"Totally coup, yo."

Paley's Watchmaker




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.
–William Paley, Natural Theology (1802)

That’s how this teleological argument for the existence of God was most famously articulated. It’s also known as the argument from design. Like Pascal’s Wager, it’s one of those bits of theology that’s often repeated ad nauseum by laypersons, and usually ones who’ve never read the original citation above. And also like Pascal’s Wager, there are so many problems with it that it’s difficult to know where exactly to begin.

Paley wants to equate the natural world with the hypothetical watch left in the forest. He doesn’t draw the connection between the two. He just asserts that the two are similar in that they were both clearly designed. But whether or not they’re similar and therefore designed is exactly the question Paley’s trying to answer. So just claiming that they are is circular reasoning.

Furthermore, if the watch and the natural world were so similar then we wouldn’t even notice the watch in the first place. It wouldn’t stick out amongst the backdrop of the rest of the landscape which “might as well have been there forever.” If Paley’s assertion held water, we’d just be walking along and take no more notice of the watch than we do of a blade of grass or a bird because they would both have “every manifestation of design.”

But we do notice the watch. We can look at something which is obviously designed and know that it’s designed because we have at least some prior knowledge of watch design. Frankly, I know next to nothing about that subject, but I can at least look at a watch and recognize it as something we humans have made for a very long time. Even just going by the blog post so far we can know they’ve been manufactured for at least a few hundred years already.

You don’t even need Darwin and evolution to refute the watchmaker argument on these grounds. All that needs to be pointed out is something like this:

“A tree bestows order and organisation on that tree which springs from it, without knowing the order; an animal in the same manner on its offspring; a bird on its nest; and instances of this kind are even more frequent in the world than those of order, which arise from reason and contrivance. To say, that all this order in animals and vegetables proceeds ultimately from design, is begging the question; nor can that great point be ascertained otherwise than by proving, a priori, both that order is, from its nature, inseparably attached to thought; and that it can never of itself, or from original unknown principles, belong to matter.”
-David Hume, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1776)

So in crasser terms, there’s really no reason to even accept Paley’s assertion that every manifestation of design we rightfully notice in the watch also exists in the natural world. And even putting aside the self-refuting nature of his argument, the hypothetical watch he’s talking about didn’t really have a single watchmaker.

Sure, maybe a few centuries ago watches were designed and made one by one by a single individual in their workshop. But if the analogy to the Universe as a whole is to hold, that watchmaker would have had to have made their watch de novo. And this clearly could not be what happened.

Let’s take this a little more seriously and really think about this watchmaker who made the watch Paley discovered in the forest. At some point in his life, he decided to make watches for a living. Maybe his father taught him how, or maybe he took on an apprenticeship. But either way he learned from earlier watch designs and from others who had also made watches. A deity like the one Paley describes could not have any counterpoint to this passing on of skills unless it were watching other gods making other Universes and learning tricks of the Universe-making trade from them.

This watch which is made by a watchmaker is just one part of a long history of people who worked on devices meant to keep track of time. In earlier times, there was no second hand on a typical clock. Earlier than that, there was no minute hand. And even earlier still, no mechanics at all were used because all we had were sticks in the mud which then cast a shadow.

Watches, in other words, are the result of a gradual process where efficient parts are selected for and clumsy, inaccurate, and wasteful parts are selected against. And if you go back far enough in time, you get a point of origin which is perfectly explained by natural phenomenon.

So even if you give Paley a pass on the self-refuting part of his argument, it still fails again when it points directly to an unguided evolutionary explanation of the natural world and all its complexities and directly away from supernatural design.

  • anonymouse

    This article was so boring it killed my boner. How am I going to masturbate now???

  • Anthony

    Reminds me of a segment in the film: Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus. The filmmaker Randy Olson is presented with two pictures, one of Mount Rushmore and one of a natural mountain range, by an Intelligent Design proponent. The proponent points to the picture of Mount Rushmore and says something to the effect of “Now, there is clearly a designer at work here.” And before he can even manage to segue into the assertion that the natural mountain range must also be designed, Olson says bluntly, “Human designer.”

  • CrazyMama

    Ok christians, pagans, muslims and naturalist.. whose next budhist?

    So if you don’t believe in a higher power, can you explaine every miracle that has happened? What about the miracles of Father Baker? Can science explain his bodily fluids staying fresh after so many years?

    I am not saying one religion is right or wrong.. I don’t even believe that anything is designed but we are here. There has to be some form of intervention to begin everything. Or else there wouldn’t be anything.

    Maybe you’d feel differently if you had a near death experience, not like the ones where people say they see a light, but one where you are completly lucid but just sick. All you can do is lay and reflect on things. You think about things..

    • http://nanobotswillenslaveusall.wordpress.com/ Josh Bunting

      I don’t think you know what naturalist means.

      The burden of proof is on the person making the claim that there are miracles. Just saying that we don’t know something doesn’t mean it’s a miracle. It just means that we don’t know. You ask if I can explain “every miracle that has happened” as if your claim that miracles have happened is actually true.

      How do you know there wouldn’t be anything without “some form of intervention?” Do you believe that because there’s evidence supporting it, or are you just believing it because it makes you feel good to believe in it?

      • http://nanobotswillenslaveusall.wordpress.com/ Josh Bunting

        Oh, and thanks for reminding me I’ve been soft on the Buddhists. Hopefully I’ll get to them soon.

  • CrazyMama

    Some of the philosphies of buddhism are great. It is true that things are out of our control but our attitudes can make the difference. However they don’t take mental illness into account. I think you’d find some interesting information about Tibet before the Communist took over. Apparently buddhist monks had slaves that would wipe their ass for them. I don’t think communism is a good idea, but whenever there has been a revolution, there has been one for a reason. And the Tibetan monks lived like royality.

    I am sure you have mocked naturalist at one point. Come on some of your own kind could be mocked. But at least naturalist leave it at mocking and don’t do anything extreme in the name of their beliefs, or do they?

    And FYI, catholics believe in evolution and have since I was in school.

    Science is interesting but sometimes life doesn’t need to be explained.

    • http://nanobotswillenslaveusall.wordpress.com/ Josh Bunting

      @Crazy – yeah, you don’t even know what naturalism means. You probably think it means someone who likes going on walks in the woods or something. And I’m still wondering why you think “there wouldn’t be anything” without “some type of intervention.” I know you don’t care if what you believe is true or not, but seriously, Why do you believe that? Do you just like how it sounds?

      @No, I’d just add to that that even if that is the argument Paley was making (and it’s not – you’re hallucinating text which isn’t even there), he’d still be wrong because we now know that there are quantum fluctuations. At that level, things really do come out of the blue, as you put it.

  • http://www.cinemasucks.com/ Mike C.

    I’ve never heard the Watchmaker argument made for nature in general, only for selective aspects that were subjectively deemed design-y: the eye, the bacterial flagellum, the banana.

    The last is especially hilarious, given all supermarket bananas are essentially seedless/sterile clones whose characteristics were selectively bred by humans.

  • http://www.cinemasucks.com/ Mike C.


    I haven’t read the source, but the quote doesn’t cite anything beyond a superficial and subjective observation: things look contrived to Paley. I don’t see anything about elements, just the appearance of work performed by an agency.

    If Paley really does distinguish the watch from nature by its contrivance, only to turn and say nature also looks contrived, it’s without the contrast provided the watch by nature itself. Without a control subject representing a known state of disorder, there’s no limit to what could be deemed contrived-looking. Which is a subjective, scientifically bankrupt idea to start with.

    I wouldn’t see how suggesting that the known artifice being _made from_ what’s simultaneously his control group and subject of his conclusion suggests any continuity between the senses of conscious agency he’s implying.

  • http://anteprepro.xanga.com/weblog/ Anteprepro

    “No”, you have it exactly backwards and the article has it correct. If the watch were, according to Paley, a regular manifestation of the natural world, it would be an argument for even artificial things being ultimately “natural” due to being composed of natural elements, or whatever. But Paley doesn’t care about this. Paley is asserting that, because we know that the complex watch is artificial, that similarly complex natural items or organisms are thus another form of artificial (divinely designed). And, as Mike C says, this is all very subjective what “looks designed”. I personally say that it is ridiculous for all of the reasons stated thus far, as well as the fact that it is used to argue for a creator deity, implying that all of nature should “look designed”. This means that, again as Mike C. says, we have no basis for comparison and simply cannot find a real distinction. From that perspective, everything in existence should look designed and thus we have no real idea what “not designed” would look like.

    Also, I must note that your perspective, that God is a manifestation of nature, would get you the boot from the majority of Christian denominations. Just sayin’.

  • CrazyMama

    My Catholic religion teacher had us write a report on a similar topic and she thought that possibility of God nature connection. She didn’t get fired. Just saying.
    She also had us read an article about how it’s highly possible that during the Jesus lost years, he very well may have studied with buddhist. She still works at the school. Catholics are way more open to interpretation than you would know.
    Look at the chuch windows at St. Ambrose in Buffalo for an example of how many catholics are open to interpretation. Other catholic were angered over them, however they didn’t get kicked out of the catholic church by Vatican or anything.

    Many of the windows are suppose to represent a more accepting catholic church after the vatican 2.


  • Anthony

    I’ll be watching for that article on Buddhism. It’s interesting to me how the philosophical and religious aspects of that tradition have been separated, particularly in the West. I had a professor who asserted outright that it was NOT a religion, but a life philosophy. People seem to want to keep the four noble truths, eightfold path, and middle way while forgetting about all of the make believe shit- and the inherent contradictions.

  • Just_call_me_stupid

    Hi josh liked the article it made puase and think until I to this part
    ” Watches, in other words, are the result of a gradual process where efficient parts are selected for and clumsy, inaccurate, and wasteful parts are selected against. And if you go back far enough in time, you get a point of origin which is perfectly explained by natural phenomenon.”
    If I assume you in this bit refering to man and our evilution, then makes me wonder how is this true for one most people pre-1998 used or are using 10% of our brains where as the current generation using less on average 8% also if to assest evoling on just physical treat then we are also screwed for predators like bears, sharks have us beat, let us not forget if just take basic usage brain out of it, and just look mental asspect we are still flowing basic instincts that can found by “lower life forms.” I could go on how I can prove this in daily life but I’m really don’t want to so to put simply I believe there is a force that is doing something I’ll call god, science might a random gene in some of us, you might call it stinky pants, I don’t know but any way of using the watch arrgument is wrong is on any slant because two negitives don’t make a right

  • Anthony

    Shut up stupid.

  • http://youtu.be/KlKKHPpM1Cg Joe Dixon

    For their to be a God there has to first be evidence for the super natural. Miracles need to be proven facts, not things based on faith and flights of fancy. This was the point of Victor Stenger’s book, God: The Failed Hypothesis. Before you even get to the business of creators, there would have to be evidence of things beyond nature. But everything from nature is has it should be. Humans, planets, the universe, stars, you name it, exists exactly as they we would if there was no creator. I know Bill O’Reilly doesn’t understand this but there is no miracle behind the tides or why the moon stays in the sky.

    The holy seem to continually say “science can’t explain…” but then quickly move on (or pretend the question was never answered) once science does explain it. It’s a boorish game they can’t help but play least they admit their precious religion/spirituality/what have you is just utter bullshit.

  • CrazyMama

    Naturalist is a person who believes in science over divine intervention. I don’t use words if I don’t know wha tthey mean.

    And all I am saying there is some life force that exists. I don’t even know what I believe per say, but I believe in some spiritual connection that the world has. Call it God if you want. I don’t follow religions but I think there are universal truths. By intervention I mean, something had to start it all and evolution is obvious, but something beyond that nobody can explain because we weren’t there. When I asked about evolution in religion class, I was told that you can’t deny evolution and the christians who didn’t believe it were dumb. They told us you don’t know what a day is to God. Which there are bible quotes that say that.
    Maybe we came when some scientist from another time went and recreated the big bang in a vacuum?

  • CrazyMama

    Joe dixon,

    Science is a miracle in some ways. Nothing in science is a 100%.

    Any religious person who relys on devine intervention is a fucking moron, that goes with out saying. But there are miracles and evidence of it. Why can’t God and science co exists?

  • CrazyMama

    Anthony, buddhism is definently a religion. It’s another one, that I think has great philosphies, but if you follow it to a tee, it’s a religion just like christianity.

    They have a hierachy, rituals, etc..

    Just like any religion, you can pick some great parables and philosphies, but it’s not perfect.

    I mean some of it’s obvious. Anyone can tell you, wanting what you can’t have makes you suffer and what goes around comes around.

  • MD Caigoy


    I sense a thread of rationality to your words, and that’s why I think they wear so thin on content once they reach for the supernatural. Yours is a tap-dance common among the “not religious, but spiritual” types I’ve known.

    Taking something clearly baseless, like most religious claims, and rephrasing them into things _obliquely_ baseless doesn’t really do much. Turning “soul” into “life force” doesn’t suddenly give credence, or even definition, to the idea; as if the vagueness of it could broaden its possible associations enough to make it scientifically consistent — or at least not clearly inconsistent.

    Speculating about different _types_ of agency regarding the universe’s origins doesn’t validate the core idea of there having been agency in the first place. To even justify the question, one would have to demonstrate what happens (or doesn’t) without intervention; because when we look at the one universe, we don’t have any basis to say which it was (or wasn’t).

  • Anthony

    CrazyMama: I know I wrote that I wasn’t going to respond to you any more, but since you don’t seem to want to go away, here goes. I hope your house catches on fire. I also hope you manage to escape with just enough time to watch the rest of your family burn alive and/or suffocate through the living room window. I hope the grief at witnessing this tragic (for you, hilarious for me) event drives you to the nearest pub, where you get shitfaced. As you leave the pub, I further hope that you accidentally stumble down a man-hole into the sewer and knock yourself unconscious. As you awaken, it is my sincere and ernest hope that you find yourself in a hospital, where you will be told that you have been diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis. I hope your limbs all get destroyed by the streptococcal infection over a period of several months. This would leave you as nothing but a limbless, blubbering torso. After repeated rapes by the hospital orderlies as well as verbal abuse from the children in the burn ward, I hope you manage to wheel your bed to the nearest window and chuck yourself out in despair. Thus ending your wretched existence forever.
    The End

  • http://youtu.be/qY3toALFYmk Joe Dixon

    “Science is a miracle in some ways.”

    No. No it’s not.

    Science: the systematic study of the nature and behavior of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment, and measurement, and the formulation of laws to describe these facts in general terms.

    Miracle: An effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.

    Those are NOT the same thing. A miracle, by definition, can’t be science.

    “Nothing in science is a 100%.”

    Nor has anyone made that claim.

    “But there are miracles and evidence of it.”

    No. No, there isn’t.

    “Why can’t God and science co exists?”

    For the same reason Holocaust survivors and Holocaust Deniers cannot co-exist. One side is actually lying. One side has reality and the other side just makes shit up. Because one side is very dangerous if it’s lies are allowed to go about unchallenged.

    Religion has had the field (through murder and intimidation) to it’s self for far too long. It needs to be exposed as the fraud and nonsense that it is.

  • CrazyMama

    Anthony.. I was agreeing with you. You are an angry person and either need to smoke a bong, get laid or need a nice doctor to prescribe you some happy pills. I hope you find whatever you need that will help you not be such a miserable person.
    Dude your in paradise. You said your in hawaii, your life is our vacation. I should be hating you with envy.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weIC42lvwIY Floppy Boot

    The mitochondria are in charge… They run this place. Back in the day, the fuckin’ things (the mitochondria, try to keep up) came rollin’ in and enslaved innocent cellular structures to do their inscrutable bidding. It’s been their show ever since. Serious shit…look it up. It’s the mitochondria, and it’s a [meta]conspiracy. Bet me.

  • CrazyMama

    Science has neither proved or disproved God or whatever supernatural being. Is most of religion supersitious? yes.. but why is it illogical to pick and choose through philosphies.

    And science is a miracle because no experiment can be redone a 100% of the time. Most of the voodoo crap is bullshit and most of the magic men in the past have been using the powers of the earth, ie not really magic, just using nature to perform miracles.

    Doctors perform miracles all the time. They never know for sure what the outcome is going to be. Everytime a science experiment is reproduced that is a miracle, I was told that by a doctor who is an onocologist and a hemotologist once. I think they know a little more about life and death, science and miracles than you Joe Dixon.

    I feel sorry for you Joe dixon, you are trying to hard to see the forrest from the trees when you don’t need too.
    We have come a long way from people needing supernatural to explain natural. However, we can still learn from the philosphies because some of it is common sense that we have forgotten. As we evolve we become more intelligent one way but dumber in other ways.
    I hope science doesn’t cause us to lose our humanity.

    And on a side note I am not ashamed to admit I get confused whenever someone tries to explain string theory. Is that something you atheist people believe in or is that supernatural bs? To me it sounded like bs, but I was also confused.

  • CrazyMama

    mdCaigoy are you denying that the body is made of energy? Isn’t energy a life force? Does energy die? No, it just changes. The soul is nothing more than energy. It’s neither created nor destroyed but just is, and it changes form or transitions. It’s not supersitious to say this energy came from somewhere, and that we don’t know where but it’s something outside of ourselves and this world.

    And you are sooooooo right darling! Nobody knows what happened in the beginning.

    We know sex makes babies and that’s about it in our actual knowledge of human origin. Obviously we know about the evolving of our species, but we don’t know much more about where we came from beyond that. There could have been pre pre historic intelligent life for all we know. Maybe our species are refugees from another universe. Who the fuck knows or really cares where we came from? What are we gonna do now that we are here? Argue about the past and how we came here or live out the present and try to make the future better?

    That is one similarity between christians and atheist. They are just as obsessed with arguing over things that happened from between two thousand and a billion years ago.

    And I make all this sense after an ambien..

  • http://www.cinemasucks.com/ Mike C.


    I take back what I said about your basic rationality.

  • http://anteprepro.xanga.com/weblog/ Anteprepro

    CrazyMama: some of what you say makes sense, some of what you say is complete and utter nonsense, some of it seems to be using words in a bizarre, non-traditional sense (your “energy” schtick bordering on this and plain nonsense), and all of it seems to only be slightly connected to your previous statements or statements of other people who you are “responding” to. Do you take your Ambien laced with Red Bulls, ritalin, and a pinch of cocaine, or are you able to cluster that many sub-rants into your larger rants due to the “Crazy” in your moniker? If the latter, are you personally posting from your cell, or do you just dictate to the visiting nurse? The other readers have a right to know.

  • http://www.cinemasucks.com/ Mike C.

    One thing I want to mention, which I find irritating about these debates, are the vast, hyper-extended reaches the “spiritual” make into particle physics. Such references are generally proven not simply to be wrong, but “not even wrong,” to quote physicist, Wolfgang Pauli. They are wild misapplications of specific concepts, such as the differentiation of matter and energy.

    They share a common wrongness with a postmodernist’s misappropriation of _damn well anything_, attempting to reify what are already bad analogies (the famous example being that fluid dynamics are inherently feminine, and are thus ignored by a patriarchal science establishment; or labeling Newton’s “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica” a “rape manual”) into an inarguable basis for contentious social issues.

    What doesn’t happen during these arguments is an informed conversation about quantum physics. Either the spiritual person gets smacked down by someone who _really_ knows their stuff, or the debate flounders between them and someone who knows enough to spot ignorance and poor reasoning, but lacks the vast theoretical knowledge for an extensive physics lesson.

    But, I believe that’s the point. Since spirituality is the playground of ignorance, what better way to find “agreement” than to drag everyone into a depth where, if nothing else, ignorance can be a shared experience?

    Where a rational person looks to ignorance as a wilderness about which speculation is pointless, a spiritual person sees a shining cupcake of wonderful implications about how we can “unlock the other 90% of our brains,” or that “we can’t know everything, so maybe some of the bullshit long shots I hope are true, actually are.”

  • Anthony

    Picture an extremely frustrated Haitian LPN with a remedial grasp of American English.

  • CrazyMama

    hahaha I don’t even remember writing that. I also woke up with a coffee next on my night stand, so apparently I was drinking coffee last night.

    In regards to how much brain power we use. People are idiots, we use our brain for more than thinking. It’s the centeral computer of our body that tells the rest of it to work and takes in/processes information. Not just thoughts but neurological information. We don’t use 90% of it because we don’t need it, we probably did need it at a more primitive time though. Studies show illiterate people can remember more than literate people. The brain does what it needs to and no supernatural interventions can change the brain doing what it needs to. The 90% we don’t use was probably used for primitive things and taking in certain neuro information that we don’t need to now. The human brain and neuro system is the most amazing thing to read. We probably used different parts of our brain during different parts of man kind history. We will never know though.

    And I think the point of one of the rants was to point out, nobody knows what happens in the beginning.

    And in regards to science and miracles, science creates miracles. That is something I believe. I don’t care what the definitions of science and miracles are, you never know what is going to happen and whenever a treatment works to cure a disease, it’s a miracle. I almost died once and science plus a good attitude saved my life and my unborn child. I consider that a miracle because 50 years ago I would have died. Anytime science makes a discovery it’s a miracle in my book but this is simply my opinion and has no basis in fact.

    Anthony wishes that science didn’t save me..

    And Mr. Caigoy we can’t no everything. Humans think they can conquor all with infinite wisdom but we get our asses handed to us everytime. Ie global warming, people are basically ignorant..

  • CrazyMama

    And by what I wrote, it would appear I am implying that the brain has been used for some supernatural purpose. I am not implying that at all. I think it’s more like we may have released more adrenalin for a purpose of survival, not we lifted trees out of the ground by using our mind like some people would think.
    Ask anyone who knows about the human sensory system. It is adapted to our enviroment more often than not. For example some children with have trouble processing sensory information, in some cases if treated early enough this can change. (not always) It all has to do with the neuro transmitters and how they take in the information.

  • http://www.cinemasucks.com/ Mike C.


    Yeah, who cares what words mean?!

    Let’s throw feces and masturbate desultorily!

    Profitable communication is for homos!!!

  • Jim Phillips

    CrazyMama, why, of all sites, have you picked this one to shit up with your obscurantist new-age tripe?

    “…science is a miracle because no experiment can be redone a 100% of the time”. Does the phrase “not even wrong” mean anything to you?

    “…are you denying that the body is made of energy? Isn’t energy a life force?”. The body is composed of matter, which has a real, very specific physical meaning. Energy is an abstract quantity existing solely as a property of matter, again something that has a very specific physical meaning, not something you can paste onto whatever new-age tard-fantasy you like to make it sound plausible.

    “The 90% [of our brains] we don’t use was probably used for primitive things.” We use all our brains. Your regurgitation of this idiotic piece of pseudo psychology is symptomatic of the utter lack of rigour I’m sure you apply to every other piece of half-baked hippy drivel you believe.

    You’re trying to talk about subjects of which you have no understanding. Your sub-remedial understanding of parsimony and the burden of proof is infuriating. You’re annoying. Go away.

  • http://anteprepro.xanga.com/weblog/ Anteprepro

    “I don’t care what the definitions of science and miracles are”

    You’ve made it abundantly clear that you don’t care about correct definitions, details, or facts.

    So, you have failed to make this clear: should we be telling you to lay off the drugs, or to get back on your meds? We desperately need you to make just a little bit more fucking sense if you are going to post massive screeds, multiple times in a row, for the foreseeable future.

    • http://nanobotswillenslaveusall.wordpress.com/ Josh Bunting

      I think “CrazyMama” (OMG Get it? She’s crazy, as in wild and unpredictable and definitely not just retarded or anything like that!) is trying to get me to make another BEASTragecomic. I won’t be drawn in, though.

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