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Invention: A new idea makes it work

Invention: A new idea makes it work


Canada’s is proud of her connection with some great inventors, although sometimes the connection is a little remote. Consider the story of Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of wireless communication (radio). He spent only three weeks in St. John’s Newfoundland, but he made the city famous nonetheless. It was in mid-December 1901 that Marconi successfully received signals sent by collaborators from Cornwall, England, a distance of 3430 km (2100 miles). Within a few days Canada concluded an agreement with the inventor for the construction of a wireless communication station in Cape Breton. This provided him with a subsidized monopoly. Marconi then left Canada and the rest is history.

Of course, the events in Canada were not the beginning of the story. Marconi had worked on this invention for close to a decade. What was it that made this young man successful? The fact is that he had an idea and others did not. Thus, in a biography of Marconi we read: “What set Marconi apart from the rest was that he saw wireless communication in his mind’s eye, quite literally as telegraphy without wires……. It was Marconi who made the leap from Hertz’s lab experiments to practical wireless telegraphy using electromagnetic waves as the medium of communication. This was his original contribution.”1 All the equipment pieces were available, but Marconi had the idea to put them together to produce a radically new invention.

An invention is a new kind of object which works to accomplish a task and which requires particular knowledge to develop. Moreover, an invention is something in which the various parts must work together to accomplish the desired specific task. For example, according to Douglas Axe: “Ordinary physical causes seem adequate for explaining things that aren’t task oriented (things like atoms and stars and tornadoes), but our design intuition tells us those causes can’t explain [things that work].”2 Furthermore in living organisms “[E]ach new form of life amounts to a stunning new invention, and since the hallmark of invention is functional coherence [all parts working together] – which accidental causes can’t explain – we rightly see each form as a distinct masterpiece.”3

In the same way as Marconi conceived of radio communication, each molecular machine in living cells (and entire life forms) represents a new invention. The thing that makes these machines (and organisms) work is the idea of how to assemble the parts to produce a specific function. Here we see the work of God, the incredible designer!

Thus, some scientists point out that molecular machines and many other biological features could not evolve but would in fact have to appear complete if they were to function at all. Natural selection, they point out, cannot select for something that does not work. It is evident that irreducibly complex features must have been designed. The bacterial flagellum is the most famous example of irreducible complexity.

Evolutionists reply that co-option shows that irreducible complexity is a false argument. We have all heard arguments concerning the co-option of a Type 3 Secretion System (T3SS) in the development the bacterial flagellum.  (The T3SS is a tiny syringe used by some bacteria to inject damaging compounds into eukaryotic cells.  The superficial appearance of the interior part of the bacterial flagellum to the T3SS, led to the co-option arguments.)

In an essay on co-option, Deborah McLennan points out that the process of evolution can be speeded up if “characters that had evolved for one reason changed their function at a later time with little to no concurrent structural modification, at least initially. In other words, traits that had evolved under one set of conditions were co-opted to serve a different function under a second set of conditions.”4

This commentator emphasizes that the co-option process is blind, with no objective or purpose. Thus, she declares: “The only difference between human and evolutionary co-option is that we purposefully change an object’s function, while evolution simply takes advantage of an opportunity with no direction, purpose, or forethought.” But there is a caveat. McLennan admits: “we may be able to answer the ‘why’ of evolution for many genetic co-option events, but we have only an incomplete picture of ‘how’ – for the moment.”5

The evolutionary speculations about chance processes do not make sense. Our understanding of the process of invention is that it involves the conscious assembly of parts for a specific new function. The evolutionary idea that a cell, with no direction, purpose or forethought could successfully exploit something for a new function, lacks logical consistency.  Only design, the purposeful assembling of a complete feature in the cell all at the same time, can explain irreducibly complex molecular machines and other parts of the cell, tissues, organs and body plans.

When we consider the purpose and planning evident among living creatures, it is important that we reflect on the source of these wonders!


  • Marc Raboy. 2016. Marconi. pp. 863 See p. 52
  • Douglas Axe. 2016.Undeniable: How Biology Confirms our Intuition that Life is Designed. pp. 300. See p. 87
  • Axe p. 193
  • Deborah McLennan. 2008. The Concept of Co-option: Why Evolution Often Looks Miraculous. Evo Edu Outreach. Vol. 1: 247-258. See p. 247
  • McLennan p. 251.
  • Scientists have now decided that the T3SS never was co-opted by the bacterial flagellum. See http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2015.0020

July 2021

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