The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Irreducible Complexity, Reduced

I’ll admit up front that I’m no scientist. I got as far as physical science in high school, took botany and geology in college, and never looked back once I’d taken all the science I needed to graduate. So, I’m not a scientist, but I’m married to someone with a degree in chemistry and a medical school diploma. So when the hubby informed me, before running off to a meeting, that PBS was airing a program on the “Intelligent Design” fiasco that erupted in Dover, Pennsylvania, I knew I had to watch it.

So, even though it started while I was putting Parker to bed, when I came back downstairs I turned on Nova and watched “Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial”.

All I have to say is this: watch it. When it airs again, watch it. When it’s available for viewing online on November 16, watch it. If they’re old enough, park your kids in front of the television and make them watch it. Watch it for a couple of reasons; one because the explanations of science are so well done that even a non-scientist like myself understands what the scientists are talking about, but also because you begin to understand something about the other side too.


One of the most amazing segments of the program focused on “irreducible complexity,” which involved the use of bacterial flagellum as an example of irreducible complexity.

The ID proponents (“ID-iots?”) define “irreducible complexity” this way:

Irreducible complexity (IC) is an argument made by intelligent design proponents that certain biological systems are too complex to have evolved from simpler, or “less complete” predecessors, and are at the same time too complex to have arisen naturally through chance mutations. It is one of two main arguments intended to support intelligent design, the other being specified complexity. The consensus of the scientific community is to reject intelligent design as not science,but creationism.

But after watching the program, and the clear connection between “Intelligent Design” and religion, I came upon my own definition of irreducible complexity. It is not the point at which a biological system is so complex that it can only have been created by an intelligent designer. It is the point at which some people simply stop thinking about that or any other biological system. It is a boundary on the map of human knowledge beyond which are written the words, “Here be dragons.” And at that boundary, some people stop asking questions. They have to, because hell yawns beyond that boundary.

When you have to believe something in order to get into heaven, and you will spend all of in hell if you don’t believe it or if you believe anything else, at some point you stop asking questions. You have to, if you don’t want to go to hell.

It is as though you are standing in a room, and at the other end of that room is the gate to hell. You arm is outstretched, and in your hand is the key to that date. Every question asked and answered by scientific inquiry is a step that takes you closer to that gate. Ask one question, and you take a step closer. Answer another one and you take another step. Keep asking and you’re walking across the room. Before you know it, the key is in the lock, and one more question may turn the key.

But not only must you stop asking questions, but you must stop others from asking questions if you believe in a “designer” that punishes entire cities and entire nations for tolerating disbelief. Because every step they take, every inquiry, every question asked takes them towards that gate that must stay locked, not just to keep out what’s on the other side, but because if the gate is ever opened, only one thing can be worse than what it unleashes, and that’s if it unleashes nothing at all.

At least if the very foundations of your reality depends on that gate staying closed and what you say is on the other side of it staying what you say it is and where you say it is.

It goes back to the Pema Chodron quote I keep coming back to.

The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God. It is an issue that applies to everyone, including both Buddhists and nonBuddhists. Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there’s always going to be a babysitter available when we need one. We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves. Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.

For those who want something to hold on to, life is even more inconvenient. From this point of view, theism is an addiction. We’re all addicted to hope — hope that the doubt and mystery will go away. This addiction has a painful effect on society: a society based on lots of people addicted to getting ground under their feet is not a very compassionate place.

That ambiguity and uncertainty that Chodron talks about embracing is intolerable because of precisely the reasons Sheila Kennedy God and Country: America in Red and Blue.

[Gordon] Allport believed that the former group could be educated to see past their casually adopted, culturally sanctioned attitudes. Those whose worldviews were rigid, however, who were so emotionally invested in a particular view of reality that the loss of any one piece of it would be experienced as a threat to their very identity, were beyond reach.

After all, according to some people the real torment of hell — as with the frozen heart of Date’s vision — is separation from one’s god. That’s what’s on the other side of the gate. That’s why you must not open it, and you must prevent others from getting to close to opening it.

The program is a must see for many reasons; the scientific explanations that many people have probably never heard or thought they couldn’t understand, the revelation of “intelligent design” as pseudo-science, or look into the methods and motivations of the other side. Though the subject never came up, I couldn’t help but consider the methods (and madness) are the same type applied to

It’s bound to benefit anyone, with arguments that are effective ammunition and invaluable insights.

Unless, of course, you believe there are just somethings we shouldn’t know.

One Comment

  1. Great post. The boundary at which some people stop asking questions. I think you nailed this definition. Nicely done.

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