I’ve been saying this for decades!

As Matthew Herron points out,

The intelligent design blogs I read, when they’re not busy vilifying “Darwinists”, spend much of their time extolling the super-duper complexity of life, but here’s the thing: no one is arguing that life isn’t complex. To my knowledge, no biologist has ever argued that, and if they have, they’re wrong. As Strassmann and Queller point out, Darwin and Paley both proposed explanations for complexity, and one of those explanations turned out to be right. As much as its advocates want it to be, complexity is not evidence for intelligent design.

When Intelligent Design creationists play at being scientists (Hi, Stephen Meyer, you boring fraud you), this is all they do, parrot articles that explain the bewildering complexity of the cell, as if that means it must have been designed. That’s all Behe does, is natter on about how complicated biology is, and then make an unfounded leap from “it’s too complex for me to understand” to “therefore, the god who designed it must be really smart”, not addressing the issue at hand…was it designed at all?

Then all of their fans chime in at any criticism of the ID argument with repetitions of the “It’s really complex” claim, which is totally fucking irrelevant. It seems to impress the rubes, though.


  1. Matt G says

    The argument from personal incredulity.

    Of course, life is also pretty simple, and the same patterns tend show up again and again. Many basic functions are almost exactly the same in all living things.

  2. PaulBC says

    The extent to which human beings “invent” by copying nature, by serendipitous discovery, and by pure trial and error really makes me wonder why anyone thinks intelligence is even a very useful means of attaining complexity, let alone the only one. Evolution has time, scale, and a robust feedback mechanism. Of course it is a process that generates complexity.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    The definition of “complexity” actually requires a lot of work to formulate and to understand.

    A rainstorm, on one level, is pretty simple: water falling from the sky. Considered in depth, with countless millions of drops, each nucleating, accumulating, and following an individual windswept trajectory downward (not to mention impact and dispersal into vapor, soil, and flowing puddle) – all with their own thermodynamic exchanges – even a minor shower becomes computationally impossible.

  4. says

    The complete wiring diagram of New York City, if such a thing could be fixed in time and recorded, is incredibly complex – incomprehensibly so. But it emerges from fairly simple rules (relative to its total complexity) that have been allowed to operate for a relatively short time. Because those rules operate at a macro and micro level, and affect each other, there are the long-term effects of wiring from, say, 1930 still affecting buildings today even though that wiring no longer exists.

    To say that the entire system is designed is absurd. Actually, it is evolving. Even the rules governing its construction were not designed, they also evolved to meet different requirements on a different time scale. Who would want a micromanager god who designed massive kludges like a city’s wiring? Why do creationists hate their god so much? Can it be that they have no choice but to believe in the kludge-god, because there is no sign of beautiful overarching design? Creationists literally worship the god who ostensibly created snot, farts, and lumbago. Laaaaame.

  5. says

    It is a neat trick. They use the precise arguments that evolution debunked. And they try to use them to debunk evolution.

    “How did life get complex and seemingly designed” is literally the question that evolution answered to begin with. Asking it again just means you failed at science literacy.

    Saying “Looks designed so it couldn’t have evolved” is just … ignorance of what evolution even is or does. Making things “look designed” is just a normal, known result of evolution.

    It’s kind of stunning.

  6. leerudolph says

    even a minor shower becomes computationally impossible.

    Well, it becomes effectively impossible to (accurately) simulate it computationally. On the other hand, the shower does a supremely accurate job of computing itself

  7. says

    I’d like to elaborate on something I said:
    there are the long-term effects of wiring from, say, 1930 still affecting buildings today even though that wiring no longer exists.

    The point there is that complexity is not simply the end-state of the system; it’s a property of how the system assembled itself. There are aspects of a city wiring plan that are incomprehensible because they are a result of things that have come and gone generations ago. The fact that, for example, power mains run down a certain street is not because “goddidit” but maybe because that’s where streetcars went, once upon a time, and now the streetcars are gone.

    Another thing regarding complexity that is really silly is the Mandelbrot set. Very simple rules go in, unfathomable complexity comes out. The only thing we can conclude is that godddidit.

  8. says

    Unfathomable complexity seems to be evidence “mandidit” not “Goddidit,” especially not an omniscient, omnipotent God as is positted by Christians; therefore, humans designed themselves using the evidenciary process of “if it looks so, it must be so,” so popular with Christian “thinkers” in the ID world.

  9. says

    Jonathan Norburg:
    Unfathomable complexity seems to be evidence “mandidit” not “Goddidit,”

    At the very least it’s evidence that a committee of defense contractors did it, not a supreme being.

  10. bcwebb says

    When life is looked at from an engineering perspective the immediate reaction is if life is designed, life is designed by a confused idiot who started somewhere and then lost track and then started throwing on patches until it worked well enough. It works really well as a whole but every piece is a little messed up or overly complex or works by accident. Huge fractions of the DNA system are broken or duplicated or redundant. What exactly is the system that makes me sneeze all summer really trying to do anyway? Then there are the shoulder problems. And the fact that humans can choke to death and dogs generally can’t. And the human birth canal. And spinal discs.

  11. Alt-X says

    Looking at something complex and saying something simple made it, seems like they’re disproving their own claim.

    Oh, you see how complex this is? God made it! Well, that’s a simple answer to a complex question. He just poofs things out of air, yes, very complex! /facepalm

  12. woodyemanuel says

    It’s always puzzled me that if creationists’ “God” was so damn all-powerful to be able create the universe and everything therein, why wouldn’t he/she/it be able to do it simply? Why would “complexity” even be a thing?

  13. PaulBC says


    In a similar vein, I’ve considered that the focus of cdesign proponentsists on the “complexity” of life’s mechanisms is very much a retrenchment from religious beliefs of even 100 years ago. Behe’s fixation on bacterial flagella as a machine is an implicit admission that vitalism has been debunked. That might not seem like such a big deal in the present context, but you really don’t have to go back that far in history to find the strongly held belief that living and non-living matter is fundamentally different (and vitalism hasn’t really been purged from popular culture–particularly with regard to nutrition–though it has retreated to the margins).

    I have sometimes thought that instead of always keeping the debate focused the parts creationists choose to dispute, it would be worthwhile to have them acknowledge all the ground they have already conceded since Paley’s time before allowing the debate to begin.

  14. DLC says

    Much like flat earthers, they seem to be in denial of reality. Some of them even to the point of believing that they can build phony Ark museums and people will pay to go there in numbers sufficient to keep the place open.