The Laughing Mouse

"Irreducible complexity"

“…Natural selection can only choose systems that are already working… if a biological system cannot be produced gradually it would have to arise as an integrated unit, in one fell swoop, for natural selection to have anything to act on.” 1

Irreducibly complex mechanisms, living or man-made, require a system of co-dependent components in order to function.

Today’s world turns on personal computers. Take away the hard drive and the irreducibly complex machine becomes useless junk. Without a keyboard or the electronic mouse, the machine would simply stand-by, waiting for instructions—but unable to function.

 © Stephen Coburn

Like man-made computers, animal and plant life forms could not exist without all DNA components in place. Biochemist Michael J. Behe coined landmark phraseology when he suggested molecular systems in living organisms are “irreducibly complex.” He illustrates the world of molecular machines by citing the mousetrap as a prime example. A mousetrap is close to the simplest human-designed mechanism imaginable. When all its components function in unison, the trap destroys mice. Remove any single part, and the killer trap morphs into harmless fragments of useless matter.

The simple but irreducibly complex mousetrap consists of five basic parts anchored by four staples. It requires the complete, designed package of parts for minimal function. A spring too weak, a trigger too short, or a missing staple and the mouse might steal the cheese, survive unscathed and scoot away safely with the last laugh.

One skeptic suggests the trap could do without the wooden base by stapling the trap’s metal parts to the floor. The argument fails, for the floor itself becomes an essential part of the mechanism.

A fully functioning mousetrap is the product of human intelligence. No one argues that inanimate machines design and build themselves without input from an intelligent source.

Design and construction of living molecular mechanisms require input from an intelligent source. Living mechanisms display designs infinitely more complex than objects designed by human intelligence. Assembling operational living systems requires insight beyond nature’s whims.

“Canyons separating everyday life forms have their counterparts in the canyons that separate biological systems on a microscopic scale. Like a fractal pattern in mathematics…unbridgeable chasms occur even at the tiniest level of life.” 2

Whether whales transitioning from bears, or birds from dinosaurs, part-way-there transitional forms couldn’t survive a gradualist genetic journey.

A prime example of irreducible complexity in the living world is the bacterial flagellum, a molecular machine which functions with 40 basic components, 30 of which are unique.

The flagellum’s microscopic propeller cranks at an amazing 100,000 RPM (Rotations Per Minute) and is capable of abruptly stopping and reversing on a quarter turn. If any single component is missing, the entire organism breaks down. Time is of the essence. It’s an all-or-nothing scenario; each component must be in place simultaneously for the living mechanism to function. 3

“Irreducible complexity” is the joker in evolution’s card deck. Organs of living systems cannot evade this cardinal principle. Human eyes could not see without optic nerves and could not survive without the built-in luxury of being bathed by the soothing liquid of lachrymal glands.

Behe cites the chemical apparatus marshaled by the half-inch bombardier beetle as an irreducibly complex system in action. When threatened by an enemy it can release a scalding hot liquid as a defense.

“The components of the system are (1) hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone, which are produced by the secretory lobes; (2) the enzyme catalysts, which are made by the ectodermal glands; (3) the collecting vesicle; (4) the sphincter muscle; (5) the explosion chamber; and (6) the outlet duct.” 4

Behe inquires rhetorically: “What exactly are the stages of beetle evolution, in all their complex glory? Second, given these stages, how does Darwinism get us from one to the next?” 4

“As the number of required parts increases, the difficulty of gradually putting the system together skyrockets, and the likelihood of indirect scenarios plummets.

“Darwin looks more and more forlorn.” 5

 © Rob Hainer

Living cells anchor living systems—whether humans or insects. DNA, the language of life, designs the difference.

Irreducibly complex blood powers animal life. Custom-designed formulas match the needs of each species. One of four blood types flows through human arteries and veins. Egyptian mummies share identical bloodlines with modern Homo sapiens, unchanged after thousands of years. Transfusing blood from ape to man can kill; extreme blood loss can kill; blood too thin to clot can kill; and blood that clots at the wrong time and place can kill.

Behe emphasizes the magical qualities of clotting.

“If blood congeals at the wrong time or place…the clot may block circulation as it does in heart attacks and strokes…A clot has to stop bleeding all along the length of the cut, sealing it completely. Yet blood clotting must be confined to the cut or the entire blood system of the animal might solidify, killing it.” 6

Properly functioning blood clotting in the human circulatory system that can save life involves no fewer than twenty steps.

“The blood coagulation cascade” utilizes “proteins in promoting clot formation” and proteins “involved in the prevention, localization, or removal of blood clots.” 7

“None of the cascade proteins are used for anything but controlling the formation of a blood clot. Yet in the absence of any one of the components, blood does not clot, and the system fails…Not only is the entire blood-clotting system irreducibly complex, but so is each step in the pathway.” 8

“Remember a mousetrap spring might in some way resemble a clock spring, and a crowbar might resemble a mousetrap hammer, but the similarities say nothing about how a mousetrap is produced.

“In order to claim that a species developed gradually by a Darwinian mechanism a person must show that the function of the system could ‘have been formed by numerous successive, slight modifications.’” 9

Statistics say, “No way!”

Blood clotting could not evolve “by numerous successive, slight modifications.”

Tissue Plasminogen Activator binds to several substances including fibrin. TPA “has four different types of domains…the odds of getting those four domains together is 30,000 to the fourth power.

“Now if the Irish Sweepstakes had odds of winning of one-tenth to the eighteenth power, and if a million people played the lottery each year, it would take an average of about a thousand billion years before anyone (not just a particular person) won the lottery.

“A thousand billion years is roughly a hundred times the current estimate of the age of the universe.” 10

“We calculated the odds of getting TPA alone to be one-tenth to the eighteenth power; the odds of getting TPA and its activator together would be about one-tenth to the thirty-sixth power…

“Such an event would not be expected to happen even if the universe’s ten-billion year life compressed into a single second and relived for every second for ten billion years…the fact is, no one on earth has the vaguest idea how the cascade coagulation came to be.” 11

Michael Denton dismisses “gradual accumulation of random changes” as unsustainable in light of irreducible complexity.

“My fundamental problem with the theory is that there are so many highly complicated organs, systems and structures, from the nature of the lung of a bird, to the eye of the rock lobster, for which I cannot conceive of how these things have come about in terms of a gradual accumulation of random changes.

“It strikes me as being a flagrant denial of common sense to swallow that all these things were built up by accumulative small random changes. This is simply a nonsensical claim…a huge number of highly complex systems in nature cannot be plausibly accounted for in terms of a gradual build-up of small random mutations…

“Everybody knows the lung of the bird is unique in being a circulatory lung rather than a bellows lung…It doesn’t require a great deal of profound knowledge of biology to see that an organ, which is so central to the physiology of any higher organism, its drastic modification in that way by a series of small events is almost inconceivable.

“This is something we can’t throw under the carpet again because, basically, as Darwin said, if any organ can be shown to be incapable of being achieved gradually in little steps, his theory would be totally overthrown.” 12

The “break down” time that concerned Darwin, knocks at the door.

Michael Denton’s analysis takes Darwin at his word, challenging gradualism’s imaginary make-believe as inadequate substitute for fact.

“If anyone was chasing a phantom or retreating from empiricism it was surely Darwin, who himself freely admitted that he had absolutely no hard empirical evidence that any of the major evolutionary transformations he proposed had ever actually occurred. It was Darwin himself who admitted in a letter to Asa Gray, that one’s ‘imagination must fill-up the very wide blanks.’” 13

Donald R. Moeller, a science researcher blessed with professional credentials as both physician and dentist, shoots down any possibility that unique dentition sizes and shapes result from mutations. A “transiting” animal life form would likely starve if left waiting for “numerous, successive, slight modifications” to evolve the dentition essential for a new organism.

Moeller’s logic devastates Neo-Darwinism’s core dogma’s reliance on those “slight modifications.” Modern craniofacial/maxillofacial genetics demonstrates that pleiotropy is present in approximately one hundred genetic disorders.

“Thus the simplistic idea of genetic mutations being able to cause only incremental small useful changes in the occlusion and/or jaw relationships is not supported by current research. There are no known mutations affecting single tooth morphology or single tooth enamel microstructure.

“Multiple examples of malposed teeth, cysts in jaws, retained deciduous teeth, maxillary‑mandibular growth and size discoordination, losses of entire classes of teeth, variation in eruption height of the various classes of teeth, tooth size arch‑discrepancy variation, animal size, and tooth size coordination, should be in the fossil record.

“This evidence is not seen…

“There is also no known genetic or developmental process to suggest a legitimate mechanism to support an evolutionary basis for the development of the precision exhibited by the dental apparatus.” 14

Darwin assembled a wish list of uncorroborated assertions, predictions, preconceptions, and assumptions in weaving together the whole cloth of accidental life without design or designer.

He “ransacked other spheres of practical research work for ideas…“But his whole resulting scheme remains, to this day, foreign to scientifically established zoology, since actual changes of species by such means are still unknown.” 15

All living mechanisms function irreducibly complex.

Molecular mechanism design requires intelligence beyond the quirks of nature’s whims. Assembling complex systems requires oversight. It’s all or nothing with the human eye. Sight is contingent upon every lens and blood vessel being fully operational; the same with ears, hearts, and lungs.

The eye of an arthropod also astounds. Arthropod eyes “have always been complex—and there have always been arthropods…The bee’s ability to convey the location of a food source to fellow workers via a sophisticated ‘dance’ is legendary.” 16

Trilobites “could see an undistorted image under water…with undistorted vision in all directions…to determine distance…while at the same time have the optimum sensor for motion detection.” 17 Peacocks spread their iridescent feathers with ear-piercing screams, notifying neighborhoods of intruders, while announcing their unique, irreducibly complex radiance.

Park Rangers at Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake explain that a bird (like the red-tailed hawk, blessed with acute vision extending a mile in any direction) couldn’t survive in the wild with a single eye. Gradualist eye evolution, beginning with tissue theoretically able to recognize light, certainly couldn’t do the trick. Blind-man’s-bluff is not a game birds of prey can play.

A hawk flapping half-formed wings while trying to hunt with eyes scarcely able to detect night from day couldn’t feed or protect itself. A less “evolved” parent, even if miraculously alive, couldn’t help its crippled offspring. Whether an eye, wing, or foot, however long its “evolution,” the part could never function in half-done format. Extinction intrudes long before expiration of evolution’s mega-million years of deep time.

Irreducible complexity comes into play ecologically.

Swallows swoop down to mud puddles, scavenging nest material. Eagles build 3-foot wide nests in treetops. Arrayed in multi-colored hues and oversize beaks, parrots mimic human sounds. Not to be outdone, Australia’s lyrebirds replicate the diverse sounds of fire alarms, chain saws, mill whistles, barking dogs and even crying babies.

Virtually nothing, either in the fossil record, molecular biology, or today’s experience, confirms existence of partially or non-functioning intermediates linking these magnificent birds to reptile ancestors —or any other animal kind.

“Scientists have now discovered that a little pink male hummingbird called Anna’s Hummingbird is the real Top Gun among the birds. As part of its mating ritual, a male hummingbird will try to impress a female with his speed and acrobatics.

“First, the male will fly up to about 90 feet above the ground. Then, he begins a power dive. As he nears the female, he pulls up, ascending again. During that near-miss pull-up he experiences more than nine times the force of gravity.

“His relative speed during descent is 385 body-lengths per second. That’s almost twice the peregrine falcon’s relative speed. It’s faster than the space shuttle entering the Earth’s atmosphere and is more than twice the relative speed of a jet fighter running with afterburners!” 18

Plant and animal life systems function co-dependently. Multiple plant and animal kinds, appearing simultaneously and functioning in concert, have provided an irreducibly complex eco-system from the beginning.

Trees contribute food and attract rainfall; water grows green grass; and pasture-grazing cattle munch the rich, grassland canopy. Natural selection works contrary to gradualism by rejecting a non-functioning component part. Normally, any incomplete but irreducibly complex cell, organ, or system would be discarded by natural selection—an action directly counter to evolution’s stairway to oblivion.

Prolonged failure to function is a recipe for the destruction of most any living system trapped interminably within a series of intermediate states. A pitiful creature attempting to evolve a wing from a leg, left unable to walk or to fly, is destined to die.

When the delicate balance of a complex life is rendered dysfunctional—life terminates. A new and different life format can’t evolve from an organism missing critical functions (e. g., the arthropod’s vision).

Nature bursts with dynamic diversity within a genome’s built-in limits to change, but irreducible complexity prevents activation of the unlimited natural selection anchoring the chance hypothesis. Partially-formed hearts and lungs are no more helpful to the survival of imagined transitionals than half-built automobiles provide reliable transportation.

Thanks to genes present from the beginning in every genome, life kinds adjust to survive while accessing nature’s smorgasbord of colors, shapes and sizes. Adjustment capability doesn’t result from mutations but comes from the genetic code already inherent in every genome. Utilization of pre-existing genes by a living, fully functional organism is not Darwin-style evolution.

Life did not require vast chunks of deep time to originate abruptly, fully formed and in perfect balance. There is no reason for an infinitely wise and all-powerful Creator to require millions of years to assemble a brain or any life system. Recognition of Supreme power accepts the plausibility of a miraculous, creation event responsive to the command of the all-powerful God of the universe in the blink of an eye.

Gradualism is out the window if tested against irreducible complexity’s all-or-nothing. A chaotic composite of non-functioning organic systems would throw ecological balance out-of-kilter, triggering across-the-board extinctions.

Darwin contemporary, Sir William Dawson, warned that when evolution was seriously scrutinized, “the whole fabric would melt away like a vision. This evolutionist doctrine is itself one of the strangest phenomena of humanity…a system destitute of any shadow of proof, and supported merely by vague analogies and figures of speech…now no one pretends that they rest on facts actually observed…

“…Evolution, as an hypothesis, has no basis in experience or in scientific fact, and that its imagined series of transmutations has breaks which cannot be filled.” 19

Irreducible complexity underscores an all-or-nothing reality!

Sir William’s prescient assessment proved on the money. The century and a half since Darwin cast his vote for molecule-to-man by accident has not been kind to the chance hypothesis.


  1. Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box. (New York: The Free Press, 1996) 39.
  2. __________, Darwin’s Black Box, 15. 
  3. __________, Darwin’s Black Box, 69-73.
  4. __________, Darwin’s Black Box, 31-36.
  5. __________, Darwin’s Black Box, 73.
  6. __________, Darwin’s Black Box, 79.
  7. __________, Darwin’s Black Box, 74-97.
  8. __________, Darwin’s Black Box, 86, 87.
  9. __________, Darwin’s Black Box, 90.
  10. __________, Darwin’s Black Box, 93, 94.
  11. __________, Darwin’s Black Box, 96, 97.
  12. Michael Denton, “An Interview with Michael Denton,” Access Research Network, Origins Research Archives, Vol. 15, Number 2, July 20, 1995.
  13.  __________, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. (Bethesda, Md.: Adler & Adler, 1986) 117, citing Darwin, C. (1858) in a letter to Asa Gray, 5 September, 1857, Zoologist, 16: 6297-99, see 6299.
  14. Donald R. Moeller, “Does a Smile Need 500 Million Years to Evolve?”, Creation, Spring Edition, 2002.
  15. Albert Fleischmann, “The Doctrine of Organic Evolution in the Light of Modern Research,” Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute 65 (1933) 19495, 2056, 2089.
  16. Frank Sherwin, “Un-Bee-lievable Vision,” Acts & Facts (El Cajon, California: Institute for Creation Research, Vol. 35, No. 2, February, 2006) 5.
  17. Steve Austin, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe  (El Cajon, California: Institute for Creation Research, 1994) 145 as cited by Frank Sherwin, “Un-Bee-lievable Vision,” Acts & Facts (El Cajon, California: ICR, Vol. 35, No. 2, February, 2006) 5.
  18. Susan Millius, “Hummingbird pulls Top Gun stunts,” Science News, 7/4/09, cited by, accessed April 28, 2016.
  19. Sir William Dawson, The Story of Earth and Man (New York: Harper and Brothers,1887) 317, 322, 330, 339. 

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