Illusive Mind

The Unquestionable should be questioned

Monday, November 15, 2004

Argument for Intelligent Design

 

How about a change of pace. Here is an old essay of mine:

Argument for Intelligent Design

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

1.1 Introduction
2.1 Behe on Irreducible Complexity
2.1 Behe on Defeasibility
3.1 Problems with Behe
3.2 Two distinct Arguments
3.3Problems with Irreducible Complexity
3.4 Problems with Evolution
3.5 More Problems with Irreducible Complexity
3.6 Problems with Inference to Intelligent Design
3.7 Problems with Defeasibility
4.1 Conclusion
5.1 Sources

1.1 Introduction

The argument for intelligent design is certainly not a new theory. Often credited to William Paley in his book Natural Theology published in 1802, the idea that complexity of nature is evidence for its design descends from the teleological argument. This argument dates as far back as 44 B.C. where Marcus Tullius Cicero proposed this idea in his book De Natura Deorum. (Grigg 2000, p.50)

Michael Behe has become another prominent figure in this long-standing debate by attempting to provide a biochemical basis for the argument in his book Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution published in 1996. Behe claims that his argument for intelligent design is scientific and indeed secular, however all this amounts to is refraining from identifying the intelligent designer and using more complicated examples to justify the his position.

In this essay I will outline Behe’s case for intelligent design and detail some of the problems with his theory he fails to account for. Including those problems inherent in the idea of irreducible complexity, Behe’s characterisation of the processes of evolution, Behe’s inference to intelligent design and the issue of defeasibility.

2.1 Behe on Irreducible Complexity

Behe, in a similar fashion to early proponents of the argument for intelligent design states that there are biological systems that are too complicated to have been developed through the natural processes of evolution. Behe (2001, p.79) describes these systems as “irreducibly complex” and as such can be better explained by the existence of an intelligent designer than by evolution.

Behe (1996, p.39) defines irreducible complexity as:

A single system which is composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.

Behe attempts to illustrate this concept by way of a mousetrap. He suggests that a mousetrap is an example of such a system whereby if one removes any one of its parts it effectively ceases to function as a mousetrap. Behe (2001, p.79) then goes on to say that such a system would’ve been impossible to evolve because evolution involves a series of “numerous, successive, slight modifications.” So according to Behe we can rightly infer that the mousetrap must be a product of intelligent design and that this is the method we use everyday to determine whether or not objects are the product of intelligent design.

2.2 Behe on Defeasibility

Behe also attempts to refute objections that the argument for intelligent design is indefeasible by suggesting that the inference to intelligent design is probabilistic and as such could be refuted by a better explanation.

3.1 Problems with Behe

Up to this point Behe’s argument has not been considerably different from that of Paley’s. The divergence occurs simply when Behe goes on to use biochemical examples of intelligent design, such as the bacterial flagellum, blood clotting process and the lac operon of E. Coli. One could object to Behe’s argument on the basis of his scientific claims about these systems as Kenneth Miller and Russell Doolittle attempt do, but this is unnecessary. These biochemical systems are merely examples of an argument that is already hopelessly confused. I will now set out Behe’s argument as I have described it and illustrate its flaws.

3.2 Two Distinct Arguments

Argument A
1. A system is irreducibly complex if the removal of any one of its parts causes the system to cease functioning (Premise)
2. Evolution is a gradual process of adding single components to a system whereby each and every component serves some purpose in improving the system. (Premise)
3. Therefore irreducibly complex systems could not have been developed by evolution. (From 1 & 2)

Argument B
1. It is because man-made systems are irreducibly complex that we infer that they are the product of intelligent design. (Premise)
2. There are systems in nature which are irreducibly complex (Premise)
3. Therefore we should infer that they too are the product of intelligent design. (From 2 & 3)

3.3 Problems with Irreducible Complexity

Here we see that Behe, really has two distinct arguments. Argument A supposes that there are systems that cannot be explained by evolution. Argument B supposes that we ought to conclude that such systems are the product of intelligent design. It is interesting to see that Behe spends most of his paper defending argument A, but there is little support given to argument B.

The first premise of argument A might appear to be unproblematic but in fact depending on how one interprets Behe’s definition it is arguable whether there exists any irreducibly complex systems at all. Firstly there is an assumption that each and every system performs only one function. This is demonstrated in Behe’s mousetrap illustration as he says if we remove any one of the components, “it doesn’t catch mice half as well as it used to, or a quarter as well. It simply doesn’t catch mice at all.” But who is to say that a mousetrap cannot perform other functions? If one removes the spring, the mousetrap still functions effectively as a paperweight, and the spring itself could function in a variety of different roles. So one could envision two components that perform completely different functions coming together through the random mutation process of evolution and creating a mousetrap.

In fact one could separate each component of the mousetrap and find that they are equally good at performing other functions. For Behe to assume that the process of evolution is directed at forming single function systems is a terrible misreading. Kenneth Miller (2003, p.296) in his paper Answering the Biochemical Challenge from Design illustrates that many scientists have easily been able to account for Behe’s irreducibly complex systems in evolutionary terms. Namely that “the multiple parts of complex biochemical machines are themselves assembled from smaller, working machines developed by natural selection.”

3.4 Problems with Evolution

Thus premise two of argument A, is also incorrect. For it assumes that the process of evolution involves adding proteins one at a time. It would be very difficult to see how evolution could work in this manner, as each protein would have to give the organism some advantage. Clearly Behe’s characterisation of evolution is wrong and that it is supposed that small groupings of proteins that serve particular functions can be added together to evolve new and more advantageous systems.

3.5 More Problems with Irreducible Complexity

There is also doubt as to whether Behe’s claim that the removal of any of the components would render the system inoperative. Behe (2001 p.79) himself says that the removal of “most of the 40 different proteins” necessary to the bacterial flagellum would render it inoperative (at least as a flagellum). Thus, there does exist proteins necessary to the bacterial flagellum, which could be removed without effectively ceasing its function. Therefore it cannot be described as irreducibly complex. Not unless Behe wishes us to interpret irreducible complexity as a system where most of the components could not be removed without it ceasing to function. This of course is a considerably weaker definition, as the whole human body can be classed as an irreducibly complex system. There are parts that cannot be removed without it ceasing to function (heart, lungs, brain) and there are parts which can be removed without rendering it inoperative (hair, nails, arms, legs). (Oppy, 2003, s.6) If this was Behe’s claim however it would fail his “acid test” for there have been many feasible accounts for the evolutionary development of the human body.

If we take Behe’s stricter definition of irreducibly complex systems then it is doubtful whether or not there exist any such systems in nature at all, for most systems have at least some protein that can be removed without it ceasing to function. Presumably if there were systems that had no unnecessary components then Behe would’ve used them as his example, instead of bacterial flagellum.

3.6 Problems with Inference to Intelligent Design

It’s now clear that Behe has not successfully proven that irreducibly complex systems could not have been developed by evolution, or in fact that there exist any such systems in nature at all. So with argument A refuted and premise two of argument B very doubtful, what are we to conclude about the first premise of argument B, that we infer intelligent design because of irreducible complexity?

Behe’s example of such an inference is that if we were to spot a man made trap in the woods, made by tying a vine to a tree and staking it in the ground, we would conclude that it was the product of intelligent design “from the way the parts were arranged”. (Behe, 2001, p.80) This is very reminiscent of Paley’s watch on the ground example, except that the parts used in the trap are all naturally occurring.

I would suggest that the inference to intelligent design is very much an a posteriori one. I would not think that the trap was man made because if I took the vine off the tree, it would cease being a trap, or if I took the stake out of the ground it would cease being a trap. I conclude that it is man made because I have yet to encounter a tree that grows vines that stake themselves into the ground. So Behe’s claim that we infer intelligent design from the presence of irreducible complexity is clearly false.

3.7 Problems With Defeasibility

Lastly I would consider Behe’s claim that the argument for intelligent design is defeasible. Behe (2001, p.84) suggests that the claim of intelligent design is that “no unintelligent process could produce this system” whereas the claim of Darwinism is that “some unintelligent process could produce this system.” He goes on to say that the claim of intelligent designers is easily falsified by showing one unintelligent process that could produce such a system whereas to falsify the Darwinian claim one would have to show how the system “could not have been formed by any of a potentially infinite number of possible unintelligent processes.”

But one could easily reverse this onus buy saying the claim of the intelligent designer is that some intelligent process produced this system and the Darwinian claim is that no intelligent process could’ve produced this system. Even if Behe was correct in suggesting evolution could not explain a particular system, he has given no adequate reason for supposing that we should think it was the product of intelligent design and would need to demonstrate how such a designer could produce these elaborate systems seemingly unbeknownst to us. The onus of proof remains very much on the shoulders of the advocates of intelligent design. If they could show how such a designer could or has operated then evolution would be falsified. But to do that many would need to abandon their claim that it is indeed a secular argument.

4.1 Conclusion

In this essay I have illustrated the critical flaws in Behe’s argument for Intelligent design. Including those problems inherent in the idea of irreducible complexity, Behe’s characterisation of the processes of evolution, Behe’s inference to intelligent design and the issue of defeasibility.

5.1 Sources

Grigg, R. (2000), “A Brief History of Design”, Creation Ex Nihilo, Vol. 22, No. 2, March-May, p.50–53

Behe M. (2001), “The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis”, Philosophy of Religion Readings, Monash University, p.78-84

Behe M. (1996), Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: The Free Press, 1996)

Miller K. (2003), Answering the Biochemical Argument from Design in “God and design: the teleological argument and modern science”, Routledge, p.292-307

Oppy G. (2003), “Irreducible Complexity” Lecture 10 PHL2670, Monash University, Section 6

Labels: , ,

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found your **keyword** blog by accident, great info keep it up. I will be checking back often now that I know you are here!

I have been running my own site about laser hair removal orange county for some time now and I am only just getting into blogging.

10/03/2005 09:34:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home