Irreducible complexity and mere complexity

Johnathan: you really need to understand that when you embrace a definition of ID that can only come from an opponent of ID and something you would never hear from any competent proponent, you have deluded yourself - intentionally or unintentionally - into being content with the understanding of a straw man. Until you are willing to see ID for what its opponents say it is, your objections to it will remain completely off point.

I don’t believe I’ve embraced a definition of ID that can only come from an opponent of ID.

Where did you get the notion that ID claims, [quote=“deliberateresult, post:121, topic:10729”]
“Evolution could not have taken place because these artifacts we’ve found are far too complex to have evolved”

Have you heard of the argument from irreducible complexity?

Of course. Are you aware that there is a big difference between irreducible complexity and mere complexity? In other words, are you aware that saying something is too complex is not at all the same thing as saying that something is irreducibly complex?

Look Jonathan, you have offered many comments against Intelligent design. There are precious few people on this planet who have studied ID theory more thoroughly than I have, and I assure you, stating that the ID position stands on the premise that life is too complex to have evolved is the stuff of straw men and nothing more. I do not know of any significant ID theorist who makes such a claim. I do however know of several who have pointed out why such a claim does not represent serious ID thought.

You can believe what you wish to believe about ID, but if you are not willing to consider the claims that ID proponents actually make, you may wish to reconsider injecting yourself into serious discussions on ID.

I can’t speak for Jonathan, but I’d consider ID to be serious if those who called themselves or others “ID theorists” were serious enough to present an actual hypothesis that makes empirical predictions. I’d consider it to be even more serious if there were ID empiricists who tested those hypotheses.


I didn’t just say “mere complexity”, I said specifically “too complex to have evolved”. The claim of irreducible complexity is precisely the claim “too complex to have evolved”. This is how it’s described by ID proponents.

“Behe presents what may be described as an argument from irreducible complexity. This argument purports to establish that irreducibly complex biological systems are beyond the reach of the Darwinian evolutionary mechanism and that only design can properly account for them.”

“Darwinian evolution cannot produce an irreducibly complex system exhibiting a given basic function by having natural selection act on and improve simpler precursors that already display that function”.

"there is no evidence that the redeployments required to form such irreducibly complex systems could happen, much less be properly coordinated, by a gradual Darwinian evolutionary process. Instead, the evidence suggests that any such redeployment would require such massive coordination of the redeployed systems as to place the resulting irreducibly complex system beyond the reach of Darwinian evolution. "

As I have pointed out, irreducible complexity is exactly what I was talking about.

I didn’t say that’s the premise the ID position stands on, I pointed out it’s one of the arguments used. That’s the argument of irreducible complexity. This will test your understanding of irreducible complexity; according to ID, can evolution account for irreducible complexity?

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Evolution could not have taken place because these artifacts we’ve found are far too complex to have evolved

@Jonathan_Burke echoes the language of Behe himself and the Discovery Institute…

Behe, also a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, argues for the idea of “irreducible complexity,” meaning certain aspects of living organisms, such as the mechanism for blood clotting or the development of the human eye, are too complex to evolve.

Now, there are ton more quotes just like this.

I would also ask you a question @deliberateresult . Which definition of IC do you subscribe to? There are two. Which one do you mean? Do you even know what the two defitions are?


Hi Ben…

As always, I am happy to enter into a conversation with you, but based on past experiences, I enter this one a little wary. Therefore, please indulge a brief preamble:

  1. Let’s agree up front that a “theorist” can be a theorist even she may not have a theory. For example, someone with an hypothesis can be considered a theorist; even someone with a failed hypothesis. (Merriam Webster online uses this example of a sentence containing the word “theorize”: Many scientists theorize about the possibility of life on other planets)

  2. Let’s also agree that the line between a theory and an hypothesis is much more grey than it is black and white.

  3. Let’s also agree that a theory can be a theory regardless of its level of acceptance.

  4. Finally, let’s recognize that ID is primarily an origin of life theory. If we can agree that it is possible to generate theories concerning the origin of life, we can accept that one such theory could be intelligent causation.

ID makes the claim that certain features of the natural world are best explained as having been created. Concerning biological life, ID claims that the evidence we have available to us indicates that life is the product of intelligent agency. ID, then, is itself an origin of life theory that incorporates many known facts of biological life. You may agree. You may disagree. You may see the relevant facts differently. But whether ID is a theory or not is not contingent on Ben’s approval or embrace of it.

One prediction that has arisen out of ID theory concerns so-called “junk DNA.” In the early 1990s, several ID theorists independently predicted that the genome would prove to be largely functional. A quarter of a century later, this prediction has been vindicated to a great extent, and it seems that every new advance in our understanding of the genome adds to that vindication.

The word “metaphysic” has popped up a lot in this thread. I would propose that if we could strip away all metaphysical baggage, we would see Crick’s Sequence Hypothesis as one supporting ID theory. In his own atheistic way it appears that Crick himself sure did. At least initially (directed panspermia)

Several years ago, PhD Donald Johnson publicly offered to the scientific community for falsification, no fewer than 9 testable predictions which can be considered predictions from ID theory. The last time I checked, no falsification has been forthcoming for any of the nine.

Finally, though I do not by any means consider myself a theorist. Nonetheless, I am on record with a two year old dated, recorded prediction from ID theory in a forum; a theory which has been vindicated (as I document there) on multiple occasions:

There you have it, Ben. You can do with this what you wish, but it is my prayer that you give this some serious consideration.

I note that the “meaning” you quote is provided by a journalist, not Behe; not any ID theorist.[quote=“Swamidass, post:8, topic:17521”]

As far as I know, Behe coined the term. Certainly, concerning ID, it is the appropriate definition. It is therefore his definition that I am going by.

Let me bring this back to the point I am willing to defend: The theory of ID does not rest on mere complexity. Furthermore, there is a substantial difference between mere complexity and irreducible complexity. Behe’s example of irreducible complexity is a mousetrap. a mousetrap contains just five parts. In terms of mere complexity, a mousetrap makes a poor example. In terms of irreducible complexity, which concerns interrelated parts of a working, functional system, his example makes perfect sense. The difference is obvious.

And as I note, your example of ID being described in terms of mere complexity comes from a journalist, not an ID theorist.

It is by the Discovery Institute. And there are more quotes too. Here is one from the DI blog…

Cells are simply too complex to have evolved randomly; intelligence was required to produce them.

Back to Irreducible Complexity.

Behe coined the term. But there are two different definitions that he uses.

Don’t you know what they are? Which one do you think is correct? You are a self proclaimed expert in Intelligent Design. As you put it, there are very few people who have read more about it than you. Surely you must know these two definitions, and have a clear concept of your prefered definition and analysis of their strengths and weaknesses of each. Right? Which one do you use?

In that case, you do not know what you are talking about. Irreducible complexity addresses specifically and only functional working systems. You did not say Irreducible complexity. You said simply complexity. There is a difference and it is a big difference. Mere complexity (when one says “complexity,” one is talking about mere complexity as far as anyone can tell) is not so constrained. If I were to say to you that I embrace ID theory because life is very complex, you would be perfectly justified to point out to me that so is the pattern formed by kosher salt crystals when I pour a box of them on the ground. However, if I were to say to you that I embrace intelligent design because living systems are full of irreducibly complex systems, that same response by you would be incoherent gibberish.

I am truly astounded that both you and a bona fide biologist insist on equating IC with mere complexity. This is a naked embrace of a straw man.

What an image. Thanks, Joe.

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So just to reproduce your claim here (which is usually best practice to promote dialogue), you predict…

“As we continue to learn more about the genome, the epigenome, and the inner workings of life, we will discover several more semiotic programming languages and information systems.”

This is a particularly useful prediction in the clash between ID theory and abiogenesis. Programming and information systems are perfectly compatible with ID theory. On the other hand, the presence of such systems underpinning all life is a serious blow to abiogenesis. Frankly, to the intellectually honest, it should be down right fatal to abiogenesis. Of course, several semiotic biological systems have indeed been discovered already, but this forward going prediction is offered in the spirit of and as a witness to the testable traction that has taken hold in the maturing theory of ID. The fulfillment of this prediction should have profound consequences in determining which paradigm - ID or abiogenesis - is reasonable.

To be clear, this so imprecise as a prediction that is entirely useless scientifically. At the core of it, this is neither a quantitative prediction nor is it objective. There is no way to adjudicate it.

For example, I do not agree at all that there are any “semiotic programming languages” in biological systems. I assume you are referring to the genetic code and genomes, but we use “programming language” as a loose analogy. Not as a claim of what it essentially is. There are some tenuous similarities, that help us teach it, but genetic blueprints are neither exactly blueprints or programs. They are in their own category.

Of course, we can rework our definition of “semiotic programming languages” so that it includes this totally unique category of genetic information. But scientists have a boatload of independent lines of evidence that this arose by evolutionary mechanisms. So this is de facto evidence, as far as scientists are concerned, that evolution can in fact produce “semiotic programming languages” by this new definition.

Of course, the fundamental problem here is that you are trying to use platonic logic to process a metaphorical description of biology. Francis Bacon calls this the “Idol of the theatre”, where we mistake the metaphors of things for the things themselve. What we are running up against is the limits of using metaphors to reason scientifically. It just does not work. So we do not use this method of reasoning in rigorous science.

Instead, we use quantitative models. But your prediction is not quantitative. It is subjective. It is not a valid scientific hypothesis. It is neither testable, falsifiable (because of the subjectivity of the definitions).

Moreover, your observation does not discriminate the theory, because it starts from a circular premise too: .that evolution cannot give rise to things that we all agree are in biology from the outset. Things that are somewhat described by the metaphor of “semiotic programming languages” . You think this is impossible. We do not. Either way, we both expect to see more systems like this. Because this observation is a product of both our models.

I’m sorry @deliberateresult. I’m not trying to be rude or dismissive. But this argument is not scientific. It is not even good logic.


It is by a reporter for the Arizona Republic, published at DI.[quote=“Swamidass, post:11, topic:17521”]
Cells are simply too complex to have evolved randomly; intelligence was required to produce them.

And this is yet another quote by a journalist, not an ID theorist. Yes, you can find the article at the DI, but it is a journalist.

Both of your examples come from journalists!!! I am pleading with you : what on earth do you hope to accomplish here? Are your appeals to build bridges naught else than empty rhetoric?

Please let me preempt your next attempt: I am highly confident you can keep finding people - even ID advocates - who will say things like ID must be true because life is just too complex. You could even find bona fide ID theorists who might incorporate such a sentiment in a phrase. What you will not find is a bona fide ID theorist who says that ID is an argument from mere complexity. Yet as far as I can tell, both you and Jonathan are attempting to say that they do. Why? To what end? You know its not true. Is this really the best argument against ID you can come up with?

Please! Drop this silliness. I am begging you

Michael Behe is a journalist? You know he wrote that article, right?



You should ponder what you are doing in these postings.

You are a Christian who believes God performs miralces, talking to other Christians who believe God performs miracles.

But you apparently think God would never use Evolution as part of his work… while BioLogos has lots of people who think God would include Evolution in his miraculous and/or wondrous work.

So what is the Real Distinction between you and many of those in the BioLogos camp?

The folks in the BioLogos camp have an explanation for where all the millions of species have come from since God brought life to Earth.

You, I gather, don’t have any explanation for where all these species came from…

So why should we think your analysis is more sound than those we can find with BioLogos?

If I have misinterpreted your position, please forgive the poor memory of an old man. Please re-state your position as you want it described… and maybe that will improve some of these very unproductive discussions so far.


I agree. I do not think that @Jonathan_Burke said “mere” complexity. He was just summarizing the argument in the same way that Behe himself (and many other ID theorists) summarize the argument.

Of course it is not just that simple as some arbitrary or subjective notion of complexity. And I do not think anyone is claiming that about ID. Much of their work is invested in defining and quantifying different classes and levels of complexity, and then arguing that certain levels of complexity (whether it be IC, Functional Sequence Complexity, Functional Information, or Complex Specified Information) cannot arise by unaided evolutionary causes.

It is totally valid to summarize this work as @Jonathan_Burke and Behe do. And if you disagree, is it really fair to call @Jonathan_Burke ignorant for echoing Behe himself? I just think this vocabulary policing (a common hobby of ID advocates) run horribly amuck. Step back and focus on the actual ideas, instead of vocabulary policing. We are not nearly as ignorant of ID as you think.

My apology. Behe did indeed write the article and I missed that. But perhaps you missed his futher illucidation of what he was saying:

"Many other examples could be cited. The bottom line is that the cell – the very basis of life – is staggeringly complex. But doesn’t science already have answers, or partial answers, for how these systems originated? No. As James Shapiro, a biochemist at the University of Chicago, wrote, “There are no detailed Darwinian accounts for the evolution of any fundamental biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations.” A few scientists have suggested non-Darwinian theories to account for the cell, but I don’t find them persuasive. Instead, I think that the complex systems were designed–purposely arranged by an intelligent agent.

Whenever we see interactive systems (such as a mousetrap) in the everyday world, we assume that they are the products of intelligent activity. We should extend the reasoning to cellular systems. We know of no other mechanism, including Darwin’s, which produces such complexity. Only intelligence does."

So yes, Behe wrote the article. My bad for missing that. But as I said, you will have no problem finding a phrase to lift out of context. As we see in the larger context, Behe is talking about IC in cellular systems.

Of course I read that. For goodness sakes @deliberateresult, do you just like to argue?

It is not out of context. Behe is aptly summarizing his argument when he says that “cells are too complex” to have evolved. Of course, by too complex, he means IC. That is his working definition of complexity. That is why his summary is apt. He did not make a mistake when he wrote it. He did not misrepresent himself. And we are not ignorant for using his language too.

We know more about ID than you think. We are not ignorant. I don’t accept this arguments for different reasons. Not because I do not understand them.

Now, I’m a still waiting for you to display your expertise in ID by explaining which IC definition you ascribe to, and why you choose it. Remember there are two. Surely you know this. Which one do you use?


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