you imagine some process such as the removal of scaffolding maybe being the last piece of the construction puzzle. But like the arch, it still requires a design and manufacturing process, which are activities of an intelligent agent of some sort. So how does that refute ID or irreducible complexity? It just adds to the intelligence requirement.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I’ve been teaching end writing on this topic for over a dozen years, and I do get it.

      Granted, but “what is ID?” is very clearly not the topic on the table. I made that clear in the post, and I’ve repeated that in these comments. You get it, right? That when you come back and say, “You haven’t responded to any of my points supporting ID!!” you really haven’t been paying attention. Once more for good measure: ID isn’t the subject. Irreducible complexity as shown (or not) in the bacterial flagellum is the subject.

      As of our last discussion on that topic, (many years ago) you declined to read it.

      Partly correct. You and I were going through it chapter by chapter. We only got through the first couple, but this is different than “you declined to read it.”

      read the book you are now critiquing in this blog post.

      I hope that you now see how far off base this comment is.

      Since that is the topic of your blog, I assumed you understood it, and that is what I have been addressing.

      Have you? If so, you’re going to have to work with me. When I make clear that the topic is undercutting the flagellum argument for irreducible complexity and that’s it, don’t challenge me with “find us ONE example of a NATURALLY OCCURRING stone arch made of individual stones, not made by erosion (either wind or water).” In other words, don’t bring up intelligence in defense of ID when I mentioned neither intelligence nor ID.

      Antagonists very often try to change the subject when things get a little too hot for them. If this isn’t what you were trying to do, that’s great to hear. But let’s make sure that it doesn’t look like that’s what you were doing.

      It essentially says that you can’t reduce the complexity at all in any single component without having the remaining components become absolutely incapable of contributing to the organism’s survival.

      If I understand your point here, this was precisely the point I was attacking.

      if I understand what you correctly, is that a system may be partially effective—at least enough to be selected for replication due to its improvement in the organism’s survivability. But the LAST piece (like the last stone in the arch) improves that survivability of the system, and therefore the organism.

      I don’t know what you’re talking about, so no, I don’t think you understood the post.

      Hence an incomplete set of parts will not be preserved to wait for the last one to be in place.

      Obviously. And that wasn’t at all what I was talking about.

      it is a far more complex process than could ever be reasonably explained to have been random and undirected.

      (1) I didn’t see natural selection here. (2) It’s the scientific consensus. I’m afraid that’s checkmate from the standpoint of convincing the layman.

      In your flagellum discussion, you imagine some process such as the removal of scaffolding maybe being the last piece of the construction puzzle.

      Whaaa … ? You actually do understand the post? If so, why the roundabout trip through irrelevant points?!?

      Yes, the puzzle Behe raises is: how can the flagellum have evolved in small steps when removing any piece causes it to become junk? Translated: how can the arch have been put together piece by piece when removing any piece cause it to collapse?

      The answer is the same for both: the last step may not have been removing a piece of structure but removing a piece of scaffolding.

      But like the arch, it still requires a design and manufacturing process, which are activities of an intelligent agent of some sort.

      An interesting idea … that we can deal with after the point of the blog has been discussed.

  • Rick T

    Mea culpa. I obviously must have erred. If you understand irreducible complexity, you will also understand that it is the central defining argument of intelligent design. But since you didn’t use the term intelligent design, just substitute irreducible complexity for ID every time I used it. The re-read it and it will all be good, because the terms are essentially interchangeable in the literature. All better now?

    So the other mea culpa is that I clearly didn’t understand your point. Because you talked about the last piece, you talked about the unseen arch support, etc. I addressed these, but clearly not in a way that addressed what you were trying to say. So why don’t you give me a topic sentence since I clearly didn’t derive it from your essay. But I can tell you (again) that nothing you said refutes irreducible complexity. Maybe you can simplify it for me and just tell my why you think you did.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Irreducible complexity and ID don’t seem at all interchangeable to me, but, since we have far too much confusion in this conversation already, let’s drop that, keep the focus only on “irreducible complexity,” and focus on the quite narrow point I was making. I summarized my position in the last comment, but I’ll repeat it:

      The puzzle Behe raises is: how can the flagellum have evolved in small steps when removing any piece causes it to become junk? Translated: how can the arch have been put together piece by piece when removing any piece causes it to collapse?

      The answer is the same for both: the last step may not have been removing a piece of structure but removing a piece of scaffolding.

      But I can tell you (again) that nothing you said refutes irreducible complexity.

      Maybe not, but if you didn’t understand what I was saying, that claim seems hard to support!

      • Rick T

        Now that you have restated it, that is the very point I refuted. It is not a single last step, either seen or unseen (as in the support removed.) It is the necessity of a design and a designer totally outside of and superior to the thing being designed. That is what I refuted. That is what you have failed to explain. Again.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          that is the very point I refuted.

          Unfortunately, not in a way that’s clear to me.

          Behe made the interesting point that removing any piece of a flagellum makes it fail. So a flagellum with any piece missing could not a prior step in the evolution … so how does evolution explain it??

          He did make this point, right?

          If so, then my post rebutted this point.

          Please do not bring up “design” or “designer” or “intelligence” in the comments for this post because that is not what I’m talking about. If you’re tempted, take a deep breath and just say no.

  • Rick T

    Reference your comment, “A snappy tagline! Unfortunately, evolution is the scientific consensus. For the layman, that’s Game Over, I’m afraid.”

    Once again, you rely on the alleged consensus. Popularity over evidence. Show me the evidence that evolution increases complexity. I don’t care about a popularity contest. We are supposed to be discussing what IS, not what is popular, or claimed to be so. Show me that mutation ever increases complexity and adds new features to an organism. It’s never been demonstrated. (Hint: You can’t use bacterial adaptation. This idea has been thoroughly refuted. You can search for articles on the subject and they come up easily.)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Once again, you rely on the alleged consensus.

      I’ve provided the evidence. Your turn to make the case that evolution is not the scientific consensus.

      I don’t care about a popularity contest.

      Not quite what a scientific consensus is, but whatever. You’re saying that you ignore the scientific consensus in all cases? That you always decide yourself among competing scientific hypotheses?

      I think you flatter yourself that you have the appropriate expertise in all these fields. I guess it’s possible that you’re such a polymath that you can actually justify this stance, but you can’t be recommending this for the average American.

      • Rick T

        You didn’t provide evidence, you provided the assertion of consensus. 

        I’m not an expert on all subjects, including this one. But I’ve done enough research about it to be comfortable expressing an informed opinion. And as the little boy in the story pointed out, you don’t always have to be an expert to know the emperor has no clothes. If you disagree, perhaps it’s best to do so on the basis of refuting arguments rather than dismissing them on the basis of your assessment concerning the “expert status” of your fellow conversants. 

        Otherwise, we may be forced to ask what your qualifications are as an expert witness on the subject of atheism. Does your degree help with that? So let’s just stick to the discussions and avoid the ad hominem attacks.

        BTW, I’m not recommending anything to the average American. You’re the one with the blog encouraging them to think clearly about Christianity while you muddy the waters peddling your atheist confusion. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and I’m no expert.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          You didn’t provide evidence, you provided the assertion of consensus.

          Wrong again, I’m afraid. I provided evidence–statements from: American Association for the Advancement of Science; National Academy of Sciences; American Association for the Advancement of Science; National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council; National Science Teachers Association; Kenneth Ham, Institute for Creation Research; Jonathan Sarfati, Creation Ministries International; Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences; NewScientist magazine; editor in chief of Scientific American; American Scientific Affiliation: A Fellowship of Christians in Science; The Discovery Institute; and Research!America.

          These statements weren’t convincing the first time, so I can’t imagine they’ll do much this time.

          Since I’m failing at my task of proving this trivial assertion, why don’t you jump in with your evidence that evolution is not the consensus.

          I’ve done enough research about it to be comfortable expressing an informed opinion.

          Fair enough. But how this turns into a rejection of the scientific consensus is beyond me. Your informed opinion vs. the consensus of a branch of science? We agree that it’s no contest, but curiously we don’t agree on the outcome.

  • Rick T

    Reference Retro’s comment”We know that natural forces on a macro level do not self assemble stones into pyramids. Chemicals, however, do self assemble.”

    You are seriously comparing chemical reactions with assembling a pyramid? If so, there is no reason to continue discussing this as you are grasping at straws.

    “So you mock Dawkins for allegedly proposing panspermia… you invoke a superior extraterrestrial supernatural existence.”

    Yes, I was. And yes, I do. The superior extraterrestrial supernatural existence of the Bible actually left us some historic, archaeological and fulfilled prophecy evidence, and also a written record of eyewitnesses. (It’s called the Bible.) But I didn’t invoke it. You made up your own god, mutation and natural selection.

    “What possible excuse is there for Jesus not being here physically on Earth?”

    This is a red herring of your own making. I don’t see any reason to even respond to this silly diversion. So instead, why don’t you just go ahead and produce his body, so we can disprove the Biblical ascension story. Evidence, please? Eyewitness accounts of his burial (and provide the current location, please.)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      (I’m sure Retro will have some observations, but I thought I’d just jump in first with a few.)

      Retro:So you mock Dawkins for allegedly proposing panspermia.

      Rick T:Yes, I was.

      We’ve been over this. Ben Stein asked for any possible intelligent design for life on earth and Dawkins gave him panspermia. We don’t have evidence for this, but it’s an answer to a question.

      As for panspermia being proposed as a serious scientific idea, we’ve also been over the fact that panspermia doesn’t simply move the problem but actually expands the set of initial conditions for abiogenesis.

      Maybe you just forgot.

      The superior extraterrestrial supernatural existence of the Bible actually left us some historic, archaeological and fulfilled prophecy evidence, and also a written record of eyewitnesses. (It’s called the Bible.)

      That’s very weak evidence, but evidence nonetheless. But perhaps this is a topic for another thread.

      I don’t see any reason to even respond to this silly diversion.

      Silly diversion? The Problem of Divine Hiddenness is huge. The fact that Christianity looks identical to every other religion in that none of them actually has a god that you can observe is kind of a deal breaker.

      why don’t you just go ahead and produce his body, so we can disprove the Biblical ascension story. Evidence, please?

      You’d prefer not to shoulder your burden of proof? I can understand your reluctance, but that’s not how the game is played.

      • Rick T

        Wow again. You arbitrarily say my evidence is weak without saying why, and demand more evidence that you’ll also arrogantly and arbitrarily dismiss without refutation? And you want more without providing any of your own other than arguments that have been answered? 

        Not playing that game. Ball’s in your court. Evidence of mutation and natural selection increasing complexity? Standing by…

        BTW, it’s been so long since you and I discussed Behe’s book that I clearly forgot we had ever done so. But if you say so, I’ll assume you remember more than I do about the conversation. Did you ever finish it? Hopefully, yes, since you are writing about it. But if you had, it’s hard to understand why you don’t comprehend how thoroughly he refuted your arch analogy. 

        BTW again, in doing research, I discovered your arch analogy with a scaffolding being removed appears in 1985 by an author named AG Cairns-Smith. Did you mean to attribute that?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          So have we finally put to bed this panspermia question? I hope we’re on the same page. Doesn’t sound very controversial.

          You arbitrarily say my evidence is weak without saying why

          The day is short! One can only type so much. One could write a shelf-ful of books to respond to those topics.

          Yes, my response was quite terse and was only an assertion. (Ah, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could see the difference between an assertion and an argument backed by evidence.)

          … and demand more evidence that you’ll also arrogantly and arbitrarily dismiss without refutation?

          What did I demand evidence for?

          And you want more without providing any of your own other than arguments that have been answered?

          If you’re referring to your assertions (without evidence), yes I can respond to those. Probably best to do that in blog posts on those subjects. Don’t worry—those are all interesting topics that I’ll eventually get to.

          Evidence of mutation and natural selection increasing complexity? Standing by…

          Don’t hold your breath. You dismiss this evidence from the experts; why would you respect it from me?

          Did you ever finish it? Hopefully, yes, since you are writing about it.

          No, didn’t finish it. I’ve gotten my information about irreducible complexity from many sources.

          But if you had, it’s hard to understand why you don’t comprehend how thoroughly he refuted your arch analogy.

          You can’t give me a quick summary?

          BTW again, in doing research, I discovered your arch analogy with a scaffolding being removed appears in 1985 by an author named AG Cairns-Smith. Did you mean to attribute that?

          I’m not familiar with this prior reference. The arch example is not my own invention, obviously.

    • Retro

      Rick T: You are seriously comparing chemical reactions with assembling a pyramid? If so, there is no reason to continue discussing this as you are grasping at straws.

      Uh, yeah! Life is much more like a chemical reaction than it is a stone monument.

      This is a red herring of your own making. I don’t see any reason to even respond to this silly diversion.

      You call it a diversion, I call it a complete lack of evidence.

      I still want a good reason for the absence of the physical Jesus.

  • Rick T

    Reference your comments following, “that is the very point I refuted.” (Unfortunately, no REPLY option after this comment, so I am having to do it the old fashioned way.)

    “Unfortunately, not in a way that’s clear to me… Behe made the interesting point that removing any piece of a flagellum makes it fail. So a flagellum with any piece missing could not a prior step in the evolution … so how does evolution explain it??”

    No, he did not. He said without all of the component parts present at the start, there could be no flagellum function to be naturally selected. It may seem a trivial different, but it is a key point in the argument concerning irreducible complexity.

    “He did make this point, right?” No

    “If so, then my post rebutted this point.” No

    “Please do not bring up ‘design’ or ‘designer’ or ‘intelligence’ in the comments for this post because that is not what I’m talking about. If you’re tempted, take a deep breath and just say no’”

    Wow. I’m sure you’re not changing the rules of the game, or moving the goal posts. Because you wrote a blog about that and would never violate your own rules, right? But you ARE telling me what words I can and can’t use? Seriously? Where is that in the reasonable discussion handbook?

    As for irreducible complexity, I’ve never seen the phrase used except as a support argument necessitating the existence of some entity you don’t want me to refer to as an [intelligent designer.] But you and Retro can happily trot out Dawkins’ flying spaghetti monster as if doing so is equally valid in comparison to irreducible complexity’s evidentiary value.

    If this is the best you can offer (not good enough, try again) in response to my four separate substantive descriptions of irreducible complexity during this conversation, then I can’t offer a response that will satisfy you. 

    So I’ll put the ball back in your court. Show me evidence that natural selection following mutation can increase complexity. Because if irreducible complexity and the necessity of a creator is NOT the way it happened, it isn’t enough to say so unless you have a better answer. But mutation and natural selection can’t carry that water. 

    And since we are barring terms, may I suggest consensus? You haven’t proven that to be the case, and popularity doesn’t determine truth anyway. 

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Unfortunately, no REPLY option after this comment, so I am having to do it the old fashioned way.

      The nesting only goes to 3 or 4 levels. To reply that that thread, just scroll up to find the Reply button.

      Or, starting a new thread works fine, too.

      “He did make this point, right?” No

      Then I have no idea how to proceed. Your arguments are off target, and when I try to identify the target, we don’t get anywhere.

      But you ARE telling me what words I can and can’t use? Seriously?

      It has indeed come to that. When I’m talking about something and you’re off in La La Land talking about who knows what, livid that I am not responding properly to your points, I don’t know what else to suggest.

      As for irreducible complexity, I’ve never seen the phrase used except as a support argument necessitating the existence of some entity you don’t want me to refer to as an [intelligent designer.]

      Not that I have any hope that this particular conversation will ever get off the ground, but the thing to do would be to respond very closely on exactly what I said. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this a couple of times already, but perhaps the third time’s the charm.

      Yes, I understand how the intelligent designer might be behind something that looks designed, but that’s Step 2. Let’s try to wrap up Step 1 first. What we’re trying to avoid is the appearance that you don’t feel comfortable responding to what I’m saying so you try to wriggle away. This isn’t your goal, I’m sure. In that case, let’s work together.

      If this is the best you can offer (not good enough, try again) …

      No, not “not good enough, try again.” Rather: “Please, please for the sweet love of Loki, respond to what I’ve said and nothing more!” Most of your responses have been on target, but not this one. I don’t know why the blog post wasn’t clear, and I’ve summarized it twice more. For some reason you won’t respond directly to that.

      So I’ll put the ball back in your court. Show me evidence that natural selection following mutation can increase complexity.

      Nope. I don’t have the expertise to do an effective job.

      And this is a fool’s errand anyway, isn’t it? The evidence from the entire field of Biology wouldn’t change your mind.

      And since we are barring terms, may I suggest consensus? You haven’t proven that to be the case, and popularity doesn’t determine truth anyway.

      I’ve already responded to this. I asked you to argue that evolution is not the scientific consensus. A separate issue that I’d find interesting is your reasoning for why you never feel bound by a scientific consensus.

    • Retro

      Rick T: So I’ll put the ball back in your court. Show me evidence that natural selection following mutation can increase complexity. Because if irreducible complexity and the necessity of a creator is NOT the way it happened, it isn’t enough to say so unless you have a better answer. But mutation and natural selection can’t carry that water.

      Which SHOULD be easier to prove, the naturalistic explanation, or the supernatural explanation?

      As long as you attempt to prove God by simply disproving Evolution, you’re going to fail. Any lack of evidence for my claim does not equal evidence for your claim.

      Why can’t you show me your god? Is your god so wispy and faint that the only way to actually see him is against the backdrop of a scientific uncertainty?

      You yourself said it isn’t enough to say that isn’t the way it happened unless you have a better answer… so I’m asking you for a better answer.

      • Rick Townsend

        Good segway. Since the only examples we have of complex creations where we know the source all involve intelligent designers, we conclude that the most reasonable explanation is an intelligent designer where we don’t know the source. I provided examples such as the obelisk on the Moon in the movie “2001: a Space Odyssey.” What would you conclude if we found a Roman arch on the Moon or Mars? Random chance and undirected forces, or an intelligent source? Your answer to that question will answer the rest.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick T:

          We guess intelligence for an arch or obelisk because we have myriad examples of intelligence creating arches and obelisks. There’s no dispute about this. We’re all on the same page–arches and obelisks have intelligent causes.

          Another rather obvious data point is that we have zero agreed-to supernatural causes of anything.

          You can say, “Hey, this arch on Mars is just like manmade arches back on Earth.”

          Now, complete this sentence: “The flagellum has a supernatural cause just like …”

        • Rick Townsend

          Reference your challenge: “Now, complete this sentence: ‘The flagellum has a supernatural cause just like …’ ”

          Thanks for the softball. As I’ve already told you, science can’t make a pronouncement on this topic. But we CAN say the flagellum has a CAUSE … like everything else we see that has complexity. The cause must be more complex than the thing caused, and it must be able to conceive of the plan and execute it. Like the Roman arch, which has a plan and we are confident that a planner executed the plan, the flagellum appears to be to complex (actually irreducibly complex) and therefore needs some entity to make it appear where it did not before.

          The cause can’t be known to be supernatural by means of direct observation or by science. It can only be known to be complex.

          As for your absurd demand to avoid certain terms, the elephant in the room in this discussion is that there is a cause for everything we see. If this topic is under the category of “clear thinking about Christianity,” then the only real reason to discuss irreducible complexity is because it has some relevance to whether there is a need for some entity capable of inventing and executing an irreducibly complex plan. And as I have stated, the arch is a much simpler example of such complexity, and we KNOW it has a planner and a builder. It doesn’t matter how finely you want to slice your rhetorical nuance in the original article. The only reason anyone may even faintly care about the topic is its relevance to whether or not there is a cause greater than ourselves that brought about complexity.

          But no one but us is reading this far down, anyway. Just out of curiosity, if anyone but Bob S.is reading this far down, send me an email at HS.Subscribed@GMail.com. I’m not sure beating my head against the wall after this many back and forth exchanges is worth the effort.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          The cause must be more complex than the thing caused, and it must be able to conceive of the plan and execute it.

          And isn’t that the most marvelous part of evolution? It showed how complexity could come from something simpler.

          Like the Roman arch, which has a plan and we are confident that a planner executed the plan…

          Yes. We have much evidence that an intelligence was behind every Roman arch.

          … the flagellum appears to be to complex (actually irreducibly complex) and therefore needs some entity to make it appear where it did not before.

          Like what? What entity do we know that created any flagellum? We have precedents for the arch. What’s the precedent for the flagellum?

          The cause can’t be known to be supernatural by means of direct observation or by science. It can only be known to be complex.

          Let’s see what science shows us: there is an intelligent entity that builds flagella. Since humans can’t do this, what do you have in mind? I guess smart aliens or something supernatural? But then that brings us (yet again) back to the question: what precedents make this plausible?

          As for your absurd demand to avoid certain terms

          No, my “absurd demand” is to address the topic at hand. I know it’s dictatorial, but there you have it.

          the elephant in the room in this discussion is that there is a cause for everything we see.

          At a macro level, that’s reasonable, but it doesn’t work that way at the quantum level. Many events and things are causeless.

          The only reason anyone may even faintly care about the topic is its relevance to whether or not there is a cause greater than ourselves that brought about complexity.

          A relevant topic. And maybe we could move on to that if you’d ever address the original question. Or maybe you’re simply acknowledging its validity by your desire to move on.

          But no one but us is reading this far down, anyway. Just out of curiosity, if anyone but Bob S.is reading this far down, send me an email at HS.Subscribed@GMail.com. I’m not sure beating my head against the wall after this many back and forth exchanges is worth the effort.

          The email address you left won’t work. Maybe WordPress changed it?

          (My bad–never mind.)

  • Rick Townsend

    Reference your consensus comment: No one is reading this far into the discussion but you and me. Why don’t you make it a future blog post and we can address it there?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Good idea, thanks.

  • Bob Calvan

    “And isn’t that the most marvelous part of evolution? It showed how complexity could come from something simpler.”

    Huh? Bob this kind of evolution has NEVER been observed. Bob Neo Darwinian micro mutational evolution has never been observed. There is no science behind it..It is a philosophical argument.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The Big Bang has also NEVER been observed. And yet we’re stuck with both the Big Bang and evolution as part of the scientific consensus.

      Game over.

      • Rick Townsend

        You like the phrase “game over.” You apparently do not like the phrase, “show me the evidence.” As in evidence for mutations EVER increasing complexity. And there are a number of creation models out there competing with big bang. The jury’s still out, and the the final answer is not in. According to your consensus god, the world was once flat.

        Game on.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Your asking me to demonstrate the validity of evolution is like your asking me to fly a plane. I guess it’s flattering, but I can’t.

          You want me to prove evolution? I willingly and cheerfully say: I can’t. I’m just not up to it. I know my limitations. Why you would come to me instead of, y’know, biologists is beyond me.

          Sure, I could point out some things that I’ve learned, but if you’ve heard them before, they won’t impress you simply because I said them, and if they’re new to you, I can’t imagine that would impress you either.

          One conversation we can have, if you want, is how you argue that you’re being reasonable when you reject the scientific consensus.

        • Rick Townsend

          I didn’t ask for proof. Just a single example. You can’t. Games not over.

          We can discuss consensus when you post a new blog. I have an answer I’ve given before that you reject. But that’s OK. I’m patient and will give it to you again.

          Finished the book, BTW. Will send you a review but likely not post it anywhere. Short story—your writing is great, but your argumentation style is laborious and repetitive. Maybe you should write a novel without the heavy drumbeat of atheistic baggage?

        • Retro

          Maybe you should write a novel without the heavy drumbeat of atheistic baggage?

          Would you say this to someone who wrote a book with a heavy theistic drumbeat?

  • Rick Townsend

    Sorry, I really did not want to get into a book review here. If you want to discuss that, you may use my media email, HS.Subscribed@GMail.com. My comments to Bob should have been made off this site.

    Another apology. Christians do make such things…

  • Bob Calvan

    The Big Bang has also NEVER been observed. And yet we’re stuck with both the Big Bang and evolution as part of the scientific consensus.

    Big bang needs a big banger

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Snappy! But once again, I’m afraid that your apologetic role models have left you blanks as ammunition.

      A Big Bang needs a big banger? That’s your argument that a supernatural being (of which we have no prior example) created everything? How about we look to nature? Most everything else seems explainable within nature–why should this be the exception?

      Yours is a remarkable claim. I’m not seeing the evidence.

      And if the Big Bang needs a big banger, do the clouds need a cloud maker? Salt crystals forming as a solution evaporates–do they need a crystal maker? Ripples on the beach need a ripple maker?

      I’ve got a thought … maybe they’re all just natural.

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  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    From my view, Behe has been arguing from Irrefutable Perplexity, i.e. “What I say is right because you can’t show it is wrong, and what you say is wrong because I don’t see how it could be right.”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Brilliant!

      • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

        Thanks, Bob. It’s from an old blog post.