The Edge of Evolution, the search for the limits of Darwinism by Dr. Michael J. Behe

Short Biography of Professor Michael J. Behe

Professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. he received my Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978. His current research involves delineation of design and natural selection in protein structures. In addition to teaching and research he work as a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

In addition to publishing over 35 articles in refereed biochemical journals, He has also written editorial features in Boston Review, American Spectator, and The New York Times. His book, Darwin’s Black Box, discusses the implications for neo-Darwinism of what I call “irreducibly complex” biochemical systems and has sold over 250,000 copies. The book was internationally reviewed in over one hundred publications and recently named by National Review and World magazine as one of the 100 most important books of the 20th century.

Professor Behe has presented and debated his work at major universities throughout North America and England.

Book review

Here, Behe wishes to show limits for what random variation and natural selection can produce in biology. This book also constitutes a foundation pillar for Intelligent Design. Behe analyzes two diseases, malaria and HIV-AIDS. In addition, the findings of studies of the role of mutations in more than 30,000 generations of E.Coli are also presented.

Malaria represents one of the best examples we have on evolution. Malaria has been studied thoroughly, and there is an astronomic number of parasites that have infected mankind throughthousands of years. That is why studies of this disease form the best basis for evaluating what mutations and natural selection are able to accomplish with regard to biological changes. Via extrapolation, these results allow us to find what random mutations have contributed to in the course of the history of Earth. The malaria parasite has mutated into being resistant to certain medications, such as chloroquine, and man has mutated to develop resistance to malaria, but has also developed diseases such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia.

The HIV virus mutates so quickly, and there are so many copies of it, that this virus has gone through more mutations during the last 50 years than all other cells as long as the Earth has existed. Therefore studies of mutation effects of the HIV virus can give us valuable information. HIV goes through mutations 10,000 times faster than the malaria parasite. HIV has formed approximately 1020 copies of itself. But the basal genetic apparatus has changed very little. Many thousands of point mutations take place daily in HIV patients, but no changes have occurred that have resulted in a new structure or new function of the virus.

Behe’s analyzes therefore show that it is limited how much random muta- tions can accomplish. The malaria parasite plasmodium has existed for a long time and occurs in tremendous amounts. Chloroquine has been on the market for many years. The parasite has had sufficient opportunity for mutations and natural selection. Behe shows that the adaptation taking place is due to the breaking down of existing qualities and no addition of anything new. Even un- der intense selective pressure, the evolutionary principles cause modest changes, and seem to be more able to break things down than build up. And that applies to beneficial mutations – so neutral and harmful mutations are even less likely to add something new. Behe’s findings therefore definitely suggest that mutations cannot possibly be the cause of all of the fine machinery that is in every single cell. Behe’s conclusion is verified in a major PNAS article from 2014.5

Behe interprets his results to mean that they eliminate non-intelligent causes of the changes he has identified in the human and parasite genome. Behe’s results write off coincidence as a causal factor in the development of life. Behe does not rule out that mutations and natural selection can have effects, so he does not refute in any way that evolution does happen. What he is concerned with, is to show that there are limits to how much these Darwinian mechanisms are able to accomplish. He concludes that the development of life as we know it, can- not possibly have been controlled by random mechanisms without any plan or purpose. Darwinian evolution takes place without any plans, has no purpose and does not steer toward a specific goal. Behe, on the other hand, claims that the development of life has to have been controlled. He uses the term “design” for this controlled development. Behe defines design as “the purposeful assembly of parts” – the more parts there are, and the clearer it is that they fit together, the more certain we are that our conclusion regarding design, is correct. Behe concludes that the development of life presupposes intelligent control.

Behe makes more calculations. We cannot mention all of them, but we will refer to what he calls the “binding sites” of proteins. This is the area on the protein that is especially designed to be able to bind to other substances. It ap- plies especially to enzymes which must be able to bind to its substrate. Such a “binding site” – or receptor – can be compared with a master key that fits only to one lock. We believe there are a total of approx. 10,000 such binding sites in all of nature. Behe’s calculations show that evolution cannot have produced more than 2 such “binding sites”. This is yet another example of the limitations of evolution. If evolution were to have a decisive significance in the development of life, it would have to be able to produce or develop most of these 10,000 binding sites on proteins. Evolution cannot produce anywhere near all of the proteins that constitute the chemistry of life, and can therefore not explain the origin of the sophisticated nano machinery in living organisms.

The machinery of life is a multicomplex, composed of a number of protein complexes. Behe’s calculations show that it is totally unlikely that random, non-controlled mutations can result in such complex structures. These muta- tions can only produce modest changes even during the course of innumerable generations, such as resistance to certain antibiotics. Resistance to antibiotics is the prime example among evolutionary biologists when it comes to illustrating evolution. Such resistance to antibiotics is used to show that macroevolution is possible. But this interpretation is completely misleading. Resistance to antibiotics is not at all an expression of such fundamental changes that are prerequisites for macroevolution. Besides, shortly after the treatment with antibiotics is complete, the bacteria will have regained their original properties. The studies of the E. coli bacteria show that even after many thousands of generations, it is far more common that DNA is broken down by mutations than obtaining one benefi- cial mutation. No mutations have been observed that lead to some beneficial morphological change. Virus is still virus, regardless of how many thousands of mutations it has undergone. In the same way, the bacteria remain a typical E. coli, and the malaria parasite is not changed to anything else.

It is remarkable that the evolutionary biological environment is not able to (or not willing to) give a serious assessment of Behe’s two books. Even if he shows as thoroughly as possible that the principles of Darwinism are not helpful in explaining the biochemical processes that are an integrated part of life, and even less the development of life, there is no change in the way of thinking or the attitude among evolutionary biologists. It has not been possible for anyone to refute Behe’s arguments, which simply demonstrate that Darwinism’s evolution- ary forces do not suffice in explaining the complicated structure and complex function of an animal cell. Personally, I have the same opinion as Phillip E. Johnson, which he expressed in his book, that the prerequisites and theses of Darwinism have been established in advance. Darwinism is true, regardless of how much and how thoroughly it is established that its theses are on a collision course with scientific facts. In all other disciplines than biology, the premises are changed when facts demand it.