Shapiro on DBB Review

by Dr. Robert Shapiro

As the author of over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers and 4 science books for the public, I can add the following comments. I was sent an examination copy of Darwin’s Black Box when it was in near-final form. At that point in most cases, a contract has been signed, advance payments against anticipated revenue have been sent to the author, and the publisher is committed to publication, except under unusual circumstances. I was acting as an editorial consultant, rather than a peer reviewer. In my experience, the principal concern of the editor of a Trade (mass-market) book at that point is that the book be marketable, rather than factually correct (libel is undesirable, but is the responsibility of the author). Peer review, for a scientific journal, is a very different process.

I had seen a significant number of Creation Science books in the previous few years, and Professor Behe’s book was better than them, both in his mastery of the basic (non-controversial) biochemical background and the clarity of his exposition. I also disagreed totally with his conclusions, and let the editor know it. My own opinions on the origin of life field can be found on p 234 of Darwin’s Black Box or at greater length in my own book: Origins: A Skeptics Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth. That book is out of print at the current time, but available in many libraries. Some of the material is also presented in my more recent Planetary Dreams, which is still in print.

I am not expert in evolutionary theory, but have no reason to quarrel with the conclusions of my scientific colleagues who are better informed. I feel however that the origin of life is a topic that is more fundamental to the debate over intelligent design. The difference between a mixture of simple chemicals and a bacterium is much more profound than the gulf between a bacterium and an elephant. My criticisms of the dominant scientific dogma on the origin of life (by which I mean RNA World and closely related theories) are shared by Nobel Laureate Christian de Duve and a number of other prominent scientists who nonetheless are a minority in the field. For a brief, technical summary of my criticisms, see my paper: A Replicator Was Not Involved in the Origin of Life: IUBMB Life 49, 173-176 (2000). A much more thorough discussion, which also describes a path that I believe will lead to a good scientific solution, will appear in next June’s issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology. For those of you who are impatient, and wish a fairly similar point of view, I would suggest that you consult the books and papers of Professor Harold Morowitz.

As a final comment I will add that I am not a Christian, but an Agnostic. I was selected as an editorial consultant for Darwin’s Black Box because the editor was aware that Professor Behe and I are both critics of conventional origin-of-life theories.

Dr. Shapiro is Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Chemistry at New York University.