How Blind is the Watchmaker? – Book Review

Posted by on Apr 20, 2004 in Books and movies we like, Think & Believe Newsletter | 0 comments

When I started reading How Blind Is the Watchmaker, by Neil Broom, I was strangely reminded of a cartoon.  Although I can’t remember the source, it illustrates the all-too-frequent practice of modern science.  Words like “meaning,” and “purpose,” are covered up because they go against the prevailing notions of materialism – that we exist in a vast, meaningless, cosmic machine that is driven completely by chance.

Ironically, to fabricate their story, scientists can’t escape using terms like, “advantage,” “struggle,” and “survival” to describe the process of evolution.  These words imply a purpose and intention that should not exist if life is a product of blind chance.  Broom says (p.188),

“We find the entire living world operates within a rich gradient of meaning…It is a world driven by an overwhelming “urge” to live and to keep on living.  It seeks to “attain,” to “achieve,” to “improve.”…All of these attributes…lie completely outside and beyond the power of (secular) science to explain.”

This is the central theme of the book which is reiterated in various ways.

I believe most people, at one time or another, have felt at the mercy of what Broom terms, “aristoscience” – or a secular priesthood where only a few scientists have access to truth and dispense it on their terms.  By citing the shortcomings of modern science and the questions beyond its scope, the author helps the average person dismantle these ivory towers and see their philosophical shortcomings.

These inconsistencies are revealed further in sections dealing with proposed scenarios of the origin of life.  Although he thoroughly refutes them, I appreciated Broom’s desire to respond to the more “reasoned” attempts put forth to explain naturalistic origins.

At times, the illustrations used from the author’s field of research and other areas of biology, were a bit daunting for someone with a rudimentary science background.  However, the philosophical conclusions the author arrives at make it worth the struggle.

The section I found most rewarding was the Appendix.  There, Broom recounts the rise of modern science and the way many God-fearing men used science to dispel superstition and discover laws and physical properties operating in the universe.

However, this mode of thinking also opened the door for subsequent generations to exalt man’s ability to observe and reason and assume that everything can be explained by strictly material causes.

Although I appreciate the clarity with which the author exposes the problems of materialism, he appears to be partly trapped in a compromise of his own.  In a footnote on p.135 Broom states,

    “Creation science…makes the dubious assumption that Gen 1-2 must be read in a strictly literal sense…It is not at all clear to me that the language is literal and even remotely scientific in its intent.  The passage contains a very simple story line that is timeless and relevant for all people for all time.  But is it science?  Science wasn’t even invented when the Genesis narrative was written.”

When I read this quote, I was struck with several questions.  In Broom’s mind, what role does man’s reason play in determining truth?  Does he have an overestimation of the ability of science to deal with events of the unobservable past?  Is he compromising scripture by relying on the interpretations of the very materialistic scientists whom he discredits?  Since science is limited, wouldn’t it be safer to accept the straightforward teaching of scripture rather the fallible opinions of men?

In my (fallible) opinion, the author, who valiantly defends God’s ability to create, stops short in defending His word.

Overall, this book makes some excellent points and confronts many difficult issues – including the problem of evil.  Skeptics should find it very thought-provoking.  However, it is a reminder that we need to read with discernment and stand firmly on the truth of God’s Word.

By Mark Sonmor

Originally published in the Spring 2004 issue of Think & Believe newsletter.

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