William Paley

William Paley 1743-1805

William Paley was born in 1743, like St Thomas Aquinas he believed that the evidence pointed overwhlemingly to there being a Driver called God guiding the “journey of life”. Paley developed an argument known as the Teleological Argument or the argument of Design and Purpose.

Paley suggested that you should imagine walking across a field with some friends and suddenly coming across a pocket watch hidden amongst the grass. You pick up the watch and are so impressed by its craftwork and that you ask your friends: “Who do you think made this?”

What if one of your friends said: “Nobody actually made the watch. It has always existed and has always been there.”

Paley thought that this would be a pretty wierd response. He proposed that the reason that we would not believe that the watch had no maker was that it simply shows too much evidence of Design and Purpose for there to be no being responsible for its existence.

When Paley was writing about this he pointed out that the cogs were brass, a metal that doesn’t rust, the springs were made of steel, a metal that is both strong and elastic, a glass front: strong and see-through! The full text can be read here.

Paley went on to suggest that there was only one possible sensible answer to the question of who made the watch – a being with a skilled, designing mind. If the object has a design and has been made for a purpose – then there must be a maker.

Using this logic, Paley went on to argue that it is also the case that the universe, infinitely complex and with many perfections of design (think about how well a shark is adapted for its life or chameleons that are so good at camouflage that they can change the colour of their skin!

Or consider the design of your own ears, eyes and nose and how each are so perfectly designed to fulfil their purpose hearing, seeing and smelling.

Paley argues that because the universe shows so much evidence of design and purpose that their must be a purposeful designer – God.

  • Explain in your own words how William Paley uses the design and purpose of a watch to try and prove the existence of God.
  • The Purpose of the watch is clear. Is the purpose of the universe as clear?
  • Read Psalm 104. Would the writer of this psalm have agreed with Paley?

Has Paley proved it then?

If Paley has proved the existence of God, then there could be no other conclusion that you couls draw from his argument – but what is the universe doesn’t have a purpose and instead of a design it has an order. It is often said our planet could be called the “Goldilocks planet” it is not too hot, not too cold, it is just right for our kind of life to exist. It could well be that anything that doesn’t fit into the universe’s order will not continue or prosper. You could also argue that this order is a result of chance.

Could it be that the universe, with infinite time, has just kept tossign atoms together and the things that mesh with the order of things i.e. humans need oxygen and water etc… survive and the combinations that don’t mesh with the order of things, do not survive?

  • It is possible that God did design the universe and it is also possible that God didn’t. Which one is more probable?

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