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Behe's first book, "Darwin's Black Box", was one of the books that made the Intelligent Design debate more visible. Proponents of ID argue that it is possible to argue on the basis of scientific evidence that life (or the universe) requires intelligent input of some sort. This differs from creationism, that argues fundamentally for the presence of God on the basis of the authority of a religious text. However, since like creationism, ID excludes the possibility of a naturalistic explanation of various phenomena, it has aroused the indignation of many of the same opponents, who are keen to characterise ID as being no more than "creationism in a cheap tuxedo".

So it is inevitable that this book will polarise the opinions of readers - or potential readers: enough people who know Behe by reputation may well weigh in on either side of the debate without actually bothering to read "The Edge of Evolution".

However, what is of more importance than the debate between nay-sayers and yay-sayers are the issues that Behe raises. He goes substantially beyond "Darwin's Black Box" here. In his first book, he argues that complex biochemical machinery could not arise by chance. In this book, he suggests that "the edge of evolution" - the most complicated achievement that a purely darwinist process could hope to achieve - is much less complex than (say) a machine like the bacterial flagellum. He makes the case for this in mathematical terms - calculations that are more biologically specific than those presented by Dembski in "The Design Inference" - and backs up his case by looking at two specific biological systems in some detail - the malaria parasite and the AIDS virus.

In effect, he is arguing that whilst darwinism is an adequate means of explaining microevolution (such as antibiotic resistance, the preservation of the sickle-cell mutation, and resistance to antimalarial drugs), it is not powerful enough to produce macroevolution. He is quite careful about his terminology here; he accepts both natural selection and common descent, but argues that random mutation - a required plank of darwinism - is not up to the task required of it.

One of the major charges made against ID is its refusal to identify either a designer or a process. Behe points out again that identification of a designer is not inherent in the identification of design, but does propose a process. He argues that life as we see it has to be a highly non-random outcome of processes - and therefore, the designer might work by manipulating these processes. This might mean engineering mutations throughout the history of life to bring about the desired end. Is this distinguishable from random mutations? He would argue, yes - if an outcome is very low probability, then it is not an adequate or reasonable explanation to suggest that it is random. Even Dawkins - the loudest proponent of darwinism - accepted this in "The Blind Watchmaker", where he suggested that if life could be shown to be unlikely to arise once in the galaxy, then the assertion that life was the product of chance would be unreasonable. Of course, this was written in those innocent, pre-"Rare Earth" days when Carl Sagan was confidently asserting that there were probably thousands of intelligent life forms all around us in the universe.

Behe's book is a serious attempt to move the debate on - and has been accompanied by serious attempts by darwinist heavyweights to get people to ignore him - see Behe's blog on for details of his interactions with such. Of course, you need an open mind if you are going to accept that there might be an intelligent designer - whoever or whatever that happened to be. But isn't that what we post-enlightenment thinkers are supposed to have?
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on 30 June 2007
In this book biochemist Michael Behe, Professor of Biological Science at Lehigh University, essentially blows out of the water any idea that random mutations can provide the neccessary genetic variation needed for biological complexity. With extremely up-to-date research, well described, he shows with authority that the chances of getting the needed amino acid sequences in a protein, through DNA mutation, to achieve any functional benefit - are vanishingly small. His method is to look where we can actually document mutations in organisms which have very large numbers and rapid generation times - in particular malaria, HIV, E.coli. These numbers give us the statistical power needed to assess the probability of random mutations forming new protein binding sites and properties. Novelty just does not happen - and is of course far less likely in small genetic populations of mammals such as us. Darwinists will fume at this - because although Behe accepts both an ancient earth and common descent, he has removed the foundation for purposeless evolution. He rightly acknowledges situations where natural selection can and does work on very minimal variation - but demonstrates an 'edge' beyond which evolution fails to produce the goods. His conclusion that intelligence or mind is behind the complexity of biology, is evidence based and superbly argued.
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on 2 August 2007
Despite the hostility of some reviewers, I found this to be a good book.

Behe examines latests results regarding the powers of random mutation and wants it wanting. In the books' centerpiece examples, he examines how much random mutations can do in malarial parasites and bacteria. These organisms have very small generation times, so scientists have been able to test in the lab what would be worth millions of years of time for us vertebrates. According to Behe's analysis, evolution relying on random mutation has very limited powers.

Some critics here have pointed to dog breeding and bacterial resistance as counterexamples to Behe. In my opinion these critics should at least have mentioned that Behe actually uses both as examples of the powers and limits of random mutation + natural selection in his book. In my opinion, he is correct to point out that one has to analyse what is actually going on in the changes to see whether darwinism is true. In the dog mutations, no new molecular machines, cell types etc. are created. Having different dog breeds don't automatically demonstrate that the same process could have built man gradually from small bacteria.

Indeed, most criticisms are well dealt with by Behe in his book. Others are dealt with at his Amazon blog. In my opinion, his arguments are not easy to dismiss.

In the book, Behe also expands on his influential "irreducible complexity" argument again undirected evolution. Behe's criticism is made unusual by the fact that he accepts common descent, but believes that it was guided by an intelligent designer. Many other scientists have been of the opinion that darwinian processes as traditionally conceived do very little, but a smaller percent believe in the theory of Intelligent design: the idea that life's complex machinery came about through intelligent design, just as human machinery came about through human design.
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on 15 August 2007
The argument runs basically thus: given the rate of beneficial mutations observed in all the generations of malaria vs medicine over the last 50 years, we are not statistically entitled to expect any modifications necessitating more than 2 new protein-protein binding sites to ever occur randomly (resistance to chloroquine, which requires 2 coherent point mutations, occurred once in 10^20 parasites). The evidence that highly complex cellular machinery could have developed at a rate of at most two mutations at a time is nonexistent, hence it is not "biologically reasonable" to attribute said machinery to the mechanism of random variation + natural selection.

This obviously isn't a watertight proof. Maybe someday someone will be able to sketch out a pathway from zero to flagellum (say) proceeding exclusively by single or double mutations, each of which results in a survival advantage compared to that which preceeded it. Or even if they don't, that doesn't prove such a pathway couldn't exist. The thing is, given that so many reviews from Darwinists seem to utterly and (surely) wilfully miss the point - Dawkins, bizarrely, goes on and on about dogs - I begin to suspect that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

The last couple of chapters are dedicated to answering objections and attempting to explain and defend what ID is all about, making reference to Physics and Chemistry too. I especially enjoyed this part of the book, particularly the section dedicated to scientists caught listing all the biological discoveries they had never expected on the basis of Darwinism. So much for the complaint that ID doesn't make predictions.

Let's face it: a book this controversial can't fail to be worth reading, and it doesn't. Just watch out for the Great Danes.
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on 12 September 2007
I have read a number of books on both sides of the evolution debate and this rates as worthy contribution to the topic. This is not one of my personal favourites simply because it covers very familiar ground for me. Nonetheless, it is well written, well thought out and probably a better choice for people either new to the topic or with a modest background in maths and science. Worthy alternatives are (pro-evolution): "The Blind Watchmaker" and "Climbing Mount Improbable" and (pro-design): "Evolution a Theory in Crisis" and "Darwin's Black Box". Personally, I would suggest always reading one pro-evolution and one pro-design book together if you are trying to get a reasonably balanced view of the topic. There are extremists on both sides of this subject and occasionally objectivity is clouded by bias, emotion or fuzzy logic or rarely outright untruths.

I have seen a number of reviews suggesting that the pro-design books listed above (including this title) are somehow unscientific, biased or incorrect. My reading around the topic and personal area of expertise suggests that such people are merely cranks (i.e. they seem to be somewhat uninformed). I have not been able to find a single case where such charges or simple dismissals can be convincingly substantiated (against any of the above books). Personally, I am convinced that this is an honest and serious debate and well worth the time and effort involved in understanding it. For me personally, it has been very enjoyable.
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on 22 July 2013
If you've read Darwin's Black Box ; this is the follow-up. A genius examines the evidence and comes to his own conclusions. Well argued and well presented this is a delightful book to read if you are seeking to understand the arguments for and against Darwinism. Darwinism has its limits ( lack of ANY evidence for what Darwin himself called " The Transmutation of Species" is Darwinism's greatest drawback. ) Behe explains the kind of detail that Darwin never knew. In Darwin's day an amoeba was thought to be " a simple organism" because the microscopes in his day didn't magnify much. . Nowadays we know rather better ! The complexity seems to increase as size decreases and Behe explains this well. STRONGLY recommended !
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on 8 October 2014
Behe deals with the fact that the concept 'That which survives is that which is fittest to survive' is a tautology that actually begs the question 'How does it work?' rather than explaining anything. His putative solution: design is a realistic possibility that can only be rejected by a previously decided metaphysical perspective rather than dispassionate Science. He points to the contemporary search for the real mechanism that makes things like molecular machines within every cell. Is it design - & hence 'God'? He seems to think so. This is a read if only because it throws serious spanners in complacent, contemporary Scientific convention - out of which nothing new ever evolves. The Edge of Evolution could well mark the dawn of a cutting edge of revolution. Time will tell.

A serious read for serious Science readers.
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on 13 January 2014
Very well argued, answers a lot of questions, supports a limited view of creation by design but is unable to come to terms with the Biblical record of creation by God by fiat and from nothing in six 24 hour days. Supports the theory of an age-old earth. Prof Behe demonstrates the utter impossibility of Darwinism at the level of the cell. A recommended read for David Attenborough and others of his ilk. Especially the BBC.
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on 23 February 2015
Brilliantly written and argued thesis regarding certain key aspects in the development and the battle for life at cell level. Couched in terms understandable to non specialists and experts alike, Dr. Hebe explains the impossibilty of random mutation being entirely responsible for where the whole life on the planet is at present. He insists on, and explains why, there is intelligence.behind life from its beginnings,.
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on 7 December 2009
This was recommended to me in a response to a comment I made on a review of Dawkins' "Greatest Show on Earth". Apparently Dawkins had ignored the great arguments of Intelligent Design and this book would show just how much Dawkins and I had been missing.

My previous knowledge of Behe's arguments came from "Darwin's Black Box" were Behe puts forward "Irreducible Complexity". Mainstream biology popped up and pointed out that the idea was bunk and now Behe brings in another idea, that evolution has boundaries beyond which it cannot go.

Setting to, Behe describes one of those boundaries: the "arms race" (to use a Dawkins term) between humans and malaria. Behe demonstrates clearly that evolution can only do so much, can only do what looks like tinkering at the edges. In doing so Behe gives one of the most persuasive arguments I have read for evolution. Why can Behe make such a persuasive argument for this limit to evolution? Because evolution has stopped at a certain point. Behe can see the limit only because the balance between humans and malaria evolved. Were a designer to have got involved all evidence of the limit would have been eradicated, much like plastering a wall eradicates the evidence that there is a limit to how smooth the bricks were. If features betray a visible limit it establishes that those features evolved.

Can we come up with any other limits to evolution? Oh yes, yes indeed. The tetrapod skeleton: that's constant throughout the land vertebrates. That pushes the boundary of what evolved to the oceans. Can we go further? I ran off to a biologist to see if we could. And yes we can: there is no component of a mutli-celled organisms cells that is not also present in single cell organisms. As Behe says the cell contents are a limit on evolution. If the designer had gotten busy after mutli-celled animals arose we would not see this: we do, so he didn't.

At this point I began to wonder what great secret Behe could tell me. The designer may have had a hand in the origin of life but, from the protozoa onward, it's evolution all the way!

What can Behe be going on about? He accepts Common Descent. He accepts Natural Selection. His only dispute with Darwinism is Random Mutation. I gritted my teeth and plowed through a little more of the book. Some dodgy statistical reasoning followed (Behe's good at establishing the denominator, woeful at establishing the numerator) at which point I realised: he hasn't got a mechanism! The genome is causal in the development of the organism, all changes in phenotype involve changes in the genome. Behe accepts that the genome changes, he also accepts that he doesn't know how and cannot predict in what way. Now how a die falls is determined by physical laws and the initial starting conditions. We cannot calculate how it will fall: so we call it "random". Behe cannot predict the changes in the genome and so they are random.

At this point I had got to the stage where the main biologist in the ID movement had affirmed the evolution of all higher plants and animals and had (explicitly or implicitly) accepted Random Mutation, Common Descent and Natural Selection. I closed the book.
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