Irreducible Complexity, Reduced (or why a unicorn owes me $20) – Part 2


In part 1 of this series of three articles I demonstrated the problem of trying to prove something logically using either of two logical fallacies called False Dichotomy, and Appeal To Ignorance.     I highly recommend reading part 1 if you are unfamiliar with these logical fallacies.   In this part 2, I would like to demonstrate why the relationship between the hypothesis of Irreducible Complexity, put forth by Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe is based on the logical fallacy of False Dichotomy.

If you read on, you might find out why the unicorn still owes me $20.

Irreducible Complexity
Micheal Behe is a fellow at the Seattle-based public relations and lobbying organization called The Discovery Institute.   The Discovery Institute is the source for all the recent books in the popular press advocating that some structures in the universe could not have come about through natural processes.   The claim is that these structures require the intervention of some intelligent agent or agency to bring them about.   They offer this idea not as a theological notion, but as a scientific hypothesis.

As Behe’s book title implies, they develop their case around biological structures that are currently explained by the prevailing modern theory of evolution. In his book, Michael Behe proposes a criterion for which the theory of evolution could be disproven.   His impetus for this was a quote by Darwin from his book, Origin of the Species.

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” —Charles Darwin, Origin of Species

Darwin makes this statement because his theory of evolution predicts that the diversity of life on the planet has come about gradually by very small changes in biological traits in organisms from generation to generation.    So if you could find some organ or structure in an organism that you could prove could not have been formed by a long series of tiny changes you would be proving that evolution could not be the explanation for how it came about.   In other words, you would be disproving evolution.

Behe says that you can identify certain biological structures that could not evolve by the process of evolution because they possess a kind of complexity that he calls Irreducibly Complex (lets call this IC to same some time).   After developing the notion of IC, Behe goes on to name a number of biological structures that he claims are IC.    Among them are structures like the rotary flagella in the e. coli bacteria, the human blood clotting cascade, and others.

This is a very extraordinary claim because the theory of evolution has been the theoretical foundation on which all modern biology has been interpreted.   In fact, biologists often quote one of their colleagues who said,

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of Evolution”  – Theodosius Dobzhansky

Before we investigate whether the notion of IC is scientific or not, we need to ask the question what does an IC structure that cannot evolve have to do with the hypothesis that some structures in the universe require an intelligent designer to bring them about?

Micheal Behe and the Discovery Institute will tell you that any biological structure that is IC cannot have evolved.  Therefore, they can only have come about through the actions of an intelligent agency that helped the process along.    Behe and the Institute say that any IC biological structures had to be intelligently designed.   This proves the theory of Intelligent Design (ID).  This sounds like they have something scientifically significant here, doesn’t it?

Irreducible Complexity equals not equals Intelligent Design
Well, you already have the background for refuting this since you are still holding on to my $20 (or is it the unicorn who has it, I forget?).    Implicit in this IC-proves-ID logic is what we already know from our discussion above as a false dichotomy.    The logic I just described is:

  1. Biological structure X cannot have evolved.
  2. Therefore it must have been designed by an intelligence.

As you can see, there is a missing premise in their argument.   It is only implied, so  I will supply it to complete the logic.

  1. A biological structure can only be explained by evolution or design.
  2. Biological structure X cannot have evolved.
  3. Therefore it must have been designed.

False Dichotomy strikes again.   In this case, the list of possible explanations has been arbitrarily restricted to one of two explanations; evolution or design.   What has been left off the list is all other possible explanations for biological structure X.    It doesn’t matter if we can think of any other explanations or not.   Just like in part 1, your guilt or the unicorns guilt was not based on us finding other explanations for the missing money.

Modern science proposes evolution as the explanation, and has accumulated considerable 200 years worth of verifiable evidence in support of this explanation.   But keep in mind that there are a number of other non-Darwinian hypotheses for how organisms can change, some have been long since discredited and some are still being studied today.   Like all other well formulated scientific theories, evolution and its supporting evidence stands on its own merit and has been evaluated on its own merit.   Whereas, in this case of the IC-proves-design hypothesis, no positive evidence is offered.    The argument for design in this case is inferred only through an alleged refutation of one other theory, evolution.

If false dichotomy logic can prove any new hypothesis, why can’t I substitute another explanation in the dichotomy.

  1. A biological structure can only be explained by evolution or that it came out of the belly of the exploding Great Unicorn along with the rest of life in the beginning of the universe.
  2. Biological structure X cannot have evolved.
  3. Therefore it must have come out of the belly of the Great Unicorn.

You might want to argue that these two different proofs are not equivalent because the second one contains an obviously ridiculous premise.  This might be true, but “it seems ridiculous” has nothing to do with whether the logic proves the conclusion or not.   In this case, there is no way to measure the relative ridiculousness between the Great Unicorn and some other unnamed magical designer of life.  You might reply with the fact that you are religious and you believe that this designer was God, so you don’t think it is ridiculous.  But we are not talking about what you and I might believe.  We are talking about what can be proven scientifically.

This distinction between belief and scientific proof is not lost on most of the world’s Christians, by the way.   All Christians believe that God is the author of all things.  But about 90% of the world’s Christians belong to denominations whose doctrines accept the findings and theories of modern science, including evolution.   In other words, these denominations would also agree that science can and should continue to create naturalistic explanations for what we find in nature that do not reference God.

The need for intelligent design in biological evolution may be true or it may be false, but considering the success of the theory of evolution,  it is an extraordinary claim.   And extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.    If all you have is a logical fallacy that any college freshman student of logic can identify, then you don’t have extraordinary proof.  What you have instead is somewhat embarrassing if it purports to be anything more than an emotional appeal to the lay public.

In short, the logical connection in these two proofs between an unevolvable structure and an intelligent designer is no stronger than the logical connection between that structure and the Great Unicorn (hey, is this the unicorn that owes me $20?  I have been looking for that guy.)

There is no connection between the notion of Irreducible Complexity and Intelligent Design.

And to make matters worse, the IC hypothesis fails to demonstrate that there are any Irreducibly Complex biological structures.   Because the IC hypothesis itself is based on the other logical fallacy we discussed on part 1, called Appeal to Ignorance.   In part 3 of this three-part series, I will demonstrate why Behe has not demonstrated that any biological structures are Irreducibly Complex except through the logical fallacy of an Appeal to Ignorance.

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4 thoughts on “Irreducible Complexity, Reduced (or why a unicorn owes me $20) – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Irreducible Complexity, Reduced (or why a unicorn owes me $20) – Part 1 | Mobile Terra Sistema

  2. Well done sir! Well said and very well written. False dilemmas are indeed very common in creationist arguments: “It’s either God or evolution, it’s not evolution, so it’s God.”

    BTW I tend to use the Jinn in the lamp for that, instead of Unicorne!

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