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ss nucleus - summer 2005,  How blind is the watchmaker? (Book Review)

How blind is the watchmaker? (Book Review)

How blind is the watchmaker? Nature’s design and the limits of naturalistic science - Neil Broom - IVP 2001 - £9.99 Pb - 240pp - ISBN 0851115543

This is a satisfying read, though not a light one, as Neil Broom carefully picks through the issues surrounding neo-Darwinian theory and evolution.

He is careful to define and differentiate between evolution as a purely descriptive term referring to ‘the gradual unfolding over time of biological forms’ and neo-Darwinism, an ideology that ‘claims to provide an explanation for the entire living world within a totally materialistic framework’. Here he primarily takes on the latter, arguing that there has to be more behind the universe than just the blind forces of nature.

Broom addresses neo-Darwinism in three broad stages. First, he details methods of research and discovery, and the inherent assumptions behind them. In this he aims to show that science can’t describe the ‘big picture’ because it is ‘trapped within the very system it is endeavouring to explain’. Therefore any claims scientists make about God arise from ideology rather than evidence. He also outlines the historical development of neo-Darwinism within science, placing it within the wider context of prevailing – and changing – philosophies over the generations. The theory of evolution was not developed purely from scientific discovery, isolated from these ideas.

Second, Broom explores how science inherently points to a dimension that transcends the physical world. Finally, from this he argues that the machine approach to biological organisms is insufficient to explain why they are here, and why they continue to exist. Broom concludes: ‘we find that 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.’

An attractive feature of this book is the use of numerous examples from the natural world. Broom also draws on a host of other literary and scientific work to highlight problems with neo-Darwinism and display the body of thought that is growing against it. It is interesting to note how these dissenting voices are not new. There have always been critics, but it is only more recently that their voices have been heard over mainstream scientific opinion. He also tackles a number of well-used ‘illustrations’ that neo-Darwinists use – I was pleased to understand finally why Dawkins’ ‘monkeys with typewriters’ is more fallacy than foolproof. A discussion of the evolution of the eye, and references to embryology all serve to make this a comprehensive book that will be a useful resource for future discussions.

Whatever your views on creation, natural selection and evolution, this is a helpful book that will encourage you to look deeper.

Jacky Engel

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