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A Review of Darwin Devolves. By Michael Behe.

Jun 8, 2019

HarperOne, 2019.

One of the leading pioneers in the intelligent design movement has been Michael Behe. In his first two books – Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (1996) and The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (2007) – he looked at the shortcomings of Darwinism, focusing on the “riddle of functional complexity in biology”.

Discoveries of DNA and proteins, and advances in our understanding of DNA as carriers of information, and the ability to sequence genes has led us forward in understanding life at its molecular level, and what was learned led to many troubling questions for standard Darwinist and Neo-Darwinist thinking.

But we have advanced even further in the past few decades, and new discoveries mean new problems. Thus this book. In it Behe makes the case that random mutation and natural selection are actually quite “devolutionary”:

Darwinian evolution proceeds mainly by damaging or breaking genes, which, counterintuitively, sometimes helps survival. In other words, the mechanism is powerfully devolutionary. It promotes the rapid loss of genetic information. Laboratory experiments, field research, and theoretical studies all forcefully indicate that, as a result, random mutation and natural selection make evolution self-limiting. That is, the very same factors that promote diversity at the simplest levels of biology actively prevent it at more complex ones. Darwin’s mechanism works chiefly by squandering genetic information for short-term gain.

And again, “It’s taken a century and a half to realize it, but random mutation and natural selection are self-limiting. Two-edged swords, they both promote Darwinian evolution on a small scale and hinder it on a large one.” In 300 pages the American Professor of Biological Sciences explains all this with careful reasoning, scientific insight, and splendid prose.

So much of the new information that science is giving us through new scientific tools is making the old grand evolutionary scheme seem increasingly implausible. With new tools like electron microscopes, X-ray crystallography and magnetic resonance we are learning so much about the physical basis of life. Says Behe:

“The details of studies fill libraries, but the overarching picture is one of fathomless elegance – a seemingly never-ending parade of sophisticated structures, brilliant organizational arrangements, and well-nigh incomprehensibly complex systems.”

Life even at the molecular levels seems to be brimming with complexity, purpose and intelligent design. The notion of telos or purpose, promoted way back by the ancient Greek philosophers, is still the best way to understand how things work. And information and purpose are best explained by an intelligent cause – by a purposeful mind.

Of course much of this goes against the mainstream grain. Those immersed in scientism – as opposed to real science – philosophical naturalism, and atheism hate the very thought of this being the case, so they prefer to push conceptually much more bizarre or questionable explanations for what we find.

Reverting to his old example of irreducible complexity – the mousetrap – he says this: “For decades opponents of intelligent design have tried and failed to find a plausible Darwinian route even to a simple mechanical mousetrap.” Instead of following the evidence wherever it may lead, they doggedly cling to naturalism and materialism, and dismiss any rival options – even if they seem much more sensible.

Image of Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA That Challenges Evolution
Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA That Challenges Evolution by Michael J. Behe Amazon logo

Behe is fully up on the literature on these matters, and discusses the various theories being offered to deal with this staggering array of new findings and new information. He fairly and accurately lays out some of these proposals, showing the various shortcomings they entail.

Thus he examines some of the “potential supplements and alternatives,” including Michael Lynch’s neutral theory and Stuart Kauffman’s complexity theory. “Can one of them pick up the ball that Darwin fumbled? The answer is a flat no. . . . [N]one of them have the resources to explain the basic, functional, sophisticated molecular machinery of life. In fact, none even try to do so.”

He also closely discusses the scientific data, presenting in readable fashion the latest findings. Plenty of detail is offered, along with some of the big picture analysis. He reminds us for example that in his 1996 volume he had surveyed the evolutionary literature and demonstrated that

despite the serene confidence of many biologists, in fact there were no publications at all that described in anything like testable detail how random mutation and natural selection could account for the sophisticated molecular machinery of the cell, let alone experiments that demonstrated it. More than two decades later—despite the uproar caused by the book, despite much bluster and chest thumping in the media—the situation is unchanged.

Again, the various Darwinian schemes simply cannot properly account for the elegant structures of life. What does best account for them is mind and intelligence. Design always presupposes an intelligent designer. Again, those pre-committed to philosophical naturalism and scientism do not like such proposals.

So now we have come to the odd place where some philosophers and scientists actually deny the reality of the mind altogether. There is simply a slab of meat – the brain – and no more. Our thoughts, reasoning, memories, rationality, consciousness and even free will are all non-existent – or are at best reducible to mere physical causes – end of story.

But no one actually lives this way, except for some intellectuals in ivory towers. The truth is, we perceive the mind “in the purposeful arrangement of anything – events, for example.” He continues:

Stones placed into the shape of, say, an arrow pointing the way back to camp testify to the mind that conceived it. And, most especially in our era, intelligence is seen in the arrangement of pieces of complex machinery that are shaped to fit with each other to form a purposeful coherent whole— anything from the most advanced computers down to a humble mousetrap. In any of those arrangements we easily recognize a designing mind.

As for the rest of nature, so too for living things. The machinery of life is stunningly sophisticated, so much so that the overpowering appearance of design is acknowledged by virtually everyone, even by those who doggedly resist that conclusion….

Biology is suffused with a multitude of parts arranged purposefully, especially at its foundational level. Bacterial flagella, tank treads, sophisticated gene regulation, insect gears—all of those display more purpose than many of the things in our everyday lives whose design we instantly recognize. The degree of intelligence exhibited in life’s physical structures is light-years beyond what we modern humans have the capacity to produce.

Such is where the evidence leads. But a brief, sketchy review like this hardly does this book justice, so I urge you all to get a copy and read and study it for yourself. Thank you Michael Behe for your ongoing work in this area. It is so very much needed.

Australians can find this book here:

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8 Responses to A Review of Darwin Devolves. By Michael Behe.

  • My first step towards faith in Christ came when someone from the Creation Institute gave a talk at our school. He convinced me that evolution was statistically impossible and there had to be a creator. So I’ve always been interested in this area.

    As well as biological evolution, we are told that the cosmic evolution of the universe began with the Big Bang, which was followed by the natural formation of stars and planets over billions of years. But I’ve recently come across a Christian astrophysicist, Dr Jason Lisle, who refutes that theory so clearly. (See )

    I think his most convincing argument relates to “anti-matter”, which has positively-charged electrons and negatively-charged protons. (As a fan of Star Trek in my younger days, I remember a whole episode about this subject.) When the energy from the Big Bang was converted to matter, science shows that it should have produced equal quantities of matter and anti-matter, in a 50-50 split. But instead, the universe has almost 100% matter and practically no anti-matter.

  • From an opposite perspective the words of psalm 127 come to mind: “Except the Lord build the house they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” The truth of this can be observed.

  • You always know when evil is having difficulty promulgating lies because things get very quiet. Unfortunately those who know the truth seldom fill that silence with the truth but Michael Behe is one person who does. From what I have seen he has a beautiful, teaching spirit and attempts to put things as simply as possible so even atheists can understand but, of course, unwillingness to even look at the evidence is the main problem here.

    Atheistic, religious zealots cry “God of the gaps” whenever the evidence opposes their religious beliefs while all the while preaching their religion of materialism of the gaps and claiming their religion is science.

    It should be blatantly obvious, because we know from all the evidence, that asexual reproduction simply cannot support complex organisms. Without the advanced mechanism within sexual reproduction that prevent mutations from taking effect, complex organism simply would not exist, but, of course, you would have to know that before coming up with the design of the hugely complex mechanisms that are sexual reproduction. There simply is no reason nor means for random effects to come up with sexual reproduction on its own. There are huge complexities and overheads within the processes of sexual reproduction and there simply is no immediate benefit for natural selection to favor it simply on its own. The benefit of sexual reproduction is that it enables you to postpone, but not eradicate, the the otherwise detrimental effects of mutations and so allows you to develop complex species. We have evidence it dramatically slows the detrimental effects of mutations but does not eradicate them and so allows a creator to create complex organisms in a detrimental environment in which that complexity would otherwise be impossible.

    The fact is if natural selection was a viable mechanism for evolution then asexually reproducing organisms are vastly better positioned to implement an efficient trial-and-error system to test random variations for benefit and spread the beneficial gene. Sexual reproduction, which not only has mechanisms for preventing almost *any* mutation from taking hold, also prevents the majority of genes that are handed down from being expressed and therefor tested. It is the absolute antithesis of an efficient trial-and error system and, if natural selection was the answer, the one thing that should have naturally evolved above anything else, and we know natural systems are astoundingly efficient elsewhere, is an efficient trial-and-error system for implementing beneficial mutations. That simply is *not* what we see.

    What we see in reality is a system that was deliberately designed to allow for complexity in organisms in an environment where entropy rules and gene degradation is inevitable. What we see is a system in which death is deliberately built in and which appears clearly to be deliberately designed to exist for a limited time-span for both it and the individuals within it, with a beginning and an end, exactly as the scriptures tell us, and which cannot possibly have existed without that prior existing intelligence to provide the astounding amount of functional information required.

    What we don’t see in nature is an effective trial-and-error system for coming up with previously unconsidered solutions to problems. If God wanted to create an efficient trial-and-error system He, too, could have created this but He simply did not. That system simply is not there. What we see in the evidence is periods of creativity followed by set periods of stability – exactly as we see in the things we humans intelligently design and exactly as stated in the scriptures for things to reproduce after their own kind.

    We also don’t see any means of creating and passing down information except through DNA or the eventual result of this in intelligent, learned behavior, so all the evidence proves overwhelmingly that there simply is no path from dumb molecules to the complex system of DNA reproduction and especially not to the astoundingly complex systems of sexual reproduction.

    There simply is no evidence for natural selection being the answer as to where the vast amounts of information required for life to exist, came from. There simply is no evidence of it being possible for molecules to evolve and create the complex DNA systems in the first place. There simply is no evidence for the existence of effective trial-and-error systems required for natural selection to work and there simply is no explanation as to why sexual reproduction should exist except for the prior knowledge by an intelligence that it was necessary.

  • Dr Graham McLennan sent out an email today, mirroring the above CultureWatch article, demonstrating the wonders of creation.

    Slowly (or is it rapidly) science is discovering how fearfully and wonderfully we are made.

  • Too many contentious bits in the Bible?
    The Bible should be more progressive.

    Want to fix those problems? Here is the answer.

    New WikiBible Lets Anyone Edit The Scriptures
    The Babylon Bee

  • “Our thoughts, reasoning, memories, rationality, consciousness and even free will are all non-existent – or are at best reducible to mere physical causes – end of story”

    Worth pointing out that this is a self defeating belief. It is only through our senses and rationality that we claim to be able to discern truth. If our mind doesn’t really exist, or is simply a product of chemistry, then we have to no reason to think that rationality really exists, which means we have no reason to think that this claim is true, because it assumes that rationality exists, and that itself is a true statement.

    I admit I’m yet to read any of Behe’s works, but they are all on my Wishlist.

    Thanks for the review Bill.

    So many books, so little time.

    God bless.

  • Hi Bill
    I recommend the book
    “In the minds of men. Darwin and the New World Order” by Ian T. Taylor, TFE Publishing, Toronto, Canada. 1984. I believe there is also a more recent edition.

    This is a very substantial work. It traces the roots of godless thinking from the ancient Greek philosophers into the present day, and relates the humanities to the sciences.

  • Michael Weeks, you may be interested in Richard Goldschmidt and one of his students, Stephen Jay Gould, who saw the deficiencies of the gradualism of traditional and neo-Darwinism very clearly.

    However, their concept of “punctuated equilibria” as the mode of development has always been in the minority within the overall Darwinian paradigm. See for instance by Gould on the problem and on the derision accorded Goldschmidt’s idea of “the hopeful monsters.”

    I am not convinced by their argument but as we are aware here, it’s not a scientific question but rather a moral and philosophical one.

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