TRIZ and Intelligent Design: a Shared Misconception.

G. L. Filkovsky, TRIZ Master,
Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles


Some opponents of Darwinism recently championed "Intelligent Design" as an alternative. One of their main arguments against the theory of evolution is, "irreducible complexity". This argument is based on a mistaken concept of evolution. TRIZ concept of evolution makes the same mistake.

The analysis and quotations below regarding the theory of evolution is based on "The Special Report: Intelligent Design ?" by The American Museum of Natural History published in the April 2002 issue of "Natural History Magazine" ( and reprinted at various other web sites (see e.g.

Irreducible Complexity

Darwin himself set the standard for testing his theory of evolution: "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." Systems that cannot be formed by such successive modifications are called irreducibly complex.

Prof. Michael J. Behe, a proponent of intelligent design, says:

"An everyday example of an irreducibly complex system is the humble mousetrap. It consists of (1) a flat wooden platform or base; (2) a metal hammer, which crushes the mouse; (3) a spring with extended ends to power the hammer; (4) a catch that releases the spring; and (5) a metal bar that connects to the catch and holds the hammer back. You can't catch a mouse with just a platform, then add a spring and catch a few more mice, then add a holding bar and catch a few more. All the pieces have to be in place before you catch any mice....

We frequently observe such systems in cell organelles, in which the removal of one element would cause the whole system to cease functioning. The flagella of bacteria are a good example. They are outboard motors that bacterial cells can use for self-propulsion. They have a long, whip-like propeller that is rotated by a molecular motor. The propeller is attached to the motor by a universal joint. The motor is held in place by proteins that act as a stator. Other proteins act as bushing material to allow the driveshaft to penetrate the bacterial membrane. Dozens of different kinds of proteins are necessary for a working flagellum. In the absence of almost any of them, the flagellum does not work or cannot even be built by the cell....

Still another example is the exquisitely coordinated mechanism that causes blood to clot."

Prof. Kenneth R. Miller replies:

"Behe's own example, the mousetrap, shows what's wrong with this idea. Take away two parts (the catch and the metal bar), and you may not have a mousetrap but you do have a three-part machine that makes a fully functional tie clip or paper clip. Take away the spring, and you have a two-part key chain. The catch of some mousetraps could be used as a fishhook, and the wooden base as a paperweight; useful applications of other parts include everything from toothpicks to nutcrackers and clipboard holders. The point, which science has long understood, is that bits and pieces of supposedly irreducibly complex machines may have different but still useful functions....

A small group of proteins from the flagellum does work without the rest of the machine it's used by many bacteria as a device for injecting poisons into other cells....

The key proteins that clot blood fit this pattern, too. They're actually modified versions of proteins used in the digestive system."

The misconception

Intelligent Design's argument of irreducible complexity is based on idea that if a system evolves from A to B, then both A and B perform the same function, only B does it better. This idea is flawed. It could happen sometimes, but it is not necessary. A system usually evolves from A to B to C, while the systems A, B, C simply perform different functions.


The above misconception is exactly the TRIZ concept of evolution. It is the definition of evolution in TRIZ: a system evolves to perform its function better. A system changes, the function stays. This is the only kind of evolution TRIZ considers in all its laws, principles, and examples.


TRIZ is limited to a kind of evolution, which constitutes only an insignificant subset of evolution processes. This makes the use of TRIZ equally insignificant.