Non Fiction

A Brief Rumination on Paley’s Watchmaker Analogy

The problem with Paley’s teleological argument making an analogy between a watch and nature rests in assuming that the universe is clearly designed with purpose. Paley claims the intricacy of nature, (i.e. adaptation to environment through macro-evolution) in the development of life implies the involvement of an intelligent creator who designed life to have an effect, and that “the effect results from the arrangement”. That would mean that because there is life that is so complex in construction, then that in itself essentially proves the existence of a creator.


The gap between observing that there is intended design in the world around us and knowing that there is a creator still involves a leap of faith in assuming that just because there is some order in nature then that means it had to be designed by an intelligent creator. Quantum mechanics, and other advanced areas in science seem to reveal that there is more chaos than order in the universe in the first place. Yet Paley takes this thought into consideration, he claims that if there is imperfection or superfluous oddities in the design then that does not necessarily mean there is no creator. Paley goes on to defend against any similar objections to his watch analogy, and goes in depth in doing so, making his teleological argument more tangible and believable than ontological arguments.


Paley also makes the watch analogy less exclusive than previous ontological arguments because he does not argue for the existence of a being in which nothing greater can be conceived, but he simply argues that creation was designed with purpose, requiring that there must be an intelligent creator.




Paley insists that because a creator designed the universe, then there must not be an independent natural law that works without the existence of a creator. Paley states, “that the maker of the watch before him, was, in truth and reality, the maker of every watch produced from it; there being no difference (except that the latter manifests a more exquisite skill) between the making of another watch with his own hands…” Paley is only able to deny the idea of natural order without a creator because he rejects mathematical infinity. Paley’s argument would be less tantalizing if mathematical infinity was put into play, as this would negate creation to ever have happened.


10 replies on “A Brief Rumination on Paley’s Watchmaker Analogy”

I don’t know what else to say except that I couldn’t agree with you more. Although I don’t really get comforted by individuality. I don’t know why. I guess I’m just thoroughly pessimistic. Thank you for always having something meaningful and interesting to say Shona, I enjoy your comments, and your poetry as well. I visit your site fairly often, but I’m afraid I don’t comment as much as I should.

Steve, long time no see, I’m thrilled that you took the time to read some of my stuff. This was just a little homework assignment from a philosophy class I took a couple years ago. I edited and threw it up here, it’s not my most intriguing philosophical treatise. I’ll have to check out that book by Krauss, thanks for the recommendation.

Let me know next time you are around Philly, we gotta catch up.

Isn’t the teleologist defeated in their own argument when they are asked “who designed the watchmaker?” There’s a fundamental conceit in humanity that can’t allow some of it’s members to consider themselves a lucky and extremely unlikely accident! Personally, I am very much more comforted by that argument – that seems to imply a meaning not to existence per se, but to our own, random, unaccountable individuality.

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on Paley’s argument. I often find it is difficult to explain the idea of non-random selection to some without them conflating the term with “design.” Since you seem interested in the topic, I would recommend Lawrence Krauss’ book “A Universe from Nothing: Why is there Something Rather than Nothing.” I read it recently and it is gives a very early stage theory on how our universe could have come into existence from “nothing” (although he gets into a bit of a semantic argument about how to actually define “nothing”).

One of biggest challenges for theists who use Paley’s argument is making the leap from a designer to a “benevolent” creator who cares about your thoughts and how often you worship him. While the argument is sound for the deist in some respects; the theist still has all his/her work ahead to get to a yahweh, jesus or zeus. Even if they could prove the existence of designer, there is nothing to say that the designer answers prayers or handles real-estate in the Middle East.

I hope to read more of your writings on Philosophy, it’s a personal favorite subject.

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