Response to Claim That ID Theory Is An Argument from Incredulity

The Contention That Intelligent Design Theory Succumbs To A Logic Fallacy:

It is argued by those who object to the validity of ID Theory that the proposition of design in nature is an argument from ignorance.   There is no validity to this unfounded claim because design in nature is well-established by the work of William Dembski.  For example, here is a database of writings of Dembski: Not only are the writings of Dembski peer-reviewed and published, but so are rebuttals that were written in response of his work.  Dembski is the person who coined the phrase Complex Specified Information, and how it is convincing evidence for design in nature.

Informal Fallacy

The Alleged Gap Argument Problem With Irreducible Complexity:

The argument from ignorance allegation against ID Theory is based upon the design-inspired hypothesis championed by Michael Behe, which is known as Irreducible Complexity. It is erroneous to claim ID is based upon an argument from incredulity* because ID Theory makes no appeals to the unobservable, supernatural, paranormal, or anything that is metaphysical or outside the scope of science.  However, the assertion that the Irreducible Complexity hypothesis is a gap argument is a valid objection that does need a closer view to determine if the criticism of irreducible complexity is valid.

An irreducibly complex system is one that (a) the removal of a protein renders the molecular machine inoperable, and (b) the biochemical structure has no stepwise evolutionary pathway.

Here’s how one would set up examination by using gene knockout, reverse engineering, study of homology, and genome sequencing:

I. To CONFIRM Irreducible Complexity:


1. The molecular machine fails to operate upon the removal of a protein.


2. The biochemical structure has no evolutionary precursor.

II. To FALSIFY Irreducible Complexity:


1. The molecular machine still functions upon loss of a protein.


2. The biochemical structure DOES have an evolutionary pathway.

The 2 qualifiers make falsification easier, and confirmation more difficult.

Those who object to irreducible complexity often raise the argument that the irreducible complexity hypothesis is based upon there being gaps or negative evidence.   Such critics claim that irreducible complexity is not based upon affirmative evidence, but on a lack of evidence, and as such, irreducible complexity is a gap argument, also known as an argument from ignorance.  However, this assertion that irreducible complexity is nothing other than a gap argument is false.

According to the definition of irreducible complexity, the hypothesis can be falsified EITHER way, by (a) demonstrating the biochemical system still performs its original function upon the removal of any gene that makes up its parts, or (b) showing that there are missing mutations that were skipped, i.e., there is no stepwise evolutionary pathway or precursor.  Irreducible complexity can still be falsified even if no evolutionary precursor is found because of the functionality qualifier.   In other words, the mere fact that there is no stepwise evolutionary pathway does not automatically mean that the system is irreducibly complex.  To confirm irreducible complexity, BOTH qualifiers must be satisfied.  But, it only takes one of the qualifiers to falsify irreducible complexity.  As such, the claim that irreducible complexity is fatally tied to a gap argument is without merit.

It is true that there very much exists a legitimate logic fallacy known as proving a negative.  The question is whether there is such a thing as proving nonexistence. It’s a logic fallacy. While it is true that it is impossible to prove a negative or provide negative proof, it is very much logically valid to limit a search to find a target within a reasonable search space and obtain a quantity of zero as a scientifically valid answer.

Solving a logic problem might be a challenged, but there is a methodical procedure that will lead to success.  The cure to the logic fallacy, is to correct the error and solve the problem.

Solving a logic problem might be a challenge, but there is a methodical procedure that will lead to success. The cure to a logic fallacy, is to simply correct the error and solve the problem.

The reason why the irreducible complexity hypothesis is logically valid is because there is no attempt to base the prediction that certain biochemical molecular machinery are irreducibly complex based upon absence of evidenceIf this were so, then the critics would be correct.  But, this is not the case.  Instead, the irreducible complexity hypothesis requires research, such as various procedures in molecular biology as (a) gene knockout, (b) reverse engineering, (c) examining homologous systems, and (d) sequencing the genome of the biochemical structure.  The gene knockout procedure was used by Scott Minnich in 2004-2005 to show that the removal of any of the proteins of a bacterial flagellum will render that bacteria incapable of motility (can’t swim anymore).  Michael Behe also mentions (e) yet another way as to how testing irreducible complexity using gene knockout procedure might falsify the hypothesis here.

When the hypothesis of irreducible complexity is tested in the lab using any of the procedures directly noted above, an obvious thorough investigation is conducted that demonstrates evidence of absence. There is a huge difference between absence of evidence and evidence of absence.  One is a logic fallacy while the other is an empirically generated result, a scientifically valid quantity that is concluded upon thorough examination.  So, depending upon the analysis, you can prove a negative.

Evidence of Absence

Here’s an excellent example as to why irreducible complexity is logically valid, and not an argument from ignorance.  If I were to ask you if you had change for a dollar, you could say, “Sorry, I don’t have any change.” If you make a diligent search in your pockets to discover there are indeed no coins anywhere to be found on your person, then you have affirmatively proven a negative that your pockets were empty of any loose change. Confirming that you had no change in your pockets was not an argument from ignorance because you conducted a thorough examination and found it to be an affirmatively true statement.

The term, irreducible complexity, was coined by Michael Behe in his book, “Darwin’s Black Box” (1996).  In that book, Behe predicted that certain biochemical systems would be found to be irreducibly complex.  Those specific systems were (a) the bacterial flagellum, (b) cilium, (c) blood-clotting cascade, and (d) immune system.   It’s now 2013 at the time of writing this essay.  For 17 years, the research has been conducted, and the flagellum has been shown to be irreducibly complex. It’s been thoroughly researched, reverse engineered, and its genome sequenced. It is a scientific fact that the flagellum has no precursor. That’s not a guess. It is not stated as ignorance from taking some wild uneducated guess. It’s not a tossing one’s hands up in the air saying, “I give up.” It is a scientific conclusion based upon thorough examination.

Logic Fallacies

Logic fallacies, such as circular reasoning, argument from ignorance, red herring, strawman argument, special pleading, and others are based upon philosophy and rhetoric. While they might lend to the merit of a scientific conclusion, it is up to the peer-review process to determine the validity of a scientific hypothesis.

Again, if you were asked how much change do you have in your pockets. You can put your hand in your pocket, look to see how many coins are there. If there is no loose change, it is NOT an argument from ignorance to state, “Sorry, I don’t have any spare change.” You didn’t guess. You stuck your hands in your pockets and looked, and scientifically deduced the quantity to be zero. The same is true with irreducible complexity. After the search has taken place, the prediction the biochemical system is irreducibly complex is upheld and verified. Hence, there is no argument from ignorance.

The accusation that irreducible complexity is an argument from ignorance essentially suggests a surrender and abandonment of ever attempting to empirically determine whether the prediction is scientifically correct.  It’s absurd for anyone to suggest that ID scientists are not interested in finding Darwinian mechanisms responsible for the evolution of an irreducible complex biochemical structure. If you lost money in your wallet, it would be ridiculous for someone to accuse you of rejecting any interest in recovering your money. That’s essentially what is being claimed when someone draws the argument from ignorance accusation. The fact is you know you did look (you might have turned your house upside down looking), and know for a fact that the money is missing. It doesn’t mean that you might still find it (the premise is still falsifiable). But, a thorough examination took place, and you determined the money is gone.

Consider Mysterious Roving Rocks:

On a sun-scorched plateau known as Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, California, rocks of all sizes glide across the desert floor.  Some of the rocks accompany each other in pairs, which creates parallel trails even when turning corners so that the tracks left behind resemble those of an automobile.  Other rocks travel solo the distance of hundreds of meters back and forth along the same track.  Sometimes these paths lead to its stone vehicle, while other trails lead to nowhere, as the marking instrument has vanished.

Roving Rocks

Some of these rocks weigh several hundred pounds. That makes the question: “How do they move?” a very challenging one.  The truth is no one knows just exactly how these rocks move.   No one has ever seen them in motion.  So, how is this phenomenon explained?

A few people have reported seeing Racetrack Playa covered by a thin layer of ice. One idea is that water freezes around the rocks and then wind, blowing across the top of the ice, drags the ice sheet with its embedded rocks across the surface of the playa.  Some researchers have found highly congruent trails on multiple rocks that strongly support this movement theory.  Other suggest wind to be the energy source behind the movement of the roving rocks.

The point is that anyone’s guess, prediction, speculation is as good as that of anyone else.  All these predictions are testable and falsifiable by simply setting up instrumentation to monitor the movements of the rocks.  Are any of these predictions an argument from ignorance?  No.  As long as the inquisitive examiner makes an effort to determine the answer, this is a perfectly valid scientific endeavor. 

The argument from ignorance would only apply when someone gives up, and just draws a conclusion without any further attempt to gain empirical data.  It is not a logic fallacy in and of itself on the sole basis that there is a gap of knowledge as to how the rocks moved from Point A to Point B.  The only logic fallacy would be to draw a conclusion while resisting further examination.  Such is not the case with irreducible complexity.  The hypothesis has endured 17 years of laboratory research by molecular biologists, and the research continues to this very day.

The Logic Fallacy Has No Bearing On Falsifiability:

Here’s yet another example as to why irreducible complexity is scientifically falsifiable, and therefore not an argument from ignorance logic fallacy.  If someone was correct in asserting the argument from incredulity fallacy, then they have eliminated all science. Newton’s law of gravity was an argument from ignorance because he didn’t know anything more than what he had discovered. It was later falsified by Einstein. So, according to this flawed logic, Einstein’s theory of relativity is an argument from ignorance because there might be someone in the future who will falsify it with a Theory of Everything.

Whether a hypothesis passes the Argument of Ignorance logic criterion, or not, the argument is an entirely philosophical one, much like how a mathematical argument might be asserted.  If the argument from ignorance were applied in peer-review to all science papers submitted for publication, the science journals would be near empty of any documents to reference.  Science is not based upon philosophical objections and arguments.  Science is based upon the definition of science, which is observation, falsifiable hypothesis, experimentation, results and conclusion. It is the fact that these methodical elements are in place which makes science based upon what it is supposed to be, and that is empiricism.

Scientific Method

Whether a scientific hypothesis is falsifiable is not affected by philosophical arguments based upon logic fallacies.   Irreducible Complexity is very much falsifiable based upon its definition.  The argument from ignorance only attacks the significance of the results and conclusion of research in irreducible complexity; it doesn’t deter irreducible complexity from being falsifiable.  In fact, the argument from ignorance objection actually emphasizes just the opposite, that irreducible complexity might be falsified tomorrow because it inherently argues the optimism that its just a matter of time that an evolutionary pathway will be discovered in future research.  This is not a bad thing; the fact that irreducible complexity is falsifiable is a good thing.  That testability and obtainable goalpost is what you want in a scientific hypothesis.

ID Theory Is Much More Than Just The One Hypothesis of Irreducible Complexity:

ID Theory is also an applied science as well, click here for examples in biomimicry.  Intelligent Design is also an applied science in areas of bioengineering, nanotechnology, selective breeding, and bioinformatics, to name a few applications.  ID Theory is a study of information and design in nature.  And, there are design-inspired conjectures as to where the source of information originates, such as the rapidly growing field of quantum biology, Natural Genetic Engineering, and front-loading via panspermia.

In conclusion, the prediction that there are certain biochemical systems that exist of which are irreducibly complex is not a gaps argument.  The definition of irreducible complexity is stated above, and it is very much a testable, repeatable, and falsifiable hypothesis.  It is a prediction that certain molecular machinery will not operate upon the removal of a part, and have no stepwise evolutionary precursor.  This was predicted by Behe 17 years ago, and still remains true, as evidenced by the bacteria flagellum, as an example.

*  Even though these two are technically distinguishable logic fallacies, the argument from incredulity is so similar to the argument from ignorance that for purposes of discussion I treat the terms as synonymous.

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