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Irreducible Complexity - Mathematical Definition and Refutation

By mberteig in Science
Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 11:51:31 AM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)
Science

There have been some recent articles here on K5 about Intelligent Design (1), (2), (3), (4). None of them have presented a formal logical approach to the question.

One of the foundational ideas behind intelligent design is the that of Irreducible Complexity. What follows is an amateur's attempt at a formal mathematical definition of irreducible complexity and then a brief analysis of a possible refutation of it based on the proposed definition. This work has been done mostly out of interest.

(This article was originally published at http://www.berteig.org/mishkin/IrreducibleComplexity.html - it is much nicer to look at there due to the limits of the html allowed here on K5.)


Irreducible complexity is a term coined by Michael Behe in "Darwin's Black Box" as a proof for the necessity of a designer in earthly organisms. Unfortunately, Behe's definition of the term is intuitive rather than formal, and his examples of irreducible complexity are therefore not provably irreducibly complex. I read "Darwin's Black Box" a number of years ago with great interest. Since reading it, I have been on the lookout for a formal definition of "irreducible complexity" and have been unable to find one (at least one that satisfied my mathematical/computer science background). Here is my attempt to provide some candidate formal definitions of irreducible complexity in the context of evolution.(1)

First a comment: this is an attempt to define an irreducible biological system while ignoring the issue of complexity. The issue of complexity in the question of a proof of intelligent design is irrelevent. The reason it is irrelevent is because complexity is a relative measurement; some things are more complex than others. Therefore any proofs involving complexity would also produce relative statements such as biological system X is more complex than biological system Y. As well, there does not seem to be an upper bound on complexity. Thus there is no way to determine if a biological system is maximally complex. Finally, complexity may have no relationship to the question of design since often (human) designed systems are appreciated for their simplicity whereas complex designs have a notorious side: the Rube Goldberg devices.(2)

That said, here is my first candidate definition of an irreducible system:

Define U as the universe of all possible genotypes

Note that by genotype I am meaning the complete set of inheritable biological data that defines the phenotype of a specific organism. For the purposes of this definition, I can ignore the whole notion of a species.

Define set O = { all S such that S is axiomatically an original genotype }

The set O contains the genotypes of all the first organisms (possibly the size of the set is 1). These first organisms were created through some other means than the following fit and fmutate natural process. They may have been created through chemical processes such as existed in the theorized "primordial soup".

Define function fit: U U → U

The function fit chooses the most "fit" of two genotypes in some given environment. It models natural selection.

Define a relation(3) fmutate: U → U for all S ∈ U such that (1) for all S' = fmutate(S) we have fit(S, S') = S' and (2) there exists F ∈ O such that S = fmutaten(F) for some value of n >= 0

The relation fmutate always produces a more "fit" genotype. Of course, this is not to say that less fit modifications of a genotype cannot be produced in nature. We are simply defining fmutate in such a way so that it can be used to formally define irreducibility. We also state that we are really concerned with the transitive closure of fmutate since we only want to consider genotypes that have their origin in set O. In the above definition, n represents the number of generations a genotype is from the original genotype.

Define predicate freducible on U such that freducible(R) if there exists R' such that fmutate(R') = R

Define predicate firreducible on U such that firreducible(I) if for all I', fit(I, I') = I implies fmutate(I') != I

In other words, a system is irreducible if we cannot find any less fit predecessor genotype that can be mutated to the genotype in question. This definition is fairly close to Behe's definition in that he is always concerned with genotypes of increasing fitness (his dicussion is actually about biological molecular systems that are part of the phenotype, but I think the point stands).

Behe's assumption of monotonically increasing fitness is not technically correct. As he has said in a personal communication: "Theoretically one can have the situation where a mutation is harmful but survives by luck and goes on to lead to a new, even better feature. However, as the mutation becomes more harmful and the population size becomes large, the probability of that occurring becomes very very small." (Behe, 2003) Must we consider the possibility that a mutation can produce a less fit system as a legitimate successor? Seemingly, yes, even though the probability is small for such a mutation to survive in a population. Irreducibility becomes much more difficult to find (in practice) since a predecessor to a system may be either more or less fit than the system and fitness no longer plays a role in irreducibility. Irreducibility then simply becomes a question of reproductive viability: can a system be proven to have a viable predecessor? I personally think the following is a more accurate model for defining irreducibility.

This changes the definition as follows:

Define predicate viable on U

The predicate viable decides if a genotype is reproductively viable and therefore if it succeeds in becoming a candidate operand in the following relation:

Define relation(3) vmutate: U → U for all S ∈ U such that (1) viable(S) implies viable(vmutate(S)) and (2) there exists F ∈ O such that S = vmutaten(F) for some value of n >= 0

The relation vmutate always produces a viable genotype if given a viable genotype.

Define predicate vreducible on U such that vreducible(R) if there exists R' such that viable(R') and vmutate(R') = R

We don't care about non-viable genotypes.

Define predicate virreducible on U such that virreducible(I) if for all I' such that viable(I'), then vmutate(I') != I

The simple definition above should be sufficient if we can find appropriate viable and vmutate that can be formally mapped to natural selection processes and genetic modification processes respectively. We can then either prove that no genotype I such that virreducible(I) can exist with the given natural processes or prove, probably by counter-example, that such a genotype I does exist. Behe proposes some examples of I from molecular biology, but only provides intuitive reasoning to show their irreducibility.

This leads nicely to the consideration of the following:

Define IRREDUCIBLE for some viable and vmutate such that IRREDUCIBLE is true iff there exists some S ∈ U such that virreducible(S)

In other words, is there even one (possibly theoretical) example of a system which is irreducible?

. . .

Obviously, in order to make these definitions worthwhile, we need to find O, viable, and vmutate that are accurate models of life. If we do not have accurate models, then any formal proof we could do would be extremely weak in that it would simply not apply to the real world. It is actually easy to show that if we are willing to ignore issues of probability, then an accurate vmutate must allow for the possibility of "massive" mutation.(1) Massive mutation is a mechanism by which we could easily move into an intuitively irreducible genotype. It should be noted again, there may be some place for an empirical investigation of irreducibility if we find numerous examples of genotypes that can only be explained by massive mutations.

If we discard a perfectly accurate vmutate or make other "unrealistic" assumptions, we may consider much more theoretical questions such as a meta-proof: that such proofs are impossible along lines similar to Goodel's Theorem or the Halting Problem. The basis of such a proof could rest on proving that biological processes at a molecular level are equivalent to Turing machines and then show that IRREDUCIBLE is undecidable.

Disclaimer:

Unfortunately my background in molecular biology is limited to personal interest that probably runs at about the freshman university level. I would appreciate any feedback on these definitions at mishkin-irreduciblecomplexity@berteig.com.

Notes:

(1) In researching this article, I came across a related paper at: http://www.bioinf.uni-leipzig.de/Publications/PREPRINTS/03-003.pdf (local copy) which discusses the topology of the genotype and phenotype. The authors state:

From the mathematical point of view it is natural to consider the collection U of all accessibility relations on a given genotype space. . . . What are the natural properties of U? We propose: (U0) X x X ∈ U (ergodicity). . . . The ergodicity hypothesis says that at some [emphasis in original] level everything is accessible from everywhere, if we just wait long enough or if we are content with sufficiently small probabilities.

In my opinion, this is a viable hypothesis by the simple fact that it is possible for a massive random mutation to occur which spontaneously converts a single-celled organism's genotype into the genotype of a human. Incredibly unlikely, true, but still calculatably possible. This simple fact puts a fatal hole in the idea of formally proving any sort of intelligent design along the lines of irreducible complexity. However, there is still a miniscule chance of an empirical proof if sufficient analysis was done and we found extremely frequent examples of genotypes that could only be produced through such massive random mutations. If this sort of discovery were to occur, we would have to consider alternative theories to Darwinian evolution. After all, Darwinian evolution rests partly on a probabilistic mechanism.

(2) the mathematical definition of entropy may be a suitable stand-in for the notion of complexity

(3) fmutate and vmutate are relations instead of functions because for any given system in their domain, there may be an arbitrary number of resulting systems. (Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for pointing out that using functions is inaccurate to the reality of the biological world.)

References:

Algorithmic Information Theory - A brief introduction to a related area of mathematics.

Talk Reason

The True.Origin Archive

The Talk.Origins Archive

Michael Behe's Home Page

Written by Mishkin Berteig maintainer of Agile Advice - How and Why to Work Agile (in other words, I have no business writing this stuff about irreducible complexity, but I thought I would try anyway.)

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Irreducible Complexity - Mathematical Definition and Refutation | 115 comments (83 topical, 32 editorial, 0 hidden)
Why? (3.00 / 7) (#4)
by mcc on Sat Oct 01, 2005 at 03:37:27 AM EST

What is gained by doing this? So you've created a rigorous definition of "irreducible complexity" and then demonstrated that what you've just defined doesn't work. Um... congratulations?

But the thing is, Behe, Dembski et al won't be actually using your definition. (Hell, they can't even seem to keep their own definitions consistent.) So... what have you done here, and why?

If your goal is to provide a rigorous basis for creationists to define their arguments on, well, it won't help much, since their argument is an appeal to emotion rather than logic and so huge slabs of logic like you're constructing here are of little use except as something to distract people with. (Have you seen the incredible amounts of trouble Dembski and his followers have had keeping straight the simple mathematical arguments Dembski himself devises? Your math is complicated enough it would probably wind up getting misapplied to the point where it no longer even makes sense the first time someone tried to repeat it.)

If your goal is to discredit the creationist argument by converting it to math and then showing it to be fallacious in that context, well, that's even less help, since by the time you've converted it to math it's no longer quite the same argument the creationists themselves are making, meaning you have just constructed a very rigorous straw man. (Which itself just raises the question: If creationists cannot express their ideas in a clearly-defined enough fashion that we can reason about them, then why even bother refuting them?)

What might be helpful is trying to state the "irreducible complexity" idea in simple mathematical terms for the purpose of simplifying and clarifying it, so that its problematic nature is laid bare. Unfortunately, the article you have written here is anything but clear and simple.

Incidentally, aside from all of this, I find it odd that although this article gives the impression that you are unimpressed by the "intelligent design" argument, you still appear to buy wholly into the "intelligent design" assumption that evidence against evolution is evidence for "design". The idea "either the theory of evolution fully explains speciation, or the theory of intelligent design is true" is purest false choice. "Irreducible complexity", even if it existed, would not be an argument in favor of "intelligent design", only an argument against the theory of Evolution.

Other than a... (2.66 / 3) (#6)
by The Amazing Idiot on Sat Oct 01, 2005 at 04:58:25 AM EST

Few idiots in the anti-religous and nuzto-religous communities, who the fuck pays attention to "Intelligent design"?

Unfortunately (3.00 / 2) (#17)
by zephc on Sat Oct 01, 2005 at 04:27:01 PM EST

Unfortunately, the Kansas School Board sigh

Idjits.

[ Parent ]

The president. (none / 1) (#20)
by partialpeople on Sat Oct 01, 2005 at 06:41:31 PM EST



[ Parent ]
Read again the second group he mentions (nt) (none / 0) (#24)
by nkyad on Sat Oct 01, 2005 at 07:13:27 PM EST


Don't believe in anything you can't see, smell, touch or at the very least infer from a good particle accelerator run


[ Parent ]
Thank you. (none / 0) (#25)
by The Amazing Idiot on Sat Oct 01, 2005 at 09:40:46 PM EST

We only have a lil bit more than 3 years of ol Bush.

The bright side is he wont be coming back. The bad side is a Democrat will most likely become president. The worst side is Hillary has a good chance.

In reality, both sides (democrat and republican) are bad for the citizens of the USA. Libertarians have no organization past calling themselves "libertarian" (ask em how far we should privitize.. schools? roads? police?). Greeners cant prove most of the "global warming" and 'friends of the furries' attitudes they garner.

Most people are too apathetic to care. I guess the next real change is when large groups of people are denied basic freedoms and then proceed to fight for it. Idaho would be a good candidate for the start of a new civil war, knowing how many militias and fringe-like groups are there.

[ Parent ]

Ah, but... (none / 0) (#99)
by smithmc on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 01:33:16 PM EST

...the grandparent's tone implies that these idiots and nutjobs are a marginal segment of society, that we don't need to be concerned about. However, when the President of the United States falls into that category, I think we need to be concerned indeed.

[ Parent ]
He'll be.... (none / 0) (#113)
by The Amazing Idiot on Fri Oct 07, 2005 at 02:33:17 AM EST

A leavin in 3 years, if not sooner.

[ Parent ]
Excellent point. Only in America... (nt) (none / 1) (#73)
by daani on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 06:07:03 AM EST



[ Parent ]
Nice effort. (2.83 / 6) (#14)
by Kasreyn on Sat Oct 01, 2005 at 03:29:21 PM EST

But sadly, most people who could understand your argument - or would bother to try - already accept the theory of evolution.

Try rewriting it using only words of one to two syllables, and you might convince someone.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
Let me let you in on a little secret.. (3.00 / 6) (#19)
by sudog on Sat Oct 01, 2005 at 05:11:52 PM EST

..we can present reasoning so perfect, so flawless in execution and design that no human on Earth could refute it, and a creationist will continue to disbelieve you in the belief that they simply can't see the flaw--*but that the flaw still exists*. This fundamental difference in their thinking is not possible to combat, because they have been raised from a child to SHUT DOWN their ability to reason when confronted with inconsistencies in their own dogma.

How do you expect to undo decades of specifically-designed brainwashing with a mathematical formula so complex that none of those kinds of people would understand it anyway?

Still, +1FP for the effort. I'd like to see a new story on the FP for once.


a simple refutation to ID (2.33 / 3) (#21)
by army of phred on Sat Oct 01, 2005 at 06:44:07 PM EST

Given enough monkeys shaking enough bags of legos, eventually one monkey is going to produce a self replicating robot entirely by accident.

"Republicans are evil." lildebbie
"I have no fucking clue what I'm talking about." motormachinemercenary
"my wife is getting a blowjob" ghostoft1ber
[ Parent ]
possible but implausible (none / 1) (#33)
by jsnow on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 02:18:29 AM EST

For your example, you need to prove that a self replicating robot can be built of legos, and that the desired connections between pieces can be made by shaking. (An analogy: if I have a sealed container of helium and I shake it from now until eternity, I doubt a Uranium atom will ever form, even though all the correct parts are there.)

Also, "enough monkeys" may be a ridiculously large number of monkeys.

Actually, the real reason you'll never refute ID is that it's nondisprovable. Therefore, it's not a real scientific theory. That doesn't mean it's wrong necessarily, just that it can't be tested with the scientific method. Irreducible complexity, on the other hand, is a very reasonable objection to evolution, and it is nondisprovable.

[ Parent ]

don't you mean disprovable $ (none / 1) (#44)
by trane on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 06:21:24 PM EST

in your last sentence?

[ Parent ]
shit $ (none / 1) (#45)
by trane on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 06:22:33 PM EST

I meant, "don't you mean DISPROVABLE, in your last sentence."

[ Parent ]
argh (none / 0) (#60)
by trane on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 10:39:40 PM EST

never mind me, i'm a drunken sod.

[ Parent ]
Quantum Mechanics (none / 0) (#98)
by student on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 09:16:52 AM EST

Actually, shaking a container of Helium will cause some of it to form Uranium.  And yes, it will take until eternity.

It's called Quantum Tunneling.  And it can happen without the shaking, too.


Simon's Rock College of Bard, a college for younger scholars.
[ Parent ]

This is an interesting line of argumentation (3.00 / 3) (#22)
by vadim on Sat Oct 01, 2005 at 06:44:47 PM EST

I'd say that this has some serious potential, actually. Intelligent Design is an attempt to "scientifically" (it's not falsifiable though, so not good) to convince somebody that a God is necessary. Since some people won't accept it without proof ID is an attempt to prove some kind of deity has to exist.

Yet, IMO, this is self-defeating. If a deity were proved to exist, first, it'd be immediately stripped of its divinity, and second, it'd remove any need for faith or basically religion.

To take an example from a diary: The Sun used to be a deity, but is not one anymore. Once we found what it was, where it was, and studied it, it was suddenly clear that it's not actually Helios, but a star. This knowledge removed any need to have any kind of faith in it, and made clear that any associated religious practice is useless.

So, I'd say that from the standpoint of religion, ID is not only an useless approach, but almost certainly a dangerous one, as it has the potential to destroy religion.
--
<@chani> I *cannot* remember names. but I did memorize 214 digits of pi once.
[ Parent ]

well $ (none / 1) (#46)
by trane on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 06:24:56 PM EST

"This knowledge removed any need to have any kind of faith in it, and made clear that any associated religious practice is useless."

Your consequent does not necessarily follow from your precedent. The sun could be as we model it in modern scientific terms, but religious practices might have some sort of effect that we can't yet measure scientifically.

[ Parent ]

Perhaps, but... (none / 1) (#52)
by vadim on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 07:23:41 PM EST

Helios is clearly long dead. While it may be possible to come up with something else, science destroyed Helios. He's not just forgotten, but completely destroyed. Nobody looks at the sun anymore and thinks of a fiery chariot. We don't seek supernatural explanations for eclipses. In fact, there's going to be one in Madrid tomorrow.

Yeah, something else could serve as a replacement. But as science explains more and more, the domain of the gods shrinks.
--
<@chani> I *cannot* remember names. but I did memorize 214 digits of pi once.
[ Parent ]

i'm with you (none / 1) (#59)
by trane on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 10:38:23 PM EST

i'm thinking of an interview i heard on the radio with some prominent evolutionary scientist. He was asked if he believed in God, and he said, "I believe in the power of belief" or something like that.

It may be that if we believe in religious rituals, it affects the way we process information, and so does have an effect on us - if not on the physical world. In other words if we prayed really hard for good weather, we might interpret an okay day as good weather...and that might make us happy, which would have the same effect as really having experienced a scientifically measurable "good" day...

Or, another possibility, a bunch of minds united in prayer might have some sort of physical effect that we can't measure with currently available scientific instruments.

Personally I don't think so, but I can't eliminate that hypothesis until it's been rigorously tested.

[ Parent ]

The opposite result (none / 0) (#50)
by carbon on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 07:18:43 PM EST

The Sun used to be a deity, but is not one anymore. Once we found what it was, where it was, and studied it, it was suddenly clear that it's not actually Helios, but a star. This knowledge removed any need to have any kind of faith in it, and made clear that any associated religious practice is useless.

Proving that the Sun is just a natural phenomenon without any kind of motivation or will of its own is a very good reason to stop worshipping it.

On the other hand, if upon investigation the Sun was revealed as being an actual diety, complete with the ability to tell what we all thought of it and did for it, and the power to get back at us if we pissed it off, then sure as hell we'd still be worshipping it.

If we were able to conclusively prove that God existed, then that would only encourage worship; proving he exists means proving the existance of a chance that he gives a rat's ass about what we do in his name.

Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]

Ah, no (none / 1) (#53)
by vadim on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 07:30:35 PM EST

There's no such thing as a scientifically proven god. A god is by definition something supernatural. If we could point to some place and say, look, that's YHWH, then a scientist's reaction wouldn't be to worship. No, it'd be categorized, studied, and explained. And this god would be another part of the real world.

Assuming we found something superior to ourselves, we'd then proceed to figure out how to deal with it, again removing the need for religion.
--
<@chani> I *cannot* remember names. but I did memorize 214 digits of pi once.
[ Parent ]

Do gods have to be supernatural? (none / 0) (#55)
by carbon on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 08:10:58 PM EST

So, let's say some people set out to prove that a god exists. And they do, finding (somehow or another) that an entity exists that:
  1. Has its own will
  2. Is omnipotent, or so much closer to omnipotent than we are that it might as well be, as far as being concerned for its influence on us goes
Even if we don't call this thing a god, since we've proven its existence and don't have to take it on faith, I'd still say people would be more likely to worship it than not. They'd do this on the chance that its influence on their lives might be swayed by worship.

Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
Well (none / 1) (#56)
by vadim on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 08:27:29 PM EST

Suppose we looked at the Sun, and indeed found Helios in a flaming chariot. Now what? Worship? Hell no.

We'd observe, investigate, make theories. We'd try to get in contact with him, and create a new branch studying the divine kind. It'd end up pretty much like the Xena TV series. While Ares might be called a god he's definitely not one in the classical sense. He's present in the real world, interacts with people, and no belief is needed, as he shows up in person more than often enough. At best he belongs to a superior species.

The resulting situation would be a lot closer to what we see in cartoons, where mice and chipmunks have to deal with us. If a mouse sized human-like intelligence exists, I doubt she'd consider me as a god. Something huge, immensely powerful yes, but there's no way anything is a part of the real world can be a god.

No, I'm pretty sure that the race of gods would just be classified as a new immensely powerful species. If we figure out that this entity wants to be worship, then yeah, we can worship, but now in a scientifically determined manner, again eliminating a need for a religion.
--
<@chani> I *cannot* remember names. but I did memorize 214 digits of pi once.
[ Parent ]

True enough (none / 0) (#31)
by mberteig on Sat Oct 01, 2005 at 11:33:15 PM EST

This sort of effort is hopefully another arrow in the quiver.


Agile Advice - How and Why to Work Agile
[ Parent ]
Fallacy of composition (none / 0) (#61)
by nymia_g on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 01:22:26 AM EST

You seem to be claiming all would not believe. How sure are you with that statement?

[ Parent ]
feh (none / 0) (#115)
by sudog on Thu Oct 13, 2005 at 04:36:46 PM EST

It's not necessary that I prove anything with my statements, since this is neither a presentation of a proof, nor a formal academic paper, and you are being disingenuous and fallacious yourself to suggest that such formal proof is somehow required for rhetorical intercourse.

I am merely putting to words and framing what most of us already--intuitively--know to be true of these people based on our own personal experience. I also framed the portion of the audience that I was speaking about, with the implicit assumption that a majority of the audience the author intended to address happens to cross-section with a majority of the people I'm describing.

Since you are obviously seeking some kind of illogical trolly argument with me, this is the last message I'll respond to in your subthread.


[ Parent ]

-1 proof by handwaving (1.33 / 3) (#32)
by jsnow on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 01:50:40 AM EST

If I understand your argument correctly (and there's a good chance I don't), this article could be summarized thus:
Irreducibly complex features are unlikely to evolve given that intermediate mutations will be less fit than either the organism with or without the irreducibly complex feature.

However, if we pretend that we don't need to concern ourselves with fitness but only reproductive viability, then suddenly we can imagine how an irreducibly complex feature could have evolved (however implausibly).

Did I miss something?

Irreducible complexity (none / 1) (#36)
by Sesquipundalian on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 08:25:35 AM EST

is just another example of the incredible arrogance exhibited by these cult mouthpieces.

Oooooh look at me, I'm such a word smith! I can argue any point of view with anyone's "so-called" reasoning tools. Look see! when I prove God's existence in C++, your heathen compiler breaks! Seee! that's proof! Seee!

Anslem had the best one so far, I think (google for "ontological argument").


Did you know that gullible is not actually an english word?
Cleans dust from living room, ignoring elephant (3.00 / 21) (#37)
by localroger on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 01:43:59 PM EST

The problem with Creationism (and its demon spawn ID) is not to be found in the language used, but in the fact that it is provably fundamentally wrong.

Most religions that offer a creation myth base that creation story on observed mechanisms by which things come to exist. Before Judaism most religions taught that the Universe was born or hatched or otherwise had a natural origin.

Judaism brought in two innovations; first, that they would only worship a single god (much later claiming that only that single god exists), and that this essentially male god created the Universe as a deliberate act, the way a potter creates a pot or a carpenter a barn. This was revolutionary; it was a sea change in human thinking, and it reflected the rise of civilization, cities, specialized arts and crafts, and patriarchy. It also caused a sea change in thinking about God's role in the cosmos; nobody would expect the mother goddess who gave birth to the Universe to have much control over it, any more than a human mother deliberately controls what her children will look like. But the father/potter god must exercise skill and deliberately create every detail of his work.

Until about 1200 A.D. this was the state of the art. There is another consideration here; a pot or barn doesn't move unless its maker moves it. It was thought that god must act deliberately to animate the Universe, literally pushing "every sparrow that falls" in its fated path. This changed when European craftsman began making clockwork mechanisms of intricate design. Here were things that performed elaborate motions without the interaction of their makers, for days at a time. This gave rise to the notion of a "watchmaker god" who wound the Universe up but was no longer pushing it around minute by minute.

Clockwork autonama were so disturbing to medieval Christians that some countries actually outlawed them. That's how important a change it was. Yet this is the mindset of most modern Christians, who do not realize how heretical their beliefs would have been before the year 1500 or so.

Since around the 1960's it has been clear that humans are capable of creating systems like computers which are actually more capable in many ways than the humans that made them, and which are so complicated that humans do not necessarily understand why they act the way they do. This has made it to conceive of a "hacker god" who is not only a watchmaker, but an incompetent watchmaker who has no idea what the watch will do when he finishes with it. This idea has not penetrated mainstream religion much, because it's too new. I think it may be one factor in the revival of Gnosticism in some circles.

Yet even the incompetent watchmaker leaves us with a watchmaker, for even a weird unpredictable watch cannot assemble itself. Is there an example of something "irreducibly complex" that is not only too complex to understand but assembles itself from ridiculously simple principles?

Imagine that you have been given a black box with a screen and controls for movement and zoom. It shows you an enormously intricate picture which reveals beautiful and fantastic levels of detail no matter how far in you zoom. Even at a level that would make the original diagram the size of the Solar System new whorls and loops are exposed, no two the same. You could spend a lifetime exploring this diagram (and in fact some people are doing so as I write this). It might seem obvious that some fantastically talented and intelligent being must be responsible for it.

But you'd be wrong. The Mandelbrot Fractal is in fact drawn by an algorithm much shorter than this comment. In fact, in some languages it's less than three lines of code.

Here is where you need to point the Creationists; here is the white crow that proves all crows are not indeed black. There are rules of thumb for types of algorithm which are likely to form fractals, and the structure of the Universe itself conforms to those rules of thumb. So this does not disprove the idea that life was in fact "intelligently designed," but it is solid proof that life didn't have to be "intelligently designed." Fantastically complicated things can assemble themselves from incredibly simple starting formulae, without intelligence.

That is not a theory or conjecture; it's something we can make and have made happen ourselves. You can download a fractal engine like Fractint and watch it happen yourself. That is what biologists need to stress, because that is what pulls the rug out from the entire two-paradigms-back Creationist argument.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer

I like to go even more low tech in my rebuttal... (3.00 / 2) (#40)
by skyknight on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 03:41:25 PM EST

The basis for the assumption that anything can be too complicated to have been bootstrapped without the direction of intelligence is hopelessly flawed as it immediately falls into a pit of infinite regress. If an intelligence was required to bootstrap our universe, then from whence did that intelligence spring? What is to keep us from arguing that that intelligence is too spectacular to have come into existence without an intelligent designer? As you seem to imply, humans who create complex software systems have more right to claim god status than does whatever force that created our universe. The problem, of course, is that religious folks either lack the ability to engage in such analytical thought, or are too terrified of the ramifications to allow themselves the luxury.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
Terrified of the ramifications (3.00 / 3) (#41)
by localroger on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 04:37:43 PM EST

That's it in a nutshell -- people are terrified of the idea that there is nobody in control, that all of our works are insignificant specks on an insignificant speck orbiting an insignificant speck in a vast universe that doesn't care about us one bit, and that our very existence is little more than a great big cosmic accident.

People are powerfully motivated to avoid that idea. They would much rather think that the universe is a nurturing place and that powerful forces are guiding us toward a bright and sunny future.

Your point about the infinite regress is good, but like the parent article its problem is that it won't persuade someone who is terrified of the implication. It's too easy for them to hold their hands over their ears and yell "LA LA LA" as you try to explain it.

But history shows that people are persuaded by things they see and experience. This is why I think chaos theory is so important; anyone who has spent a few days exploring fractals will understand instinctively that ID is bullshit. No matter how much they'd rather have a warm fuzzy father god watching over them. Just as the existence of clockworks suggested to our ancestors that God might not be holding their hand all day long.

In a sense this knowledge is like the Gnosis; I can explain it to you all day long and it won't convince you. But when you actually directly experience it -- by watching the clockwork perform every day, or making your own tweaks to the generative algorithms of fractals -- you know in a sense so fundamental that it transcends argument that this is how things work.

I think this is already happening to some extent as computers penetrate our society; people are seeing that people can create something that people don't understand. This is going to deeply affect the way people who are children today relate to religious ideas. It makes God more distant and less involved; basically it makes the idea of divine omniscience look unnecessary instead of necessary, as it appeared before we had built these things ourselves. And the result is that people pay less attention to this god who probably doesn't know what's going on so much. I think this has a lot to do with the modern re-emergence of Gnosticism, with its crazy/evil father-god, forming a rather neat solution to the Problem of Evil.

When the implications of chaos theory become as widespread -- perhaps through the development of nanotechnology or perhaps our own development of artificial life -- the final step will be made and there will be no need for a willful god at all, because we will see every day that the things we find so remarkable in the universe can be created by simple forces that might have assembled themselves at random. Ironically, when we get to that point people with religious tendencies will have almost circled around to the world's earliest religions, syncretic paganism and Goddess worship. I for one can hardly wait :-)

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

I am fond of this Joseph Weizenbaum quote: (3.00 / 3) (#42)
by skyknight on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 05:21:08 PM EST

The computer programmer is a creator of universes for which he alone is the lawgiver... No playwright, no stage director, no emperor, however powerful, has ever exercised such absolute authority to arrange a stage or a field of battle and to command such unswervingly dutiful actors or troops.

I think more than anything else it is my heritage as a computer programmer that has informed my philosophy on our universe. It is nigh on impossible to believe in such things as "free will" when you have become as immersed in the workings of machines as I have, at least not for the definition that most people use. Things look very different when you come to the realization that our existence is that of a flesh and blood computer, not a serial one like the clumsy silicon beasts of today, a massively parallel and wondrous thing indeed, but a computer all the same.



It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
Yeah, right. (none / 1) (#74)
by MrHanky on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 07:53:21 AM EST

You forget The Holy Book of Intel, ch. F00F:
And thy code shalt be riddled with bugs, although it is perfect. Two shalt be two point oh six, or some other curious approximation, and thou wilt know thy God and rejoice, for His ways are nigh unfathomable, though there shalt exist workarounds. And thou shalt write code that wander these wayward paths, and know that none of these will lead to sanity or to God.



"This was great, because it was a bunch of mature players who were able to express themselves and talk politics." Lettuce B-Free, on being a total fucking moron for Ron Paul.
[ Parent ]
reinforcement of beliefs (3.00 / 3) (#63)
by jsnow on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 03:27:18 AM EST

This is why I think chaos theory is so important; anyone who has spent a few days exploring fractals will understand instinctively that ID is bullshit.

I think that quite often people's experiences are usually interpreted in whatever way will best reinforce what they already believe. I suspect you didn't believe in ID before studying fractals or chaos theory, and so you interpret your experiences as a disproof of ID.

I prefer to think that God made us in his image, and that includes subcreative powers. We can create our own worlds and populate them with beings of our own creation. This is an old ability of the human race, but lately computer simulation has taken over the traditional role of imagination, allowing us to create things more complicated than we can understand (which incidently makes subcreation a lot more fun than it used to be).

I don't expect to convince you of my interpretation, I just wanted to point out that what is instinctively obvious to you is not necessarily instinctively obvious to everyone else.

[ Parent ]

IAWTP (none / 1) (#68)
by daveybaby on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 04:36:31 AM EST

I think most ID'ers would happily take a demonstration of irreducible complexity as proof that god exists. After all, 'God is infinite'.


[ Parent ]
In other words (3.00 / 2) (#76)
by An onymous Coward on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 08:32:27 AM EST

IDers would probably say that God made math and the Mandelbrot set work so that we could marvel at His Infinite Design Capabilities, or something.

"Your voice is irrelevant. Stop embarrassing yourself. Please." -stuaart
[ Parent ]
Creation of beliefs (none / 1) (#77)
by localroger on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 09:27:43 AM EST

Once formed beliefs are difficult to change, but it's not impossible; I was raised by devout Southern Baptists. But beliefs form around experience, and the experience of our distant ancestors who thought a potter must consciously form every detail of a pot for a pot to come to exist is very different from the experience of this generation that we can create things that are unpredictable and independent.

Your whole point about subcreation shows that you have no idea what I'm talking about; the important point about chaos theory is precisely that we don't create fractals. We discover them. They emerge imlicitly from certain types of simple algorithm, in a way that is neither obvious nor predictable without running the algorithm.

That, incidentally, forms a very persuasive answer to the question "Why did God create the Universe." But the answer it gives is just a bit different from what most mainstream Christians believe.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

Uninvolved deity (none / 0) (#85)
by curril on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 01:14:26 PM EST

Nancy Kress wrote an interesting story back in '84 called "Trinity" about a scientific search for God, with the resultant discovery that God exists, but is unaware of his creations. Kress created an interesting parallel to the accidental creations of humans and our lack of awareness of them. One of the characters found the discovery life-affirming, while the other retreated from it. Definitely worth the read.

[ Parent ]
your grammar, sir is flawed $ (none / 1) (#48)
by trane on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 06:28:50 PM EST

"from whence" is redundant.

Please now castigate yourself as vigorously as you would had you picked up on this mistake in someone else's comment.

[ Parent ]

Nay, sir, I shall do no such thing. (none / 1) (#49)
by skyknight on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 06:46:25 PM EST

Practitioners of the language more skilled than either you or I side with me.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
hmmm (none / 1) (#51)
by trane on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 07:22:43 PM EST

it seems to be in doubt. from http://www.bartleby.com/64/pages/page62.html:

from whence
Send that dish back from whence it came! A dyspeptic king might say that, but if uttered by a patron in most restaurants, it would be hard not to view it as anything but a joke. Whence, like thence, usually adds an archaic or highly formal tone to the passage in which it is used. It's great for creating an air of mock formality too.   
  Granting the king his royal license for formality to say from whence it came, would he then be open to criticism for redundancy? Language critics have attacked the construction from whence as redundant since the 18th century, and it is true that whence itself incorporates the sense of from, as in a remote village, whence little news reached the wider world. But from whence has been used steadily by reputable writers since the 14th century, most notably in the King James Bible: "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help" (Psalm 121). It is hard to label as incorrect a construction with such a respectable record of usage.

I guess you will be admitting "between you and I" into your "correct usage" cannon as well, since Shakespear used it. Bah. Such permissiveness will end up destroying all that is good and holy in the world.

[ Parent ]

Heh, you said "cannon"... (none / 1) (#54)
by skyknight on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 07:36:09 PM EST

Shall I commence firing at will? Poor English is something up with which I will not put. ;-)

I am surprised that you are lambasting a facet of language for being redundant. Redundancy in language is a feature, not a flaw. Much in the way that error correcting codes on hard drives allow for the recovery of lost data when the disk surface is damaged, so do the redundant features of natural language allow for conversation to occur fluidly despite there being a lossy channel. What I find irksome is when people deliberately butcher their language as we lose the redundancy accorded proper English, the consequence of which is that when there is actual loss in the channel, e.g. an additional careless error on the part of the speaker or writer, then the information being transmitted may prove unrecoverable. I would find this situation bothersome in much the same way I would were I to find that I lost a document from my hard disk because the controller didn't bother writing the ECCs, figuring that they would never be necessary.



It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
well i was trolling, i ain't a grammar nazi, (none / 1) (#58)
by trane on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 10:29:59 PM EST

but we've been over this before with "its/it's". I would argue that the redundancy present in the written forms (but not in the spoken forms) is not necessary in that case. When the redundancy becomes a burden to remember and requires significantly extra processing power, i would argue that it no longer serves a useful purpose.

In the case of "from whence" I mainly object to the use of the archaic "whence". If you're going to use it, you might as well drop the "from" because, I always learned at least, the "from" is already in the "whence". But I stand corrected, your usage is apparently well-documented.

To me it's like using "of" with "whose" ("this is the girl of whose nose I pinched"), but whatever. I withdraw my criticism.

[ Parent ]

"between you and I" (3.00 / 2) (#81)
by killmepleez on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 12:31:41 PM EST

is never acceptable.

the correct usage is "between me and thee".

__
"I instantly realized that everything in my life that I thought was unfixable was totally fixable - except for having just jumped."
--from "J
[ Parent ]
errr... (none / 1) (#43)
by gzt on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 05:26:35 PM EST

Despite male language used to refer to the Jewish god, it was not male, but beyond gender, as male deities have female consorts in that era and location. This was indeed innovative. Just a minor nit.

[ Parent ]
Sir. (1.00 / 4) (#66)
by tkatchevzombie on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 04:33:58 AM EST

Learn some math, please die, k thanx, bye.

[ Parent ]
Dependent origination! (none / 1) (#69)
by boxed on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 04:42:34 AM EST

Just westerners in their dark ages were ignorant of the dependent origination theory formalized by Siddhartha Guatama 500 years before the birth of Jesus. It describes an intricate clockwork universe, and at the same time strips all gods any creation power over this system. If only clockmakers had arisen at the same time buddhism might have spread proportionally to how right it was.

[ Parent ]
Great stuff right up until (3.00 / 2) (#70)
by daveybaby on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 04:43:59 AM EST

the fractal bit. Its not the argument itself which is flawed, just that the idea that you could actually use it with any degree of success to change people's mind on this issue. Hopelessly optimistic.

[ Parent ]
Also... (none / 0) (#80)
by videntur on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 12:20:37 PM EST

The argument structure seems to deviate from the actual terms. He also likes to conclude based on analogy, which is a bit weak, though.

[ Parent ]
True, to a certain extent (none / 0) (#84)
by localroger on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 12:56:55 PM EST

I think it is much more likely that the next generation, being familiar with these things at the same early age when religious affiliations are formed, will be less persuaded by the usual arguments that form those religious affiliations. Just as my experience with computers planted the seed of doubt that eventually caused me to leave Christianity, despite being quite devout up to the age of 15 or so.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
Ummm,no (none / 1) (#78)
by wiredog on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 10:18:21 AM EST

The problem (scientificall) with ID is not that it is "provably fundamentally wrong" but that (being based on faith) that it isn't provably wrong. No more than it is provably right.

Wilford Brimley scares my chickens.
Phil the Canuck

[ Parent ]
It undermines the assumption (none / 1) (#83)
by localroger on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 12:55:06 PM EST

Even though it isn't scientific, Creationists do pose an argument, to wit: All this fantastically complicated shit had to come from somewhere, it couldn't just create itself. Although Creationism is really about insecurity, this is the argument that the Creationist uses to justify dismantling the legitimate scientific approach.

But chaos theory says that in fact fantastically complicated shit can create itself under conditions that remarkably resemble the Universe. Therefore, the Creationist's main justification for taking that seven-league step back from the scientific method turns out to be hollow.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

chaos theory (none / 0) (#97)
by tkatchevzombie on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 08:49:36 AM EST

dude, i salute your theoretic chaos credz. which chaos theory college did you study at?

[ Parent ]
Fractint U. /nt (none / 0) (#100)
by localroger on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 01:35:14 PM EST



I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
as i knu (none / 0) (#102)
by tkatchevzombie on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 01:41:31 PM EST

welcome to the club

[ Parent ]
Perceptions of God (none / 1) (#91)
by kreyg on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 09:44:49 PM EST

A similar thought had occurred to me a while ago. Reading the Old Testament gives a very clear impression that the people of the time believed that everything outside of their very limited realm of explanation (and perhaps not even that) was entirely directed by God. Natural disaster? God. Rained too much? God. Rained too little? God. Famine? God. And it was all punishment for whatever you did or failed to that year - or punishment on your enemies for whatever they were doing.

Curiously, the fundamentalists / literalists don't seem to want to push that sort of literal interpretation.


There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind. - Douglas Adams
[ Parent ]

Carl Sagan (none / 0) (#92)
by vqp on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 04:10:52 AM EST

My first contact with evolutionary ideas was when I first read Cosmos.
I don't remember the details, but these are the things that stroke me after reading that book.
  1. - From all possible outcomes of the evolutionary process, this one (the surviving species set) is hardly the best or the worse I can think of, nor it is "beautiful" nor "impressive", just "well suited for reproduction in  Earth".
  2. - Sagan was very concerned about a potential nuclear doom, and it even theorizes that some "civilizations" (i.e. life structures in other planets) were self-destroyed because of the development of intelligence in still raw civilizations. That thinking also reflected the "sign of the times" (Cosmos was written during the Cold war, you teenage kurons)
  3. - The description of living creatures on Jupiter-like planets, being like "clouds" that eat "hot stuff" and go up in the atmosphere, and reproduce themselves by splitting. Why we say that life needs water?, why are we looking for water in Mars?, are we too water-centric yet?
I don't care much about this ID american soap opera, unless GWB invades my country and force us to believe in it.

 

happiness = d(Reality - Expectations) / dt

[ Parent ]

Fractals? (none / 0) (#105)
by cr8dle2grave on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 03:04:25 PM EST

Fractals sure are neat and all that, but they don't exhibit the type of complexity (the interdependence of component parts within a functional whole) which is assumed to be irreducible.

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
Not the point (none / 0) (#107)
by localroger on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 08:42:04 PM EST

There have been a couple of recent studies suggesting that incremental changes could have resulted in structures like the eyeball. I expect there to be more of those, since I consider it obvious that this is possible and it's how life developed. As we learn more and our computers get more powerful and our models get better, this will only get more and more obvious.

The importance of fractals is that they destroy the "obvious" notion that you can't get something complex from something simple. Just as clockwork automata destroyed the "obvious" notion that things don't move around without some kind of living influence behind them.

There are other ramifications. For one thing, it's obvious to me that the genetic code uses fractal-like techniques to build the complexity of our bodies and brains. This means that certain kinds of mutation and inheritance may not be possible, and certain others that seem unlikely are. It may be that, once life achieves a certain level of complexity, it is the macromutation that is normal, not the micromutation that makes a tiny little adjustment. You can't make a tiny little adjustment to a fractal; you make a little change to the generative algorithm, you wallop the result. This obviously has implications for how the fossil record will look, including certain nitpicking minutae which the Creationists love to bring up.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]

no subject (none / 0) (#108)
by tkatchevzombie on Wed Oct 05, 2005 at 07:52:25 AM EST

there have been a couple of recent studies

lurve that science

[ Parent ]

irreducible complexity (none / 0) (#39)
by LilDebbies Wife on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 02:31:09 PM EST

is flawed. Irreducible complexity states that there are parts of some organisms that cannot have evolved. The flaw is that it doesnt take in consideration that the functions of some parts change over time. Better explained here

Things would be much easier to say up to the microphone like a boss DJ.
Actually (none / 0) (#79)
by bob6 on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 10:24:06 AM EST

The linked page explains that function is not a property of an organ, but a way for us to organize our understanding of living systems. Nice link, btw.

Cheers.
[ Parent ]
You'll be hearing from my lawer. (2.00 / 3) (#65)
by tkatchevzombie on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 04:32:29 AM EST

Sir, you stole my valuable IP.

+1FP (none / 0) (#75)
by t1ber on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 08:07:20 AM EST

+1FP:  If you're right or wrong, it's well written and well cited.

That being said, I would have loved to see you pick something and give it a few runs through your definition to give us an example, but the framework you provided is good enough that examples are an excersize left to the reader.

And she said...
Durka Durka Mohammed Jihad
Sherpa Sherpa Bak Allah
Hadji girl I can't understand what you're saying.

The missing element: time (the environment) (none / 1) (#82)
by arthurpsmith on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 12:34:05 PM EST

Evolution is very far from static, so a mathematical treatment that leaves out the changes in environment with time may be interesting, but bears no relation to reality.

Fitness depends on environment. That environment changes - radically. The early Earth had no atmospheric oxygen, for instance; almost no modern life would be terribly fit under those conditions. Natural selection is an iterative process that changes entire ecosystems over time, in addition to responding to geological and astrophysical changes (continents moving, solar intensity changing, etc).

In particular, fitness, and even viability, depends critically on what else biology has produced around you. All animals depend (in the end) on plant life for their sustenance. Most flowering plants cannot reproduce without insects. Within many animal species, social interaction is key to reproductive success. For all sexual reproduction there has to be at least one other of your own species around.

So viability and fitness cannot be defined as functions or predicates only on U, "the universe of all possible genotypes". There is a vastly more complex dependency on environment, a dependency that changes with each mutation. In other words, this argument gets us nowhere, and misses the central point of evolution by natural selection: it's "nature" that does the selecting.

Energy - our most critical problem; the solution may be in space.


5 seconds of thought... Malaria and sickle cell (none / 1) (#86)
by BerntB on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 02:44:55 PM EST

Quote by Behe:
"Theoretically one can have the situation where a mutation is harmful but survives by luck and goes on to lead to a new, even better feature. However, as the mutation becomes more harmful and the population size becomes large, the probability of that occurring becomes very very small."
Consider the case of a mutation that lesser the expected number of offspring (e.g. by making a few percent of the carriers sick and die). But the mutation confers immunity towards a common disease.

Will that mutation spread, despite being strongly negative? It depends on how common the disease is.

When the environment changes and makes a pressure in a new direction, you will find lots of mutations that normally is very bad but the changed environment makes them work better than without them. After a while, those mutations will be be modified to have lesser bad effects (or other proteins will evolve to counter the bad effects).

This is basic; from the first courses on e.g. biochemistry or medicine.

Too basic (none / 1) (#103)
by Sgt York on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 01:58:25 PM EST

The argument of IC is not that you have detrimental genes that are conserved, that is too easily explained away, as you just did.

Their argument is that in order for certain systems to form, a population must maintain a pool of individuals that harbor a number of genes with no function, and therefore no benefit. These would get a small negative push from conservation selection (eliminate wasted energy by silenceing the gene) and would be subject to drift, so they would have a very limited lifespan. In any heavy selection event (climate change, introduction of new species, etc), in which most evolution would take place, these genes would probably be among the first to "go", used as material for new genes. This is their argument; there are too many forces working to eliminate useless genetic material that these things can't stand. ID comes out of this; if a useless mutation is conserved, there must be an equally powerful force maintaining it.

What they ignore, however, is that a gene can have one function at one point in evolution, and another a few million years later. This is how "useless" genes are conserved. They only look useless at first glance, there is a force holding it in place, and the force is positive selection, just as expected.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

Well, I didn't argue that (none / 0) (#106)
by BerntB on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 04:14:18 PM EST

The argument of IC is not that you have detrimental genes that are conserved
I didn't argue against ID, I contradicted against the quote by Behe, using a well known example (parasite resistance in an allele which also have harmful influences, e.g. sickle cell is common in malaria areas because carriers of the gene get a partial protection).

As I understand it, most animal species have a wildly varying genome. Do the neo-creationists really argue this:

Their argument is that in order for certain systems to form, a population must maintain a pool of individuals that harbor a number of genes with no function, and therefore no benefit.
How do ID explain the unholy mess the genome is in, then? :-) What was that Xian early church that argued that the world was created by an evil god?? :-)

Trivial math models show that there will always be some mutations going in and out of the gene pool by random drift. Then we have isolated groups, etc.

By definition are believers ready to sell out their integrity to keep their beliefs, but they can't really be arguing something that stupid??

What they ignore, however, is that a gene can have one function at one point in evolution, and another a few million years later.
Then we have alternative splicing, etc, etc.

[ Parent ]
Miscommunication (none / 1) (#109)
by Sgt York on Wed Oct 05, 2005 at 10:53:08 AM EST

"IC" isn't a typo, it's an abbreviation for irreducible complexity. I should have defined my terms, sorry about that. Reread with that in mind, and you'll see what I'm saying, I hope. I have a decent background in genetics, so I'm pretty familiar with the sickle cell/malaria and CF/TB relationships.

As for the extra material, they (IDers) use that as support. In the ID world, there is a pool of functionless genes that are maintained in a silent mode of some kind until they are needed according to the plan. It's like building piles of lumber, bricks, mortar, etc before putting the house together. Once all the genes of a certain system are in place, they are all activated. BTW, evolution can't readily explain the "trash" either. The selfish gene hypothesis is just that; an unproven hypothesis. It's a good story, and may be true, but it's unproven. The best we can come up with is that the "trash" isn't really trash, but does serve a purpose (it's probably a spacer to help in silencing and epigentics, and/or serves as a diversity reservior of transposable elements. There are many cases of this, and, IMHO, it's probably a big part of what is going on)

Yes; alternative splicing would be one of the mechanisms that would give rise to this observation. Others would be transposition, copying and mutation, or point mutations resulting in the loss or formation of a catalytic site, to name a few.

All in all, my post is more about IC than ID. ID is not falsifiable, as that involves noncontraollable elements. IC is falsifiable, and has been pretty well ruled out. There are competent mechanisms that would give rise to apparent irreducibly complex systems.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.
[ Parent ]

Wow, that was funny! (none / 0) (#112)
by BerntB on Wed Oct 05, 2005 at 11:25:04 PM EST

In the ID world, there is a pool of functionless genes that are maintained in a silent mode of some kind until they are needed according to the plan. It's like building piles of lumber, bricks, mortar, etc before putting the house together.
Wow, that is funny!

Thanks for making my day. Maybe I should read more about things like religion, ID and marxism. Weirder than space opera variants of science fiction!

The best we can come up with is that the "trash" isn't really trash, but does serve a purpose (it's probably a spacer to help in silencing and epigentics, and/or serves as a diversity reservior of transposable elements. There are many cases of this, and, IMHO, it's probably a big part of what is going on)

The research isn't finished yet, obviously. I did some biochemistry out of interest and what really surprised me was how primitive the lab work was; they really had to think very hard, experiment for decades and before being able to draw conclusions about e.g. cell breathing.

I decided to stick with computers. Just scared that it will be like being a musician soon; you have to have a day job, too. :-)

[ Parent ]

Where's the refutation? (none / 0) (#87)
by pw201 on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 04:39:22 PM EST

I'm a little confused here: you've provided a definition of irreducible complexity, but where's the refutation?

geez (2.00 / 3) (#90)
by kansur on Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 07:56:21 PM EST

I thought this wasn't going to get posted, but oh well. Anyway, a proper discussion of IrCo needs to include probability in a quantified way. Either that or you can cheap out with anthropic principle. So it turns out that your definitions are not even close to reality. So why are you even using such formal language at all? It's just confusing. In summary, allow me to sum up your article in one sentence: "Hey, massive mutation may be improbable but it still is possible." You need to learn how to write less. (ie. stfu)

Everyone's afraid to be the first to step into hell.

Carl Sagan (none / 0) (#93)
by vqp on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 07:29:32 AM EST

My first contact with evolutionary ideas was when I first read Cosmos.
I don't remember the details, but these are the things that stroke me after reading that book.
  • From all possible outcomes of the evolutionary process, this one (the surviving species set) is hardly the best or the worse I can think of, nor it is "beautiful" nor "impressive", just "well suited for reproduction in  Earth".
  • Sagan was very concerned about a potential nuclear doom, and it even theorizes that some "civilizations" (i.e. life structures in other planets) were self-destroyed because of the development of intelligence in still raw civilizations. That thinking also reflected the "sign of the times" (Cosmos was written during the Cold war, you teenage kurons)
  • The description of living creatures on Jupiter-like planets, being like "clouds" that eat "hot stuff" and go up in the atmosphere, and reproduce themselves by splitting. Why we say that life needs water?, why are we looking for water in Mars?, are we too water-centric yet?
I don't care much about this ID american soap opera, unless GWB invades my country and force us to believe in it.

happiness = d(Reality - Expectations) / dt

The chance to intelligent life is 1 (none / 0) (#94)
by Confusion on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 07:43:26 AM EST

My prediction is that, once we find ourselves capable of simulating the evolution that took place on earth to a reasonable extent, we will find that the chances of intelligent life evolving, on an earthlike planet is indinstinguishable from 1, given several billions of years.
--
Any resemblance between the above and reality is purely coincidental.
ur mathe iz rogzorz (none / 0) (#96)
by tkatchevzombie on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 08:47:07 AM EST

sir, i'd like to see some sources for that figure.

[ Parent ]
I would venture (none / 0) (#104)
by Fon2d2 on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 02:47:46 PM EST

not that the chance of "intelligent life" is 1, but that the chance of "irreducable complexity" is 1.

I use quotation marks since both these things are nebulous value judgements with no clear definition.

[ Parent ]

Intelligent life ? (none / 0) (#110)
by Fred_A on Wed Oct 05, 2005 at 05:02:50 PM EST

I still haven't met any examples. Maybe I should go out more...

The fact that (to the best of my knowledge) there isn't any intelligent life anywhere is the best argument I've found against ID.

Fred in Paris
[ Parent ]

well (none / 0) (#114)
by jcarnelian on Fri Oct 07, 2005 at 05:31:26 PM EST

I guess Earth still has several billion years to go...

[ Parent ]
Strawman! (none / 0) (#95)
by Canar on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 08:43:55 AM EST

What follows is an amateur's attempt at a formal mathematical definition of irreducible complexity and then a brief analysis of a possible refutation of it based on the proposed definition. This work has been done mostly out of interest.

So, if I'm not mistaken, you intended to do something like this:

  • Set up straw man.

  • Knock down straw man.

  • Wait for applause.

  • ???

  • Profit.

Am I right?

All this is unecessary (none / 0) (#101)
by Sgt York on Tue Oct 04, 2005 at 01:40:55 PM EST

There are much better refutations of IC done from a molecular standpoint. I remember seeing some good ones on talkorigins a while back, one on clotting and another on complement (these are the classic IC systems).

What you have basically said, if I understand you, is that although these things are unlikely on their own, given enough starting material and time they can happen. Flip the coin enough times, and it will stand on edge.

Anyone that really believed in IC/ID would simply counter that they are not simply unlikely, they are impossible as that there are mechanisms in place to eliminate such changes (selection against waste, for instance). The coin can't stand on it's edge because there is a strong wind.

ID has been refuted, refuted, and refuted, but never disproven. And this is the point; It can never be disproven. That is precisely why it is not science. One can never control the situation, so you can never test it. The dismissal does not need anything to do with religion, it is simply not falsifiable, so it's not in the realm of science, end of story.

But we all know this. This kind of debate is not going to convince anyone. It will only convince the convinced; it is preaching to the choir.

Hell, it is K5 at its best.

There is a reason for everything. Sometimes, that reason just sucks.

You can't disprove the pink unicorn (none / 1) (#111)
by Fred_A on Wed Oct 05, 2005 at 05:07:21 PM EST

Everyone has been through this a million times before.

Since some people will go to extreme lengths to sustain their faith because they are too afraid of the dark, no rational argument will ever touch them because all of theirs, while wrapped in pseudo-rationality are ultimately faith based.

Strop trying to reason with them, the only way out for them is psychiatry or the stake.

Or you can just ignore them.

Fred in Paris
[ Parent ]

Irreducible Complexity - Mathematical Definition and Refutation | 115 comments (83 topical, 32 editorial, 0 hidden)
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