A common argument used to support the idea that the universe must have had a maker was made popular by William Paley in his 1802 book, called Natural Theology. In it, Paley wrote that if a pocket watch is found in a meadow, it is most reasonable to assume that someone dropped it and that it was made by a watchmaker, not by natural forces. This is called the Watchmaker Analogy or the Argument from Design.
“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 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 I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. … There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] 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; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.”
Paley argued that the complex structures of living things required an intelligent designer. He believed the natural world was the creation of God and showed the nature of the creator. According to Paley, God had carefully designed “even the most humble and insignificant organisms.”
This argument has been subsequently picked up by the Intelligent Design community and converted into the idea of irreducible complexity. Michael Behe first coined the term and defined it as follows”
“Irreducible complexity is just a fancy phrase I use to mean a single system which is composed of several interacting parts, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to cease functioning.”
Let’s go back to Paley’s original “watchmaker” argument.
Paley admits that, if he stumbled over a stone in the heath (meadow), he would think it perfectly natural. But if he came across a watch, he would think someone had to make it. Why?
Well, the story exposes its own self-contradictions. The stone in the meadow is “natural.” It might very well have “lain there forever.” The watch is clearly artificial and recognizable as a human work. We recognize the obvious differences between these two things, these two kinds of objects. Natural objects are everywhere for us to stumble upon, while human-made objects are different (from the natural ones) in appearance and function.
As David A. Schwartz says in The Watchmaker Analogy: A Self-Refuting Argument:
“But let’s think about this for a moment. If you look at a watch lying on the ground and think to yourself, “Oh, this must be designed,” what are you comparing the watch to in order to make that judgment? Would you compare it to the ground, the trees, the grass, the animals, or the sky perhaps? If the watch looks designed compared to its surroundings, the only logical conclusion we could draw is that its surroundings are not designed. If we were unable to differentiate the watch from its natural surroundings, then we would deem it to be a natural object no different from a rock or a tree.”
Why then would Paley (and ID apologists like Behe) extend this obviously-bad example to living organisms? The analogy fails immediately. Isn’t life naturally everywhere (at least on Earth)? Isn’t it remarkably resilient, showing up in deep hydrothermal vents, in blazing desserts, in chilling waters, as well as in lush forests? If Paley had started his story by stumbling across a root, or patch of crabgrass would we have thought that any less a natural example than the stone? Clearly not!
If I stumbled across the surface of the moon or Mars and found nothing but airless, barren rock I’d think that was the natural state. If I then happened upon a lush oasis with a self-contained atmosphere and teeming with life, I’d probably think, “Someone made this; someone put this here.” It is notable because it is so different from everything around it. It’s unnatural. But when the natural world around you is filled with rocks, and air, and water, and life it seems perfectly reasonable that the life is just as natural as the rock or the water.
The Watchmaker Analogy not only fails, but it contains its own failure within its own logical contradictions. In an earlier post, I described an hypothesis from The Reality Thief (first novel in the Deplosion series) showing how the universe could have evolved from a pre-existing, eternal state of “nothing.” I encourage you to have a look at that article.
Please let me know what you think. Which is more convincing to you: the Watchmaker analogy, or the above argument that details its flaw. Have you heard of Behe’s “irreducible complexity” argument that life must have been designed? Would you like to hear arguments that counter that idea?
Until next time – Paul