Explain Mills Challenge To The Teleological Argument Essay Outline

The Argument from Design


Does the world show signs of design and purpose?  If so:

  • It is possible to argue that the most likely reason for this is that the world has been created by a purposeful designer – God. 


  • One could argue that the world designs itself through a process of evolution, and that the phenomenon of creatures and plants exactly fitting in with their environment, or the way in which particular parts of the body work for the benefit of the whole, is simply a product of that process. Given sufficient time, natural selection can give the appearance of design, so no external designer is required to explain it.


  • Another option is to say that, yes, the world does have the appearance of design and things do seem to work together intentionally, but that is simply a feature of the way we look at the world. Our own ability to design and create, and the ideas we have developed about what constitutes design and intention, simply reflect what we find in the world around us. To argue for a cosmic designer is simply a projection of our own way of engaging with the world through design, intention, planning and so on.

The argument from design is also called the ‘Teleological’ argument – from the Greek term ‘telos’, meaning end or purpose. 

In order to get a basic appreciation of the Argument from Design, you should be aware of the way that argument has been presented by Aquinas, Hume, Paley and Swinburne, along with the criticisms made by Hume, Mill and Dawkins and the impact of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Also, to appreciate its religious significance, you should think about how it relates to the Anthropic Principle, religious experience and the problem of evil – all of which are covered elsewhere in the student notes on this website.

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Thomas Aquinas (1224-74)

The Argument from Design is the 5th of Aquinas’ ‘five ways.’Heargued that all activities which have a goal or purpose are the result of intelligent planning. The example he gives of this is an arrow flying towards its target. It does not shoot itself. When you see an arrow in flight, you assume there to be an archer. So, he takes the general principle that if inanimate things, which have no minds of their own, appear to work together purposefully, that can be taken as evidence for an intelligent designer.

Coming last in his sequence of arguments, it builds upon the first three, which argue for an unmoved mover, an uncaused cause and a being that is necessary rather than contingent. These illustrate the fact that we have a natural inclination to seek explanations in terms of causes or pre-existing conditions; we do not assume that things just happen by chance. The same process informs this 5th argument. We distinguish between inanimate objects which only move when moved by something else, and those which have minds, even if very simple ones, and which are therefore distinguished by their ability to act intentionally, to plan, design and shape things to suit their own wishes. See a small animal scurrying around to find food, or a spider weaving a web and you see intentional activity. But how then do we understand the appearance of intentionality and design in things that are inanimate?  We know that the arrow cannot have a mind of its own, and yet it seems to act purposefully. Hence we assume an archer. But what of planets in their orbits, or individual cells in the human body? White blood cells defend the body against infection when it is damaged, but do they intend to do that? Does the heart know it has to pump?  The key feature of Aquinas’ presentation of the argument here is that the inanimate can appear to act intentionally – and that suggests some form of overall design.

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David Hume (1711-76)

Although Hume is a major critic of the Design Argument, he presents his own version of the argument in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, where one of his characters, Cleanthes, says:
‘Look round the world, contemplate the whole and every part of it: you will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines…
 ‘The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance - of human design, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since therefore the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble, and that the Author of nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, thought possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the world which he has executed.’

Once you look at the world as a machine, it is natural to think of it – by analogy with our own productions – as the product of an intelligent designer. It is the great advantage of Hume’s use of the dialogue form that it allows him to present both the design argument and his objections to it. Given his overall views, we know that he himself was very much on the side of the criticisms, but nevertheless his presentation of the argument is fair and well made.

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William Paley(1743-1805)

The best-known example of a design argument is the ‘watch’ analogy, presented by Paley in his Natural Theology, 1807.  He suggests that if, while out walking, you came across a watch lying on the ground, you could not but believe that it was the work of a human designer…
‘… 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 several parts had been differently shaped from what they are, of a different size from what they are, or places after any other manner, or in any other order, than that in which they are places, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered to the use which is not served by it.
‘… This mechanism being observed… 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.’

He then anticipates challenges to the argument, pointing out that it would not be weakened by the fact that he might never have seen a watch made, nor have known an artist capable of making one. Nor did it matter that he did not understand how it is made (he gives the example of the turning of oval frames, most people don’t understand how it is done, but that does not weaken the assumption that they are manufactured by someone who does understand). Also, anticipating the criticism from the standpoint of the ‘problem of evil’ he says:
‘Neither, secondly, would in invalidate our conclusion, that the watch sometimes went wrong, or that is seldom went exactly right...  It is not necessary that a machine be perfect, in order to show with what design it was made…
Then he adds that it is not necessary to understand the function of all the parts in order to see it as designed, simply that no man in his senses would think that the arrangement of the parts of the watch might have come about by chance. In other words:

  • It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand the purpose and function of everything, it is enough to see things working towards ends.
  • It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand how it was made – the same applies to many human artefacts.
  • It doesn’t matter if it appears to go wrong at times – since we can’t understand its whole purpose.

Since inanimate things in the world work together in way that is even more complex than the watch, and it is therefore reasonable to conclude that the world must also be the work of a designer: God.  

Paley also distinguished between two different kinds of design:

  • design qua regularity (e.g. the ordered movement of the planets)
  • design qua purpose. (e.g. the way in which an eye functions in order to achieve sight)

Thus we have two slightly different kinds to question: Why is the world regular and not haphazard? Why does it display purpose?

Of course, one of the problems with the design argument is that it fails to take sufficiently into account those times when the world appears random rather than designed.  Planets eventually get absorbed into their dying stars; growth can run out of control and form a cancer.  One aspect of the ‘problem of evil’ is how one might account for the haphazard if the world is designed and maintained by a loving god.

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Richard Swinburne (1934-)

Later thinkers have developed the argument further.  For example, here is a comment by Swinburne in his book Is there a God?, 1996:

‘The argument to God from the world and its regularity is, I believe, a codification by philosophers of a natural and rational reaction to an orderly world deeply embedded in the human consciousness. Humans see the comprehensibility of the world as evidence of a comprehending creator.’

In effect, this amounts to saying that, since a sense of design and purpose is deeply embedded in the way human beings think, it is natural for us to assume that a world that displays design and regularity is the product of an intelligent designer – effectively an extension of Aquinas’ point about the arrow. So, when philosophers use this as an argument for the existence of God, all they are doing is trying to put in logical form what religious people sense deeply – that their experience is of a world that is ordered by a God who understands and cares for them.

In other words, even if the argument is not logical, it is persuasive for believers, because it fits in with how they experience the world. A loving and intelligent creator would produce a world like this.

Swinburne is trying to enhance the probability that God exists.  In effect he is saying – ‘If there is an intelligent designer God, is this the sort of world that we can imagine he would want to build?’  If the answer is ‘yes’, then that adds to the reasonableness of belief in the existence of God. If the world does not suggest to us that it is the product of mere chance, ruled by impersonal forces, then it is more probable that we will incline towards belief in an intelligent designer – one factor among others in weighing up the reasonableness of theistic belief.

So, even if the teleological (or design) argument is not absolute proof of God, he suggests that it at least increased the probability of there being a God.

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Hume’s criticisms

In order to show that this world has a designer, it would be necessary to compare it with other worlds that do or do not have designers; otherwise there is no way of comparing a designed and a not-designed world, and deciding which category this one comes into. But this is the only world we know, so we have no way of knowing whether worlds generally have designers. We can’t even tell whether are world is particularly well designed, since we have nothing with which to compare it. It might be the final effort of a poor designer, all previous attempts at creating a world having failed.

Hume also argued that a cause need only be proportional to its effect. So all the design of this world can suggest is that there is a designer – not that there is an infinite, perfect or wise designer. In other words, even if valid, the argument does not satisfy what the religious person wants it to do.

Hume also challenged the idea that our knowledge of the world is sufficient for us to make general judgements about its design.  He felt that in some ways the world was more organic than mechanical, in other words, that it was more like an animal or a vegetable than a piece of machinery – so it might not be appropriate to try to use the analogy of a human mechanical design. 

He also set out an important objection, which anticipated the work of Darwin. Living things only exist because their various organs work together as they do. They are well adapted to survive in their environment; if the design did not work, the animal would have survived. Therefore everywhere we look we see examples of successful design. But of course we do, because the failures are not here to be seen!

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Charles Darwin (1809-82)

Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, as set out in his book The Origin of Species in 1859, provided an alternative explanation for the appearance of design in living things, and one that did not need the help of an external designer.

He argued that those members of a species whose characteristics were best suited to enable them to survive in their environment, went on to breed. Those ill suited, generally died off before doing so. This process of selection meant that, whenever an advantageous characteristic appeared, those who displayed it were able to pass it on to a proportionately larger number of offspring. In that way, Darwin demonstrated that a species could gradually evolve without the need for an external agency or designer.

Remember, Darwin was a scientist, looking at evidence and working out a theory. He was not, as some students seem to suggest, setting out to argue against belief in God or even to refute the design argument. In fact, he was very reluctant to publish his findings, because he recognised their controversial implications for religion.

Darwin does not directly refute the design argument. Rather, he shows that no external designer is needed in order to explain the phenomenon of design; natural selection produces the same results.   Hence he undermines the key step in the design argument – namely that design requires an external designer.

What Darwin did not know was why there were these differences. We now know that the answer lies in the random mutations thrown up by the process of copying the sequence of genes. However, this does not radically alter the force of Darwin’s perceived challenge to the design argument.

It is also important, for the sake of historical clarity, to remember that, however controversial his ideas proved to be, religious thinkers and philosophers in the 19th century were divided for and against his theory – it was not a simple division with science on one side and religion on the other. The presentation of creation and evolution as radical and incompatible alternatives is a 20th century phenomenon, presented by those taking a literal interpretation of the biblical narrative of creation.

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John Stuart Mill (1806-73)

Mill put forward his objection to the design argument in 1874 and therefore after Darwin had published his theory of natural selection. He observed that nature was fundamentally cruel, and that progress was made only at the cost of immense suffering.  Many things that happen in the natural world (rape, murder, exploitation) would be punishable if done by humans. Nature is ruthless. Is it therefore reasonable to believe that an intelligent and loving creator would have designed a world that involves so much suffering?

In my view, Mill’s criticism goes to the heart both of the design argument and of most attempts to define the nature of a supernatural god. Even if the design argument is valid, it points to a god who is morally indefensible.  It would be kinder to think that the immense suffering we see in this world is simply the result of natural human vulnerability than to assume it to be the intentional design of a malevolent creator.

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Richard Dawkins (1946-)

Dawkins sees design and beauty in nature, but argues that these are natural phenomena, brought about by evolution. In other words, he accepts the appearance of design, but denies that it requires a designer. The world is self-designing, and in books such as The Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable, he shows how it is done through the process of natural selection over long periods of time.

The weakness of Richard Dawkins’ argument does not lie in his science or the logic or his arguments; both are sound. The problem is that he sets out to criticise a very crude caricature of religious belief – although, to be fair to him, it is a caricature often presented by fundamentalist believers who attack the whole idea of evolution and thereby set the terms of the debate in which he is engaged. 

He argues for design and creativity as a fundamental feature of the world as we encounter it, and he is quite prepared to wonder at its beauty. To some religious thinkers, especially those who are interested in mystical experience, that view is very close to what the religious mystic means by an experience of God. I sense that Dawkins position is not far from that of the 19th century theologian Schleiermacher, who argued for religion being thought of as a ‘sense and taste for the infinite.’  Dawkins has exactly that, although he does not want to put a religious label on it, which – given his experience of religious polemic – is hardly surprising.

Dawkins’ position raises a fundamental problem for this, or any other argument for the existence of God. The problem occurs when the believer thinks of God as a separate, existing ‘thing’ out there somewhere, external to the world, causing and designing it. If that is what ‘God’ means, and if that is what the design argument is trying to establish, then Dawkins criticism of such belief is clearly correct. We have no good reason, either logically or in terms of evidence, to support the existence of such an entity. But…

One cannot imagine Anselm, Aquinas or any of the other sophisticated religious philosophers of earlier generations having much time for such a caricature. The very idea that God might be a separate and distinct being who exists (in the literal sense of ‘standing out’ against other things), in the same way that other things either exist or do not exist, is certainly not theism, and it does not reflect the early doctrines of the Christian Church.  The belief in a god who is separate from, or stands apart from, other existing entities would always have been regarded as idolatry.  Whatever else God might be, if he is to be ‘that within which we live, move and have our being’, then he cannot be separate from everything else, but refers to a reality within and beyond everything that exists.  To use the terminology of the 20th century theologian Paul Tillich – God is ‘Being Itself’ rather than ‘a being.’

Dawkins criticism of belief in God is therefore valuable on two counts:

  • His scientific work give a superb illustration of what it means to explore the creative and self-designing features of nature and its ability to inspire a sense of wonder. That reflects the emotionally attractive features of the design argument.
  • His rejection of a literal, physical and external deity is an important warning against the tendency to move from the sense of design towards… a literal, physical and external deity!  In this, Dawkins has done the philosophy of religion a great service in warning against naïve or fundamentalist conclusions.

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Religious experience

Clearly, a sense of wonder and awe in nature has always featured highly in any account of religious experience.  Schliermacher, Otto and William James are thinkers particularly associated with this.   Religious experience differs from ordinary experience in that it has a ‘self-transcending’, ‘symbolic’ quality. In other words, the immediate experience becomes a vehicle for an awareness of something far more general, significant and ‘deep’. An analysis of the actual phenomena or experience does not include this ‘religious’ element, because that is as much to do with the person experiencing it as what is experienced. ‘Religious’ should refer to the quality of an experience, not its content.

The experience of design and purpose in the universe can be ‘religious.’  Whether one can validly argue from that to the existence of a designer God is another matter.

(For more on religious experience, click here.)

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The problem of evil

Most clearly illustrated by Mill’s criticism, the existence of suffering in the world is a problem for those who believe in a loving God, if that god is both omnipotent (able to do anything) and responsible for the design of a world that seems to have suffering and cruelty built into its structure.  To maintain the design argument in the face of suffering and evil, it is necessary to accept the sort of argument put forward by Irenaeus, and later by John Hick, for the value to human beings of the challenge of living in a world that involves suffering, as opposed to one where no such challenge is presented.

(To see more on the Problem of Evil, click here. - NOTES WILL BE ADDED TO THIS SITE SHORTLY )

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A warning about chronology…

In getting to grips with this, or any other argument, it is important to remember not only who said what, but when they said it. For example…

The ‘watchmaker’ argument was published by Paley in the early years of the 19th century, well before Darwin published On the Origin of Species, and he had died well before Darwin’s theory of natural selection became the central focus of the ‘design’ debate.  Take care, therefore, not to describe Paley as trying to attack Darwin. You can say that his views were very different from those of Darwin, or even that his argument challenges that of Darwin – but that is another matter.
The same would apply to Hume, who had died before Paley published his argument.  Hume criticism is relevant to Paley, but was not offered as a challenge to him.

…and presenting your argument.

Make sure you appreciate the force of the argument, as well as the principal challenges offered to it, so that you are able to give a balanced view. It is important to be able to say whether or not you find the argument persuasive, or its criticisms valid, but if you dismiss either too lightly it suggests that you have not appreciated its force.

As mentioned above, religious experience and the problem of evil are big issues for the philosophy of religion, and link closely to the Design Argument. By all means mention them to illustrate your judgement about the argument, but do not be tempted, in the course of an essay, to be drawn into a long discussion of them, or you will lose focus on the question in hand.

And finally, it is valuable to reflect on the kind of ‘God’ that this argument presents, and whether that is, in your view, adequate for religion and intellectually defensible.

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© Mel Thompson, 2015

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Introduction to Philosophy

William Paley, "The Teleological Argument"

Abstract: William Paley's teleological or analogical watch-maker argument is sketched together with some objections to his reasoning.

  1. What are the similarities between Paley's watch argument and Thomas' Fifth Way—The Argument from Design?
  2. State Paley's argument for God's existence as clearly as possible.
  3. How does Paley answer the objection that the universe could have harmonized into order and pattern by chance?
  4. To what extent is Paley's argument an ad hominem attack against the skeptic?
  5. Explain whether laws of nature are discovered or whether they are invented.
  1. The Analogical Teleological Argument of Paley: "If I stumbled on a stone and asked how it came to be there, it would be difficult to show that the answer, it has lain there forever is absurd. Yet this is not true if the stone were to be a watch."
    1. According to Paley, the inference from the observation of the intricate design of the universe to the conclusion of a universe-maker who constructed and designed its use would be inevitable.
    2. The inference is as follows …
      1. watch : watch maker :: universe : universe maker
      2. He argues 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.
      3. See the similar, but more thoroughly elaborated, design argument presented by Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Whereas Hume's argument is an argument from design, we shall see that Paley's argument is more of an argument to design.
    3. Paley thinks the following excuses (i.e., possible objections) are inadequate to disprove the watchmaker-argument.
      1. Objection: We never knew the artist capable of making a watch (re a universe) or we do not know how the work was accomplished.
        1. Paley's response: Just because we don't know who the artist might be, it doesn't follow that we cannot know that there is one.
        2. Counter-objection: The disanalogy between an artist and a universe-maker is substantial. Not only is the last term of the analogy, "the universe-maker," beyond the bounds of possible experience, but also the many persons involved in the construction of a watch—from the miners of the metals and gems, to the draftsmen, craftsmen, workers, and distributors— would seem to suggest many gods are involved in universe-making. The disanalogy that watchmaker has parents but the universe-maker does not have parents is also sometimes noted.
      2. Objection: The parts of the watch (re universe) do not work perfectly; the designer is not evident.
        1. Paley's response: It is not necessary to show that something is perfect in order to show that there is a design present.
        2. Counter-objection: Given natural disasters and nonmoral evil in the world, imperfect design would seem to indicate that the designer is neither all good nor all-powerful. The problem of evil would then become an important consideration in any inference to the characteristics of the universe-maker. Moreover, although initially the complexity of a watch is contrasted to the simplicity of a stone, there is nothing to which the complexity of the universe can be contrasted.
      3. Objection: Some parts of the watch (re the universe) seem to have no function and so would seemingly not be designed.
        1. Paley's response: Simply because we do not know the function of the parts does not imply that the parts have no function. He believes the design is evident from observing the rest of the watch (re the universe).
        2. Counter-objection: The argumentum ad ignorantiam works both ways; from the fact that something has not been proved, no conclusion can be drawn. Implicitly, as well, there is a disanalogy in composite functions of watch and universe. The purpose of a watch is evident, whereas the purpose of the universe is not.
      4. Objection: The watch (re universe) is only one possible form of many possible combinations and so is a chance event.
        1. Paley's response: The design cannot be a result of chance; no person in his senses could believe this.
        2. Counter-objection: (1) Paley's response is an ad hominem. (2) It is the nature of the human mind to impose order on things whether or not order is actually present.
          1. In order to understand a natural process, a preliminary or conventional order is often arbitrarily imposed.
          2. David Hume puts this point well in Cleanthes' phrase from Part 5 of Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: Discoveries in science are only "the image of mind reflected on us from innumerable objects…"
          3. The appearance of the stars in the sky, seemingly disordered, can be organized in terms of patterns. What to much of the Western world is seen as the Big Dipper, the seven brightest stars of Ursa Major is also seen as a plough, a saucepan, a stretcher, a parrot, or a chariot. To ask, "What is the "real" or objective order of that pattern of stars?" is to misunderstand the nature of an asterism.
          4. E.g., in any finite sequence of random numbers, a rule or order can be invented by which those numbers can be generated.
          5. Additionally, in a deterministic world, chance events can be viewed as an epistemological problem deriving from the lack of precise measurements of initial conditions and, as well, the lack of knowledge of relevant conditions of a natural process. E.g., in a coin toss, if the exact shape of the coin, its mass, its exact center of gravity, the exact point of the application of the exact amount of force, together with the exact measurements of the landing zone, the barometric pressure, wind velocity, and so forth, were known, then the "heads" or "tails" outcome could be reliably predicted by the laws of dynamics.
      5. Objection: There is a law or principle that disposed the watch (re universe) to be in that form.
        1. Paley's response: The existence of a law presupposes a lawgiver with the power to enforce the law. A principle of order cannot cause or create (the existence of) the watch. (re the universe).
        2. Counter-objection: Paley confuses descriptive law with prescriptive law (i.e., the fallacy of equivocation).

          Prescriptive laws, or normative laws, imply a lawgiver, and prescriptive laws can be broken (e.g., ethical principles, highway speed limits, rules of behavior).

          Descriptive laws do not imply the existence of a "law-giver," and descriptive laws cannot be broken (since any such violation or exception would disprove or falsify the generality of law), (e.g., law of gravity, f = ma.) Descriptive laws, or natural laws, originate from the observation of regularities or from derivations of those regularities and are, in principle, falsifiable. Descriptive laws are said to be "constative."
        3. Paley also must acknowledge his "Lawgiver" does not perform miracles since miracles are violations of natural law and would be disconfirming instances of regularity of design. Nevertheless, Paley waffles on this point vaguely indicating miracles might be part of the design:

          "Although therefore the Deity, who possesses the power of winding and turning, as he pleases, the course of causes which issue from himself, do in fact interpose to alter or intercept effects, which without such interposition would have taken place; yet it is by no means incredible, that his Providence, which always rests upon final good, may have made a reserve with respect to the manifestation of his interference, a part of the very plan which he has appointed for our terrestrial existence, and a part conformable with, or, in some sort, required by, other parts of the same plan."
          [William Paley, Natural Theology, 12th ed. (London: J. Faulder, 1809), 524-525.]
        4. Contemporary science, of course, does give explanations for the development of complexity in the universe without resorting to a deus ex machina. Charles Darwin, for example, provided a good account for how biological processes evolved in complex interdependent forms without the need for a Deity's creative intervention as he remarks:

          "It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as ‘the plan of creation,’ ‘unity of design,’ &c., and to think that we give an explanation when we only re-state a fact."
          [Charles Darwin, Origin of Species (New York: D. Appleton and Company), Vol. II, 295.]
        5. Richard Dawkins put a similar point this way in the The Blind Watchmaker:

          "Paley's argument is made with passionate sincerity and is informed by the best biological scholarship of the day, but it is wrong, gloriously and utterly wrong.… All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind force of physics … Natural selection, the blind unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has not purpose in mind. … If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker."
          [Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W.W. Norton, 1986), 5.)
      6. Objection: The watch (re the universe) is no proof of contrivance; only motive induces the mind to think that it is.
        1. Paley's response: The design is evident to an impartial person.
        2. Counter-objection: Again, it is the nature of mind to see relationships; as argued above, the mind often imposes order on things regardless of the presence of order. In the image on the right, is the pattern meant to represent a circle, a pentagon, a star, an automaker's symbol, or a Renaissance man? As Norwood Russell Hanson argued in Patterns of Discovery, our perception is theory-laden.

          Thomas Kuhn argues, "What a man sees depends both upon what he looks at and also upon what his previous visual-conceptual experience has taught him to see. In the absence of such training there can only be, in William James' phrase, ‘a bloomin' buzzin' confusion.’"
          [Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 112.]
        3. This point is carried over into the Gestalt and the transactional definitions of "perception":
          1. First the Gestalt: "Perception results from an innate organizing process. The basic unit is a configuration which is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts and which determines the parts."
            [Benjamin B. Wolman, ed. Dictionary of Behavioral Science (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1973), 273.]
          2. Second from A. Ames: "The transactional approach states that perception is based on assumptions about the construction of reality. Each individual is believed to develop a restricted set of perceptions though his own unique transactions with the environment to handle the infinite variety of possible retinal images which he receives. Perception becomes a learned act of constructing reality to fit one's assumptions about it."
            [Wolman, 273.]
      7. Objection: The watch (re the universe) came about as a result of the laws of metallic nature.
        1. Paley's response: The presence of a law presupposes a lawgiver.
        2. Counter-objection: Once again, Paley confuses descriptive or natural law with prescriptive or edictive law. Prescriptive laws are issued by authority; descriptive laws are usually considered to be factual and universal claims.
        3. Q.v., see above related objections in Objection 5.
      8. Objection: One knows nothing at all about the matter.
        1. Paley's response: Certainly, by seeing the parts of the watch (re the universe), one can know the design.
        2. Counter-objection: Paley's response is another argumentum ad ignorantiam: from the fact that something is not proved, the truth of its contradictory does not follow. Finally, it's difficult to come to a definite conclusion about the complexity of the universe since we have nothing to compare it to—as in the case where the complexity of watch is compared by Paley to the simplicity of a stone. (And, of course, it's possible to view the stone as a much more complex entity than Paley supposes—see the abstract below from Russell J. Hemley's discussion concerning the complexity of minerals.)
    4. William Paley (1743-1805): Several historical points should be briefly mentioned before turning to the questions.
      1. Paley seemed unaware of the devastating criticism of teleological arguments for God's existence David Hume constructed over two decades earlier.
      2. Paley believed his oft-used texts in Christian apologetics and moral philosophy logically followed from the arguments he composed years later in his Natural Theology.
      3. Although Paley was accused of plagiarizing the watch argument from Bernard Nieuwentyt, a follower of Descartes, Paley is blameless. Paley not only cites the work of Nieuwentyt on several occasions, but also constructs a much more detailed version of the argument.
      4. The watch analogy was used by many different philosophers before and after the time of Paley. (Q.v., the "Watchmaker Analogy" from the Wikipedia cited below in "Further Reading.")
  2. Answers to the study questions from the reading are summarized below.
    1. Notes are arranged in response to the questions stated above in reference to "The Teleological Argument," an edited selection from Paley's Natural Theology: or evidences of the existence and attributes of the deity, collected from the appearances of nature as excerpted in Reading for Philosophical Inquiry.
      1. What are the similarities between Paley's watch argument and Thomas's Fifth Way—the Argument from Design?
        1. Both are considered teleological arguments for God's existence: they focus on the goals, purpose, and design of the universe.
        2. Both arguments focus on the complexity and intricacy of design with the assumption that this complexity is a product of intention or intelligence.
        3. Where the arguments differ is that Paley's argument is is not, strictly speaking, an argument from design. That is, Paley does not claim, as Thomas does, that evidence of intentional contrivance within nature implies that nature as a whole was intelligently created. Instead, Paley is maintaining an analogy between intentionally constructed human artifacts and presumed intentionally constructed natural processes.
      2. State Paley's argument for God's existence as clearly as possible.
        1. In contrast to a stone, a watch has an obvious complexity indicating purpose and function which, in turn, implies an intelligent creator.
        2. Natural processes are even more so than a watch incredibly interwoven and intricately contrived such that these processes also imply an intelligent creator.
        3. Every manifestation of design in the watch, Paley says, is part of, and is surpassed by, the works of nature.
        4. (It's probably worth pointing out the complexity in the composition of stones and rocks is surprisingly greatly underestimated by Paley. Consider this excerpt from an abstract of an article on the interdisciplinary nature of mineralogy:

          " Mineralogy, for a long time defined as the study of naturally occurring crystalline compounds formed as a results of inorganic processes, is at a crossroads. The above definition is now seen as far too restrictive, and a wider definition includes new high pressure/temperature minerals not yet found on Earth, amorphous, nano-, and mesoscopic materials and their dimensionality-dependent properties, extraterrestrial rocks, biologically precipitated minerals, and the role of minerals in the evolution of life. At the interface to technology, mineralogy is providing a stimulus both in terms of the materials studied and the tools applied to their investigation."
          [Russell J. Hemley, Science (13 August 1999) Vol. 285, No. 5430, 1026.)]
      3. How does Paley answer the objection that the universe could have harmonized into order and pattern by chance?
        1. Paley states, "Nor … would any man in his senses think the existence of the watch, with its various machinery, accounted for, by being told that it was one out of possible combinations of material forms…"
        2. Thus, Paley claims the idea that the complexity of design in the universe could come about by chance is the notion of a foolish person.
      4. To what extent is Paley's argument an ad hominem attack on the skeptic?
        1. Paley bases his possible objections on what the ordinary person would be likely to believe (an ad populum aspect of the argument; as well, he uses the phrase of what "any man in his senses" could not believe suggesting only a fool could believe (the ad hominem aspect of the argument.)
        2. For anyone who might not agree with the point of view presented for Paley's ordinary "man," Paley characterizes the disagreeing view as invoking "a perversion of language" with respect to laws being causes, and if there are "doubts concerning other points" this, he thinks, such doubt begets a distrust of certainty of reasoning.
      5. Explain whether laws of nature are discovered or whether they are invented.
        1. As noted above, normally laws of nature are discovered through scientific investigation and are, in a sense, provisional. They describe observed regularities in nature presumably describing what "is" the case.
        2. Some explanatory hypotheses purporting to describe natural processes are invented constructions, but for such hypotheses to become a law, the hypotheses must be tested and confirmed.
    2. Related design-argument and objections material on this Website include the following.
      1. Thomas Aquinas, "The Argument from Design": Thomas Aquinas's argument from design and objections to that argument are outlined and discussed. Thomas argues the intricate complexity and order in the universe can only be explained through the existence of a Great Designer.
      2. David Hume, "Design Argument: Critique": David Hume's version of the design argument from Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is presented and his objections to that argument are summarized. Hume devastating analysis details the disanalogies between the universe and the purported Deity.

Further Reading:

  • Design Argument: This entry in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas is historical summary of the argument from design by Frederick Ferré. Ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary versions of the argument are described.

  • "Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?" The John Templeton Foundation compiled essay answers to this question from the following contemporary notables:
    "Yes, If By …", Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University;
    "No, and Yes", Christop Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna;
    "Absolutely Not!" William D. Phillips, Nobel Laureate in physics;
    "Not Necessarily" Pervez Amirali Hoodby, Chair of Physics Department at Quaid-e-Azan University in Islamabad, Pakistan and author of Islam and Science;
    "Of Course Not" Mary Midgley, ethical philosopher and author of Evolution as a Religion;
    "No" Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University;
    "No, But It Should" Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great;
    "No" Keith Ward, Fellow of the British Academy and Priest in the Church of England;
    "Yes" Victor J. Stenger, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, University of Hawaii;
    "No, Not At All" Jerome Groopman, Professor of Medicine, Harvard University;
    "It Depends" Michael Shermer, Professor at Claremont Graduate University and publisher of Skeptic magazine;
    "Of Course Not" Kenneth R. Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University, author of Finding Darwin's God; and
    "No, But Only If …"… Stuart Kauffman, Director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics, University of Calgary.

  • Natural Theology: An electronic searchable encoding of the 12th edition of Paley's book (1809) is provided the University of Michigan Humanities Text Initiative.

  • The Watchmaker Argument: Fredrik Bendz summarizes a number of objections to Paley's argument—most relating to the fallacy of false analogy.

  • William Paley: This short anonymous summary of Paley's life is from the Internet Encyclopædia of Philosophy.

  • William Paley: A discussion of Paley's works from the classic 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica. is worth reviewing in spite of a number of scanning errors.

  • William Paley: Another summary of Paley's life together with bibliography and additional links is provided in the Wikipedia.

  • Watchmaker Analogy: A history of the teleological argument based on the watch analogy is sketched with quotations from the original sources in this entry from the Wikipedia. Especially helpful on this site are several the objections to the argument from Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins, and cultural anthropology.

"A purpose, an intention, a design strikes everywhere the most carefulness, the most stupid thinker, and no man can be so hardened in absurd systems, as at all times to reject it. That nature does nothing in vain, is a maxim established in all the schools, merely from the contemplation of the works of nature, without any religious purpose …"

David Hume Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (William Blackwood, 1907), 165.

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This page last updated 10/30/12
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