DARWIN'S BLACK BOX

THE BIOCHEMICAL CHALLENGE TO EVOLUTION

Behe (Biochemistry/Lehigh Univ.) offers the thesis that biochemistry provides so many examples of ``irreducible complexity'' in nature that not even Darwinian gradualism can explain their evolution and existence. Intelligent design alone, he says, provides an answer. He then presents a modern-day version of the kinds of anti- Darwin arguments adduced a century ago: How could so intricate an organ as the vertebrate eye evolve through step-by-step chance mutations? Clearly there must be a designer at work, an eye-maker of an eye, just as there is a watchmaker for a watch. Behe's contemporary examples are a biochemistry student's nightmare: How do you make a cilium? Cilia are those fine hairs that stick out from cells lining the lungs and sweep out debris or, when attached to a bacterium, allow the bug to swim. The fine structure and molecular motors that power a cilium are awesome. And what Behe does for the cilium he does in spades in describing the biochemical events that occur when you cut yourself and a clot forms, or when your immune system takes arms against an invader. He emphasizes how each molecular actor must come on stage and go off in precise order or else the process won't work. Allusions to Rube Goldberg inventions pale by comparison. But where is it written that because science can't explain the origins of complex phenomena, the only answer is design? The history of science is replete with enigmas that have succumbed to new concepts, new tools, new paradigms. Complexity theory is in its infancy; Darwinian theory undergoes revisions departing from gradualism. Nonlinear system theory, self- organizing systems, newly discovered developmental and regulatory genes are contributing profound insights into the development of complex organs and systems. Belief that ``irreducible complexity'' implies design may comfort the faithful (Behe is a Roman Catholic), but it is neither necessary nor sufficient for many other practicing scientists.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-82754-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1996

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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