These thoughts are complicated, and I’ve done my best to write some of them down. I suggest you read the following post fairly slowly. This stuff is mindblowing…
William Paley (1743- 1805) is one of my favourite philosophers.
Paley is best known for his simple illustration of ‘The Watchmaker’, found in his book Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity collected from the Appearances of Nature.
…What a mouthful! Anyway…
For those who haven’t heard his famous analogy, here’s a summary.
1) A watch is made up of many small parts. Each part must be created and put in precisely the right place in order for the watch to function correctly. This requires a watchmaker- an intelligent being- who can organise and implement this process.
2) In a similar way, the universe is made up of many smaller parts. Each part must be created and put in precisely the right place (fine tuning) in order for everything to function. God is this intelligent being (or watchmaker) who organises and implements this creation process.
It’s a simple concept, and indeed many find it too simple.
Because this analogy has been around for so long, it has given philosophers and writers more than enough time to criticise and poke holes in the Watchmaker analogy. Does Paley’s argument stand up to 200 years of scrutiny?
Let’s look at two people’s counter arguments to Paley’s Watchmaker…
When Charles Darwin first read William Paley’s work, he believed it gave rational proof of the existence of God. But fast forward seven years and Darwin had decided natural selection had super-seeded the reasoning behind divine design.
Darwin wrote: “There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.”
For Darwin, natural selection and intelligent design were incompatible. It’s impossible to know whether Paley would have agreed. But there is a counter argument that says God designed the ‘fixed laws’ that govern the universe including natural selection. Indeed the above quote makes little sense to those who believe God creates, sustains and yes, designs even the wind
Dawkins needs little introduction. His crusade against people of faith, and Christians in particular is relentless and has actually infuriated some atheists. Nevertheless, his objections are popular and should be considered.
Dawkins thinks the argument of the Watchmaker is self-refuting. “If complex things must have been intelligently designed by something more complex than themselves, then anything posited as this complex designer (i.e. God) must also have been designed by something yet more complex”, is how Wikipedia puts it.
The world functions as cause and effect. This goes on continually. But what started everything? What was the first cause? I don’t think it’s assuming too much to say that Paley believed God was the initial cause of everything. The reasoning is that everything with the exception of God needs a cause. Dawkins’ point is why should God be the exception? Although a fair point in some ways, it makes little sense to have an endless chain of cause and effect backwards with a list of intelligent designers that go on for infinity! But Dawkins and others may be more comfortable with this conclusion.
No analogy is perfect and Paley’s Watchmaker has been picked apart over the years. But I think his fundamental point makes good logical sense. When we look at the world around us, we are filled with a sense of awe. Creation is beautiful. For me, the most logical explanation for the world around us is something or someone with intelligence designed it and put it here.
The Apostle Paul put it even more strongly in his letter to the Romans when he wrote that humanity is “without excuse” if they say they don’t know God. Why? Because, according to Paul, God has made his existence incredibly clear through creation.
Controversial or what?!