William Paley and natural theology.
Paley (1743-1805) was Archdeacon of Carlisle before moving to Bishopwearmouth near Sunderland. He was a fine scholar but mostly remembered disparagingly for his “watchmaker” argument. I suspect Paley chose a heath, more likely a northern heather moor, for his locality for the watch. His argument from design was very popular for many years, but its detailed argument was torpedoed by Darwin and natural selection. After that Design became more general than specific. It is not widely held today but the Fine tuning Argument is more in keeping with Paley than Intelligent Design
A gorgeous moorland in the Forest of Bowland
Imagine spotting a watch on that moor
Here is the famous first page of his book Natural Theology
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 any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this 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 any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? why is it not as admissible in the second case, as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz. that, when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e. g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that, if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, of a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any other order, than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it. To reckon up a few of the plainest of these parts, and of their offices, all tending to one result:– We see a cylindrical box containing a coiled elastic spring, which, by its endeavour to relax itself, turns round the box. We next observe a flexible chain (artificially wrought for the sake of flexure), communicating the action of the spring from the box to the fusee. We then find a series of wheels, the teeth of which catch in, and apply to, each other, conducting the motion from the fusee to the balance, and from the balance to the pointer; and at the same time, by the size and shape of those wheels, so regulating that motion, as to terminate in causing an index, by an equable and measured progression, to pass over a given space in a given time. We take notice that the wheels are made of brass in order to keep them from rust; the springs of steel, no other metal being so elastic; that over the face of the watch there is placed a glass, a material employed in no other part of the work, but in the room of which, if there had been any other than a transparent substance, the hour could not be seen without opening the case. This mechanism being observed (it requires indeed an examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed and understood), the inference, we think, is inevitable, that 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.
Note Paley’s engaging style as he enters into the experience of many crossing a heath, which were far more common in lowland Britain then e.g. Hampstead Heath. Those, like me, who often walk across a trackless northern heath or moor will often have pitched their foot against a stone. Finding a watch is less common.
Paley developed his arguments over the next 27 chapters and dealt with the “mechanics” and functions of plants, animals and humans and how these point to a deity as the maker and Creator. His work inspired the writers of the Bridgewater Treatises of the 1830s, with the great geologist William Buckland as his most able exponent. This http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1999/PSCF12-99Roberts.html.ori shows both the strength of Paley’s design arguments and weaknesses and shows the contrast between Paley’s design and Intelligent Design. Buckland took as his example the megatherium from South America
How valuable are Paley’s arguments today?
An personal encounter with an atheist using Natural Theology
Some years ago I was at a conference on the history of geology in Switzerland. A Turkish geologist, who is an atheist was baffled at me being also a vicar. We got on well and he wanted to know why he should believe in God. I tried to move him on the sense of awe and wonder at the natural world. Below is a short article writing of my attempt.
THE SENSE OF THE NUMINOUS
Atheists can be wonderful at making Christians think about their faith. At a recent conference I attended an atheist geologist challenged me to explain to him why he should believe in God. As he was good humoured and serious I attempted to respond. I said think of the numinous in the natural world. “What’s that”, he asked. I replied by talking of the beauty and wonder of the natural world – especially easy as we were in the Swiss Alps.
[Sorry no pictures of the Alpes but the two photos of Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Dales will have to do!]
I said think of the wonder – the numinous – and ask what is behind it all. There he baulked. He could see the wonder, but had difficulty to move to the numinous and then to God. This continued on a field trip to the Valais Alps, which appeared even more dramatic after heavy snow. Our last stop was at 11,000ft below the Matterhorn, where the rocks have been turned upside-down. My friend revelled in the geology and the beauty, so I asked, “Do you sense the numinous now?” He replied, “yes,” and then after a pause, “I don’t think so.” I think many people are like him, they see the beauty of the world, but cannot go that one step further and think of God the Creator. What we need to do that, whenever we see something beautiful in the natural world, whether a flower, mountains, seascape or a piece of rock 3,640 million years old, we should acknowledge God as the Creator.
Was my attempt a reasonable one? If not what should I have done?