Definition of Irreducible Complexity:
“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” – Charles Darwin, Origin of Species
Since the publication of Darwin’s Black Box, Behe has refined the definition of irreducible complexity. In 1996 he wrote that “any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional.”(Behe, M, 1996. Evidence for Intelligent Design from Biochemistry, a speech given at the Discovery Institute’s God & Culture Conference, August 10, 1996 Seattle, WA. http://www.arn.org/docs/behe/mb_idfrombiochemistry.htm). By defining irreducible complexity (IC) in terms of “nonfunctionality,” Behe casts light on the fundamental problem with evolutionary theory: evolution cannot produce something where there would be a non-functional intermediate. Natural selection (NS) only preserves or “selects” those structures which are functional. If it is not functional, it cannot be naturally selected. Thus, Behe’s latest definition of irreducible complexity (IC) is as follows:
“An irreducibly complex evolutionary pathway is one that contains one or more unselected steps (that is, one or more necessary-but-unselected mutations). The degree of irreducible complexity is the number of unselected steps in the pathway.” (A Response to Critics of Darwin’s Black Box, by Michael Behe, PCID, Volume 1.1, January February March, 2002; iscid.org/)
Quotes taken from: http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/840
One thing that is glaringly evident about my immediately preceding comment is that the heart of IC goes straight to the falsifiability of Darwin as expressly stated by Darwin himself. So, attacking this issue is a delicate matter because otherwise Darwin’s theory could be held as not falsifiable science. If a theory is not falsifiable, then it is not science by definition of science.
Here is my restatement of the irreducible complexity hypothesis:
There exists in nature highly conserved and unevolved biochemical systems and protein structures that operate as machines for a specific intended purpose, assembled by parts of which any component of said parts would otherwise not exist but for serving its unique function as a member of the machine; and that machine would cease to operate upon the removal of any of those vital parts. The IC system cannot be reverse engineered or generated via bioengineering in a lab, and the degree of irreducible complexity is measurable by the number of unselected steps difference between the engine and its closest phylogenetic ancestral counterpart.
This is a whip-like organ that is used by some bacteria to move about in a liquid environment. This organ is embedded in the cell membrane, and enables the bacterium to jet around in any direction and speed, tumble and twirl around, stopping on a dime, and darting in the opposition direction at will. The flagellum does this because it has an outboard engine, more like a biochemical turbine jet propulsion system. This propeller-like engine is constructed on the same mechanical principles as an electric motor. There are two main parts to it: a moving part (the “rotor”) and a stationary one (the “stator”).
The bacteria flagellum cell does not utilize available energy stored as ATP molecules. Instead, it has a special energy source: Bacteria use energy from the flow of ions across their outer cell membranes. The inner structure of the motor is extremely complex. Approximately 240 distinct proteins go into constructing the flagellum.
Here are some of its engine specs:
· Water-cooled rotary engine, driven by proton motor force.
· Self-assembled and repair.
· Over 250 polypeptides make up over 30 structural parts.
· Each structure must be attached with an exact periodicity along the microtubules.
· In some cases has 2 gears (forward and reverse).
· Operates at speeds usually around 17,000 rpm but seen as high as 100,000 rpm.
In addition to the proteins already discussed, requires about forty other proteins for function.
THE MOUSETRAP ANALOGY
Michael Behe uses a mousetrap to explain IC to those who don’t know what IC is. The mousetrap is an analogy which is an oversimplification of the actual biochemical structure proposed to be IC. There are many web pages on the Internet that do an excellent job of explaining IC. One in particular that references the mousetrap analogy is at http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/840.
At this juncture, Dr. Ken Miller attempts to refute IC not based upon any scientific discussion, but solely based upon building a strawman argument. In response to this pathetic criticism of IC, Michael Behe states,
“That’s what often happens when people who are adamantly opposed to an idea publicize their own definitions of its key terms—the terms are manipulated to wage a PR battle. The evident purpose of Miller and others is to make the concept of IC so brittle that it easily crumbles. However, they are building a straw man. I never wrote that individual parts of an IC system couldn’t be used for any other purpose. (That would be silly—who would ever claim that a part of a mousetrap couldn’t be used as a paperweight, or a decoration, or a blunt weapon?) Quite the opposite, I clearly wrote in Darwin’s Black Box that even if the individual parts had their own functions, that still does not account for the irreducible complexity of the system. In fact, it would most likely exacerbate the problem, as I stated when considering whether parts lying around a garage could be used to make a mousetrap without intelligent intervention.” (http://www.discovery.org/a/1831)
IN RESPONSE TO DR. KEN MILLER’S ARGUMENT:
Now, here is an extremely important link in response to Miller, http://www.discovery.org/a/1831. Dr. Miller misrepresents IC, even going as far as to say that his argument goes to the “heart and soul” of ID. That’s a lie. It’s very easy to prove that is a lie. Miller contradicts what Behe wrote in Darwin’s Black Box. Behe wrote that IC is not dependent upon whether a subset of proteins serves as a different function. Miller’s lecture in the video linked above shows Miller contradicting what was already published in Darwin’s Black Box.
This one is within the Scientific Theory of Irreducible Complexity. This time the irreducible complexity is observed in the firefly. In order for the illumination to occur, the following are needed:
1. Abdominal trachea. Keep in mind of what purpose this organ (complex in its own rite) serves the organism when this oxygen intake mechanism has NOTHING to do with the beetle’s need for breathing.
2. Organic Compound, luciferin. It’s challenging enough of a question to explain why the beetle’s metabolism is producing this complex compound in the first place, but just the mere fact that the compound is complex creates a problem explaining as to why NS would select to manufacturer the compound.
3. Enzyme luciferase. How did NS have the intelligence to go shopping for this enzyme, as if it were an item to go pick up at the local pharmacy?
4. Processing call bioluminescence. The firefly beetle can do nothing with these ingredients unless if there is a complex organ, like a carburetor or fuel injector that mixes the to substances together in the right quantities and ration for light illumination.
5. Light-emitting organ on the lower abdomen. And finally, even if there is electricity, you still need to harness it, which means you need a light bulb, which is yet another complex organ necessary.
Evolution does not generate complex machinery. Natural selection (NS) and mutations likewise cannot design an engine like this firefly has to produce a glow. However, that is an assertion. It is a hypothesis based upon scientific observation.
Examination is required to follow and determine whether other parent life forms of the beetle that are an ancestor of the firefly would find it useful to have any of these components, and why NS would select with them blindly when it is impossible for NS to know that the other combined features of the engine will produce the desired produce of glowing light. Not only must one isolated feature of these five components be explained to benefit the firefly, but then the question is why would NS select for the 2nd ingredient, and then for the 3rd feature. Yet, there is still a 4th property that NS selected for, and finally a 5th ingredient to complete the light-producing generator.
It is erroneous to portray NS somehow having intelligence of its own so that anything evolves to fill a need. It is not like a football draft where you can pick a big tight end to bolster your short game. Random mutations do happen. If the resulting organism survives better, it propagates. This is the kind of evolution that is scientifically observed in nature. The need is only a retroactive understanding once you see that the organism had a higher degree of reproductive success. There may have been a thousand paths to succeed towards adaptation. But, only one observable variation appears out of the thousand possibilities.
I believe it is erroneous for scientists to confuse evolution to be a force (and it is a force, not like Newton’s physics, but a force for purposes of communicating) that identifies a need, and then evolves that direction. Sure, vacuums and voids will be naturally filled. But in this instance, light is produced for to attract a mate. NS does not have intelligence to conceive of a light-producing machine, and then attempt to design and manufacture the engine to generate it. NS has no foresight. NS is truly blind. Nature does not fill in needs, no organism get something special if the conditions favor it, and no prayers are answered. What we do get is whatever the embryo produces. You then see what the reproductive success is. Equal or better, the mutation may stick. Or, as often is the case the variation does not remain, and that budding stem on the tree of life terminates at a dead end. If it continues to morph, that means that a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth mutation (all beneficial to the organism, which does not occur in nature, but is consistent nevertheless to evolutionary theory) combine with the former variation to produce something equal or better than the population distribution. (I thank a Facebook friend, Bill Lechten, for some of my phrases, which are borrowed. E.g., he came up with the football analogy. I am quoting him at certain instances because he has a great way with words in articulating this explanation).
The problem with the firefly is that the benefit, in this case to emanate light for mate attraction purposes, would not be reached until ALL FIVE components have been naturally selected for. That is not how NS operates in real life nature because as already noted, NS selects blindly without foresight or planning. That’s the whole point of ID. ID is not an attempt to insert the God of the Bible although too often the case too many ID proponents do. It is very much legitimate science to probe into this “foresight” characteristic of NS, and why scientist attribute or impute design intelligence to NS. That’s really what ID as a science explores, among other things. If organic chemistry drives chemistry students to madness keeping track of the hydrogen and carbon compounds, then how does NS have the ability perform biochemical engineering?
The test in this model here is to show how removing just one component of the list of five items renders the other four useful for NS to select for. If scientists can show that the other four properties are useful to NS without the other, then the hypothesis that the glowing engine of a firefly is falsified, and that it is not irreducibly complex, and NS remains the best explanation.
I have not yet come across material that was damaging to the IC hypothesis yet. I will not ever throw in the towel on IC until Michael Behe does, and it appears he stands behind it as much today, if not more so, than ever before.
I want to make 2 quick points before we get into this further. I have not reviewed these links yet, but it is my assumption that (1) some of the material is redundant, and are only different sources that restate the very same identical argument. (2) I have a feeling that most of this material will probably make the point that there are extensive homologies between type III secretory proteins in bad bacteria (bubonic plague) and proteins involved in export in the basal region of the bacterial flagellum. This was first hypothesized by Ken Miller because he was the first to have to come up with a response to Behe. That was years ago. Since then the experimentation has been done to verify Dr. Miller’s hypothesis.
Dr. Miller’s hypothesis is based upon flawed logic. Basically the argument is that since some of the components that are a part of the bacteria flagellum as a machine are usable in serving other functions (e.g. Type III secretion), therefore the bacteria flagellum is not irreducibly complex. This is false. This is not what the IC theory/hypothesis is based upon.
IC is based upon the fact that it is impossible for natural selection to foresee the future, and plan as an architect or engineer would in creating a design, such as the mousetrap. The mousetrap has five (5) parts. Remove any of those parts, and the mousetrap ceases to function as a mousetrap. A mousetrap is simple analogy to explain IC. It takes INTELLIGENCE to DESIGN a mousetrap. To have a 5-part machine, such as a mousetrap is something that natural selection (NS) cannot select for because NS does not have the intelligence or the foresight to be able to construct a 5-part machine. Since the mousetrap ceases to function as a mousetrap if you remove any one of the five (5) parts, the mousetrap represents IC.
Now, let’s take the analogy to biology. If you remove any of the components of the bacteria flagellum, it ceased to function as a bacteria flagellum. That is why the bacteria flagellum is IC. It does not matter that you can use parts of the bacteria flagellum to serve other functions. Type III secretion is no longer bacteria flagellum.
NS is blind, it cannot select components to a complex system. Scientists think that somehow they have successfully refuted IC because they find other uses for the components of the mousetrap, such as Dr. Miller’s snide use of wearing the mousetrap as a tie clip. All those criticisms beg the question as to the existence of the system proposed to be IC in the first place.
To quote Behe:
“Miller’s argument is that since a subset of the proteins of the flagellum can have a function of their own, then the flagellum is not IC and Darwinian evolution could produce it. That’s it! He doesn’t show how natural selection could do so; he doesn’t cite experiments showing that such a thing is possible; he doesn’t give a theoretical model. He just points to the greater-than-expected complexity of the flagellum (which Darwinists did not predict or expect) and declares that Darwinian processes could produce it. This is clearly not a fellow who wants to look into the topic too closely.
“In fact, the function of a pump has essentially nothing to do with the function of the system to act as a rotary propulsion device, anymore than the ability of parts of a mousetrap to act as paperweights has to do with the trap function. And the existence of the ability to pump proteins tells us nil about how the rotary propulsion function might come to be in a Darwinian fashion. For example, suppose that the same parts of the flagellum that were unexpectedly discovered to act as a protein pump were instead unexpectedly discovered to be, say, a chemical factory for synthesizing membrane lipids. Would that alternative discovery affect Kenneth Miller’s reasoning at all? Not in the least. His reasoning would still be simply that a part of the flagellum had a separate function. But how would a lipid-making factory explain rotary propulsion? In the same way that protein pumping explains it—it doesn’t explain it at all.” http://www.discovery.org/a/1831
Some flagella are more complex than others. For example, a bacterial flagellum in E. coli requires about 40 different proteins, but in H. pylori only 33 are required. As such, you are basically arguing that since fewer proteins are required on one flagellum to work, then how can the flagellum be irreducibly complex? The research identifying the 33 proteins was conducted by Cal State-Fullerton biochemist, Bruce Weber. Weber wrote, “But only 33 proteins are needed to produce a functional flagellum for Helicobacter pylori.” [Weber, Bruce (1999). Irreducible complexity and the problem of biochemical emergence. Biology & Philosophy 14, 593-605.]
Let’s take a closer look at the bacteria flagellum. It has the following features:
* Water-cooled rotary engine, driven by proton motor force.
* Self-assembled and repair.
* Over 250 polypeptides make up over 30 structural parts.
* Each structure must be attached with an exact periodicity along the microtubules.
* In some cases has 2 gears (forward and reverse).
* Operates at speeds usually around 17,000 rpm but seen as high as 100,000 rpm. Information taken from http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1142, please check this out, it’s short, sweet, and has great graphics. Another diagram of a flagellum can be seen here,
When Michael Behe wrote Darwin’s Black Box, he noted some vital proteins that are required in or for a bacterial flagellum to function. He then wrote, “The bacterial flagellum, in addition to the proteins already discussed, requires about forty (40) other proteins for function.” (Darwin’s Black Box, Behe 1996, p. 72).
You can remove SOME parts of the flagellum, and the flagellum appears to remain functional. What you are overlooking is that not every part of an engine must be essential. In a reply to criticisms, Michael Behe acknowledges this fact when he wrote,
“First, some systems may have parts that are necessary for a function, plus other parts that, while useful, are not absolutely required. Although one can remove the radio from a car and the car will still work, one can’t remove the battery or some other parts and have a working car. Second, one must be careful not to identify one protein with one ‘part’ of a biochemical machine. For example, genes coding for two proteins in one organism may be joined into a single gene in another. A single protein in one organism may be doing the jobs of several polypeptides in another. Or two proteins may combine to do one job.”
Definition of Irreducible Complexity: “An irreducibly complex evolutionary pathway is one that contains one or more unselected steps (that is, one or more necessary-but-unselected mutations). The degree of irreducible complexity is the number of unselected steps in the pathway.” (A Response to Critics of Darwin’s Black Box, by Michael Behe, PCID, Volume 1.1, January February March, 2002; iscid.org/). Quote taken from: http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/840.
As you can see from the definition, it does not rely upon the mousetrap analogy of taking away one part in order to function. That’s a common characteristic of irreducible complexity, but that is not the technical definition. What you apparently overlook, is that when you look at a mousetrap (sticking with the mousetrap analogy), if you remove a part, YES you can use the mousetrap for many other purposes and functions, such as a tie clip, or whatever. But, IT CEASES TO CATCH MICE!! If you remove any of the essential parts of the mousetrap, you no longer have a mousetrap. If you remove any of the ESSENTIAL parts of bacteria flagella, then it is no longer bacteria flagella.
The Type III secretory system is both a export (secretion) system and it does this by injecting toxic substances into a eukaryotic host. The Type III secretory system (TTSS) is also not a flagellum, of course, so just because the TTSS can still fully function and operate, the fact remains it is no longer a flagellum. Hence, removing the parts of the bacterial flagellum to obtain other functions begs the issue that the bacterial flagellum was irreducibly complex to begin with.
The Type III Secretory System (TTSS) of bacteria has a different function and appears to be a simpler, more primitive version of bacteria than the flagellum. If you raise the issue of TTSS, you don’t resolve the problem, you actually compound the very problem you are attempting to refute. Why? Because now you not only have ONE irreducibly complex biostructure, but now you have two!! No molecular biologist, geneticist, or the like has ever shown how either one of these biochemical structures were derived!!
How did such a evolutionary pathway evolve by random mutation for either the TTSS or the flagellum? The purpose of the TTSS is used by bacteria as a protein pump to inject toxic substances into eukaryotic hosts. Biologists are divided as to which biochemical system existed first, the TTSS or the flagellum, and as such, no evolutionary model is offered. The problem is that bacteria (single-cell, no nucleus) supposed existed long before eukarya (single-celled with nucleus) evolved. Therefore, the flagellum was probably in existence before the TTSS was. There is no dispute that the TTSS has an very good use and 2nd function for the protein that bacteria flagella use for propulsion. Clearly, nature has found 2 good uses for this sophisticated type of apparatus. But, how it evolved is another matter. It is has been proposed in at least one research paper that the flagellum is the more ancient device, since it exists in bacterial genera that diverged long before eukaryotic hosts existed as virulence targets. [Macnab, R.M. 1999. The bacterial flagellum: reversible rotary propellor and Type III export apparatus. J. Bacteriol. 181:7149-53; Nguyen, L., Paulesn, I.T., Tchieu, J., Hueck, C.J., and Saier, M. H. , Jr. 2000. Phylogenetic analyses of the constituents of Type III protein secretion systems. J. Mol. Microbiol. Biotechnol. 2:125-44; Galan, J.E. and Collmer, A. 1999. Type III secretion machines: bacterial devices for protein delivery into host cells. Science 284:1322-28; Saier, M.H., Jr. 2004. Evolution of bacterial Type III protein secretion systems. Trends Microbiol. 12:113-15.
In Darwin’s Black Box (Behe 1996) Behe claimed,
“[T]he bacterial flagellum was irreducibly complex and so required deliberate intelligent design. The flip side of this claim is that the flagellum can’t be produced by natural selection acting on random mutation, or any other unintelligent process. To falsify such a claim, a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure (for mobility, say), grow it for ten thousand generations, and see if a flagellum — or any equally complex system — was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.” [http://www.iscid.org/papers/Behe_ReplyToCritics_121201.pdf]
Therefore, in conclusion. Yes, the bacterial flagellum is falsifiable, but to the present time, it has not yet been falsified.
Definition of Irreducible Complexity:
“By irreducibly complex i mean 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.” (Darwin’s Black Box, Behe 1996, page 39)
Irreducible Complexity As A Scientific Theory:
THERE ARE BIOCHEMICAL STRUCTURAL SYSTEMS THAT ARE MACHINERY COMPOSED OF SEVERAL WELL-MATCHED, INTERACTING VITAL PARTS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE BASIC FUNCTION WHERE THE REMOVAL OF ANY ONE OF THE VITAL INSTRUMENTS CAUSES THE ENGINE TO EFFECTIVELY CEASE PERFORMING ITS ORIGINAL INTENDED FUNCTION.
For falsification purposes, Behe offers this alternative definition, which by no means undermines the controlling definition based upon functionality:
“An irreducibly complex evolutionary pathway is one that contains one or more unselected steps (that is, one or more necessary-but-unselected mutations). The degree of irreducible complexity is the number of unselected steps in the pathway,” http://www.iscid.org/papers/Behe_ReplyToCritics_121201.pdf.
Irreducible Complexity may also be presented as an hypothesis. Here are several hypothesis statements related to Irreducible Complexity that can be drafted. Each one of these are testable and falsifiable:
Irreducible Complexity Hypothesis #1:
“A BACTERIA FLAGELLUM, WHICH PERFORMS THE BASIC FUNCTION OF PROPELLING AND MOTILITY TO THE BACTERIUM IS IRREDUCIBLY COMPLEX IN THAT IT INCLUDES A SET OF WELL-MATCHED, MUTUALLY INTERACTING, NON-ARBITRARILY INDIVIDUATED PARTS SUCH THAT EACH PART IN THE SET IS INDISPENSABLE TO MAINTAINING THE SYSTEM’S BASIC, AND THEREFORE ORIGINAL, FUNCTION”
Irreducible Complexity Hypothesis #2:
THE BACTERIAL FLAGELLUM IS COMPOSED OF SEVERAL WELL-MATCHED, INTERACTING PARTS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE BASIC FUNCTION WHERE THE REMOVAL OF ANY ONE OF THE PARTS CAUSES THE FLAGELLUM TO EFFECTIVELY CEASE FUNCTIONING AS A PROPELLER FOR THRUST AND MOTILITY.
Irreducible Complexity Hypothesis #3:
AN IRREDUCIBLY COMPLEX SYSTEM CANNOT BE PRODUCED DIRECTLY (THAT IS, BY CONTINUOUSLY IMPROVING THE INITIAL FUNCTION, WHICH CONTINUES TO WORK BY THE SAME MECHANISM) BY SLIGHT, SUCCESSIVE MODIFICATIONS OF A PRECURSOR SYSTEM, BECAUSE ANY PRECURSOR TO AN IRREDUCIBLY COMPLEX SYSTEM THAT IS MISSING A PART IS BY DEFINITION NON-FUNCTIONAL.
Irreducible Complexity Hypothesis #4:
AN IRREDUCIBLY COMPLEX EVOLUTIONARY PATHWAY IS ONE THAT CONTAINS ONE OR MORE UNSELECTED STEPS (THAT IS, ONE OR MORE NECESSARY-BUT-UNSELECTED MUTATIONS). THE DEGREE OF IRREDUCIBLE COMPLEXITY IS THE NUMBER OF UNSELECTED STEPS IN THE PATHWAY.
Irreducible Complexity Hypothesis #5:
THE BLOOD CLOTTING CASCADE IS IRREDUCIBLY COMPLEX
Irreducible Complexity Hypothesis #6:
BACTERIA FLAGELLA CANNOT BE PRODUCED DIRECTLY (THAT IS, BY CONTINUOUSLY IMPROVING THE INITIAL FUNCTION, WHICH CONTINUES TO WORK BY THE SAME MECHANISM) BY SLIGHT, SUCCESSIVE MODIFICATIONS OF A PRECURSOR SYSTEM, BECAUSE ANY PRECURSOR TO AN IRREDUCIBLY COMPLEX SYSTEM THAT IS MISSING A PART IS BY DEFINITION NON-FUNCTIONAL.
Irreducible Complexity Hypothesis #7:
THE BACTERIA FLAGELLUM IS IRREDUCIBLY COMPLEX
Irreducible Complexity Hypothesis #8:
CILIA ARE IRREDUCIBLY COMPLEX