Irreducible Complexity Disproves Evolution

This argument is commonly presented as a theistic argument--that is to say an argument for the existence of “God”. However it’s a deistic argument. Even if it were valid (and it's not), it would only evidence a creator or higher power. It does serve as evidence of Jesus, God, Yahweh, Hanuman, Zeus, Hera, Osiris, Quatzequatel, or any other theistic deity, or any claim made in any holy book. If it is being pressed into such service, it has already failed.

Can God make a universe capable of self-organization? If so, then there is no way
to make the case that complexity reflects direct design by a tinkering god, as opposed
to the result of a natural process in a universe made by an extremely clever God. If
not, then why do you posit a god that is so limited?
~James F. McGrath

The argument is that Irreducible Complexity disproves the “theory” of evolution, and is a proof for an Intelligent Designer (God).

Irreducible Complexity, first coined in Michael Behe’s book “Darwin’s Black Box”, is the idea that some things are so complex, with so many complex parts, that it could not have evolved. If any one part were missing, the whole thing wouldn’t work. Since it wouldn’t function without all the parts (and therefore wouldn’t have evolved), and the parts couldn’t have co-evolved together for a common purpose that didn’t exist prior to them, that it proves Intelligent Design (and to some, disproves Evolution). “An irreducibly complex system,” he wrote, “cannot be produced directly… by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional.

The problems with this are as follows:

  1. This is a hypothesis. A hypothesis is not proof.
  2. This relies on purported “common sense”, which is not permissible in scientific claims. It’s common sense that planets can’t change their orbits, yet Mars does (in “obvious” violation of physics), ergo God exists, is just one example of thousands of similar, failed, common sense arguments.
  3. This argument is a “God of the Gaps” argument. God of the Gaps is the single most employed argument in the history of human discourse, with as many as a billion unique iterations of it. It has never, not once, ever worked, and is also the single most refuted argument in human history (though it will no doubt continue to be deployed as long as we live).
  4. This is a deistic argument, not a theistic one. Therefore, even were it granted, it would constitute no evidence for theistic claims, like the existence of Vishnu, Zeus, Odin or God.

Each of these are alone are sufficient to dismiss Irreducible Complexity as any evidence for any theistic claim (such as evidence of God). Each of these, except (IV), are sufficient alone to completely discredit this argument as evidence, let alone “proof”, either supporting intelligent design or undermining evolution.

Note, first, that this is a hypothesis. A hypothesis is not a law, it’s not a theory, and doesn’t count as evidence against either. This makes it pseudo-science, in that people who use the argument try to couch it in scientific terminology to lend it credibility, but don’t apply it scientifically. For this to be “proof” against evolution, this hypothesis would need to follow the remaining steps of the scientific method to develop supporting evidence. None of that has been done (indeed this “hypothesis” may well violate the methods prohibitionist against fallibility). Supporters may say “Well, it’s obvious that you can’t co-evolve systems into a complex organ like the eye”, but it was once also “obvious” that the world was flat and that Mars can’t go backwards. “Obvious” is a banned word in science, and with good reason.

Indeed, already the mechanisms of many “irreducibly complex” systems are being discovered.

This is part of the problem with “Common Sense” arguments, and what makes them unscientific–they don’t look for possible alternatives. For example when Intelligent Design proponents argue that life requires four fully functioning systems (a means to absorb energy, to use energy, dispose of waste, and replicate) to exist, and therefore evolution is false because all four must have been in place first, they are dismissing reasonable alternatives (life might not always have had those requirements, perhaps small molecules had one or two of these systems and developed into larger complex systems and eventually became life (RNA has now been shown to be able to do this on it’s own. It’s not alive, and can self replicate, and develop crude methods for all of these functions, and it’s the basis of all life on this planet). “Common sense” is a ploy to suppress investigation into alternate theories, and is not now, nor has it ever been, evidence. Period.).

Once again, as nearly every theistic argument, Irreducible Complexity relies on scientific ignorance to prove god. Science can’t explain how multiple systems co-evolved, or how complex systems would work without one piece, it clearly, obviously can’t be done, so that proves God (or an intelligent designer). This is a God of the Gaps argument, this kind of argument is the single most employed argument in the history of human discourse, and it’s been wiped out every single time. It’s success rate in the last 6,000 years is zero.

Now that doesn’t give theists pause in deploying it. When the spin of Venus was impossible (a violation of the law of angular momentum) it proved God. When the orbit of Mars was impossibly changed direction mid-flight, it proved God. Theists can’t help themselves claiming that something we don’t understand proves god. But our ignorance, in an apparently finite world, isn’t proof of anything it’s not. And it’s been trumpeted as that, and I say this without hyperbole, a billion times. And it’s always wrong (except this time. This time it’s right!).

Aside from this being a God of the Gaps argument, and therefore completely invalid and unreliable, it’s also a deistic argument, not a theistic one. I do not contest deism. I’m an atheist, I contest Theism, and Irreducible complexity is a deistic argument for an intelligent designer–a higher power–which could just as easily be Zeus or Quetzalcoatl or something we’ve never thought of. None of this is not even suggestive of Theistic beliefs like the God of Abraham, or that Jesus was the son of God.

And all of that out of the way, science is already making significant strides in destroying irreducible complexity arguments. We know how non-living, self replicating DNA could acquire the other necessary systems to sustain life. Many parts of the steps have been reproduced. There are working hypotheses, and we’re showing that it is indeed (big surprise) possible for processes like this to develop.

There is no evidence that it can’t be done–we’ve theoretical ideas, they’re getting worked out, and we’re showing at least one way to do it.

Which is an expression of the exact problem with God of the Gaps arguments. Our ignorance, that something seems impossible, does not prove anything other than our own ignorance. Even if irreducible complexity wasn’t already falling to demonstrations of how to reduce these systems, it was never, ever, under any circumstances, proof of a higher power. It was proof we have more to learn, and we always will. And since our ignorance seems to somehow be proof of god, we’ll always have an argument of the gaps.

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293 Comments on "Irreducible Complexity Disproves Evolution"

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Steve Ray Webb
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At some point, you (and all of us) are going to be lying in a hospital bed, or wherever, and taking your last breath, leaving this world. What lies behind that great door of death? Philosophers back to Plato and beyond have argued for the existence of God. They have been joined by countless scientists, theologians, and modern day philosophers. The incredible complexity of nature, the moral sense of right and wrong, the desire for significance, the willingness for people like Jesus’ apostles to be tortured and put to death rather than renounce belief in him, all demand exceptional explanations. Are you going to place your hopes and dreams in this life with the belief that nothing lies beyond the grave except darkness? Logic and evidence does not demand that you go that direction. It is something within you that is fighting God. I plead with you to turn before it is too late. I continue to be available on a more personal level through GotQuestions.org when addressed to Scientist Steve. What do you have to lose? You will be able to maintain an anonymous email address and you will not be doing that ministry any favors whatsoever.

Steve Ray Webb
Commenter

Yes, I believe that God is calling all people, all nations, everywhere, whether or not they have a clear conception of him. And for the people who have never had a chance to come to an accurate (or at least fuller) understanding of him, he holds them to a different standard. God does not condemn people for ignorance if it is ignorance that they have been unable to avoid. As for happiness, how do you rate and compare happiness from one faith, nation, or even individual person with another. I believe it is our sacred duty as humans to seek truth and I don’t believe that seeking it, or even finding it, necessarily brings happiness. I do believe it generally brings a sense of purpose and fulfillment but happiness depends on the daily exigencies of life and I don’t expect Christians to necessarily be happy, or at least not happy on a continuous basis.

Steve Ray Webb
Commenter

I am pretty new to this website, but thus far, it has surprised me. I find some openness and honesty I had not expected. These websites, whether they be Christian-based or atheist-based tend to draw out end of the spectrum types of people who will not entertain even the slightest comment that varies from their presupposition. I sense that many of you would be friends if we lived nearby (I have never asked that my friends be Christian). I still do not expect that we Christians will find much agreement with atheistic views here but I still appreciate that we can have serious discussion. If I have offended, or offend in the future, I do not do it out of ill will. Passions run high when it comes to matters of the heart, as I think all of us know.

Steve Ray Webb
Commenter

I took a look. The format is very professionally done, but as no surprise, I saw almost nothing in the content that I liked. The Bible quotes, quotes from Luther, etc. are out of context. If you took select quotes from things I have written (and probably every one of us) it could make me look like a saint or like a Hitler. This can always be done by pulling things out of context. As you, or others, have noted, there are mysteries in this universe, and the existence of an all powerful God cannot be disproven. Eternity is at stake for you and everyone of us. I plead with you to not be in the business of leading people astray.

Steve Ray Webb
Commenter

As for comments concerning the law in the Old Testament, the word ‘law’ there is used in different ways just as it is used in different ways in English today (law of gravity, speed limit laws, etc.). In the Old Testament, there is a clear distinction between moral laws, civil laws and ceremonial laws (bible commentaries write pages and pages about this stuff). Jesus comes down hard in support of the continuance of the moral laws (essentially the Ten Commandments), but never provides the slightest support for the continuance of the civil and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. In fact, the New Testament as a whole is unswerving in its teaching that the Jewish civil and ceremonial laws have passed away and it records frequent strife between this new teaching from Jesus and the Judaizers who keep wanting to hang onto the old laws. I could write many more words on this topic but maybe this makes the point.

Steve Ray Webb
Commenter

Let me recommend once again, that if there is anyone truly wrestling with the idea of whether or not God exists, a public forum like this is not particularly the best way to go. I encourage you to submit your questions and comments to the website GotQuestions.org, and specify them to go to Scientist Steve. It will be completely anonymous. I will not know your email address and you will not know mine due to the firewall they have created. And you are guaranteed to never receive any spam from this website ministry. What do you have to lose. Give it a try!!!

Steve Ray Webb
Commenter

Everyone on this post needs to recall that an agnostic is someone who does not know whether or not God exists. An atheist knows that God does not exist. As such, atheists are postulating a position that requires proof. You cannot propose a definite position without proof of it. I keep waiting for someone to prove that God does not exist.

Doreen Fenwick
Commenter

Are we going on Stephen Hawkins theory’s.His descriptions of parts of Space as Black holes and Grey Matter when he really doesnt know what it really is. A lot of his ideas are flawed, yet!! as with Darwin people hang on to every utterrance of theirs as Gospel.Darwin’a Theories in the light of our modern Scientist s etc; has so many holes in it , but they try to patch it up still.x.

Doreen Fenwick
Commenter

Chris Jarvis?? Oh but it does you just dont see it.You cant see the Wood for the trees x.