irreducible complexity

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The rather nice Bioimplement blog, which alas is updated somewhat infrequently has a particularly detailed overview of the history of the mousetrap. The mousetrap is often cited to illustrate the concept of irreducible complexity: a device  which could not function with one of its parts missing. Irreducible complexity is one of those important concepts of Intelligent Design creationism, helping ID creationists posit the existence of a god designer because the ID creationist cannot conceive how complexity can arise through non-supernatural means.

Anyway, a new article at Bioimplement traces the patent history of the modern day mousetrap (The mouse trap, redux), and finds it has a rather neat evolutionary history, which can be traced back to a fish hook.

The article itself is splendidly detailed, and is an entertaining read. Well worth reading.

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One of the recurring modes adopted by Intelligent Design creationists is to adopt the strategy whereby an example of a complex biological system is looked at and it is decided that evolution cannot explain its origin. We see this enshrined in bogus concepts such as ‘irreducible complexity’, ‘specified functional information’ and the like. By claiming a process of inference, ID creationists seek to declare that an intelligent designer must have been involved in the appearance of such complex systems.

Of course, the problem with this strategy is that one by one, these examples are likely to fall to genuine scientific advance (examples include Behe’s favourites such as the bacterial flagellum and the vertebrate immune system spring to mind).  A neat example of  an approach to better understanding the evolution of protein complexes has just appeared as an Advance Online Publication at Nature (Finnigan et al (2012) Nature “Evolution of increased complexity in a molecular machine” doi:10.1038/nature10724). There’s also an accompanying News and Views article (Doolittle (2012) Nature “Evolutionary biology: A ratchet for protein complexity” doi:10.1038/nature10816). Read the rest of this entry »

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