Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge To Evolution, by Michael J. Behe
I have read this book before and I think I may even own a copy of it in my Florida library, but it has been at least a decade since I read the book and thought it worthwhile to revisit as I explore classic works in intelligent design . After all, when a book is widely and accurately considered a classic like this one is, it is worthwhile to examine what makes it a classic work and what gives it its edge. The author of this book happens to be a biochemist whose peer reviewed books and papers and whose belief in both common descent and intelligent design make him a notable and unusual person in the origin of life debate. While I happen not to agree with him as far as common descent is concerned, unless one means a common designer who tends to use similar modules of genetic information for different purposes in different designs, as is often in the case in this sort of book, it is the similarity of the author’s approach rather than our differences in particular twiggy issues that is most decisive in my positive view of the book.
The organization of this book is pretty straightforward and the author manages to continually focus on the important subjects at hand including the positive nature of arguments for design based on specified complexity as well as the negative nature of the absence of any plausible or even conceivable mechanisms by which specified complexity can be generated by random, undirected processes. The author begins by discussing the unknown nature of the biochemical machinery of the cell and how it has presented insoluble difficulties for those who relied upon the cell’s supposed complexity to account for its origin. After those two chapters, the second part of the book consists of five chapters that look at the contents of the cellular machinery discovered by biochemists over the past few decades. These include discussions about the famous cillium and flagellum, the Rube Goldbergesque process of blood clotting, the way that even systems which could conceivably be dealt with in a stepwise fashion contain so many steps that getting from here to there is a daunting challenge, and pointing out the way that origin of life studies and attempts at organizing the world through appeals to self-organization end up like roadkill or like muck on the side of a test tube. The third part of the book contains four chapters on the nature of published peer reviewed papers dealing with evolutionary biology and the areas that are simply ignored and not dealt with in the literature, the pedigree as well as the viability of intelligent design, answering some questions about intelligent design, as well as discussing the relationship between science, philosophy, and religion. After this there is a short appendix about the chemistry of life before the book closes.
This is an immensely satisfying book and it is clear that its continuing popularity rests on a few factors. The author’s knowledge of biochemistry and his ability to put it in common language allow for mass appeal, and the fact that the author refers to standard texts of biochemistry allows for a high level of scientific content as well for those who are interested, as the author is, in the details. The author’s exposure of the intellectual nakedness and poverty of a great deal of contemporary evolutionary thought is also welcome to this reader and to many others, as well as for the hatred the book has received in evolutionary circles where the poor logic and reasoning and evidence for evolution has not been admitted or viewed as a subject of enjoyable discourse. This is a book that the author and others have clearly built upon and the author’s discussion of various biochemical machinery and complex structures has made this book and its arguments a welcome work whose reasonable length at under 300 pages has made it easy to read for many readers over the past two decades and will likely continue to make this a notable work for many years to come.
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