Saturday, May 7, 2011

Book Blog: Darwin's Black Box

It has been recommended to me that I read the book called Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution.  I plan to do just that, and blog through it until I'm finished.

The book was written by Michael J. Behe, a professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University.  He is an Intelligent Design Theory advocate, and has popularized an argument for this theory from irreducible complexity.  

He is not a young-earth creationist.  Instead, he believes the earth and universe are billions of years old, and also that all biological life shares a common ancestor.
Defining Terms

In the preface, Behe defines the word evolution as he uses it in the book:
"a process whereby life arose from non-living matter and subsequently developed entirely by natural means."
The first half of his definition, i.e. "a process whereby life arose from non-living matter," probably has caused some disagreement, because some would call that abiogenesis.  I would guess that a more agreeable definition of evolution would be only the second half of Behe's definition, i.e. "[a process whereby life] developed entirely by natural means."  The difference is that, according to some, evolution assumes life, whereas abiogenesis does not.

Behe defines a black box as,
"a device that does something, but whose inner workings are mysterious." 
He says that the cell is biology's black box.

Irreducible complexity is defined by Behe as the characteristic of a
"single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning."
He claims that such systems cannot come into existence by gradual, slight, successive modifications to a precursor system.  This (controversial) idea is foundational to his positive argument for intelligent design.

Book's Outline

Behe outlines his book in the following way:
Part I: Background Information - non-technical.
Part II: Example Chapters - technical.
Part III: Implications - non-technical.

Behe realizes the importance that a scientific theory has the characteristic of falsification.  Therefore, he quotes Darwin saying,
"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." (emphasis mine)
One problem with this quote is that to "prove a negative" is either extremely difficult or impossible (I haven't decided yet...).  Therefore, I'm confident that it has caused, and will cause, a good deal of controversy.

He claims that biochemistry, via the tools of electron microscopy and crystallography, has pushed the theory of evolution to the limits because, he says, there's little to no evidence in the scientific journals and publications for how evolution produces complex molecules and processes, e.g. cilia, flagella, blood clotting.

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