Specified complexity

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Specified complexity is a term coined by chemist Leslie Orgel in his book The Origins of Life (1973) to describe the criteria by which living organisms are distinguished from non-living matter. As such it is entirely compatible with Darwinian theory. It has since been misappropriated by mathematician and Christian apologist William Dembski in support of intelligent design "theory". It is used by creationists, in tandem with irreducible complexity, as a cornerstone in their fallacious argument from design.

"[...] when we conclude that intelligence created the first cell or the human brain, it’s not simply because we lack evidence of a natural explanation; it’s also because we have positive, empirically detectable evidence for an intelligent cause. A message (specified complexity) is empirically detectable.[1]"


The Design Inference

In his 1998 monograph The Design Inference Dembski asserts that specified complexity can be observed in a configuration when it contains a large amount of independently specified information and is complex. He explains:
"A single letter of the alphabet is specified without being complex. A long sentence of random letters is complex without being specified. A Shakespearean sonnet is both complex and specified."


"Dembski's work is riddled with inconsistencies, equivocation, flawed use of mathematics, poor scholarship, and misrepresentation of others' results. [2]"
"We cannot calculate the probability that an eye came about. We don't have the information to make the calculation.[3]"


  1. I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist
  2. Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit, (2003). Information Theory, Evolutionary Computation, and Dembski's 'Complex Specified Information'
  3. Martin Nowak (2005). Time Magazine, [August 2005, page 32]

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