Posted by: Randall Niles | June 12, 2012

William Paley and his Watch

In 1831, William Paley argued that God’s existence could be inferred from the designs seen in biology. He said that if one were to come upon a watch lying on the ground, one would not assume that it was the product of nature. It must have been designed by an intelligent being. Likewise, Paley argued that the designs seen in biology must be the result of intelligent design.

Within a few years, David Hume, and to some extent, Charles Darwin, had successfully invalidated Paley’s biological “machine” analogy because, at that point in time, science was only guessing at what existed at the molecular level. There was no evidence of so-called biological machines — cells were merely blobs of protoplasm, little black boxes that somehow performed organic functions in an unseen world.

OK, let’s revisit that argument today…

Over 180 years later, we now have electron-scanning microscopes, x-ray crystallography, and computer modelling systems — miraculous tools that have opened the black box of the cell! In fact, 21st century technology is revealing new boxes within recently-unlocked boxes, exposing, as Dr. Michael Behe says, “an unanticipated Lilliputian world” of enormous complexity that’s pushed modern, naturalistic science to a breaking point.

Remarkably, we’ve now established that each microscopic cell is not only as well-designed as Paley’s watch, but more functionally complex than an entire modern city!

Still thinking,

Randall Niles



  1. Randall,

    Hume is commonly thought to have discredited Paley; but Hume’s writing pre-dated Paley’s.

    Hume wrote his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion in 1779.
    But Paley wrote his Natural Theology in 1802.

    Paley was well aware of Hume’s thought and personally I don’t think Hume’s thought defeats Paley’s overall case.

  2. More complex than a city, therefore?

    a) YHWH
    b) Allah
    c) Shiva
    d) all of the above
    e) none of the above
    f) Magic mushrooms

  3. Something I’ve always thought about Paley’s observation is that even his negative example (i.e. something that is a product of nature rather than man-made) would have been designed by God as well, right. So, if everything is designed, then it’s actually kind of meaningless to say that the watch is more designed than anything you find around it (a rock, a fish, a dust mote). In fact, it seems to say to me that our ability to recognize ‘agency’ is the thing that is flawed.

  4. DownHouse, That same issue propagates down through Dembski’s design inference. Sad not to see the existential wonder in ***everything*** really.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: