242 of 310 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2007
Just as a massive star bends light, so emotion warps thought when we approach the question of origins. An eminent professor who takes the wrong position on this subject can lose tenure. A less eminent researcher may lose his job. Depite his forty-some peer-reviewed articles and a tenured faculty position, and the careful, measured tone in which he writes, Michael Behe will be called an "ID-iot," his honesty disputed, and anyone who agrees with him dismissed as an ignorant, red-neck hick who can barely muster the cognitive powers of a good high school student.
In such an environment (and if you doubt my appraisal, read some of the reviews below), it takes conscious intent to ignore manipulative appeals to the "argument from sociology" and attend to substance.
For the record, Behe is not an "ID-iot." He is a sharp and thoughtful biologist who doesn't think evolution can work on its own. In this book he argues for common descent, but argues that naturalistic evolution is limitted. He thinks the mechanisms suggested for powering the massive creativity and innovation in nature could not come from mutations alone.
His primary tool for advancing this argument is the evolution of the malaria bug, and of human immune defenses against it, over the past several thousand years. Behe shows that while microbes can and do evolve resistances to medicine, they generally do so by breaking down in some way, as does the human body. Touching briefly on the evolution of e coli and HIV, then on other critters, he makes the case that bugs that evolve rapidly, and through huge communities, demonstrate the limits to naturalistic evolution. The mathematical arguments he brings in to explain and support his more theoretical argument against the power of mutations, which some reviewers take issue with below, are not his main line of persuasion, nor, I admit, do they seem fully persuasive as developed here.
This book is not about Irreducible Complexity (IC). Behe defends the concept, and his examples of it, briefly, but that is not the main line of discussion, critics to the contrary. He's offered a lenghthier defense of IC elsewhere. (While I've read some of his Dover testimony, and some of the summary given in a critic's book, and agree he could have done better at some points, I think carefully considered written articles provide a better forum for ideas than a courtroom drama. As someone who has been known to stutter himself in interviews, I'm not inclined to judge a person's intelligence or argument on how well he holds up against hours of verbal examination by a well-prepared and clever attorney. In Debating Design, he seems to me to do well vs. Kenneth Miller and his famous Type III Secretory System.) But here Behe comes at the question from below, rather from above, looking at the actual known history of recent evolution among well-studied microorganisms. The book is, therefore, a good compliment to Darwin's Black Box.
Read it, and the discussion that will follow (both sides), and make up your own mind. Don't let the raw emotions so in evidence sway you. Behe is right or he is wrong, but he is not a fool. For me, the primary issue remains the frequency and character of beneficial and creative mutations. Looking into the question a bit myself recently, I found a pattern very like what Behe describes. Ironically, it seems to me the best argument against the position Behe stakes out here that I have seen so far is theological. Why would God create the malaria bug? I am still not satisfied that anyone really has the history of life pegged.
875 of 1,347 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2007
Behe's all dog no pony Irreducible Complexity (IC) tour is back in town - fresh from a Dover, PA appearance where he literally brought down the house of Intelligent Design (ID) cards with a slapstick vaudeville routine that confusingly conflated astrology with astronomy, dismissed reams (literally) of research into the evolution of the blood clotting cascade, and routinely produced 'oh dear' deer in the headlights stares while under cross examination.
Much of "The Edge of Evolution" centers on the purported inability of evolutionary mechanisms to account for parasites such as malaria. Behe's preferred instrument of faith-based flagellation - the flagellum - stages an encore performance as the malarial cilium; which to Behe's doe eyes looks even more IC than it did before.
Research is cited to show that the production of cilium in eukaryotic cells depends upon the availability of another cellular system known as intraflagellar transport (IFT). Behe then asserts (as in provides no supporting evidence) that both the cilium and IFT are irreducibly complex - in fact he christens this section "Irreducible Complexity Squared" (note to the Discovery Institute: get that trademark application in soon, how about IC2). Behe writes on page 94:
"IFT exponentially increases the difficulty of explaining the irreducibly complex cilium. It is clear from careful experimental work with all ciliated cells that have been examined, from alga to mice, that a functioning cilium requires a working IFT. The problem of the origin of the cilium is now intimately connected to the problem of the origin of IFT. Before its discovery we could be forgiven for overlooking the problem of how a cilium was built. Biologists could vaguely wave off the problem, knowing that some proteins fold by themselves and associate in the cell without help. Just as a century ago Haeckel thought it would be easy for life to originate, a few decades ago one could have been excused for thinking it was probably easy to put a cilium together; the piece could probably just glom together on their own. But now that the elegant complexity of IFT has been uncovered, we can ignore the question no longer."
IC2 states that you can't have/build/produce cilia without a functioning IFT mechanism - evolutionary (natural) causations must explain the apparently choreographed origin of IFT and the origin of cilia - quod erat demonstrum. Unfortunately this claim is false. In the real world eukaryotes exist which have cilia but lack IFT.
One of these organisms belongs to a group called Apicomplexans. These protozoa are obligatory intracellular parasites that must spend part, if not all, of their life cycle in a host animal. The specific apicomplexan in question is Plasmodium falciparum. You probably know it better by its street name: malaria. The organism that Behe touts throughout as being an intelligently designed exemplar of irreducibly complex systems completely demolishes his entire claim that cilia and IFT constitute an irreducible system - squared or not.
Compounding the Plasmodium falciparum debacle is Behe's rubber-band reality utilization of fitness landscape arguments in a chapter that should have been titled "The Mathematical Limits of Beheism" since it only manages to showcase his profligate innumeracy. Here's how Behe turned a fitness landscape into a swamp (with thanks to Mark Chu-Carroll):
1. Restrict evolution to a static and unchanging fitness landscape - unfortunately in the real world fitness landscapes are never static. 2. Constrain the fitness landscape to a smooth surface made up of hills and valleys where a local minimum or maximum in any dimension is a local minimum or maximum in all dimensions - and ignore that a valley in one dimension can be a peak in another. 3. Assert that fitness function mapping from a genome to a point of the fitness landscape is monotonically increasing - in spite of the fact that things don't always go in a single direction - for example a virus may decrease in fitness over time but increase in transmissibility. 4. Define the fitness function as smoothly continuous, with infinitesimally small changes (single point base changes) mapping to equally small changes in position on the fitness landscape - in spite of experimental evidence that even a single base pair change (in a viral quasispecies for example) can eliminate one peak while creating another (and also ignore the consequences of gene duplication, recombination, insertional mutations, transposition, and translocation).
As Mark points out Behe doesn't even understand that he is making these assumptions - you can wade through his mathematics without getting your ankles wet. He then traipses into quicksand of his own design by basing all of his arguments on the flawed fitness landscape and straightjacketed search results they produce. William Dembski acted as an advisor to Behe - and it shows. The master of obscurantist pseudomathematics has found a willing apprentice.
Transmuting lush fitness landscapes into malarial swamps is quite a trick but Behe, ever the prankster, isn't finished yet. Behe accepts common descent and admits that overwhelming evidence links closely related species (e.g. humans and chimpanzees) to shared ancestors, but flatly asserts that evolution by natural means is incapable of facilitating genus or taxa level differentiation such as the emergence of tetrapods from Sarcopterygian fish. The horns of this dilemma should be obvious, even to Behe; how can all species be linked by common descent if evolution above the species level is impossible?
Behe never resolves this disconnect - no mechanism is ever offered. No hint of a hypothesis. No suggested experimental avenues. This logical lacuna can't be bridged by incessant appeals to 'design.' Behe further muddies the waters by surreptitiously substituting a concept much closer to creationist 'baramin' (created kinds) for biological species - created kinds and common descent are irreconcilable concepts.
Ultimately Behe's colleagues at Lehigh University are ideally positioned to comment on his work. The Department of Biological Sciences has posted the following statement on their website concerning Behe:
"The faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity and academic function. This commitment carries with it unwavering support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. It also demands the utmost respect for the scientific method, integrity in the conduct of research, and recognition that the validity of any scientific model comes only as a result of rational hypothesis testing, sound experimentation, and findings that can be replicated by others."
"The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory, which has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been supported by findings accumulated over 140 years. The sole dissenter from this position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of 'intelligent design.' While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific."
Behe's book is one long train wreck. Unlike Darwin who eloquently elucidated one long argument, Behe tosses off sloppy seconds as research, recycles sophomoric (and rejected) fitness landscape arguments, confusingly conflates or redefines common terms and proffers puerile probability assessments - standard creationist (excuse me, I meant to say IDist) fare.
Thanks to Nick Matzke for uncovering Behe's monumentally grotesque Plasmodium falciparum gaffe.
Special thanks as well to Behe's dysfunctional advisory team: Lydia and Tim McGrew, Peter and Paul Nelson, George Hunter, David DeWitt, Doug Axe, Bill Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Tony Jelsma, Neil Manson, Jay Richards, Guillermo Gonzalez, Bruce Chapman, Steve Meyer, John West, and Rob Crowther - a veritable bestiary of methodological supernaturalists operating at the edge of inanity - and only one 's' away from insanity.
670 of 1,035 people found the following review helpful
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 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, <...>. 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 Ernest 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.
(EDITORIAL NOTE 9/5/07: Since writing the original text of this review, I have arrived at the realization that Behe's "The Edge Of Evolution" is yet another example from him of mendacious intellectual pornography. His data on the "mathematical limits to Darwinism" with respect to the Plasmodium malarial parasite, can be explained best as an excellent example of coevolution. Indeed, I recently posted this rebuttal to yet another dismal favorable review of Behe's book:
What Behe has argued with regards to the "malaria mutation" has been discussed extensively online and elsewhere by Nick Matzke, Mark Chu-Carroll, Sean Carroll, Jerry Coyne and Ken Miller, and here, at Amazon.com, by S. Allen. Behe has misinterpreted published scientific evidence regarding it. Furthermore he has displayed a dismal understanding of probability theory and statistics as best expressed in his so-called "mathematical limits to Darwinism". Indeed his frequent citation of the Plasmodium malarial parasite in "The Edge of Evolution" doesn't demonstrate the "mathematical limits to Darwinism", but instead, a superb example of coevolution as seen from the perspective of a pharmaceutical "arms race" between Plasmodium and humanity. Instead of "outstanding work", "The Edge of Evolution" should be viewed instead as yet another example of mendacious intellectual pornography from Professor Behe.)
(EDITORIAL NOTE 9/8/11: In response to Thomas McDonald's risible commentary, replete in its breathtaking inanity, that he posted earlier today, I sent him a private e-mail message which includes these remarks:
Maybe you are not familiar with the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial in 2005, which was presided by a fellow Conservative (and then a Republican, appointed to the Federal bench by President George W. Bush), John Jones, but I recommend you read his ruling of December 20, 2005, in which he notes correctly that Intelligent Design is not science (Surprisingly Behe doesn't mention this at all in his book. Maybe he wants to forget how he was cross-examined mercilessly - but also rightfully so - by the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Eric Rothschild, who made an excellent demonstration as to how much an idiot Behe really is.).
However, allow me to address your key points that "Darwinism expects life to Darwinism expects us to believe that life originated or appeared 'by sheer chance'. Also, when you say 'mutations are only random with respect to fitness' are you then granting that mutations may be characterized as teleologically directed, even though that teleological direction has no guarantee, i.e, is random, in specific regard of fitness to environment?" First, you are confusing a theory on the origins of life with "Darwinism", the latter by which you mean the Darwin/Wallace Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection (which has been subsumed within the Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution). Neither Natural Selection nor other elements of the Modern Synthesis Theory explain the origins of life on earth - which is fundamentally a question of planetary geology, physics and chemistry - but instead, explains the history and current composition of Planet Earth's biodiversity, which neither Intelligent Design nor any other form of "scientific creationism" has done, period. Second, Smokey is absolutely correct, but to elaborate further, mutations are random only with respect to the physical and biological factors influencing the population in which the mutation(s) occur, and these are constrained by the prior geneaological history - what, in biology is regarded as phylogenetic history - of the population in question. In plain English, mutations are not really random at all, and yet you, and other creationists, persist in thinking so.
May I suggest that you look at the American Museum of Natural History's website, under past exhibitions, and read the material on the Darwin exhibition? May I also suggest that you read Michael Shermer's "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design" and my friend Ken Miller's "Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul" (Ken was the lead witness for the plaintiffs at the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial; many years ago, as an undergraduate at our undergraduate alma mater - where he is now a professor of biology - I assisted him in his very first debate against a "scientific" creationist.). Unlike Shermer, who is an atheist, Ken is a devout Roman Catholic Christian (You may also find useful his earlier "Finding Darwin's God".).)
(EDITORIAL NOTE 3/10/12: T. Wray raises an interesting point, and repeats the creationist mantra that a "theory is just a theory":
"What about entropy? How does a system become more complex when nature obeys the laws of physics? Natural selection is an accepted fact. Evolution, regardless of which theory (Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution or others) you subscribe to, is still a theory."
First, T. Wray forgets that living systems are open systems, constantly renewing their sources of energy until death. So the entropy argument - which I first heard back in the Spring of 1981 while assisting Kenneth R. Miller in his very first debate against a creationist - fails.
Second, in science, scientific theories are very well established collections of tested hypotheses and data. Again T. Wray makes the very same mistake that creationists make in asserting that theories are hypotheses (or wild, quite random, guesses). If one accepts the scientific theories behind the Periodic Table of the Elements, Gravity, Quantum Mechanics and Relativity, then one must accept the Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution (which includes Natural Selection) as the single, unifying theory of biology, indeed, of all the life sciences including epidemiology and evolutionary medicine. So evolution is not still a theory, BUT a scientific theory whose most comprehensive version is the Modern Synthesis Theory.)
(EDITORIAL NOTE 1/19/2013: Joseph Cianflone claims to have an "open mind", but if he read my review carefully, he would have noted that I have recommended some books for him to read.
IMHO required reading includes:
Robert Pennock "Tower of Babel"
Paul R. Gross and Barbara Forrest "Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design"
Michael Shermer: "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design"
Kenneth R. Miller "Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul"
Richard Dawkins "The Greatest Show on Earth"
Jerry Coyne: "Why Evolution is True"
Sean B. Carroll: "The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution"
Donald Prothero: "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters"
Nothing that Discovery Institute mendacious intellectual pornographer Michael Behe has written warrants the attention of any reader who claims to have an "open mind", especially someone as naive as Joseph Cianflone.