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Cover image for The edge of evolution : the search for the limits of Darwinism
The edge of evolution : the search for the limits of Darwinism
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, ©2007.
Physical Description:
ix, 320 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
The elements of Darwinism -- Arms race or trench warfare? -- The mathematical limits of Darwinism -- What Darwinism can do -- What Darwinism can't do -- Benchmarks -- The two-binding-sites rule -- Objections to the edge -- The cathedral and the spandrels -- All the world's a stage -- Appendix A : I, Nanobot -- Appendix B : Malaria drug resistance -- Appendix C : Assembling the bacterial flagellum -- Appendix D : The cardsharp.
Draws on new findings in genetics to pose an argument for intelligent design that refutes Darwinian beliefs about evolution while offering alternative analyses of such factors as disease, random mutations, and the human struggle for survival.


Call Number
576.82 Behe 2007

On Order



"With Behes book, the theory of intelligent design finally has its masterwork, a comprehensive scientific statement that draws the line between random and non-random mutation in nature, arguing that random mutation plays only a minor role in evolutionary change."--BOOK JACKET.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

With his first book, Darwin's Black Box, Behe, a professor of biology at Lehigh University, helped define the controversial intelligent design movement with his concept of "irreducible complexity." Now he attempts to extend his analysis and define what evolution is capable of doing and what is beyond its scope. Behe strongly asserts, to the likely chagrin of young earth creationists, that the earth is billions of years old and that the concept of common descent is correct. But beginning with a look at malaria and the sickle cell response in humans, Behe argues that genetic mutation results in only clumsy solutions to selective pressures. He goes on to conclude that the statistical possibility of certain evolutionary changes taking place is virtually nil. Although Behe writes with passion and clarity, his calculations of probability ignore biologists' rejection of the premise that evolution has been working toward producing any particular end product. Furthermore, he repeatedly refers to the shortcomings of "Darwin's theory-the power of natural selection coupled to random mutation," but current biological theory encompasses far more than this simplistic view. Most important, Behe reaches the controversial conclusion that the workings of an intelligent designer is the only reasonable alternative to evolution, even without affirmative evidence in its favor. B&w illus. (June 5) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

More on Intelligent Design from its chief proponent, who trots out even more minutiae on the "irreducible complexities" of cells and their parts previously discussed in Darwin's Black Box (1996). There are some additions and subtractions. Now Behe (Biological Sciences/Lehigh Univ.) readily concedes evolutionary modification through descent. Species were not created separately as creationists hold, he writes; DNA evidence indicates descent from a common ancestor. He also admits that random mutation can account for some useful genetic changes, such as the development of the sickle-cell trait to protect against malaria and the malarial parasite's evolved resistance to chloroquine. But he denigrates these changes as essentially weakening genomes. If random mutation is so good, Behe goes on to ask, why hasn't the malaria parasite developed defenses against sickling? This question ignores the fact that the organism as it exists right now is enormously successful. The text repeatedly casts Darwinian randomness as powerless or trivial in the face of the dizzying probabilities required (at least according to Behe) to generate the bacterial flagellum, a cell's cilium, assorted protein-protein interactions and all the critical developmental events that transform egg into baby. The author agrees that there are ways in which genomes can change more than one nucleotide at a time, but ignores Stephen Jay Gould's punctuated equilibria or such events as the incorporation of a bacterium into a primordial cell. Nor does Behe adduce any experiments that could be performed to demonstrate Intelligent Design. What we have is a sophisticated version of William Paley's watch needing a watchmaker, with the author quoting respected scientists on the wonders of nature that have led some to invoke the anthropic principle or the existence of "multiverses." Behe opts for a designer--not necessarily God, though for him, as a Roman Catholic, it is. Not science, but a tract to comfort those who want to believe. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

New York Review of Books Review

ANYONE who has ever imagined living life totally on his or her own terms would do well to study the lessons of "Passion and Principle," Sally Denton's lively revisionist accounting of John and Jessie Frémont. The couple, she posits, were the embodiment of American history during its most vital 19th-century moments, including the opening of the West, the creation of the Republican Party, the Civil War and beyond. The Frémonts were the John and Abigail Adams of their time, or the Charles and Anne Lindbergh, or even the Franklin and Eleanor, John and Jackie, Bill and Hillary - a couple who sought, consciously and unconsciously, to move society forward and, in varying degrees, were both rewarded and pilloried for doing so. It is Demon's belief that owing largely to their progressive views - particularly their virulent opposition to slavery, paired with Jessie's feminism - the Frémonts suffered more than most; they were multimillionaires and came just shy of being the president and first lady at the height of their powers, but wound up historical punch lines, relegated to ever smaller and meaner living arrangements in the twilight of their lives. In this recounting, Denton aims to set the record straight, to explore why historians spent more than a century "discrediting his accomplishments and belittling her contribution to society." Denton, whose books include "American Massacre" and "Faith and Betrayal," is a wonderful writer, and was fortunate to have had in the Frémonts two willing helpmates: they provided her not only with vivid prose of their own - Jessie in particular was a prolific correspondent and memoirist - but with enough drama for a multipart series on Lifetime Television. When they met in 1840, Jessie was "a raven-haired beauty" of 16 and the consummate daddy's girl - the daughter of Thomas Hart Benton, then the most powerful senator in America, an early and passionate proponent of Manifest Destiny. Jessie grew up cultured and sophisticated, well educated - as a child she browsed through Thomas Jefferson's 6,000-volume collection of books in the Library of Congress - and, because of her looks, was much sought after as a bride by the likes of President Martin Van Buren. Thanks to countless hours at her father's knee, she was also "as trained and astute a politician as any young man her age." When Lt. John Charles Frémont's lips brushed her hand on that fateful day, Denton tells us, he was then a dubiously born 27-year-old hunk with "dusky" blue eyes, a "tanned face and flashing white teeth," just back from exploring the land between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Frémont, too, was well educated - though, problematically, not at West Point - and well mentored by some of the great explorers of the day, an intensely private, disciplined, if hardheaded, soul. What happened next should have surprised no one, but in fact set in motion a fantastic series of melodramas that would have repercussions for everyone and everything from Andrew Jackson to Abraham Lincoln to, yes, America itself. Power couple: John C. Frémont claimed the West for America as Jessie navigated Washington. Denton provides snapshots of 19th-century America when the two elope - Frémont wasn't at all what Benton had in mind for his impeccably bred daughter - and then endure a series of separations and reunions, as John nearly perishes on his way to claiming California for the United States and fights to preserve the Union and abolish slavery, trying his best to accommodate the needs and ambitions of various presidents along the way. Jessie, meanwhile, stays behind in Washington, charming the same and shaping her husband's reputation in the process. But John had a habit of doing what he thought best - he was in no way a go-along-to-get-along guy - and Jessie had a habit of doing likewise, especially where her husband's future was concerned. This was Jessie's one option: as bright and ambitious as she was, the only way she could realize her dreams in her time was to make her husband's her own, and operate on his behalf. Initially, all went reasonably well. The triangle of the Frémonts and Benton (Jessie's mother, Elizabeth, was a depressive who took to her bed early) was, according to Denton, "devoted to a single destiny: to explore the rich, uncharted territory of America and to establish trade routes stretching to the Sea of Cortes and beyond." Once Benton got over his fury at the elopement, he generously used his power to protect Frémont, who, sometimes to his credit and sometimes not, had a tin ear for politics. Early on, he conspired with Benton to get around President John Tyler, not just to explore the West but to claim it, at one point carrying a large howitzer on a mission that was supposed to be purely scientific. Jessie subsequently took it on herself to clear up any misunderstandings by writing to her husband's superior officer, and she also failed to pass on an order recalling Frémont to Washington. "Once the letter was sent, she began to consider the ramifications," Denton writes. "She had acted solely in furtherance of the expedition, and only now did she realize that she had actually defied the U.S. government." Later, in 1847, Jessie would call on President James K. Polk to plead her husband's case for what she perceived as an unfair court-martial. And so it went, for many years, until the beginnings of the Civil War caused an irreparable breach between the Frémonts and Benton. By then John, known as the Pathfinder, was a player in his own right, but he never established a power base in Washington. When the Frémonts remained adamant in their opposition to slavery while Benton remained determined to preserve the Union at all costs, the couple lost their most influential protector and fell victim to one of many smear campaigns. In many ways, the couple's real love affair was with Washington's elite, which elevated, betrayed and exploited them as needed, making Frémont the Republican nominee for president in 1856 and then exiling him cruelly after he issued the first emancipation proclamation in the country, as commander of troops in Missouri, five years later. Denton's portrayal of Jessie's overconfident and misguided meeting with a decidedly cool and impatient President Lincoln on her husband's behalf is a high point of the book. ("You are quite a female politician," Lincoln told her, sneering.) "Passion and Principle" really belongs to Jessie - she was the better writer and had profoundly superior social skills - and Denton handily makes the case for elevating the couple's stature in the history books. But the Frémonts' self-righteousness, if played down by the author, serves as a cautionary and often humorous subtext. Like so many progressives, the Frémonts were mostly right, but couldn't help reminding everyone else of that fact, and, ultimately, it did them in. Even back then, nobody liked an "I told you so." The Frémonts were the John and Abigail Adams of their time, or the John and Jackie, or the Bill and Hillary. Mimi Swartz is an executive editor at Texas Monthly.

Table of Contents

1 The Elements of Darwinismp. 1
2 Arms Race or Trench Warfare?p. 17
3 The Mathematical Limits of Darwinismp. 44
4 What Darwinism Can Dop. 64
5 What Darwinism Can't Dop. 84
6 Benchmarksp. 103
7 The Two-Binding-Sites Rulep. 123
8 Objections to the Edgep. 148
9 The Cathedral and the Spandrelsp. 171
10 All the World's a Stagep. 204
Appendix A I, Nanobotp. 241
Appendix B Malaria Drug Resistancep. 259
Appendix C Assembling the Bacterial Flagellump. 261
Appendix D The Cardsharpp. 269
Notesp. 277
Acknowledgmentsp. 306
Indexp. 307