The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinismby Michael J. Behe Published 05 Jun 2007
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Michael Behe carefully assesses the evidence of what Darwin's mechanism of random mutation and selection can achieve in well documented cases, and shows that even in those cases that maximize its power as a creative force it has only been able to generate very trivial examples of evolutionary change. Could such an apparently impotent and mindless force really have built the sophisticated molecular devices found throughout nature? The answer, he insists, is no. The only common-sense explanation is intelligent design
"The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism" Reviews
Listened to this on CD and was VERY impressed. I had always assumed that "intelligent design" was just a code word used by fundamental Christians for creationism. Had no idea that anyone had thought the argument through so well. Behe mixes hard science (my 13 year-old swore he was speaking German) with clear analogies in order to present difficult concepts in a way that a non-scientist can at least follow. His arugments about the statistical problems with a purely Darwinist approach are very persuasive. Behe is also intellectually honest. He acknowledges where evolution is plausible, and he takes on challenges to his thinking. A fabulous book for anyone who is studying biology or has had questions about evolution.
While not for light reading, well worth the reading. Dr. Behe established in "Darwin's Black Box" that the cell is not simple and would be impossible to thus just "happen" (i.e. evolve) and he continues to delve into his arguments in "The Edge of Evolution". He also writes of the positives of Darwinism but then demolishes any strongholds it may claim. Excellent book.
The Abyss of Reason: The Limits of Michael Behe’s Scientific Thinking
Theodosius Dobzhansky, the great Russian-American population geneticist, one of the prominent biologists responsible for the Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution, observed that “Nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. It was true when he stated that decades ago; it is truer still today given the abundant wealth of excellent data from a diverse host of biological sciences: molecular biology and biochemistry, developmental biology, ecology, population genetics, systematics and paleobiology. All of which points clearly to both the fact of biological evolution and the key role of Natural Selection in producing the rich biological diversity of our Planet Earth. Claims which biochemist Michael Behe has tried so valiantly to deny in his “The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism”, proclaiming that Intelligent Design, not Evolution, is the best explanation for our planet’s biodiversity. However, all that Michael Behe has demonstrated so well in his latest diatribe against “Darwinism” is the constricted, twisted limits of his own scientific thought via extensive illogical reasoning, an improper understanding of probability theory, and a profound ignorance of evolutionary biology. Indeed, in his latest book, Michael Behe has descended into the dark, deep abyss of reason; it’s a senseless journey that any thoughtful potential reader of his book should refuse to undertake.
In the opening chapter “The Elements of Darwinism”, Behe presents a stereotypical portrait of “Darwinism”, or rather, the Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution, hinting that he’s found excellent examples that refute it in his cursory examinations of the origins and transmittal of the diseases Malaria and HIV/AIDS. He also briefly alludes to the notion of an adaptive landscape that’s played such a crucial role in our understanding of population genetics and speciation, presented all too simplistically as if his intended audience was teenagers with limited attention spans, not presumably well-read, highly educated, adults. In the second chapter, “Arms Race or Trench Warfare?”, Behe ridicules the very notion of a co-evolutionary arms race between predators and prey, quickly dismissing the Red Queen’s hypothesis as a “silly statement” from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”, ignoring the existence of a substantial body of supporting scientific literature (Like so many great ideas in science, it was proposed independently, almost simultaneously, by two scientists; evolutionary biologist and paleobiologist Leigh Van Valen – who coined the term “Red Queen” - and evolutionary ecologist Michael Rosenzweig in the early 1970s. I should also note too that this was demonstrated clearly in the PBS “Evolution” television miniseries episode which illustrated the Red Queen through an intricate biochemical “arms race” between garter snakes and their highly toxic salamander prey.). In the chapter entitled “The Mathematical Limits of Darwinism”, Michael Behe offers some bizarre probability values (How did you compute them, Professor Behe, using which probability distribution? A Normal Distribution? A Binomial Distribution? A Poisson Distribution – that would make ample sense if the events described by him are indeed as rare as he states.) that purportedly support his contention of rare, random variation as something highly unlikely to produce anything other than the microevolution he does allude to, but never mentions explicitly (I am indebted to another Amazon.com customer reviewer, S. Allen, for pointing out the egregious error which Behe made in computing the probability of a malarial parasite producing a double mutation – and also erring in assuming that these mutations had to occur together, when the original scientific paper he cited from strongly implied that they did not (I’ll let the reader decide as to whether this was indeed wishful thinking on Behe’s part, or a gross distortion of the available published scientific evidence; I am inclined to believe the latter, because of other similar examples I have spotted elsewhere in this book.).).
More than half of “The Edge of Evolution” is devoted to pointing out the foibles of evolution as if random mutation was the key mechanism responsible for natural selection and then trotting out Intelligent Design as the more reasonable explanation for biological diversity, by stating once more, arguments he presented in his earlier book “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution”. Surprisingly Behe refers again to his “mousetrap model” in support of his concept of “Irreducible Complexity”, without acknowledging Kenneth Miller’s effectively brilliant, devastating refutation which is posted at his personal website, www.millerandlevine.com.). Behe gets so mired in discussing the details of his biological “nanobots”, that he forgets the real reason why he refers to them, as the mechanistic rationale for explaining Earth’s past and present biodiversity as an artifact of Intelligent Design. Moreover, he does not offer any compelling alternative hypotheses that would support Intelligent Design as a more likely scientific theory accounting for this diversity. Instead, he refers again, and again, to how well-designed various cellular structures are, as if the citations by themselves, clearly demonstrate that these structures were indeed the products of Intelligent Design.
My most serious reservations about “The Edge of Evolution” are not just limited to Behe’s failure to demonstrate convincingly, from a scientific perspective, that Intelligent Design is a better theory than the Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution (which has the Darwin/Wallace Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection as its central core.). Repeatedly, Behe has resorted to simplistic logical reasoning in trying to persuade his audience of the merit of his ideas (For example, in the chapter, “Arms Race or Trench Warefare?” he describes the co-evolutionary arms race between the ancestors of the modern cheetah and the gazelle in a literary style that’s more suited for Aesop’s Fables than a book that purportedly tries to present a viable scientific alternative to evolutionary theory.). He also misinterprets “The Spandrels of San Marco”, the classic scientific paper by paleobiologist Stephen Jay Gould and population geneticist Richard Lewontin, in the chapter entitled “The Cathedral And The Spandrels”, as a sterling example of Darwinism’s failure, when that was not the authors’ rationale for its writing nor how it is perceived today by many evolutionary biologists. While claiming to accept the reality of evolution as evidence for common descent, he ignores the fossil record, in instances like his terse dismissal of the Red Queen, and thus neglects the importance of appreciating the history of life in attempting to understand the origins of Planet Earth’s current biodiversity (For example, distinguished marine ecologist Geerat Vermeij has offered substantial evidence of a co-evolutionary arms race from his extensive studies of the marine fossil record; a most remarkable achievement since Vermeij has been blind almost from birth. Vermeij discusses this in admirable, eloquent prose in his book “Evolution and Escalation”.). Behe doesn’t appreciate the importance of the adaptive landscape – which he refers to as the “fitness landscape” - towards our understanding of the processes responsible for speciation, wrongly attributing it to British population geneticist Ronald Fisher, when it was actually derived by his American counterpart, Sewall Wright (Both of whom made key contributions to the Modern Synthesis theory – which Behe refers to as the “Neo-Darwinian Synthesis” – yet another incorrect usage of scientific terminology which appears too often in this book.). Last, but not least, Michael Behe lacks the literary eloquence of superb writers – and evolutionary biologists – Ernst Mayr, Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, Edward O. Wilson, and Richard Dawkins, to name but a few, and he has offered to us, his unsuspecting readers, the literary equivalent of the RMS Titantic’s ill-fated maiden voyage.
Simon and Schuster truly has had a glorious history of introducing many distinguished writers of fiction and non-fiction to the world, ranging from the likes of Ernst Hemingway to Frank McCourt. It published distinguished evolutionary biologist – and paleobiologist – Niles Eldrdege’s first book for the general public, “Time Frames”, an engrossing memoir on the origins of the evolutionary theory known as “Punctuated Equilibrium” (which Eldredge proposed with his friend Stephen Jay Gould back in 1972). Regrettably, its excellent publishing history was tarnished with the original publication of “Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution”; now it is tarnished again with “The Edge of Evolution”. Clearly Michael Behe doesn’t deserve favorable recognition of the kind bestowed upon both Hemingway and McCourt, but rather, more intense scrutiny, and indeed, more condemnation, in the future, from his scientific peers and an interested public who recognizes that Intelligent Design is not just bad science, but a bad religious idea pretending to be science (The verdict which was issued by Republican Federal Judge John Jones at the conclusion of the 2005 Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial in which Michael Behe appeared as a key witness for the defense; oddly enough he doesn’t mention the trial nor its verdict in his book.). Those who believe he is due favorable recognition are condoning the ample lies, omissions, and distortions present in his latest book, and are all too willing to join him in his self-created abyss of reason.
(Reposted from my 2007 Amazon Review)
Really? His last two books didn't humiliate him enough? What part of "irreducible complexity is an illusion based on ignorance" doesn't this guy get? And who the heck made him the expert on what evolution can do and can't do? A degree in chemistry? If that were true, my Linguistics training makes me a good author. Hey, its all language, right???
Behe is stuck in no-man's land between the Creationist and radical Darwinist. As such, I suspect he will not have many supporters, even if he is on to something. I went online and tried to find a single reasonable critical review and was disappointed by all of the ad hominem rubbish out there. As much as I don’t care for Dawkins, his review was the best I could find, and it was poor. The bottom line: There are gaps in the Darwinian synthesis. Darwinists say Behe appeals to God, and they appeal to future scientific discovery. Behe says he appeals to probabilities too insurmountable for current Darwinian mechanisms to ever overcome, and Darwinists wave off the problem with “just-so” stories. There is some truth in both perspectives. I just wish the Darwinists would put forth some well-argued critique of work like Behe's instead of bad-mouthing him.
In some ways Behe’s book reads like a retreat from "Black Box" by establishing a beachhead somewhere between the opposing sides but a little closer to orthodox Darwinism than before. I think everyone was a bit surprised by his position on common descent which is clearly more at home with Darwinists than Creationists. For those of us Christians who are more comfortable with ideas like Polkinghorne's "free process" theology, Behe's position is not a problem. But this is a slippery spot to hang out. Where do material processes stop and design start? Will Behe continue to move his position in his next work?
Finally, Behe spent a lot of time on evo-devo and almost nothing on cooptation which is still the most common hand-waving response to Irreducible Complexity I hear from lay people. If diversity comes from swapping around a bunch of lego blocks (or more complex modules built from lego blocks) are the blocks irreducibly complex themselves? Behe says yes and tries to prove it in this book. Darwinists say no and appeal to future scientific discovery to fill in the gaps. The jury is still out in my opinion.
"With this book, Michael Behe shows that he is truly an independent thinker of the first order. He carefully examines the data of evolution, along the way making an argument for universal common descent that will make him no friends among young-earth creationists, and draws in new facts, especially the data on malaria, that have not been part of the public debate at all up to now. This book will take the intelligent design debate into new territory and represents a unique contribution to the longstanding question of philosophy: Can observation of the physical world guide our thinking about religious questions?"