Neil Broom's How Blind is the Watchmaker? is directed against the “blatant reductionist ideology” that pervades much popular science writing. Broom has in mind not only such works as Richard Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design (the obvious target of his title) but also popularizations of science in magazines like Time, and even the displays in museums meant to convey the findings of science to non-scientists.
The problem with such popularizations, argues Broom, is that they are almost invariably materialistic. They present the “universe and all that it contains, including us humans” as “the product of purely material processes and events … the only cause being the impersonal laws of physics and chemistry.” Simply put, they present a universe with no room for God.
Unfortunately, this “absurd reductionist myth” becomes culturally accepted as fact, in no small part, by slick packaging. Such books as Dawkins’ Blind Watchmaker, for example, “are highly readable and well illustrated.
Each is the kind of book that gives accessible, nicely packaged answers to even the most complex questions of science.” Yet, they “represent a brand of popular science that is blatantly misleading and intellectually irresponsible.”
As an antidote, Broom, a research scientist in the department of chemical and materials engineering at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, sets out to show that the actual complexity of natural things points directly to a universe that has been designed, and hence has a designer.
“The living world presents us with a truly staggering array of the most ingenious and creative structures and systems imaginable,” he writes. Broom offers the reader very clear, well-illustrated accounts of DNA, the cell, photosynthesis and muscle structure.
“Even the most intricate man-made devices cannot compare with the sophisticated biochemical systems that operate within the living cell,” he writes. Rather than support a reductionist view of nature, “modern molecular biology has demonstrated that the processes of life are critically dependent on the precise operation of this immensely sophisticated and ingenious information-processing system” of the living cell. We might say that the tiny cell acts like a giant factory, except that no human factory displays that much precisely integrated complexity.
Even more important, Broom stresses how little scientists know of the actual workings.
Contrast this to the popular materialist accounts, which would have the reader believe that the complexity of the cell, and the organism of which it is a part, are the simple mechanistic results of the random chemical juggling of DNA. Broom gives the example of an article on genetics from Time magazine which “presents its readers with a powerful visual feast … a laboratory test tube containing DNA — the ‘essence of life,’ the ‘Master Molecule.’”
“The test-tube image of DNA in the . . . Time article has all the ingredients of no-nonsense [materialist] reductionism, leaving the nonexpert reader in no doubt that scientists have, to all intents and purposes, solved the weighty problem of biological existence. The reader is served up a compellingly simple message — the mystery of life can be explained by a chemical substance in a test tube that we can hold in our hands. And the take-home message — it really is so very simple!”
But it is not at all that simple, as Broom illustrates again and again. And this complexity not only shows us that there must be a designer, but takes us to him as well.
Broom shows us that the “watchmaker” is not blind at all; rather, it is we who need our eyes opened to the wonders of creation. This book is a very fine start on the journey of the scientific mind toward God.
Ben Wiker, a fellow with the Discovery Institute, teaches philosophy of science at Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio).