If evolution is not about increased complexity, why does so much complexity evolve?

In my last question I asked why we don't see increased complexity in artificial life simulations of evolution. It seems I had fallen for a common misconception, that evolution was about improvement by increasing complexity. One comment discussing that post read

"… he [David Deutsch] is falling for one of the biggest misconceptions about evolution that you can, that evolution is about improvement. Evolution has simply only ever been about change… "

However, when you look at the history of life you see increases in complexity. You see this increasing complexity evolving over billions of years, suggesting that it requires an explanation.

My question
If evolution is not about increasing complexity then how does so much complexity evolve?

I think possibly the problem here is the way you're approaching the issue.

You're considering improvement as anything that increases the abilities or complexity of the organism-that isn't necessarily what an improvement is though. The outcome of natural selection is that the organism best equipped to survive/reproduce in a certain environment is the most successful. So, for example, thermophillic archaea do much better in 60°C-plus pools of water than humans do. Our capacity to process information, use tools, etc. doesn't actually confer much advantage in that situation. And there can be downsides to that kind of complexity as well, requiring more energy and longer developmental periods. So, natural selection in 60°C-plus pools of water gives you archaea, and in (presumably) the plains of East Africa, it gives you humans.

The comment you quote mentions sickle-cell anaemia, which is a different example. While there is little benefit to having the sickle-cell anaemia allele in a temperate region, in those regions where malaria is endemic, heterozygosity can provide a survival advantage, and so the allele is maintained in the population. If you're someone living in a malaria-endemic region, and you don't have access to antimalarials, heterozygosity for the sickle-cell anaemia allele is arguably an improvement. It depends entirely on how you define the word.

The fundamental principal of natural selection is that it favours the organism most suited to a particular environment. But, that isn't always the most complex organism. It's important not to confuse human-like with better. It isn't the universal endpoint of evolution to produce an organism similar to us, just the organism most suited to the environment in question.

Also, to briefly address the previous question you asked-you asserted that we must be missing something from the process of evolution because we were unable to simulate it. You also pointed out that (in your opinion) we have sufficient computing power to simulate the kinds of organisms you're referring to. But natural selection is intrinsically linked to the environment it occurs in, so the simulation wouldn't just have to accurately simulate the biological processes of the organism, but also all of the external pressures the organism faces. I'd imagine that, in simulating evolution, that would be the real obstacle.

Evolution is simply a process of change. It is a change in trait values of populations over time. It results from four mechanisms: mutation, migration, drift, and selection. The first three lead to random change from one generation to the next, which may increase or decrease fitness, while selection will generally lead to adaptation (relatively increased fitness in subsequent generations).

"Evolution means change, change in the form and behaviour of organisms between generations… When members of a population breed and produce the next generation we can imagine a lineage of populations, made up of a series of populations through time. Each population is ancestral to the descendant population in the next generation: a lineage is an ancestor-descendent series of populations. Evolution is then change between generations within a population lineage." - Ridley, Evolution, Page 4.

This is what Darwin termed "descent with modification". Later in Ridley's book he goes on to say something which is important to for evolutionary biology; why is there so much adaptation?

"… not every detail of an organism's form and behaviour is necessarily adaptive. Adaptations are, however, so common that they have to be explained. Darwin regarded adaptation as the key problem that any theory of evolution had to solve. In Darwin's theory - as in modern evolutionary biology - the problem is solved by natural selection." - Ridley

Another good clue as to what evolution really is comes from the Charlesworth & Charlesworth book:

"Evolution means cumulative change over time in the characteristics of a population of living organisms… All evolutionary changes require initially rare genetic variants to spread among the members of a population, rising to high frequency… " Charlesworth & Charlesworth, Elements of Evolutionary Genetics, page XXV

Basically the random mechanisms of evolution (mutation, migration, drift) are not as good at making rare beneficial alleles spread through a population as selection is. Selection is the major mechanism that should, as a general rule, fix beneficial alleles in a population. Drift, mutation, and migration will rarely cause the beneficial (adaptive) alleles to fix. Furthermore, mutation will generally have deleterious (maladaptive) effects according to Fisher's geometric model of adaptation.

You can read more about the process of adaptation and why selection doesn't guarantee adaptive evolution in my answer here. Briefly, selection will lead to adaptation if there is sufficient genetic variance in fitness, selection is a constant from one generation to the next, and genetic correlations do not impede the response to selection. Furthermore, the other evolutionary mechanisms can counteract selection, preventing adaptation. These are some of the reasons that simulating evolution accurately is so difficult.

The reason that we can't say complexity increases by evolution is that none of these mechanisms give a consistent increase in complexity. While mutation, migration, and drift will have random effects on organismal complexity, fitness (thus selection) may have some relation to complexity. To evolve, some degree of complexity is required such that the minimum conditions for evolution can be met. However, selection should favour the most fit genes over time, which depends on the niche/adaptive landscape and genetic variation available. Selection in the real world (as opposed to alife* world) would, as an approximate rule of thumb, favour an intermediate level of complexity where fitness is optimised (individuals are good at producing offspring in their niche) with minimal wasteful complexity (complex structures that do not increase fitness).

In summary, to answer your question, we see so much improvement because of selection, which leads to the process of adaptation, but adaptation does not equate to increasing complexity. The key to understanding your problem is an understanding of the difference between the process of evolution (change) and the process of adaptation (improvement), and the difference between optimality and complexity. In the world of alife simulation complexity $equiv$ adaptedness, in the real word complexity $ eq$ adaptedness.

Good reading can be found in a link that AMR posted in a comment to another answer.

* Artificial life (alife) simulations of evolution generally use complexity as a proxy for fitness such that selection will be directional for increased complexity

Just as a response to a comment you made under your question, as to why simulations don't produce "stylized facts found in real evolution": Scientists understand quite well how evolution works (as explained in my answer, is a result of selection, genetic (co)variation, and population demographics), however, simulation to produce "stylized facts found in real evolution" would require a complete and precise history of the selection, genetic (co)variation, and population demographics that have existed since the origins of life. That is why simulation does not work like you think it should.

It might help to not think about evolution as a process at all - it tends to imply some sort of planning or goals or something like that. That's not what evolution is - evolution is simply a fact. When we talk about "the evolution of humans", we're describing the history of various human precursors. Evolution is basically a historical record of things that worked in the past in a given environment.

Most people tend to antropomorphize evolution, give it goals. There's no such thing, and it just makes you even more confused. There's nothing paradoxical about "evolving to extinction" - evolution is not a path from a base organism to an improved organism. It's simply a history of the changes that survived and thrived in a population. Sometimes that's because those changes gave the individuals and populations a better chance of surviving in their environment, so those traits became more and more prevalent in a population - for example, skin turning to hardened skin, turning to armour plates or weapons, or a better beak allowing it to reach into a food source that isn't available to others. Sometimes, it's simply dumb luck - don't forget that there was a point where the whole (pre-)human population was reduced to a ridiculously low number (I think it was something like 10 000 individuals or maybe even less). It would only take one local catastrophe to kill off the whole human species, no matter how "improved" and "advanced" we might consider ourselves to be.

Another rather brutal example would be the evolution of photosynthesis - when the atmosphere started filling up with free oxygen, it killed off almost all life on the Earth. Sounds like an improvement? Getting rid of your competiton? Well, it also fueled a massive growth of new species that were not only adapted to an oxygen atmosphere, they used it as a source of energy! Not only would they thrive on the "waste products" of the photosynthesers, they even consumed them.

Even if you wanted to describe evolution as a process that improves fitness, you must not forget that a change that improves your reproduction rates in one kind of environment can hinder (or kill) you in another.

When pre-Koala bears drifted to be exclusive Eucalyptus-vores, it gave them an advantage - they had a food source noöne else can use. But it also made them 100% dependent on Eucalyptus. When Eucalyptus dies, they will as well. Something that was arguably an improvement can easily be the thing that kills of your entire species. It only "improved" their ability to survive and thrive in one specific environment - it also entirely locked them in their niche.

In summary:

  • Evolution doesn't have goals, so it's weird to say "evolution is about improvement". Random changes have a tiny chance of becoming (locally) useful traits, and useful traits have a tiny chance of becoming entrenched in the population, and thus forming a new species over time. It's a history of changes, not a prediction of the future. The great thing about Darwin's Theory of Evolution is that it predicts what kinds of changes are possible (and which are impossible!) - for example, that complex systems can't arise out of the blue, or that different branches of history ("evolutionary tree") cannot exchange traits.
  • Almost all changes also have their drawbacks - it's a balancing act. There's some great examples of changes that are almost universally good - sexual reproduction and human-level intelligence are a great example of something that works in almost any environment. But even so, there's still examples of where they didn't "win" yet. There's still asexual reproduction on Earth, and most of Earthly life doesn't have human-level intelligence yet. Lions do not rule the world, even though they're apex predators in some environments.

I'm going to chime in here. As both a scientist and a software engineer.

Firstly, evolution is not about improvement at all. It is about survival and random change. There are as many if not more mutations that are disadvantageous. But they tend not to survive.

On the other hand, genetic algorithms are an attempt to use a similar process of mutation and survival of the fittest.

But the first step in a genetic algorithm is to define a fitness function. This function will cull the weakest algorithms, just like an environment kills life in the real world.

A good primer on Genetic Algo can be found on

However that fitness function will only optimise for certain goals. For example, a badly tuned fitness function will end life on earth either by the paperclip apocalypse, or giving rise to skynet.

In these cases the algo is not improving towards the goals you want. But never the less it improves.

Another complexity is that, genetics is a very greedy optimisation strategy. Mutations tend to be small, because large mutations tend to more often move away from optimal solutions. This means that evolution can only find local maximas and will often miss the global maxima.

Hence improvements can only occur when there is a small tunneling cost to the new maxima.

An example of this can be found in mammalian eyes. Our optic nerve passes through retina and connects to the front of our retina, and physically blocking the retina from doing an optimal job. If evolution were able to find a global maxima, then mammals would have been able to evolve to have squid like eyes, which route from behind.

Moreover, had evolution been about pure improvement, then we should have evolved away our blind spot many many generations ago.

However, human ancestors have rarely been attacked by circles and crosses that are precisely spaced apart in the African continent.

Saying that evolution is about improvements is like setting up a school where there is no teaching, and every year you expell the bottom 10% of the students.

Evolution produces branching trees, and branching is multiplicity.

Fitness is associated with complexity, and, with radiation into more or less challenging environments. Fitness increases with versatility and added functions, in equilibrium within one niche, and for change across niches. Are cold blooded animals simpler than warm blooded ones? the consensus is that they are simpler, less apt and globally superseded. Even if a lizard has as many genes as a human (40,000) it is less complex than a human.

Take Motility for example. Locomotion is complex, compared to passive or sedentary displacement. Most prokariotes have evolved some kind of motility, cilia and flagella. The simpler procariotes were eaten out of existence, as the motile ones grew to dominate and pervade. There is a predator prey issue which has resulted in the extinction of simpler, slower species and in the promotion of more complex ones. The ones that survived did so by adding defense functions.

Life is thought to have started in simpler environments with less biochemical and physical fluctuations than it later evolved into. Eukaryotes have not evolved back into prokaryotes, even though they could, and eukaryotes have more scope for complexity, same as lego blocks in multiple numbers are not as simple as single blocks.

Evolution is also about the blind use of an initially small but potentially much larger memory bank of many gigabytes."Gene Duplication is believed to play a major role in Evolution."

Unless life began in greater quantity than it now exists, evolution requires that natural processes have, over time, increased the total quantity of genetic material (DNA) present on our planet.

I'm going out on a pirate's plank of logic here. sorry about that.

Survival fitness is about increased complexity when the environment is increasingly complex. Evolution Causes complexity to occur…

Change is an additive process, and the more change is provoked, the more added functions tend to result along.

The more complex the path has been to arrive at the current stage of the species, the additive complexity rises. (Also the DNA keeps on record the genes from old environments to not lose many precious years spent finding useful genes/biochemistries, while adding new ones). However evolution can be about the conquest of less complex environments:

Put a fish into a cave with no lights, constant temperature, and simple tasks, it will lose some of it's complex genes and may, over time become genetically simpler, than a fish living in a river. It requires less senses, less thermal adaptations, less locomotion pressure and less species competition. It is rare for species to retrograde generally, they tend to extend their range, but in deep sea and caves, locomotive and biochemical retrograde can happen.

Increased size gives increased fitness in most settings: larger metabolic reserves, less sensitivity to change, bigger predator pray advantage… and bigger size means more cells, different locomotion pressure, which means different metabilic resource distribution(lymph, digestion, blood), and That is that's the essence of your complex topic: Do environments encourage complexity? if so, how "complex" are environments in the universes land/sea biomes? Geology, climate and hydrology are of incredible complexity… So… can we say evolution is not about the conquest of new environments? It requires a good philospher to shed light on this question.

The pressure is more often on increased performance in a complex environment using highly complex foods and locomotions.

Increased complexity is an inevitable ramification of the evolutionary process through time and space, rather than a direct and inevitable requirement of it.

Because species evolve into new niches, The most logical and efficient way to do that, is to keep the genes for old niches, in the DNA library, and to add new ones next to it. If the organism did not keep genes from old niches, and use them for a proportion of it's mutations, it would be less apt. Useful genes are costly, they can cost millions of years to find them, for example The more of a toolbox of biochemistry and morphology.

For Biochemistry, life "discovers" new materials and proteins, and puts them to use, and it keeps a record of those materials after they are not needed.

A sea slug can evolve into a vertebrate fish, but a fish can't evolve back to a slug, because complexity enhances fitness, so perhaps we can say that fitness and complexity are not disassociable.

Change is complex thing, and evolution is about changing, so for me, evolution adds complexity every time it changes.

The simplest way to look at it is there is a near infinite number of ways to be more complex but a very limited number of ways to be simpler. There is even fewer ways of being simple. So even with just pure random variation, over time all things being equal you will end up with more complex organisms.

This becomes even more true when you take competitor into account, competition, go too simple and you lose the ability to do things that you really need to compete with the rest of life around you, go too simple and you can't reproduce fast enough to keep up with all the things eating you. While on the other hand the cost of complexity can be offset by better capabilities. On top of this imagine a ruler with as simple as life can be and still function on one side and as complex as life can get and still function on the other. the first life is going to be pretty close to the simplest possible life, so most of the ways of being alive that are possible are going to be more complex, so again even if you ignore selective pressures either way, just random variation is going to create more complex life than simple life. There is more complex phase space to occupy than simple phase space.

imagine I stand with my back to a cliff and throw a ball randomly in the air, now after I throw a thousand balls the vast number of balls I find are going to be in front of me, not becasue I am actively trying to throw them there but because most of the balls that fall behind be get lost, (go extinct for our analogy)

Does Evolution Select For Faster Evolvers? Horizontal Gene Transfer Adds To Complexity, Speed Of Evolution

It's a mystery why the speed and complexity of evolution appear to increase with time. For example, the fossil record indicates that single-celled life first appeared about 3.5 billion years ago, and it then took about 2.5 billion more years for multi-cellular life to evolve. That leaves just a billion years or so for the evolution of the diverse menagerie of plants, mammals, insects, birds and other species that populate the earth.

New studies by Rice University scientists suggest a possible answer the speed of evolution has increased over time because bacteria and viruses constantly exchange transposable chunks of DNA between species, thus making it possible for life forms to evolve faster than they would if they relied only on sexual selection or random genetic mutations.

"We have developed the first exact solution of a mathematical model of evolution that accounts for this cross-species genetic exchange," said Michael Deem, the John W. Cox Professor in Biochemical and Genetic Engineering and professor of physics and astronomy.

The research appears in the Jan. 29 issue of Physical Review Letters.

Past mathematical models of evolution have focused largely on how populations respond to point mutations -- random changes in single nucleotides on the DNA chain, or genome. A few theories have focused on recombination -- the process that occurs in sexual selection when the genetic sequences of parents are recombined.

Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is a cross-species form of genetic transfer. It occurs when the DNA from one species is introduced into another. The idea was ridiculed when first proposed more than 50 years ago, but the advent of drug-resistant bacteria and subsequent discoveries, including the identification of a specialized protein that bacteria use to swap genes, has led to wide acceptance in recent years.

"We know that the majority of the DNA in the genomes of some animal and plant species -- including humans, mice, wheat and corn -- came from HGT insertions," Deem said. "For example, we can trace the development of the adaptive immune system in humans and other jointed vertebrates to an HGT insertion about 400 million years ago."

The new mathematical model developed by Deem and visiting professor Jeong-Man Park attempts to find out how HGT changes the overall dynamics of evolution. In comparison to existing models that account for only point mutations or sexual recombination, Deem and Park's model shows how HGT increases the rate of evolution by propagating favorable mutations across populations.

Deem described the importance of horizontal gene transfer in the work in a January 2007 cover story in the Physics Today, showing how HGT compliments the modular nature of genetic information, making it feasible to swap whole sets of genetic code -- like the genes that allow bacteria to defeat antibiotics.

"Life clearly evolved to store genetic information in a modular form, and to accept useful modules of genetic information from other species," Deem said.

The research is supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

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First 'Rule' Of Evolution Suggests That Life Is Destined To Become More Complex

Researchers have found evidence which suggests that evolution drives animals to become increasingly more complex.

Looking back through the last 550 million years of the fossil catalogue to the present day, the team investigated the different evolutionary branches of the crustacean family tree.

They were seeking examples along the tree where animals evolved that were simpler than their ancestors.

Instead they found organisms with increasingly more complex structures and features, suggesting that there is some mechanism driving change in this direction.

&ldquoIf you start with the simplest possible animal body, then there&rsquos only one direction to evolve in &ndash you have to become more complex,&rdquo said Dr Matthew Wills from the Department of Biology & Biochemistry at the University of Bath who worked with colleagues Sarah Adamowicz from from the University of Waterloo (Canada) and Andy Purvis from Imperial College London.

&ldquoSooner or later, however, you reach a level of complexity where it&rsquos possible to go backwards and become simpler again.

&ldquoWhat&rsquos astonishing is that hardly any crustaceans have taken this backwards route. Instead, almost all branches have evolved in the same direction, becoming more complex in parallel.

&ldquoThis is the nearest thing to a pervasive evolutionary rule that&rsquos been found.

&ldquoOf course, there are exceptions within the crustacean family tree, but most of these are parasites, or animals living in remote habitats such as isolated marine caves.

&ldquoFor those free-living animals in the &lsquorat-race&rsquo of evolution, it seems that competition may be the driving force behind the trend.

&ldquoWhat&rsquos new about our results is that they show us how this increase in complexity has occurred. Strikingly, it looks far more like a disciplined march than a milling crowd.&rdquo

Dr Adamowicz said: &ldquoPrevious researchers noticed increasing morphological complexity in the fossil record, but this pattern can occur due to the chance origination of a few new types of animals.

&ldquoOur study uses information about the inter-relatedness of different animal groups &ndash the &lsquoTree of Life&rsquo &ndash to demonstrate that complexity has evolved numerous times independently.&rdquo

Like all arthropods, crustaceans&rsquo bodies are built up of repeating segments. In the simplest crustaceans, the segments are quite similar - one after the other. In the most complex, such as shrimps and lobsters, almost every segment is different, bearing antennae, jaws, claws, walking legs, paddles and gills.

The American biologist Leigh Van Valen coined the phrase &lsquoRed Queen&rsquo for the evolutionary arms race phenomenon. In Through the Looking-Glass Lewis Carroll&rsquos Red Queen advises Alice that: &ldquoIt takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.&rdquo

&ldquoThose crustacean groups going extinct tended to be less complex than the others around at the time,&rdquo said Dr Wills.

&ldquoThere&rsquos even a link between average complexity within a group and the number of species alive today.

&ldquoAll organisms have a common ancestor, so that every living species is part of a giant family tree of life.&rdquo

Dr Adamowicz added: &ldquoWith a few exceptions, once branches of the tree have separated they continue to evolve independently.

&ldquoLooking at many independent branches is similar to viewing multiple repeated runs of the tape of evolution.

&ldquoOur results apply to a group of animals with bodies made of repeated units. We must not forget that bacteria &ndash very simple organisms &ndash are among the most successful living things. Therefore, the trend towards complexity is compelling but does not describe the history of all life.&rdquo

This research was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Evolution and Devolution of Social Complexity: Why Do We Care?

Over the past 10,000 years human societies evolved from “simple” – small egalitarian groups, integrated by face-to-face interactions – to “complex” – huge anonymous societies of millions, characterized by great differentials in wealth and power, extensive division of labor, elaborate governance structures, and sophisticated information systems. What were the evolutionary processes that brought about such an enormous increase in social scale and complexity?

We also need to understand why social forces that hold huge human societies together sometimes fail to do so. Complex societies collapsed on numerous occasions in the past, and may be at risk today. There are clear signs that even industrialized, wealthy, and democratic Western societies, that seemed to be immune to collapse until recently, are becoming less stable. Research on social complexity will bring understanding that is of direct value to our societies and human well-being.

On October 2-3, 2017, Complexity Science Hub (CSH) in Vienna conducted a workshop on the evolution of social complexity organized by the CSH external faculty Peter Turchin. A diverse group of scholars, which included historians, archaeologists, evolutionary and computer scientists, and physicists, who considered the following questions: Can we measure Social Complexity? How many dimensions does it have? What were the evolutionary forces that explain the dramatic increase in Social Complexity over the past 10,000 years? And why do complex societies sometimes become unstable, and even collapse?

One important point that several participants stressed is the need to study the deep human past. Social forces that bring about societal disintegration build up slowly, over many decades. A short-term view that focuses on only where we currently are, rather than on also where we came from, will not yield effective policies that will allow us to avoid the looming crisis. Furthermore, the tension between collective, more cooperative forms of governance, on one hand, and more autocratic, even despotic forms, on the other, is not new—it has been with us ever since the first centralized societies arose some 7.5 thousand years ago. We need to learn these lessons from the past. Similarly, evidence is accumulating that increasing inequality undermines social cooperation and societal stability, both in the past and today.

More generally, much research is currently addressing questions of environmental sustainability and of sustainable economic growth. But what about social sustainability? Social instability has a direct impact on human well-being, and collapse of complex societies can be catastrophic. In Europe, specifically, we see a number of worrying trends—the rise of populism, authoritarianism, and separatism—all suggesting that social cooperation is gradually unraveling and a disintegrative trend is setting in. The participants of the workshop think that a research program combining the quantitative methods of complexity science (including computational social science, nonlinear dynamical systems, and social network analysis) with “Big Data” methodologies that probe deep human past will generate new and exciting insights that will allow us to understand how these negative trends can be reversed.

There are two particular challenges to social sustainability that have become very important recently. One is the communication revolution that has dramatically changed how information is processed and disseminated. On one hand, this revolution has had many positive effects. For example, it has democratized social influence, since any individual or group can now reach large numbers of other individuals online. On the other hand, it enabled malevolent actors, including individuals, organizations, and states, to conduct “informational warfare” to nefarious ends.

The second challenge is also driven by technological evolution. As automation and robotization of production expand, the demand for human labor will begin falling below its supply (in fact, this may already be happening). This technological transition is not necessarily bad, unless it is mismanaged. Unfortunately, the triumph of neoliberal ideology in the United States, and deep inroads this ideology recently made into European elites, means that the chance this transition will be mismanaged is quite high. If it is left to free markets, then businesses are likely to continue replacing workers with machines, unemployment will grow, collective demand that drives economic growth will decline, and inequality will spike, followed by social instability and growing political violence.

These (and other trends that we did not mention here) are serious challenges to the sustainability of complex societies. As history shows, drastic social simplification nearly always imposes huge costs on societies in terms of human well-being. Research into the mechanisms and causes of evolution—and devolution—of complex societies is not only intellectually exciting, but also has direct benefits for our societies and human well-being.


Intellectual integrity and intellectual humility are traditional Christian character development goals. But when it comes to controversial science issues, many Christians respond in decidedly non-Christian ways—ignoring or avoiding information, responding unkindly to others, and prioritizing “faith” to the exclusion of truth. In our passion to stand for our faith in an often-hostile culture, we have lost sight of the graciousness and humility that is supposed to define Christian character and witness.

I find it tragic that, as a Christian biology educator, I must spend so much effort dispelling false ideas and perceptions about evolution that have been largely propagated by members of my own faith. Teaching that there is no evidence for evolution (even though there is), and that evolutionary biologists can’t have a real faith in Christ (even though there are many Christ followers who accept evolution) can be damaging in many ways, but most importantly, because it pushes people to either “accept science or the Bible.”

In my evolution classroom, some students experience a faith crisis when they learn the truth about evolution. But when they look to their parents, their peers, and their church for help, instead of being tossed a life preserver, too often they are given judgment, guilt, and scorn. The Church must do better. We owe it to our youth and to everyone in our congregations to have transparent and intellectually honest engagement with the findings from the sciences.

Notes & References

1. Pigliucci, 2002 Evans, 2008 Hokayem, BouJaoude, 2008 Dagher & Boujaoude, 2005 Deniz, Donnelly, & Yilmaz, 2008 Ingram & Nelson, 2006 Meadows, Doester, & Jackson, 2000 ), Deniz, Donnelly, & Yilmaz, 2008 Lombrozo, Thanukos, & Weisberg, 2008 Sinatra, Southerland, McConaughy, Demastes, 2003, Winslow, Staver, Scharmann, 2011, Miller, Scott & Okamoto, 2006 , Winslow, Staver, Scharmann, 2011, Deniz, Donnelly, & Yilmaz, 2008 Evans, 2008.

April Maskiewicz Cordero

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Michael Behe defined irreducible complexity in natural selection in terms of well-matched parts in his 1996 book Darwin's Black Box:

. a single system which is composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. [10]

A second definition given by Behe in 2000 (his "evolutionary definition") states:

An irreducibly complex evolutionary pathway is one that contains one or more unselected steps (that is, one or more necessary-but-unselected mutations). The degree of irreducible complexity is the number of unselected steps in the pathway. [11]

Intelligent-design advocate William A. Dembski assumed an "original function" in his 2002 definition:

A system performing a given basic function is irreducibly complex if it includes a set of well-matched, mutually interacting, nonarbitrarily individuated parts such that each part in the set is indispensable to maintaining the system's basic, and therefore original, function. The set of these indispensable parts is known as the irreducible core of the system. [12]

Forerunners Edit

The argument from irreducible complexity is a descendant of the teleological argument for God (the argument from design or from complexity). This states that complex functionality in the natural world which looks designed is evidence of an intelligent creator. William Paley famously argued, in his 1802 watchmaker analogy, that complexity in nature implies a God for the same reason that the existence of a watch implies the existence of a watchmaker. [13] This argument has a long history, and one can trace it back at least as far as Cicero's De Natura Deorum ii.34, [14] [15] written in 45 BC.

Up to the 18th century Edit

Galen (1st and 2nd centuries AD) wrote about the large number of parts of the body and their relationships, which observation was cited as evidence for creation. [16] The idea that the interdependence between parts would have implications for the origins of living things was raised by writers starting with Pierre Gassendi in the mid-17th century [17] and by John Wilkins (1614-1672), who wrote (citing Galen), "Now to imagine, that all these things, according to their several kinds, could be brought into this regular frame and order, to which such an infinite number of Intentions are required, without the contrivance of some wise Agent, must needs be irrational in the highest degree." [18] [19] In the late 17th-century, Thomas Burnet referred to "a multitude of pieces aptly joyn'd" to argue against the eternity of life. [20] In the early 18th century, Nicolas Malebranche [21] wrote "An organized body contains an infinity of parts that mutually depend upon one another in relation to particular ends, all of which must be actually formed in order to work as a whole", arguing in favor of preformation, rather than epigenesis, of the individual [22] and a similar argument about the origins of the individual was made by other 18th-century students of natural history. [23] In his 1790 book, The Critique of Judgment, Kant is said by Guyer to argue that "we cannot conceive how a whole that comes into being only gradually from its parts can nevertheless be the cause of the properties of those parts". [24] [25]

19th century Edit

Chapter XV of Paley's Natural Theology discusses at length what he called "relations" of parts of living things as an indication of their design. [13]

Georges Cuvier applied his principle of the correlation of parts to describe an animal from fragmentary remains. For Cuvier, this related to another principle of his, the conditions of existence, which excluded the possibility of transmutation of species. [26]

While he did not originate the term, Charles Darwin identified the argument as a possible way to falsify a prediction of the theory of evolution at the outset. In The Origin of Species (1859), he wrote, "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. But I can find out no such case." [27] Darwin's theory of evolution challenges the teleological argument by postulating an alternative explanation to that of an intelligent designer—namely, evolution by natural selection. By showing how simple unintelligent forces can ratchet up designs of extraordinary complexity without invoking outside design, Darwin showed that an intelligent designer was not the necessary conclusion to draw from complexity in nature. The argument from irreducible complexity attempts to demonstrate that certain biological features cannot be purely the product of Darwinian evolution. [28]

In the late 19th century, in a dispute between supporters of the adequacy of natural selection and those who held for inheritance of acquired characteristics, one of the arguments made repeatedly by Herbert Spencer, and followed by others, depended on what Spencer referred to as co-adaptation of co-operative parts, as in:

"We come now to Professor Weismann's endeavour to disprove my second thesis — that it is impossible to explain by natural selection alone the co-adaptation of co-operative parts. It is thirty years since this was set forth in "The Principles of Biology." In §166, I instanced the enormous horns of the extinct Irish elk, and contended that in this and in kindred cases, where for the efficient use of some one enlarged part many other parts have to be simultaneously enlarged, it is out of the question to suppose that they can have all spontaneously varied in the required proportions." [29] [30]

Darwin responded to Spencer's objections in chapter XXV of The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868). [31] The history of this concept in the dispute has been characterized: "An older and more religious tradition of idealist thinkers were committed to the explanation of complex adaptive contrivances by intelligent design. . Another line of thinkers, unified by the recurrent publications of Herbert Spencer, also saw co-adaptation as a composed, irreducible whole, but sought to explain it by the inheritance of acquired characteristics." [32]

St. George Jackson Mivart raised the objection to natural selection that "Complex and simultaneous co-ordinations . until so far developed as to effect the requisite junctions, are useless" [33] which "amounts to the concept of "irreducible complexity" as defined by . Michael Behe". [34]

20th century Edit

Hermann Muller, in the early 20th century, discussed a concept similar to irreducible complexity. However, far from seeing this as a problem for evolution, he described the "interlocking" of biological features as a consequence to be expected of evolution, which would lead to irreversibility of some evolutionary changes. [35] He wrote, "Being thus finally woven, as it were, into the most intimate fabric of the organism, the once novel character can no longer be withdrawn with impunity, and may have become vitally necessary." [36]

In 1974 the young Earth creationist Henry M. Morris introduced a similar concept in his book Scientific Creationism, in which he wrote "This issue can actually be attacked quantitatively, using simple principles of mathematical probability. The problem is simply whether a complex system, in which many components function unitedly together, and in which each component is uniquely necessary to the efficient functioning of the whole, could ever arise by random processes." [37]

In 1975 Thomas H. Frazzetta published a book-length study of a concept similar to irreducible complexity, explained by gradual, step-wise, non-teleological evolution. Frazzetta wrote:

"A complex adaptation is one constructed of several components that must blend together operationally to make the adaptation "work". It is analogous to a machine whose performance depends upon careful cooperation among its parts. In the case of the machine, no single part can greatly be altered without changing the performance of the entire machine."

The machine that he chose as an analog is the Peaucellier–Lipkin linkage, and one biological system given extended description was the jaw apparatus of a python. The conclusion of this investigation, rather than that evolution of a complex adaptation was impossible, "awed by the adaptations of living things, to be stunned by their complexity and suitability", was "to accept the inescapable but not humiliating fact that much of mankind can be seen in a tree or a lizard." [38]

In 1981, Ariel Roth, in defense of the creation-science position in the trial McLean v. Arkansas, said of "complex integrated structures": "This system would not be functional until all the parts were there . How did these parts survive during evolution . " [39]

In 1985 Cairns-Smith wrote of "interlocking": "How can a complex collaboration between components evolve in small steps?" and used the analogy of the scaffolding called centering - used to build an arch then removed afterwards: "Surely there was 'scaffolding'. Before the multitudinous components of present biochemistry could come to lean together they had to lean on something else." [40] [41] However, neither Muller or Cairns-Smith claimed their ideas as evidence of something supernatural. [42]

An essay in support of creationism published in 1994 referred to bacterial flagella as showing "multiple, integrated components", where "nothing about them works unless every one of their complexly fashioned and integrated components are in place". The author asked the reader to "imagine the effects of natural selection on those organisms that fortuitously evolved the flagella . without the concommitant [sic] control mechanisms". [43] [4]

An early concept of irreducibly complex systems comes from Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901-1972), an Austrian biologist. [44] He believed that complex systems must be examined as complete, irreducible systems in order to fully understand how they work. He extended his work on biological complexity into a general theory of systems in a book titled General Systems Theory.

After James Watson and Francis Crick published the structure of DNA in the early 1950s, General Systems Theory lost many of its adherents in the physical and biological sciences. [45] However, systems theory remained popular in the social sciences long after its demise in the physical and biological sciences.

Origins Edit

Michael Behe developed his ideas on the concept around 1992, in the early days of the 'wedge movement', and first presented his ideas about "irreducible complexity" in June 1993 when the "Johnson-Behe cadre of scholars" met at Pajaro Dunes in California. [46] He set out his ideas in the second edition of Of Pandas and People published in 1993, extensively revising Chapter 6 Biochemical Similarities with new sections on the complex mechanism of blood clotting and on the origin of proteins. [47]

He first used the term "irreducible complexity" in his 1996 book Darwin's Black Box, to refer to certain complex biochemical cellular systems. He posits that evolutionary mechanisms cannot explain the development of such "irreducibly complex" systems. Notably, Behe credits philosopher William Paley for the original concept (alone among the predecessors) and suggests that his application of the concept to biological systems is entirely original.

Intelligent design advocates argue that irreducibly complex systems must have been deliberately engineered by some form of intelligence.

In 2001, Michael Behe wrote: "[T]here is an asymmetry between my current definition of irreducible complexity and the task facing natural selection. I hope to repair this defect in future work." Behe specifically explained that the "current definition puts the focus on removing a part from an already functioning system", but the "difficult task facing Darwinian evolution, however, would not be to remove parts from sophisticated pre-existing systems it would be to bring together components to make a new system in the first place". [48] In the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial, Behe testified under oath that he "did not judge [the asymmetry] serious enough to [have revised the book] yet." [49]

Behe additionally testified that the presence of irreducible complexity in organisms would not rule out the involvement of evolutionary mechanisms in the development of organic life. He further testified that he knew of no earlier "peer reviewed articles in scientific journals discussing the intelligent design of the blood clotting cascade," but that there were "probably a large number of peer reviewed articles in science journals that demonstrate that the blood clotting system is indeed a purposeful arrangement of parts of great complexity and sophistication." [50] (The judge ruled that "intelligent design is not science and is essentially religious in nature".) [51]

According to the theory of evolution, genetic variations occur without specific design or intent. The environment "selects" the variants that have the highest fitness, which are then passed on to the next generation of organisms. Change occurs by the gradual operation of natural forces over time, perhaps slowly, perhaps more quickly (see punctuated equilibrium). This process is able to adapt complex structures from simpler beginnings, or convert complex structures from one function to another (see spandrel). Most intelligent design advocates accept that evolution occurs through mutation and natural selection at the "micro level", such as changing the relative frequency of various beak lengths in finches, but assert that it cannot account for irreducible complexity, because none of the parts of an irreducible system would be functional or advantageous until the entire system is in place.

The mousetrap example Edit

Behe uses the mousetrap as an illustrative example of this concept. A mousetrap consists of five interacting pieces: the base, the catch, the spring, the hammer, and the hold-down bar. All of these must be in place for the mousetrap to work, as the removal of any one piece destroys the function of the mousetrap. Likewise, he asserts that biological systems require multiple parts working together in order to function. Intelligent design advocates claim that natural selection could not create from scratch those systems for which science is currently unable to find a viable evolutionary pathway of successive, slight modifications, because the selectable function is only present when all parts are assembled.

In his 2008 book Only A Theory, biologist Kenneth R. Miller challenges Behe's claim that the mousetrap is irreducibly complex. [53] Miller observes that various subsets of the five components can be devised to form cooperative units, ones that have different functions from the mousetrap and so, in biological terms, could form functional spandrels before being adapted to the new function of catching mice. In an example taken from his high school experience, Miller recalls that one of his classmates

. struck upon the brilliant idea of using an old, broken mousetrap as a spitball catapult, and it worked brilliantly. It had worked perfectly as something other than a mousetrap. my rowdy friend had pulled a couple of parts --probably the hold-down bar and catch-- off the trap to make it easier to conceal and more effective as a catapult. [leaving] the base, the spring, and the hammer. Not much of a mousetrap, but a helluva spitball launcher. I realized why [Behe's] mousetrap analogy had bothered me. It was wrong. The mousetrap is not irreducibly complex after all. [53]

Other systems identified by Miller that include mousetrap components include the following: [53]

  • use the spitball launcher as a tie clip (same three-part system with different function)
  • remove the spring from the spitball launcher/tie clip to create a two-part key chain (base + hammer)
  • glue the spitball launcher/tie clip to a sheet of wood to create a clipboard (launcher + glue + wood)
  • remove the hold-down bar for use as a toothpick (single element system)

The point of the reduction is that—in biology—most or all of the components were already at hand, by the time it became necessary to build a mousetrap. As such, it required far fewer steps to develop a mousetrap than to design all the components from scratch.

Thus, the development of the mousetrap, said to consist of five different parts which had no function on their own, has been reduced to one step: the assembly from parts that are already present, performing other functions.

Consequences Edit

Supporters of intelligent design argue that anything less than the complete form of such a system or organ would not work at all, or would in fact be a detriment to the organism, and would therefore never survive the process of natural selection. Although they accept that some complex systems and organs can be explained by evolution, they claim that organs and biological features which are irreducibly complex cannot be explained by current models, and that an intelligent designer must have created life or guided its evolution. Accordingly, the debate on irreducible complexity concerns two questions: whether irreducible complexity can be found in nature, and what significance it would have if it did exist in nature. [ citation needed ]

Behe's original examples of irreducibly complex mechanisms included the bacterial flagellum of E. coli, the blood clotting cascade, cilia, and the adaptive immune system.

Behe argues that organs and biological features which are irreducibly complex cannot be wholly explained by current models of evolution. In explicating his definition of "irreducible complexity" he notes that:

An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) 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.

Irreducible complexity is not an argument that evolution does not occur, but rather an argument that it is "incomplete". In the last chapter of Darwin's Black Box, Behe goes on to explain his view that irreducible complexity is evidence for intelligent design. Mainstream critics, however, argue that irreducible complexity, as defined by Behe, can be generated by known evolutionary mechanisms. Behe's claim that no scientific literature adequately modeled the origins of biochemical systems through evolutionary mechanisms has been challenged by TalkOrigins. [54] [55] The judge in the Dover trial wrote "By defining irreducible complexity in the way that he has, Professor Behe attempts to exclude the phenomenon of exaptation by definitional fiat, ignoring as he does so abundant evidence which refutes his argument. Notably, the NAS has rejected Professor Behe's claim for irreducible complexity. " [56]

Behe and others have suggested a number of biological features that they believed to be irreducibly complex.

Blood clotting cascade Edit

The process of blood clotting or coagulation cascade in vertebrates is a complex biological pathway which is given as an example of apparent irreducible complexity. [57]

The irreducible complexity argument assumes that the necessary parts of a system have always been necessary, and therefore could not have been added sequentially. However, in evolution, something which is at first merely advantageous can later become necessary. [58] Natural selection can lead to complex biochemical systems being built up from simpler systems, or to existing functional systems being recombined as a new system with a different function. [56] For example, one of the clotting factors that Behe listed as a part of the clotting cascade (Factor XII, also called Hageman factor) was later found to be absent in whales, demonstrating that it is not essential for a clotting system. [59] Many purportedly irreducible structures can be found in other organisms as much simpler systems that utilize fewer parts. These systems, in turn, may have had even simpler precursors that are now extinct. Behe has responded to critics of his clotting cascade arguments by suggesting that homology is evidence for evolution, but not for natural selection. [60]

The "improbability argument" also misrepresents natural selection. It is correct to say that a set of simultaneous mutations that form a complex protein structure is so unlikely as to be unfeasible, but that is not what Darwin advocated. His explanation is based on small accumulated changes that take place without a final goal. Each step must be advantageous in its own right, although biologists may not yet understand the reason behind all of them—for example, jawless fish accomplish blood clotting with just six proteins instead of the full ten. [61]

Eye Edit

The eye is frequently cited by intelligent design and creationism advocates as a purported example of irreducible complexity. Behe used the "development of the eye problem" as evidence for intelligent design in Darwin's Black Box. Although Behe acknowledged that the evolution of the larger anatomical features of the eye have been well-explained, he pointed out that the complexity of the minute biochemical reactions required at a molecular level for light sensitivity still defies explanation. Creationist Jonathan Sarfati has described the eye as evolutionary biologists' "greatest challenge as an example of superb 'irreducible complexity' in God's creation", specifically pointing to the supposed "vast complexity" required for transparency. [62] [ failed verification ] [ non-primary source needed ]

In an often misquoted [63] passage from On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin appears to acknowledge the eye's development as a difficulty for his theory. However, the quote in context shows that Darwin actually had a very good understanding of the evolution of the eye (see fallacy of quoting out of context). He notes that "to suppose that the eye . could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree". Yet this observation was merely a rhetorical device for Darwin. He goes on to explain that if gradual evolution of the eye could be shown to be possible, "the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection . can hardly be considered real". He then proceeded to roughly map out a likely course for evolution using examples of gradually more complex eyes of various species. [64]

Since Darwin's day, the eye's ancestry has become much better understood. Although learning about the construction of ancient eyes through fossil evidence is problematic due to the soft tissues leaving no imprint or remains, genetic and comparative anatomical evidence has increasingly supported the idea of a common ancestry for all eyes. [65] [66] [67]

Current evidence does suggest possible evolutionary lineages for the origins of the anatomical features of the eye. One likely chain of development is that the eyes originated as simple patches of photoreceptor cells that could detect the presence or absence of light, but not its direction. When, via random mutation across the population, the photosensitive cells happened to have developed on a small depression, it endowed the organism with a better sense of the light's source. This small change gave the organism an advantage over those without the mutation. This genetic trait would then be "selected for" as those with the trait would have an increased chance of survival, and therefore progeny, over those without the trait. Individuals with deeper depressions would be able to discern changes in light over a wider field than those individuals with shallower depressions. As ever deeper depressions were advantageous to the organism, gradually, this depression would become a pit into which light would strike certain cells depending on its angle. The organism slowly gained increasingly precise visual information. And again, this gradual process continued as individuals having a slightly shrunken aperture of the eye had an advantage over those without the mutation as an aperture increases how collimated the light is at any one specific group of photoreceptors. As this trait developed, the eye became effectively a pinhole camera which allowed the organism to dimly make out shapes—the nautilus is a modern example of an animal with such an eye. Finally, via this same selection process, a protective layer of transparent cells over the aperture was differentiated into a crude lens, and the interior of the eye was filled with humours to assist in focusing images. [68] [69] [70] In this way, eyes are recognized by modern biologists as actually a relatively unambiguous and simple structure to evolve, and many of the major developments of the eye's evolution are believed to have taken place over only a few million years, during the Cambrian explosion. [71] Behe asserts that this is only an explanation of the gross anatomical steps, however, and not an explanation of the changes in discrete biochemical systems that would have needed to take place. [72]

Behe maintains that the complexity of light sensitivity at the molecular level and the minute biochemical reactions required for those first "simple patches of photoreceptor[s]" still defies explanation, and that the proposed series of infinitesimal steps to get from patches of photoreceptors to a fully functional eye would actually be considered great, complex leaps in evolution if viewed on the molecular scale. Other intelligent design proponents claim that the evolution of the entire visual system would be difficult rather than the eye alone. [73]

Flagella Edit

The flagella of certain bacteria constitute a molecular motor requiring the interaction of about 40 different protein parts. Behe presents this as a prime example of an irreducibly complex structure defined as "a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning", and argues that since "an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional", it could not have evolved gradually through natural selection. [74]

Reducible complexity. In contrast to Behe's claims, many proteins can be deleted or mutated and the flagellum still works, even though sometimes at reduced efficiency. [75] In fact, the composition of flagella is surprisingly diverse across bacteria with many proteins only found in some species but not others. [76] Hence the flagellar apparatus is clearly very flexible in evolutionary terms and perfectly able to lose or gain protein components. Further studies have shown that, contrary to claims of "irreducible complexity", flagella and the type-III secretion system share several components which provides strong evidence of a shared evolutionary history (see below). In fact, this example shows how a complex system can evolve from simpler components. [77] [78] Multiple processes were involved in the evolution of the flagellum, including horizontal gene transfer. [79]

Evolution from type three secretion systems. The basal body of the flagella has been found to be similar to the Type III secretion system (TTSS), a needle-like structure that pathogenic germs such as Salmonella and Yersinia pestis use to inject toxins into living eucaryote cells. [74] [80] The needle's base has ten elements in common with the flagellum, but it is missing forty of the proteins that make a flagellum work. [81] The TTSS system negates Behe's claim that taking away any one of the flagellum's parts would prevent the system from functioning. On this basis, Kenneth Miller notes that, "The parts of this supposedly irreducibly complex system actually have functions of their own." [82] [83] Studies have also shown that similar parts of the flagellum in different bacterial species can have different functions despite showing evidence of common descent, and that certain parts of the flagellum can be removed without completely eliminating its functionality. [84]

Dembski has argued that phylogenetically, the TTSS is found in a narrow range of bacteria which makes it seem to him to be a late innovation, whereas flagella are widespread throughout many bacterial groups, and he argues that it was an early innovation. [85] [86] Against Dembski's argument, different flagella use completely different mechanisms, and publications show a plausible path in which bacterial flagella could have evolved from a secretion system. [87]

Cilium motion Edit

The cilium construction of axoneme microtubules movement by the sliding of dynein protein was cited by Behe as an example of irreducible complexity. [88] He further said that the advances in knowledge in the subsequent 10 years had shown that the complexity of intraflagellar transport for two hundred components cilium and many other cellular structures is substantially greater than was known earlier. [89]

Bombardier beetle's defense mechanism Edit

The bombardier beetle is able to defend itself by directing a spray of hot fluid at an attacker. The mechanism involves a system for mixing hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide, which react violently to attain a temperature near boiling point, and in some species a nozzle which allows the spray to be directed accurately in any direction. [90] [91]

The unique combination of features of the bombardier beetle's defense mechanism—strongly exothermic reactions, boiling-hot fluids, and explosive release—have been claimed by creationists and proponents of intelligent design to be examples of irreducible complexity. [92] Biologists such as the taxonomist Mark Isaak note however that step-by-step evolution of the mechanism could readily have occurred. In particular, quinones are precursors to sclerotin, used to harden the skeleton of many insects, while peroxide is a common by-product of metabolism. [93] [94] [95]

Like intelligent design, the concept it seeks to support, irreducible complexity has failed to gain any notable acceptance within the scientific community.

Reducibility of "irreducible" systems Edit

Researchers have proposed potentially viable evolutionary pathways for allegedly irreducibly complex systems such as blood clotting, the immune system [96] and the flagellum [97] [98] - the three examples Behe proposed. John H. McDonald even showed his example of a mousetrap to be reducible. [52] If irreducible complexity is an insurmountable obstacle to evolution, it should not be possible to conceive of such pathways. [99]

Niall Shanks and Karl H. Joplin, both of East Tennessee State University, have shown that systems satisfying Behe's characterization of irreducible biochemical complexity can arise naturally and spontaneously as the result of self-organizing chemical processes. [7] They also assert that what evolved biochemical and molecular systems actually exhibit is "redundant complexity"—a kind of complexity that is the product of an evolved biochemical process. They claim that Behe overestimated the significance of irreducible complexity because of his simple, linear view of biochemical reactions, resulting in his taking snapshots of selective features of biological systems, structures, and processes, while ignoring the redundant complexity of the context in which those features are naturally embedded. They also criticized his over-reliance of overly simplistic metaphors, such as his mousetrap.

A computer model of the co-evolution of proteins binding to DNA in the peer-reviewed journal Nucleic Acids Research consisted of several parts (DNA binders and DNA binding sites) which contribute to the basic function removal of either one leads immediately to the death of the organism. This model fits the definition of irreducible complexity exactly, yet it evolves. [100] (The program can be run from Ev program.)

In addition, research published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature has shown that computer simulations of evolution demonstrate that it is possible for complex features to evolve naturally. [101]

One can compare a mousetrap with a cat in this context. Both normally function so as to control the mouse population. The cat has many parts that can be removed leaving it still functional for example, its tail can be bobbed, or it can lose an ear in a fight. Comparing the cat and the mousetrap, then, one sees that the mousetrap (which is not alive) offers better evidence, in terms of irreducible complexity, for intelligent design than the cat. Even looking at the mousetrap analogy, several critics have described ways in which the parts of the mousetrap could have independent uses or could develop in stages, demonstrating that it is not irreducibly complex. [52] [53]

Moreover, even cases where removing a certain component in an organic system will cause the system to fail do not demonstrate that the system could not have been formed in a step-by-step, evolutionary process. By analogy, stone arches are irreducibly complex—if you remove any stone the arch will collapse—yet humans build them easily enough, one stone at a time, by building over centering that is removed afterward. Similarly, naturally occurring arches of stone form by the weathering away of bits of stone from a large concretion that has formed previously.

Evolution can act to simplify as well as to complicate. This raises the possibility that seemingly irreducibly complex biological features may have been achieved with a period of increasing complexity, followed by a period of simplification.

A team led by Joseph Thornton, assistant professor of biology at the University of Oregon's Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, using techniques for resurrecting ancient genes, reconstructed the evolution of an apparently irreducibly complex molecular system. The April 7, 2006 issue of Science published this research. [6] [102]

Irreducible complexity may not actually exist in nature, and the examples given by Behe and others may not in fact represent irreducible complexity, but can be explained in terms of simpler precursors. The theory of facilitated variation challenges irreducible complexity. Marc W. Kirschner, a professor and chair of Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, and John C. Gerhart, a professor in Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, presented this theory in 2005. They describe how certain mutation and changes can cause apparent irreducible complexity. Thus, seemingly irreducibly complex structures are merely "very complex", or they are simply misunderstood or misrepresented.

Gradual adaptation to new functions Edit

The precursors of complex systems, when they are not useful in themselves, may be useful to perform other, unrelated functions. Evolutionary biologists argue that evolution often works in this kind of blind, haphazard manner in which the function of an early form is not necessarily the same as the function of the later form. The term used for this process is exaptation. The mammalian middle ear (derived from a jawbone) and the panda's thumb (derived from a wrist bone spur) provide classic examples. A 2006 article in Nature demonstrates intermediate states leading toward the development of the ear in a Devonian fish (about 360 million years ago). [103] Furthermore, recent research shows that viruses play a heretofore unexpected role in evolution by mixing and matching genes from various hosts. [104]

Arguments for irreducibility often assume that things started out the same way they ended up—as we see them now. However, that may not necessarily be the case. In the Dover trial an expert witness for the plaintiffs, Ken Miller, demonstrated this possibility using Behe's mousetrap analogy. By removing several parts, Miller made the object unusable as a mousetrap, but he pointed out that it was now a perfectly functional, if unstylish, tie clip. [53] [105]

Methods by which irreducible complexity may evolve Edit

Irreducible complexity can be seen as equivalent to an "uncrossable valley" in a fitness landscape. [106] A number of mathematical models of evolution have explored the circumstances under which such valleys can, nevertheless, be crossed. [107] [108] [106] [109]

Falsifiability and experimental evidence Edit

Some critics, such as Jerry Coyne (professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago) and Eugenie Scott (a physical anthropologist and former executive director of the National Center for Science Education) have argued that the concept of irreducible complexity and, more generally, intelligent design is not falsifiable and, therefore, not scientific. [ citation needed ]

Behe argues that the theory that irreducibly complex systems could not have evolved can be falsified by an experiment where such systems are evolved. For example, he posits taking bacteria with no flagellum and imposing a selective pressure for mobility. If, after a few thousand generations, the bacteria evolved the bacterial flagellum, then Behe believes that this would refute his theory. [110] [ non-primary source needed ]

Other critics take a different approach, pointing to experimental evidence that they consider falsification of the argument for intelligent design from irreducible complexity. For example, Kenneth Miller describes the lab work of Barry G. Hall on E. coli as showing that "Behe is wrong". [111]

Other evidence that irreducible complexity is not a problem for evolution comes from the field of computer science, which routinely uses computer analogues of the processes of evolution in order to automatically design complex solutions to problems. The results of such genetic algorithms are frequently irreducibly complex since the process, like evolution, both removes non-essential components over time as well as adding new components. The removal of unused components with no essential function, like the natural process where rock underneath a natural arch is removed, can produce irreducibly complex structures without requiring the intervention of a designer. Researchers applying these algorithms automatically produce human-competitive designs—but no human designer is required. [112]

Argument from ignorance Edit

Intelligent design proponents attribute to an intelligent designer those biological structures they believe are irreducibly complex and therefore they say a natural explanation is insufficient to account for them. [113] However, critics view irreducible complexity as a special case of the "complexity indicates design" claim, and thus see it as an argument from ignorance and as a God-of-the-gaps argument. [114]

Eugenie Scott and Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education note that intelligent design arguments from irreducible complexity rest on the false assumption that a lack of knowledge of a natural explanation allows intelligent design proponents to assume an intelligent cause, when the proper response of scientists would be to say that we don't know, and further investigation is needed. [115] Other critics describe Behe as saying that evolutionary explanations are not detailed enough to meet his standards, while at the same time presenting intelligent design as exempt from having to provide any positive evidence at all. [116] [117]

False dilemma Edit

Irreducible complexity is at its core an argument against evolution. If truly irreducible systems are found, the argument goes, then intelligent design must be the correct explanation for their existence. However, this conclusion is based on the assumption that current evolutionary theory and intelligent design are the only two valid models to explain life, a false dilemma. [118] [119]

While testifying during the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial, Behe conceded that there are no peer-reviewed papers supporting his claims that complex molecular systems, like the bacterial flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system, were intelligently designed nor are there any peer-reviewed articles supporting his argument that certain complex molecular structures are "irreducibly complex." [120]

In the final ruling of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, Judge Jones specifically singled out Behe and irreducible complexity: [120]

The Institute for Creation Research

The universe is full of an infinite variety of complex systems, from the almost incredible universe itself to the tiniest one-celled creature in the ocean. The most intricately involved of all is the human brain which Isaac Asimov once called "the most complex and orderly organization of matter in the universe."

More incredible even than that, however, is the fact that some humans (including Asimov himself) who possess such marvelous brains, with their trillions of inter-connecting electrical circuits, still manage to imagine that the complex human brain arose by chance through mutations and natural selection!

Those of us who believe in the God of the Bible&mdashthe personal, omnipotent, omniscient God of creation and redemption&mdashfind nothing mysterious at all about the origin of the complex structure of the human brain or any of the great multitude of complex organisms and other complex systems of the world. "Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things" (Isaiah 40:26). "The Lord of hosts is His name" (Isaiah 48:2). ". . . the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air" (Genesis 2:19). As to His method of creation, "He spake, and it was done" (Psalm 33:9). Very simple and clear&mdashif one just believes in God!

The naturalistic creed of most evolutionists, however, requires them to account for complexity naturalistically. Somehow a scenario must be developed showing how a primeval chemical molecule could evolve into a replicating protein, then a complex protozoan, eventually a large beast, and finally a human being with an infinitely complex brain. The increase of complexity involved would seem to be incredible&mdashbut it must have happened, they insist, because otherwise God would have done it, and that would be unscientific.

The problem with trying to be scientific, however, is that science doesn't help either. Instead of a process that increases organized complexity, there is a universal scientific law that all natural processes tend to decrease complexity in the universe. This is the famous Second Law of Thermodynamics, or law of increasing entropy. It is expressed in various ways, depending on type of situation&mdashdecreased energy available, increased randomness and disorganization, garbled transmission of information, etc. Entropy always increases in a closed system, and it always tends to increase even in an open system.

In the case of open systems, there must be an influx of energy (or ordering information) into the system from outside in order to keep it in equilibrium and for a time to offset the tendency to decay. Eventually it will decay anyway a man, for example, may keep functioning for many years, but he will finally die. By the same principle, the earth and all its systems could survive, perhaps, for millions of years, but the sun would itself finally burn out and the earth's supply of external energy lost, so the earth and its systems also would all disintegrate and die. In fact, if present processes continue long enough, the universe itself will ultimately die.

How, then, when the whole universe is decaying and dying, struggling hard just to maintain a fragile equilibrium in which living humans and animals can be maintained for a while&mdashhow can evolution toward higher organized complexity ever take place at all? Well, here is their current best answer:

Yes, but that is necessary just to maintain its present order (or better, organized complexity). How can it be increased? How can a population of worms, say, be upgraded into a population of human beings?

Most evolutionists today, when pressed to answer such questions, will say that Ilya Prigogine, with his concept of "dissipative structures" in "far-from-equilibrium" thermodynamics, has provided the answer to the mystery of life's origin. That it does not really do so, however, I have tried to point out in several previous discussions, so will not repeat the discussion here. 2

However, the author of a recent book has now taken on the ambitious project of applying the Prigogine approach, not just to the origin of life from non-life, but also to every stage of evolution, from the evolution of the cosmos to the evolution of social systems. He rather audaciously tries to make the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the dissipation process, with its inevitable increase in entropy, the very generator of evolution and increased complexity.

Chaisson, like Prigogine and other writers, has been able to note certain situations where a sudden increase in "order" in a system has been generated in a part of that system. The special condition required seems to be "fluctuations" in the flow-through of energy under "far-from-equilibrium" conditions in that field of flow. In such unstable conditions, there also is inevitably an abnormally large amount of energy lost to the external environment&mdashhence the name "dissipative structures."

Prigogine's classic example of such structures was the sudden development of eddies in a liquid surface caused by a flow of heat up from a source of heat at the bottom. These are "ordered" structures, but they are necessarily accompanied by increased dissipation of energy to the environment. Another oft-used example is the tornado, a highly ordered structure generated by flow of heat and/or air in the atmosphere.

How such dissipative structures, even if they are maintained indefinitely by the continuing non-equilibrium thermodynamics of the field of flow, can ever be the base on which higher and still higher degrees of complex structure can be developed is still a mystery which Chaisson does not pretend to solve in his entire book on "cosmic evolution." He, like Prigogine and other evolutionists, is adept at making broad evolutionary generalizations, but also at avoiding experimental proof.

With the whole universe running down, and with the decay process apparently even hastened by the extra energy loss required to generate increasing complexity, how can the evolutionary process possibly be sustained, all the way from particles to people?

The non-equilibrium dynamics are universally maintained, Chaisson believes&mdashbelieve it or not&mdashby the expanding of the universe!

But saying so doesn't make it so! We would like to see some real scientific evidence that this supposed cosmic process of universal expansion is really generating evolution. But Chaisson only provides wishful thinking.

But, even after such a profound understatement, this eminent cosmologist still claims to have developed a thought channel which evolutionists can use to guide their wishful thinking.

He also says his present 274-page book is an "abridgement" of a "larger opus to come" in which all the specific evidences can be given to show just how, in detail, an over-all disintegration of complexity in the universe somehow really produces more complex systems all over the universe.

Right now, however, the details are all missing. Chaisson at least does acknowledge that there is much work yet to do before evolutionists will really have a rational explanation of complexity without God.

I might respectfully suggest that Dr. Chaisson carefully consider whether the devil is not only in the details but in the whole concept of cosmic evolution, especially the oxymoronic idea of complexity through dissipation and evolution by entropy.

Evolution is *NOT* Progressive

PumpkinPerson still believes that evolution is progressive. What exactly is evolution through natural selection ‘progressing towards’? Some, like PP, may say it’s progressing towards a better organism for that specific environment. However, there is no end game. That organism will still continue to change based on whatever changes in its environment. One of the most common misconceptions about evolution is that it’s progressive. One assumes that by looking at the progression from the earliest forms of life to today, that humans must be at the top of this ‘evolutionary ladder’ so to speak. However, evolution has no end game, nor is it conscious to be able to have humans be at the top of this ‘evolutionary ladder’. I’ll take the last thing that PP said to me on his blog and reply to it here as well.

Evolution can happen in four ways: migration, mutation, genetic drift, and natural selection (NS). Evolution is a non-conscious, non-linear event that occurs to make an organism more fit for its environment. Progressive evolution assumes that it’s linear and so evolution is a straight line from ‘more evolved to less evolved’. Would that make sense? For evolution to be in a straight line? Or would a branching tree make more sense? PP knows this fact, yet still attempts to say that the ‘newest species are the “most evolved”‘. We can take 2 genetically similar organisms and put them into one cold environment and the other a hotter environment. Will one of them be “more evolved” than the other in a few generations? Or does evolution dictate what changes occur and there is no “more evolved” because each organism is suited to its environment?

No that’s not the point. If two populations are both descended from a common ancestor, and population A remains more similar to that common ancestor than population B, then population A is less evolved, because it’s done less evolving from the common ancestor. Why can’t you grasp this concept, RR?

I do grasp it, it just makes no sense. Because even that organism that “stayed close to the common ancestor” is still markedly different than the common ancestor.

Actually that’s not true. Humans are close to reaching the point where we no longer evolving in the conventional sense. Any further genetic change will be self-directed, via genetic engineering, and not the product of natural selection and genetic drift. And progress needn’t imply an end point, it only implies more recent forms will on average be more adaptable than life from millions of years ago.

This was in response to me saying that evolution would continue until all organisms die out or the Sun explodes. Even the with the genetic change we bring about ourself with CRISPR, we would still be evolving genetically. Umm progress DOES imply an end point. Progress means progression, what is an organism progressing towards? Being more efficient? No. Progression denotes an end game. There IS NO endgame with evolution. Evolution just happens to increase fitness for an organism and population.

I don’t have any misconceptions when it comes to evolution RR. It’s you who is confused. And I’ve seen Dawkins talk about evolutionary progress. He shows some understanding of the concept, but it’s not complete.

Yes you do have misconceptions when it comes to evolution, PP. There is no way to quantify progress in regards to evolution. You can choose some arbitrary traits, but that’s just our perception of it. You cannot objectively say that one organism is “more evolved” than another based on those traits.

I forgot that Dawkins believes in evolutionary progress. That doesn’t change my mind on this matter. I’m sure that Dawkins of all people knows that each organism is suited for its environment, not perfectly, but good enough. Evolution makes organisms good enough in order to transmit its genes to the next generation. How can you say that there is progress when each organism is fit for its environment? How can you believe in this notion when evolution through NS, migration, mutation and genetic drift make each organism unique in order to survive in its own specialized niche? As I will say below, Darwin’s Finches are the perfect example of how evolution is not progressive. They are fit for each environment. The tree finch has a blunt beak for tearing vegetation, the ground finch has a broad beak for crushing seeds, and Warbler finch’s small beak makes it good for eating insects. Each bird evolved from the same ancestor, each evolved in different ecosystems on the same island, but they evolved to do different things based on what they had to do to survive in that ecosystem. This very simple example shows that evolution is not progressive, and that these mutations occur to better help an organism in that niche in the ecosystem.

Next PP quotes Rushton from Race, Evolution, and Behavior where he says:

In their reviews, Lynn (1996a) and Peters (1995) both referred to my ranking of species on evolutionary scales. For Peters, this was a highly contentious idea but in Lynn’s positive review, he described me as proposing that the K-strategy was “evolutionarily more advanced” and that the Oriental race was “the most evolved.” In fact, I did not use either of these phrases in the book, although I had alluded to similar ideas in previous writing. Regardless, the topic of evolutionary progress provides an intellectual challenge of the first order and needs to be addressed. Figure 10.2 (p. 202) does imply a move from simple r-type animals producing thousands of eggs but providing no parental care to more complex K-type animals producing very few offspring.

In his book Sociobiology (1975), E. O. Wilson also promoted the idea of biological progression, outlining four pinnacles in the history of life on Earth: first, the beginning of life itself in the form of primitive prokaryotes, with no nucleus then the origin of eukaryotes, with nucleus and mitochondria next the evolution of large, multicellular organisms, which could evolve complex organs such as eyes and brains and finally the beginnings of the human mind. (Rushton, 1997: 292-3)

I still don’t see how it’s “progressive and more evolved”. Each organism is suited for its environment to make sure that it breeds and continues its genetic lineage. I see how one could say that newer organisms are “more evolved”, however, each organism is suited for its environment.

You have no idea what you’re talking about. Humans who left Africa 60,000 years ago looked like Andaman islanders who clearly look like modern Africans today. Further, facial reconstructions of the African Eve from 125,000 years ago also looks like modern Africans. The notion that modern looking Africans are only 10,000 years old is INSANE. Did they look EXACTLY like Africans today? No. Were they close enough that no one would think twice if they walked down the street in modern clothing? Yes.

I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, yet PP thinks that damn reconstructions mean ANYTHING!! Forensic facial reconstruction is one of the most subjective techniques in forensic anthropology. The skin thickness is subjective to the forensic artist, but I’m sure that that means that the facial reconstruction of Mitochondrial Eve is even a close representation of what she actually looked like. The fact of the matter is, facial reconstructions are highly subjective to the individual forensics artist. There is a great example in the link about how facial reconstruction isn’t anywhere near perfect:

A second problem is the lack of a methodological standardization in approximating facial features. A single, official method for reconstructing the face has yet to be recognized. This also presents major setback in facial approximation because facial features like the eyes and nose and individuating characteristics like hairstyle – the features most likely to be recalled by witnesses – lack a standard way of being reconstructed. Recent research on computer-assisted methods, which take advantage of digital image processing, pattern recognition, promises to overcome current limitations in facial reconstruction and linkage.

Keep in mind that PP believes that Australasians are Negroid, despite the fact that I’ve shown him wrong on that time and time again. Phenotype does not always equal genotype. Just because one group is phenotypically similar to another DOES NOT MEAN that they are genetically similar. It’s PP that doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

How is the notion that modern-looking Africans are 10k years old insane? I see PP doesn’t keep up with the latest studies. Is the notion that modern-day Europeans are 6500 years old insane as well?

It shows that there are lineages that become very adaptable despite not being very evolved, and some that don’t need to be adaptable because they lucked into a fixed ecological niche. But generally speaking, across all lineages, more recent forms of life are more adaptable than more ancient forms of life.

This was in response to what I said to him about there being mosses and fungi who’ve stayed pretty similar. This SHOWS that evolution is not progressive. More recent forms of life are more adaptable? You mean that more recent forms of life incurred more mutations to be more adaptable.** Evolution through NS is about being good enough to pass on your genes, that’s it. Whether or not one species is “more evolved” (whatever that means) over another is meaningless as all that’s occurring is genes passing to the next generation. Break down all of these processes to the simplest possible level and this is what we are left with.

“There is no ‘progress’ in evolution. No living thing is trying to get anywhere,” Zuk said. “And humans are not at the pinnacle of the evolutionary ladder.”

Evolution, she said, is no engineer, building the perfect organism from scratch every time the environment changes. Rather, evolution is the ultimate tinkerer, always having to make do with the parts on hand. Its creations tend to be imperfect, just fit enough to survive.

WRONG! Humans are the highest branch within the homo evolutionary tree which is the highest branch within the primate evolutionary tree which is perhaps the highest branch of the mammal evolutionary tree, which is perhaps the highest branch within the animal evolutionary tree etc. This can be seen in phylogenetic diagrams.

PP, it specifically said evolutionary ladder. Phylogenetic diagrams prove that evolution is non-linear and does NOT go in a straight line. Phylogenetic diagrams prove that evolution is a tree and not just a straight line of ‘progress’.

And yet evolution has created the human brain, the most complex known object in the universe.

That doesn’t say anything to the fact that evolution is not an engineer making perfect organisms for their environment. All an organism needs is to be “good enough”. It’s not survival of the fittest as much as survival of the good enough. Sure evolution ‘created’ the human brain. But that doesn’t make evolution, a non-conscious event, an engineer. Why do so many atheists have so much faith in evolution, putting human qualities into it when evolution through natural selection is just a process of making sure that an organism passes its genes on? It is one hundred percent correct that evolution is the “ultimate tinkerer”, making organisms “just fit enough to survive”.

A study of the DNA of Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos Islands (Petren et al. 1999) provides a good example of why the idea of progress makes no sense in evolution. The study’s findings suggest that the first finches to arrive on the islands were the Warbler finches (Certhidea olivacea), whose pointy beaks made them good insect eaters. A number of other finches evolved later from the Warbler finches. One of these is the Geospiza ground finch, whose broad beak is good for crushing seeds, and another is the Camarhynchus tree finch with its blunt beak which is well adapted for tearing vegetation.


Even though biologists reject the Great Chain of Being or any similar ladder-of-progress explanation of evolution, the idea still persists in popular culture. A more accurate analogy would be that of a bush that branches in many directions. If we think of evolution over time in this way, we’re less likely to be confused by notions of progress because the branches of a bush can grow in various directions in three dimensions, and new branches can sprout off of older branches without implying that those farther from the trunk are better or more advanced than those closer to the trunk. A more recent branch that has split off from an earlier branch-like a species that has evolved from an ancestral species-does not indicate greater progress or advancement. Rather, it is simply a new and different growth on the bush, or more specifically, a new species that is sufficiently adapted to its environment to survive.

The idea of progress makes sense when you look at the grand sweep of evolution across BILLIONS OF YEARS. We’ve gone from simple, restricted life forms that could only survive in the ocean, to complex adaptable GOd-like life-forms like humans, that can live in virtually any environment, and travel to space.

This doesn’t say anything to what was quoted, PP. The fact that Darwin’s Finches each evolved on the same island, yet have completely different phenotypes depending on what they have to do to survive shows that evolution is not progressive and that there is no “more evolved” life form, just life forms surviving. Love how you sidestepped that quote.

This is the same tired nonsense. In evolution, almost every time one branch splits into two, it means evolutionary growth has occurred. So if you’re the first branch, and you don’t do anymore branching, you’re less evolved, and typically less complex and versatile than branches that split off after much branching occurred.

Yes PP. Keep repeating the “if you’re the first branch and you don’t do any more branching than you’re less evolved” canard. PP is confusing “more evolved” for more complex.

Let me repeat this quote again because it’s perfect for this discussion:

If we think of evolution over time in this way, we’re less likely to be confused by notions of progress because the branches of a bush can grow in various directions in three dimensions, and new branches can sprout off of older branches without implying that those farther from the trunk are better or more advanced than those closer to the trunk.

But I’M the one who doesn’t get it. Just because changes occur to make new species does not mean that the common ancestor is “less evolved”, it just means that there were different selection pressures that forced these changes to happen!! That’s it!

Just because your teacher told you something years ago doesn’t make it true, PP. It doesn’t mean that your teacher “got it” while everyone else is blinded to the fact of “organisms being more evolved than others”.

Level 1: People who don’t believe in evolution

Level 2: People who think evolution is progressive because they don’t understand the random nature of natural selection (most secular non-scientists fit in this category)

Level 3: People who think evolution is NOT progressive because they understand natural selection is random and geared to specific environments(most scientists and science writers and bloggers fit in this category)

Level 4: People who realize that even random processes will eventually show progress through billions of years of trial and error, and no environment is 100% specific (many of the greatest minds in history reached this stage: E.O. Wilson, Darwin, Rushton)

You’re stuck on Level 3, RR, and so are all the people you quote. I hope your mind can one day make the leap to Level 4.

This is hilarious. The fact that NS is random SHOWS that evolution is not progressive. PP may say “over billions of years through trial and error it made ‘more evolved’ organisms”. I love how PP’s speculations are the final word and what I say and who I quote are conveniently a level below his little hierarchy.

NS, migration, mutation and genetic drift are how organisms evolve. Changing the mix of the 4 will lead to different outcomes each time. What PP is trying to say here is that I’m conveniently below the level that he’s at because he recognizes evolution as being “progressive” “progressing to be the ultimate organism in that environment”.

“The idea of sharing a common ancestor leads to the second major misunderstanding inherent in the question,” says Dr Willis, “that evolution is a linear process where one species evolves into another.”

Evolution is really a branching process where one species can give rise to two or more species.

“The fallacy of linear evolution is most clearly illustrated by the analogy of asking how can I share common grandparents with my cousins if my cousins and my grandparents are still alive?,” says Dr Willis.

“The answer is of course that your grandparents had more than one child and they each went off and started their own families creating new branches of your own family tree.”

The same thing happens in evolutionary families. A species can split into two or more descendant species and they can split again and again across the generations.

But PP would say that the organism who branched into the new one that stayed the same is “less evolved” than the other, when the only difference is that the newer organism faced different pressures which led to different changes!

Let me repeat: evolution is not progressive. Each organism is suited for its environment so that it can pass its genetic code to the next generation. Even an earlier organism is not “less evolved” than one that came after it, because it still has to survive in that ecosystem. The process of evolution leads to a branching pattern of relationships amongst similar organisms.

Ever since Aristotle, people have had an inclination to rank living things in a single dimension of “lower to higher” or “primitive to advanced”. Such rankings have a name, “the Great Chain of Being” or “the Ladder of Life”. But such rankings have no basis in evolutionary biology. All living organisms occupy equivalent positions on the tips of the latest twigs in phylogeny. The “lowliest” worm or microbe is just as “advanced” (i.e., has been just as successful at adaptation and reproduction throughout its lineage) as is the ‘highest” primate or social insect. “Progress” was an essential feature of some pre-Darwinian evolutionary theories, notably Lamarck’s believe in evolution driven by inward striving toward improvement. But modern evolutionary theory supports no clear expectation of progress, at least not in any dimension that has yet been explored.

Isn’t there an obvious sense in which evolution MUST be progressive? Doesn’t natural selection assure that species are always becoming better adapted, so that degree of adaptedness must be increasing over time? Doesn’t the fossil record document continuing advancement toward improved design and complexity? Doesn’t the process of adaptative radiation (continuing speciation with adaptation) guarantee that the ecological world will be ever more precisely subdivided into niches occupied by ever-increasing numbers of species?

In short, no. No one has yet demonstrated any measureable parameter that shows a consistent, reliable increase over time as evolution proceeds. This is an important point. Belief that evolution is always necessarily “improving” something can interfere with clear appreciation of the actual mechanism of evolution, which is simply the replacement of one heritable variant by another because, in specific conditions which include the presence of both variants, one does better than the other.

As I keep saying to PP, each organism is fit for its environment. You can use some arbitrary things to say “this more evolved than that”, but evolutionarily speaking it doesn’t make sense, as I keep saying, because each organism is perfectly suited to its environment.

Yes, bacteria is simpler than a hawk, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less adapted to its environment than a hawk is.

Evolution arises from mutation, genetic drift, migration and finally natural selection. This leads to large random variations amongst individual organisms. Natural selection then acts upon those random variations and over time this leads to differences between organisms which lead to them eventually becoming different species. How one can then make the leap in logic to say that evolution is progressive due to that is beyond me.

We only ASSUME that evolution is progressive because we look at traits that have been selected for and we don’t look at the traits that have been made negative due to the positive selection. Another point that PP likes to bring up is that the increasing complexity and increase in brain size shows how it’s progressive. However, our brains are shrinking. So if evolution was ONLY PROGRESS, why is the “most complex thing in the known universe” getting smaller? And with a decrease in brain size comes a decrease in intelligence. Such progress PP. Evolutions has no direction so it CANNOT be progressive. Most people want to assume that evolution is linear and thusly we were here BECAUSE we’d have been here regardless of what happened. This is not true. The fact of the matter is, evolution is a random process. The only reason there is a belief that evolution is progressive is because we strive to make meaning in everything in our lives even when there is nothing there.

Now with the thought that evolution is progressive, comes the thought of more evolved and less evolved races. As I have shown early in this article, Rushton believed that Mongoloids were “more evolved” because they came last. This then assumes that Africans are “less evolved” because they came first. This, however, makes no evolutionary sense. I love Rushton and all he did to bring racial differences to the mainstream, but evolutionary biologist he was not. The assumption here is that East Asians and Caucasians are the newest races, and thusly would have to be more advanced than the Africans. However, these notions are baseless. They are extremely subjective and one cannot say that one race is “more evolved” or “more superior” than another.

As the story is untangled, it will also become obvious how inappropriate it is to talk in terms of the “inferiority” or “superiority” of groups. Consider, for example, the Big Five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. What are the ideal points on these continua? They will differ depending on whether you’re looking for the paragon of, say, a parent or an entrepreneur.

From an evolutionary perspective, African populations were just as well adapted to their environment as were those of Europe and Asia to theirs. Small. loosely organized populations were the appropriate response to the difficult conditions of the African continent. But they were not necessarily well suited to high efficiency economies to which European and East Asian populations had become adapted. From this perspective, if valid, it would be unsurprising that African countries should take longer to make the transition into modern economies. (Wade, 2015: 181-2)

And finally I asked Razib Khan what he thought about this back in August. He said:

people who talk in those terms about population genetics are inferior and less evolved. sabine’s statement in my other posts applies: you’re not a serious thinker and label yourself as stupid or ignorant.

This notion of “superiority” when discussing human races, or even organisms as a whole is baseless. When looking at subjective traits then we can say that. BUT objectively, there is no way to quantify this.

Some people in the HBD-sphere, as well as the Alt-right, may say that Eurasians are ‘superior’ to Africans. On what traits? Because looking at a completely different set of traits would have you come to the opposite conclusion. Like with r/K Selection Theory (now known as the CLASH model). People assume that Africans and others who live nearer to the equator are inferior due to how many children they conceive. However, from an evolutionary perspective, the ultimate measure of human success is not production, but reproduction(van den Berghe, 1981). When that single variable is looked at, they are “more evolved” and if PP were to be believed, evolution is going backward for Eurasians since they have fewer children than Africans.

In sum, evolution is NOT progressive. Mutation, migration, and genetic drift set the stage for differences between organisms, then natural selection selects for those advantageous alleles which then get passed on to the next generation. This notion of progressive evolution is ridiculous. Evolution is a branching tree, not a straight line as is commonly thought. Progressive evolution assumes that we are progressing towards something. This is not the case. Evolution just happens, it’s not attempting to “progress” anywhere as these differences between organisms just happen and thusly you cannot say that one organism is “more evolved” than another nor can you say that this organism showed more “evolutionary progress” over another as changes are random.

Fossils—Do They Get More Complex?

Originally published in Creation 20, no 2 (March 1998): 32.

One thing that most people think they ‘know’ about evolution is that organisms become more complex as they evolve. After all, isn’t that how a single-celled organism became a person?

There are ways for evolutionists to try to test this assumption by looking at the fossils. Within their system, as you go up through the fossil-bearing rock layers, they believe you are looking at millions of years of time unfolding slowly. So do the fossils show increasing complexity? We are not talking here about looking at a reptile in one layer, and then a bird in a higher layer and comparing the complexity. In such a situation it would be enormously difficult to determine which was objectively more complex anyway.

‘Everybody knows that organisms . get more complex as they evolve.’

‘The only trouble with what everyone knows, says McShea, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan, is that there is no evidence it's true.𔃻

Several researchers have tried looking at the fossils of spiral-shelled creatures called ammonoids, to see if apparently related types get more complex as one goes higher in the layers. Another evolutionist, Dan McShea of the University of Michigan, approached the same question using detailed measurements on the backbones of many creatures which evolutionists believe represent ancestor-descendant pairs. His aim was to see if the ‘descendant’ was more complex than the ‘ancestor’ on the average for each case.

What would the creationist expect the result to be, and why? Obviously, the two fossil creatures believed to be an ancestor-descendant pair would most likely be of the same created kind, laid down at different times during the Flood. There would be no reason for any trend in complexity, if enough pairs are looked at.

And this is precisely what was reported in these studies by evolutionists—no trend at all.

This should not be a surprise to those who realize that the Word of the Creator God, who knows all, is not going to mislead us concerning the real history of the universe.

Confusion about evolution and bad design

I'm not sure that I'm really understanding how evolution and bad design are connected. There have been some vehement conversations about bad design and I don't understand why this is happening, so I have some questions so that I can understand the evolutionary viewpoint better:

Does evolution automatically include the idea that nature is badly designed? (By nature, I mean things like breathing, toe nails, teeth, scales, organs, organisms, . ) Is the idea that nature is badly designed an intrinsic part of evolutionary theory?

If you say that something in nature is badly designed, then one would expect that you could also detect the opposite. Everyone I know who is able to make a judgement that something is bad is also able to judge that something else is good. As someone who believes in evolution, is it possible to see things that are well designed as well as things that are badly designed? If not, why not?

Is everything in nature badly designed?

If not, can you give some examples of things in nature that we well designed?

If someone answers the above question and states some features of nature that are well designed, does this then mean that they are a creationist or does this mean that evolution is false? Do other evolution advocates see them as a traitor to evolution if they say that something is well designed?

Biomimetics is the field of engineering where we copy designs from nature to improve our products. If nature only has bad designs why would we be copying them? How do we improve our products by adding bad design to them? (Examples of biomimetics: velcro, lotus-inspired hydrophobic surfaces, fog-harvesting from beetles, sharkshin surfaces to reduce drag and fouling in hulls, dry adhesion by gecko toe pads.) I know that people can detect bad design because there's a whole subreddit about it: r/crappydesign QED )

I'm asking these questions because of baffling posts like this. He bascially says that any concession that something in nature is designed means that you are admitting the God exists and is the designer. I don't see this at all. I don't follow that "logic". I don't assume that you have abandoned atheistic evolution if you say that something is well designed (hopefully this will be discussed in the question about traitors above). From what I can see, working through the questions above should lead one to be able to state that there are some parts of nature that we well designed (e.g. photosynthesis or DNA or something). So what does everyone else here think? Do all you scientists who have spent decades studying biology and evolution think like /u/cubist137 or do you see that some things in nature are well designed? Iɽ like a little clarity.

P.S. Just in case you can't follow my reasoning, I am most emphatically not arguing that everything in nature is well designed (ingrown toenails and varicose veins are a huge pain). I am also most definitely not arguing that God exists, that God is the designer or any sort of other crazy stuff. I am not arguing that feature X is well designed either.

I've had to number my questions because it seems like people are really avoiding answering them. There is one other possibility that I hadn't considered when I wrote this:

7) It it the case that the word and the concept "design" cannot be used in reference to anything that is connected to evolution? It is a word that simply does not make sense to someone who has studied evolution for many years? If this is the case, then how is it that so many proponents of evolution freely decide that something (the laryngeal nerve of the giraffe) is a bad design? This seems like a clear contradiction to me. You would have to say that there is not good design, no bad design, what is is and what isn't isn't.

You keep suffering from a few clear logical failures. Despite it being made apparent to you many times in this thread, you keep making them:

First, the term design comes loaded with a designer. You need to stop using it, because the iterative evolutionary processes are capable of designer-like behaviour, without requiring any intelligence. These ⟞signs' it comes up with, they don't have a designer, they are part of an algorithm that operates under the laws of physics.

Second, you keep arguing that we believe everything in nature is 𧮭ly designed'. No, but there are many examples where these ⟞sign choices' are absurd, yet can be explained by the iterative process. These aren't the choices that would be made by an intelligent designer, they are the things that would arise from an evolutionary 'meh, it works' attitude.

No, but nature isn't a designer. It's an iterative process. A better term might be 'pattern': there are elegant patterns and inelegant patterns. I'll be using the word pattern again and again through-out this.

We use the term ⟞sign' for your benefit, because you insist there is a design. We counter that the ⟞sign' is not very good, because it makes very unusual decisions that don't make sense in our view of what a design is. But these bad designs make sense as evolution-propagated patterns.

No, but there are a lot of really silly examples.

DNA as a storage mechanism is pretty sound. I can't really think of a better way to do it. Might be why it caught on. But there are still arbitrary 𧷬isions' in the pattern of DNA that suggest iterative processes, rather than a crafted design.

No: because we are only using the term design because you keep making us. But once you understand that these are patterns, mutating fractals, whatever, there is no design or designer required, these are emergent properties.

Nature has been doing things on a much smaller scale than we have been capable of in the past. As our abilities advance, we can start stealing patterns from them. Eventually, we'll supersede them, but not likely in our lifetime.

The word design is loaded, because you keep loading it. We all know why you use it and what other meanings it can have, which is why we avoid it. Similarly, if I were to start a left-wing political party, I'm not going to call it the National Socialists, because holy fuck, that term is loaded.

I got a little bummed because I mistook OP for someone who was actually interested in hearing our thoughts, instead they disregard them and tell us what we are thinking in spite of repeated corrections. Sigh.

He bascially says that any concession that something in nature is designed means that you are admitting the God exists and is the designer. I don't see this at all. I don't follow that "logic". I don't assume that you have abandoned atheistic evolution if you say that something is well designed.

You're sneaking in terminology there. Saying something is "designed" you are sneaking in a "designer" because design naturally requires a designer the same way a painting requires a painter, and that's why people are arguing with you.

The fact that something has adapted to their environment, even to an amazing degree, doesn't mean it was designed for the environment in the same way that a puddle wasn't designed to fit into a hole. You have the direction backwards.

So your answer is that the word "design" cannot be applied to anything in nature (if you're an evolutionist).

If this is the case, then why do so many evolutionists say X is badly designed? They trot off reams of examples of bad designs in the body and in animals. But you're saying this is wrong. There is no good design there is no bad design. The word is meaningless to anyone discussing evolution.

Am I correct in understanding you?

How then do you explain biomimetics when a human being has to evaluate some part of nature to see if it is more advanced than our best designs, so that we can then copy nature's designs to make our technology better? Does biomimetics not exist?

Basically, evolution doesn't design. It tinkers.

There are some features in organisms that, if designed, are pretty terrible designs, so if the designer is posited as omniscient and omnipotent, as many monotheistic creationists do, that doesn't make sense.

On the other hand, one would expect terrible "designs" under evolution because it doesn't design. We would also expect good "designs" as well, since tinkering can sometimes get you to a good design.

yes, I'm not really concerned with the process (tinkering or something else), but the end product: eg. the amazing characteristics of sharkskin.

I'm asking these questions because of baffling posts like this. He basically says that any concession that something in nature is designed means that you are admitting the God exists and is the designer.

Speaking as the dude what wrote the "baffling" comment you linked to: No, I did not say what you portray me as having said, neither "basically" nor any other way. I was addressing the question of how one goes about detecting Design, and I explained why I think the ID movement has not yet provided anything within bazooka range of a valid, reliable methodology for detecting Design. This is not saying that something is Designed means God did it. Rather, it's more like if you want to say that "X is Designed" is a scientifically valid conclusion, here's what you need to do to back up that claim.

A bit further down the comment chain, I explicitly described what I would consider to be a valid Design-detection methodology, which (as best I understand it) happens to be the Design-detection methodology which mainstream science uses.

And, looking over that comment chain, I see that it ends with a highly relevant comment of mine which you apparently never elected to respond to. [shrug] Here it is again:

Human intuitions about Design are largely formed by our experience with Designs which have been generated by human Designers. As it happens, human Designers typically operate under a number of constraints—they can't always use the particular materials they want, can't always exploit the particular manufacturing processes they want, etc. So human intuitions about Design can probably be trusted in the context of Designers who operate under the same constraints as human designers.

Are you willing to stipulate that the Designer postulated by the Intelligent Design movement does operate under the same constraints as human Designers?

If you're not willing to stipulate that the Designer postulated by the Intelligent Design movement operates under the same constraints as human Designers, how can you have any confidence in the notion that your intuitions about Design do apply to the Designer postulated by the Intelligent Design movement?

Are you willing to stipulate that the Designer postulated by the Intelligent Design movement does operate under the same constraints as human Designers?

If you're not willing to stipulate that the Designer postulated by the Intelligent Design movement operates under the same constraints as human Designers, how can you have any confidence in the notion that your intuitions about Design do apply to the Designer postulated by the Intelligent Design movement?

Well, I suppose that I can try to answer this, even though from my point of view, it's as relevant as asking how Queen Elizabeth likes her fried eggs.

For someone or something to design life, we would need an intelligence and technology that surpasses our own. Perhaps advanced alien species or perhaps God. Since the universe also evidently appears to be designed, I'll dispense with the aliens (also because SETI is silent) and just consider God. (We could generalize to any sort of being outside the universe, powerful and intelligent enough to create a universe, or we could include super advanced alien species too. But that can be done later if so desired.) So lets assume that you and I are talking about God who created everything somehow, at some point in the distant past. You're asking if he operates under the same constraints as human designers. In general yes, but not exactly. (And you know what? I'm just thinking this through in response to your question. Iɽ actually have answered it sooner if you handn't tried to tie things together that just don't fit. Also, Iɽ be very interested in what you, other atheists, and other creationists think about your question so that I can refine my thinking and my model.)

So, God has more agency and more freedom than we do in terms of setting up the laws of the universe in what ever manner he sees fit. Once that it done, then he seems to operate within those constraints, within the same constraints of physics, chemistry, biology that we do. So when God creates a cell or a protein or a ribose, that object functions exactly the same was as if we were creating it. Is this what you're asking?

I think that the difference (in my model) comes from how the original object is created. God would not have to use clean rooms, labs, pipettes, mass spectroscopy, etc etc to create and characterize what he's making. So this would be a significant difference. I'm not sure how he did it, but let's assume some planning and then some sort of creation (probably less impressive than creating a whole universe, but still very impressive compared to what we can do). So there is a difference in how God makes the first cells, the first dogs, the first emus, the first citrus tree. After that, all of nature ticks along following the same constraints that we have. Is this what you're asking about?

17 indicators that evolution of the species didn't happen, with rebuttals

Almost all biologists and many other scientists believe that the theory of evolution is a fact -- that species evolved over a long period of time. Only about 5% of all scientists argue for the creation of all present-day species (and of all the species seen only in fossils) in one week, about 4000 to 10000 BCE. This small minority of scientists are almost entirely evangelical Christians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, literally interpreted where possible. Among those scientists who specialize in biology or geology, the percentage of believers in creation of a young earth drops to less than 1%.

Many dozens of "proofs" that evolution never happened have been put forth by creation scientists. These indicators have been well circulated among scientists. All have been easily refuted by them.

If such a proof existed, it would be the discovery of the century! It would disprove the entire structure of evolution of the species. It might even disprove scientists' understanding of the origin and history of the earth itself, of its life forms and of the rest of the universe.The theory of evolution has been laboriously pieced together over more than a century. Any scientist who was able to disprove evolution would be a shoo-in for the next Nobel Prize, and would receive world-wide fame. It seems obvious that very few scientists could resist such fame and economic rewards he or she would publish an article immediately and wait by the phone for the Nobel Prize committee to call. But, although tens or hundreds of thousands of scientists are familiar with these "proofs" by creation scientists, no scientist has ever come forward and published a proof in a peer-reviewed journal.

We receive many E-mails which contain "proofs" that evolution is a false theory. After investigation, all seem to be based on misunderstandings of generally accepted scientific beliefs. If you believe that you have one, please Email us.

All of the "proofs" listed in the following three essays are paraphrased from the original Emails.