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# Will this do, Professor Moran?

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In a recent post, entitled, Barry Arrington Explains Irreducible Complexity, Professor Laurence Moran sought to discredit the argument that irreducible complexity requires an Intelligent Designer.

Let me state up-front that I am a philosopher, not a scientist. However, I believe in arguing rigorously, so I have attempted to state the argument from irreducible complexity in a rigorous fashion. I’d appreciate hearing from Professor Moran thinks of this argument, as a biologist.

What is irreducible complexity?

I’d like to quote a passage from an online paper entitled, Irreducible Complexity Revisited (version 2.0; revised 2/23/2004) by Professor William Dembski.

The basic logic of IC [Irreducible Complexity] goes like this:

A functional system is irreducibly complex if it contains a multipart subsystem (i.e., a set of two or more interrelated parts) that cannot be simplified without destroying the system’s basic function. I refer to this multipart subsystem as the system’s irreducible core.

We can therefore define the core of a functionally integrated system as those parts that are indispensable to the system’s basic function: remove parts of the core, and you can’t recover the system’s basic function from the other remaining parts. To say that a core is irreducible is then to say that no other systems with substantially simpler cores can perform the system’s basic function.

My argument for why the unguided evolution of a multi-part irreducibly complex system is extremely unlikely

Definition: “Reasonably probable” means “likely to happen, given the time constraints.”

Assumption: Saltationism won’t work, as an explanation of the unguided evolution of a multi-part irreducibly complex system. (“Nature does not make leaps.”)

Assumption: The unguided evolution of a multi-part irreducibly complex system proceeds by a Darwinian process.

Argument:

The unguided, Darwinian evolution of a complex system with an irreducible core of n parts which is able to perform a particular function F has to proceed in little steps, each of which is reasonably probable, where each step:

EITHER (i) starts with a very small number of parts, which together perform a biologically useful function when configured in the right way; {initial function – the first step}

OR (ii) adds a new part / alters an existing part, thereby improving an existing function of a system; {incremental change}

OR (iii) removes a part, but preserves the existing function of a system, resulting in a system which is still able to perform the same function, but with fewer parts, some of which may now be indispensable; {removal of scaffolding}

OR (iv)(a) adds a new part to / alters an old part in an existing system with function G, thereby generating a system which is able to perform a brand new function F; {co-option} and/or {transformation}

OR (iv)(b) removes a part from an existing system with function G, thereby generating a system which is able to perform a brand new function F. {novelty-creating loss}

Why (i) alone won’t work

By definition, (i) alone cannot generate a multi-part complex system with an irreducible core of n parts, since the system is still very simple: it still has only a very small number of parts.

Why a combination of (i) and (ii) won’t work

By definition, a combination of (i) and (ii) cannot generate a complex system with an irreducible core of n parts, since the new parts added are not indispensable to the function of the system.

Why a combination of (i), (ii) and (iii) won’t work

A combination of (i) and (ii) followed by (iii) could theoretically generate a complex system with an irreducible core of n parts, as the loss of a part may transform a reducibly complex system into an irreducibly complex one. But a system which has been initially built up by a combination of (i) and (ii) is likely to have a comfortable margin of error in its spatial configuration, since none of the parts is absolutely critical to the system. In other words, the system will have high fault tolerance. (The system is reducibly complex, so if the configuration of the parts varies slightly, that shouldn’t affect the functionality of the system too much.)

However in a complex system with an irreducible core of n parts, the spatial configuration of the parts is of vital importance: everything has to hang together in just the right way. (Think of Professor Michael Behe’s mousetrap.) What’s more, for a very large value of n, the margin of error in the spatial configuration of the parts in a complex system with an irreducible core is likely to be extremely small. Such a system has a negligible margin of error in its spatial configuration, or near-zero fault tolerance.

It’s very unlikely that the removal of a part from a complex system whose spatial configuration of parts has comfortable margin of error (i.e. high fault tolerance) will suddenly result in the formation of a system whose spatial configuration of parts has a negligible margin of error, or near-zero fault tolerance.

Cyclic repetition of (ii) and (iii) won’t help matters either, as repetition of step (ii) tends to increase the margin of error and hence the fault tolerance of the system, thereby making it harder and harder for step (iii) to generate a system with near-zero fault tolerance.

Conclusion: At least some of the steps in the evolution of a complex system with an irreducible core have to be either type (iv)(a) or type (iv)(b) steps.

Why (iv)(a) won’t work

However, it’s very unlikely that a system with function G, which gains one new part, while keeping the existing parts in nearly the same configuration as they were before, should suddenly be able to perform a totally new function F, especially if the number of parts in the system is large. Reason: the space of all possible configurations is astronomically large. However, the vast majority of configurations don’t do anything useful: they have no functionality. (Think of amino acid chains.) The number of possible functions is therefore much, much smaller than the number of possible configurations, and different functions are likely to be isolated on little islands of configuration space. If just adding one part to a complex system with an existing function G were enough to generate a system with a new function F, that would mean, contrary to supposition, that the two functions were relatively close together in configuration space. As the number of parts n of the complex system increases, however, this scenario becomes less and less plausible. (And now think of Behe’s bacterial flagellum. Even the simplest flagella require 30 parts. The idea that adding one part to an existing 29-part system would somehow magically confer the functionality of the flagellum appears to be extremely unlikely.)

The same logic applies if we imagine that no part is added, but that one of the existing parts of a system with function G is altered. Again, it is extremely unlikely that a single alteration would confer a new function F upon the system, especially if the number of parts in the system is already large.

It’s even less likely that a system with function G, which gains one new part, while at the same time dramatically reshuffling the configuration of the old parts, should sudddenly be able to perform a totally new function F. Reason: if the reshuffling is dramatic, it’s much more likely to merely destroy existing functionality than to confer new functionality. (Recall that the vast majority of possible configurations don’t do anything useful: they have no functionality. Wrecking is easy; building is hard.)

Why (iv)(b) won’t work

It’s even less likely that a system with function G, which loses one part, while keeping the other parts in nearly the same configuration as they were before, should suddenly be able to perform a totally new function F. Reason:losses of parts tend to destroy functionality. Also, it would mean that two functions were relatively close together in configuration space, which is extremely unlikely, as the number of possible configurations is much, much larger than the number of possible functions.

It’s even less likely that a system with function G, which loses one part, while at the same time dramatically reshuffling the configuration of the other parts, should suddenly be able to perform a totally new function F. Reason:losses of parts tend to destroy functionality. Also, it would mean that two functions were relatively close together in configuration space, which is extremely unlikely, as the number of possible configurations is much, much larger than the number of possible functions. Finally, reshuffling is more likely to destroy existing functionality than to create new functionality.

Why do we need a Designer to account for irreducibly complex systems?

Intelligent design is the only known process which is reliably capable of generating systems which are not only vastly improbable, but also functional. Since irreducibly complex systems have been shown to be vastly improbable and by definition have a function, it follows that intelligent design is the best explanation for the generation of irreducibly complex systems.

Note:The argument here is not absolutely ironclad; it is a probabilistic one, and it does not establish the existence of God, but merely of an Intelligent Designer of certain biological systems.

If you want a good, non-probabilistic argument for the existence of God, I’d recommend Job Opening: Creator of the Universe — A Reply to Keith Parsons (2009) by Professor Paul Herrick. I’d also recommend Lecture notes and bibliography from Dr. Robert Koons’ Western Theism course (1998) for a highly readable summary of some of the best philosophical arguments for God’s existence. If you’d like a good summary of the fine-tuning argument, try The Teleological Argument: An Exploration of the Fine-Tuning of the Universe by Dr. Robin Collins (The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Edited by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland. 2009. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. ISBN: 978-1-405-17657-6.)These are about the best resources online for atheists who want to acquaint themselves with the arguments for God’s existence.

Where did the information in the designer come from?

The Designer isn’t irreducibly complex, so He doesn’t need another Designer.

Recall the definition of irreducible complexity: “a set of two or more interrelated parts that cannot be simplified without destroying the system’s basic function.” If the Designer (i) has no parts or (ii) has parts which cannot be removed because they’re inseparable from one another or (iii) is reducibly complex, then He won’t need a Designer, according to the argument I have put forward above.

That’s about all I have time to write today. Do readers think I have expressed the argument that irreducible complexity requires an Intelligent Designer in a sufficiently rigorous fashion? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

TomS: There is no length needed to see that the two arguments are different: a) ID argues that IC machines can be built by design, but not by a non designed system. b) Preformationists argue that IC beings cannot be built at all, but must existed preformed (if I understand well their point). What could be more different? The only thing in common is the concept of IC, but all the rest is different.gpuccio
December 26, 2011
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Seeing taht they did not know what we know today it is obvious that teh arguments are not the same. BTW reproduction is IC.Joe
December 25, 2011
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I have considered the possibility that the arguments are not the same. That is why I asked here for the difference between the arguments. Maybe someone has a reference which explains the difference at greater length than can be handled in a blog? (I will not go off-topic by addressing your other points.)TomS
December 25, 2011
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TomS: Well, and so? They apparently did not have the design hypothesis. We do. Have you thought that preformationists could simply be wrong, and that we could be right? And that our arguments are obviously not the same?gpuccio
December 25, 2011
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Biological machines ... are what must be explained. In the 18th century, the preformationists used the argument from IC to falsify the reproductive explanation of "biological machines".TomS
December 25, 2011
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TpmS: The 18th century preformationist naturalists observed the irreducible complexity of living things and concluded from that that those living things could not have developed. That those living things must therefore have existed from the beginning of the world of life. How would you respond to someone using the argument from IC to support preformation? I would respond that the design hypothesis explains those IC things, and needs not preformation.gpuccio
December 25, 2011
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TomS: well, maybe repeating what was alredy clear could be a means of making it understood by those who didn't understand the first time. If the argument from IC applies only to non intelligently designed systems, how do we know, before we see the conclusion, whether we can apply the argument from IC? What do you mean here? Where is your logic? The argument from IC derives obviously from observations made about known designed, or non designed, systems, and from logical reasoning applied to possible explanatory theories. The argument form IC tells us logically, with vast empirical support from known systems, that a non intelligently designed system has practically no possibility to create machines that are IC. It's as simple as that, although for some strange reason you don't want to get it. So, we apply the argument fro IC to the explanatory theory known as neo darwinism, and can easily see that the IC argument is still another reason why neo darwinism cannot work as an explanation for biological irreducibly complex machines. What you mean when you ask: "how do we know, before we see the conclusion, whether we can apply the argument from IC?" is really beyond my comprehension. What conclusion? What are you talking of? If the argument from IC applies only to non intelligently designed systems, how does that restriction distinguish between its application to systems which evolve and its application to systems which reproduce? Even worse. What do you mean? First of all the argument from IC is not a "restriction", but a logical argument. And why shoiuld it "distinguish" between its applications? And what do you mean by "systems which evolve" and "systems which reproduce"? The only kind of systems to which we have applied the argument, starting from Behe's original discussion, are some biological machines that are irreducibly complex. Obviously, we could apply the argument also to non biological machines. It is certanly not credible that a car engine may evolve in a random system, but that we already know. We know that car engines are designed, and don't need a design inference for them. Biological machines, instead, are what must be explained. The argument from IC is a very strong argument for the falsification of the neo darwinian explanation. It's as simple as that.gpuccio
December 25, 2011
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All I know is that IC is an argument against stochastic processes and for agency involvement. So that is all it can be used for.Joe
December 24, 2011
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The 18th century preformationist naturalists observed the irreducible complexity of living things and concluded from that that those living things could not have developed. That those living things must therefore have existed from the beginning of the world of life. How would you respond to someone using the argument from IC to support preformation? I don't want to go off-topic in discussing lots of other interesting things, like evolution.TomS
December 24, 2011
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TomS- The argument from IC involves our knowledge of cause and effect relationships. That is every time we have observed IC (or CSI) and knew the cause it has ALWAYS been via agency involvement- always, 100% of teh time. Therefor when we observe IC (or CSI) and did not directly observe it arising we can safely infer agency involvement was required. That is until someone comes along and demostrates that stochastic processes can produce it. Then Newton's First Rule applies and the design inference is refuted.Joe
December 24, 2011
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I don't know why you think that repeating is a means of clarification. If the argument from IC applies only to non intelligently designed systems, how do we know, before we see the conclusion, whether we can apply the argument from IC? If the argument from IC applies only to non intelligently designed systems, how does that restriction distinguish between its application to systems which evolve and its application to systems which reproduce?TomS
December 24, 2011
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TomS: I hate repeating the same things. I quote myself (post 7.1, addressed to you): "The argument from IC applies specifically to all non intelligently designed systems." Is that clear enough? Or have I to say it again for the third time?gpuccio
December 24, 2011
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You spend a lot of time telling us how evolution can't work. Are you saying that the IC argument is a one-time argument, that only works when evolution is involved?TomS
December 23, 2011
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TomS: You have caught the main differences. At that time, biologists did not know that the information for the development of an individual are mainly in the genome. Our problem today is much more specific: how did the functional information in the genome emerge? Especially the protein sequences? I will be very clear: the neo darwinian paradigm cannot explain the origin of even one single basic protein domain. So, there is no need of the concept of IC to understand that it is wrong (unless you want to call IC also that in a single protein, but that is not the meaning of he term in Behe). But Behe explains another, higher level wall to neo darwinian model. Not only it cannot explain the emergence of individual proteins, it cannot explain how different proteins emerged that are necessary to build a complex biological machine, a mutli protein biologcial machine, whose function is irreducibly complex, and does not exist if even one of the proteins of the irreducible core is lacking. So, either each single protein in the machine (each one!) has an independent function, and for some strange miracle all those proteins together create a machine with a new and different function (the "cooption" hypothesis), or the complex multi protein machine can never emerge with any help from NS. The cooption hypothesis is not a credible answer. It is possible that in some cases a new function can utilizes pre existing modules whose function is a subfunction of the new specification. That would be what darwinists have hypothesized for the relationship between the flagellum and the T3SS (if the T£SS existed before the flagellum). But in no way that mean that the flagellum is not IC. It is! If you tahe away the single parts, the motility disappears. But in most, maybe all, IC biological machines, including the flagellum, the single parts are not "reused modules" with an independent function. In all transmission cascades, for instance, the cascade is an information transmitting process, and it must be whole to work, and correctly integrated with the information it transmits, and with the receiver system. The preformation issue seem more related with the problem of body plans, than with biochemical machines. But that is another story.gpuccio
December 23, 2011
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Preformation was a largely 18th century theory which said that individuals could not develop, and thus must be present from the beginning of creation. For references to what I am talking about, I suggest looking at those given in the Wikipedia article on "Irreducible complexity" under the subheading "Up to the 18th century" which has a few lines about Nicholas Malebranche, including this quotation: "An organized body contains an infinity of parts that mutually depend upon one another in relation to particular ends, all of which must be actually formed in order to work as a whole." That sounds to me a lot like the standard IC argument, only with reference to the origins of the individual, rather than the origins of a species.TomS
December 23, 2011
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TomS: I am not an expert about preformationism, just read something in Wikipedia to understand what you mean. And I don't understand what you mean. Could you please sum up briefly the argument that you think relates to IC? The argument from IC is simple, IMO. Some functional machines are made of parts, each of them rather complex, abd the actual function of the machine may depend critically on the presence of all those part, at least for the irreducibly complex core of the machine. It is simple. The consequence for neodarwinian theory, where NS can operate only on existing function, is that the final function cannot be selected untill all the parts are present and working together. So, the individual parts canno undergo selection, at least not for the final function. That's why darwinists have "invented" cooption, hoping against evidence that each single part can be selected for some different function, and then the whole system come together by miraculous luck and be selected. Obviously, that "solution" is worse than the original problem (completely irrealistic, certainly not universally appliable, absolutely ad hoc reasoning). So, the concept of IC remains an unsurmountable wall, one among many others, for neo darwinian theory. How does all that relate to preformationism?gpuccio
December 23, 2011
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Biological ID is different.
Because living things reproduce with heritable variation, and individuals differ in the number of offspring they produce. So yes, changes to living populations are, in th elong run, not random noise. I fail to see why ID proponents persist in using inappropriate analogies. If you want to know the capabilities of evolution, study it. You don't learn anything from systems that do not have heritable variation and feedback.Petrushka
December 23, 2011
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If you go back to my first entry here, you will find that the original question was about how the IC argument used in the 18th century in favor of preformation differs from today's IC argument. I'm trying to drag the discussion back to this. You brought up the topic of things that are non intelligently designed, and I was trying to see how that responded to the question of preformation. I'm trying to understand IC by comparing and contrasting it with similar arguments.TomS
December 23, 2011
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TomS: Instead of changing subject, why don't you comment on my specific answers, that you yourself requested? Or just address the IC argument as expressed here, instead of looking at improbable similarities with other arguments? The IC argument is about complex irreducible machimes. That's what you have to address.gpuccio
December 23, 2011
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The IC argument is not against "evolution". The IC argument is against blind and undirected chemical processes. And the IC argument gets to the root of our knowledge of cause and effect relationships, ie science.Joe
December 23, 2011
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How does the IC argument against evolution differ from the argument of the preformationists?TomS
December 23, 2011
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TomS and Petrushka: I have a lot of examples of systems that are not designed: the configuration of sand in a beach, the form of mountains, weather, the signals from a pulsar, radioactive decay, and so on. In all of those objects information can potentially be read, even in digital form, and in all cases that information appears to be random noise or the result of necessity order, or some mix. That the global structure of physical reality may be designed is another kind of problem. The cosmological argument, in all its forms, including fine tuning of the fundamental parameters, points to that, for those who accept it (I do). Ot is a scientific arguments with philosophical connotations, and it can be discussed, and individaully acceppted or refuted, like all philosophical positions. Biological ID is different. It is a purely empirical theory, about things in space and time, not a theory of all reality. That is a big difference. In space and time, most objects are not designed, if not in the sense that the whole reality and its laws can be designed.gpuccio
December 23, 2011
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Are not all things, from neutrons and protons to the whole of the world of life, intelligently designed?
Sounds Panglossian.Petrushka
December 22, 2011
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To explain the relevance of my asking for an example of something which is not intelligently designed: gpuccio said: The argument from IC applies specifically to all non intelligently designed systems. Are not all things, from neutrons and protons to the whole of the world of life, intelligently designed? Thus, if all things are intelligently designed, how does the system of reproduction differ from the system of evolution with respect to intelligent design? How does the 18th century argument in favor of preformation differ from the argument from IC against evolution?TomS
December 22, 2011
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Paul, Quite obviously, I wasn't asking you anything outside your sphere of understanding.Upright BiPed
December 21, 2011
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If you read his post, Larry is addressing vjtorley. As for representation-protocol-effect, this is not my domain, something I'm quite happy to admit. When I've been on UD, I have given my time to the areas in which I'm more knowledgeable. As far as RNA->Transcription->Protein goes as an IC system, I can speculate, but without a firmer model of the origin of the these systems than what is current (or at least a better understanding than mine) I don't feel there is much value in me doing so. Perhaps someone better than I can comment? IOW, from where I'm sitting you may be right. I don't know. I would still direct you to Larry's post, as he does make some quite valuable points about what IC really means and how close knowledge of the systems affects our ability to interpret them as IC or not. You may or may not agree, of course, but I found his point around Behe and biochemical pathways quite illuminating.paulmc
December 21, 2011
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What do you want to bet he gives my challenge the same attention you did? ("Paul, do you think representation-protocol-effect is an irreducibly complex system to transfer mutable genetic information?")Upright BiPed
December 21, 2011
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FYI, Larry Moran has responded over at Sandwalk.paulmc
December 21, 2011
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Do you have an example of a system which is not intelligently designed? Newton thought that solar systems could not arise without initial intervention and continuous stabilizing intervention. He cited exactly the same kinds of probability arguments now being used by ID advocates. I don't see a lot of current support for this hypothesis.
Petrushka
December 21, 2011
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weatherUpright BiPed
December 21, 2011
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