Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Response to Claim That ID Theory Is An Argument from Incredulity


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. 

Roving Rocks

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.

Most all statements of non-belief are arguments from incredulity. Nothing wrong with that. I find the claim of man-caused global warming to be incredulous because the advocates of it haven't provided enough evidence to convince me. The same goes for the claim that the origin of species is caused by means of natural selection. Mr. Dawkins coined the phrase "argument from incredulity" and his rejection of the belief in God is an argument from incredulity. Again, nothing wrong with that. Actually, most all claims I read in the news I don't fully believe because I find them incredulous. The burden of proof is always on the one making the claim. StuartHarris
I expected a red herring about magical fairies moving the rocks by now. The ID-critics must be slacking. Phinehas
I read the article but they give three options for why the rocks move. So they are saying nothing about the truth. It shows how different hypothesis can be held by "scientists" but theor is not arrived until practical evidence from experimentation or something. Evolution likewise is just a hypothesis and not yet a theory because it has done NO experimentation. Saying you think the hypothesis of evolution is not accurate is NO more a rejection of science then rejecting at least two of the options here for the moving rocks. I'm not sure about the ice thing. It is the wind doing quickly the work but the path seems unlikely if it was lifted by the rocks. I still think lift is possibly a option other then ice or slippery mud. It is a flat enclosed area. Robert Byers
Well tearfang, I find this following article gets the gist of the (just another) theory across more clearly than the video did (plus it has experimental support),,
Ice offers possible explanation for Death Valley's mysterious 'self-moving' rocks February 17, 2011 Excerpt: The winds required to move rocks in this way would seem to be at the level of 100 mph or more. Ralph Lorenz, a scientist at Johns Hopkins University, offers a new explanation. The rocks are actually lifted up by the ice, or at least made more buoyant by the ice, making it easier for the rocks to migrate. If the rocks are moving about on ice rafts, the ground below cannot offer as much resistance against their motion and the winds needed for movement wouldn't have to be as great, he argued. So why hasn't the motion been observed? " Movement happens for only tens of seconds, at intervals spaced typically by several years," said Lorenz. "This would demand exceptional patience as well as luck." So, the rocks are probably traveling on the coldest and windiest days that occur over a period of several years. The most likely time would be in the very early dawn. Little wonder no one is around to witness the event. Lorenz and his colleagues would like to install inexpensive time-lapse monitoring of the Playa area, using digital cameras. The lakebed is about 2.5 miles long and 1.25 miles wide. They have also performed some laboratory tests by blowing on ice-assisted rocks. These simple tests support the ice-raft hypothesis. The results appear in the January 2011 issue of the American Journal of Physics. http://phys.org/news/2011-02-ice-explanation-death-valley-mysterious.html
Just curious tearfang, what other theory competing against this 'just another theory' do you support? bornagain77
bornagain77 your video explanation for Moving Rocks of Death Valley’s seems like just another theory. The only thing captured there is the water moving NOT the rocks moving which would actually be proof. As some of the comments on the video indicated the theory has issues explaining the trails, and why some rocks move and others don't. All in all the video's explanation is pretty uncompelling. tearfang
semi related: Ten years on, still much to be learned from human genome map - April 12, 2013 Excerpt:,,,"What we've learned over the past 10 years is that we're still far from really understanding the complexity of the human genome," said Eric Schadt, chairman of genetics and genomic sciences at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. "Human disease is way more complicated than the old view that single hits to single genes cause diseases. "In most forms of diseases, it's whole constellations of genes operating in networks," Schadt explained. "That becomes a much harder problem. How do you target networks with a single drug?,, (Or vice versa, how do single mutations to single genes incrementally build "constellations of genes operating in networks" in the first place?),,, "We keep learning how much we really don't know and how much further we need to go," he added. "That's the big story.",,, What's more, about 10 percent of the human genome still hasn't been sequenced and can't be sequenced by existing technology, Green added. "There are parts of the genome we didn't know existed back when the genome was completed," he said.,,, http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-04-ten-years-human-genome.html bornagain77
from the "wow, just wow!" world of Darwinian 'science': Study proposes alternative way to explain life's complexity - April 12, 2013 Excerpt: Instead of starting from simpler precursors and becoming more intricate, say authors Dan McShea and Wim Hordijk, some structures could have evolved from complex beginnings that gradually grew simpler—an idea they dub "complexity by subtraction." Computer models and trends in skull evolution back them up, the researchers show in a study published this week in the journal Evolutionary Biology. http://phys.org/news/2013-04-alternative-life-complexity.html bornagain77
Allan Miller:
What kind of director wastes his time making sure E Coli can grow on citrate?
Lenski's E. coli already had that ability- just take away the oxygen and the Cit transport gene would become active and the bacteria would thrive on the stuff. Joe
petrushka's desperation is showing:
We know that they did not enable any increase in colony growth.
So what? A genetic program could be setting the stage for the main change.
that’s the definition of selection.
The only selection is artificial. There isn't any selecting with natural selection. So a forward seeing program would see the benefit of potentiating mutations. And then take advantage of an existing gene, that makes an existing protein, that can transport citrate through the cell membrane and into the cell where already existing subsystems can break down the citrate. (E coli can use citrate in anerobic conditions- nothing new evolved)
As for whether they were directed, we know that they were among many neutral mutations. Enough to sample all possible point mutations.
The population perhaps. Not every individual.
What kind of director buys all the lottery tickets?
The one that can afford to. What kind of designer would design something to evolve and not give it the full capability of doing so on its own? One without any foresight. Joe
And more petrushka misunderstanding:
the Behe quote is:
“An irreducibly complex evolutionary pathway is one that contains one or more unselected steps (that is, one or more necessary-but-unselected mutations). The degree of irreducible complexity is the number of unselected steps in the pathway.”
Joe accepts that two necessary but unselected mutations occurred.
Don't know if both were necessary and don't know if they were unselected. And don't know if they were undirected. And I am pretty sure that Axe and Gauger set the limit at 7. That is only two, max.
Behe was wrong about HIV also:
1- Behe wasn't wrong about IC pathways. Blind and undirected chemical processes are very, very limited. 2- ONE new protein-to-protein binding site in the history of HIV is nothing to be proud of. Dork Joe
And Allan Miller thinks that natural selection is a ratchet:
Because evolution involves ratcheting at several levels, it is not a trivial matter to rule out an evolutionary pathway to a current sequence. The main contributors are (1) the effective irreversibility of many mutations, (2) the ratchet of Natural Selection, and (3) co-evolution.
Evolutionism did not predict any mutations would be irreversible and natural selection isn't a ratchet. What was once the fittest could be eliminated with a simple change in environment. And everyone sees that you guys do NOT have any EVIDENCE. Thank you for that. :cool: Joe
petrushka chokes some more:
I believe the Lensky experiment meets that criterion for irreducible complexity. Two necessary but unseleted mutations prior to the selectable mutation.
LoL! What part of multiple parts/ components don't you understand? Lenski had ONE gene duplication- ONE part. And the two potentiating mutations means there was only THREE events. No new protein, no new binding sites, no new functions. Talk about grasping at straws. Joe
petrushka chokes:
Joe seems to be following this thread on UD. He doesn’t seem to have noticed that the argument here is not about the source of variation — whether it is blind or directed — but whether there is a pathway.
No, the argument is about whether or not your position has any EVIDENCE. And obvioulsy it does NOT. That is why you have to focus on the irrelevant and your imagination- "I can imagine a pathway, therefor IC is dumb". Still pathetic Joe
1. The molecular machine fails to operate upon the removal of a protein. AND, 2. The biochemical structure has no evolutionary precursor.
So basically your saying that if we know a biological system has no evolutionary precursor, then we conclude that it's irreducible complex. And since it's irreducible complex, it couldn't have had an evolutionary precursor. Makes perfect sense to me. I don't know why anyone thinks there could be a logical flaw on that the concept of IC. lastyearon
FYI- The latest idea on the rocks is that when moist the ground is friction-free and the area acts as a wind tunnel with winds going over 100 MPH at ground level. The winds push the rocks over the lubricated surface. I don't know why they just don't set up cameras and then do the time-lapse effect. It isn't as if we haven't done that before. Joe
semi OT: Researchers Design New Adaptive Material Inspired by Tears - 04/08/2013 Excerpt: Imagine a tent that blocks light on a dry and sunny day, and becomes transparent and water-repellent on a dim, rainy day. Or highly precise, self-adjusting contact lenses that also clean themselves. Or pipelines that can optimize the rate of flow depending on the volume of fluid coming through them and the environmental conditions outside. A team of researchers at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University and Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) just moved these enticing notions much closer to reality by designing a new kind of adaptive material with tunable transparency and wettability features, as reported yesterday in the online version of Nature Materials. "The beauty of this system is that it's adaptive and multifunctional," said senior author Joanna Aizenberg, Ph.D., a Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute and the Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at SEAS. The new material was inspired by dynamic, self-restoring systems in Nature, such as the liquid film that coats your eyes. Individual tears join up to form a dynamic liquid film with an obviously significant optical function that maintains clarity, while keeping the eye moist, protecting it against dust and bacteria, and helping to transport away any wastes – doing all of this and more in literally the blink of an eye.,,, "This sophisticated new class of adaptive materials being designed by the Institute's Adaptive Materials Technologies platform led by Joanna Aizenberg have the potential to be game-changers in everything from oil and gas pipelines, to microfluidic and optical systems, building design and construction, textiles, and more,",, http://www.pddnet.com/news/2013/04/researchers-design-new-adaptive-material-inspired-tears?et_cid=3183278&et_rid=45591941&linkid=http%3a%2f%2fwww.pddnet.com%2fnews%2f2013%2f04%2fresearchers-design-new-adaptive-material-inspired-tears bornagain77
I love how the TSZ is attacking this post- NOT by posting any evidence of blind and undirected chemical processes, ie unguided evolution, actually producing something. Pathetic Joe
Off thread but Watched the video. I couldn't see or understand if he saw the rocks moving. it seems like a good hypothesis that the ice moves the rocks but what about the big ones. Seeming ain't proving. Its a good idea about the slippery mud. I still like my idea of wind and lift but hypothesis needs experiments/observation before theory has occurred. This is why origin subjects always stay in mere hypothesis stance. Nothing is repeatable/observed. Thus evolution is not a scientific theory for this reason alone. Trying to use static fossils etc as evidence for biology is only evidence for biological differences shown by the fossils. Descent and process is presumed without biological evidence. ID folks get this wrong too. Robert Byers
johnnyb, I appreciate your feedback, but respectfully disagree with your understanding of the definition of irreducible complexity. The way I defined it is a simplified restatement of Behe's definition, but it is very much accurate. Allow me quote Michael Behe directly: “An irreducibly complex evolutionary pathway is one that contains one or more unselected steps (that is, one or more necessary-but-unselected mutations). The degree of irreducible complexity is the number of unselected steps in the pathway.” (A Response to Critics of Darwin’s Black Box, by Michael Behe, PCID, Volume 1.1, January February March, 2002; iscid.org/; http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/840). The definition of irreducible complexity has a 2-part qualifier just as I described it as such in the essay above. Irreducible complexity is NOT fully confirmed when the “molecular machine fails to operate upon the removal of a protein.” However, the reverse it true. If the molecular machine still performs its original function when missing a protein, then yes, the prediction that biochemical structure is irreducibly complex has been falsified. Thanks again for your input and interest to clarify that point. Regards DennisJones
Just to note - you have actually conflated two ideas into one. Irreducible complexity, per Behe, simply means that all parts must be operable for the machine to function. So, in fact, irreducible complexity is fully proven through "The molecular machine fails to operate upon the removal of a protein." This *alone* proves IC, and in fact the research for this was done by Scott Minnich. The second idea is the argument that irreducible complexity indicates a problem for Darwinism. It is important that we separate this from the bare idea of irreducible complexity itself. This is what relies on your second operation, "The biochemical structure has no evolutionary precursor". I would also add that one can make postulations for why no evolutionary precursor is likely to exist. This is the same thing which has been done for perpetual motion machines. There is a well-considered reason why such machines won't work. This doesn't mean that this won't be proven wrong someday, but given the state of the evidence it seems unlikely, and people who pursue this path are likely wasting their time. The same is true of Darwinism. IC, based on the reasoning of Behe and others, indicates that it isn't likely that random mutation will produce such a system, especially in such quantities. This doesn't mean that someone won't show us wrong. However, like the perpetual motion machine, it doesn't seem reasonable given what we know to invest a lot of time in it. johnnyb
Moving Rocks of Death Valley's Racetrack Playa - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1hoiHvOeGc Living Stones of Death Valley - article Excerpt: In the early spring of 2002, I made one of my many trips to Racetrack Playa with two friends, Dan Bocek and John Countryman. The surrounding mountains were still covered with snow, and the playa itself was firm but had a large lake covering about a fifth of its surface, perhaps an inch or two deep at its edges, concentrated at the playa's south end where it's lowest. We ventured out, armed with cameras, shortly before sunrise. The temperature was just above freezing. The wind, from the south, was quite stiff and very cold. When we reached the lake, we found to our great surprise that the entire lake was moving with the wind, at a speed we estimated at about one half of a mile per hour. The sun was on the lake by now and we could see a few very thin ice sheets that were now dissolving back into water. This whole procession was washing past many of the famous rocks. It's easy to imagine that if it were only few degrees colder when we were there — as it probably had been a couple of hours earlier — the whole surface would be great sheets of thin ice. Solid ice, moving with the surface of the lake and with the inertia of a whole surrounding ice sheet, would have no trouble pushing a rock along the slick muddy floor. Certainly a lot more horsepower than wind alone, as has been proposed. The wind was gusty and moved around some, and since the surface is not perfectly flat and with rocks and various obstructions, the water didn't flow straight; rather it swapped around as it moved generally forward. Ice sheets driven by the water would move in the same way, accounting for the turns and curves found in many of the rock trails. But don't take my word for any of this. I told you we had cameras, and I captured the event on video. It's well worth two minutes of your time: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4021 bornagain77
The Natural Selection plus time have move them, sure creatoblepas
Good thread about the importance of investigation tactics. I thought i heards they had figured it our about the moving rocks. if the wind it doesn't erase at the moment of movement the trail. The lack of diversity in ther lines indicates likely one sudden movement Good enough to move the rock but not the dirt behind seems unlikely. The ice thing would fit better as the ground would be hard. Still one needs the wind and ice and they are big. Surely this could be done in a lab somewhere to experiment. The point seems to be the great flat area. The wind either kicks up great or possibly as in flowing rivers there is lift generated on the rock alongside the push. Just speculating . Robert Byers
Ah, yes, the 'argument from incredulity' allegation.* As opposed to materialist evolutionists, who demonstrate that they are willing to believe anything. No matter how preposterous. Their credulity knows no bounds. I'm much more inclined to be skeptical of fantastical claims and take the former approach, thank you very much. ----- * Which, by the way is different than an 'argument from ignorance.' Eric Anderson

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