Created on Wednesday, 03 September 2008 01:00
Is Paley’s Argument Still Valid?
By now William Paley’s (1743-1805) argument for creation is classic. It goes something like this: Suppose you were out for a walk in the woods when came upon a watch laying on the ground. Upon analysis you discover the watch to be beautifully crafted and keeping perfect time. There is absolutely no sign that anyone had been to this spot; no footprints, etc. What are we to conclude? Do we suppose that the watch therefore had no designer/creator? Should we suspect that natural process alone, without any intelligent input whatsoever assembled the watch? No thinking person would even consider such a thing. The watch is evidence of a watchmaker, whether we ever see him or not. Paley argued that if the watch could not have arisen by purely naturalistic means, then neither could the rest of creation. Star, planets, fish, birds, reptiles, mammals and people are orders of magnitude more complex than a watch. If the watch needed a watchmaker, then the creation required a creator. Makes sense, right?
The atheist argues that the analogy is flawed in that we already have prior knowledge that humans make watches. Yes, physical laws seem to negate the possibility of a watch spontaneously being generated, but living things are different than watches. Since no one was around when the first living thing arose on this planet, how do we know that purely natural processes alone weren’t responsible? To argue that the universe is evidence of an intelligent creator is really just begging the question. It would be arguing in a circle. The atheist’s response here I think may have been valid in Paley’s day, when scientists knew actually very little about the microcosm of the cell. Knowing what we do today, I think the atheist’s response is horribly weak.
The atheist says he accepts that idea that a watch requires a watchmaker, only because we have prior knowledge that watches don’t make themselves. People can and do make them, that’s true. The atheist is in serious error however, when he claims that prior knowledge about intelligent intervention in the production of living things is absent. Scientists studying DNA, the most complicated molecule in the universe, have discovered that there are really only two ways to procure this amazing arrangement of matter. They can extract DNA from a cell, or they can assemble genes (portions of DNA) artificially using very sophisticated machinery. These are their only two options. I have never heard of a scientist yet who, wanting to study DNA, simply mixed a bunch of chemicals in a flask and waited for the molecule to assemble itself. They understand very well that this is a physical impossibility. That’s the very reason why such expensive gene synthesizing equipment was designed and constructed. Paradoxically then, secular scientists are spending enormous amounts of time and creative energy in an effort to prove that no intelligence was necessary to bring the first life form into existence!
Image from Answers in Genesis (www.answersingenesis.org)
Seeing that today we do have prior knowledge that DNA requires an intelligent designer/creator, I think we can appeal to Paley’s argument with renewed confidence. We can agree with our great God that the evidence for special creation is so obvious that those who would deny His existence are entirely without excuse (Romans 1:20).