On a sun-scorched plateau known as Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, California, rocks of all sizes glide across the desert floor. Some of the rocks accompany each other in pairs, which creates parallel trails even when turning corners so that the tracks left behind resemble those of an automobile. Other rocks travel solo the distance of hundreds of meters back and forth along the same track. Sometimes these paths lead to its stone vehicle, while other trails lead to nowhere, as the marking instrument has vanished.
Some of these rocks weigh several hundred pounds. That makes the question: “How do they move?” a very challenging one. The truth is no one knows just exactly how these rocks move. No one has ever seen them in motion. So, how is this phenomenon explained?
A few people have reported seeing Racetrack Playa covered by a thin layer of ice. One idea is that water freezes around the rocks and then wind, blowing across the top of the ice, drags the ice sheet with its embedded rocks across the surface of the playa. Some researchers have found highly congruent trails on multiple rocks that strongly support this movement theory. Other suggest wind to be the energy source behind the movement of the roving rocks.
The point is that anyone’s guess, prediction, speculation is as good as that of anyone else. All these predictions are testable and falsifiable by simply setting up instrumentation to monitor the movements of the rocks. Are any of these predictions an argument from ignorance? No. As long as the inquisitive examiner makes an effort to determine the answer, this is a perfectly valid scientific endeavor.
The argument from ignorance would only apply when someone gives up, and just draws a conclusion without any further attempt to gain empirical data. It is not a logic fallacy in and of itself on the sole basis that there is a gap of knowledge as to how the rocks moved from Point A to Point B. The only logic fallacy would be to draw a conclusion while resisting further examination. Such is not the case with irreducible complexity. The hypothesis has endured 17 years of laboratory research by molecular biologists, and the research continues to this very day.
An irreducibly complex system is one that (a) the removal of a protein renders the molecular machine inoperable, and (b) the biochemical structure has no stepwise evolutionary pathway.
Here’s how one would set up examination by using gene knockout, reverse engineering, study of homology, and genome sequencing:
I. To CONFIRM Irreducible Complexity:
1. The molecular machine fails to operate upon the removal of a protein.
2. The biochemical structure has no evolutionary precursor.
II. To FALSIFY Irreducible Complexity:
1. The molecular machine still functions upon loss of a protein.
2. The biochemical structure DOES have an evolutionary pathway.
The 2 qualifiers make falsification easier, and confirmation more difficult.
The reason why the irreducible complexity hypothesis is logically valid is because there is no attempt to base the prediction that certain biochemical molecular machinery are irreducibly complex based upon absence of evidence. If this were so, then the critics would be correct. But, this is not the case. Instead, the irreducible complexity hypothesis requires research, such as various procedures in molecular biology as (a) gene knockout, (b) reverse engineering, (c) examining homologous systems, and (d) sequencing the genome of the biochemical structure. The gene knockout procedure was used by Scott Minnich in 2004-2005 to show that the removal of any of the proteins of a bacterial flagellum will render that bacteria incapable of motility (can’t swim anymore).
When the hypothesis of irreducible complexity is tested in the lab using any of the procedures directly noted above, an obvious thorough investigation is conducted that demonstrates evidence of absence. There is a huge difference between absence of evidence and evidence of absence. One is a logic fallacy while the other is an empirically generated result, a scientifically valid quantity that is concluded upon thorough examination. So, depending upon the analysis, you can prove a negative.
Evidence of Absence
Here’s an excellent example as to why irreducible complexity is logically valid, and not an argument from ignorance. If I were to ask you if you had change for a dollar, you could say, “Sorry, I don’t have any change.” If you make a diligent search in your pockets to discover there are indeed no coins anywhere to be found on your person, then you have affirmatively proven a negative that your pockets were empty of any loose change. Confirming that you had no change in your pockets was not an argument from ignorance because you conducted a thorough examination and found it to be an affirmatively true statement. Read more here.