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Journal of Creation 28(1):98–103, April 2014

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Overdesign in the human being with a case study of facial expressions


It is well known that irreducible complexity is important evidence against evolution. However, another important design-related evidence against evolution is ‘overdesign’. A system or object is overdesigned when it has design features that are far beyond what is needed to survive. Overdesign cannot be produced by evolution because, with evolution, every aspect of design must have arisen because of some specific survival advantage. In contrast, intelligent design is easily able to produce overdesign. The concept of overdesign can be seen in the Bible in Psalm 8:5, where we read that man was “made a little lower than the angels and crowned with honour and glory”. Humans have around 24 unique facial muscles that are designed for making facial expressions. Humans have the amazing ability to make and discern up to 10,000 different facial expressions. Evolution has no credible explanation as to why humans need such remarkable abilities in order to survive. Facial expressions are just what would be expected if man had been specially created to be a spiritual and emotional being in the image of God. The huge difference in functionality between humans and apes provides evidence that there is no common ancestor.
Figure 1. Human facial muscles.

It is well known that irreducible complexity is a key test for evolution because evolution is limited to step-by-step change. When we see irreducible complexity in nature this provides very strong evidence that life was specially created and not evolved. However, irreducible complexity is not the only design test for evolution. Another key test for evolution is that of ‘overdesign’. This article explains the concept of overdesign in human beings.

It then focuses on how human facial expressions are an important example of overdesign where there are features and abilities that are far beyond what is required to survive. The article finishes with a summary of other key areas of overdesign in the human being.

Definition of ‘overdesign’

Overdesign and evolution

A system or object is overdesigned when it has design features that are above and beyond what is needed to function. Overdesign cannot be produced by evolution because, with evolution, every aspect of design must have arisen because of some specific survival advantage. In contrast, intelligent design is easily able to produce overdesign because it is not limited to requiring a survival reason for every design feature. Therefore, overdesign represents clear evidence for special creation and against evolution.

Overdesign in engineering

Figure 2. Ape facial muscles.

Engineers commonly produce overdesign in products like motor cars in order to achieve levels of luxury and comfort that are far beyond what is actually required for the product to carry out its day-to-day function.1 One example of overdesign in many luxury cars is that of a very smooth suspension system that is much smoother than actually required for transport. Another example is that of luxury materials and equipment that are designed to give a very high degree of comfort to the occupant(s), far beyond what is actually required for transport. Overdesign requires a great deal of design effort and cost. When a car is designed for a basic transport function, it may cost in the order of US$10,000. In contrast, when a car is designed for luxury and enjoyment, it may cost in the order of US$100,000. The overdesign of a luxury car means that the evidence for intelligent design is even greater than if there was no overdesign. In the same way, when we see overdesign in creation, this can greatly enhance the evidence for intelligent design.

Overdesign of the human being

According to evolution, humans have evolved abilities that are needed for survival, such as the ability to hunt, farm, build a den, defend territory, escape predators, find a mate and reproduce. For example, the evolutionist has to argue that human hands have evolved to perform tasks like throwing spears and toolmaking.2,3 However, humans are clearly designed to perform far more than survival tasks. Humans have great skill in many areas, such as carpentry, engineering, medicine, cooking, sewing, science, art, and craftwork. These abilities are due to humans being overdesigned in every part of their body.

Overdesign of the human being in the Bible

The concept of overdesign can be seen in the Bible in Psalm 8:5, where we read that man was “made a little lower than the angels and crowned with honour and glory”. This verse shows that man is far more than an animal, which is fit for just survival and reproduction. The phrase ‘a little lower than the angels’ means that man is deliberately overdesigned to be an intelligent being, able to have skilful dominion over the earth. The concept of overdesign can also been seen in Genesis 1:27, which says that man was made “in the image of God”. This verse implies that man has been designed to be an emotional, creative, and spiritual being and not just a creature that can survive and reproduce. Another consequence of being made in God’s image is that the human being needed to be designed to be worthy of having the deity take on human form. Psalm 139:14 also implies over-design by asserting that humans are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Case study of human facial expressions

The ability to make facial expressions is very important in human communication and relationships. People constantly observe and react to the facial expressions of others around them, even though they may not be aware they are doing this. When a person sees someone looking worried, they usually ask what is wrong and when they see someone smiling, they often smile in response. The ability to make facial expressions comes from numerous, well-designed muscles that are unique to humans.

Unique facial muscles

There are approximately 50 separate muscles in the human face.4 Facial muscles are present in every part of the face, including the eyelids, lips, nose, and ear and also within the cheek and scalp, as shown in figure 1.5 About half of the muscles of the face are needed for tasks such as eating, speaking, and closing the eyes. However, the other facial muscles are dedicated to making facial expressions.

To make facial expressions, a person must learn specific combinations of muscle movements. The ability to move the right combination of muscles is learnt mostly during early childhood years when the whole muscular and nervous system is developing. Some expressions, like smiling, need only around four to six muscles to be activated. Other expressions, like frowning, can involve the use of up to 20 muscles. In contrast to humans, apes have a much smaller number of facial muscles. In studies of the gorilla, fewer than 30 facial muscles have been identified.6

The facial muscles of apes are shown in figure 2. It can be clearly seen that the muscles in the gorilla’s face are much less numerous and much coarser than in a human face. There is a particularly sharp contrast between the cheek muscles of the human and those of the ape. In the case of the human face, there are several delicate cheek muscles. In contrast, the ape has just one enormous cheek muscle for producing strong eating movements with the mouth. The delicate cheek muscles of humans are very important because they are used for making various types of smiles. In contrast, the cheek muscles of apes are incapable of producing a smile.

Table 1. Facial muscles present in humans but not gorillas.


Table 1 shows a list of 24 facial muscles that are found in humans but not gorillas.6 The table also shows the function of each of these facial muscles. These unique facial muscles demonstrate the falseness of the claim that ‘humans are similar to apes’. While apes do have similar bones to humans, there is a large difference between the muscles of humans and apes.

According to evolution, the facial muscles shown in table 1 gradually appeared because there were survival advantages in having more and more facial muscles for making expressions. However, evolutionists have no credible explanation as to why such muscles help survival. For example, evolution cannot explain why the ability to smile was needed for survival. Or to put it another way, evolution cannot explain why the supposed apemen who did not evolve the ability to smile were less able to survive and therefore died out. If evolution were true, we would surely have numerous humans around today who had limited ability to make facial expressions.

Unique whites of eyes

Another reason why humans can make facial expressions is that the whites (sclera) of the eyes can be clearly seen when the eyes are open. In contrast, the sclera of apes are not normally visible. The sclera can sometimes be used to emphasize certain emotions. For example, when the eyes are opened wide in surprise, the large white areas are revealed. In contrast, when the eyes are slightly closed during concentration, the sclera are not visible. The sclera also make it possible to see when the eyes are moved or rolled. When the eyes are rolled, this can be an expression of annoyance or disrespect.

Having sclera that are visible also makes it possible to see the direction of a person’s gaze. In the case of humans, it is possible to see if someone is looking in your direction when they are some distance away. In contrast, it can be very difficult to see if an animal is looking in your direction even when it is quite close. In communication it is often important to make eye contact and to know that eye contact has been made.

As with the origin of facial muscles, there is no credible evolutionary explanation for the origin of the sclera. According to evolution, there was a time when a genetic mistake suddenly caused an apeman to have visible whites in the eyes and this change supposedly gave the apeman and his offspring survival advantages. However, there is no reason why the sclera should give a survival advantage. In fact they can be argued to be a survival disadvantage because it makes it easy for predators and prey to see the face. In contrast, the sclera are exactly the kind of special feature that would be expected from a Creator who wanted humans to have the ability to communicate effectively.

Figure 3. Examples of facial expressions.

Unique number of facial expressions

Figure 3 shows some examples of different facial expressions by a five-year-old child. Even at this young age the child is capable of making many sophisticated facial expressions. It is difficult to estimate the number of possible facial expressions because this is partly a subjective judgment. However, researchers have observed that the human being can make up to 10,000 discernible expressions.7 There are many different types of expressions that can be made, such as smiling, staring, glaring, and frowning, which communicate a range of emotions, such as joy, happiness, disapproval, confusion, grief, anger, pain, surprise, and boredom. For each type of expression there are many variations and degrees of intensity. For example, there are many different types of smile, and for each type there are many possible levels of intensity.

Unique discernment of facial expressions

The ability to make many facial expressions is only useful if those different expressions can be recognized. The human brain has a remarkable ability to recognize subtle expressions quickly. Most people have had the experience of finding it difficult to hide an emotion by trying to keep a ‘straight face’.

The reason why people find it difficult to keep a straight face is that they realize that other people are very perceptive in detecting the slightest facial expression.

Unique ability to express emotions

Men, women, and children have an in-built need to communicate feelings to other people. Facial expressions like smiling play an extremely important part in human communication. Facial expressions enable human beings to reveal their emotional feelings quickly and effectively. Sometimes it can be embarrassing or difficult to articulate a particular feeling through spoken language. There are some occasions when it is appropriate that a feeling is communicated in a split-second rather than several seconds. When there is sudden danger there may only be time to gasp and give a frightened look. In such cases, verbal communication is too slow and only a facial expression can communicate a message in time.

The smile is one of the most important facial expressions. Sometimes a single smile can communicate an important message by giving someone reassurance.

When people meet together, a smile is often part of the greeting ritual. Smiling has a very important role between parents and their children, especially babies. When a baby is very young, it cannot understand verbal language. However, it can quickly learn to recognize facial expressions. The ability to recognize a smile is such an important ability that it is sometimes used as a health check for babies who are a few months old. Even when a baby is just a few weeks old, it can be capable of recognizing a smiling face and also capable of smiling back. When God created Adam, Adam must have had strong emotional feelings on first opening his eyes to see the paradise that God had created. Adam would have been able to express his feelings with facial expressions. When Adam and Eve first saw each other, they would have been able to express a joyful emotion through facial expressions.

It is good to remember that our facial expressions can be a choice. This is why Job said, “I will put off my sad face and wear a smile” (Job 9:27).

Unique variety of faces

Intricate facial muscles also have the function of giving a unique visual appearance to a person. In the case of apes and other animals, they have a lack of variety in facial features because of a lack of facial muscles. But in the case of humans, there is great variety in intricate facial features because of facial muscles. In the case of dogs and cats, it is often necessary to look for colour markers on the fur in order to identify the animal. In the case of humans, facial features alone are enough for identification.

Other examples of physical overdesign in humans

Eight key areas where we see overdesign in man are: upright stature, skilful hands, fine skin, facial expressions, intricate language, long childhood, beauty, and high intelligence.8,9,10 These areas of overdesign are summarized in table 2. In each case, evolution is not able to provide a credible survival explanation for the special design features and abilities.

Table 2. Eight key areas where humans are overdesigned.8–10


Every part of the human frame is fully designed for upright movement, including foot joints, knee joint, hip joint, back, and neck joint (foramen magnum). If man’s upright stature had occurred by evolution it is difficult to explain why there is not a single joint which is not fully optimized for upright stature. An example of overdesign in the upright stature is the fact that human knee joints lock in the upright position.11 This means that little muscle work in the legs is required to stand upright for long periods of time. Such a design feature is what would be expected by intelligent design because it makes human living comfortable but is not required for survival.

Humans have fine hands that are able to perform precision grips and movements that are far beyond what is needed to survive. For example, evolution has no explanation as to why humans are able to hold a pen and other instruments in a perfect tripod grip with thumb, index finger and middle finger.

Neither can evolution explain why humans have the ability to play musical instruments with precision. Of course, the evolutionist argues that hands needed to evolve to throw spears and use tools.2,3 However, there is a complete difference between the skill needed to hold weapons and tools and the skills needed to play musical instruments.

The fine skin of humans is another example of overdesign which enhances the skill of hands and gives the ability to enjoy the sense of touch. Intricate language and speech is another important example of overdesign in humans. Languages like English have the potential for over one million words, which allows humans to communicate complex thoughts to each other. While some language might have survival advantages, the actual language of humans is far beyond what is needed to survive. The ability to sing is not what would be expected of evolution but exactly what would be expected if man had been specially created to praise his Creator.

Another key example of overdesign in humans is that of a long childhood of up to 18 years. Human childhood is a very special period of time that is meant for family bonding and the learning of many physical and mental skills. The human brain must surely be the most overdesigned part of God’s physical creation. Humans are capable of remarkable mental abilities in areas such as memory, language, creativity, mathematics, and art. Once again, evolution cannot adequately explain the survival advantages of the human brain.

Overdesigned to be a spiritual being

The most important aspect of overdesign in human beings is that they are spiritual beings made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). The spiritual dimension of humans represents the most powerful example of overdesign because spirituality has nothing to do with survival. Humans are emotional and creative beings who constantly make choices with a sense of right and wrong.

It is remarkable how God has given man a physical design that complements his spiritual design. Our ability to make facial expressions complements our desire to express emotions. Our ability to work skilfully with hands complements our creative mental ability. Our ability to think and speak complements our desire to talk to God. The perfect integration of physical, mental, and spiritual abilities that are found in humans challenges evolutionary theory.

Charles Darwin and overdesign

Before writing the origin of species, Darwin was told that facial expressions represented compelling evidence for special creation. In his autobiography Darwin wrote:

“My first child was born on December 27th 1839 and I at once commenced to make notes on the first dawn of the various expressions which he exhibited, for I felt convinced, even at this early period that the most complex and fine shades of expression must all have had a gradual and natural origin. During the summer of the following year, 1840, I read Sir C. Bell’s admirable work on expression and this subject though I could not at all agree with his belief that various muscles had been specially created for the sake of expression.”12

This quotation is interesting because it seems to show Darwin was convinced of gradual and natural origins before properly considering all the evidence.

Darwin also acknowledged that a learned and respected scholar of his time believed in special creation. Modern discoveries show that Sir C. Bell was correct, humans were indeed specially created.


The huge difference in functionality between humans and apes provides evidence that there is no common ancestor. It is important to note a top-down analysis of the human being (i.e. considering functionality) reveals a huge difference in design compared to apes. One could argue that the differences in functionality such as facial expression, language, hand skill, and brain are nearly 100%. This huge difference contrasts with a bottom-up analysis (i.e. comparing DNA content), which some say reveals only a 5% difference between humans and apes. Therefore in the creation–evolution debate it is important to point out the vast differences in functionality between humans and apes.

When considering human facial expressions, the evidence clearly shows that humans are overdesigned. Humans have around 24 unique and intricately designed facial muscles that are designed to express a great range of emotions. Evolution cannot propose any credible reasons why humans needed to evolve the ability to make such intricate facial expressions. However, such facial muscles are exactly what would be expected from a Creator who wanted humans to be emotional beings.

There are at least eight areas where humans are overdesigned, including upright stature, skilful hands, fine skin, facial expressions, intricate language, long childhood, beauty, and high intelligence. From head to toe humans are overdesigned in order to be able to carry out skilful work and play. The evidence shows Psalm 8:5 is correct when it says that humans are special beings made to be a little lower than the angels. The evidence of man’s overdesign also shows the truth of Psalm 139:14 that man is fearfully and wonderfully made.

The overdesign of man shows that humans are designed for far more than survival. They are designed to have dominion over the earth, to serve their Creator, to sing praises to their Creator and to enjoy life. Sadly, modern society teaches that humans are not overdesigned but rather have evolved from an ape-like creature. Such teaching leads to a low view of the importance of human life and encourages practices like abortion and euthanasia. It also leads to a low view of human potential and leads to a decline in standards of culture in areas such as art and music.

It is important not to take our overdesign for granted. We should be thankful to God for our gifts and use our abilities for His glory.

Posted on homepage: 17 July 2015

References and notes

  1. Burgess, S.C. and King, A.M., The application of animal forms in automotive styling, The Design J. 7(3):41–52, 2005. Return to text.
  2. Lynch, J. and Barrett, L., Walking with Cavemen, Headline, London, p. 106, 2002. Return to text.
  3. Roberts, A., Evolution: The human story, Dorling Kindersley, London, p. 118, 2011. Return to text.
  4. LUMEN Master Muscle List, meddean.luc.edu. Return to text.
  5. Gray, H., Anatomy of the Human Body, 20th edn, Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia, PA, 1918. Return to text.
  6. Gregory, W.K. (Ed.), The Anatomy of the Gorilla; the studies of Henry Cushier Raven, and contributions by William B. Atkinson [and others]. A collaborative work of the American Museum of Natural History and Columbia University, Columbia University Press, New York, p. 17, 1950. Return to text.
  7. Ekman, P. and Friesen, W.V., Facial Action Coding System (Human Interaction Laboratory, Dept. of Psychiatry, University of California Medical Centre, San Francisco, Consulting Psychologists Press Inc. 577 College Avenue, Palo Alto, CA, 1978). Return to text.
  8. Burgess, S.C., The Design and Origin of Man, 2nd edn, Day One Publications, Leominster, UK, 2013. Return to text.
  9. Burgess, S.C., In God’s Image, 2nd edn, Day One Publications, Leominster, UK, 2013. Return to text.
  10. Burgess, S.C., Irreducible design and overdesign: case study of man’s upright stature and mobility, Origins 57:10–13, 2013. Return to text.
  11. Etoundi, A.C., Burgess, S.C. and Vaidyanathan, R., A Bio-Inspired Condylar Hinge for Robotic Limbs, ASME J. Mechanisms Robotics 5(3), 2013 | doi: 10.1115/1.4024471. Return to text.
  12. Darwin’s Autobiography (Originally 1929, The Thinker’s library No. 7 London), Quoted from Icon Books Ltd, Cambridge, UK, p. 68, 2003. Return to text.

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