Irreducible Complexity

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By Kyle Pope

     In discussing the existence of God, the apostle Paul told the Romans, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20, NKJV). What is there in the world around us that demonstrates the “eternal power” and “Godhead” of a Creator?

     Since the time of Charles Darwin many in the world have accepted various evolutionary theories that argue that life came into existence by chance as the result of chemical accidents without any need for an intelligent designer. Although this has never been demonstrated in a laboratory, millions of people accept it as fact and have shaped their world-view accordingly. Darwin argued that the mechanism that could allow this was what he called Natural Selection. He supposed that as different accidents of nature happened, the most viable would survive while the others would cease to exist. This is commonly known as “survival of the fittest.” In this view the complexity of life as it is seen in the plants and animals that exist today came from this battle of nature with the winner surviving to reproduce into successive generations.


     Proponents of this view don’t seem to recognize that this very explanation assigns animated motives and desires to inanimate things. Chemicals have no desires. They feel no drive to survive. When you mix baking soda and vinegar it doesn’t start to bubble because one is angry at the other. Chemical reactions are governed by natural laws and forces independent of the drives and needs that are common to all forms of life.

     There is another issue, however, that poses even greater problems to this concept of “survival of the fittest.” Modern scientists refer to it as the principle of Irreducible Complexity. Think of it this way—you have a three-legged stool—can you sit on it with only two legs? Obviously, for it to function as it should you need all of its parts in place for it to actually support a human body. There are millions of biological systems and mechanisms that exist in nature that can only work if all of their parts are in place and working at the time of their initial use.

     One of the most powerful examples of this is an insect known as the Bombardier Beetle. This amazing little creature has a defense mechanism that allows it to combine two chemicals (hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone) into a chamber in its body. When threatened it excretes enzymes into the mixture of these chemicals that cause a small explosion of boiling hot water and quinone that it shoots out at whatever threatens it. So how exactly would a mechanism like that develop by chance? How does a creature first begin to experiment with this explosive defense? The first time the proportions are not quite right, or the chamber can’t expel the explosion that creature is destroyed—and there stops the evolution of that entire species! The mechanism is so complex that it only works if all of its parts are in place and functioning properly.*

     Paul claimed that “the things that are made” reveal God’s “invisible attributes.” Think about this as it relates to this principle of Irreducible Complexity. If I see something as simple as our three-legged stool what can I determine from that stool? I would not jump to the assumption that some mindless natural force formed the seat and attached legs to that seat. I would recognize that something independent of that stool fashioned it. I would see in the thing that has been made that there must have been something that planned, reasoned, and purposed its form and design. A design shows evidence of a Designer!

     The world around us demonstrates complexity of design infinitely more intricate than a three-legged stool. This is seen in things like the placement of the earth—it’s not so close to the sun that life is burned up, but not so far away that it freezes. It is seen in biological systems like the clotting of blood—our blood clots to keep from bleeding out when we are cut, but stays in liquid form while circulating within the body. If any of these things didn’t work just right nothing could function.

     So, how does this demonstrate the “eternal power” and “Godhead” of a Creator. If I can look at a three-legged stool and deduce that a carpenter must have fashioned it, how can I look at things far more complex and imagine that they happened by chance? The fact is everything that lives came from something that preceded it that was alive. Yet life itself is so complex (even in its simplest forms) if we reduce any part of it, it does not function. If that wasn’t the case we could go into a laboratory and mix-up just the right combination of chemicals and create life ourselves—but we can’t! So that means we must accept that systems of life which are of infinite complexity came into existence by mindless chance, or these systems were fashioned by a Creator who was Himself not created.

     The Bible teaches a Creator that has always existed. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Psa. 90:2). I don’t know how to explain that. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the existence of an intelligent Creator that has always been, but the things that exist demonstrate this “eternal power” of One who creates but is Himself uncreated. The Bible teaches us about the Source of this irreducible complexity, whose “Godhead” is seen in the wonders all around us. It calls us recognize, “the LORD is God; there is no other” (1 Kings 8:60).

* Evolutionist Christopher Gregory Weber in his article “The Bombardier Beetle Myth Exploded.” Creation Evolution Journal 2.1 (Winter 1981): 1–5, challenged the arguments of Creationist Duane Gish that this demonstrates the principle of Irreducible Complexity. Weber corrects some overstatements Gish made about hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone exploding on contact without an “inhibitor” but dismisses the irreducible complexity of this claiming it only shows Gish “has little ability in problem solving.” The issue is not Gish’s ability, but the plausibility of this system coming to exist by chance. Darwinian “survival of the fittest” is not a mechanism that has intelligent scientists experimenting repeatedly in a laboratory to find the exact system that will function. It is mindless chemical reactions by which one wrong move ends the very existence of the first creature that takes that move!

Amarillo, TX