The Edge of Evolution; OR Darwin’s Black Box Pt. II

16 04 2007

By now most people are likely aware that the author of Darwin’s Black Box, Michael Behe, is putting out a new book this summer entitled The Edge of Evolution that will likely be ripped asunder by the Panda’s Thumb crew/ScienceBlogs in due time. For the moment, however, Publisher’s Weekly has put out an early review and the listing has a few snippets from some unsurprising supporters of Behe’s book. Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly has to say;

The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism
Michael J. Behe. Free Press, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7432-9620-5

With his first book, Darwin’s Black Box, Behe, a professor of biology at Lehigh University, helped define the controversial intelligent design movement with his concept of “irreducible complexity.” Now he attempts to extend his analysis and define what evolution is capable of doing and what is beyond its scope. Behe strongly asserts, to the likely chagrin of young earth creationists, that the earth is billions of years old and that the concept of common descent is correct. But beginning with a look at malaria and the sickle cell response in humans, Behe argues that genetic mutation results in only clumsy solutions to selective pressures. He goes on to conclude that the statistical possibility of certain evolutionary changes taking place is virtually nil. Although Behe writes with passion and clarity, his calculations of probability ignore biologists’ rejection of the premise that evolution has been working toward producing any particular end product. Furthermore, he repeatedly refers to the shortcomings of “Darwin’s theory—the power of natural selection coupled to random mutation,” but current biological theory encompasses far more than this simplistic view. Most important, Behe reaches the erroneous conclusion that the workings of an intelligent designer is the only reasonable alternative to evolution, even without affirmative evidence in its favor. B&w illus. (June 5)

At least the review kept their thinking cap on; the straw man of evolutionary biologists being Darwinists has already been torn apart by Wilkins (with my own little contribution here), but creationists of all kinds continue to claim that evolutionary science has not moved beyond “random mutation + natural selection = the whole of evolution” despite this. As my friend Chris has pointed out, howevever, scientists who do have the media’s ear (like Dawkins, Miller, etc.) don’t do us any good by claiming to be “Darwinists” themselves.

Beyond the near-constant “Darwinism” debacle (which never ceases to irk me), it seems like Behe’s new book is essentially Darwin’s Black Box, Pt. II. Rather than listen to the criticisms of various scientists and conduct new research to prove his claims, it seems Behe has just moved on into different areas (sickle cell anemia, malaria) that have been hotly debated for some time now. There really is nothing new under the sun when it comes to creationism, is there?

It’s also interesting that the book is promoting Behe’s acceptance of common descent (to some degree, at least) while many other IDers do not, claiming that such statements will make him no friends in the YEC camp. I personally don’t care whether Behe accepts evolution or not; evolution is clearly established science and does not hinge on his opinions or preconceived notions of a desinging deity (although I do wonder if he’ll have the guts to ascribe design to God or wuss out with stories about time-travelling scientists or aliens again). Indeed, if it is Behe’s intent to piss of more fundamentalist creationists it is merely an attempt to make intelligent design distinct, giving Behe and others the ability to say “Look, they don’t like what I’m saying so intelligent design can’t possibly be fundamentalist creationism. We’re really scientists, we swear.” Indeed, I don’t see many ID advocates who reject common descent taking Behe to task over his more “liberal” views, so it seems that everyone has received another memo to toe the ID party line and not say anything against Behe since anything that promotes ID is a good thing.

It is also interesting to note that there are already some endorsements of the book from some familiar names (I assume they’re all from the dust jacket of the book): David Snoke, Michael Denton, Jeffery M. Schwartz, and Philip Skell. All of them seem to support Behe in the classic creationist assertion that “microevolution” occurs but that’s as far as it goes (baraminology, anyone?), although I’m sure the “edge of evolution” is defined a bit differently by each of these characters. They’re all creationists, of course, but they all see it fit to keep the in-fighting to a minimum in order to promote creationism in general (it doesn’t matter what you believe, just so long as you believe in something).

When Behe’s book comes out, I’ll likely be late to the party; I’m not going to spend my hard-earned money on something I know is going to be a piece of junk. It isn’t going to add anything new to the debate and unless someone hands it to me to try and get me to change my ways, I’m perfectly content not reading it. While it is important to quickly and effectively dismantle the book for the public to see (silence=consent), I would much rather be learning something than torturing myself. Hell, if I wanted to lose brain cells I could walk around the corner and spend the $18.48 on alcohol (and I’d likely have more fun that way too). I’m sure we’ll be seeing more reviews, press releases, and the like in the near future, but if another Darwin’s Black Box is the best the Disco Institute can do then that’s pretty sad.




4 responses

16 04 2007
Chris Harrison

It appears this new book really is going to be old hat.
Here’s a quote from [url=]Darwin under the microscope[/url:
“I want to be explicit about what I am, and am not, questioning. The word “evolution” carries many associations. Usually it means common descent — the idea that all organisms living and dead are related by common ancestry. I have no quarrel with the idea of common descent, and continue to think it explains similarities among species. By itself, however, common descent doesn’t explain the vast differences among species.”

Same thing. Common descent is true, the Earth is ~4.5 billion years old, but there is some biological minutiae that I don’t think evolutionary processes could generate.

At least some of his positions prevent the YEC’s from groveling at his feet.

16 04 2007

Thanks for the quote Chris; like I wrote in the post, this seems like the old micro vs macro evolution straw man so often put out there, and I think (while he’s done it in his classes) if Behe tried to tackle the fossil record, morphology, etc. in his books in detail it would only hurt his cause as it would be obvious he’s a creationist. This, perhaps, is what worries me most about Behe and his works; he appears more reasonable to the uninitiated when he’s really no moreso than Dembski or others.

31 05 2007
Science After Sunclipse

Chu-Carroll on Behe’s The Edge of Evolution

Well, now the burden is off me, and I can devote my book-reviewing time to good books, like the works of Hector Avalos. Mark Chu-Carroll has reviewed Michael Behe’s new book, The Edge of Evolution. In short, it’s as bad as I thought it wo…

5 06 2007
Behe fail science? That's un-possible « Laelaps

[…] fail science? That’s un-possible 5 06 2007 The early reviews/take-downs of Behe’s new book The Edge of Evolution are starting to come out, and it’s not looking good for the Lehigh professor. Blake Stacey […]

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