Irreducible Complexity and Irredeemable Credulity

Question from Tomas:
What is your take on Irreducible Complexity? From what I have read, it appears to be Intelligent Design in a new wrapper but it does have some new arguments to it.

Also, it seems like any new religious “hypothesis” on the existence of God (or any god) is an old one that is simply retold to account for any existing argument against it. Isn’t that proof that their “hypotheses” are just efforts to grasp at straws since none of them have held up against any scrutiny?

Why can’t people who claim to believe in God (or supernatural entity) just simply have faith? Why must they try to prove it with facts which ultimately disprove their God?

Answer by SmartLX:
For those who came in late, irreducible complexity is the idea that certain biological mechanisms such as the eye and the bacterial flagellum cannot have evolved gradually, because if they were one step less complex or if they were missing one component then they wouldn’t work at all, which is not beneficial and therefore would not be naturally selected. It’s a specific type of the general creationist argument that evolution can’t have produced something or other.

If something were actually established as genuinely irreducibly complex, then by definition it really couldn’t have evolved. Where it falls over is that nothing has ever been established as such. The mechanisms and physical features which are presented as irreducibly complex invariably have very good explanations of how they likely evolved. These explanations usually (always?) pre-date the idea of irreducible complexity, sometimes by over a century, which means those using the argument haven’t even checked to see if it’s valid for their chosen biological object.

To give you a general idea of the explanations that exist, before we move on, there are a few possible sources of the kind of complexity that can appear irreducible.
– Multiple components can evolve in tandem.
– A slightly less complex version of something might have served an entirely different purpose until one last mutation turned it to its current function.
– A delicate structure might have formed in the presence of other supporting structures which were later dismantled and discarded, like scaffolding.

My series on the Great Big Arguments covers almost every kind of argument for God that it’s possible to make. Even the latest apologetics are heavily based on what has come before, to the extent that after 9 pieces I really don’t know what further Great Big Arguments I can write about. Even the last one was only on a variation. (Folks, let me know if I’ve missed something.)

An apologist would say that just because an argument has not been universally acknowledged as sound doesn’t mean it isn’t dead right, and the fact that people reject the arguments for God doesn’t mean He’s not real (and it’ll be their own problem when they face judgement). I say that just because an argument has been regularly refuted for years, decades or even centuries doesn’t mean it can’t still convince people who don’t know the refutations, and therefore pretty much all of the existing arguments are still useful when proselytising. Some organisations (such as dedicated apologetics ministry CARM) have actually advised against using certain convoluted arguments, but even these archaic rejects still crop up everywhere.

Some believers do keep their faith to themselves; it’s just that since we always hear from the bible-bashers instead, it’s easy to forget about the quiet ones. Those who do try to spread the faith, apart from simply wanting those around them to agree with them, are often commanded to do so by their religious leaders at all levels. It’s certainly easy to interpret most holy texts as demanding followers to recruit. Religions themselves would not have survived so long or become so popular if conversion and assimilation wasn’t an intrinsic part of their lifestyle. It’s a part that some believers reject, but those who embrace the call of the missionary are motivated to do the work for everyone.

“What are you going to do with Jesus?”

“It’s caught on because it lends immediacy and even more confrontation to the process of witnessing and proselytising.”

Question du jour:
“What are you going to do with Jesus?”

“Not much. If he ever lived then he died a long time ago and there’s no indication that he has any stake in what I do today.”

The question probably got its start in the video The Jesus Rant. It’s now popular enough to populate many pages of Google results.

It’s caught on because it lends immediacy and even more confrontation to the process of witnessing and proselytising. Jesus, it implies, is right in front of you, waiting for your answer. No passive response is available because action is required of you; inaction is point-blank rejection.

Importantly, there’s no really polite way to engage and then dismiss it. This is a technique learned long ago by aggressive salespeople and beggars: force the customer to stifle prompted responses, be rude and/or feel uncomfortable and guilty in order to escape signing up or handing it over. Since the question assumes the continued importance (and existence) of Jesus, the only way for a non-believer to answer honestly is to go “off script” and challenge the question itself. That means being more forward than you might like, especially when you’re responding to a friend, family member or apparently nice person. That’s the point.

Another important aspect of the question is what it doesn’t mention. Those who ask it are hardly going to follow up with, “Okay, now what are you going to do with the Buddha?…Mohammed?” To accept Jesus is to reject all other potential objects of worship just as strongly. Considering this goes against the purpose of the question; you’re supposed to accept Jesus and be relieved of guilt. Any mention of other religions, and suddenly it’s like you’re giving a pony ride to only one child out of a group.

I can’t make responding to this question easy, even by supplying an answer as I did first off, because its impact is primarily emotional. Once you understand that, however, you can see it for what it is: simple but effective propaganda.