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Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution [Paperback]

By Michael J. Behe (Author)
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Pages   307
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.4" Width: 5.4" Height: 0.9"
Weight:   66 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 20, 1998
Publisher   Simon & Schuster
ISBN  0684834936  
EAN  9780684834931  

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Item Description...
Was Darwin wrong? "Michael Behe has done a top-notch job of explaining and illuminating one of the most vexing problems in biology: the origin of the complexity that permeates all of life on this planetO. This book should be on the essential reading list of all those who are interested in the question of where we came from, as it presents the most thorough and clever presentation of the design argument that I have seen" -Robert Shapiro From the back cover: "Mike Behe ... makes an overwhelming case against Darwin on the biochemical level. No one has done this before. It is an argument of great originality, elegance, and intellectual power. For readers who have been persuaded that biologists have long since demonstrated the validity of Darwinian theory, [Behe's] observations are apt to be a source of astonishment." - David Berlinski, A TOUR OF THE CALCULUS "[Behe's] talent for lively exposition ... charmingly convey[s] a sense of biochemistry's hidden beauty." - James Shreeve, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW "A well-written and thoughtful statement of the biochemical challenge." - Will St. John, DETROIT FREE PRESS "[A] valuable critique of an all-too-often unchallenged orthodoxy." - James A. Shapiro, NATIONAL REVIEW Michael J. Behe is Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University. He lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

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More About Michael J. Behe

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Michael J. Behe is a Professor of Biological Science at Lehigh University, where he has worked since 1985. From 1978 to 1982 he did postdoctoral work on DNA structure at the National Institutes of Health. From 1982 to 1985 he was Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Queens College in New York City. He has authored more than forty technical papers, but he is best known as the author of "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution." He lives near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with his wife and nine children.

Michael J. Behe currently resides in Bethlehem, in the state of Pennsylvania. Michael J. Behe was born in 1952.

Michael J. Behe has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Proceedings of the Wethersfield Institute

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Behe IS biased... But it may not matter...  Nov 30, 2005
As a biochemist and a physician, I find Dr. Behe's argument for the "irreducible complexity" of biologic organisms fascinating. It is logical and persuasive. Is this book without fault? No. But it does offer up a very interesting and compelling dilemma to the currently model of biochemical evolution (especially in terms of speciation). I can understand why many are not willing to "jump" to Intelligent Design as the explanation of these difficulties. However, at the very least, "irreducible complexity" does expose the fact that our current understanding of the "evolution" of life falls pitifully short of explaining the amazing complexity of biological systems. Forget about the flagellum... Let's talk about the human brain!

A common criticism of the book is that Dr. Behe is biased because he believes in God. That probably is true (and it may be something that Dr. Behe would even admit). However, being biased does not negate a good argument. A sound argument will stand on its own despite the inevitable (or possibly even reprehensible) bias that an author may have. Honestly, is anyone really free from bias? A far better approach is to evaluate each argument on its own merit.

Finally, it's interesting that if you strip away all the veneers, what most of these reviews are about is a debate between theism and atheism. We know that both camps are VERY biased people. And we know that they can't both be right... Here's to hoping that we all choose wisely...
Behe has designs  Nov 28, 2005

Behe's book is full of slippery logic and twisty analogies, but makes a good point. Before we come to the good point, let's look at some of the slips and twists.

Design is important to Behe, and he reminds us that all machines are of course designed. Machines don't grow on trees. In addition, some machines, like mousetraps, are what he calls irreducibly complex. That is, a mousetrap has several parts, all the parts are needed for its function, and there's no question about what that function is. It's killing mice.

The paddling cilium of a swimming cell is not a machine, but a natural form. But since its clear function is to paddle, and it has a number of parts, and it supposedly needs all those parts to perform its function of paddling, Behe says that the cilium is also irreducibly complex. Is the cilium also designed like a machine?

Behe wishes to say that it is. He begins by stating that irreducibly complex structures like the cilium are incompatible with Darwin, or at least a colossal barrier to Darwin. The reason is that an irreducibly complex structure can't evolve by simple, gradual, Darwinian steps. Why not? Here's the argument: consider a structure that's just one Darwinian step short of a cilium. Since this structure, whatever it is, is a step short, it's missing a part, says Behe. And since an irreducibly complex structure needs all its parts to function, it can't begin to paddle. Therefore, the structure is not a paddle in any way, shape or form, and evolution would have passed over it in selecting structures to turn into paddles. See p. 39 for Behe's exact words.

There are two fallacies here. A structure that's not quite a paddle can still be selected for a different function, one that has nothing to do with paddling. And after being originally selected for that other function, it might later be adopted as part of a paddle.

The other fallacy is this. It does not follow from Darwin that a completely non-paddle-like structure must precede a paddle-like structure. This is the notorious `What good is half an eye?' argument in different garb. But just as an organism might obtain a benefit from a mere light-sensitive cell (half an eye), so it might from a wiggly bump that's a rudimentary cilium.

Behe recognizes at least the first as a valid objection, but he seems to keep forgetting about it. The point is, he has not demonstrated logically that the cilium can't have evolved in Darwinian style. Sure, the evolution is really complicated and no one can explain it, just as Behe claims. Behe can even claim that the mere light-sensitive cell and wiggly bump can't be explained in Darwinian fashion, down to the last molecule. And he's right. It's unimaginably complicated and we don't know enough. But unimaginably complicated is not the same as logically impossible. Behe needs to keep this distinction in mind, but further instances show him not doing so. And that's quite intentional on his part.

In the above, Behe also tries to get mileage by playing on the word `parts.' We are asked, for example, to imagine a bicycle evolving in Darwinian fashion, bolt by simple gradual bolt, into a motorcycle. Here bolts are the `parts' that correspond to Darwinian steps of development in an organism. Well of course we can't do it. We need more than bolts to go from a bike to a chopper. We need other bits and pieces too. We also need the concept of a motorcycle. Behe is reminding us that machines are designed, so aren't organisms too? But biology is not Tool Time, and the `parts' of a living cell are not bolts. The analogy does not get us to designer cells.

At times Behe seems to be saying that complex structures, especially the ones he calls irreducibly complex, simply cannot result from simples. `In order to claim that a system developed gradually by a Darwinian mechanism a person must show that the function of the system could have been formed by numerous successive, slight modifications.' p. 90.

Let's take a page from Behe and look at some machines. A pair of scissors is an irreducibly complex machine. It has two blades joined at an axis by a rivet, and its function is to cut. If you want to argue that you can cut with just one blade, then consider a pair of pliers or tweezers or tongs instead. You need the two opposable ends to get the proper function. And yet what do these machines involve except the duplication of one part and the duplicates then joined together? Does that count as a successive, slight modification? Well, it involves self-replication.

The philosopher Daniel Dennett talks about self-replication in his book *Freedom Evolves. * There he discusses a computer game called Life. Life is played on a computer screen and so involves pixels, the tiny lighted areas that together from the whole image on the screen. Dennett explains that a bunch of computer nerds were able to build an image out of pixels that not only replicates itself once it's built, but also contains a Turing Machine. That is, it's a self-replicating computer. And it was entirely built by the systematic application of what Dennett calls `one simple transition rule.' See p. 36. The rule, expressed in five lines in the book, determines when a pixel lights up and when it turns off. That's all. Read the whole story, pp. 36-51. Is this self-replicating Life form irreducibly complex? Maybe. Dennett does not use that term in his book, but he indicates it may be the simplest Life design that has the feature of self-replication, though he doesn't claim to have a proof.

Now of course the rule of Life was not taken from *Origin of Species. * Darwin does not mention pixels in that work. And of course the structure did not result from chance or natural selection, since it was intentionally sought after and designed by nerds. But it does prove that complex structures can result from simple, successive steps, a fact that Behe seems too willing to overlook.

Certainly some biological systems are a big challenge for Darwinists, but it isn't because they are irreducibly complex. As we have seen, some irreducibly complex systems such as scissors, self-replicators and Turing Machines are just combinations of simples, or appear to be. Why then does Behe keep harping on the irreducibly complex? Ah, because of its rhetorical value. It allows Behe to construct a circular argument. He keeps planting the idea in the reader's head that whenever a system is designated as irreducibly complex, it can't be explained as a result of Darwinism. Therefore it must be the result of something else, something like, well, intelligent design. Irreducible complexity equals intelligent design, in other words. After giving example after example of so-called irreducibly complex systems, at last Behe sighs and says in effect, Well, dear reader, here we go again, another irreducibly complex system (wink, wink). And the reader thinks `Got to be designed!' But planting the conclusion of your argument amongst the premises in disguised form can be logically fallacious. It is so here since, to say it once more, some irreducibly complex systems seem to result from simples. It remains to be proved which complex biological systems, if any, defy Darwinian analysis. Calling them irreducibly complex isn't enough.

Here are some more of Behe's shenanigans. Fellow (except she's a lady) biochemist Lyn Margulis gets oddly mixed reviews from Behe. He notes that she opposes classical Darwinian gradualism, the idea that life evolved by the accrual of tiny steps. Instead she proposes that in some cases complex structures united suddenly. Behe says, p. 69, that Margulis's idea regarding the bacterial cilium is that it `resulted when a type of swimming bacterium...accidentally attached itself to a ...cell.' Behe scoffs at this. Where are the `mechanistic details?' he cries. P. 69. And so the union of complexes seems to be dismissed. But then, on p. 188: `Although initially patronized and ridiculed, Margulis eventually won ...acceptance...for her idea that parts of the cell were once fee-living organisms.' So we can't rule out the union of complexes in all cases. Behe just won't let that cilium go.

Beginning on p.225, Behe gives short shrift, I think, to the argument that Darwinism is supported by so-called imperfections in organisms, vestigial organs, nonfunctioning chemical complexes, and so forth, even though he admits that these seem to exist. He claims their presence doesn't prove evolution, and of course he's right. But he underplays their significance. The thing is, Darwinism, with its adaptations, occasional dead ends, and functions that supercede other less successful functions, virtually predicts vestigial organs and traces of outmoded structures. ID does not, and so Behe has to go looking for excuses for them, even to the comical `A python pelvis might be doing something useful of which we are ignorant.' P.226. Like what, the hippy hippy shake? (To be fair, Behe intends this as a joke too, sort of.)

But irreducible complexity is not Behe's only argument for design. There is also self-evident design. For example (my example), a new Lexus loaded with AC, stereo, and power everything is not irreducibly complex-the extras just go along for the irreducible ride, as it were-but it is obviously designed. How do we know then when something is designed? Behe says some odd things here. `Italy may have been intentionally designed to look like a boot, but maybe not. There is not enough data to reach a confident conclusion.' P.198. Well now, without revealing which camp I myself belong in, the camp of those-who-believe-Italy-was-designed-to-look like-a-boot, or the camp of those-who-do-not-believe-Italy-was-designed-to-look-like-a-boot, let me just say I have strong feelings on the subject, and they are not the same as Behe's.

Confident that we have swallowed his arguments up to p. 204, Behe lets all restraint go.
`...we can conclude that the biochemical systems discussed in Chapters 3 through 6 were designed by an intelligent agent....Our ability to be confident of the design of the cilium...rests on the same principles as our ability to be confident of the design of anything...' And Behe's examples of `anything' include Elvis posters, Mt. Rushmore, and again the mousetrap.

At this point the reader feels the warm, friendly arm of Behe around his neck as the biochemist joyously tugs him down to the river for a baptism in the clear water. But wait, Behe, get your arm off me. I have a little trouble with your `principles'. We know the mousetrap is designed, for one reason, because if we aren't certain we can consult the designer at Mousetrap Limited, or look up the patent, or at least research the history of mousetraps. But in the case of a cilium, the designer is precisely whom we can't consult. He or She ain't around, neither is the patent, and there's no history to read. The alleged designer isn't one of us, and so the ultimate proof of design is missing.

And isn't it odd that Behe nowhere mentions such apparently designed natural things as snowflakes, crystals, seashells, spider webs, honeycombs, and so on? Why doesn't he discuss these? Could it be because they are not really designed, at least not by intention, but only appear to be, and that someone might say of the cilium that it too only appears to be designed? That might be counterproductive for his argument. Like any shrewd arguer, like the Bush administration for example, Behe presents only those arguments likely to help him reach his goal.

I'm sure Behe realizes that his book paints a rather pathetic picture of his God. Not a traditional creationist, Behe believes in following the secular science, even Darwinism, as far as, in his view, it goes. It goes these days down to the very origins of life, how those irreducibly complex things like cilia, blood clotting, cell walls and protein syntheses first began forming cells and organisms. It's getting over the first humps from nonliving stuff to living stuff that perplexes Behe, or so he claims. Once living cells are in place, it's all systems go. But how do you get to the original cells? That's where God comes in for his cameo role. Like a tired lab assistant, He staggers into the lab late one night some millions of years ago, lets be the irreducibly complex processes that will lead to life and its continuation, and departs, His tenure secured. What's He up to these days? Behe doesn't hazard a guess. At least not in this book. But one is assured that Behe has bigger roles planned for the Lord than shrinking assistant. One can see Behe sitting back in his authorial chair, rubbing his hands together and thinking, But first let's get Him into the classroom.

Well it's time to thank Behe for the great read. I give his book lots of stars despite what I see as a lot of bad logic and a hidden agenda because I think Behe does very well by the ID team. He provides clear and fascinating descriptions of biochemical structures and processes like the cilium, blood clotting, and protein formation. Behe is the first author I've read who really takes the case to the Darwinists. How can you explain all those immensely complex biochemical things by natural selection? Evidently you can't, not entirely, down to the molecular bone. Not even computer simulation can virtualize full-blown real life, as Dennett admits in *Freedom Evolves*. At least not yet. But on this note I close with a little parable:

One of my hobbies is reading up on the so-called Shakespeare question. Some scholars have held it to be impossible that the simple country boy from rural Stratford could have penned those great plays. Isn't it obvious, they insist, that the author was classically educated at university, that he had intimate acquaintance with the law, with foreign travel, with the royal court? Only a Bacon or a de Vere could have had the sophistication to write those plays. And in fact there's no smoking gun to point to the author, so the question will probably never be answered to the satisfaction of everyone. Still, most scholars agree that it was the simple Stratford boy who grew up to be the great playwright, and I agree with them.

Please read this book, you will never think the same about evolution again  Nov 28, 2005
And also read theory-of-evolution dot net (check google) and you will see that evolution is both impossible mathematically, and, as Behe believes, from an irriducibly complex standpoint likewise.
For those who doubt Behe's theory, please explain how the coagulation cascade could have evolved slowly over time, when it was needed immediately at an animal's first breath of life? If it were not there from the getgo, the animal would not have lived or reproduced, hence an instant deadend.

And, just a quick comment for those who believe that if one does not believe in evolution, then one must believe in God. Intelligent design does not definitively imply God created life on earth...any highly intelligent being/beings could have done so.

Here's some curious ideas to consider:
Why the enormous span of time between the fossil records? I.E. why do we first encounter single cell organisms, then, millions of year later, encounter higher life forms, etc.?
Maybe, whoever/whomever was doing the designing, needed this time in between to develop, mastermind, and finally incorporate the next era of species into the planet.
Or, maybe certain species were needed for very lengthy time periods for specific environmental purposes.
Simply because the dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals or plants existed is not obsolute proof that evolution was required to achieve their presence on earth.
Also remember there is very little if any evidence of "intermediate" life forms (i.e. a half amphibian-half turtle life form) that exist in the fossil records.

We need to think outside the bread box here, people, and stop clinging to old theories, such as evolution, which is a theory FULL OF ENORMOUS HOLES!
Progress in science will never be fluid and growth-oriented if we refuse to even consider alternate ideas. Simply remove "God" from design-oriented life creation theories and maybe those of you still clinging to evolution will be able to accept and realize alternate theories.
If you keep on repeating, you can make it true!  Nov 23, 2005
This book is a wonderful example of 'the god of the gaps'concept at work today. This being that anything conceivable who's cause is currently unknown, must be the result of a god/ghost/demon etc.(A good example of 'intelligent design theory' from the past is explaining diseases as resulting from possesions or as punishment from some 'intelligent designer'(I'd rather my doctor beleive in bacterial/viral causes of disease, personally, than tell me some mysterious, invisable, untestable being is making me sick and then be charged $100 for nothing)Despite the fact that its main premise has been deconstructed and shown to be false countless times since the "scientific creation" movement began(and even more since science began), this book still stands tall and rather popular.
In fact, the popularity of this book and other faux science/religion books is a testament to the level of critical thinking in american culture. Anyone can make up their own scientific theory nowadays, and be taken seriously simply by
1)Ignoring well established facts(from biology, geology, physics, chemistry, etc.)
2)Using big scientific sounding words such as 'irreducible complexity'(a.k.a the god of the gaps)
3)Rinse and Repeat. When your hypothesis(oooops I mean theory)is shown to be false without any redeaming idea contained within it, just rinse off that valid criticism and repeat your 'theory' over and over again. This is the key! If you do this enough times, people who don't know any better will just assume that your ideas are valid(why would anyone continue to lie if their lie has been exposed). This step works well in politics as well.if evidence arises showing you have falsified information or lied, just rinse and repeat. And use whatever means necessary to attack the credibility of anyone who dares refer to facts(a la fox news).
For more information on other intelligent design theories, I highly recommend looking into FSM theory(flying spagetti monsterism).
This is not science  Nov 22, 2005
It's hard to believe that nobody took the time to really assess the pseudo-scientific arguments made by Behe. By just Googling around you would quickly discover that all Behe's argumements have been factually contradicted (the last time being in court for the Dover trial it seems).

Just read the following, and see by yourself whether there are more than ad-hominem to the scientific arguments

Write your own review about Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution

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