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Niall Shanks

Niall Shanks

[1959 - 2011]

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Behe, Biochemistry, and the Invisible Hand (2001) (with Karl H. Joplin) (Off Site)

"In this essay we take creationist biochemist Michael Behe to task for failing to make an evidentially grounded case for the supernatural intelligent design of biochemical systems. In our earlier work on Behe we showed that there were dimensions to biochemical complexity--redundant complexity--that he appeared to have ignored. Behe has recently replied to that work. We show here that his latest arguments contain fundamental flaws."

Of Mousetraps and Men: Behe on Biochemistry (2000) (Off Site)

Redundant Complexity: A Critical Analysis of Intelligent Design in Biochemistry (1999) (with Karl H. Joplin) (Off Site)

Biological systems exhibit complexity at all levels of organization. It has recently been argued by Michael Behe that at the biochemical level a type of complexity exists--irreducible complexity--that cannot possibly have arisen as the result of natural, evolutionary processes, and must instead be the product of (supernatural) intelligent design. Recent work on self-organizing chemical reactions calls into question Behe's analysis of the origins of biochemical complexity. His central interpretative metaphor for biochemical complexity, that of the well-designed mousetrap that ceases to function if critical parts are absent, is undermined by the observation that typical biochemical systems exhibit considerable redundancy and overlap of function. Real biochemical systems, we argue, manifest redundant complexity--a characteristic result of evolutionary processes.

Review of The Hidden Face of God (2007) (with Scott Oser)

After examining Gerald Schroeder's academic credentials, Scott Oser critiques his arguments from Big Bang cosmology, quantum mechanics, and alleged "fine-tuning" for the existence of the biblical God in The Hidden Face of God. Oser tours such perennial issues as what, if anything, came before the Big Bang, various interpretations of quantum mechanics and whether it requires us to believe that atoms are literally "aware" and "make choices," whether entangled states indicate a universe underpinned by Mind, and whether purported fine-tuning is grounded on solid probability calculations or would even require a grand "tuner" if real given the possibility of a cosmic lottery playing out across a hypothetical multiverse. Niall Shanks turns to Schroeder's discussion of origin-of-life studies and purported "intelligent design" on the cellular level, noting that current biochemistry actually reveals substantial evidence of unintelligent design by mindless, trial-and-error processes such as self-organization. Moreover, good scientific hypotheses for such "mysteries" as the origin of sexual reproduction exist but simply lack confirmation at this stage, undermining the need to postulate any guiding supernatural agents. Oser and Shanks conclude that if the history of science is any guide, Schroeder's God of the gaps will be supplanted by natural explanations as our current scientific understanding advances.

Niall Shanks (1959-2011), a native of England, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Alberta, Canada. He was Professor of Philosophy, Adjunct Professor of Biological Sciences, and Adjunct Professor of Physics and Astronomy, at East Tennessee State University.