Life’s irreducible structure—Part 1 & 2

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Life’s irreducible structure—Part 1 & 2


The commonly cited case for intelligent design appeals to: (a) the irreducible complexity of (b) some aspects of life. But complex arguments invite complex refutations (valid or otherwise), and the claim that only someaspects of life are irreducibly complex implies that others are not, and so the average person remains unconvinced. Here I use another principle—autopoiesis (self-making)—to show that all aspects of life lie beyond the reach of naturalistic explanations. Autopoiesis provides a compelling case for intelligent design in three stages: (i) autopoiesis is universal in all living things, which makes it a pre-requisite for life, not an end product of natural selection; (ii) the inversely-causal, information-driven, structured hierarchy of autopoiesis is not reducible to the laws of physics and chemistry; and (iii) there is an unbridgeable abyss between the dirty, mass-action chemistry of the natural environmental and the perfectly-pure, single-molecule precision of biochemistry. Naturalistic objections to these propositions are considered in Part II of this article.

Snowflake photos by Kenneth G. Libbrecht.

SnowflakesFigure 1. Reducible structure. Snowflakes (left) occur in hexagonal shapes because water crystallizes into ice in a hexagonal pattern (right). Snowflake structure can therefore be reduced to (explained in terms of) ice crystal structure. Crystal formation is spontaneous in a cooling environment. The energetic vapour molecules are locked into solid bonds with the release of heat to the environment, thus increasing overall entropy in accord with the second law of thermodynamics.

The commonly cited case for intelligent design (ID) goes as follows: ‘some biological systems are so complex that they can only function when all of their components are present, so that the system could not have evolved from a simpler assemblage that did not contain the full machinery.’1 This definition is what biochemist Michael Behe calledirreducible complexity in his popular book Darwin’s Black Box2 where he pointed to examples such as the blood-clotting cascade and the proton-driven molecular motor in the bacterial flagellum. However, because Behe appealed to complexity, many equally complex rebuttals have been put forward,3 and because he claimed that only some of the aspects of life were irreducibly complex, he thereby implied that the majority of living structure was open to naturalistic explanation. As a result of these two factors, the concept of intelligent design remains controversial and unproven in popular understanding.

In this article, I shall argue that all aspects of life point to intelligent design, based on what European polymath Professor Michael Polanyi FRS, in his 1968 article in Science called ‘Life’s Irreducible Structure.’4 Polanyi argued that living organisms have a machine-like structure that cannot be explained by (or reduced to) the physics and chemistry of the molecules of which they consist. This concept is simpler, and broader in its application, than Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity, and it applies to all of life, not just to some of it.

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