Defining Terms: Irreducible Complexity

November 17, 2011

Before moving on to taking a closer look at Evolution I wanted to tie up some loose ends on a post I had over a few weeks ago I wanted to finish out some ideas of the Teleological Argument.  One of the main 2 components of Intelligent Design is the Idea of Irreducible Complexity or (IC) for short.

Irreducible Complexity – A single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.

A Mouse Trap is a great example of Irreducible Complexity.   I’m not talking about the more humane traps they have now, but the “old school” kind that consisted of a spring, a trigger, a hammer type bar, and a piece of cheese all mounted on a base.   You know what I’m talking about.  They provided endless amounts of laughter in movies where people stepped on them and got their fingers caught in them.  If you were to remove just one of the parts of the mouse trap it would not continue to function as a trap.  At the same time if you build a trap and leave off a part, it will also not work.  We can see from the design of the mouse trap that it has a specific design and it will only function properly when all the pieces are present and working together.

The mouse trap is relatively simple compared to other examples of (IC) that we can look at in life.  Below are some examples of Irreducible Complexity in biology.

The Eye – The eye is what caused Darwin to pause for a second in reviewing his own theory of evolution.  He could not see how the eye could have evolved given the fact that all 12 parts of the eye need to be present for sight.  If an eye were to start to evolve the individual parts would have to come about slowly over time and until each part was complete there would be no advantage until the whole eye was formed.  In other words there would be no need for an eye lid to grow if there was no eye, or there would be no lens if there was no pupal to connect it to.  Darwinian evolutionists have tried to compare other animal eyes that are less complex and show that they could have evolved from species to species, but have not made a solid case.

“The Simple Cell” and Bacteria Flagellum  – In my early days in biology we studied the “simple cell” and learned about the 8 basic parts that made up the cell.  Today, the simple cell has become not so simple.  There are 52 individual parts that make up the cell.   The cell functions like a super efficient delivery service company in the height of their Christmas season.  There are things moving around and through the cell all the time.   When a cell is missing one of the components the cell will cease to function.

Michael Behe, an Intelligent Design (ID) supporter has said “What we’ve discovered in a cell in the past half-century or so are quite literally molecular machines, machines of enormous complexity.  There are little machines in the cell that act as trucks and busses that take supplies from on side of the cell to the other.  And they use little signposts, and there are garage doors that open and shut to let the supplies into various compartments.”  Behe, continues to explain the parts of the ion powered rotary engines called flagella of certain bacteria.  They have similar parts of a motor like  O rings, Drive shafts, bushings, etc…  Absence of any of these parts would cause the bacteria not to function.  With a cell, it’s “All or Nothing.”

The Wing – How did the wing evolve?  Evolutionist say that it was to extend jumping or to slow falling.  – The complexity of the wing would have required thousands of positive mutations in order to change to the complex wing.  The instincts of the ground animal would also have to change to flying from walking or living in trees.

One of the criticisms of (IC) is because we don’t understand how things work or have come to function as a whole, doesn’t mean that we might not understand the science or biology in the future.  Science may in fact yield an explanation to one of the examples above, but that doesn’t mean that God does not exist.  It only means we have had a gap in the knowledge.  The new atheists have coined the phrase “God of the Gaps” for Christians who cannot explain something and just say that “God did it.”   As a Christian, I have no problem with giving credit to God for all explained and unexplained events.  God can surely created laws of science to build the universe within, but we must be careful to not try speak for God and explain things incorrectly.  We might end up eating our words after the passing of time.

As always, questions, comments, and discussions are welcomed.


The Universe is Intelligently Designed

October 28, 2011

Recently we looked at the Teleological Argument in biology in DNA.  As we continue the discussion on the Teleological Argument, I wanted to look at design in the universe.  No matter if you are looking at the solar system or the entire universe you can see design and intelligence.

When you are looking for signs of intelligent design there are 3 key factors that you will need: Contingency, Complexity, and Specification.   If something were designed we would expect to see evidence of contingency.  (Meaning it did not result from a meaningless unintelligent process.)  If something were designed , we would expect to see evidence of complexity. (With many working parts) And if something were designed, we would expect to see evidence of specificity. (A detailed, precise pattern commonly associated with intelligent causes.)  Just as we can see those 3 factors in DNA, we can also see them within the universe.

There are two levels at which you can look at intelligent design in the universe.  First it seems that earth is fine-tuned  for life within the realm of our  solar system.  There are many razor-thin factors that make life on earth possible.   Here are a few examples of what I am referring to.

1. Temperature – The earth is the perfect distance from sun.  If the earth was any closer or further away to the sun, life on earth would be out of the temperature range and not contingent for life.

2. Size – The earth size, rotational speed, atmosphere, and tilt are just right for life to exist on the earth.  If it were slightly different we would not be able to sustain life on earth.

3.  The moon – Without a moon that causes tides aerating oceans and oxygen for fish & plankton sea life would not be able to exist.  The tides also clean the oceans of trash and contaminates.  During the months following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico scientists watched carefully the raw crude oil that was in the water.  After about a year had gone by the ocean had self cleaned itself and life was returning back to normal.   The moon also acts as a shield protecting the earth from various space debris that come close to the earth in the solar system.

4. Water – Without water life would not exist.  When NASA sends spacecraft to other places within our solar system they look for the presence of water or ice.  Water covers about 70% of the surface of the earth.   In connection with the temperature and atmosphere the water cycle would not be possible and would not make plant and animal life possible on the land.

5. Oxygen – Oxygen is the most plentiful element on the earth.  It makes up about 90% of the earths total weight.   (In water and the atmosphere)  Oxygen is not only needed for animal life to breathe but in the upper atmosphere paired with a 3rd Oxygen molecule we have Ozone.  The Ozone layer helps protect the earth from harmful radiation from the sun.  You are probably familiar with oxygen and carbon-dioxide cycle, where plant life breathes in CO2 and give off O2.  Animal life breathes in O2 and breathes out CO2.  The earth had to be perfectly balanced between plant and animal life in order for both to survive.  This principle is called the Anthropic Principal.

6. Gravity – Gravity is the unexplained force in nature.  It is present all over the universe.  It controls the rotation of the planets around the sun and the rotation of the moons around the planets.  On a larger scale, it controls the movement of all the galaxies in the universe.  If Gravity was slightly different the sun would burn to fast and we not have a sun to heat the earth.

7. Lighting – Lightning happens on average about 100,000 times a day around the planet.  All plants need nitrogen as food to grow and when lightning strikes the earth it takes nitrogen from the air and deposits it in the soil.

8. Jupiter – Jupiter is the earth’s shield.  Because it is the largest planet in our solar system it acts similar to the moon as a shield protecting us from  comets, space debris, asteroids that may come in a path with the earth.  The large gravity of  Jupiter acts like a magnet and pulls these things towards Jupiter.

9. Galaxies – In order for life to be possible we must be in the right type of galaxy with the appropriate types of stars and heavenly bodies.  No only the right type of galaxy, but also the right place within the galaxy.

What happens when you try to assign a probability to all these factors.  Roger Penrose, professor at Oxford, says it is an impossibility because the number of digits would be greater than the total number of elementary particles in the know universe.  The level of precision dwarfs our human comprehension.

One objection to the idea that the solar system is fine-tuned and intelligently designed is that it only appears to be at the surface, but that evolution can explain for the illusion of design.  In other words, it only looks intelligently design, but in reality it is only how things have come to be.  Darwinian evolutionist say that just because we exist in the universe doesn’t mean that we are special and valued.They contend that if the tape of evolution were rewound through time that it is possible that something else may have evolved differently and they two would question there existence.  Too bad we don’t have access to that evolutionary tape.

Think about this example from apologist, Sean McDowell.  Imagine you purchase tickets to a football game.  Upon arrival at the stadium you find your seat and sit down to watch the game.  After talking for a while with your neighbors you slowly discover that everyone in your seat section is sitting in alphabetic order, and greater still after more investigation you learn that everyone in the whole stadium is seated alphabetically.  The uniqueness of this grand scheme demands an explanation.  Who did this?  Someone was playing with the computer perhaps?  Philosopher John Leslie uses a firing squad illustration.  Imagine you were standing before a firing squad of 50 gunmen.  The order is given to fire, but for some reason you are still alive and not shot.  Your survival demands an explanation and so does fine-tuning.

Another objection by atheist, Richard Dawkins who admits that there is no present natural explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe, but claims that hardly accounts for God.  Dawkins argues that accepting the design argument leads to “Who designed the designer?”  The problem with this argument is this, can science only accept things if they can explain them?  Or if they have explanations?  Science must come to a point that they accept what evidence they do have and deny the request for further proof.   For example; an archaeologist who finds a ancient object that looks like a arrow head or a tool for digging.  Even if she/he cannot explain the origin or the identity of the designer.  If the evidence for design is compelling she could not dismiss the design hypothesis.

Critics also argue that if the laws of physics were different then some other non-carbon based life form could have existed.  Besides being entirely speculative, many of the fine-tuning instances and arguments are not based or rely on being carbon-based.

This brings us to the second level at which you can look at intelligent design in the universe.  Why are the laws of physics defined as what they are?  Why is the expansion rate of the universe (the cosmological constant) what it is?  What about the 4 fundamental forces of nature?  (Gravity, Electromagnetic force, The strong and weak nuclear force)   Just as we see in DNA in life that there had to be a programmer to put in the code for life, where did the code for the laws of physics come from?

Darwinian evolutionists are trying to answer the intelligent design argument with the idea of the Multiverse or the Grand Design, which has been popularized by Stephen Hawking in his latest book entitled The Grand Design.  Using the standard model in physics and other theories, like string theory, they are attempting to take our universes laws of physics and show that it is basically nothing special in a realm where multiple universes exist.  Is your head hurting yet?  I will spend more time explaining this in a upcoming post.

As always, questions, comments, and discussions are welcome.


Defining Terms: Specified Complexity

October 24, 2011

In my post about the Teleological Argument I used the term specified complexity.   I wanted to define it and give several examples of what is specified complexity and how can be used to show that design implies a designer.  It is one of the two main arguments for Intelligent Design (ID) the other being Irreducible Complexity, which I will discuss in an upcoming post.

Specified Complexity  – Specified complexity is a property which can be observed in living things.  Specified complexity is present in a configuration when it can be described by a pattern that displays a large amount of independently specified information and is also complex.

A simple way of explaining it would be through a Shakespearean sonnet. William Dembski who is a Christian apologist put’s it this way; “A single letter of the alphabet is specified without being complex. A long sentence of random letters is complex without being specified. A Shakespearean sonnet is both complex and specified.”  While it might be possible for a bunch of monkeys typing on a computer keyboard to type out a bunch of random letters, you would never assume that they would type out a bunch of words that formed a sentence, a sentence that made sense that also fit into a rhythmic pattern, and composed a larger poem that was understandable to read from start to finish.  The obvious choice is that it was designed that way.

Scientific atheists say that specified complexity is just an illusion of the eye, that it is really “just what occurs” within the transmittal of information in evolution.   They try to down play the idea of specified complexity by claiming that the complexity was already there in the previous DNA and just a copy of what has evolved over billions of years.   Richard Dawkins even tried a computer generated experiment with a type of evolutionary algorithm to try to show that a random program could churn out the following target sequence, a putative instance of specified complexity using 28 letters and spaces.

Beginning Sequence: WDL*MNLT*DTJBKWIRZREZLMQCO*P
Target Sequence: METHINKS*IT*IS*LIKE*A*WEASEL

(1) WDL*MNLT*DTJBKWIRZREZLMQCO*P

(2) WDLTMNLT*DTJBSWIRZREZLMQCO*P

(10) MDLDMNLS*ITJISWHRZREZ*MECS*P

(20) MELDINLS*IT*ISWPRKE*Z*WECSEL .

(30) METHINGS*IT*ISWLIKE*B*WECSEL

(40) METHINKS*IT*IS*LIKE*I*WEASEL

(43) METHINKS*IT*IS*LIKE*A*WEASEL

Starting with the beginning sequence above Dawkins claimed success only after 43 times through the program.  A few of intermediate sequences can be seen above as well.  So you can follow the transformation of the sequence from start to finish.  Well, sounds like Dawkins silenced the (ID) creationists with his experiment right?  Wrong, what Dawkins actually did was show the indisputable fact that intelligence has a role in specified complexity.  Here is what we mean, who or what told the computer to try to reach the Target sequence above, where to put spaces between words, how to rearrange words in a sentence?  Dawkins did.  The computer simulation would not have been possible had not Dawkins give the basic algorithm for the computer to use to create the target sequence.   If you ask a scientific atheist where that evolutionary algorithm comes from, don’t expect an answer.

Now consider DNA that makes up our genetic code.  DNA is so much more complex than a Shakespearean sonnet or a 28 length sequence of letters.  Mapping the entire human genome would be the equivalent of 3-4 volumes of encyclopedias.  There are over 3.1 billion bits of information in the human genome.   The question is where did all this information come from?  It far more complex than any computer program that we have created.  Lastly, who programmed all this code into the human genome?  Darwinian evolution has no answers, but it looks more and more that intelligence was involved in the process.

As always questions, comments, and discussions welcome.


The Teleological Argument

October 22, 2011

The Teleological Argument or the Argument to Design is another argument attempting proof of God’s existence based upon the premise that the universe is designed, and therefore needs a designer:  God.  The argument has also been called Intelligent Design (ID) by the newer generation of Christian apologists.

The beginning ideas of a argument for design began around 400- 300 b.c. with thinkers like Socrates and Aristotle.  The first Teleological arguments had its classical Christian roots back in the 3rd and 4th century with Thomas Aquinas in his greatest work Summa Theologica.

In the early 19th century William Paley illustrated a watch maker analogy that is still used today as an example.  A summary of his analogy is as follows: Think about the complexity of a pocket watch.  All the tiny gears, and parts that are inside it that are perfectly sized and fit together to form a watch that tells time accurately.  It is a complex machine that was designed by a designer.  Would you imagine placing all the individual parts to the pocket watch in a bag and shaking them up randomly and then one day as you are shaking them up they fall into place and fit together to form a perfectly working pocket watch.

Any time you see specified complexity and intelligibility in the physical word you automatically assume a designer was behind it.  While it is of course possible, over a billions of years that after shaking a bag full of watch parts that they could fall into place and form a perfectly working pocket watch, your first instinct would be that someone designed it to be that way.   Apologist Ravi Zacharias uses the following illustration:  Imagine you go into space and visit a planet that you have never been to before.  Upon arrival you see a note on the planet that says “Hello John.  I’ve been waiting for you, what took you so long?”  You would never in a million years assume that letter appeared by random chance.

Over the last half century the Teleological Argument has been often misrepresented by some theists with examples that have not stood the advancement of science.  This comes from assumptions from theists that try to explain unanswered scientific questions in biology.  Those of us who hold a theistic worldview need to be careful when we try to say that something cannot be explained any more, and therefore God must have designed it.  Advancements on science can make theists look ignorant or weaken the Teleological Argument.

For example Darwin was intrigued by the complexity of the human eye.  After studying the eye, Darwin saw no way that the eye could have evolved given the fact that in order for the eye to function properly it would need all the separate parts (pupal, retina, lens, optic nerve, etc. ) working together.  In other words, why would the eye start to evolve if there was no benefit of sight yet.  Christians were quick to jump on this type of example and say that the irreducible complexity of the eye, among other examples, was proof that God was the only was possible designer of these complex systems.   Recent scientific discoveries have given us answers that we thought were not answerable.   I will revisit the subject of irreducible complexity in a separate post and  go into more details.

There are however, better areas to use the Teleological argument in besides biology.  They are much more solid in the defense of a intelligent designer.  We will look at the Teleological Argument within the universe,  within  DNA, and within the laws of the universe  in sub-sequential posts over the next few posts.

As always, questions, comments, and discussions are welcome.


A Biblical Base for Apologetics

October 11, 2011

Years ago my brother who is also in ministry said something to me that stuck with me.  I didn’t really understand at that point what he was trying to tell me, but over the last few years I’ve seen just how important his advice is when it comes to engaging others with your worldview.  Tim, (my brother) said that when you talk and share with others and deal with questions about the universe and the existence of God, you always need to do it from a Biblical base.

Sharing from a Biblical base means that you align your illustrations, words, and actions with the Bible within the conversations you have with people.  The reason you do this is to show the coherence of the Biblical worldview to any situation or information we come across.  Let me clarify that I am not saying you should  bias your opinion of the evidence to reach a Biblical conclusion.  That would be a wrong approach and could also be faulty logic called Begging the question or Circular reasoning.

For example, lets say that  a conversation with your hairdresser or barber comes up because he makes the statement, “There is a lot of evil out there in the world.”  This will open up for you to share with them about what the Bible says about evil.  You can use questions like “Do you know what the Bible says about evil?” or statements like “the Bible says that there is a lot of  evil inside of us all too.”  These are great transitions into opportunities to share the real gospel of Jesus.

Even if you are dealing with the question of the existence of God, before even talking about evidence for Jesus or the Bible you can use the Bible to show how it lines up with the understood knowledge of the universe.   For example, scriptures that point to the earth being round (Isa 40:22) or that the earth is hung on nothing in space. (Job 26:7)

The reason you always need to talk and debate from a Biblical worldview is so that others see how the Bible is unique and is really  the best coherent “lens” in which we see our world.  You can use the Bible to compliment the evidence and reasons for your believe and worldview.  Areas like morals, ethics, truths of life, evil, and leadership are just a few of the subjects you can relate the Bible to.

As always questions, comments, and discussions welcome.