William Paley

1743-1805

Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearance of Nature

"In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever. Nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of the answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer, which I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there ... the watch must have had a maker: that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use .... Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation. "

This famous "Watchmaker" passage held sway for the better part of a century as a major influence from "natural theology" toward belief in God. Then, since the middle of the 19th century with Darwin's "Origin of Species" and the rise of evolutionary thought , Paley's thoughts were strongly criticized. Many credit David Hume with "destroying" Paley's argument by his philosophical discourse about the invalidity of using the analogy between a man-made contrivance and the biology of life. Most people who comment on the issue agree that Hume had a point and that Paley's particular view of design in living systems was flawed. But with the growing awareness of the complexity of the cell and the complex specified information in living system, a new view of intelligent design has been developed and Paley's Watchmaker is again being seriously considered. Dawkins reacts to it in his Blind Watchmaker.

A neat quote from Fred Hoyle notes that Paley is still in the running.
"It is ironic that the scientific facts throw Darwin out, but leave William Paley, a figure of fun to the scientific world for more than a century, still in the tournament with a chance of being the ultimate winner... Indeed, such a theory is so obvious that one wonders why it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological rather than scientific."

Another passage from Paley is cited by Lennox on pg 40 of God and Stephen Hawking

". . less surprised to be informed that the watch in his hand was nothing more than the result of the laws of metallic nature. It is a perversion of language to assign any law as the efficient, operative cause of any thing. A law presupposes an agent; for it is only the mode, according to which an agent proceeds: it implies a power; for it is the order, according to which the power acts. Without this agent, without this power, which are both distinct from itself, the law does nothing; is nothing." Natural Theology, 1802, p. 7.

Alvin Plantinga discusses the perception of design on p236 of "Where the Conflict Really Lies". I think that is an important part of the dialog.

Windows of Creation
Evidence from nature Is the universe designed?
William Paley
  Reasonable Faith Go Back