Michael J. Behe launched the intelligent design movement with his first book, Darwin's Black Box, by demonstrating that Darwinism could not account for the complexity of biochemistry. Now he takes a giant leap forward. In The Edge of Evolution, Behe uses astounding new findings from the genetics revolution to show that Darwinism is nowhere near as powerful as most people believe. Genetic analysis of malaria, E. coli, and the HIV virus over tens of thousands of generations, not to mention analysis of the entire history of the genetic struggle between them and "us" (humans), make it possible for the first time to determine the precise rates, and likelihood, of random mutations of varying kinds. We now know, as never before, what Darwinism can and cannot accomplish. The answers turn conventional science on its head and are certain to be hotly debated by millions. After The Edge of Evolution, life in the universe will never look the same.
©2007 Michael J. Behe; (P)2007 Tantor Media Inc.
"Though many critics won't want to admit it, The Edge of Evolution is very balanced, careful, and devastating. A tremendously important book." (Dr. Philip Skell, Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, Pennsylvania State University, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences)
Look for my review of MORE OF THE BEST OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY. I have worked up a table of contents for the stories.
Be a Better Scientist. Put the Facts of Malaria in your Trove of Knowledge
This is a serious attempt to explore the limits of Darwinian Evolution. The Neo-Darwinian view is that organisms evolve by means of an accumulation of small gradual changes in the genetic code. Michael Behe’s view is that the limits of such changes in the DNA are far below the limit of the boundary between different kinds of organisms. To prove his point he uses the example of the rapidly reproducing malaria bacteria as his real-world test case. Because of malaria’s rapid reproduction and wide-spread dispersion it has undergone many times the number of reproductive generations, in just the past few centuries, than all the mammals on the earth in all the time of supposed evolutionary history. These many generations have afforded malaria the equivalent chances for random evolutionary change that should have allowed it to reach the limit of Darwinian evolution. The fact that malaria has not managed to kill all of mankind shows that the limits for macro-evolution are very low. In all its millions of generations malaria still has not conquered the cold temperature problem. It can only reproduce when the temperature is above 50 degrees. This is why it is almost unknown in North America and yet is so prevalent in Africa.
Behe explains why bacteria can easily develop immunity to drugs, such as chloral quinine. In many cases such drug resistance can be accomplished by a single point mutation of the DNA strand. Two such point mutations, in fortuitous locations, are less common but do occur. A triple set of advantageously placed DNA point mutations is quite rare and represents what Behe believes to be the limit of Darwinian evolution, “the edge of evolution,” if you will.
Behe’s argument is an important one for all interested parties to reach a real-world understanding of what evolution, through the accumulation of small gradual changes through random mutation and natural selection, can and cannot do. His argument must be answered by Neo-Darwinists, Common Descent adherents, Intelligent Design proponents, and even Scientific Creationists alike. Behe comes to the conclusion Darwinian evolution does not explain the evidence uncovered by modern micro-biology; Intelligent Design does.
Behe briefly touches on Common Descent but only long enough to state his bias in favor of it but does not deal with the alternate explanations that his conclusions for an Intelligent Designer certainly raise in the mind of the reader. The explanation for similarities between the genetic codes of different organisms can be explained by realizing that all organisms had a common Designer. One advantage of using similar genetics for different organisms is that this allows us to learn about the workings of DNA without resorting to the moral quandary of experimenting on human beings. This is to be expected when the Creator is a moral being.
This book is useful for Scientific Creationists because it forces us to grapple with the fact that mutations do happen, and they do have an effect. It is useful for our case since these accumulations of small genetic changes through mutation and natural selection can be proven to have a very limited scope. Organisms can experience micro-evolution through such processes but the macro-evolution of one kind of organism evolving into another kind of organism is beyond the realm of possibility, as is evidenced by the limits of change in the malaria bacteria over the course of millions of generations of such mutation. Malaria is still malaria.
This book is well narrated. The style employed by Patrick Lawlor is very clear. His diction is nearly flawless. This is very difficult material to listen to. Have your rewind button set to make it easy to go back and review.
Voracious, omnivorous reader. Audible provides another venue to absorb information.
Behe is a scientist I can read that exemplifies science at it's best; inquisitive, unafraid to question convention and exhaustive in his research.
Discussion of irreducible complexity.
All competed for inclusion as 'favorites'. However, his answers to critics were particularly insightful.
No, too much data to absorb. It's not a story. It's a text book.
No topic is more prone to straw man arguments than arguments against Intelligent Design. Every time the subject of Intelligent Design comes up in my presence many react as if ID proponents were arguing for a 6,000 year old world. When I ask those holding such views what they've read from the ID community itself invariably it comes up that all they read was works from anti-ID thinkers about ID. The truth is that most who are anti-ID work on the assumption that NOTHING is more improbably then the existence of God and hence of design. Thus, even he most bizarre and/or improbable scientific speculation is more believable to them then the possibility of design and upon this basis they criticize Behe. This book however is NOT about God, it is about understanding the origin of the complexity of our physical world from a genuinely scientific perspective. Specifically, in this book Behe agrees with common decent and also with some variation that results from random changes and natural selection. However, the "Edge" he seeks to define in this book is between what Darwinism can explain and what it can't. If you want to know what ID is about and are not content to read straw man arguments against ID then this book is for you. I think the Edge of Evolution is even better than Behe's earlier work Darwin's Black Box because it is written years later taking into account important scientific discoveries in molecular biology and with the arguments of those who criticized Darwin's Black Box in mind.
THIS IS FICTION! Count the number of times this author uses the "Assume" to support his theory. Count the number of times he uses the word "should" when predicting an outcome instead of saying the outcome 'will" occur.
This author sites very little accepted science to make his point.He throws around a lot of names and draws non-existent connections from that person's work to support his theory.
This is not a book about the political struggle between atheists (who pretend the Philosophy of Science somehow trumps the Philosophy of Religion) and religionists (who pretend the reverse).
This is a book about how recent research calls into question the idea that random mutations and natural selection alone can explain complex life.
Behe is an expert in the field of Biology, not some novice with a religious axe to grind, and his arguments are well reasoned and clearly presented. He gives credit to parts of evolutionary thought where due, but he exposes the gaping holes where intellectual honesty demands, and that is one reason why he is mercilessly attacked.
If you believe the Theory of Evolution must be accepted without question because everyone who is skeptical is a fool with no valid arguments, then you should get this book. You will learn that there are skeptical experts with very good reasons for being skeptical.
If you doubt that there any fools on the side of Evolution, just try posting a reasonable, but slightly skeptical, question on popular Evolution websites (like Panda's Thumb). You will be instantly insulted by numerous people, and it's quite possible your question will be deleted.
I liked the essay on the battle between humans and malaria; a very detailed account with many references. Unfortunately for most readers I don???t believe that is why they read the book. Nor do I believe that the average lay person could have followed this detailed, arcane presentation and drawn any conclusions about the edge of evolution. What this part of the book felt like was a debate between the author and himself. The average reader was not going to put up much of an argument at this level of doctorate presentation. Generally at this point I found three problems with the presentation. Behe seems to almost completely disregard environmental conditions with regard to mutation and natural selection. He only mentions environmental conditions when they fit his argument, and at one point even downplays the significance of environmental impact on evolution. In the end he associates environmental occurrences with intelligent tweaking of the design of the Universe.
I also found the author playing fast and loose with the mathematics he used particularly with regard to probability. There were several instances where based on the cases presented he multiplied odds when he should have added them. The difference changes the argument completely. I must admit that his examples were so convoluted and overly complex for this type of book, that I had a very difficult time sorting them out and that required re-listening to them several times before reaching a conclusion, but in the case of some mutation that he considered mutually exclusive, it appeared from what he said that they were not, and in fact he contradicts himself later on to agree that they were not mutually exclusive, but doesn???t revisit his mathematics.
Lastly I believe the author and many others who have problems with evolution look at evolution from the wrong end. This is very obvious from his examples of comparing evolution to building buildings and mouse traps. That couldn???t be more inappropriate. For evolutionists in the beginning, there was no blue print. What evolved was what evolved. Had it evolved differently, we humans might not be here. To look at cilia and say it couldn???t possibly have evolved because of the complex proteins, bonds and interactions involved in its operation is fine, but cilia didn???t start as cilia. It ended as cilia. It took millions of years to get to where it got.
I believe Behe lost his argument when he moved away from biology and into chemistry and physics in a more general sense. I do have more knowledge in these areas and conclusions drawn in these areas degenerate into the same argument presented time and time again; that is the Universe is too complex to have happened by chance. He simple states at this point that because some physical constants are so precise and are required to be so, they must have been designed. When he presents his other universes argument, he cites two examples to show that a finite number of other universes or an infinite number of universes were not possible for evolution to work. The very obvious other choice would have been a finite number of universes over an infinite time period. He conveniently omitted that option.
Behe repeatedly states that scientists have not proven anything that refutes his claims and therefore he is right. I don???t think he made this case at all. Moreover the details of the Universe continue to be unraveled every day by scientists and engineers with highly inquisitive minds.
Despite the book's extravagant conclusions, I thoroughly recommend it for the following reasons:
1. It presents a very provocative counter argument to established scientific thinking. For this reason alone my attention was held from start to finish.
2. Behe clarifies his views concerning evolution. Surprisingly, Behe presents a convincing argument FOR common decent. He also raises several tough questions concerning his own view of intelligent design.
3. Behe does a good job of teaching some basic biology.
However, Behe's discussion of probabilities was muddled, and he uses this discussion to "leap" toward an intelligent creator. In other words, he raises some interesting questions concerning mutation probabilities and goes straight toward intelligent design.
Nonetheless, if you are interested in the topic of evolution, I highly recommend this book.
Negative reviews elsewhere, by names little and big (e.g. Dawkins), are full of name calling, appeals to authority (authorities who dismiss Behe's argument a priori), irrelevancies, and anger, but nothing that addresses the substance of his case. Behe provides detailed examples and arguments supporting natural selection and common descent. His sole challenge to the reigning dogma is the sufficiency of RANDOM variation to explain the complexity of life as we have come to know it through modern biochemistry and genetics. The howls of Dawkins et al betray a faith in life as a random accident challenged at the foundation.
I haven't read/heard the book yet so I have no real right to throw in 2 cents. having confessed that:
1. I've never seen so many reviews considered unhelpful. Why is this? Are people "voting" on whether they believe in the book's thesis or not? Jared Diamond's excellent book is also on sale and there's a similar pattern, as if people are voting whether or not all races have the same intelligence.
2. Darwinism, natural selection and "survival of the fittest" is only a small facet of evolution but the one we understand best and easiest. People who attack evolution because it's only partly explained are unfair -- OBVIOUSLY we need more and better explanations for how evolution has progressed so fast, so diversely and (probably) efficiently. Lacking this theory, knowledge or model in no way should denigrate what we have figured out so far.
3. I love science and learning how nature works. I can't fathom how such extreme complexity, such islands of anti-entropy, such beings as have "souls" could come about by any amount of random chance, no matter how many monkeys, typewriters and time. But I'm only human...
4. Pretty sure that science isn't capable of ruling out Intelligent Design. Could a scientist possibly design an experiment or collect data or observances that could rule it in? (Science and Religion have never been opposed, they ask and answer different questions from different directions. They are skew. It's downright silly to ask Science to weigh-in on a Religious question and vice versa but it's amazing how it seems to stir emotions and opinions)
5. Epi-genetics is the hot topic in the last several years and looking like the next good step in understanding the progression of evolution beyond chance mutations. Vaguely: RNA and protein production and the resulting phenotype is controlled by how DNA is exposed or "unrolled" and every organism (indeed, every cell nucleus) has literally several feet of unused and largely un-understood DNA. The fairly famous recent experiment (if I recall correctly) on this showed that if you overfed mouse fathers, their offspring were more likely fat and diabetic-like. How is a message or disease-state like this passed to progeny thru a single sperm? Nothing to do with the DNA code changes.
So, I look forward a lot to listening to the book and hope that its science is up to date.
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