Evolution And Irreducible Complexity.

 
Evolution by natural selection explains how life can adapt and be gradually modified by the trial and error process of natural selection.  If you don’t know how this process works, watch this first.  Or read any of my various evolution blogs here.  Though try to steer clear of the “RE: whatever” blogs, as they are me arguing with creationists, and will be far less informative.

But if you do know the basics, then read on.

Anyhow, evolution explains how species adapt to their environment but also is a mechanism that can give rise to complex biological mechanisms.  A guy named Micheal Behe, one of the few real, credentialed scientists in the anti-evolution movement, wrote a book called Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, designed not for scientists, but for a lay, religious audience.  The book claimed (without evidence or any experimentation whatsoever) that complex, inter-dependent systems could not evolve by slow, gradual modification of precursor mechanisms because they could not be simplified without completely breaking down.  This is just a scientific sounding version of the watchmaker argument in theology.  A watch needs many gears to function, take any gear away and it stops working, therefore a creator must have put them all together so they could work.  So too the supposedly secular “Intelligent Design” movement (which is tooootally different from the religious creationism movement, aside from using slightly modified versions of the same textbooks and being spearheaded by the exact same group of conservative christians and evangelists) insists that complex biological systems with inter-dependent parts indicate that someone (they’re not saying who ::wink wink::) must’ve put all the different bits together so it could work.

There is however a problem with this.  A plant or a germ or a dog are not actually like a watch or anything man-made.  When an architect builds a building he can create the frame first, put up scaffolding etc, planning for the next phase.  But evolution cannot plan ahead.  It must do only what can be accomplished by means of slow, gradual modifications of what came before.

So to use language as an analogy, evolution works this way:

a
at
sat
salt
salty

Slight, gradual changes, each one fully functional.  Or in this analogy the parallel to functionality is simply being a real word.

And this is what we find in biochemestry as well.  Micheal Behe’s central example of “irreducible complexity” is the bacteria flagellum.

For those of you who don’t know, it is a sort of out board motor for many germs, it’s a whip-like structure that spins and propels germs and other cells through the microscopic world.  It’s complex, made of dozens of parts:


As you can see, very complicated.  Remember, Behe’s claim is that you can’t take even one part away without it all coming grinding to a halt.

Turns out we can take virtually all of it’s parts away and it remains functional, though it’s function changes or diminishes at each stage.  Here are just the major intermediates, all of which are fully functional, and most or all of which exist in other cells or other parts of the cell:


Every last one is 100% functional.  This is by definition the death of the irreducible complexity argument.  It is by definition false.  Fictional.  Bull pucky.

In fact most of the examples of “irreducibly complex” mechanisms in his book were known at the time to be reducibly complex, and he didn’t see fit to mention it. 

But you go to any creationist or “intelligent design” website and they are still using these fraudulent arguments years later.  There are frauds in science to be sure, but they are denounced as frauds, not embraced and upheld and fought for.  Because a scientist’s priority is finding the truth, whatever it may be – not proclaiming The Truth.

But here’s where it gets even more interesting (and lame, for the ID side).  Evolution can and has been shown to produce irreducibly complex mechanisms.  That’s right, irreducible complexity, the one and only biological argument against evolution coming from an actual biologist, is a common product of evolution!  Haha.

For instance, going back to our language analogy:

a
at
sat
sad
sod

Sod is irreducibly complex.  It cannot be broken down to any of it’s precursors by removing parts.

Slight, gradual modifications, each one functional, but they modify the precursors so that it cannot be broken down, and is thus “irreducibly complex”.  In this way it is often very hard to re-trace exactly how something has evolved, especially when we’re talking about cells which do not fossilize and leave no record or history for us to glean insights from.  It would be like trying to track the history of a civilization that left no records or artifacts based on it’s current state.  Very hard indeed, no?  But in the case of intelligent design that really doesn’t matter though because the above has more than destroyed the challenge to evolution, showing irreducible complexity, even where it does exist (as it surely does somewhere, though the creationists can’t even find genuine examples of it) is irrelevant as evolution can easily produce it.

So yeah, when someone says x thing is “irreducibly complex” in a creationist argument or blog, give them the link to this blog.

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About agnophilo

Nerd.
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17 Responses to Evolution And Irreducible Complexity.

  1. striemmy says:

    The flagellum example is confusing in relation to the section proceeding it. Is a flagellum a complex, inter-dependent system? When I heard the word system I thought perhaps of an ecosystem where taking a single animal out of the food chain would bring things to a grinding halt (as humaity has displayed time and time again). Also, are the different parts of the system dependant on eachother if you can reassemble it with missing parts and it’s still fully functional?Again, with the example of natural irreducible complexity, was the discussion about a single organism becoming irreducibly complex or a system becoming so? I kinda still think it makes sense in the context of ecosystems. 

  2. How does evolution know that it needs to design and build a flagella?  How does evolution know that it needs to design and build a DNA molecule, an eye ball or a nose?Your entire theory is based on the fact that you take the order in everything for granted.  And that is worse than the fundy who insists that the universe only took 6 literal days to come into being.Evolution is a mechanism for change.  The intelligence that orders evolution is already built into the system.

  3. @LoBornlytesThoughtPalace – You sound like a Pantheist in this comment.

  4. @tendollar4ways – The intelligence that orders evolution is a single intelligence.  Multiple intelligences would create incoherence and disorder; designs that operate at cross purposes. As a result pantheism does not apply.

  5. agnophilo says:

    @striemmy – Well ecosystems evolve in the same sort of sense so yeah, but I’m talking about species.  And the flagellum is supposedly irreducibly complex because it has inter-dependent working parts.  But when I said systems I was thinking more circulatory, respiratory, digestive etc.@LoBornlytesThoughtPalace – I gave links to a video and several blogs that explain the basics of how evolution works for those like yourself that have no idea what it is or how it works.But thanks for reminding me I wanted to do a blog about the eye.

  6. agnophilo says:

    @LoBornlytesThoughtPalace – I think you’re confusing pantheism with polytheism.

  7. @LoBornlytesThoughtPalace – Google Pantheism will ya. Guess you and Skanklyn had a late, rough night and your wits aren’t back about you yet. Pantheism does not equal polytheism.

  8. @tendollar4ways – Pantheism is the view that the Universe (Nature) and God are identical, or that the Universe is the only thing deserving the deepest kind of reverence.That is not what I described.

  9. @LoBornlytesThoughtPalace – Damn…Skanky musta taken the viagra again.

  10. Another gross error in your explanation is that evolution is slow.  Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.  That one little, but critical detail just destroys everything you just wrote.The truth is, your explanation is a philosophical basket case of assumptions and conclusions that are governed by your doctrine of atheism. There is no reason for a flagella to evolve.  There is no reason for an eye to evolve.  In the disordered universe of the atheist there is no reason for anything even to exist.Your fellow Wing Nut Zero, JT, calls the cause of order “mindless forces”.  At least he has the brains to understand that order cannot come about by itself.Without reason, how can there be rhyme (order)?  Like the irrational fundy you’re just proclaiming something is so, because.

  11. agnophilo says:

    “Another gross error in your explanation is that evolution is slow.  Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.  That one little, but critical detail just destroys everything you just wrote.”In no conceivable way does evolution being fast or slow have anything to do with anything in this blog.  The whole point is that these intermediaries are all fully functional, meaning evolution doesn’t have to rapidly build up a complex mechanism, it can take a handful of generations or a billion years.”The truth is, your explanation is a philosophical basket case of assumptions and conclusions that are governed by your doctrine of atheism. “No, nothing in this blog has to do with whether or not god exists, troll.”There is no reason for a flagella to evolve.  There is no reason for an eye to evolve.”  Other than the fact that genetic and physical variations occur spontaneously through genetic mutations and that among those variations those that increase the chance of survival or reproduction will be passed on more often becoming common in the species while those that are detrimental will be passed on less often becoming less common if not being entirely weeded out.  Aside from that, yeah, no reason it could possibly happen.You fucking dolt.”In the disordered universe of the atheist there is no reason for anything even to exist.”And this has to do with what?  Go away.

  12. Do you have some examples (or links to examples) of evolution being shown to produce irreducibly complex mechanisms?

  13. agnophilo says:

    @goodnessgraceness – I’m no biologist, but the one example that comes to mind (sorry I have no link, read about it offline years ago) is I believe fleas have a bacteria inside them which digest their food.  They don’t have their own ability to digest food.  So creationists argued that god must’ve designed the flea and the bacteria at the same time because without the bacteria the flea would die.  They ignored the possibility that the flea could once digest it’s own food, and that once the bacteria was introduced and digested it’s food as effectively there was no selective pressure to remove deleterious mutations which inhibited (or even destroyed) that ability and it would likely eventually lose it’s natural ability in time.So yeah, sorry I can’t think of a better example.  If you asked a biologist they might be more help.

  14. tim223 says:

    @agnophilo – You wrote, “Here are just the major intermediates, all of which are fully functional, and most or all of which exist in other cells or other parts of the cell”Can you post the scientific source for this claim that all of these structures are fully functional?  Also, what about the “minor intermediates”?

  15. agnophilo says:

    rkle@tim223 – Do you get that just one of these intermediates falsifies Behe’s claim?  I do not need “minor intermediates”, that is just moving the goalpost.But if you want more info, here is the entire article, written by someone with actual biology credentials which goes into an insane amount of very specific detail.  Here is just the caption for the above illustration:Figure 7: Summary of the evolutionary model for the origin of the flagellum, showing the six major stages and key intermediates.  White components have identified or reasonably probable nonflagellar homologs; grey components have either suggested but unsupported homologs, or no specific identified homologs, although ancestral functions can be postulated.  The model begins with a passive, somewhat general inner membrane pore (1a) that is converted to a more substrate-specific pore (1b) by binding of proto-FlhA and/or FlhB to FliF. Interaction of an F1F0-ATP synthetase with FlhA/B produces an active transporter, a primitive type III export apparatus (1c).  Addition of a secretin which associates with the cytoplasmic ring converts this to a type III secretion system (2).  A mutated secretion substrate becomes a secreted adhesin (or alternatively an adhesin is coopted by transposition of the secretion recognition sequence), and a later mutation lets it bind to the outer side of the secretin (3a).  Oligomerization of the adhesin produces a pentameric ring, allowing more surface adhesins without blocking other secretion substrates (3b). Polymerization of this ring produces a tube, a primitive type III pilus (4a; in the diagram, a white axial structure is substituted for the individual pilin subunits; all further axial proteins are descended from this common pilin ancestor).  Oligomerization of a pilin produces the cap, increasing assembly speed and efficiency (4b).  A duplicate pilin that loses its outer domains becomes the proto-rod protein, extending down through the secretin and strengthening pilus attachment by association with the base (4c).  Further duplications of the proto-rod, filament, and cap proteins, occurring before and after the origin of the flagellum (6) produce the rest of the axial proteins; these repeated subfunctionalization events are not shown here.  The protoflagellum (5a) is produced by cooption of TolQR homologs from a Tol-Pal-like system; perhaps a portion of a TolA homolog bound to FliF to produce proto-FliG.  In order to improve rotation, the secretin loses its binding sites to the axial filament, becoming the proto-P-ring, and the role of outer membrane pore is taken over by the secretin’s lipoprotein chaperone ring, which becomes the proto-L-ring (5b).  Perfection of the L-ring and addition of the rod cap FlgJ muramidase domain (which removes the necessity of finding a natural gap in the cell wall) results in 5c. Finally, binding of a mutant proto-FliN (probably a CheC receptor) to FliG couples the signal transduction system to the protoflagellum, producing a chemotactic flagellum (6); fusion of proto-FliN and CheC produces FliM.  Each stage would obviously be followed by gradual coevolutionary optimization of component interactions.  The origin of the flagellum is thus reduced to a series of mutationally plausible steps.The author has a BS in biology and another in chemestry, is currently in the PhD program in integrative biology at berkley and has published many papers, as well as doing a lot of research work in the dover trial.But honestly, if you want someone with a PhD in genetics, biology, paleontology or any other field related to evolution or life to tell you evolution is a fact of biology, all you have to do is ask basically anyone in any field of life science.  Ask only the christian geneticists, you will still get a positive response well over 99% of the time.

  16. I come here endeavoring to fit my head around the reputed refutation of irreducible complexity. I have a couple responses to this reply.First is academic. The matter of evolution’s capacity to be it’s own cause and effect seems to be a matter of philosophical POV or stance. I’m searching for an adequate term. On the one hand, from a theistic perspective, a teleological argument appears to be the only rational explanation for the complexity of things. A self-sufficient cause-and-effect is no more imaginable than cartoon physics, like characters pulling themselves out of a chasm by the nape of their own neck, or running in midair before plunging off a cliff. And on the other hand, from a philosophical materialistic perspective, an unseen Cause just smacks of deus ex machina. It’s a dodge. A copout. We have, in a way, two warring irreconcilable mindsets. I’m not debating. Merely articulating.Next is personal. And I’ll make it short. “…fucking dolt”.If I misunderstand, then I beg your pardon and absolution. And if I don’t, then I take you to task.If you’re talking to Loborn, that’s unworthy of her. And you. I don’t care if it is her. I know she gets under peoples’ skin. I know she is (or was) abrasive. Maybe on a par with DearRicky. (Sorry, Charlie. I esteem you but I’m talking to him.) We’re talking about treating a lady with the honor due her gender. I’m retro like that. Dam archaic, in fact. And I don’t care about the buzz concerning who she “really” is. Her gender is putative. We will grant her the courtesy of assuming her to be who she says she is. Just as I assume you to be better than skanklyn, $10, and connorryan. You aren’t a bottom feeder. Anyone reading you and them with an ounce of dispassion will see the difference.There. I’m better. Said my piece. I’ll take whatever you want to lay on me.  No recriminations or grudges.

  17. agnophilo says:

    @wrybreadspread – “I come here endeavoring to fit my head around the reputed refutation of irreducible complexity. I have a couple responses to this reply.  First is academic. The matter of evolution’s capacity to be it’s own cause and effect seems to be a matter of philosophical POV or stance.” How is evolution it’s own cause?  Genetic mutations are caused by a number of things and natural selection is caused by environmental pressures.   You may be thinking about abiogenesis, but even that isn’t supposed by anyone to be it’s own cause.”I’m searching for an adequate term. On the one hand, from a theistic perspective, a teleological argument appears to be the only rational explanation for the complexity of things. A self-sufficient cause-and-effect is no more imaginable than cartoon physics, like characters pulling themselves out of a chasm by the nape of their own neck, or running in midair before plunging off a cliff. And on the other hand, from a philosophical materialistic perspective, an unseen Cause just smacks of deus ex machina. It’s a dodge. A copout. We have, in a way, two warring irreconcilable mindsets. I’m not debating. Merely articulating.”The existence of complexity and the origin of the universe are two separate questions.  We have explanations for the first and may be on the verge of explanations for the second (due to quantum physics experiments discovering that matter is actually in a state of flux and quantum particles constantly pop into and out of existence which may lead to a further understanding of how this happens).”Next is personal. And I’ll make it short.  “…fucking dolt”. If I misunderstand, then I beg your pardon and absolution. And if I don’t, then I take you to task.”No need for absolution, feel free to criticize.”If you’re talking to Loborn, that’s unworthy of her. And you. I don’t care if it is her. I know she gets under peoples’ skin. I know she is (or was) abrasive. Maybe on a par with DearRicky. (Sorry, Charlie. I esteem you but I’m talking to him.) We’re talking about treating a lady with the honor due her gender. I’m retro like that. Dam archaic, in fact. And I don’t care about the buzz concerning who she “really” is. Her gender is putative. We will grant her the courtesy of assuming her to be who she says she is. Just as I assume you to be better than skanklyn, $10, and connorryan. You aren’t a bottom feeder. Anyone reading you and them with an ounce of dispassion will see the difference.”I shouldn’t be rude or insulting even to someone like loborn – I blew up at loborn (who I pretty much know for a fact is a guy btw, I actually asked “her” point blank and “she” refused to answer, and has told people on my blog to “suck my dick” several times, then deleted the comments later).  This in addition to the various exposure blogs and the fake looking pictures of I believe multiple women is enough to convince me.  Anyway, I blew up at “her” after constantly trolling my site for a long time and eventually just ignored “her”.  And that account was deleted awhile ago for severe TOS violations and this is an old blog so it doesn’t matter much now – but valid point.”There. I’m better. Said my piece. I’ll take whatever you want to lay on me.  No recriminations or grudges.”Never had a grudge against someone for criticizing me – my ego isn’t that fragile, lol.

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