William Paley’s Excellent Argument

[note: the author formatted this is a way that did not leave space for a page break. So I am inserting the break at the top — NR]

  1. Paley’s teleological argument is: just as the function and complexity of a watch implies a watch-maker, so likewise the function and complexity of the universe implies the existence of a universe-maker. Paley also addressed a number of possible counterarguments:
    1. Objection: We don’t know who the watchmaker is. Paley: Just because we don’t know who the artist might be, it doesn’t follow that we cannot know that there is one.
    2. Objection: The watch (universe) is not perfect. Paley: Perfection is not required.
    3. Objection: Some parts of the watch (universe) seem to have no function. Paley: We just don’t know those functions yet.
    4. Objection: The watch (re universe) is only one possible form of many possible combinations and so is a chance event. Paley: Life is too complex and organized to be a product of chance.
    5. Objection: There is a law or principle that disposed the watch (re universe) to be in that form. Also, the watch (re the universe) came about as a result of the laws of metallic nature. Paley: The existence of a law presupposes a lawgiver with the power to enforce the law.
    6. Objection: One knows nothing at all about the matter. Paley: Certainly, by seeing the parts of the watch (re the universe), one can know the design.
  2. Hume’s arguments against design:
    1. Objection: “We have no experience of world-making”. Counter-objection: We have no direct experience of many things, yet that never stops us from reasoning our way through problems.
    2. Objection: “The analogy is not good enough. The universe could be argued to be more analogous to something more organic such as a vegetable. But both watch and vegetable are ridiculous analogies”. Counter-objection: By definition, no analogy is perfect. The analogy needs only be good enough to prove the point. And Paley’s analogy is great for that limited scope. Hume’s followers are free to pursue the vegetable analogy if they think it is good enough. And some [unconvincingly] do imagine the universe as “organic”.
    3. Objection: “Even if the argument did give evidence for a designer; it’s not the God of traditional Christian theism”. Counter-objection: Once we establish that the universe is designed, only then we can [optionally] discuss other aspects of this finding.
    4. Objection: “The universe could have been created by random chance but still show evidence of design as the universe is eternal and would have an infinite amount of time to be able to form a universe so complex and ordered as our own”. Counter-objection: Not possible. There is nothing random in the universe that looks indubitably designed. That is why we use non-randomness to search for extraterrestrial life and ancient artefacts.
  3. Other arguments against design:
    1. Darwin: “Evolution (natural selection) is a better explanation”. “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.” — The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. Counter-objection: “Natural selection” would be an alternative hypothesis to Paley’s if it worked. But it demonstrably doesn’t, so there is not even a point in comparing the two.
    2. Dawkins: “Who designed the designer?” Counter-objection: Once we establish that the universe is designed, only then we can [optionally] discuss other aspects of this finding (see counter-objection to Hume).
    3. Dawkins: “The watch analogy conflates the complexity that arises from living organisms that are able to reproduce themselves with the complexity of inanimate objects, unable to pass on any reproductive changes”. Counter-objection: Paley is aware of the differences between the living and the inert and is not trying to cast life into a watch. Instead he is only demonstrating that they both share the property of being designed. In addition, nothing even “arises”. Instead everything is caused by something else. That’s why we always look for a cause in science.
    4. Objection: “Watches were not created by single inventors, but by people building up their skills in a cumulative fashion over time, each contributing to a watch-making tradition from which any individual watchmaker draws their designs”. Counter-objection: Once we establish that the universe is designed, only then we can [optionally] discuss other aspects of this finding (see counter-objection to Hume).
    5. Objection: In Dover case, the judge ruled that such an inductive argument is not accepted as science because it is unfalsifiable. Counter-objection: Both inductive and deductive reasoning are used in science. Paley’s argument is not inductive as he had his hypothesis formulated well before his argumentation. Finally, Paley’s hypothesis can absolutely be falsified if a random draw can be found to look designed. This is exactly what the “infinite monkey” theorem has tried and failed to do (see counter-objection to Hume).
    6. Objection: Paley confuses descriptive law with prescriptive law (i.e., the fallacy of equivocation). Prescriptive law does imply a lawgiver, and prescriptive laws can be broken (e.g., speed limits, rules of behavior). Descriptive laws do not imply a law-giver, and descriptive laws cannot be broken (one exception disproves the law, e.g., gravity, f = ma.). Counter-objection: Of all the laws with known origin, all (100%) have a lawgiver at the origin. The distinction between descriptive and prescriptive laws is thus arbitrary and unwarranted.
    7. Objection: It is the nature of mind to see relationship. Where one person sees design, another sees randomness. Counter-objection: This ambiguity is present only for very simple cases. But all humans agree that organisms’ structures are clearly not random.
    8. Dawkins: “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Counter-objection: Just a corollary: since organisms indeed appear designed, then they are most likely designed according to Occam’s razor.
  4. In conclusion, Paley is right and his opponents continue to be wrong with not even a plausible alternative hypothesis.

Links:

https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/paleys-argument-from-design-did-hume-refute-it-and-is-it-an-argument-from-analogy/

https://philosophy.lander.edu/intro/paley.shtml

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmaker_analogy

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874 thoughts on “William Paley’s Excellent Argument

  1. newton,
    Scientism
    Description
    DescriptionScientism is the promotion of science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.

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  2. CharlieM,

    So there are no creationist biologists whatsoever? You might disagree with everything they stand for but aren’t they at least allowed to exist?

    What a strange thing to say. Creationist biologists do exist. I knew one once. Strange fish. But, given that they represent a small fraction of one percent of all biologists, we can use the word “biologists” unqualified to represent the >99.6% without causing any misunderstanding, especially if you are “pushed for time” as you claimed to be:

    As for my use of the word, ‘evolutionist’, in hindsight, I should have written, ‘orthodox evolutionary biologists and those who agree with their theories as to how life evolved’; but that would have been a bit long winded and I was a bit pushed for time.

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  3. colewd: [quoting DNA_Jock]

    …when you write things like “Theobald’s paper was highly criticized for very good reasons.” you are just parroting something you heard somewhere. You have no clue as to the quality of any criticisms.

    You can google criticisms of Theobald’s 2010 paper.

    Wow. I did not expect that you would agree with me there.
    I appreciate that.

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  4. DNA_Jock,

    I agree with you that I have taken a cursory look at the criticisms as they are not getting at the real point. He did not test the hypothesis against design which is the discussion topic here.

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  5. colewd: Scientism
    Description
    Description Scientism is the promotion of science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.

    That definition has nothing to do with how you used the term here:

    colewd: The original discussion was challenging that universal common descent was a fact. Which a knowledgeable person would not claim unless he was practicing Scientism.

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  6. colewd:
    newton,
    Scientism
    Description
    DescriptionScientism is the promotion of science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.

    Thanks. What are the alternative best or objective means?

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  7. No, Bill.
    You started this hare when you disputed the reality of universal common descent, remember?
    You went on to claim that “Theobald’s paper was highly criticized for very good reasons”, whilst demonstrating (by confusing design arguments with UCD) that you do not understand Theobald, nor the criticisms, which now you are all of a sudden only cursorily familiar with. You are parroting rubbish that you googled, and appear to have not even read.

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  8. Kantian Naturalist,

    That definition has nothing to do with how you used the term here:

    Fair point but one of the ways of promoting science as an authority is through exaggerated claims promoted to the public through the media or schools.

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  9. CharlieM: If we hold the anthropocentric view that life can only exist in the form we judge to be life then the point I am making will appear nonsensical. Stars are born, they live, they die, there are various generations of them. They consume and produce energy. There is more justification in regarding them as living as there is in regarding viruses as living. According to current understanding all the matter in our bodies was produced in stars.

    If you insist on using a word differently from how everyone else uses it, you have no justification for complaining that you’re not being understood.

    For what it’s worth, there’s nothing anthropocentric about refusing to use the word “life” to refer indiscriminately to all energy-involving temporal processes. Stars are basically just extremely long-lasting fusion-driven explosions occurring in vacuum. If you want to call that “life,” well, OK I guess. But that just invites chaos and confusion and an inability to recognize that some things really are different from other things. (I’m reminded here of Russell’s criticism of Bergson: he refused to make any distinctions between anything and anything else and then complained that the whole mess was ineffable!)

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  10. Entropy:

    CharlieM:
    If we hold the anthropocentric view that life can only exist in the form we judge to be life then the point I am making will appear nonsensical. Stars are born, they live, they die, there are various generations of them. They consume and produce energy. There is more justification in regarding them as living as there is in regarding viruses as living. According to current understanding all the matter in our bodies was produced in stars.

    I see. So this is more of a definitions thing than anything else. While, much to my surprise it’s interesting and salvageable to think of dynamic systems as “life”, stars do not make matter Charlie, they transform it.

    You tell me that stars only transform matter. This is according to the prevailing theories, it is not unquestionable fact. In order to make sense of the history of the early universe and origin of stars, researchers are forces to invoke the existence of dark matter.

    I am happy to agree that there is something being transformed into something else and that there is nothing in existence that just appears from nothing. Even by your preferred theory there would not exist all these heavier elements to form the various compounds and mixtures of today. And do you not believe that energy precedes matter?

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  11. DNA_Jock,

    You went on to claim that “Theobald’s paper was highly criticized for very good reasons”, whilst demonstrating (by confusing design arguments with UCD) that you do not understand Theobald, nor the criticisms, which now you are all of a sudden only cursorily familiar with. You are parroting rubbish that you googled, and appear to have not even read.

    I gave you the very good reason which you seem to have difficulty comprehending. The wrong comparison was used. This is a weak paper Jock. Your a bright guy so what makes you want to lead with your chin here. :-).

    Take a good look at the paper and it basically tells you that evolution is not statistically viable if you are smart enough to read between the lines.

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  12. colewd:
    Kantian Naturalist,

    Fair point but one of the ways of promoting science as an authority is through exaggerated claims promoted to the public through the media or schools.

    Other ways are demonstrating its predictive and explanatory ability compared to unnamed or possible alternatives, such as “ some people say” , “ many people say”, I know things”.

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  13. Entropy:

    CharlieM:
    In the white cliffs of Dover or in a coal seam you will find much more lifeless matter than living substance. But we all know that these are the product of living beings.

    Living beings acting on existing matter Charlie, not creating matter. Not making the matter.

    Yes I agree. But we do witness lifeless, solids being generated by living organisms. And we have never witnessed anything but life coming from life.

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  14. colewd: Take a good look at the paper and it basically tells you that evolution is not statistically viable if you are smart enough to read between the lines.

    That sounds like a claim that requires some evidence.

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  15. newton,

    That sounds like a claim that requires some evidence.

    The paper is the evidence. It touts extremely rare probabilities of separate biological origin events.

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  16. colewd:
    What you need is a mechanistic explanation to support your claim.

    Nope. The evidence says UCD regardless of how it diverged. That’s a different question.

    colewd:
    The observed data screams as to a minds involvement in the process.

    The observed data screams that a mind was involved in how all the life we see around us is related by common descent? That’s backwards Bill. Minds are features of a few life forms, so they could have been involved in events that happened before there were any minds around.

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  17. colewd to DNA_Jock,
    I agree with you that I have taken a cursory look at the criticisms as they are not getting at the real point. He did not test the hypothesis against design which is the discussion topic here.

    Nope. the discussion point is UCD. Also, just so you know, scientists do not test scientific hypotheses against fairy tales.

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  18. colewd:
    newton,
    The paper is the evidence.It touts extremely rare probabilities of separate biological origin events.

    You’re misunderstanding the point. It’s extremely low probabilities that all of life would share so many things if it had multiple origins. The most plausible explanation is that they share all of those features because they have the same origin. That they inherited those features from a common ancestor.

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  19. CharlieM:

    ME: Living beings acting on existing matter Charlie, not creating matter. Not making the matter.

    Yes I agree. But we do witness lifeless, solids being generated by living organisms. And we have never witnessed anything but life coming from life.

    If you define living organisms as any dynamic systems, then by definition life would come from life always by definition. As per those solids, again, transformation, not production. How long do those solids have to be “static” for them not to be considered part of those universal dynamic systems and thus alive/part-of-life?

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  20. CharlieM:
    You tell me that stars only transform matter. This is according to the prevailing theories, it is not unquestionable fact.

    Maybe not unquestionable, but for there to be dynamic systems we’d need the energy/matter stuff first. How could nothingness be dynamic?

    CharlieM:
    In order to make sense of the history of the early universe and origin of stars, researchers are forces to invoke the existence of dark matter.

    Not at all. Dark Matter is a hypothesized stuff to explain gravitational effects that betray the existence of much more matter than what’s “visible.” The early universe thing is about energy-into-matter as the universe coooled-down.

    CharlieM:
    I am happy to agree that there is something being transformed into something else and that there is nothing in existence that just appears from nothing. Even by your preferred theory there would not exist all these heavier elements to form the various compounds and mixtures of today. And do you not believe that energy precedes matter?

    Sure. But energy and matter are different forms of the “same stuff” (I don’t know if the wording should be “same substance”).

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  21. Entropy:

    CharlieM:
    Why bring decision making into it?

    No such thing.

    You did use the word, ‘decided’.

    I’m asking why would we have a need to get matter rather than make it. If life made matter, then there should be no need for life to take it from somewhere else.

    Because no earthly organism is omnipotent. Saying that life produces matter does not mean that all forms of life can just produce matter as they like. The terraforming of the environment by other organisms allows us to concentrate being human without having to be diverted in other ways.

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  22. colewd: I gave you the very good reason which you seem to have difficulty comprehending. The wrong comparison was used. This is a weak paper Jock. Your a bright guy so what makes you want to lead with your chin here. :-).

    Your inability to land a blow? <ggg>
    You must be referring to this exchange, viz:

    Jock
    UCD has been tested (read Theobald).
    If you want to argue probabilities, you will need to learn the math involved.
    Here’s a tip: despite what gpuccio, kairosfocus et al might think, P(A∩B) ≠ P(A) x P(B)
    colewd:
    Tested against what? Random separate origins. You are debating against the design hypothesis not other random explanations. Theobald’s paper was highly criticized for very good reasons.

    You are misusing the word ‘random’. Theobald tests against ‘independent’ separate origins; it’s a technical term, related to P(A∩B).
    This is your idea of giving me “the very good reason”? Yikes.
    [As an aside, my Last-Thursday-Loki-demi-God would be motivated to make the separate creation events appear nested. Satan, likewise, but YHWH?]
    Saying it’s “a weak paper” but declining to discuss details only makes it look like you don’t know anything.

    Take a good look at the paper and it basically tells you that evolution is not statistically viable if you are smart enough to read between the lines.

    You are going to need to get a LOT more specific. This is not the killer rejoinder you imagine.

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  23. Entropy:

    CharlieM:
    We consider a tree to be a living being although most of its bulk consists of dead matter. Why should not the same logic be applied to the solar system? It is an intrinsically active, dynamic, cyclical entity which consumes and expels energy.

    If you define life as any dynamic system (again, I’m ok with that), then life is everything as long as there’s energy imbalances acting up in combination to the physical/chemical properties of matter. I would still not expect life-as-we-know-it to be expected on Earth given that foundation. I’d expect almost everything to be called life as long as we agree that it’s any dynamic system. But life-as-we-know-it would be just one manifestation of life, but not necessarily the one to be expected

    And that is why you will find it so difficult to account for the origin of life. You believe that matter is the primal state from which life emerges. For anyone who believes that it is the natural state of matter to either to be part of or to have come from life then it is not difficult to envision why life has appeared on earth and that solid matter is a precipitation of life.

    I don’t try to define life because any definition of life would be inadequate.

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  24. Entropy:

    CharlieM:
    It had a beginning, an existence, and it will one day expire. To say that it cannot be living because it is not like us in its makeup is narrow-minded anthropocentricism.

    Sure, but then our-kind-of-life is not necessarily to be expected, right?

    I don’t need to expect it, I know it happened.

    For someone who believes that life comes from life then some form of life is to be expected, and the position of the earth, the properties of water, and the way that matter can form polymers are among the attributes that make organic life likely.

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