Self-organization and irreducibly complex systems: A reply to Shanks and Joplin

Philosophy of Science 67 (1):155-162 (2000)
Some biochemical systems require multiple, well-matched parts in order to function, and the removal of any of the parts eliminates the function. I have previously labeled such systems "irreducibly complex," and argued that they are stumbling blocks for Darwinian theory. Instead I proposed that they are best explained as the result of deliberate intelligent design. In a recent article Shanks and Joplin analyze and find wanting the use of irreducible complexity as a marker for intelligent design. Their primary counterexample is the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, a self-organizing system in which competing reaction pathways result in a chemical oscillator. In place of irreducible complexity they offer the idea of "redundant complexity," meaning that biochemical pathways overlap so that a loss of one or even several components can be accommodated without complete loss of function. Here I note that complexity is a quantitative property, so that conclusions we draw will be affected by how well-matched the components of a system are. I also show that not all biochemical systems are redundant. The origin of non-redundant systems requires a different explanation than redundant ones
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DOI 10.1086/392766
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Glenn Branch (2011). Introduction. Synthese 178 (2):171 - 176.

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