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paley.jpg (2218 bytes)Philosophy 102: Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry
The Teleological Argument

Abstract: Paley's "watch argument" is sketched together with initial suggested objections to his reasoning.

I. Analogical Teleological Argument: If I stumbled on a stone and asked how it came to be there, it would be difficult to show that the answer, it has lain there forever is absurd. Yet this is not true if the stone were to be a watch.

A. The inference would be inevitable from the intricate design to a maker who constructed and designed its use.
B. The inference is as follows...
watch : watchmaker :: universe : universe-maker
II. Paley thinks the following excuses (i.e., possible objections) cannot be accepted.
A. We never knew an artist capable of making a watch (a universe).
Paley's response: Just because we don't know who the artist might be, it doesn't follow that we don't know that there is one.
Counter-objection: The last term of the analogy, "the universe-maker" is beyond the bounds of possible experience. This disanalogy is substantial.
B. The watch (universe) does not work perfectly; the designer is not evident.
Paley's response: It is not necessary to show that something is perfect in order to show that there is a design.
Counter-objection: Given natural disasters and nonmoral evil in the world, it would seem to indicate that the designer is not all good or not all-powerful.  The problem of evil is an important consideration in the qualities of the maker.
C. Some parts of the watch (the universe) seem to have no function and so would seemingly not be designed.
Paley's response: Simply because we do not know the function of the parts does not imply that there is no function. The design is evident from the rest of the watch (the universe).
Counter-objection: The argumentum ad ignorantiam works both ways; from the fact that something has not been proved, no conclusion can be drawn.
D. The watch (universe) is only one possible form of many possible combinations and so is a chance event.
Paley's response: The design can't be a result of chance; no person in his senses could believe this.
Counter-objection: Paley's response is an ad hominem. It is the nature of the human mind to impose order on things whether of not order is present. (E.g., in any finite sequence of random numbers, a rule or order can be invented by which those numbers can be generated.)
E. There is a law or principle that disposed the watch (universe) to be in that form.
Paley's response: The existence of a law presupposes a lawgiver with the power to enforce the law. The principle cannot cause the watch (the universe) to exist.
Counter-objection: Paley confuses descriptive law with prescriptive law (i.e., the fallacy of equivocation). Prescriptive law does imply a lawgiver, and prescriptive laws can be broken (e.g., speed limits, rules of behavior). Descriptive laws do not imply a law-giver, and descriptive laws cannot be broken (one exception disproves the law, e.g., gravity, f = ma.)
F. The watch (the universe) is no proof of contrivance; only motive induces the mind to think that it is.
Paley's response: The design is evident to an impartial person.
Counter-objection: Again, it is the nature of mind to see relationships; remember the number sequence above. Consider the following picture to the right.  Is the pattern a circle, a pentagon, a star, an automaker's symbol, or a Renaissance man? pentagon.gif (1070 bytes)
G. The watch (the universe) came about as a result of the laws of metallic nature.
Paley's response: Law presupposes a lawgiver.
Counter-objection: Again Paley confuses descriptive and prescriptive law. Q.v., E above.
H. One knows nothing at all about the matter.
Paley's response: Certainly, by seeing the parts of the watch (the universe), one can know the design.
Counter-objection: Another argumentum ad ignorantiam--from the fact that something is not proved, no conclusion follows.
III. Paley's summation: Every manifestation of design in the watch is part of, and is surpassed in, the works of nature.


Suggested Reading:
David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779).


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