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Irreducible complexity and cul-de-sacs

Published: 17 December 2016 (GMT+10)

Today’s feedback comes from I.F. who regularly comments on articles published on creation.com. His response here is to Overdesign in the human being with a case study of facial expressions by design engineer Stuart Burgess.


“It is well known that irreducible complexity is important evidence against evolution.” Just reading this tautology and I am wondering to whom it is well known?

CMI’s Tas Walker responds:

The idea was well known to Darwin. One definition of irreducible complexity is, “Irreducible complexity is a term used to describe a characteristic of certain complex systems whereby they need all of their individual component parts in place in order to function. In other words, it is impossible to reduce the complexity of (or to simplify) an irreducibly complex system by removing any of its component parts and still maintain its functionality.”

Darwin agreed with that, stating in The Origin:

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

I.F. commented again, and Tas Walker responded inside his comment.

Message to Tas Walker: you did not answer my question of 17/07/2015. To whom is this tautology well known? The idea of irreducible complexity may have been known to Darwin, but he certainly did not accept it, believing that all complexity of biological systems can be explained by natural selection.
It is futile to try to use the processes of maintenance to explain the mechanism of origin.

[TW] I did answer your question. Darwin did accept the concept of irreducible complexity and said it would break down his theory of evolution. However, he simply denied that any structure was irreducibly complex. Philosophically it is impossible to prove that a particular structure cannot be explained by small, incremental steps because Darwinists can always respond, “Oh, we don’t know all the factors involved and we will find some processes in the future that do explain this by evolutionary steps.” It’s the same for the atheist. They cannot say that there is no God because, to know that they would have to know everything. (See article on atheism.)

No evidence has been found for “irreducible complexity”. None. Zero. Rien.

[TW] Not true. Biologists have found more and more features that are candidates for being irreducibly complex, such as the ATP synthase (and see video above) and the kinesin. In fact the whole structure of the living cell points to it being irreducibly complex. Furthermore, every biological pathway is irreducibly complex, requiring multiple steps to produce the required biochemical output. If one of the steps does not work, the product will not be produced.

The idea has been refuted and discredited by professionals in biological sciences like Professor Kenneth Miller.
iStockphoto humming-bird

[TW] He has objected to it, but not refuted it. Those who support the atheistic philosophy of evolution are like that. They will deny the obvious.

I note that the CMI article here is written by a mechanical engineer, not a biologist. I am not a scientist, I am a joiner and carpenter, and so I understand plenty about design and engineering too. I am intensely interested in natural history, all these “forms most beautiful and wonderful”, consciousness, intellect, consciousness, how these emerged, and the origins of the universe. This next is a serious question that readers, if this is published, ought to reflect on. On the subjects of the complexity of living organisms, biological systems, and speciation, would it be better to listen to a mechanical engineer or another professional who has devoted his career to the precise subject, such as Kenneth Miller?

[TW] Actually an engineer has much advantage over a biologist because engineers are constantly involved in design, as you are. Anyway, your argument here has fallen into the logical fallacy of appeal to authority.

However, the argument works the other way. Jonathan Sarfati explains:

Miller, in whom Dawkins has so much faith (when it suits him) has no expertise in this motor, unlike Scott Minnich who refuted his claims. Miller claimed that the flagellum evolved from a secretory apparatus, but Minnich showed that in reality, the type-III secretory apparatus (TTSS) must have devolved from the flagellum (a more complex structure), if one did arise from the other. Note also, it is not a fallacious argument to appeal to a genuine authority, as Minnich is, on the flagellum.
Nowhere in Professor Burgess’s article is there any explanation as to the actual processes that brought non-living matter into complex living organisms. How were the building blocks of, say, a daffodil brought together to make a daffodil? How were the building blocks of kangaroos brought together to make kangaroos? How were the building blocks of humans brought together to make humans? This article explains nothing useful.

[TW] Neither can the evolutionary mechanism explain the origin of these building blocks. And they have no hope of explaining them when they only have natural processes to draw upon. However, in the biblical worldview these different organisms were brought into existence at the beginning by processes that we do not see occurring today. They are the creation of the supernatural Creator God, so there is an adequate cause. It is futile to try to use the processes of maintenance to explain the mechanism of origin. Read Genesis chapters 1, 2 and 3 to see how it happened.

Moreover, if you want to take this over design idea to a logical extrapolation, our intellects, intelligence are also over designed. From a survival of the species point of view they are not necessary. Unless these emergent properties are in fact our evolutionary destiny or purpose. To discern the mind of God, by understanding the true nature of the universe.

[TW] You are on the right track here. Romans 1:19–20 says, “For what can be known about God is plain to them [people], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” God created you because he wants to have a personal relationship with you, and he has a plan for your life.

It is impossible to reduce the complexity of (or to simplify) an irreducibly complex system by removing any of its component parts and still maintain its functionality.
I read stuff from people like Kenneth Miller, Richard Feynman, Michael Faraday, Stephen Hawking, etc. etc. and I see people using their gifts to discern these deeper understandings. I read stuff like Professor Burgess’s and what I see is an intellectual and spiritual cul-de-sac.

[TW] It’s the opposite way around. The concept that things are designed provides great insights and understandings of things. It’s the idea that things came about without any intelligence that is the cul-de-sac. (One example is the fiasco of junk DNA.) Did you read former atheist Antony Flew’s book There is a God in which he explains the reasons why he abandoned atheism and came to believe there is an intelligent creator. The continual discoveries in microbiology of the amazing structures within the living cell, etc. provide a new and powerful argument to design.

By the way, what do you mean by your term “gifts”? Who is the giver of the gift? 

All this back and forth exchange that you engage in is another cul-de-sac. You will never find your way out of a hole by continually digging it deeper. If you really want to know, if you are serious about resolving the question of whether God exists, who He is, and His plan for your life, you have to do a scientific experiment. You need to begin to talk to Him—regularly. You can say, for example, “God, I don’t know if you exist, or if you don’t. As a matter of fact, I don’t think you do. But if you do, I’m interested in knowing the truth and knowing you. If you do exist, I assume you would know about me and can hear me. Would you please reveal yourself to me?”

Like any scientific experiment, you have to be serious about it. You will need to frame the experiment so you can give it a fair trial. Just think, they have been searching for extraterrestrial life for decades (the SETI project). They treat this as a serious search and continue to invest enormous amounts of money in it, even though they have found nothing. They are persistent. So, just a flippant gesture will not do. We need to be serious. Give Him a timeframe and be diligent in our search. Unlike the SETI project, we will receive a prompt response.

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Readers’ comments

ian C.
The arguments are well presented, but a person who refuses to accept Truth will never be convinced. God will never reveal Himself to a scoffer, so your "experiment" will not bear fruit in a scoffer. Luke 16:31 Then Abraham said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’
Tas Walker
A scoffer will want to avoid doing the experiment. But if a person is serious, even though they have lots of objections and doubts, God will respond to their reaching out. He is gracious and good.
Everett C.
I also am an example of the efficacy of the scientific test with which Tas challenged I.F. If one asks God to reveal Himself, genuinely desiring Him to do so, He will do it.

Almost 26 years ago, after attending church and reading the Bible all my adult life, I suddenly realized that I didn't believe the Bible. Because the realization shocked me I asked Him to show me why I didn't believe it. Within a few weeks I heard a radio interview with a scientific and Biblical creationist. God used his citing of scientific laws showing the impossibility of evolution to reveal to me that the Bible is entirely true and the "facts" I had learned as a result of my geology degree were wrong. I was saved not long after that event.

Because I previously had heard about and dismissed creation arguments I know that the entire debate is not scientific. Rather it is spiritual. I.F. will not accept the truth until he recognizes that he needs to ask God to reveal to him the truth.
Willem D.
I would suggest to I.F. to dig into this stuff just a little deeper. Don't just trust people like Professor Kenneth Miller when they claim there is no evidence for irreducible complexity, but instead pay attention to how such people reach their conclusions. If you do that, with an open mind, you will eventually notice that they always assume evolution to be true and start from there. But if you assume evolution is true, you also automatically assume there is no such thing as irreducible complexity, because in the evolutionary scenario all life must be reducible to the first primitive lifeform that somehow assembled itself a couple of billion years ago.

To refute the idea of irreducible complexity, you only have to show an unguided process that leads to something irreducibly complex. This hasn't been done, for the obvious reason that it can't be done. Sure, you can make up stories of how a system like blood clotting evolved one step at a time but you have to remember that every step has to give the organism a significant advantage over its ancestors, but until everything was in place, whatever the advantage was, it had nothing to do with blood clotting, because that system only works if all parts are in place. If such a process leads to something like a working blood clotting system, that's nothing less than a miracle. It's like trying to improve my microwave one modification at a time, making it a little better with each step, but even though I only tried to make it a better microwave, after making another modification, my microwave suddenly is also a working coffeemaker. If that's a reasonable scenario, then maybe evolution is too. For evolution to work however, such unlikely scenarios must be repeated over and over. It's so unlikely you can safely call it impossible!
P. U.
Actually I don't blame atheists and agnostics for their state of mind. It is not always easy to be faithful to God given that He seems distant (does He converse with you?), often seems to neglect us even when we beg for and need help, and hasn't walked the earth for nearly 2,000 years (that's a long wait on a promise).
It doesn't help (and frankly doesn't surprise) that we live in a society that is embracing existentialism everywhere we look, which is original sin in its essence.
The modern concept of 'belief' is somewhat moot and a red herring. I think that everyone 'believes' in or 'knows' God whether they admit it or not. It's the nurturing of faithfulness that helps us to continue to live inside the Covenant and rely on the Holy Spirit even when it seems pointless, and it's a lack of nurturing that causes atheists to 'blame' God and punish Him by refusing to acknowledge Him, and agnostics to ignore Him.
The arguments they present against God are consistent and consistently flawed, as they must be. It's unlikely that logic will persuade them unless they are ready to begin restoring their neglected faith or trust.
We need the church to help our society to help its people to do that, and the church needs to be much bolder and more 'real' than it is now. The mission of CMI at least is playing its part in a much needed restoration of confidence. The church needs to follow that example and stop internalising and reducing the Convenant as postmodernist, internalised 'belief' which can be easily relativised as though the choice is up to us. Instead it needs to restore our faith and trust.
Bill P.
I.F: I was converted by a pagan. While reading "Evidence That Demands a Verdict" by Josh McDowell, I came across one paragraph that grabbed me: "We also have a roundabout reference from Julian the Apostate, Roman Emperor from 361-363, who was one of the most gifted of the ancient adversaries to Christianity. In his work against Christianity, he states: ‘Jesus has now been celebrated about three hundred years; having done nothing in his lifetime worthy of fame, unless anyone thinks it a very great work to heal lame and blind people and exorcise demoniacs in the villages of Bethsaida and Bethany.’”

It struck me as incongruous that Julian, while attempting to discredit Christianity, accepted as fact the miracles I had rejected as fairy tales. He was certainly closer in time to Jesus than I was, and presumably would have had a better independent assessment of the man’s life than I could ever get. At that moment I leaned back, looked at the ceiling and thought, “OK, God and Jesus, if you guys are really there and if you want my life, you can have it; it's certainly no good to me the way it is.” That was it - no bells, no bright lights. I just went back to reading my book. A couple of weeks later I realized that the weight of evidence has shifted from "no God" to "there really is a God."

That was 40+ years ago. Since then I have been shown beyond any shadow of doubt that God is real. Like me, if you are serious about giving your life to God he WILL reveal himself to you. Google Julian to see why he had no use for Christianity.
Mike G.
Just happen to be again looking over Richard Barns’ book, advertised on this website, 'The Dawkins Proof for the existence of God' in order to sharpen up my responses to sceptics. Quote: “Everyone lives as if God exists. Even Richard Dawkins lives as if God exists.” (Start of chapter six.) Indeed, I.F.’s ‘give away’ mention of “gift”, as Tas rightly points out, implies a giver. To defer to “mother nature” as the giver, the only logical alternative, as many atheistic evolutionists unwittingly do so, is to deny the Creator, yet simultaneously ascribe unscientific (unprovable and contradictory) supernatural qualities to nature – pantheism. Happy to extend this conversation with I.F.
Garry G.
I can personally testify to the outcome of the experiment you suggest, Tas.

I too was once an atheist, but I made a very similar prayer to an "unknown" God. Christianity was at the bottom of my list of possible outcomes. However, my prayer was answered and Jesus revealed himself to me as the Way, the Truth and the Life. It was actually quite horrifying at the time, given my previous antipathy towards Christianiy and Christians. But I knew this revelation to be the Truth, and I chose to follow Him. My life was never the same.

That was 20 years ago, and I am so grateful that my Lord pursued me with His love. I am a Biblical Creationist and remain convinced of the authoriy of the Bible. CMI has been an important part of my journey. My prayer for your reader is that he too would seek the Truth with sincerity, and be prepared to accept the outcome, no matter what (or who) it is. He will not regret it.
Egil W.
I would like to point out, that one cannot change the elements of self-replication (in living beings) too much, before self-replication breaks down. Quite elementary.
And... whenever an evolutionist says (or has said) that they don't know all the details ,or even, don't know at all, how something happened in (their alleged evolutionary) given explanatory history, they also admit that they have, as of yet, a burden of proof for the claims they have positively made.

It seems it's all about getting around the conclusion of a Creator specially creating creation.
Dean R.
I like cul- de- sac’s, they can be safe places full of purpose & design as the world rushes on at high speed. Little out of the way places like Nazareth, “Can anything good come from there?” The problem with big names is when they make a mistake they mislead people big time. Rationalists that are fully committed to their version of reason often display a huge bias to the so called intelligent. “That person must know more because they are an expert” is a position of faith & trust & probably a form of scientism & consensus. If an expert says there must be a multi verse then there must be a multiverse. Don’t worry about the science, we can get around that with maths, don’t worry about the dating method we can get around that with assumptions, don’t worry about life springing from non- life, just take our word for it as we just keep digging downwards.

I.F, Are you an expert in beauty & wonder I wonder? Do you build solid things or flimsy? What happens when something defies evolution? Do you close your eyes & block your ears & create your own cul-de-sac of consensus, can you appreciate the breakdown & mutation of things, the loss of information & so forth. Primary originals, designs that mutate & actually devolve?

There is so much intelligence, design & complexity in nature/creation & people want to buy into by chance/accident of not set purpose (the environment did it ?) because the experts say so…meanwhile countless streams of evolutionary dogma remain unexplained & favoured on the merry-go-round of the very limited & subjective enlightenment.

murk P.
If the Bible was not clear on the state of man who attempts to deny their God, I.F's statement would be astonishing:

"No evidence has been found for “irreducible complexity”. None. Zero. Rien."

You have a body that needs food (i'm sure you've considered that all food is or was alive (not counting non foods such as H2O and NACL) .

If you do not get proper food you will become a reducible complex cadaver within about 70 days. Until then you as a system in a system are irreducibly complex.

Achieving non complexity (death) can occur in many other ways by removing only one thing that is in the irreducibly correct system: for example:

4 litres of blood
Boyle's law of gases (would render breathing impossible)
laws of electricity - (would mean our heart stops beating)

and I could go on.

But it is even more simple.

Many of the things we eat would not exist without the honey bee. (pollination).
3 types of bees need to exist. The Queen, Drones and workers. They also need flight, navigation and communication systems. To sustain the hive the water sugar mixture from plants needs to be converted to a non-crystallizing substance (honey) which requires digestion and water removal technology.
Not to mention royal jelly which is a protein based substance secreted from the bees' heads.

Thus physical things such as: queen bee, drone bee, worker bee, flowers, nectar, sun, oxygen, CO2, soil, nitrogen, honey, royal jelly etc. are all required for a beehive to exist. This cannot be reduced.

In addition non-physical things such as: flight, navigation, communication, software to cause bees to regurgitate nectar and dry it, and to create royal jelly etc. This cannot be reduced.

Did all these things evolve at the same time and in the same place? LOL
Dennis W.
Loved this exchange!
It agrees with one of my primary theories:

Most people are not seeking for reasons to believe in God/Jesus Christ - they are actively seeking for reasons to disbelieve!!

Just like I was 37 years ago.

Thank God that He did not give up on me!!

Thanx for a great article

Dan M.
I'm almost done reading a book by Frank Turek, called Stealing from God. In his book he differentiates between the metaphysical, (non-material) and the physical which I find intuitive and enlightening. It has always been obvious to me that the mind, (and DNA for that matter) cannot arise by physical means (evolution) because information and rational thought are non-material. When we feel something our bodies respond with a physical response which we identify as feelings but those feelings begine as a metaphysical thought.
If our minds were just random chemical reactions, we would all be wandering schizophrenics and not capable of rational thought. Evolutionists must steal metaphysical rational thought from God to even begin to do science and the early CHRISTIAN founders of science knew this very well (thinking God's thoughts after him). Evolution does cripple good science because it is closed to the metaphysical possibilities, makes grandiose assumptions, and therefor doesn’t seek all possible explanations. The evolutionist acknowledges only the physical and the physical can’t explain everything. It’s not that they can’t see this. It’s because they refuse to see the obvious! Rom 1:19
I have experimented with this in my own life dealing with addictions that I’ve felt helpless to deal with. I have been able to overcome them by prayer and realizing (by revelation) they are metaphysical, are in my mind and that is what I needed to change, (repent). It has worked wonderfully for me and that’s proof enough.
I believe all our sociological problems are wrong thinking and harmful addictions but can be overcome. There is no homosexual gene or murder gene, it is rebellion against God's moral standard and evolutionary excuses just won't do!

God Bless
Chuck R.
The discussion with I.F. reveals his devotion to evolution and its professing experts and I can relate having had similar discussions with other people. Probably the most frustrating response when I clearly show the fallacy of evolution is “well, given enough time anything can happen”, which is the foundational concept of evolutionary doctrine.
Discussions like these are useful for sharpening our thinking and are needed to bring someone to an awareness of God which can then lead to presenting the salvation message, which is our job, no matter how foolish I may look when contradicting the experts’ claim of evolution is a fact.
Joseph M.
"No evidence has been found for “irreducible complexity”. None. Zero. Rien." This is the evolutionist version of the "The Emperor's New Clothes" mentality. He is merely assuming what he is attempting to prove i.e. a begging the question fallacy. The definition of “irreducible complexity” is given in this article.

The biological organ systems and mechanisms they use to maintain control are irreducibly complex. Not only are all of the organ systems as a whole irreducibly complex on the macro level, because without any one of them the body ceases to function, but each of them is irreducibly complex on the micro level as well, because without specific sensors, or integrators, or effectors, the body is as good as dead.

The questioner has shown prejudicial conjecture because all the information in question is publicly available and had he done 30 minutes research on the internet or library he would not have made an uneducated claim. First understand the definition and see the emperor as he is i.e. naked, then pick up a medical book, computer science or engineering book and irreducibly complex systems will be revealed.
Carolina M.
Nice Article.
Neil O.
Excellent response, Tas Walker! Measured and kindly, emphatic and (in the end) pastoral.
Glory to God; credit to you.
Richard L.
Go, Tas, go! Thank you for the ending-direction as well as for the substance of your response.

To I.F.:

1. Please research and do self-inspection: Where does the term "emergent properties" come from? Isn't it a logically necessary companion to an atheistic worldview, needed for that worldview to have science-level viability? Is there actually any science-level evidence for such properties, at a foundational level? The emerging features of a fertilized cell don't count; they come from coded information already implanted into biological material. The question is how emergent properties can exhibit from foundational non-biological materials. Where is that evidence? Thus, please don't overuse that concept.

2. It may be easier for you to contemplate Tas's key point: "It is futile to try to use the processes of maintenance to explain the mechanism of origin"--by temporarily moving examination to simpler non-biological natural phenomena. The presently observed laws of nature help explain the (changes of) state of stars and planets. But they turn out to be visibly inadequate to explain their origin. No "emergent property" shows up to help.

Stars are paradoxes: CONCENTRATIONS of gas. Gas molecules naturally scatter and diffuse, not concentrate. A century of looking has failed, looking for a naturalist big-scrunch mechanism that would force uncooperative gas molecules to concentrate to the point that gravity could take over and keep that gas concentrated. Planets: Dust can accrete--up to about a metre in size--before that lump gets shattered by collision with a similar lump, making planet-ORIGIN mysterious.

After you see these inadequacies of random interaction as foundational reality, you may be able to better see the MUCH BIGGER biological challenges.
Danny W.
I loved the analogy of the SETI project to illustrate the point of taking seriously the task of seeking God!

The bible says, "And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with ALL YOUR HEART" (my emphasis) i.e. whole-heartedly, and "he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."

I.F., there are many, many people in the church who actually "hear" from God in lots of different and amazing ways. This is not a delusion, as there are many occurrences where God reveals hidden information about other people and circumstances in which there is no way that the person involved could have possibly known.

There is a lot happening in the kingdom of God today that never makes the mainstream media. God is alive and moving among His people.
Grahame G.
Thanks Tas. I love how CMI responds to questioners and even more so to those who object. I pray that God will grant IF understanding to eternal life.

It seems so obvious that the evidence is overwhelming that God exists and the Bible is His revelation to us, but the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe.

2 Corinthians 4:5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

God bless!

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