Influences forming Plato’s views of the world workbook answers


Intelligent Design and irreducible complexity



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Intelligent Design and irreducible complexity

1 Intelligent Design is sometimes described as a modern form of creationism. Fundamentally it is the idea that certain kinds of design can be found in the universe that point to an Intelligent Designer. This is different from the traditional argument from design as it looks to solve the question raised by Darwin’s black box, among other philosophical challenges. It is not another attempt to reinstitute Paley’s argument.

2 In On the Origin of Species Darwin said: ‘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. But I can find no such case.’ This is the challenge known as Darwin’s black box.

3 Irreducible complexity is the alleged finding that some religious scientists believe themselves to have made, which opened this black box. At the bio-molecular level, they believe that there are machines that exist in cells which are complex and could not have evolved. They are therefore described as ‘irreducibly complex’.

4 Behe explains: ‘The function of the cilium is to be a motorised paddle. In order to achieve this function microtubules, nexin linkers, and motor proteins all have to be ordered in a precise function. They have to recognise each other intimately, and interact exactly. The function is not present if any of the components is missing. Furthermore, many more factors besides those listed are required to make the system useful for a living cell; the cilium has to be positioned in the right place, oriented correctly, and turned on and off according to the needs of the cell.’

Behe argues that this kind of function is both essential to the proper functioning of a cell and has no sign of having evolved from simpler machines.



5 To try to make the above example clearer to a non-biologist, Behe uses the example of a mousetrap. To function properly a mousetrap needs to be built on a solid base and contain four other parts. It needs a hammer that clamps down on the mouse, a spring which gives the hammer the necessary power, a bar to hold the now energised hammer in position, and a catch to which the holding bar is secured, holding the hammer in coiled tension. If any of the five parts of the mousetrap were to be taken away it would bring about the complete breakdown of its functionality. The implication of this is that it would be impossible to build a mousetrap through Darwinian natural selection.

6 Dembski uses the argument of specified complexity to promote the idea of Intelligent Design. For Dembski, a specified pattern is one that admits short descriptions, whereas a complex pattern is one that is unlikely to occur by chance. He argues that it is impossible for specified complexity to exist in patterns displayed by configurations by unguided processes. This leads Dembski to the belief that the fact of specified complex patterns being found in living things indicates some sort of guidance in their formation, which indicates a divine hand.

7 Dawkins was most concerned about the teaching of Intelligent Design in schools and about this he said: ‘It is quite simple — intelligent design creationism is not science — is not accepted as science by the scientific community and, as such, cannot be taught as science in schools.’

8 This answer is in three parts:

  • Christian apologists have over the last two centuries bowed to an essentially Humean agenda, attempting to find quasi-scientific answers to secularist challenges — he thinks Swinburne an especially bad case for this response.

  • A Wittgensteinian analysis suggests that religion is a quite different form of life from the scientific and historical philosophy of religion (pre-Humean) that concentrated on contemplation of the meaning of faith.

  • In the experience of faith we do not find our belief through science — we don’t believe because we are convinced by quasi-scientific arguments such as Swinburne on probability theory or Behe on Irreducible Complexity, and any quasi-scientific explanation that is used to justify faith we have come to in other ways.

9 There is no right or wrong answer to this question. The idea is that you reflect on this issue and use any evidence you have learned to come to an answer. You could, for example, point to the fact that Phillips’ approach could be considered one of common sense. Most people do not have a faith epiphany because of a scientific discovery but are either brought up in a faith or have a conversion experience, not an academic thought process. However, there is no reason why some people should not look to science to see if their faith is reasonable.

10 Here your response will very much depend on which philosophers/scientists you think are most convincing. Whichever side you come down on, make sure you have justified your position. Also, if you think science and religion are complementary to each other rather than in conflict, remember to explain why you hold this position.




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