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Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution
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64 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up several years ago after reading an essay entitled "The Deniable Darwin" by David Berlinski. I thought the book was excellent and recommend it to those seeking to explore the "Evolution vs. Intelligent Design" debate.

Consider those who claim to have debunked this book carefully. The so-called "debunking" of the irreduceable complexity of the bacterial flagellum and the blood-clotting cascade are out there online for anyone who knows how to use a search engine. Check it out. Behe has responded online to his critics as well. Judge for yourself who fares better.

Many of Behe's critics here point to the Dover school board decision as settling the issue once and for all. But science doesn't work that way. Yesterday's heretic is today's hero.

Behe's argument that irreduceable complexity at the cellular level can't be explained by Darwinist principles is a powerful one. He's the barbarian at the gate. Don't take my word for it - listen to the shrill tone of the critics here. They take this book personally - I mean they really hate it. When they defend their theory by personally attacking its critic as they've done here, one has to wonder "What's up"?

What's fascinating is that the critics of Behe's book dismiss him and all of his supporters as religious fanatics. They snort and say "It's not science"... Again, judge for yourselves. This book is what it says it is, a challenge to evolution. So far, they haven't really answered it, although they say they have.

So-called microevolution is not disputed by anyone. Macroevolution is another matter entirely. There is no theory (except for Gould's punctuated equilibrium) that adequately addresses the fossil record. And if evolution is gradual (as it must be), what to say about the so-called Cambrian Explosion, 510 million years ago, when most if not all the major phyla (types of life) came into being in just a few million years? That means every major type of specialized cell for all the different types of life on earth- they all came into existence within an extremely short period, geologically speaking. There's really no explanation for it. Prior to Behe's book, the problem of the fossil record and the Cambrian Explosion were two of the biggest challenges to evolution. Now we add irreduceable complexity.

A hundred years ago the physicists who proposed and supported the "Big Bang" theory to explain their observations of the night skies were mocked, ostracized from their faculties, etc... for being "Creationists" and "Christians" in supporting such a Creationist-friendly idea. Today the Big Bang is taken as fact, with little or no attention paid to the religious element - it's science, plain and simple.

Two of Darwinism's biggest supporters (Dennett and Dawkins) have just published books arguing that religion and God are of no use - delusions that have run their course. Dawkins even made a film about it. It's truly a passion with him - "curing" people of the God Delusion (the title of his book).

Is that a type of science? Is Dawkins's premise (there is no God) falsifiable? Hint: it's impossible to prove a negative. Dawkins's unshakeable convictions approach that of an Evangelical Christian, his "faith" in atheism is truly absolute. As is the faith of the other atheists posting reviews of this book.

In and of itself that's not a problem. But when they support evolution by addressing its critics with ad hominem personal attacks, evolution can't help but take on the cloak of an "anti-religion", and these fundamentalist atheists have not done the science underlying this controversy any favors at all.

And they actually wonder why 70% of the population doesn't believe in evolution.
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58 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
Judging by the emotive responses, there are few people able to view this topic objectively or dispassionately.

This book is an interesting journey through microbiology that was unimaginable only a few short decades ago. Behe's arguments are easy to understand. He has already made his point by the end of chapter two: the rest of the book is almost overkill. Evolutionists claim that "most of his arguments have been debunked" but I have seen little evidence of this.
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20 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Behe wrote in the Preface to this 1996 book, "Darwin was ignorant of the reason for variation within a species... It was once expected that the basis of life would be exceedingly simple. That expectation has been smashed... the elegance and complexity of biological systems at the molecular level have paralyzed science's attempt to account for the origin of specific, complex biomolecular systems..." (Pg. x) He clarifies, "I have no reason to doubt that the universe is ... billions of years old ... I find the idea of common descent ... fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it... Although Darwin's mechanism ... might explain many things... I do not believe it explains molecular life." (Pg. 5-6) [NOTE: page numbers refer to the 307-page hardcover editon.]

He notes, "Darwin convinced many of his readers that an evolutionary pathway leads from the simplest light-sensitive spot to the sophistaced camera-eye of man. But the question of how vision began remained unanswered... he did not even try to explain where his starting point---the relatively simple light-sensitive spot---came from." (Pg. 18) He states, "Each of the anatomical steps and structures that Darwin thought were so simple actually involves staggeringly complicated biochemical processes... Anatomy is... irrelevant to the question of whether evolution could take place on the molecular level. So is the fossil record... Until recently, evolutionary biologists could be unconcerned with the molecular details of life because so little was known about them. Now the black box of the cell has been opened, and the infinitesimal world that stands revealed must be explained." (Pg. 22)

He asks, "What type of biological system could not be formed by 'numerous, successive, slight modifications'? ... a system that is irreducibly complex... composed of several well-matched, interacting parts ... wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning." (Pg. 39)For an example, "What components are needed for a cilium to work? Ciliary motion certainly requires microtubules... Additionally it requires a motor... it requires linkers to tug on neighboring strands... All of these parts are required... Just as a mousetrap does not work unless all of its constituent parts are present, ciliary motion simply does not exist in the absence of microtubules, connectors, and motors. Therefore we can conclude that the cilium is irreducibly complex---an enormous monkey wrench thrown into its presumed gradual, Darwinian evolution." (Pg. 64-65) He adds, "Other examples of irreducible complexity abound, including aspects of DNA replication, electron transport, telomere synthesis, photosynthesis, transcription regulation, and more." (Pg. 160)

He asserts, "Neither of Darwin's starting points---the origin of life, and the origin of vision---has been accounted for by his theory. Darwin never imagined the exquisitely profound complexity that exists even at the most basic levels of life." (Pg. 173) But he also adds, "To say that Darwinian evolution cannot explain everything in nature is not to say that evolution, random mutation, and natural selection do not occur... I believe the evidence strongly supports common descent. But the root question remains unanswered: What has caused complex systems to form?" (Pg. 175-176)

He argues, "Molecular evolution is not based on scientific authority. There is no publication in the scientific literature... that describes how molecular evolution of any real, complex, biochemical system either did occur or even might have occurred. There are assertions that such evolution occurred, but absolutely none are supported by pertinent experiments or calculations... the assertion of Darwinian molecular evolution is merely bluster." (Pg. 185-186) Instead, he endorses the concept of "intelligent design" ["the purposeful arrangement of parts"; pg. 193]. He notes that Kenneth Miller ] "is like myself a Roman Catholic, and he makes the point ... that belief in evolution is quite compatible with his religious views. I agree ... that they are compatible..." (Pg. 239)

This book is absolute "MUST READING" for anyone even remotely interested in evolutionary theory, or in the Creation/Evolution/Intelligent Design controversies---regardless of which side (if any) of the debate one is on.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
"A single flaw in the cell's labyrinthine protein-transport pathway is fatal. Unless the entire system were immediately in place, our ancestors would have suffered a similar fate. Attempts at a gradual evolution of the protein transport system are a recipe for extinction." ~ Michael Behe

To say "Darwin's Black Box" is challenging is a bit of an understatement. Unless you were paying close attention in biology class and have read the appendix of this book, some of this book may be a little complex. Even Michael Behe suggests you may want to read a biochemistry textbook. At least if you have pictures of cells and DNA in your mind this book is easier to understand. Especially if you've seen it all animated in a film - that makes it even more interesting.

Michael Behe's main point is that life is based on highly sophisticated molecular machines. And he believes these machines were designed by someone intelligent. I will have to admit that the bacterial flagellar motor shouts "I'm designed." You just have to see the picture to believe it.

Part One and Part Three of this book are easier to read than Part Two. Part Two contains some mind-blowingly complex explanations. You will be amazed at the complexity of life, especially blood clotting and how the immune system works. You will finally understand irreducible complexity completely. A lot of authors throw that concept around but Behe makes sure you understand it deeply. You will see how systems that require several components to function could not have evolved.

I think Michael Behe is a true scientist because he is not afraid of asking very difficult questions and he goes where the evidence leads. He is constantly asking "why?, how?, when?". He also comes to very logical conclusions and is sometimes lol funny. This is not however a religious book and God is only briefly mentioned in passing.

What I did enjoy about this book was how Michael Behe made very complex things sometimes seem more simple with excellent stories and explanations. I approached reading this book with apprehension but I came away with the delight of discovery. While this book was written 19 years ago I feel it is still very relevant today. I can highly recommend it to anyone interested in Intelligent Design. I felt that my whole life prepared me to read this book. So I'm not sorry I waited so long to read it.

~The Rebecca Review
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17 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2007
Format: Paperback
Before I get to my main argument let me qualify this review. I've read about 30-40 books on this topic. To a book, none strikes me as an entirely genuine. Traditional scientists (those accepting of most or all the conventional wisdom of evolution) willingly overlook sound criticisms and demonstrate pretty serious dogmatism. Reformist (skeptical of all or a large part of evolution) scientists tend to fixate on their particular areas of specialty. Dr. Behe, being a member of the latter group, does a pretty good job overall. I like his inclusion of information about Wistar. I've since read Wistar material and I, like Behe, find it quite compelling. Unlike the plethora of "creationist", "ID" or "evolutionist" books out there, Wistar's reports were entirely scientific, honest and pretty daming to the conventional wisdom. This information, then, is central to my main argument: how can we prseume to teach origins theories to children?

Frankly I've become increasingly disturbed that anyone from either side would be so audacious as to present science from either perspective. Neither can be the basis of science because both are controversial, largely incomprehensible to children, and demonstrably flawed. Science is the search for truth. There is no room for fabrication or indoctrination in science.

In light of this, I accuse publisher, jurists, religious leaders and most of all "scientists" of doing potentially irreparable harm to science education in order to advance social, political or religious agendas. You're all a pack of liars and you should be ashamed of yourselves.

I taught 7th through 12th grade science about 15 years ago. Even then I continually had to remind my students to be careful in places because their textbooks presented theories (and even hypothesis) as facts. In science the status of "fact" is damn hard to earn!

So far only a native American, Vine Deloria, has really come close to capturing my point. The problem with Deloria is that he injects his own mythology into the mix. I support the surgical excission of this entire cancerous debate from pre-collegiate science education worldwide.

Let's get back to open and productive inquiry and quit worrying about this reductio ad absurdum regarding origins.

I applaud Behe for what he's done. He sure has taken a lot of heat! However, I would like to see more of the essentially Creationist or ID scientists land squarely in the "we just don't know" camp rather than joining the "a miracle happened" group. Similarly, I'd like to see the honest traditionalists out there demonstrate the courage to admit, even while they might want to believe in Darwinian evolution, that the jury is out and may remain that way!
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18 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
It surprises me that this book is more than ten years old. I guess I let my mind run on automatic pilot with regard to "Intelligent Design" --- and the autopilot tended to assume that ID was going to be completely uninteresting, like the "ideas" of a flat earth, or young-earth creationism.

This book, along with Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, has convinced me that my autopilot was completely mistaken. Intelligent Design is NOT "creationism dressed up in a cheap tuxedo." As Stephen Meyer has pointed out, the creationist movement grew out of the Bible --- it was born in Holy Writ. Intelligent Design comes out of science, most particularly the stunning discoveries about the nanotechnology in the living cell.

What we have found in the cell is an amazing, very large group of molecular machines, which could be called a nanotechnology factory. Probably the most amazing thing about this factory is that it can duplicate itself, and perhaps the most inexplicable thing is that it runs using computer technology. The genetic code found in DNA is something we might never have understood without discovering computers first, and it's also something we NEVER would have comprehended if we hadn't found the "decoder ring" right there in the cell with the genetic code. Who would have dreamed that three letters of genetic code specified an amino acid, and that a sequence of hundreds of letters would specify all the amino acids needed to make a specific protein?

The question asks itself: how did this come about? The Darwinian fundamentalists naturally think that it happened by "evolution," their one-word answer for everything, but they have yet to come up with even one plausible explanation of how this stuff evolved. The problem is "irreducible complexity," which is found when a machine needs all of its parts in order to function, and the different parts by themselves do nothing. A simple example of evolution (in our hands) might be scissors: we can see pretty easily how a stone tool became a metal knife (useful all the way), and how two metal knives were lashed together to make the first clumsy pair of scissors. But that sort of step-by-step evolution does NOT explain a mousetrap, much less DNA, messenger RNA, and the rest of the amazing stuff going on in a human cell. Compared with a cell, the Jacquard loom is downright primitive --- and that loom is what led to the "IBM card" (the Hollerith punch card) of distant memory.

I guess there are two main books which explain Intelligent Design, this one and Stephen Meyer's book. Meyer's book is slightly more difficult and technical, while this one is a bit easier to read and has more humor. The choice is up to you, but I would strongly recommend looking at one of them.

This is NOT creationism redux, it's the beginning of a paradigm shift. Darwinian evolution can explain a lot of things, but it can't explain the origin of the universe or the origin of life.

As a final note, if these books get you to thinking about who the Designer might be, it's well to remember that he is not necessarily the God of any particular religion. You may be persuaded that The Great Spirit or The Force is probably there, but he or it remains completely mysterious --- aside from being incomprehensibly intelligent.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 18, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Excellent book! Very good presentation of the evidence - very thorough and a bit much to follow at times. Michael Behe does a very straight-forward job of presenting the facts, and goes into quite a bit of detail, to seriously consider Intelligent Design as a viable alternative to Neo-Darwinian Evolutionary theory. He gets into the intricacies and complexity of the cell, DNA, what seems designed. He basically presents the evidence in a very sober, scientific point of view, showing how several organisms are irreducibly complex and could not have evolved. He does a good job of presenting the evidence for what it is.
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47 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2007
Format: Paperback
Behe's prose is engaging and enjoyable, but this attempt to refute the theory of evolution does not convince.

The basic thesis of Behe's book is that though the theory of evolution may explain the fossil record and the anatomies of living things, it cannot explain the microscopic functioning of, for example, vision, the bacterial flagellum, and the immune system (p. 22). Indeed, Behe argues that evolutionary biology has been completely silent on the subject of how a cell's molecular machinery has evolved: "No one at Harvard University, no one at the National Institutes of Health, no member of the National Academy of Sciences. . . can give a detailed account of how the cilium, or vision, or blood clotting, or any complex biochemical process might have developed in a Darwinian fashion" (p. 187. Compare pp. 179, 185).

On the basis of this alleged silence, Behe suggests a return to William Paley's famous "watchmaker" argument (aka the argument from design): if a microbiological structure is "irreducibly complex" (defined on p. 39), Behe says, it cannot have evolved, and so must have been the work of an Intelligent Designer.

Unfortunately, this house of cards is built on balderdash. Searches of PubMed and similar databases for terms like "evolution of rhodopsin" and "evolution of flagellum" turn up detailed discussions of the evolution of microscopic biological processes dating back to the 1970s, to say nothing of books like The Molecular Evolution of Life (1986).

This book also has an unfortunate tendency to misrepresent biology and what biologists say about it. On pages 26-30, for example, Behe quotes a number of biologists such as Lynn Margulis, John McDonald, and Jerry Coyne out of context to make it sound as if they think that the theory of evolution is inadequate or deeply problematic. He also refers to "punctuated equilibrium" as "a mechanism other than natural selection" when it is really no such thing (pp. 27-28).

In its misrepresentation of the current state of evolutionary biology, Behe's book is problematic. In its apparently deliberate misquotation of scientific authorities, it is deeply troubling. In its attempt to replace Charles Darwin's arguments with William Paley's, it is downright laughable.
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10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
Micheal Behe has written a jargon-free book about complex biochemical processes at the molecular level which is accessible for a non-scientific generalist such as myself. No mean feat in and of itself. Before trying to elucidate what this book is "about," one should declare what this book is not: DARWIN'S BLACK BOX is not a polemic which tries to prove the existence of God. Behe flips upon its head the very charge that has been unfairly levied upon him: an adroitly argued challenge to prejudicial and closed minds.

In a nutshell Behe's thesis is that "irreducible complexity" at the molecular level seem to escape an evolutionary explanation. Behe argues that the interdependency of complex systems such as a bacterial flagellum could not possibly have come about by the piecemeal result of natural selection. The development of an irreducibly complex system would have to involve a series of genetic mutations, working not only in unison, but to the umpteenth degree for functionality. Behe believes that on a purely mathematical level, genetic mutation couldn't possibly account for the complexity of organisms at the molecular level.

The central analogy that Behe uses to explain irreducible complexity is a simple mousetrap. The independent mechanisms of a mousetrap would be utterly useless unless they work as part an interdependent whole. Behe argues that there must be something outside of the framework of observable phenomenon that accounted for the irreducible complexity of cells at the biochemical level. An irreducibly complex system is like a minutely engineered machine whose very existence (much less its function,) is necessarily reliant on the totality of its dependent parts - if one or more of these components is removed or defective, the entire machine will not function.

Behe is at his best giving a working explanation of biological systems at the biochemical level. Behe's lucid writing skills deftly illustrates how the whiplike "motor" of the bacterial flagellum and cilium functions. The main weakness to Behe's argument is that if an intelligent entity necessarily exits outside of the parameters of science, how can scientific inquiry be applied and tested to prove or disprove its existence? Is intelligent design the only plausible explanation? Or are there other alternate explanations for irreducible complexity? In the final analysis, Behe's thesis is more an act of faith than a scientific inquiry.

I recommend the book not only because of the merits and strengths of its arguments but on the witty and engaging writing skills of Behe. Behe turns the evolution debate on its head by claiming that in many instances, it is a fair share of the scientific community who have closed their minds: "Many people, including many, well-respected scientists just don't want there to be anything beyond nature. [They] bring an a priori philosophical commitment to their science that restricts what kinds of explanations they will accept about the physical world."

It should be noted that Behe himself is not a religious fundamentalist, believing not only in the standard model of the age of the universe, but also that both mankind and apes share a common ancestry. Though I believe in evolution, I am a believing, and not a nominal Christian (i.e. I believe in the resurrection and divinity of Christ.) I recommend this book not because I necessarily agree with Behe's conclusions, but because Behe rejects orthodoxy in all its myriad semblances.
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8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Before reviewing a book on such a controversial topic, I feel it is necessary to state a bit about myself, to give readers of my review some context. For years, I have been researching origin of life theories. As a Christian who loves science, in the beginning I felt pressured to "choose a side." (The sides being either evolution or intelligent design -- I feel young earth creationism isn't an option.) I have as of yet NOT chosen a side because of insubstantial evidence (not to mention pettiness and name-calling) from both camps, and have instead happily joined the ranks of Francis Collins' "Biologos" community. (I encourage anyone to check it out: [...] )

First of all, I found Behe's text very accessible and in places entertaining for a lay person such as myself. I have only the credentials of a Bachelors of Science (in other words, three semesters of science courses at the undergraduate level). This is the third book I've read on intelligent design, and the only one that I think provides any kind of argument whatsoever. (Not a great argument, but we'll get to that later.)

Behe (and myself) does not have any complaint against microevolution. He states that there was indeed a common ancestor, and that microevolution is an observable process, responsible for Darwin's finches, antibiotic resistant bacteria, and so forth. (I respect that, because I think arguments such as "the fossil record is incomplete, therefore evolution could not have happened" are nonsense. What did you expect, an intricately cataloged database on papyrus leaves?) The question is not whether or not evolution actually occurs, but is it responsible for the origin of life?

Behe argues that the answer is no. This is where it got interesting for me. I can remember sitting in my 10th grade honors biology class 10 years ago, reading my textbook, and listening to my teacher explain how the organelles of cells all started out as individual life forms but eventually started working together and eventually becoming one organism, what we now know as a eukaryotic cell. (This, I learned in Darwin's Black Box, is called "symbiosis theory.") I don't see how that can make any kid of sense to any thinking person (and indeed, symbiosis theory has received much criticism from the scientific community). Further, it does not explain where the organelles came from in the first place. This is where Behe introduces his theory of irreducible complexity, the argument being that such an intricate system as the cell could not have evolved from "numerous, slight successive mutations" that are required in order for natural selection to work. He states that the evidence points to an intelligent designer, a being (or beings) that carefully engineered all irreducibly complex systems.

Here is where I think Behe's argument starts to break down. I do think he makes excellent points about the failure of natural selection to explain the origin of life. (He cites dozens and dozens of peer-reviewed scientific publications and points out that none of them provide any kind of scientific explanation, only speculation.) However, design starts to run out of steam too, as he writes, "Just because we can infer that some biochemical systems were designed does not mean that all subcellular systems were explicitly designed" (p. 205). In other words, his theory explains SOME irreducibly complex systems, but not others. Well, then where did the rest of them come from? Does natural selection take over from there? How? Why? Further, he states that many scientists are biased against his theory because, by its very definition, it invokes the supernatural, and many scientists are only interested in natural causes and the natural world. While I have no doubt that something beyond this world does exist, that's not the point: the scientific method was developed for us to explore the natural world, and to start using supernatural causes would be to change the very definition of science. Maybe the definition needs to be changed... but that seems like very unstable ground to me. On the other hand, to not acknowledge the supernatural limits our understanding of our existence. At any rate, I can at least understand why other scientists are resistant to Behe's theory.

In sum, of the books I've read on intelligent design, I do believe this is the best one. (I wouldn't even recommend the other ones I've read to creationists.) However, as far as explaining the origin of life goes, my intellect remains unsatisfied.
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