The following is an essay I wrote in 2006 for my college philosophy class. Arguing about the existence of God is probably one of my favorite topics to discuss, and I remember enjoying writing this paper using William Paley’s theory of the “Watchmaker”.
Assume that you were walking down the beach, and all of the sudden you stumble upon a watch laying in the sand among some rocks. How did the watch get there? You ask yourself. William Paley in his work “Natural Theology” develops an argument for the existence of God, following Thomas Aquinas’ five ways to prove the existence of such being. The basic premise for the existence of God is that the world shows an intelligent feature based on experience from nature such as its order, integrity, design and complexity. Thus, there must be an intelligent designer that explains the intelligent purpose and order that we can observe (Sober 116). Paley’s argument is based on an analogy: Just as a watch is composed of various mechanisms and intrinsic design must have been created by a being, a watchmaker, the universe with all its complexity and grandness, must have been created by an intelligent and powerful creator. Therefore a watchmaker is to the watch as God is to the universe. I find this analogy incomplete and flawed since first of all is comparing the existence of everything and its purpose to a piece of machinery. And second, it leaves an open door leading to more questions such as who designed the designer.
Why did Paley use a watch to explain the existence of God? What does a watch have that makes it look “designed” that a rock doesn’t? Paley says that due to the intrinsic design and the inner works of a watch, it must have a maker. But how can this argument be accepted since it is saying exactly what one wants to prove, with no other evidence to back it up? Paley’s inference is troubled when you start creating more analogies: You pick up a rock, you observe it and study it under a microscope and you’ll see wonderful combinations of minerals, and those minerals are composed of other chemical bonds, and other pieces of matter that as a whole, make up the rock. After you examine it you say that this rock is the answer to existence: the rock follows a pattern of combinations and goes all the way down to subatomic levels, so diminutive that it must’ve been designed. Therefore, the rock has a rock-maker.
So what isn’t designed? What I understand from Paley is that everything we look at seems to be designed. This is where a circular reasoning starts to flow, just as the hands on a watch go around in circles leading nowhere: it breaks down everything that we look at to have a designer. You have to take in consideration that we (humans) do not know everything about the universe. Although, we might be the only species on earth able to ask these types of questions, it does not make us the one animal who found all the answers. A designer is someone who produces a design. And what does the design say about the designer? I believe it says some things, but it doesn’t give you a whole answer to the question. If I look at the design of a car, I cannot say that the designer of the car is some old guy sitting in a basement. Usually designers leave a mark, or brand their creations, but unless we find a rock and it has a signature that clearly says “MADE BY GOD” Paley’s argument still fails to prove the existence of such being.
There is nothing in this universe that tells us that something looks designed, except ourselves. And in fact everything science finds seems to indicate that there is no design to the universe. Evolution and natural selection shows us existence does not need to have a designer. Models that simulate our universe in the vastness of space, tell us how stars and galaxies and other celestial objects can be formed from more or less clouds of gases and other matter. A theory such as the Big Bang tells us how these clouds could have formed into existence without any design at all. There’s no need to bring up God to explain our universe.
The human mind is plagued with ignorance. We are mostly limited to what we observe and experienced. Paley’s analogy leaves a tremendous gap between the concept of God and existence: the inference and only explanation he’s able to give out with no other evidence except that he sees a complexity in the universe is incomplete. Gregor Mendel actually was able to deduce the existence of genes by manipulating plants (Sober 25). Unless we find a way to prove God by manipulating and experimenting with our existence and what surrounds us, Paley’s analogy fails to live up to the validity of his argument. Sometimes it’s just better to say “we don’t know” rather than creating assumptions.
If I were to be a philosopher, a scientist or a theologian, and I was walking down the beach, and all of the sudden I saw a watch appear before my eyes, I would definitely be interested in it since it appears to be so “different” from its surroundings: I would observe it, study it, analyze it and eventually theorize what it is. But that does not mean I will grasp and understand the actual concept of the watch, either its purpose or the maker. There is no direct evidence telling me that it was done by something to fit a specific purpose. So the theory itself can be anything you want it to be. This is no different from what William Paley describes in his allegory, and of course, he matches his conclusion to his hypothesis, even though he abducts Aquinas’ design argument, his views still are incomplete. The purpose of a watch is to give us the time of day or night. Inferring that a watch is evidence for the existence of a watchmaker is weak in itself because it does not explain or take in consideration the purpose of the universe. The argument, although not trying to answer the purpose of the universe, draws a blank once you keep questioning it, and the most obvious question it leaves is: Who designed God?