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Self-Organization and Irreducibly Complex Systems: A Reply to Shanks and Joplin

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2022

Michael J. Behe*
Department of Biological Sciences, Lehigh University


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.

Research Article
Copyright © 2000 by the Philosophy of Science Association

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Send requests for reprints to the author, Department of Biological Sciences, Lehigh University, 111 Research Drive, Bethlehem, PA 18015.


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