Plain Talk About Mike Behe's New Book, The Edge of Evolution
The folllowing is from a sympathetic academic observer:
Having watched the spectacle of the Panda's Thumb feeding frenzy, not to mention the Sean Carroll and Jerry Coyne reviews (and more are coming), I wanted to pass on a bit of plain talk about Mike Behe's new book, The Edge of Evolution (EE). 1. Don't expect the sort of reviews that met Darwin's Black Box (DBB) -- but not because EE is inferior to DBB. Far from it.
In 1996, when DBB appeared, Mike was a largely unknown biochemistry professor. Now the name "Michael Behe" is known worldwide, by millions, who either love and admire Mike, or wish he were dead. EE will face a MUCH tougher reception than DBB, simply from the intervening 11 years of controversy. Reviewers will be openly gunning for Mike, mainly because of what they perceive him to represent. A writer like Mike, who challenges received scientific opinion, gets one chance to meet his readership without prejudice. Mike got that chance with DBB. In June 2007, by contrast, it's open season on a famous dissenter.
2. But Mike will come out of the hail of bullets in good shape. Here's why.
The experimental (observational) evidence strongly supporting Mike's arguments in EE is far more extensive than most of his readers, including many professional biologists, will know. Mike could include only a small portion of that evidence in his new book. Moreoever -- and this is the great beauty of EE -- Mike's arguments are rich with testable implications, in terms of current model systems and data from populations genetics, etc. Thus, unlike the "Well, you say Darwinism can't, but I say it can" character of much of the debate surrounding DBB (he said, she said, who knows?), EE focuses the biological community's attention on what can actually be known about the limits of Darwinian processes, with Mike arguing that we can know and detect those limits. The main point is this: If Mike is right that we can know, or locate, the edge of Darwinian processes, the question can be settled with evidence. In other words, the debate in months to come won't be "Who knows what evolution might have done in the deep mists of time?"
Rather, Mike can say, hey -- let's go to the evidence. The coming debate around EE thus promises to be very fruitful for ID, and for getting the biological (and larger) community to think about what evolutionary theory has actually demonstrated, versus what it has assumed.
3. READ THE BOOK before you take seriously wild-eyed, ill-informed criticisms of it. And when you do read reviews, factor in point (1), above. Let's not be naïve and think Mike is drawing dispassionate, open-minded reviewers. There will be a great deal of rhetorical mud and misdirection to wash off, in the months to come, before the genuine biological issues can be properly addressed.
EE opens up a wide range of important questions for biology. Once the mud is washed off, and the evidence engaged, we'll find the center of this debate will have moved again, as it did with DBB.