Irreducible Complexity Impossible
This is cross-posted from www.exchristian.net, written by Kevan Wang (MrSpooky).
I was sitting myself down for some delicious, delicious thai food this evening after a good day's work teaching in my Philosophy of Atheism class when an idea suddenly struck me. I mulled it over, sorted it out, and with an "OMGWTF" I scribbled it down in my notepad on my laptop. I'm glad I did.
Such catharses come to me occasionally, but sadly most are relegated to oblivion because I forget to write them down. Such a terrible, terrible shame.
I was pondering one problem that I've been trying to tease apart for the longest time, one of my favorite topics really. It was pseudoscience, namely, Intelligent Design.
A good chunk of ID is predicated on a methodology of presenting examples of "Irreducible Complexity." That is, "so-and-so is immensely complex in its components are such that the removal of one component would render it useless." That is, this IC system is complex in a manner that it can't be explained via natural law: it can't have arisen by evolution. When you boil it all down, IC as a whole predicates itself on the premise that so-and-so is INEXPLICABLE, and concludes that an intelligent agent must be at work (a deity of some sort).
There are many problems to this approach, God of Gaps and all that, and there's always George H. Smith's argument that "the supernatural is no explanation, it merely asserts the futility of an explanation." These are indeed broad and important points, but I'd like to present a more specific approach today in what I hope will be a good and final criticism of IC.
Remember that methods which seek to demonstrate "Irreducible Complexity" are based on the idea that a certain system is INEXPLICABLE. We shall refer to this as "the Principle of Inexplicability." It's not merely that so-and-so is extraordinarily difficult to explain, or that an explanation is not known at present. If this were so, one should be seeking an explanation in the first place rather than jumping to this conclusion of "Intelligent Design." Without the premise of conclusive inexplicability, ID merely becomes a "here there be monsters" on our scientific map of reality. It becomes at best a placeholder for the unknown.
Barring the nigh impossibility of proving a negative (as is known for those familiar with the Burden of Proof), a more intrinsic problem lies within the heart of IC.
For any good idea to be considered "scientific," it must in principle be falsifiable. Is this Principle of Inexplicability falsifiable? If it is falsifiable, then there exists the potential for an explanation. Ergo, the Principle of Inexplicability, by the very principles of science, must be a tentative claim. This renders the IC system not so inexplicable at all, and science must do as it has always done: experiment, discover, critically examine, and hopefully tease out an explanation soon. IC has no bearing on science if it is falsifiable.
What if the Principle of Inexplicability is NOT falsifiable? In principle, an IC system can then be proposed and the conclusion of ID is much closer to being a genuine conclusion. However, by sacrificing falsifiability for coherence, the ID scientist has also sacrificed his ability to refer to his hypothesis as "scientific."
This, I propose, is the PRIMARY dilemma in the IC camp. In order for IC to be scientific, it must be falsifiable. However,in order for IC to be tenable, it must be strong in its treatment of the Principle of Inexplicability and hence UNfalsifiable. Each of these possibilities the IDer turns to renders his argument moot. If he chooses to go the way of making IC scientific (and hence falsifiable) he sacrifices his ability to make his claim of inexplicability in the first place. If he chooses to go the way of making IC a tenable proposal for ID, he renders his argument unscientific.
1. Before the proposal of IC systems can be made, one must accept the premise of the Principle of Inexplicability (that this system is not merely "currently unexplained" or "difficult to explain," but rather that such a system cannot be explained AT ALL).
2. If one accepts the Principle of Inexplicability, IC is unfalsifiable and hence unscientific.
3. If one makes the Principle of Inexplicability falsifiable, they sabatoge the Principle itself and hence IC is no longer tenable.
4. Therefore, given all the possibilities, an IC system cannot exist.