review # 2
Dave Ussery (Dave@CBS.dtu.dk), a biochemist in Denmark, May 20, 1999,
A Biochemist Responds to Behe's Challenge
Michael Behe does a wonderful job of describing the intricacies of biochemical systems. However, as a biochemist I was surprised to see several distortions throughout the book. Behe writes as though there were some great conspiracy amongst scientists to hide the truth, and that there's no evidence at all for evolution of complex biochemical systems. He then concludes this absence of explanation could mean 'intelligent design'. I think there is in fact lots of evidence out there, and can gladly recommend any of the books below. In particular, 'The Origins of Life' is a good place to start. 'Darwin's Black Box' states in the subtitle that it is meant to be a 'biochemical challenge to evolution'. For someone who is not a scientist (or even some scientists who aren't that familiar with modern biochemistry), the arguments might sound serious. Many of his arguments have been answered by papers published since his book was written in 1995. For example, his 'irreducibly complex' flagella which appeared to require at least 40 proteins in 1995, now has been reduced to 31 proteins, and bacteria with fewer proteins for their flagella could be found soon as more genomes become sequenced. In addition, there are many facts which have been known for a long time that somehow didn't get mentioned - like the observation that DNA bases will spontaneously stack on their own to form a helix - this is pretty important if you're going to talk about the evolution of DNA and RNA (see the book on 'Understanding DNA' below for a good description of this). Behe also fails to take into account that most biological systems are far from equilibrium, and then seems surprised when simple equilibrium chemistry can't explain the origins of complex systems. Yes, non-equilibrium thermodynamics is more complicated, but not IMPOSSIBLE. Finally, I found very little in terms of any sense of information theory and evolution, which seems logical to include in his arguments about the evolution of complex systems. In short I am unconvinced of his scientific arguments, and after reading this book I felt more like Behe was relying on (his impression of) the ABSENCE of explanation to advocate his very popular theory of purposeful intelligent design.
Books I recommend for further reading about evolution of complex biochemical systems:
'The Origins of Life' by J.M.Smith & E.Szathmary
'The Pattern of Evolution' by N.Elderidge
'Understanding DNA' by C.Calladine and H.Drew
'Climbing Mt. Improbable' by R.Dawkins
'The Logic of Life' by F.Jacob
'Information and the Origin of Life' by B.Kuppers
Also recommended: The Origins of Life by John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary
link to Barnes & Noble reviews of "Darwin's Black Box"
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