A Broom that sweeps litter in
A comic strip in a
Posted on April
- Curiosity - the driving force of science
- Broom's own idea
- The new shape of divinity according to Broom
- The business of science according to Broom
- What is life - according to Broom
- More of the same
Hardly anybody would deny that a broom is a useful tool in a household. Useful,
that is, if utilized to remove litter from living quarters. Nothing,
though, in the broom construction prevents using it for dragging litter into the
house. A reasonable person, though, would hardly make such use of a broom.
However, if a broom is not just a broom but a Neil Broom, he can easily find
publishers and admirers acclaiming his actions, which are in fact the equivalent
of sweeping litter into living quarters. All it takes is capitalizing on
the popularity of the thesis according to which science allegedly supports
religious dogma, and whenever it does not do so it is because of science's
A book by Mr. Broom  titled How Blind Is a Watchmaker? was first
published in England (Ashgate, Aldershot 1998) and then reprinted by
InterVarsity Press in the USA. The book's title is an obvious reference to the
widely known book  by Richard Dawkins (The Blind Watchmaker) which
itself was a reference to William Paley's "watchmaker argument"  otherwise
known as a version of the "argument from design."
Broom's book has the subtitle "Nature's Design & the Limits of Naturalistic
Science." While the first half of that subtitle, "Nature's Design" is
hardly much more than gobbledygook whose meaning is Broom's secret, the second
half seems to contradict Broom's thesis according to which all science,
as it has been practiced so far, is "naturalistic." Therefore the word
"naturalistic" in the subtitle does not seem to carry any useful function. In
fact, Broom's thesis is about the limitations of science as a whole,
whose main deficiency, according to Broom, is in not allowing for the
supernatural explanation of the observed phenomena.
No wonder that InterVarsity Press, which is a publishing outlet of the
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, chose Broom's opus for re-printing. This
organization specializes in publishing books and periodicals promoting religion
in a quasi-scientific disguise. No wonder also that Broom's opus is
accompanied by a foreword from William Dembski and by blurbs from Phillip
Johnson, Michael Behe, Paul Nelson, and the theologian James Loder. Even without
reading Broom's book, just noticing the names of the notorious quartet of
Intelligent Design gurus enthusiastically approving it provides a reliable
prognosis of what a reader may gain from Broom's creation: hardly anything
useful, but possibly a little fun.
Indeed, whoever has patience to read the more than two hundred pages of Broom's
narrative will hardly gain anything useful but possibly will have a little of
fun. The reason for the fun is that Mr. Broom has missed his real vocation as a
cartoonist. His book is in fact a comic strip in a book form wherein many funny
cartoons are diluted by a torrent of quotations with only a few sprinklings of
Broom's own notions.
From the biographical data on the book's cover we learn that Neil Broom, PhD, is
an associate professor of chemical and mechanical engineering and has worked in
biomechanical research. Biomechanical research and teaching chemical or
mechanical engineering are respectable endeavors. Since he also is a talented
cartoonist able to engage in an enjoyable hobby, one can only shrug and wonder
why a person with a good profession and a fine hobby would waste his time and
effort on producing such a book. This book contains almost nothing original. It
looks like an attempt to assert its author's religious beliefs by mining
quotations from many other sources and ignoring arguments which contradict his
In fact, there is in Broom's book one point which may be considered as his
original contribution to the subject of Intelligent Design vs. Darwinism. I will
discuss that original contribution a little later. There is also a certain point
in his book providing some information not found in the books of other ID
advocates. This point stems from Broom's being a New Zealander. As such, he
seems to be a great New Zealand patriot. I believe that New Zealand is a
wonderful country. Being patriotic is often considered a respectable trait.
However, while nothing is wrong in loving one's country, it is advisable not to
forget that it is by chance that one was born in that particular corner of the
globe. A narrow patriotism which taints one's judgment in a way making one
exaggerate one country's merits as compared with other places on the same planet
is often more comic than respectable.
From Mr. Broom's book, whose subject does not seem to have anything to do with
such assertions, we learn, for example, that it was not brothers Orville and
Wilbur Wright who invented airplane but Richard Pearse of New Zealand. Perhaps
Dr. Broom would be surprised to learn that his compatriot Pearse has at least
one more competitor in the quest for fame. There are scores of books and
articles asserting that the first airplane was invented by a Russian named
Mozhaiski. This story was vigorously promoted by the communist rulers of
the former USSR. Their preposterous thesis was that in fact all important
inventions and discoveries were made in Russia. Hundreds of books and
endless streams of articles, dissertations, and lectures inundated Russia, all
intended to prove that ridiculous thesis. To the Russian people's credit, by and
large they related to that propaganda with a disdainful smirk. Their ironic
attitude to such attempts at glorifying their culture (which indeed is second to
none in its literature, music, theater, and, yes, excellent science) by
attributing to it everything ever invented or discovered was perhaps best
evinced by an ubiquitous in Russia derisive saying, "Russia is the Motherland of
Elephants." With the end of communist rule, the pseudo-history of Russian
science went the way of other communist lies and boastings.
When reading Broom's assertion of New Zealand's priority in the invention of
aviation, or his reference to Sir Edmund Hillary's magnificent achievement of
1953 when (together with the great Sherpa mountain climber Tenzing Norgay) he
was the first human to set feet on Jomolungma's summit (known in the West as
Mount Everest), a feat certainly admirable (as I myself having been an
avid mountain climber would gladly acclaim) but irrelevant to the subject of
Broom's book, it reminded me of the ludicrously boastful communist
If I were asked to succinctly define the main thesis of Broom's book, my reply
would perhaps be that it essentially is an effort to prove the fatal limitations
of science. Broom tries to qualify his thesis by addressing what he views as the
universal feature of "materialistic science," a feature he refers to as
"reductionism." This thesis amply demonstrates that the chemical engineer
and expert in biomechanical research Neil Broom has a very narrow understanding
of what science really is.
Every scientist would agree with Broom that science has limitations. However,
these limitations have not prevented science from achieving great success.
Moreover, these limitations have nothing to do with any philosophical premises.
Scientific process had indeed entailed what is often referred to as
methodological naturalism. The reason for that is, though, not any philosophical
predisposition but sheer expediency. This approach has ensured the great success
of the scientific method. This approach, however, does not entail
automatic exclusion of a study of any object simply because it is determined to
be beyond the "shackles of naturalism." The scientific method is limited by only
one requirement – it requires evidence. The question of whether a phenomenon is
natural or supernatural is beyond science and is therefore not asked.
We see from Broom's book that he has two hobbies. One is the innocent hobby of
drawing cartoons. The other is far from innocent. It is based on a desire rooted
in Broom's religious preferences, to undermine the respect for science.
Perhaps the clearest expression of Broom's real attitude to science is found on
page 194 of his book. In Broom's opinion (not supported even by a single
piece of evidence) scientists (with a few exceptions like Broom and his
co-believers) refuse to admit the supernaturalistic explanations of observed
phenomena because of their alleged "craving for power." It is also
referred to as a "desire to retain control over a mini-universe humanistically
and therefore falsely delineated by an impoverished, naturalistic science...."
I wonder whether Broom applies the same criteria "delineated" in the quoted
statement to his biomechanical research. His sweeping generalization of
why scientists avoid supernatural interpretations of their data is too obviously
contrary to facts, and making such statements is so far from an impartial
attitude based on evidence that it makes one wonder what kind of scientist Broom
can possibly be. If in his view science based on methodological naturalism is
"impoverished" then obviously we deal here with a discourse that is not only far
from being scientific but also is bluntly antagonistic to science. Indeed,
since, as Broom himself asserts, science until now has been firmly grounded in
methodological naturalism, and this makes science "impoverished" then in Broom's
view all science is "impoverished" and hence a very inept tool for explaining
To save the situation, Broom's prescription is unequivocal: let the supernatural
enter science, apply the concept of God to find answers to scientific problems,
and the severe limitations of science will be lifted. Here is what he
says, "... for the reader who is willing to step out in a direction signposted by
inferences drawn from an examination of some of the limitations of naturalistic
science, there is a much more exciting journey to be made. It is a journey into
a realm that must embody and yet transcend those qualities expressed in the
material laws that this science so elegantly describes. It is, I believe, a
journey toward the transcendent Divine presence." I wonder whether in his work
on the development of a heart valve Broom enjoyed the direct advice from God or
he followed instead the regular procedure of scientific research which has
always been divorced from the researcher's religious beliefs? How
precisely does Broom envision that journey toward divine presence when, say,
designing a heart valve?
Broom is entitled to believe in anything of his choice. His beliefs, however,
carry no weight for anybody else unless supported by evidence. There is not even
a shadow of such evidence anywhere in Broom's book, only unsubstantiated
declarations that have been heard many times before.
There are believers of various kinds among scientists, from Catholics to
Buddhists and from Bahais to Moslems, as well as atheists and agnostics. They
often work elbow to elbow in their labs, exchange data and theories at
conferences and congresses, publish articles in co-authorships, and their
religious beliefs and affiliations are not obstacles to their co-operation. As
soon as they step into their labs, all of them apply the lamented- by-Broom
methodological naturalism and achieve great successes. Broom's fuzzy
prescription for following his "journey toward divine presence," even if his
prescription were specific and practically viable (which it is not by any
measure), would only lead researchers astray and paralyze free inquiry.
Therefore, in my view Broom's book is not only useless, it is actually a rather
obnoxious effort by a religious zealot to shackle science by making it
subordinate to pre-conceived beliefs, and this is contrary to the very essence
of science. Fortunately Broom's book hardly has a chance to affect any
substantial number of scientists (though it may possibly become popular among
those already converted to Broom's creed).
Let us now talk more in detail about particular features of Broom's book.
I will start my discussion of specific features in Broom's book from his
Appendix. This will enable me to dispose of the discussion of the only one of
Broom's points I agree with and thus free me to rebut the rest of his discourse.
On page 194 we read, "Humans are creatures driven by intense curiosity. From
ancient times this urge to discover focused not just on the myriad detail of our
immediate environment but also on the much larger picture of human existence and
its place within the vastness of cosmos." Continuing, Broom provides a
brief description of the development of science which seems out of place in his
book. However, since Broom deems it proper to expand on the topic of the
development of science, it seems worthwhile to briefly review a few points of
I fully agree with Broom that curiosity has indeed been the driving force of
inquiry into the unknown and therefore the source of the emergence and
development of science. Broom, however, omits the question of why humans possess
curiosity. He seems not to notice that having curiosity as an inherent feature
of human nature finds a very natural Darwinian explanation. Curiosity is a very
useful feature of the human mind. Having given birth to science, it served to
immensely improve the conditions of the human existence. Therefore it was a
powerful tool of evolution.
Of course Broom has a ready counter-explanation – that the transcendent God has
imbued the humans with curiosity in the furtherance of his purpose. Such a
hypothesis, besides being arbitrary, i.e. not based on any factual evidence,
entails serious problems. One is that curiosity is not an absolute advantage.
Science led not only to the improvement of the human condition but also to the
invention of horrible tools of destruction, inventions which were intended to
provide advantages to certain groups of people against other groups of people.
The argument stating that the ways of God are unfathomable does not sound to me
convincing. Such an argument essentially means the admission that the hypothesis
of God provides no explanation. On the other hand, the Darwinian explanation,
according to which evolution has no target, provides a very elegant answer to
the question of why humans possess curiosity.
Broom starts his historical essay with a bit about Francis Bacon. He refers with
approval to Bacon's ideas that knowledge has to be based on "properly organized
observation and experimentation, the careful recording of results and the need
for interaction among investigators in different disciplines."
Bravo, Dr. Broom. If only he followed Bacon's advice in his own discourse. Broom
seems not to notice that his rants about the alleged "shackles" of the
materialistic philosophy which "suffocate science" and about the alleged
necessity to allow for a supernatural explanation of the facts are by and large
pure speculations without any basis in "properly organized observation and
In fact, Broom's dream is subordinating scientific inquiry to the religious
dogma, preferably of his own version – an attitude long rejected by science
because of its utter futility. Broom and his co-believers in the ID movement
wish to turn the clock back. If they succeed, it would mean the death of science
and the advent of a kingdom of obscurantism. Science works very well based on
methodological naturalism, which is not a philosophical premise but only an
expedient foundation for the progress. It does not prevent individual scientists
from being religious and adhering to whatever faith (or lack thereof) each of
them is free to embrace. If Broom or his co-believers ever manage to offer
evidence for the supernatural origin of a single piece of data, then and only
then will science readily adopt such an explanation. Such an occurrence, however
unlikely, will in no way be contrary to the scientific method which has only one
overriding rule – follow the evidence.
Broom's book, as mentioned before, seems to offer only one notion which may be
viewed as his original idea. It is evinced in chapter 10 and is, essentially,
the notion that natural selection, if believed to be indeed the driving force of
evolution, is anything but natural. The chapter in question is titled How
Natural is Natural Selection?
Broom starts his assault with a quotation attributed to an American biologist
John Avise, "Natural selection is merely an amoral force, as inevitable and
uncaring as gravity." Broom views this quotation as "deliciously
bizarre." He sets out to "explore this pivotal idea in some depth" (page
Unfortunately for Broom, a reader would look in vain for an in-depth exploration
of the point in question. In fact his discourse is disappointingly shallow. It
can be expressed succinctly as the assertion that assuming the paramount role of
natural selection in the emergence of the panoply of life means first assuming
that "'to want to live' in the face of testing external challenges is a
paramount biological principle" (page 160). He elaborates with another
platitude, "If a particular innovation that improves an organism's chances of
survival is to be exploited by the sieving action of natural selection, then
this can happen only if the survival instinct operates as an absolute principle
in the natural world."
I will leave without discussion the dubious reference to a principle (any
principle) being "absolute," since Broom seems to be unaware of the exceptions
to the principle in question. I will instead briefly review his argument against
the selection being "natural."
He writes (page 160), "The moment we advance the notion that things actually
want to live, to improve their lot, to go on living in the face of potentially
destructive forces, we have transgressed the fundamental assumption of an
impersonal, law-bound universe. Natural selection therefore embodies an idea
that is both unnatural and alien to the spirit of materialistic science."
One can only wonder how such Broom's colleagues as Dembski who have supposedly
been trained in philosophy and logic and who have so enthusiastically acclaimed
Broom's book failed to at least notice the egregious lack of logic and
substantiation in Broom's sole original notion. Broom's assertion that natural
selection entails teleology, or "vitalistic ambitions" (page 160) is too
obviously arbitrary since the principle of natural selection itself very
naturally explains why the living organisms "want to live." No "vitalism"
or teleology need to be invoked to substantiate the obvious logical conclusion
that natural selection must necessarily favor organisms possessing the instinct
of survival. In the competition for survival the organisms possessing a strong
tendency to fight for survival would obviously have great advantages over the
organisms which have a weaker instinct of survival. Those modifications of
organisms which possess no tendency to survive or have that tendency weakened
would be naturally eliminated in the course of evolution.
Attributing the instinct for survival to supernatural forces has no logical or
empirical foundation, so Broom's only original thesis hardly deserves serious
In chapter 10 Broom endlessly harps about the alleged teleological implications
of the observed phenomena without providing a single argument based on evidence.
He asserts the alleged indisputable truth of his views even when interpreting
the ideas of other authors, like Dawkins. For example, on page 167, when
discussing the explanation of the development of eye in Dawkins's book
Climbing Mount Improbable, Broom writes, "The very fact that Dawkins
admits to aiming for the summit, or, in his own words 'only accepting mutations
that improve optical performance,' is surely the most blatant admission that his
version of neo-Darwinism is, despite claims to the contrary, profoundly
goal-centered and purposeful." For anybody not brainwashed by intelligent
design obfuscations, it is Broom's quoted assertion that is blatantly
unsubstantiated. To anybody who has read Dawkins's book it is abundantly
clear that Dawkins's position has nothing to do with its misrepresentation by
Broom. Dawkins clearly and unequivocally explains that Darwinian evolution is a
targetless process having no aims or designs.
Many more examples of Broom's contempt for facts could be quoted.
While in chapter 10 Broom at least suggests (albeit without any substantiation)
his own idea, in the rest of his book he simply reiterates the notions suggested
many times before by intelligent design advocates, all of which have been shown
to be fallacious by biologists, information theorists and probability theorists.
The first chapter in Broom's book is titled The New Shape of
Divinity. This title does not seem to reflect the contents of the
chapter. Broom starts with the assertion that modern science is based on
philosophical materialism. He writes (page 17), "The philosophy of materialism,
or naturalism, largely dominates scientific interpretation of the natural
world." A little further he adds, "Philosophical materialism sees humanity
as an unplanned artifact, a biological byproduct of a wholly material sequence
While these two statements sound like a reasonable statement of the factual
situation, they are in fact misleading. Science indeed incorporates
methodological naturalism as an underlying principle of the exploration of
reality, but, first, this does not necessarily entail ontological materialism,
and, second, it is not a philosophical premise of scientific theories but rather
an expedient approach which has been proven to successfully work. Since it
works, scientists see no need to reach beyond natural explanations of the
All subsequent attempts by Broom to assert the desirability of including the
supernatural into science suffer from the common malaise of such efforts –
the lack of any evidence which would justify invoking unobservable disembodied
entities of unknown essence, be they God or gods, or any other supernatural
sources and forces.
Broom's real passion becomes quite evident as we read through the chapter in
question wherein he argues passionately that science is in fact a very
unreliable endeavor. Of course, as usual for such assaults on science,
Broom never directly admits that he abhors science. Instead, he paints a picture
of science which has little in common with real science. In Broom's
presentation scientists are driven by ulterior motivations, pursuing fame,
money, and recognition rather than truth. Of course scientists are human,
and as such many of them are indeed in pursuit of prizes, fame, and recognition.
However, contrary to Broom, all this is a footnote rather than the main feature
Here are the titles of the sections in chapter 1 of Broom's book: The Inner
Sanctum of Science; Aristocrats and High Priests; Mechanistic Mongers of
These titles alone reveal Broom's real attitude to science.
This attitude is of one who has very negative feelings toward science and
is eager to denigrate it. In order to redeem itself in Broom's eyes,
science must (page 23) "admit to its own fundamental limitations and not to
yield to the temptation of pronouncing on matters that lie beyond its legitimate
I have news for Broom: science does not need his advice since he addresses a
non-existent issue. Science readily admits its limitations without having waited
for Mr. Broom's suggesting it do so; it does not pronounce on matters that lie
beyond its legitimate reach. On the other hand, the boundaries between
legitimate and illegitimate in science do not lie where Broom would like to set
In Broom's opinion, the questions which are illegitimate for science are "the
really big questions of life," (page 23) whatever (undefined) meaning Broom
attaches to that term. In fact, the only illegitimate questions for science are
those which are not about evidence. Whatever the "really big questions of
life" are, they are fully legitimate questions for science as long as they are
weighed in view of available evidence.
The notions Broom tries to advance in his book are indeed illegitimate for
science because his thesis suggesting the necessity of introducing the
supernatural into science is not based on any evidence.
Except for chapter 10 wherein, as mentioned, Broom at least suggested some
notions of his own, the rest of his book looks more like a compendium of
quotations than like original material.
Chapter 3 in Broom's book is titled The Business of Science. This chapter
starts with platitudes, proceeds with more platitudes, and never gets out of
On page 29 we read, "First, science is not equipped to give us truth in an
absolute sense." What news! Broom apparently believes that until he explained
the real situation, scientists erroneously thought that they possessed absolute
truth. Broom's remark would be much more appropriate if he spoke about religions
which indeed often assert possessing the absolute truth obtained through
revelations. Such a statement, although true, would work against Broom's
beliefs, so he carefully avoids the question of the veracity of religions,
pouncing instead upon science. In fact, unlike religions, science never pretends
to possess absolute truth, so Broom fights a straw man.
To support his thesis Broom mines quotations, often out of context, from such
diverse sources as, for example, Karl Popper and Michael Polanyi. Anybody
familiar with the views of Popper and Polanyi a little beyond the quotations cut
by Broom out of the writing of these two authors will be aware that their views
have very little in common.
Moreover, the views of either of these authors are just that – their personal
views and it is easy to mine any number of quotations contrary to whatever Broom
managed to dig out of their literary output.
For example, the quotation from Popper ends with the following sentence: "An
observation is always preceded by a particular interest, a question, or a
problem – in short, by something theoretical."
While the level of Popper's philosophical discourse is way above the jejune
philosophy of Broom, his opinions are by no means uncontroversial. In
particular, his assertion than an observation is always preceded by something
theoretical is obviously unduly generalized. When Tycho de Brahe conducted his
meticulous observations of planetary motions, nothing theoretical preceded these
observations. In the next step, Johannes Kepler found mathematical equations
accurately describing the planetary motions (with certain exceptions) but even
at that stage no theoretical "something" was underlying his calculations but
only a careful consideration of the evidence. Only when Newton derived the three
Kepler's equations based on the laws of gravitation did "something" theoretical
enter the discourse.
As for Michael Polanyi, he was a qualified chemist (as, for example, in his
work, in 1935, together with Horiuti , on the calculation of the
electrochemical overvoltage). However, even if we appreciate Polanyi's valuable
(albeit limited) contribution to electrochemistry, this does not make him a
qualified philosopher of science, and his views are nothing more than his
personal preferences. In his philosophical pieces Polanyi fell short of relying
on rigorous criteria like those he applied in his work in genuine science.
Broom's references to Polanyi show nothing more than his sharing some of
Polanyi's opinions which have no evidentiary value and which are based not on
factual evidence but only on personal biases.
On page 42 we read, "For science to be successful, it must have a non-scientific
base." I believe this quotation alone is sufficient to show that Broom's
book is a piece of wishful thinking sprinkled with some absurd notions. In
Broom's world science is an enterprise whose power is " faltering" (page 39),
the thesis he mulls over and over, filling the pages of his opus with multiple
quotations from various sources and filling the gaps between the quotations with
unsubstantiated declarations sounding odd from an author who himself claims to
be a practicing scientist.
Chapter 3 in Broom's book is titled What Is Life? Of course this is a
vexing question and readers may be expected to eagerly turn to Broom's discourse
anticipating deep analysis of the essence of life. They are up for a
disappointment. First, the chapter contains very little of Broom's own
ideas but instead is long on quotations, mainly again from Polanyi. The great
idea Broom adheres to is in fact the notion that life, although displaying many
features of mechanical systems, is not reducible to physics and chemistry. What
news! What is absent though in Broom's discussion, 90 percent of which consists
of quotations, is a reasonable answer regarding what precisely makes life more
than a physical and chemical process. To simply say that life is something more
than physics and chemistry without specifying what constitutes its distinction
from physics and chemistry means saying nothing of substance.
For example, on page 54 Broom asserts that "life is inexplicable in terms of the
lower level laws of physics and chemistry. Some other, higher level of control
that transcends the purely material law is required." We can ask which
non-material laws are required. How do you know those laws are non-material?
Have you scientifically investigated that question? Obviously, Broom's assertion
is arbitrary; it is not based on factual evidence but is only due to Broom's
apparent lack of imagination and propensity for resorting to an easy escape from
the problem – to invoke his irrational beliefs stemming from his religious
background. His assertion is just a low-level example of an argument from
ignorance and of a lack of logic.
No wonder Broom admires the literary output of leading intelligent design
advocates such as Behe. On page 61 we read, "Biochemist Michael Behe in his
recent book Darwin's Black Box demonstrates clearly the irreducibly
complex nature of various biological machines." This statement in fact
"demonstrates clearly" that Broom's approach to his subject is completely
unscientific. When scientists discuss a controversial issue, they always try to
consider arguments both in favor and against the concept in question, regardless
of which side they themselves adhere to. Broom heaps praise on Behe but
ignores the other side – the multiple articles, books, web postings and lectures
by biologists, mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers [7, 8, 9, 10, 11]
which to my mind "demonstrate clearly" the fallaciousness of Behe's concept.
The concluding section of chapter 3 is titled "What Does It Mean To Be
Alive?" Unfortunately, after having read that section a reader is left
without any semblance of an answer to that question. It looks as if Broom's
ambitions, evident from such promising titles, substantially exceed his ability
to treat his subject on a reasonably fruitful level. All Broom managed to come
up with (page 71) is a quotation attributed to Jesus, "Why do you look for the
living among the dead?" (Luke 24:5, NIV). It seems reasonable to ask, What this
quotation has to do with the question of what life is? Digging quotations out of
the Bible to support a view on a scientific question does not seem to be the
best way to finding an answer to such a question, but Broom apparently can't
offer a better argument than an irrelevant saying dating thousand years back.
One of the features of Broom's book is that is plainly boring by virtue of being
largely a mix of lengthy quotations with unsubstantiated declarations. Am
I impolite in my discussion of Broom's opus? Perhaps I am, but this is mainly
just a reply in kind. Broom is quite impolite himself in his assault on
everybody who does not share his beliefs. For example, on pages 77-78 (chapter
4) we find Broom's repudiation of the books by David Attenborough, Carl Sagan,
Richard Dawkins, and Isaac Asimov. In Broom's opinion, these authors are (page
78) "...blatantly misleading and intellectually irresponsible." By having
applied such denigrating epithets to respectable authors who happen to hold
views different from Broom's he invites replies in the same manner, without a
veneer of the restraint typical of scientific disputes.
Broom's assault on these (and other) popular writers also reminds me of the well
known fable by the Russian fable writer Ivan Krylov. In that fable an elephant
was shown to public on a street. A tiny puppy jumped out of the crowd and
started barking furiously at the elephant. The latter did not pay attention to
the small dog. In the crowd, though, some people said, "Look at that puppy.
Evidently she is very strong if she dares to bark at the elephant."
It is a very unrewarding and boring task to repudiate all the unsubstantiated
declarations, distortions and misleading statements which are so abundant
throughout Broom's book. I could not find in that book a single thesis
regarding its subject which he has either proven or at least discussed in an
impartial manner. Broom has beliefs and convictions and no facts can shatter
them. Therefore I will not discuss the rest of Broom's book systematically but
will instead address a few points selected more or less randomly from the
panoply of misstatements, arbitrary assertions, and other displays of his heavy
bias and unwillingness (or inability) to weigh the evidence impartially.
Here is a quotation from page 82 illustrating Broom's unbounded (but unfounded)
self-confidence. Writing about the Field Museum of Natural History in
Chicago, Broom concludes with the following tirade: "the Field Museum would do
well to either pull down the shutters on this particularly bad piece of
pop-science or, better still, use it to explain to viewers that such a purely
material approach to the origin-of-life question has nothing whatsoever to
On the next page we find another example of Broom's contemptuous attitude to
science as it has been practiced with enormous success following the guidelines
set already by Bacon, and later by Galileo, "In all of the origin-of-life
scenarios I have mentioned there is little offered but the parroting of
fairy-tale materialism constructed philosophically from atoms, molecules, heat,
lightning, vast dollops of time and monumental leaps of fantasy."
Unfortunately for Broom and his colleagues in the ID crowd, unlike in science,
which has discovered atoms and molecules, his conceptual system contains nothing
at all besides "monumental leaps of fantasy." In fact, although pretending he is
only trying to improve the process of scientific inquiry by freeing it from the
"shackles" of a philosophical pre-disposition, Broom is actually an enemy of
science and an advocate of obscurantism of a rather explicit kind. When talking
about science he is "parroting" the worn-out canards about science being
allegedly hijacked by materialistic philosophy. When the question is what he can
suggest instead, the abject futility of his position is immediately obvious as
he does not offer a single concrete idea regarding how to do science differently
from the proven path it has been following so far.
In chapter 5, titled Serious Science and Life Origin, we find statements
which are rather odd coming from a professor of chemical and material
engineering. For example, on page 85 we read, "... much of our understanding of
the material world given to us through the disciplines of physics and chemistry
has been achieved by exploiting the powerful conceptual tool of equilibrium
thermodynamics - the science dealing with the relationship between heat
energy and mechanical forces. The problem we are confronted with when studying
the living world is that biological organisms are critically dependent on a
complex array of mechanisms that operate under conditions far from equilibrium."
This statement misrepresents the actual situation. First, thermodynamics is not
simply studying the relationship between "heat energy" and mechanical forces.
This definition could be perhaps applied to the embryonic thermodynamics of
Carnot (the first half of the 19th century). However, after
Carnot thermodynamics underwent rapid and drastic development growing into the
most fundamental part of physics, one that reaches far beyond the relationship
between thermal and mechanical energies.
Second, the difference between living organisms and inanimate bodies is not in
that the former operate under non-equilibrium conditions whereas the latter are
in equilibrium. In fact all real processes are non-equilibrium ones
(often also referred to as irreversible). Nevertheless, classical
thermodynamics, which is based on the equilibrium approximation, is indeed a
powerful tool, enabling us to successfully study the real irreversible
processes, as long as we account for the limitations of the equilibrium
approximation. This is true both for non-biological processes (such as, for
example, corrosion of metals) and the biological ones.
The real thermodynamic difference between inanimate bodies and living organisms
is in their behavior regarding their entropy (there are also non-thermodynamic
differences). Very briefly and simplifying the real situation, it can be said
that open inanimate systems can be constructed as homeostatic systems (i.e.
preserving their temperature and composition in a relatively narrow range
regardless of the changes of conditions in the surrounding medium) but they
never decrease their entropy spontaneously. Living organisms are not only often
naturally homeostatic, they also maintain their entropy for prolonged periods of
time around a relatively stable level (while even stronger increasing the
entropy of the environment) and are even capable of spontaneously decreasing
their entropy (for example, in the process of an embryo's development). As
Broom's reference to thermodynamics seems to show, he may be unaware of these
facts. If this is the case, he is hardly qualified to discuss the difference
between living and inanimate systems from the standpoint of thermodynamics, his
professor's status notwithstanding.
Third, Broom seems to also be unaware of another powerful science,
non-equilibrium thermodynamics, which has been specifically developed to study
Of course all these sciences have been developed without applying Broom's
prescription which suggests explaining the observed phenomena by attributing
them to a completely obscure and unobservable supernatural agency. Adopting
Broom's prescription would mean the death of science and the advent of the
kingdom of obscurantism. If his approach were substituted for the proven
scientific method based on evidence, we would have to forfeit the development of
new medications capable of curing diseases, or of better means of
transportation, or of better ways to produce food and recycle the refuse, or of
efficiently enhancing human productivity – all those wonderful byproducts of
Naturally Broom's anti-science diatribes are admired by the likes of Johnson,
Behe, and Dembski, although only Johnson among these three heavyweights of the
ID crowd is as blatant as Broom in his assaults on science.
Broom never uses such expressions as "in my
opinion," "I believe that," "to my mind," and the like. His judgments always are
categorical and arrogantly self-confident. He knows better than any author who
may happen to adhere to a different view. All over Broom's book we encounter
misstatements, unsubstantiated asseverations, arbitrary declarations, too
numerous for all of them to be addressed. Here are a few more of randomly chosen
One of his most egregious escapades relates to Richard Dawkins's "biomorph"
algorithm . Broom's critique of that algorithm reveals Broom's lack of
understanding of the nature of models in science.
Dawkins's biomorph algorithm is a computer program modeling the emergence of
complexity in the evolutionary processes. Like any legitimate model, it is not a
replica of the actual process. A model in science is not identical with the
modeled object or process. A model preserves only a few features or properties
of the modeled object or process, those which are crucial for the task at hand.
It necessarily ignores many other properties of the modeled object or process,
those which are of secondary importance for the task at hand. Here is a famous
example. In Newton's celestial mechanics the model of a planet is a point mass.
This model possesses only one property in common with the real planets – the
mass. All the rest of planet's properties, of which there are a vast multitude,
are ignored. Indeed, that model seems to have little resemblance to real planets
which possess, besides their mass, also size, shape, composition, etc, and in
the case of Earth, also vegetation, population including Mr. Broom, etc. Should
Newton have considered all those multiple properties of planets when developing
the equations of his celestial mechanics? If he did, he would have never
successfully derived his powerful equations but would have instead lost his way
in the vast labyrinth of irrelevant details. Fortunately, Newton knew better. He
knew how to choose a model. So does Dawkins. Broom, though, does not seem to
According to Broom, there are "glaring conceptual flaws in Dawkins's analogy"
(page 121). Dawkins, says Broom, "has committed a fatal error by mixing his
metaphors. In effect he has confused living systems with objects."
Mr. Broom, Dawkins has not confused anything with anything else. He is perfectly
aware that his biomorphs are not living systems and says so directly and
unequivocally. What his biomorphs are is models of evolving organisms perfectly
legitimate for the task at hand. That task is to demonstrate how the process of
evolution results in an unlimited emergence of complexity. The biomorph
algorithm demonstrates that very well. As Dawkins himself points out, his
algorithm differs in many substantial ways from evolution in the biosphere. The
differences, though, are inconsequential if the goal of that model is to
illustrate the growth of complexity. Dawkins's model comprises several
components, such as a model of genes and a model of mutations, but, instead of
natural selection in entails selection by programmer. This difference between
the biomorph algorithm and natural Darwinian algorithms is of no consequence for
the illustration of the growth of complexity, which occurs in Dawkins's
procedure in a way analogous to its occurrence in natural Darwinian processes.
Broom's disdainful dismissal of Dawkins's allegedly "misleading metaphor" is a
compelling illustration both of Broom's serious misunderstanding of what a model
in science is and of his visceral animosity to the Darwinian conceptual system,
an animosity whose roots seem to be in his arbitrary religious preferences.
Here is a telltale quotation from Broom's opus (page 135, footnote): "Thus, if
divine intent is at the very heart of all creation, both in the sense of
causation and its constant sustenance, then any science that ignores or denies
this transcendent aspect of reality will be a hugely impoverished science."
It is not necessary to be an atheist or even an agnostic to see the absurdity of
that pronouncement. Science has never "denied" anything that relates to the
supposed divine intent. It has no tools to handle such a dilemma and therefore
does not concern itself with it. Science indeed ignores the "divine intent" as
being alien to the essence of scientific procedure which is based on verifiable
evidence. In no way does that make science "impoverished," regardless of how
many times Broom and his colleagues among the ID advocates repeat their mantra.
Science does very well indeed without any reference to a divine intent. This has
nothing to do with the personal religious preferences of individual scientists
among which there are believers of various denominations as well as agnostics
and atheists. Broom is entitled to his religious beliefs and it is
nobody's business what he believes in. However, when he demands that
science somehow account for "divine intent" he exposes himself as not just a
believer, but rather as an unreasonable adherent of an unsubstantiated and
futile attitude. How exactly can science account for "divine intent?" Broom and
his colleagues are silent on that crucial question. The insertion of the
consideration of divine intent into scientific research cannot lead to a
verifiable and useful theory but will always remain just a wishful supposition
sprinkled with unfounded asseverations. Scientists keep their religious
beliefs separate from their research because to mix them would lead nowhere.
Even if Broom and his ID co-travelers have any idea of how to make "divine
intent" a part of scientific procedure instead of relegating it to theology, or,
at best, to philosophy, so far none of them has ever disclosed what precisely
such an idea is like.
Broom's book is replete with meaningless statements like the one just quoted,
usually pronounced categorically and disdainfully dismissing differing views.
This seems to justify a similar dismissal of his book as a largely useless,
heavily biased, and misleading twaddle.
Chapter 9 in Broom's book is titled Neo-Darwinism's Struggle To Survive.
This very title portends the tendentious tenor of Broom's discourse in this
chapter. It is designed to create the impression that Neo-Darwinism is in its
death throes and its defenders, driven by some ulterior motivations, are
desperately trying to eschew its imminent demise, unable to withstand the
onslaught by ID advocates. Sweet dreams of Broom and his friends! In fact, what
Broom refers to as Neo-Darwinism is alive and well because it is good science
supported by an immense body of evidence.
The detractors of Neo-Darwinism constitute a tiny fraction of biologists,
usually driven by poorly disguised religious motivations and short on factual
arguments. To prove that opposition to Darwinism is wide spread among scientists
and is growing, the ID advocates often collect signatures in support of their
rejection of Darwinism, as if scientific problems can be resolved by casting
ballots. Moreover, collecting signatures is a double-edged sword – note the
recent publication of the so-called Project Steve  which made fun of the
signature-collecting mania of the ID advocates.
In chapter 9 Broom talks at length about information. This discussion is a mix
of obvious non-informative statements with elementary misinterpretations of
basic tenets of information theory. For example, in the section titled
Genetic Code – Algorithm or Blueprint, Broom spends many words to prove
that algorithms are not the same as blueprints, no big news to say the least.
While exerting great force to prove the obvious, he at the same time shows his
lack of familiarity with some fundamentals of the very subject he endeavors to
elucidate – such as, for example, the Algorithmic Theory of
Information/Probability/Complexity which has a direct bearing on his thesis but
is apparently beyond his ken.
Am I too blunt in my critique of Broom's opus? Perhaps I am, but only in
response to his arrogant style, wherein he categorically asserts his views and
spares no sarcastic words assaulting those scientists who dare to have opinions
different from his own. For example, on page 149 there is a following jab
at scientists typical of Broom, "If the practitioners of science are at times
guilty of disguising their real ignorance of some of the most fundamental
aspects of their discipline, popular science feeds voraciously on this
ignorance, thriving on the simplistic and trivialized kind of science that is
promoted by certain sections of the scientific community."
Scientists are human. They make mistakes. Sometimes some of them may be guilty
of the sins listed by Broom. However, all this is just a footnote to science,
while Broom obviously is eager to represent those occasional deviations as the
main trend in science. The cardinal sin of science, according to Broom, is in
that it "ignores" the divine intent (as quoted earlier). On page 152 Broom
offers the conclusion from his discussion of information, algorithms, and
blueprints, "The sheer richness of the melody of life, its coherence and unity
and its innovating freedom must surely compel us to acknowledge the hand of a
great Composer." Really?
Biologists can supply multiple example of incoherence, disunity, and lack of
innovating freedom in the biosphere which are as common as coherence and
innovative freedom. Moreover, even if Broom's assertion about the "melody of
life" were true, it would by no means lead to the acknowledgment of a Composer's
hand. At best Broom's assertion is just what he chooses to believe, without any
proof or factual evidence.
Broom never gives a serious consideration to arguments contrary to his views,
dismissing them and routinely emphasizing his thesis by such words as
surely, obviously, and the like.
The list of Broom's unsubstantiated statements and unproven asseverations
could be prolonged, but to cover all of his fallacies would require another book
as long as Broom's creation.
I wish I could point to something positive in his book. I can't.
It is upsetting to encounter such events as the publication of a book-length
creation which is not even wrong, but simply nothing. There are many books and
articles I disagree with. For example, the main concept of Irreducible
Complexity as evinced in the book by biochemist Michael Behe  is in my view
fallacious, and Behe's arguments promoting that concept unsubstantiated [7, 8,
9, 10, 11]. However, Behe at least suggests certain arguments in favor of his
views. I disagree with his arguments, so I suggest counter-arguments letting the
readers make their own conclusions. I disagree with such Intelligent Design
theorists as Del Ratzsch , but I have to acknowledge certain merits of his
discourse , so again, if I offer counter-arguments the readers have a choice
between Ratzsch's and my views. Broom's book is in a different league. It
contains practically no arguments at all but only naked categorical statements
and name-calling regarding science and scientists.
I can't understand why a professor of chemical and mechanical engineering would
want to waste his time on writing a lengthy discourse wherein all he does is
give vent to his religious beliefs while derogating science. He could have done
something useful instead. Of course, in his work in engineering he needs much
better criteria to determine what is useful and what is claptrap.
I also wonder why some editors and publishers may have become enamored with such
piffle as Broom's book.
This leads to a question – why have I written this essay? I did not enjoy
writing it and I had no fun doing it (aside from viewing some of his cartoons
which mostly have little relevance to his subject). I had a bad taste in my
mouth reading each chapter in Broom's book and forcing myself to discuss it.
Moreover, I have no expectations that my critique may change even a single mind.
For those who already share my opinion of the books like Broom's my critique is
not needed. Those who may like Broom's book are already overwhelmingly in favor
of his beliefs in general and usually are immune to arguments contrary to those
I have reviewed Broom's opus mainly because I was asked to do so. Now, when this
task is behind me, I start feeling better and hopefully will never have a need
to open Broom's book once again.
 Broom, Neil. 2001 . How Blind Is the Watchmaker?
Nature's Design & the Limits of Naturalistic Science. InterVarsity
Press, Downers Grove, Ill.
 Dawkins, Richard. 1996 . The Blind
Watchmaker. Norton, New York.
 Paley, William. 1837. Natural Theology: Or Evidences of
the Existence of the Deity from the Appearances of Nature. SPCK, London.
 Horiuti, J and M. Polanyi. 1935. Acta Physicochimica URSS,
v.2, p. 505.
 NCSE Announces Project Steve.
 Behe, Michael J. 1996. Darwin's Black Box. The
Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York, Simon and Schuster.
 Perakh, Mark. 2002 . Irreducible
 Perakh, Mark. 2003. Unintelligent Design (chapter
2). Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY.
 Dunkelberg, Pete. 2003. Irreducible Complexity Demystified.
 Miller, Kenneth R. Finding Darwin's God. A Scientist's
Search For Common Ground Between God and Evolution. 1999. New York. Cliff
 Orr, Allen H. 1997. "Darwin v. Intelligent Design
(Again)." Boston Review, Dec. 1996- Jan.1997 issue.
 Ratzsch, Del. 2001. Nature, Design, and Science. The
Status of Design in Natural Science. State University of New York Press.
 Perakh, Mark, 2001. Review of Del Ratzsch's book (see ref.
12) on Amazon.com website.