Myth #3. Evolution Is Random & Life Is Too Complex
When someone says that we are simply too complex to have been a product of evolution, they are making an argument that is commonly referred to as irreducible complexity. I've listened to Christian apologetics like Ken Ham and Lee Strobel make this argument frequently. The term "irreducible complexity" was coined by Michael Behe who is a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He argues that humans cannot be the product of evolution because we have so many complex parts. If even one of those parts were missing, we wouldn't be alive. Plenty of examples are given to try and support this theory including watches, mousetraps, the human eye, blood clotting, and arches. None of these things would be functional until all of the parts were there. Using an arch as an example, the arch could not support itself during construction. It can't support anything until it is completed. Sounds valid, right?
People like Behe, Ham, and Strobel assume that if something is complex, then it "must be" divinely created. I liken these people to audience members at a magic show who chalk up the appearance of a rabbit from a hat to real magic. Science has continually chipped away at the complex and magical to reveal natural explanations. In the arch example, we build scaffolding to provide support while we add the stones to the arch. Once the arch is built, we take away the scaffolding. If you had never seen the scaffolding in the first place, the arch would appear to be irreducibly complex, but when you understand how it's built, the magic disappears. The same process occurs in nature and I think it does a great job highlighting the principles of natural selection. What once may have been considered advantageous can eventually have the ability to become essential. Conversely, something that was once deemed essential can one day be discarded because it is no longer needed. In our own bodies, we see things that we would consider to be irreducibly complex, but that doesn't mean that there weren't components in the past used to "support" the building of these complex things. Just as the scaffolding is eventually removed when it is no longer useful, these support structures in our bodies can be removed as well.
I had once heard someone use the example of Jenga to help explain this concept further. Jenga is a game with 54 wooden blocks that get stacked upon each other to build a tower. Players then try to remove a single block at a time from any level. Creationists and evolutionists could look at the same Jenga tower and see a complex structure and wonder how it could have gotten so tall and not fallen over. Creationists believe that the Jenga tower was instantly willed into existence exactly as we see it. Evolutionists believe that the tower was built block by block over time. The end result isn't irreducibly complex when you know how it's built.
While the argument isn't new, Michael Behe's coining of the term "irreducible complexity" has given proponents of intelligent design false support for their views. His views on intelligent design have prompted the Lehigh University to issue the following disclaimer on its website: "While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally and should not be regarded as scientific."
Behe has appeared in multiple court cases testifying in support of intelligent design, but none more important than Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. In an attempt to show how First Amendment rights were being violated, this case was an attempt to force the subject of creationism to be taught in the classroom. Behe was called as the primary witness for the defense and he was tasked with providing evidence to support intelligent design. It's one thing to present intelligent design as "science" to people who aren't trained to critically evaluate the "evidence". It's something entirely different to present the same information in a court of law and doing so while under oath.
The judge in the case ultimately ruled that intelligent design is not scientific and therefore did not have to be taught in public schools under the banner of science. In his findings, the judge used a great deal of Behe's testimony against him71.
- "Consider, to illustrate, that Professor Behe remarkably and unmistakably claims that the plausibility of the argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God"
- "As no evidence in the record indicates that any other scientific proposition's validity rests on belief in God, nor is the Court aware of any such scientific propositions, Professor Behe's assertion constitutes substantial evidence that in his view, as is commensurate with other prominent ID leaders, ID is a religious and not a scientific proposition."
- "What is more, defense experts concede that ID is not a theory as that term is defined by the NAS and admit that ID is at best 'fringe science' which has achieved no acceptance in the scientific community."
- "We therefore find that Professor Behe's claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large."
- "In fact, on cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He was presented with fifty eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not 'good enough'."
The point here is that once the concept of irreducible complexity is properly scrutinized by qualified people, it loses all support. Natural selection can and does provide an elegant explanation for the complexity that we see, and we don't need a great and powerful wizard hiding behind the curtains to create it. For example, spend a few minutes with creationists and you're bound to hear the popular argument of the watchmaker. If you were walking along the beach and found a watch, you could look at all of the complicated parts within it and easily come to the conclusion that the watch was intelligently designed. A higher intelligence designed each part of that watch with a particular function in mind. The watch is too improbable to have been created on its own. It could not have arisen through a purely random process, and if one part of the watch ceases to function, the whole watch stops ticking. We couldn't expect a tornado to blow through a hardware store and randomly assemble a working watch. When this scenario is applied to human beings, the human body becomes our watch and God becomes the watchmaker. Under this scenario, it is argued that human life could only have come about through intelligent design.
When proponents of intelligent design like Behe argue for this type of inclusion in public schools alongside the legitimate science of evolution, I have to ask how this is markedly different than someone arguing for the inclusion of any other pseudoscientific topic. The request is as inappropriate as it is bizarre. Should we have astrology taught alongside astronomy? Perhaps the syllabus could delve into the scientific facts surrounding horoscopes, tarot cards, and psychic readings after the topics of meteorites, The Big Bang, and terrestrial planets have been explained. Should we have alchemy taught alongside chemistry? Perhaps that syllabus could cover the scientific process of turning common metals into gold, the process for summoning spirits, and the list of ingredients within the elixir of life after the periodic table of elements, atomic structures, and chemical equations have been explained. Creationism simply doesn't belong in the public school system. For those parents who can't bear the thought of having their children taught evolution instead of creationism, there is a wonderful alternative: parochial schools. As President Ulysses S. Grant said in 1875, "Church and State" should be "forever separate." Faith and the teaching of it should remain relegated to churches, families, and privately-financed schools. Intelligent Design is, as the courts have declared, a pseudoscience devoid of support from the scientific community. As such, it should not be presented in a scientific manner within a public school setting. In fact, it hasn't earned the right to be presented in a scientific manner anywhere.