Book Review: The Edge Of Evolution

The Edge Of Evolution:  The Search For The Limits Of Darwinism, by Michael J. Behe

I have read this book before, but this is a book that, like many classic intelligent design works [1] is well worth reading again.  What makes this book, the sequel to the author’s classic work Darwin’s Black Box, worth reading closely and celebrating so much is the way that the author looks for the limits of blind evolution through looking the information from diseases like malaria and the HIV virus.  In showing the extremely modest achievements that can be done without design based not on just-so stories and optimistic assumptions but on the sorts of mutations and their results that can be seen in the laboratory of the real world, the author demonstrates that a vast amount of phenomena in biology and cosmology simply cannot be accounted for by the Darwinian paradigm.  Not only this, but the author manages to say this in a way that is not likely to appeal to those whose sensitive feelings are hurt by the truth:  “Just as nineteenth century physics presumed light to be carried by the ether, so modern Darwinian biology postulates random mutation and natural selection constructed the sophisticated coherent machinery of the cell.  Unfortunately, the inability to test the theory has hampered its critical appraisal and led to rampant speculation.  Nonetheless, although we would certainly have wished otherwise, in just the past fifty years nature herself has ruthlessly conducted the biological equivalent of the Michelson-Morley experiments.  Call it the M-H (malaria-HIV) experiment.  With a billion times the firepower of the puny labs that humans run, the M-H experiment has scoured the planet looking for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to build coherent biological machinery and has found absolutely nothing.  Why no trace of the fabled blind watchmaker?  The simplest explanation is that, like the ether, the blind watchmaker does not exist (163-164).”

In a bit less than 300 pages the author manages to take the reader on a tour of the calculus showing the narrow range of Darwinian processes in dealing with the difficulties of life as a human being or as a disease, showing that while mutations are really good at destroying function in cells that they are pitiful at creating anything coherent in its place.  The author looks at the elements of Darwinism, separating out it s various components, and demonstrates with a certain amount of ruthlessness the fact that Darwinian evolutionary processes are destructive trench warfare that destroy function in the face of massive environmental threats and are not arms races of increasing complexity.  The author shows the very narrow mathematical limits of Darwinism and give a thoughtful and fair-minded assessment of what Darwinism can do and what it cannot do based on a look at diverse situations including fish that can manufacture antifreeze to survive brutal Antarctic seas.  The author then looks at various benchmarks and the two-binding sites rule that shows the limit of undirected natural processes.  He deals with objections to the rather strict edge proposed in the book and looks at the creative capacity of design that answers the factual concerns of cosmology and biology before closing with four appendices that deal with various technical matters that may be beyond the capability of some of the book’s readers.

What elevates this book from mere rhetoric to a powerful book is the way that it looks at the actual behavior of small and rapidly replicating organisms like flies and rats and diseases to look at the very strict limits of evolution as we see it in the actual world and not the vain imaginations of evolutionists.  What we find is that while function can be reduced or eliminated in organisms in the face of existential threats like antibiotics, diseases, and poisons/pesticides, undirected processes have shown themselves unable to create new coherent function.  There are definite and very narrow limits to the biological phenomena that one sees in natural selection and random mutations, and efforts on the part of evo-devo thinkers and others to appeal to modularity in organisms only demonstrates the elegance and effectiveness of design approaches similar to that found in programming languages and construction.  This is a book that says a lot of things that are useful to read but that may be painful for some readers to accept.  Such is the life, though.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Review: The Edge Of Evolution

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Design Revolution | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Darwin’s Secret Sex Problem | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Ancestors: In Search Of Human Origins | Edge Induced Cohesion

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