Progress is Not Inevitable

A common misunderstanding of evolutionary processes we see here is the notion of inevitable ‘progress’, from less complex to more complex. But an analogous concept is the notion of inevitable scientific ‘progress’. Neither is an accurate understanding.

Evolution is not driven by a drive toward complexity, and nor is it teleological - driven toward a pre-specified goal. It is driven by adaptations to a specific ecological niche that will allow genes to be passed on. (And I understand that ‘driven’ itself is potentially problematic in that it can suggest intention… I don’t mean that, just the combination of processes that leads to adaptation.)

But ecological niches change as climate changes, and as the populations of other related species changes, and so on. Something that is a move toward the ability to pass on genes at one time might be a move away at another time. Then there are contingent extinction events and other issues of that nature.

This means evolution is full of branches that end, and species that change from more complex to less (e.g loss of sight in cave fish whose ancestors had it when it no longer offers an advantage).

It means that “oh, that’s ‘devolution’, checkmate evolutionists!” is a non-argument.

Similarly, science is full of mis-steps, dead ends, blind alleys like phlogiston theory and the lumeniferous aether. Science is human-directed toward human purposes, but it is humanly fallible and progress is not inevitable for any particular concept at any particular time… but the aggregate across all of science does tend toward more and better understandings of the world around us.


Yes, I understand all that and I think most people do - I think biologists don’t actually understand what people are asking.

What I see you arguing for in your post is a theory of evolution from a creationist perspective. We already know that works.

Explain how complexity can ARISE from current evolutionary theory. I’d like an argument from an area that doesn’t consider design that we already know exists because we see evidence of it in the present: the fossil record, embryonic development, nested heirarchies, similar genomic patterns, etc.

So far I’ve seen arguments for one beneficial mutation in HIV, one or two beneficial mutations in humans, one beneficial mutation in COVID (but other research contradicts that) and orders of magnitude more mutations we know have happened that are neutral or deleterious.

What am I not understanding about current theory?

Tell me what complexity is with a definition. Something that tells me how to measure complexity, so I can determine if one thing A is more or less complex than another thing B. A quantity, a unit of complexity and a way to measure it.

Like kilogram measured with a weight, or inches measured with a ruler, or time measured with a clock, or electric current measured with a multimeter.

A definition that will allow me to answer questions such as these:

Is a colony of 4, or 200, or 1 million cells, all of which are clones of each other, more complex than just a single cell?

If I have an environment with just a single clonal population, and this population becomes two co-existing populations each of which are almost identical but for a few mutations different between them, and each population is slightly more specialized towards different aspects of this environment, has it become more complex?

Is the sequence ATATATATA more or less complex than the same sequence twice?:

Is the sequence ATATATATA more or less complex than the same sequence with a A->G substitution mutation in it?: ATATATGTA

If I have one gene A that can perform six functions (1,2,3,4,5,6) at a low level, and this evolves into six different genes A1 A2 A3 A4 A5 A6 that can each perform one of these six functions, but at a high level, is the system with those six specialized genes more complex than the system with just one generalist gene A?

If I have an environment with two types of organisms H and S, and one type of organism H ingests the other organism S, but S continues to live inside of H, and it turns out H and S have become dependent on each other to survive (if I remove H then S dies, and if I remove S then H dies), has the co-dependent system H+S become more complex than H and S by themselves?

I have my own thoughts about it, but if they don’t correspond to yours it’s pointless to try to answer your question. So give me your definition of complexity, or at the very least, tell me what your answer is to the hypothetical examples I give above.


I do not understand that sentence. Could you clarify what you’re asking for and what it has to do with the stuff after the colon?

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Very good question. I perhaps need to study biology more to answer it.

My answers in terms of biology:


No, not necessarily and perhaps less complex.

The same.

The same.



Hopefully my answers help move the discussion forward even if I don’t have a definition. But see below.

Perhaps I’m asking for how one explains that more information arises without pointing to information that we currently see. The examples many give seem like begging the question to me.

To continue @Rumraket’s line of questioning, is an organism with identical proportions but slightly different scale more complex? How about slightly different proportions?

No, and no. That would make babies or children more or less complex than adults.

Then there is no complexity in need of explanation.

I think so. At the very least I think you have to think more about what complexity is, in general.

Interesting. That would imply you don’t consider the origin of colony formation, or even the origin of multicellularity an increase in complexity.

What if I tell you the cells on the outside of the colony are expressing their genes differently from those on the inside of the colony?

When you say not necessarily and state it might even have become less complex, what is it that makes you think so? What is this unstated condition you have in mind?

Okay good. What if I tell you that the same sequence twice can perform a function that only one sequence once, can not?

Okay. What if I tell you that ATATATATA was copied so you have the same sequence twice, and then the copy mutated to ATATATGTA, so you end up with ATATATATA-ATATATGTA?

Fascinating. That would imply that you would consider an organism with 200 genes equally complex to an organism with 800 genes. I have to say that does not make sense to me. For example an implication of your answers is that you don’t consider a system consisting of more individual parts than another system, to be more complex.

To make an analogy that shows how ludicrous your answer appears to me, if I were to give you a clock whose function is to tell time, and its internal mechanics had 50 gears and 20 springs and 40 nuts and bolts, you would not consider that less complex than a watch with 200 gears, 60 springs, and 152 nuts and bolts, because it still just functions to tell time.

Even more fascinating. If not outright mindboggling.

That would imply you don’t consider the origin of endosymbiosis to be a more complex system than one without. For example, that Eukaryotic organisms with mitochondria are no more complex than if they had no mitochondria. That we could take some of your cells and remove their mitochondria, and if they were able to survive this, you would not say their complexity has decreased.

Then whatever it is you then mean by complexity is highly idiosyncratic.

At this stage it seems to me you’re saying no because you’re afraid of admitting evolution can produce increases in complexity.

From my perspective there is a simple and intuitive way to understand complexity. If it has more parts, and/or can perform more functions, and/or those parts can or do interact in more ways, then it is more complex.

To me, a system with 3 parts is more complex than one with 2 part.
To me, a system that can perform 3 functions is more complex than one that can perform 2 functions.
To me, a system where the same number of parts can interact in more ways, is more complex than a system still with the same number of parts that can interact in fewer ways.

That’s how I understand the word complexity, and how I judge one thing to be more or less complex than another. The organism with 6 genes instead of 1 is more complex. The watch with more gears, springs, and nuts and bolts, is more complex than the watch with fewer. Even though it still just tells time.

Would there be something wrong with considering babies less or more complex than adults? Is the adult brain, for example, not more functionally complex than the baby brain? Does learning not produce more behavioral complexity? And in effect, more behavioral functions?

You really do seem to be saying no just for the hell of it. Consider why you are giving such extremely non-intuitive and idiosyncratic answers to these questions of what constitutes more or less complexity.

It seems to me you really can increase the complexity of something even by simply changing it’s shape in specific ways.

I doubt that there is any way to determine this.

The baby is still creating new neurons. So maybe complexity is increasing. However, neurons are dying, so maybe complexity is decreasing.

We do not have a good definition of complexity. I doubt that we will ever have a good definition.

My classic example is to look at a sand dune. There are lots of grains of sand, all of their own unique shape. And there’s a huge number of possible arrangements of those grains of sand. So it looks enormously complex. But when I ask people, they typically say “Not complex at all; it is just a pile of sand.”

So an infant who has a brain that isnt finished developing has the same amount of complexity as a fully developed adult brain?

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Exactly how are people not more complex than bacteria or even chimpanzees? What’s your definition of complexity?

Sure. I’d like to see how others define it as well.

I would see that as created complexity expressing itself.

What I stated above.

That’s not any different.

No, this is just my understanding so far of biology, and my opinion of how the current theory can’t really produce the increases in complexity / it doesn’t have a mechanism for them to arise.

Yes, I would not consider it more complex if it has the same function, I think. But if you were comparing any clock with simple gears or parts to a cuckoo clock or a grandfather clock, I’d see either of those as more complex than a simple clock with hands that makes no noise and has no external movement.

I was just reading Carter before I logged on the forum. He had a really good analogy somewhat related to for your first paragraph, although he was referring to information, not complexity.

Case in point: A beautiful cut-glass vase can be described quite easily. All one needs is a description of the material and the location of each edge and/or vertex in 3-D space. Yet, a million-dollar vase can be smashed into a worthless pile of sand quite easily. If one wanted to recreate that pile of sand exactly, a tremendous amount of Shannon information would be required to describe the shape of each grain as well as the orientation and placement of grains within the pile. Which has more ‘information’, the pile of sand or the original vase into which a tremendous amount of purposeful design was placed? It depends on which definition of information one uses!

But do parts always have function? I’d think they can lose them.

Yeah, I disagree because each system could have two parts that work, and 1 has one that doesn’t.


No, because as we discover more interaction between the genome - folding, 3D interactions, whatever - the complexity was always there we just didn’t know about it. There could be lots of interactions we just don’t understand in any system IMO.

The baby always had the capability and complexity for those functions though. I find babies highly complex - they are just different than adults in the way that they function. So there’s just change in function over time, but not an increase in complexity.

True. That’s why it’s interesting to find out how people define it.

That’s funny. I didn’t get down to your post until I had copied Carter above, but the analogy is similar.

Now you all will find anywhere I wasn’t being consistent.

I have no idea, but somehow that is what you think. Every sort of difference between humans and bacteria has been mentioned by myself or @Rumraket, and to each you’ve said ‘not complexity’. If you think humans are more complex than bacteria (a very reasonable position, I must say), you should reassess your answers.


My answers are consistent with the idea that your version of evolutionary theory doesn’t work. You’re asking me to take your position, which doesn’t make sense.

All of the examples you mention I don’t see as an increase in complexity.

Why do you think what you said is an increase in complexity?

They represent an increase in the number of functional relationships within the system. I think of complexity as a measure of the difficulty of fully describing a system. Both of these leave a degree of subjectivity in the definition (what is ‘functional’, who is describing), but both at least point towards an objective definition.


OK. Do you have children? If you do, please let me know if you find them easier to describe (assuming you would also think they are less complex). If you don’t, and do someday, let me know then. I’d be curious. :slight_smile:

People find their own children more interesting than objectively reasonable. I can describe other children more simply than most adults, because they aren’t particularly interesting. That is of course also subjective, but I’ve already said that is a flaw in my current construction of complexity.

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It depends … are the children teenagers??? :laughing:


This is an excellent example. I would say that “highly” in your description is an understatement. :grinning:

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