WindowView — Science

    Home     Change     Science     Harmony     Time     News     Convergence     CW


Irreducible Complexity


Short Answer:

If we make a trek through scientific evidence with an eye out for something that is peculiar to life's structure or operations ...

It is generally agreed that living systems are distinguished from nonliving systems not so much by their unique chemical composition ... as by complex arrangements leading to unique biological functions. Living systems distinguish themselves from nonliving ones by processing energy, storing information and replicating. Bradley and Thaxton (CH) Page 177

How living forms acquired specific biochemical pathways and specific cellular structures brings us to something unique. Let's say we can follow a logic that explains how cells and their subsystems work. Function reveals how these entities work, but not how the entities themselves first came into existence. The short answer is simple, for the irreducibly complex features, practical explanations can bring us only so far, but no further. At this point there is no workable logic to explain how a specific feature could have come into existence without the entire feature being created all at one time.

An irreducibly complex system is one that requires several closely matched parts in order to function and where removal of one of the components effectively causes the system to cease functioning. Behe (MC) Page 178

No subcomponent would have any logical function without the rest of the structure within which it is a part. We can't reduce the structure to its component parts ... the parts by themselves have no functional utility and thus cannot be explained by chance. Irreducible, complex, features appear to exist within life. They beg the question of design and they are compelling examples for which evolutionary mechanisms provide no explanation. How might something exist if it presents the proposition of an all or none entity? We address additional observations and mention key examples below. For your further consideration, read Dr. Behe's book (Darwin's Black Box) for a very readable, yet in depth, consideration of the presence of irreducible complex features. The experience of this book simply brings us to a realization that something has been long overlooked. It might just hit you in a way that tingles the spine and really opens up the window view with further expectations of more unique discoveries to come!

Tweet this page address!

Consider This:

Understanding life really comes down to the science of what goes on at the molecular level. Going below this level enters parts of chemistry and physics that supports life but in a basic fashion is not itself enough to characterize life's activities and functions. Life's characteristics rest on the basics of these fields but then really reveals itself by the working of atoms and molecules as part of biochemical pathways or cellular structures we think of in terms of the biology of life. Understanding biology at the smallest scale of detail brings something fascinating. As Dr. Behe and others have observed, what is incredible (wonderful!) is that cells use numerous miniature molecular machines to carry out every task of life function.

In Darwin's Black Box I discussed several such machines. I showed that they are irreducibly complex—that is, they require a number of closely matched components before they can function—and thus are mammoth barriers to gradualistic, Darwinian evolution. I further argued that such irreducibly complex systems are best interpreted as the result of deliberate intelligent design. Behe (MC) Page 177

Dr. Behe sees discussions on what is irreducibly complex and the minimal function of the related complex structures as key to grasping the full implications here—especially as this will weigh heavy on characterizing, in part, what examples for intelligent design. [Note: we describe the concept of a black box later in this article]

The concept of minimal function provides a way to recognize that a device in the real world has to work at a certain minimal level of efficiency to be of any practical use. [See Behe's text for example of outboard motor]

Our second concept is irreducible complexity. An irreducibly complex system is one that requires several closely matched parts in order to function and where removal of one of the components effectively causes the system to cease functioning. [See mousetrap example ] Behe (MC) Page 178

In characterizing complex systems, Behe notes that some cellular systems can be comprised of multiple parts, but ones that are not necessarily closely matched. The appearance of complexity furthermore requires examining the make up of a structure or function to see if it is irreducibly complex.

Closely matched, irreducibly complex systems are huge stumbling blocks for Darwinian evolution because they cannot be put together directly by improving a given function over many steps, as Darwinian gradualism would have it, where the function works by the same mechanism has the completed structure. Behe (MC) Page 179

When faced with complexity, the gradualist is left to speculate about indirect routes leading to complex features. Behe notes that to be fair, we cannot completely discount indirect scenarios, which he furthermore notes "is tantamount to trying to prove a negative."

Closely matched, irreducibly complex systems not only are tall problems for Darwinism but are also hallmarks of intelligent design. Behe (MC) Page 179

Dr. Behe and others have challenged themselves with the intellectual exercise of detecting the presence of design. This becomes an area for potentially fundable research. Darwinists disagree, but then that's not unexpected. Elsewhere other WindowView feature articles, on Intelligent Design and another on the Explanatory Filter, help to describe what it takes to detect evidence of design. This process must be conducted in the absence of firsthand or eyewitness accounts. But remember, no such accounts were available for chemical evolution or origins at other levels. However, if credible detection mechanisms can be presented, this alone makes progress where naturalism and gradualism are lacking.

For discrete physical systems—if there is not a gradual route to their production—design is evident when a number of separate, interacting components are ordered in such a way as to accomplish a function beyond the individual components. The greater the specificity of the interacting components required to produce the function, the greater is our confidence in the conclusion of design. Behe (MC) Page 180

Again, we'll let you read the other articles noted above to see how instrumental the term 'specificity' is to detecting design. This is a critical focal point to obtaining a high degree of confidence in this area of research.

Irreducible complexity in biochemistry

What is very different about recent science compared to science from Darwin's day or even from the early to mid-20th century, is the enhanced understanding we now have for life's molecular and biochemical systems. Advanced technologies have thus revolutionized science. So, this knowledge is recent, post World War II, and accelerating and amassing knowledge from the 1960s to the present time. Cellular and biochemical detail make the final graphic illustrations for how life at the cellular level works. Behe says with this knowledge in hand, we can now ask which of the known cellular structures and biochemical systems are in fact irreducibly complex.

Two examples that you'll find repeatedly cited as evidence for intelligent design are the cilium and flagellum. We have links here to web pages created in relation to Behe's discussions on these irreducibly complex cell structures. (Click here for cilium and flagellum pages)


This animated graphic shows the base and 'whip' of a flagellum in motion. The membrane of a cell houses the intricate parts of the flagellum that make up a biological 'motor' that serve as one of many examples for intelligent design.

"Find out why some scientists have called the bacterial flagella the most efficient machine in the universe with its:
1) self assembly and repair;
2) water-cooled rotary engine;
3) proton motive force drive system;
4) forward and reverse gears;
5) operating speeds of 6,000 to 17,000 rpm;
6) direction reversing capability within 1/4 of a turn; and
7) it's hard-wired signal transduction system with short-term memory."

A full reading of Behe's considerations reveals how complex these structures are. But the complexity is best appreciated when we visualize the animated activities involved in producing these structures. It's not just the structure that is complex, the information and coordination in making the structure is particularly complex. The following quote gives us a brief glimpse at the types of questions that arise are unique to the production of the flagellum. But this is only a few of numerous other considerations you'll encounter by reading Behe's full account (see Behe (MC) page 181).

The construction scheme must deal with fundamental questions in structural and developmental biology: How does the cell measure the length of a component made up of polymerized subunits?

... how does the cell turn off the assembly of one part of the structure and switch on the assembly of the next part? Are there check point mechanisms that determine whether one flagellum component has been completed and that it is okay to start construction of the next component? How is this information conveyed to the expression of the flagellar genes? Behe (MC) Page 181

And once this molecular machine is made ... the power to drive the physical action of this whip-like propulsion device is like a description we'd read in Popular Science or an automotive magazine on the finer aspects of a finely tuned engine.

The rotary motor uses a flow of acid to power it, like a hydroelectric dam uses a flow of water to power its turbines. ... As Shapiro's review made clear, the assembly of this bulky machine is a significant logistical task. We must remember that the cell is essentially a completely automated factory, so all assembly has to be done by highly sophisticated robots, not by magic. Behe (MC) Page 181

There are a series of varied examples provided in Behe's book (Darwin's Black Box) and the cross section provided by the different types of structures and biochemical systems adds something important to our consideration. If irreducibly complex entities exist, then their appearance may be multifaceted. It's not just one type of feature but multiple types that adds something to the existence of these complex features. That is to say design is applied at various places within life and we are faced with more examples than a select one or two exceptions to overall cell construction.

Also here is an additional special feature article by Joseph W. Francis, entitled: Peering into Darwin's Black Box: The cell division processes required for bacterial life.

A final note here on evidence in the professional literature. We've seen arguments stating there is overwhelming evidence to explain the evolution of cell systems, even irreducibly complex systems. You will find Behe's critics making such accounts. But we ask that you read the assessments provided by Dr. Behe first off. The point is, much of what is touted as evidence for evolution is topical matter that does not directly address the title issue! A look at the large literature base now in existence reveals evidence is lacking. Were evolution the fact that many claim, then why isn't the literature replete with article after article confirming this even down to the molecular level.

The idea of Darwinian molecular evolution is not based on science. There is no publication in the scientific literature—in journals or books—that describes how molecular evolution of any real, complex, biochemical system either did occur or even might have occurred. There are assertions that such evolution occurred, but absolutely none are supported by pertinent experiments or calculations. Since there is no authority which to base claims of knowledge, it can truly be said that the assertion of Darwinian molecular evolution is merely bluster. Behe (MC) Page 183

And why doesn't the public know this?

Quotations from "The Creation Hypothesis" (CH) edited by J. P. Moreland and "Mere Creation" (MC) edited by William A. Dembski are used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be used without permission from InterVarsity Press.

Writer / Editor: Dr. T. Peterson, Director,

WindowView TimeLine

The WindowView drops many of the typical presumptions to take another look. What does scientific data tell us if we start without assumptions? And ... how contiguous is science information if examined along with scriptural perspectives provided by the Bible? The Bible is the only religious or holy book we know of that is in fact consistent with science. While not a textbook, the Scriptures are either contradictory or complementary to scientific perspectives. Have you looked at these perspectives? To see 'Science and Scripture in Harmony' is to reveal life, reality, and your future.

page button bar previous page top home

return to top

 Resources  - click panel tab below to see more ...
Books to Explore, etc.
For a general listing of books, visit the WindowView Book Page for: Science and Scripture.

References of Interest

Life's Origins Edge of Evolution Billions Missing of Links Case Against Accident Black Box Mystery of Lifes Origin id Evolution Theory Crisis What Darwin Didn't Know Doubts Design Revolution signs
Step Up To Life
Time spent looking ... through a window on life and choice ... brings the opportunity to see in a new light. The offer for you to Step Up To Life is presented on many of the web pages at WindowView. Without further explanation we offer you the steps here ... knowing that depending on what you have seen or may yet explore in the window ... these steps will be the most important of your life ...
Step Up To Life