Intelligent Design Question

Discussion in 'Biology & Genetics' started by mathman, Nov 24, 2005.

  1. c'est moi all is energy and entropy Registered Senior Member


    yeah I saw this article long ago

    I'm only concerned with the first part though - the one which tackles the concept of irreducible systems:

    I fail to see where this man has proven the concept to be logically wrong. He is the one that misses the point. The fact is that the concept of an irreducible system cannot be 'disproved'. You can apply it on biological systems (as he does further, and others have done) and show them not to be irreducible. If no biological system is shown irreducible, it is an irrelevant concept for understanding their origin.

    Take the mousetrap (yet again

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    ): if you can't make it work without a base - whether it be wood, a floor, etc. then it must be irreducibly complex. A human being was the intelligent agent that assembled it. Mr. Robison is absolutely wrong in claiming that it is not irreducible complex simply because he can make a base-free mousetrap. It isn't base-free. He uses the floor as a base. Using a different element (like the floor here) does not make a system different in its interactions. The whole point here is the number of parts and the kinds of interactions fulfilling a certain goal.

    In systems you must look for the nature of the interactions between the parts. The nature of the parts themselves can be important, but they won't fully explain the general prinicple(s) of a system.
    For example, I could also change the hammer by a different thing, like a spoon, and claim that it is clear that a mousetrap is not irreducible. Then no system can ever be irreducible because we can always substitute one part with another. This is circular reasoning. The point is not whether there can be substitution, but if all parts must be present. If a complex system uses 100 vital parts, then you'll always need 100 parts. How can a system with a certain goal (or goals), which needs a fixed number of components to accomplish this, arrise through substitution? It can't. The mouse trap is clearly such a system. It cannot arrise by changing from floor to wooden base.

    Furthermore, the concept of irreducible complexity is not useless. (I'm not interested in the secret agenda of Behe or other ID'ers. Let this be clear ). It makes you think about the nature of systems and their origins. It doesn't necessarily makes you ignorant like Robison claims. It is also a tool of falsification for those who believe all biological systems have arisen through evolution without intelligent agents. It's a pitty that it comes from a man like Behe. Otherwise it may have gotten the proper attention it deserves.

    Does anyone here knows about simulations of the evolution of biological systems that have been conducted?
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  3. SkinWalker Archaeology / Anthropology Moderator

    It actually originates from Darwin, believe it or not. In his Origin of Species (1859: 191), Darwin writes that if there existed an organ or organism that could not have been formed by "numerous, successive, slight modifications," the "theory [of evolution] would absolutely break down." Behe and others have obviously read this and used it as their weapon against science. The anti-science community called it 'irreducible complexity' and declared that there were systems that could not have evolved because the removal of just one part would cause the entire system to fail (Behe 1996; 2002). Behe, and other anti-science types, have cited the bacterial flagellum as one of the several systems that fit this mold.

    Other systems cited by Behe include the vertebrate blood clotting cascade and eukaryotic cilium, but the bacterial flagellum is the most significant it would seem. Homologous to the basal region of the bacterial flagellum is a mechanism known as a type-III secretory system (TTSS), which transmits toxins to the cells of bacterial hosts. It's been demonstrated that the TTSS remains completely functional even with most of the parts of the flagellum itself. The research (Aizawa 2001; Briggs et al 2004; McNab 2004; Yonekura 2000) wasn't conducted with the desire to disprove so-called 'irreducible complexity,' but rather the need to better understand the nature of bacteria.

    With regard to the cascade system of clotting blood, Behe says the following (1996, 84-86):
    Factor XII, mentioned in the quote above, initiates the cascade. If Behe is correct, the absence of this protein would result in blood that doesn't clot. Yet, dolphins don't have it (Robinson, Kasting & Aggeler 1969). Their blood clots just fine. Neither factor XII nor prekallikrein are present in the puffer fish (Jiang & Doolittle 2003).

    The concept of 'irreducible complexity' is, indeed, useless for offering any sort of logical explanation. Analogies of mousetraps and other machines are irrelevant. These are demonstrably designed systems and are not being suggested to be created by nature. Nature does, however, have its own "mouse traps" with systems of predator-prey organisms, but none have been demonstrated to be 'irreducibly' complex in any way. I challenge anyone here to show a natural system or organism that cannot operate without all of its parts.


    Aizawa, S.-I. (2001). Bacterial flagella and type III secretion systems, FEMS Microbiology Letters, 202 (2), 157-164.

    Behe, M. (1996). Darwin's Black Box. New York: The Free Press.

    Behe, M. (2002). The challenge of irreducible complexity. Natural History 111 (April), 74.

    Briggs, L.J.; Davidge, J.A.; Wickstead, B.; Ginger, M.L.; Gull, K. (2004) More than one way to build a flagellum: comparative genomics of parasitic protozoa. Current Biology, 14 (15), R611-R612.

    Darwin, C. (1872). The Origin of Species (6th edition). London: Oxford University Press.

    McNab, R. M. (2004). Type III flagellar protein export and flagellar assembly. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Molecular Cell Research 1694 (1-3) 207-217.

    Jiang, Y. and Doolittle, R.F. (2003). The evolution of vertebrate blood coagulation as viewed from a comparison of puffer fish and sea squirt genomes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100 (13), 7527-7532.

    Robinson, A. J., M. Kropatkin, and P. M. Aggeler (1969). Hagemann Factor (Factor XII) Deficiency in Marine Mammals. Science, 166, 1420-1422.

    Yonekura, K., S. Maki, D. G. Morgan, D. J. DeRosier, F.Vonderviszt, K.Imada, and K. Namba (2000). The Bacterial Flagellar Cap as the Rotary Promoter of Flagellin Self-Assembly, Science, 290 (5499), 2148-2152.
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  5. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

    For simulations, look up I think it is called Avida(???) various computer simulations have been carried out, and they seem pretty good, and confirm or even wildly exceed their writers expectations.

    The problem with your claim taht ireeducible complexity is useful is that it is just s specific statement of something that was covered decades ago and is still being covered today, namely that the bioogists have already been thinking about origins. If, as you say, Irreducible complexity is just another way of asking questions about origins, it is asking questions which have already been asked, and already, as skinwalker points out in his post, been answered.

    And as for falsification, it is a tool, but not one in the way you seem to be using it.

    Moreover, whilst it is probably impossible to prove that every biological reaction etc is not irreducably complex, it is also hard to prove that they are. What ID proponents should be doing is trying to find processes that thay cannot break down in any way possible, then they would have the beggining, and note, only the beggining, of scientific evidence for their position. Instead, what they have done is say "this is too complex to have evolved, if you take away this it doesnt work", without actually doing any lab work. Whereupon the scientists take away X, and find that it does work.
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  7. c'est moi all is energy and entropy Registered Senior Member

    Then why do we have such a protein? Will our blood still clot after removing it? If not, then the clotting system of dolphins is different from ours.

    I can't follow here. Or is there a typo? Shouldn't it be "...functional even WITHOUT most of the parts of the flagellum itself."

    What has this to do with the flagellum example of Behe? He says it works like a motor and taking any part of it will make it cease to function. I fail to see the connection with a homologous system to its basal region, which has a completely different task.

    I don't agree. For example, understanding how to deal with a certain ecosystem requires one to know the way it is organised. It is the study of a system. We all know that ecosystems are fragile and that we must be carefull not removing vital parts of it - or add something that may damage one of them. Therefore, studying biological systems in the same way is not useless I think. They have a balance they need as well. To challenge the idea of fine-tuned systems to have evolved through tiny steps is IMO a good thing. Heylighen et. al view evolution through the glasses of cybernetics and systems theory, and acknowledge that the neo-darwinian theory alone is unsufficient to explain the emergence of complex systems ( It is a mistake to look at the person behind objections (in this case creationists).

    Whereas the mousetrap is a good example for explaining the concept of irreducible systems, I think it tends to deflect our attention from reality also. As usual, the reality is not black-white. There is a wider range of possibilities for biological systems in which to be placed - going from highly adaptive (and thus easier to reason how it evolved) to a point where a system has a specific goal and needs a fixed number of parts to fulfill that goal. I think the latter is a system which is stuck (in a valley of fitness). My interest is to know how such vital parts got together--at the right time and moment and why they didn't disappear as soon as they came into being. I'm interested to know what has been published on this ...

    Guthrie, thank you for that tip. Avida seems a great project ( For example:

    The Evolution of Sex

    The origins and maintenance of sex and recombination are poorly understood, even though sexual organisms are found virtually everywhere in the biological world. We are exploring many of the proposed theories about the evolution of sex by testing them in Avida. We have started this line of research with a study of the Muller's ratchet hypothesis, which states that recombination can help restore unmutated genomes when a mutation rate would otherwise be too high for the population to survive. We have found that sex does indeed contribute to survival under strong genetic drift for a narrow range of conditions [Misevic04]. In our current project, we are studying hypotheses that relate the importance of sex to changing environmental conditions.
    Researchers: Misevic, Lenski and Ofria

    This is one of the things that I wonder about: how does the first specimen emerge from asexual to sexual + finding its other needed partner to reproduce? It seems absurd. Things like Avida should shed light on such issues.

    Yes but mainly with a reductionistic approach. Or is there a general trend of change in this respect?
  8. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

    In plain language, the point is partly that the flagellum is not like a motor at all. If you can look at a picture of its actual structure, you'll see that it doesnt work like any motor we humans use. Then if you take away bits of it or the genes that form it, it does still have some functionality, not, as Behe would like to imply, no functionality at all. Therefore, especially lokoing at it from this end, back over how it probably evolved, it can be seen to be likely to have evolved. A creature with some form of locomotion could do better than its fellow who have none at all. Evolution is all about relative superiority, not absolute superiority.

    However, the problem with talking about goals, is that nobody has been able to specify one for evolution. Obviously, many religious people would say that humans are the end goal of evolution, in fact, humans as they are in the 21st century are clearly the end point of evolution. But they have no real scientific evidence for this. All they have is belief in a supernatural entity.

    Well, if you want to know exaclty what happened, we cant help you. If you want some likely examples of how these things happened, ask the scientists. Alright, some will insist their way is absolutely correct, but they are only human after all.
    So, anyway, my opinion is that the change from asexual to sexual reproduciton was somewhat slow, and probably had an overlap period where beasties could do either. In fact I think there are some moulds or small primitive plants that can use either method as they see fit. So, again, there neednt be any definite problem with it.

    But can you explain to me what the non reductionist approach using specified complexity is? I am not sure you can. Science has indeed proceeded reductively, because, especially when applied to machines etc, (Which Behe seems to want us to be) it works well. However, with the study of things like ecosystems, it has become apparent that simple reductionism is not enough, indeed, many scientists are crossing boundaries of areas of studies, into bio-informatics, or look at research into chaos theory and self organisation amongst enzymes and stuff.
  9. c'est moi all is energy and entropy Registered Senior Member

    Thank you for clarifying the flagellum part.

    I know fitness is a difficult thing to define, but don't most scientists agree that this is the "goal" of natural evolution? Of course, the goal is simply created by pressure from the environment (as all biological life is an open system).

    I was actually talking about a system approach like in the movement the biologist von Bertalanffy started. In mechanical engineering, system theory is an important part of the program, it isn't in biology classes (as far as I know). Even if machines are to be understood through reductionisme (and still that's not true, as far as I am aware, there's a lot of cybernetic teachings given in this field), if you want to do something with machines within a larger system (such as a factory, which is connected to other factories, suppliers of etc.) you will need system theory. Likewise, I don't think we can understand organisms without such an approach. And that includes their change over time (evolution). Yet, seldom do you encounter the word system within evolutionists publications. SO that was my question: is there a change?
  10. SkinWalker Archaeology / Anthropology Moderator

    Yes. Patients with a deficiency of Factor XII do have blood that clots. I'd venture to say that many people go through life, if not now, certainly in the past, without ever knowing they were missing the protein.

    So here we have yet another 'irreducible complexity' debunked.

    Yes, it was indeed a typo. I think I had two sentance structures in my head when I wrote that: the one you suggested above as well as, "...even with most of the parts of the flagellum itself REMOVED." Some hybrid, and obviously wrong, version resulted. My apologies for failing to effectively proof-read and thank you for pointing out the error.

    The TTSS is homologous to the basal region of the flagellum, therefore it is part of the system itself. Removing 1, 2 even 8 or 10 parts of the flagellum have resulted in a fully functional TTSS. Indeed, Aizawa cited above (2001) suggests the Type-III secretory system was the progenitor of the flagellum itself. In other words, there was already a predator in existence which evolved a method of propulsion.

    Disagree all you want. The comparisson is flawed: man-made objects such as mousetraps are clearly designed and their 'irreducible complexity' isn't in question. Natural systems, however, are not irreducibly complex and all show very clear examples of evolution at work, such as the TTSS with it's evolved propulsion system.

    Another flaw, a serious one, with the "intelligent" design nonsense is that it falls into its own trap of 'irreducible complexity.' Any "designer" capable of designing irreducible complex natural systems must be far more complex. Who designed the designer? Indeed, if there *is* a "designer," it was *very* inefficient in designing systems that could not evolve.
  11. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

    well, the thing is that goal implies it is decided beforehand, it is being aimed at. Whereas the process of natural selection and mutation etc has not got any goal in mind. The less fit fail to reproduce, so the end result looks like it is aimed, but in fact it is not.
    As for open systems, you might be getting them confused. When I think of open systems I think of energy and matter passing through them, but the organisation pattern stays roughly the same. What did you have in mind?

    A quick google turns up things like this:,11855,4-40546-22-1518877-0,00.html

    "Models help us understand the nonlinear dynamics of real-world processes by using the computer to mimic the actual forces that are known or assumed to result in a system's behavior. The complexity of biological systems, from cells to ecosystems, are particularly well suited to this method because the feedback processes governing them have made it difficult to identify natural laws describing their behavior."

    As far as I know, biologists have indeed spent plenty of time breaking things down to their component parts. Now, with computers and DNA techniques etc, they are busy building things back up again. Stuff about physiology might not spring to mind as systems thinking, but to my mind it is, say for example what is the effect of nitrous oxide in the body?
  12. Hercules Rockefeller Beatings will continue until morale improves. Moderator

    Yay! Some informed support from an unexpected source.....

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    <blockquote>"Intelligent design" not science: Vatican paper

    PARIS (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church has restated its support for evolution with an article praising a U.S. court decision that rejects the "intelligent design" theory as non-scientific.</blockquote><P>
  13. leopold Valued Senior Member

    evolution is not abiogenesis.
  14. spuriousmonkey Banned Banned

    ID is not a scientific theory
  15. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

    woo-woos and fundamentalists are not as much fun as they used to be.
  16. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

    Naw, your just getting bored.

    There are only a finite number of really good fundamentalists and creationists, if you want an example go check out the "pandas thumb" ( website, look for one called "Ghost of paley", he is really good, it usually takes a proper evolutionary biologist to show him where to get off. If you want a good but ultimately painful laugh, go visit Bill Dembskis blog, "Uncommon dissent", which has been turned over to various anti evolutionary cranks. Its so sickly funny, slow motion train wreck like that a thread on the Pandas thumb forum has been titled "Uncommon pissant" and devoted to talking about Dembskis blog.

    Anyway, its reached the stage where someone on Pharyngula pointed out that I should, when replying to creationist letters in newspapers, merely say "Your arguments have already been countered here:, numbers 34, 2 and 58."
    Why bother replying at length when they recycle the same arguments?
  17. leopold Valued Senior Member

    who, me?
    the last time i posted in here i got my shit kicked out
    this time i escaped with my skin still on my back and my teeth in my mouth.
  18. guthrie paradox generator Registered Senior Member

    Well, if your willing to admit that, you may not be a woo woo or a fundamentalist at all. One of their defining features is that they take a beating and come back for more, because they cant tell when they are losing. For example, the Dover trial was a powerful blow for ID, but hasnt put its proponents off at all.
  19. leopold Valued Senior Member

    i learned looooooong ago.
  20. Mythbuster Mushroomed Registered Senior Member


    Pat Robertson calling for assassination of Pope in 3...2...1...
  21. quadraphonics Bloodthirsty Barbarian Valued Senior Member

    I'm sure Pat Robertson is already on record somewhere condemning the Pope. Evangelicals like Catholics even less than they like biologists.

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