“Can God make a universe capable of self-organization? If so, then there is no way
to make the case that complexity reflects direct design by a tinkering god, as opposed
to the result of a natural process in a universe made by an extremely clever God. If
not, then why do you posit a god that is so limited?”
~James F. McGrath
The argument is that Irreducible Complexity disproves the “theory” of evolution, and is a proof for an Intelligent Designer (God).
Irreducible Complexity, first coined in Michael Behe’s book “Darwin’s Black Box”, is the idea that some things are so complex, with so many complex parts, that it could not have evolved. If any one part were missing, the whole thing wouldn’t work. Since it wouldn’t function without all the parts (and therefore wouldn’t have evolved), and the parts couldn’t have co-evolved together for a common purpose that didn’t exist prior to them, that it proves Intelligent Design (and to some, disproves Evolution). “An irreducibly complex system,” he wrote, “cannot be produced directly… by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional.”
The problems with this are as follows:
- This is a hypothesis. A hypothesis is not proof.
- This relies on purported “common sense”, which is not permissible in scientific claims. It’s common sense that planets can’t change their orbits, yet Mars does (in “obvious” violation of physics), ergo God exists, is just one example of thousands of similar, failed, common sense arguments.
- This argument is a “God of the Gaps” argument. God of the Gaps is the single most employed argument in the history of human discourse, with as many as a billion unique iterations of it. It has never, not once, ever worked, and is also the single most refuted argument in human history (though it will no doubt continue to be deployed as long as we live).
- This is a deistic argument, not a theistic one. Therefore, even were it granted, it would constitute no evidence for theistic claims, like the existence of Vishnu, Zeus, Odin or God.
Each of these are alone are sufficient to dismiss Irreducible Complexity as any evidence for any theistic claim (such as evidence of God). Each of these, except (IV), are sufficient alone to completely discredit this argument as evidence, let alone “proof”, either supporting intelligent design or undermining evolution.
Note, first, that this is a hypothesis. A hypothesis is not a law, it’s not a theory, and doesn’t count as evidence against either. This makes it pseudo-science, in that people who use the argument try to couch it in scientific terminology to lend it credibility, but don’t apply it scientifically. For this to be “proof” against evolution, this hypothesis would need to follow the remaining steps of the scientific method to develop supporting evidence. None of that has been done (indeed this “hypothesis” may well violate the methods prohibitionist against fallibility). Supporters may say “Well, it’s obvious that you can’t co-evolve systems into a complex organ like the eye”, but it was once also “obvious” that the world was flat and that Mars can’t go backwards. “Obvious” is a banned word in science, and with good reason.
Indeed, already the mechanisms of many “irreducibly complex” systems are being discovered.
This is part of the problem with “Common Sense” arguments, and what makes them unscientific–they don’t look for possible alternatives. For example when Intelligent Design proponents argue that life requires four fully functioning systems (a means to absorb energy, to use energy, dispose of waste, and replicate) to exist, and therefore evolution is false because all four must have been in place first, they are dismissing reasonable alternatives (life might not always have had those requirements, perhaps small molecules had one or two of these systems and developed into larger complex systems and eventually became life (RNA has now been shown to be able to do this on it’s own. It’s not alive, and can self replicate, and develop crude methods for all of these functions, and it’s the basis of all life on this planet). “Common sense” is a ploy to suppress investigation into alternate theories, and is not now, nor has it ever been, evidence. Period.).
Once again, as nearly every theistic argument, Irreducible Complexity relies on scientific ignorance to prove god. Science can’t explain how multiple systems co-evolved, or how complex systems would work without one piece, it clearly, obviously can’t be done, so that proves God (or an intelligent designer). This is a God of the Gaps argument, this kind of argument is the single most employed argument in the history of human discourse, and it’s been wiped out every single time. It’s success rate in the last 6,000 years is zero.
Now that doesn’t give theists pause in deploying it. When the spin of Venus was impossible (a violation of the law of angular momentum) it proved God. When the orbit of Mars was impossibly changed direction mid-flight, it proved God. Theists can’t help themselves claiming that something we don’t understand proves god. But our ignorance, in an apparently finite world, isn’t proof of anything it’s not. And it’s been trumpeted as that, and I say this without hyperbole, a billion times. And it’s always wrong (except this time. This time it’s right!).
Aside from this being a God of the Gaps argument, and therefore completely invalid and unreliable, it’s also a deistic argument, not a theistic one. I do not contest deism. I’m an atheist, I contest Theism, and Irreducible complexity is a deistic argument for an intelligent designer–a higher power–which could just as easily be Zeus or Quetzalcoatl or something we’ve never thought of. None of this is not even suggestive of Theistic beliefs like the God of Abraham, or that Jesus was the son of God.
And all of that out of the way, science is already making significant strides in destroying irreducible complexity arguments. We know how non-living, self replicating DNA could acquire the other necessary systems to sustain life. Many parts of the steps have been reproduced. There are working hypotheses, and we’re showing that it is indeed (big surprise) possible for processes like this to develop.
There is no evidence that it can’t be done–we’ve theoretical ideas, they’re getting worked out, and we’re showing at least one way to do it.
Which is an expression of the exact problem with God of the Gaps arguments. Our ignorance, that something seems impossible, does not prove anything other than our own ignorance. Even if irreducible complexity wasn’t already falling to demonstrations of how to reduce these systems, it was never, ever, under any circumstances, proof of a higher power. It was proof we have more to learn, and we always will. And since our ignorance seems to somehow be proof of god, we’ll always have an argument of the gaps.