Amanda's Reviews > Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution

Darwin's Black Box by Michael J. Behe
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Jul 30, 11

Read in July, 2011

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: http://biologos.org/ )

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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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Will (new)

Will Thomas Who gets a Bachelor of SCIENCE in music?


Amanda My B.S. is in music education. All education degrees are B.S. degrees, although technically I have more than enough credits for a B.A.


message 3: by Will (new)

Will Thomas Mine is a BMus. Hmm.


Amanda Well, you got yours back when dinosaurs still ruled the earth. :-p


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