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The Design Inference from Specified Complexity Defended by Scholars Outside the Intelligent Design Movement - Page 2

Three Atheists Outside the ID Movement

Massimo Pigliucci: Cosmic Fine-Tuning
and Irreducible Complexity

Massimo Pigliucci is an associate professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he teaches ecology and evolutionary biology.  Pigliucci has a PhD in botany from the University of Connecticut and a PhD in philosophy from the University of Tennessee. A self-styled "skeptic," Pigliucci's articles have appeared in such publications as The Skeptic and Free Inquiry. According to Pigliucci,

Should we conclusively determine that the probability of existence of our universe is infinitesimally small, and should we fail to explain why physical constants have assumed the quantities that we observe, the possibility of a designed universe would have to be considered seriously.[13]

In discussing the fine-tuning of the cosmos, Pigliucci lays down a pretheoretic version of Dembski's CSI criterion, which infers design, on the basis of experience, whenever an independent specification (for example, the set of physical constants required by a life sustaining universe) is exhibited at sufficiently low probability. Pigliucci and design theorists differ on whether we can infer that our universe is indeed the product of design, but there would appear to be at least an implicit agreement on the criteria for making such a judgement.

Pigliucci explicitly affirms that "[Michael] Behe . . . does have a point concerning irreducible complexity. . . . irreducible complexity is indeed a hallmark of intelligent design."[14] Behe's most notable presentation of irreducible complexity (IC) is Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, where he defined his terms as follows:

By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly . . . 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.[15]

Dembski points out that IC systems are a concrete example of specified complexity:

The irreducibly complex systems Behe considers require numerous components specifically adapted to each other and each necessary for function. On any formal complexity-theoretic analysis, they are complex in the sense required by the complexity-specification criterion. Moreover, in virtue of their function, these systems embody patterns independent of the actual living systems. Hence these systems are also specified in the sense required by the complexity-specification criterion.[16]

Charles Darwin argued that the existence of a single IC system would falsify his evolutionary hypothesis: "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."[17] Darwin made the universal negative bet that no such system would be discovered and his contemporary followers, like Pigliucci, make the same bet.[18] By definition, any system that is IC cannot have evolved directly by a series of incremental evolutionary improvements. Ruling out direct, incremental evolution does not exclude what Darwin called "a sudden leap," but as Richard Dawkins notes, "The larger the leap through genetic space, the lower the probability that the resulting change will be viable, let alone an improvement."[19] Behe observes that

Even if a system is irreducibly complex (and thus cannot have been produced directly) . . . one can not definitely rule out the possibility of an indirect, circuitous route. As the complexity of an interacting system increases, though, the likelihood of such an indirect route drops precipitously. . . .[20]

Behe argues that at the biomolecular level of life (an unknown "black box" in Darwin's day) there are several IC systems that are highly unlikely to have been formed by numerous, successive (unguided) indirect modifications, "including aspects of protein transport, blood clotting, closed circular DNA, electron transport, the bacterial flagellum, telomeres, photosynthesis, transcription regulation, and much more."[21] Given that IC systems are resistant to evolutionary explanation, and given our everyday experience that intelligent agents regularly produce IC systems (and other systems exhibiting CSI), Behe argues that the best explanation of such molecular machines is intelligent design:

the onus of proof is on the one who denies the plain evidence of the eyes. For example, a person who conjectured that the statues on Easter Island or the images on Mount Rushmore were actually the result of unintelligent forces would bear the substantial burden of proof the claim demanded. In those examples, the positive evidence for design would be there for all to see in the purposeful arrangements of parts to produce the images. Any putative evidence for the claim that the images were actually the result of unintelligent processes (perhaps erosion by some vague, hypothesized chaotic forces) would have to clearly show that the postulated unintelligent process could indeed do the job. In the absence of such a clear demonstration, any person would be rationally justified to prefer the design explanation.[22]

If there is irreducible complexity in living organisms, then Pigliucci would agree with Behe and Dembski that it is evidence of intelligent design: "irreducible complexity is indeed a valid criterion to distinguish between intelligent and nonintelligent design."[23] However, Pigliucci thinks that "there is no evidence so far of irreducible complexity in living organisms."[24]

Richard Dawkins

Presidents and Safe-Cracking. Zoologist Richard Dawkins is Oxford University's Professor for the Public Understanding of Science. Dawkins is well-known as a vocal atheist through his popular books and media appearances.[25] He is also an outspoken critic of intelligent design theory.[26]

In Climbing Mount Improbable, Dawkins draws a distinction between objects that are clearly designed and objects that are not clearly designed but superficially look like they are-which he calls "designoid."[27] Dawkins illustrates the concept of being designoid with a hillside that suggests a human profile: "Once you have been told, you can just see a slight resemblance to either John or Robert Kennedy. But some don't see it and it is certainly easy to believe that the resemblance is accidental."[28] Dawkins contrasts this Kennedy-esque hillside with the four president's heads carved into Mt. Rushmore in America, which "are obviously not accidental: they have design written all over them."[29] Hence Dawkins admits intelligence is capable of outperforming the design-producing resources of nature in such a way as to leave empirical indicators of its activity.

Dawkins argues that, while "a rock can weather into the shape of a nose seen from a certain vantage point,"[30] such a rock (for example, the Kennedy-esque hillside) is designoid. Mt. Rushmore, on the other hand, is clearly not designoid: "Its four heads are clearly designed."[31] The fact that Rushmore is designed is, according to Dawkins, empirically detectable: "The sheer number of details [that is, the amount of complexity] in which the Mount Rushmore faces resemble the real things [that is, the complexity fits four specifications] is too great to have come about by chance."[32] In terms of mere possibility, says Dawkins: "The weather could have done the same job. . . . But of all the possible ways of weathering a mountain, only a tiny minority [complexity] would be speaking likenesses of four particular human beings [specification]."[33] Hence, "Even if we didn't know the history of Mount Rushmore, we'd estimate the odds against its four heads [specification] being carved by accidental weathering as astronomically high . . . [complexity]."[34]

Again, Dawkins argues that "Of all the unique and, with hindsight equally improbable, positions of the combination lock [complexity], only one opens the lock [specification]. . . . The uniqueness of the arrangement . . . that opens the safe, [has] nothing to do with hindsight. It is specified in advance."[35] According to Dawkins, the best explanation of an open safe is not that someone got lucky, but that someone knew the specific and complex combination required to open it.


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