Darwin's Black Box (Anglais) Broché – 4 août 1998
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This book is about an idea-Darwinian evolution-that is being pushed to its limits by discoveries in biochemistry. Lire la première page
Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index | Quatrième de couverture
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The question isn't so much the subject matter, but the context and prejudice the reader brings to it. Both those pro and against this book desperately want it to be Creationist. This is a gross simplification of a very complicated matter. While many authors want to simplify Darwinism and their stance, Behe takes the opposite approach. He mentions irreducible complexities not as a means of awing the reader into believing in a god figure, but to demonstrate that the gradualism preached in Darwinism has many holes in it.
And the fact that Darwinism is fallible is really the core of the issue. After talking to one of my biology professors and one of my bioochem professors, its pretty understood that many points of Darwinism is up for contention. For instance, Darwin proposed that the initial foundation of life would take a much longer time than fossil records show. Behe is not assaulting the principles of aethism and forcing religion on people; rather he asks the question, if Darwin was alive today and knew the things about molecular biology available now, would he still propose his theory?
Behe makes many concessions, going on the record to say that he believes man was descended from a common ancestor as the apes and that the world was created billions of years ago. He also recognizes Darwinism does occur. It just isn't the sole means of evolution, especially at the molecular level.
If you want a good book to read and have an interest in science and contemporary issues, you should definitely pick up the book. Even if you don't agree with the conclusions (I didn't), Behe teaches the subject with such clarity and passion that you will come away having learned something.
Intelligently, Behe recognizes that the argument from design has been responded to pretty thoroughlyat the species level. (For example, evolutionary theory has worked out how the bones of the ear evolved from a bone that articulated reptilian jaws.) So Darwin's Black Box, unlike countless somewhat apoplectic "creationist" writings, chooses the territory for its argument very carefully. Behe concedes natural selection as a force at the level of complete organisms: certain Amazon reviewers seem not to have noticed that he does allow humans and apes a common ancestor, for a glaring example.
The narrowly defined argument Behe wants to stake out is in the biochemical realm. There, he thinks, he can make a case for "irreducible complexity." In short, he thinks he can convince us that the interdependent, complex systems that constitute such things as cilia in cells could not possibly have come about as the piecemeal result of natural selection.
The first half of this book is comprised of lengthy, extremely accessible and enjoyable descriptions of exactly how the smallest cellular mechanisms work. The latter half consists of an attempt to assert the irreducible complexity of those mechanisms. If cilia in cells can't be accounted for by natural selection, says Behe, then there must be intelligent design at work on that level.
To synopsize: Behe concedes the evolution of organisms, but argues that the complexity of life at the cellular level proves the existence of "intelligent design" -- of God. God, in a sentence, is in the cellular details for Behe.
I wouldn't dream of endorsing or refuting this book's arguments here. I'm not here to blow on already hot embers for anyone; I just thought an intelligent reader would want to understand the basic outlines of what this book tries to do. Some of the positive reviews from religious types seem not to have been based on this book at all...
As Behe points out, there is a disconnect in evolution's explanation of microscale processes (e.g. biochemical: protein-protein interactions) compared with macroscale processes (e.g., functional gene mutations such as commonly seen in bacteria). It is difficult to see how mostly benign chemicals, that react primarily with respect to strong or electromagnetic forces, necessarily combine in self-advantageous (or self-disadvantageous), reproducible ways under a competitive survival paradigm.
Einstein and his group pointed out that gravity does not work on the chemical level (i.e. microscale). Behe merely points out the same thing with respect to evolution in biomolecules. My only complaint was that Behe inferred the intelligent design aspect too soon in the book. I would have liked more examples of biological irreducible complexity since I'm not sure that's the winning argument. That is, if you take away one piece, or that the mousetrap is made of paper, perhaps it functioned some other way than as a mousetrap. I thought the ATP synthesis was a nice example, but I found myself wanting more.
I thought the killer point Behe made, that I agree with, is the intolerant intellectual atmosphere so pervasive in many areas of science, particularly biology. I believe this has a large a priori effect on the approaches taken in research, or on reporting findings. This intolerant culture might come from the vehement attacks by creationists on the other side, which may in turn tend to galvanize the molecular biology community. Who knows? I do, however, believe scientists are too quick to discredit, or label as a creationist or idiot, anyone who challenges the evolution dogma on any scale.
Scientists give up too quickly if they think evolution is the sine qua non on every level. The little changes to big changes cliche is tired and needs more.
Behe points out, pretty simply I might add, that it is no sillier to say that God fills the gaps than to say evolution fills the gaps. Let's face it, evolution simply cannot explain microscale biochemical processes. Perhaps something else does, but evolution doesn't.
Cheers to Behe.
The book itself was extremely readable and understandable because Behe uses both analogy and specific scientific examples. To rate the theory of Behe I don't wish to do, that is for another arena, but I will say that to fully understand the book you must accept that we don't know what really happened, and that therefore an opposing opinion must be entertained when it is formed. The fact that Behe addresses critics *and* those who would "agree overmuch" with him (e.g. Dawkins) is to his credit. Few books have held my attention as well as this one did, because I found his arguments reasonable, his writing persuasive and lively, and his efforts to be accessible and honest highly admirable.
Having attended a seminar at the University of Minnesota where he talked for an evening, I can say that much of the crowd was thinking rather than pointing fingers at the end. It was clear some people came with ammunition that night, but they were hushed because they had not thought through the implications of their questions or the assumptions therein. He sold a lot of books that evening, many to those who obviously did not agree with him but found his questions important in the realm of science and belief.
I should also mention that, as a highschool student, I was extremely happy to find a book that challenged the orthodox way of thinking through examination, and not through assuming that the orthodox is wrong and not by doing it merely for the challenge's sake. The book is not PC, and it's certainly not completely right, but it claims to be neither.
Essentially, this book asks "what if?" and finds that a designer is one possible explanation. If you disagree with "anything is possible" then perhaps science isn't for you. If you agree that some things are more likely than others, than this is a book that will cause you to reconsider what you believe, on evidence and on faith, whether you are an evolutionist or a creationist, and that of itself makes Darwin's Black Box worthy of being read.
One of the examples cited of "irreducible complexity" is the bacterial flagellum. Behe claims that 40 proteins are necessary for a fully functional flagellum. Whilst this is true for E.coli, flagella in many bacteria are made from fewer proteins - for example, in the bacterium that causes syphilis (Treponema pallidum), there are a total of 38 flagellar proteins; in the bacterium that causes lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), there are only 35 flagellar proteins; finally, in a bacteria associated with ulcers (Helicobacter pylori) there are only 33 proteins necessary to form complete, fully functional flagella. It is likely that as new bacterial genomes continue to be sequenced (at the rate of about one a month!), organisms will be found which require even fewer genes to make a completely functional flagella. So this "irreducible complex" of 40 proteins has shrunk to 33 proteins, in the past 2 years of research! Behe's argument is that EVERY ONE of the 40 proteins are necessary. Obviously 7 of those 40 aren't completely necessary. Maybe it's only 30 or perhaps even 20 proteins that are absolutely necessary? It's hard to say, but it is very dangerous to make such dogmatic statements as "this system is irreducibly complex", especially when the system is made up of proteins that have other normal functions in the cell, apart from flagella - such as the GTPase proteins. For a more fair treatment of the subject of flagella (and bacteria and molecular evolution in general), I can happily recommend reading "The Outer Reaches of Life", by John Postgate (also available through Amazon.com), which is an excellent treatise about bacteria written for the "non-scientific reader".
Of course there is a need to explain the origins of biochemical complexity. But declaring "intelligent design by a miracle" to be this method is neither scientific nor helpful. I guess my advice would be similar to that of Huxley about Darwin's Origin of the Species - please read Behe's book and decide for yourself!