Natural Theology

William Paley and the “Argument from Design”

William Paley begins his “Argument from Design” by enumerating key differences between two obviously dissimilar objects—a stone and a watch. For the sake of meaningful contrast, Paley emphasizes three distinguishing properties lacked by the former and possessed by the latter. In this paper I will introduce these properties and explain how Paley uses one of them to argue that the watch necessitates an intelligent designer. From there I will explain how he ultimately formulates his argument for the existence of God.

Paley observes the first distinguishing feature of the watch to be its possession of complex, moveable parts. He lists some of these parts—a cylindrical box, an elastic spring, a flexible chain, a series of wheels, an index, and a glass face—and explains how they work in concert to provide the watch with motion. Paley also observes that there is something special about the motion of the parts themselves; the “equable measured progression,” or regularity, of which the index moves about the watch face also signifies a major distinction between the watch and the stone. These differences indeed give the watch a special distinction; however, it is the concept of functionality that serves as the crux for Paley’s “Argument...

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