Challenge Response: Snowflakes Are Complex without a Designer

Here's my response to this week's challenge:


Read more posts

This week's challenge comes from a website called “Truth Saves.” It says, “Yes, life is complex, but that doesn't mean it requires a conscious designer. A snowflake is complex, and it doesn't require a conscious designer.”

This challenge annoys me a little bit because it shows that the challenger really hasn't tried to understand the argument on the other side. This challenge admits that life is complex, but this complexity does not require a conscious designer. As evidence for their view, they point to the complexity of a snowflake, which we know results from natural law – the binding properties of a water molecule – and chance – the crystal’s random path through a cloud. They conclude that if complexity can arise in the form of snowflake, then why not with life?

This argument trades on the notion of complexity. Namely, that all complexity is the same, that is. What does it mean to say a snowflake is complex, and what does it mean to say that life is complex? This is an example of the first Columbo question, “What do you mean by that?” It seems to me that this argument only works if the word “complexity” is being used in the exact same way for the snowflake as for life, but this is obviously false. There's a clear difference between a snowflake and life that leads many people to conclude that one is designed and the other isn't.

The snowflake exhibits ordered complexity. A snowflake, or ice crystal, is a repetitive arrangement of atoms, and so it's ordered complexity. Think of coding a computer with the instructions to type A B C and D, and then repeat it over and over again. This is highly repetitive complexity. In this case, an ice crystal is just a highly repetitive geometric order, but the complexity we find in life isn't like that at all. 

Proteins and DNA are sequence-specific. For example, the sequence of nucleotide bases in the DNA of every living cell is not some random or repetitive arrangement. Instead, the bases are sequence-specific to code for functional proteins, and the laws of physics and chemistry don't determine the sequence. This is called specified complexity.

Specified complexity combines high improbability with an independently given pattern. In the case of a DNA, the specific sequence codes for, or gives instructions to make, functional proteins. In fact, Richard Dawkins admits there is enough information capacity in a single human cell to store the entire Encyclopedia Britannica – all thirty volumes of it – three to four times over.

The difference between a snowflake and DNA or protein is like the difference between a book containing nothing but A B C D repeated and a book of Shakespeare. One is ordered complexity, and the other is specified complexity. It's the latter that bears the hallmarks of a designer.

Let me leave you with a final illustration. Scientists are searching the heavens to find signs of life. We have detected electromagnetic pulses from distant stars, but nobody thinks this is intelligent life trying to communicate with us. Why? Because the pulse is just a highly repetitive sequence easily producible by natural phenomena, like stars. However, imagine we received a sequence of pulses that match the series of prime numbers from 1 to 101. The short sequence of numbers would lead any reasonable person back toward designing intelligence. Why? Because it's not merely word complexity, it’s specified complexity, and we know from our uniform and repeated experience that complex specified information always comes from a mind.

video |
Tim Barnett