Darwin’s Black Box
By Michael J Behe
Review by Glen-Oliver (Biochemistry)
Darwin’s Black Box, written by Michael J. Behe, offers an intriguing challenge to the most commonly accepted theory in biology: evolution through natural selection. Behe uses modern biochemistry as a platform on which he explores many biological systems at the molecular level. In doing so he shows the interdependency each molecule plays on the next and thus, he continues, these systems show irreducible complexity. He argues that this puts strain on the standard “evolution through incremental changes” dogma since if any one of the many molecules were different in any way the function of the whole system collapses. A common metaphor in this book is a mousetrap – each individual component (hammer, spring, board, etc) is dependent on all the others being present and correct. He argues that it is seemingly impossible for such a system to emerge in a modular fashion since its complexity cannot be reduced thus cannot have come from a simpler system.
While his views are controversial I think that this book was ideal as it questions what I had always considered to be a bedrock of modern science – natural selection. Evolution by natural selection is so often popularised at the organism level; this book offers a refreshing new analysis at the more appropriate, molecular, level of modern science. His descriptions of biochemical systems are fairly simple yet still acts as a good introduction to various processes such as blood clotting, vision, and cell motility. When read in conjunction with a textbook Darwin’s Black Box makes you question the significance of biochemical systems against the backdrop of evolution instead of taking the jargon at face value as is so easily done with textbooks.
Whether or not you agree whole-heartedly with Behe or reject his theory like a bad curry, you can still appreciate an introduction to a new idea that has gained enough momentum in the 10 years since its publication to deserve to be read with an open mind.
In doing wider reading of your subject, prior to university, I think it is crucial to gain a wide and far-reaching knowledge of many areas of biochemistry. This book fulfills this criteria in focusing more on a wider concept related to biochemistry rather than getting caught up with small intricacies of specific pathways which will inevitably be taught to you during the degree.
Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution by Michael J Behe