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Intelligent Design and Irreducible Complexity: A Rejoinder

From: Rhetoric & Public Affairs
Volume 1, Number 4, Winter 1998
pp. 571-578 | 10.1353/rap.2010.0119

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Intelligent Design and Irreducible Complexity:
A Rejoinder
David Depew

David Depew is Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, where he is also active in the Project on the Rhetoric of Inquiry.


1. Michael J. Behe, "Intelligent Design as an Alternative Explanation for the Existence of Biomolecular Machines," in this issue.

2. Stephen C. Meyer, "DNA by Design: An Inference to the Best Explanation for the Origin of Biological Information," in this issue. [End Page 576]

3. Plato Laws 909a.

4. Charles Alan Taylor, Defining Science (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), 135-74. It does not seem odd to me that fundamentalists, oriented as they are to the state of the question of nineteenth-century creationist-evolutionists debates, would unreflectively appeal to nineteenth-century conceptions of scientific method. For I suspect that most of what counts as folk science at any time is composed of bits and pieces of what used to be cutting-edge science found floating around in the soup of culture some time later. What does seem odd to me, however, is how many Darwinians who participated in the largely unilluminating debates of the seventies and early eighties rose to the bait by declaring loudly that evolution is a "fact fact fact" instead of calling this Baconian criterion into question.

5. The root of the problem is that on the Baconian view the delivery of the empirical goods means that the claim in question is no longer a theory. It is now a fact. It was on precisely this assumption that Ronald Reagan could famously declare of evolution, "Well, it's just a theory." Baconians like Reagan think of theories the same way mystery writers do. A theory is an appeal to something that has not been observed in order to explain, by hypothetical reasoning, what one does observe, but fails as yet to understand because parts of the story are missing. If and when one gets the missing pieces of evidence, led by the clues and prediction of the theory, the theory itself disappears. This is not what happened, however, when Einstein's theory displaced Newton's. The falsification of Newtonian mechanics did not mean that Einstein's mechanics was any less of a theory or any more of a fact. In science, theories forever mediate the commerce between humans and the world. The only interesting questions are what a theory is and when it is reasonable for a community of inquirers to accept or reject it.

6. Ernst Mayr, Toward a New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of an Evolutionist (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988).

7. Jonathan Wells and Paul A. Nelson, "Some Things in Biology Don't Make Sense in the Light of Evolution," in this issue. See Theodosius Dobzhansky, "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution," The American Biology Teacher 35 (1974): 125-29.

8. See David J. Depew and Bruce H. Weber, Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural Selection (Cambridge, Mass.: Bradford Books/MIT Press, 1995), 299-328.

9. Depew and Weber, Darwinism Evolving, 459-71.

10. Darwinism Evolving, 470-71.

11. See Susan Oyama, The Ontogeny of Information: Developmental Systems and Evolution (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) for an expression of this "new epigeneticist" perspective. In contrast to the implied remnants of preformationism that lurk in "gene talk," Oyama, in the process of deconstructing the nature-nurture dichotomy, articulates a version of epigenesis in which faithful reproduction is part of an orderly process of progressively articulated development. On this view, each species has a species-specific set of developmental resources, including but not limited to genetic information, that are expressed in an autopoietic process, which does not need a central information source to construct species-specific traits in each new generation. Rather, the resources needed to complete each stage of development are constructed by the total set of resources at play in the immediately prior stage, so that functional information is the result of ontogeny rather than ontogeny being the effect of the transmission of information stored in a genetic program. Building on this insight, Paul Griffiths and Russell Gray...