Examining Paley’s Watchmaker

William Paley published the following in 1802: “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.” Known in short as the “Watchmaker” argument, the basic construction of this “proof” for the existence of God has become widely popularized and is still cause for discourse in philosophy classrooms to this day. As a Christian, I’m interested in establishing that my faith is not blind, but reasonable. However, Paley’s argument fails in significant ways, and while some might criticize this critique as friendly fire, it seems to me that only the best arguments should be left standing for belief in the Christian God. First I will lay out the very basic flow of Paley’s argument and then move to criticism.

The point Paley is making appears to be that: 1.) the complexity of the watch necessitates an intelligent designer. So 2.) the complexity of X (particular organism, or the universe) necessitates a designer. The first thing is to consider what’s at stake in the premise that complexity necessitates intelligent design. Here occurs the first logical fallacy in Paley’s argument. He wants to say that natural observation of the universe suggests a designer. But for Paley, this is not ambiguous, he wants to suggest a personal intelligent being as the designer–or atleast most of the people who employ his argument want to suggest such. Paley sees the complexity of living organisms and the Universe and so he asks himself, “Who put all this here?”  But this is question begging, because a designer does not imply a who, as evolutionary theory has shown us, design can be the result of a what. As soon as a person sees the world around them and asks who is responsible, they’ve already committed themselves to answering the question in a particular way. For this reason, Paley’s argument is as much a case for intelligent design as it is for natural selection.

Contemporary proponents of Paley’s argument seem to think that those who do not believe in intelligent design can only believe in a kind of luck. Richard Dawkins argues that life was the result of complex biological processes. He makes the case that evolutionists do not consider evolution to be lucky, but rather the result of billions of years of natural selection. While this may still not reach the degree of intended purpose that intelligent design brings forward, it at least seems to move beyond luck which removes yet more of the Watchmaker’s teeth.

Paley’s argument is chiefly bound up with an analogy. Watches are like complex organisms and the Universe. But even on this count, I think Paley has to be challenged. Watches are often made by multiple individuals or machines, and so they do not have a singular designer as Paley believes the Universe does. Also, Paley is able to observe the creation of a watch, but neither he nor anyone has observed the creation of a world. For the analogy to hold, one should be capable of listing all the reasons why watches are like the universe. If this difficulty can be overcome, it still leaves the obvious that while similar complexities may exist, claims about their similar origins can’t be made without presuppositions that Paley does not make clear in his argument. However, this is precisely not the question which Paley wants to address. He wants to prove the existence of God by proving something else about origins first–but his argument fails in this capacity.

I don’t think that Paley’s argument from analogy proves what he thought it did. If anything it leaves the door wide open for multiple theories about origins, and not just intelligent design. An argument by analogy is in itself not a sustainable argument without the back work. It’s also never evidence that something exists, just merely in favor of something existing.

At this point I’d like to speak briefly to the ways his argument is misused in contemporary debates about God’s existence. For me, and actually for most Christians, science and faith belong together. I would like to be called a creationist, and by that I mean that I believe the Christian Trinitarian God is responsible for the origin and sustaining of the Universe. In my view the Bible leaves things open ended for discussion about the processes which God uses to bring the universe into existence. At some point the Church of my generation may have to have our “Galileo moment”. The Earth really isn’t at the center of the universe, and the evidence continues to mount and say that observable life and nature really is the result of a very slow process which included the mutation, disappearance, and emergence of many species. Paley’s argument is used to contribute to the false dichotomy between faith and reason.

Paley’s argument is weak because of 1.) its poor analogy, 2.) its false characterization of theories besides intelligent design being about “luck”, and 3.) the way it begs the question of a who instead of a what as responsible for the Universe. Contemporary application of Paley’s argument is also contributing to the great chasm between faith and reason. Writing this paper as a Christian wasn’t difficult as some might assume. I would like to see many others with worldviews like my own embrace a reunion of faith and reason, much like Galileo had to convince his contemporaries of. At some point, ignoring the evidence becomes intellectually malicious. At the very least, Paley’s watchmaker is not the argument I want to stake my belief on, and there are certainly stronger cases for alternatives to evolution in the origins debate.

Works Cited:

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion, 2006. Specifically the chapter on “the Blind Watchmaker”.

Paley, William. Natural Theology, 1802.

Martin, Joel. What do Most Christian Think about Evolution?, July 15, 2010. Ret. 2/22/14


Christianity and Animals

The following is the excerpted “Case Study #1” from my paper Concerning Christianity and Environmental Ethics which was completed for PHIL 3180-Environmental Ethics at the University of Toledo. The full paper, including citations and footnotes for this excerpt can be found here: https://austinholmes.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/christianity-and-environmental-ethics/

Case Study #1: A Christian Ethic for Non-Human Animals

I have mentioned that Christians have an obligation to work for the justice and liberation of the oppressed. One billion people live in poverty. Some forty thousand die each day from hunger and related causes. Many others live under political oppression that removes most basic human freedoms from their lives. We, Christ’s Church and humanity in general, don’t seem to be doing much of a job in addressing these problems, so as I am about introduce another major concern, I feel the weight of redressing human plight. But I think that question, “why add another gigantic problem?” indicates the narrow horizon of our concern and our misunderstanding of that plight as well. Is our only objective to be healthy and free people, and if so do we really believe that can be achieved without concern for the rest of the living world? I have mentioned the union of man and creation earlier in this paper. Clearly from Genesis and from Revelation, God’s original and future intentions for the natural world is one of union, both man with creation, and God with man/creation. If I am a restored image bearer of God, and I am obligated to work for the liberation of the oppressed, why have I and so many before me and like me today felt so unconcerned about this group? I am of course speaking of nonhuman animals.

We treat them as if they were things to be used as we please rather than as beings with lives of their own. We oppress animals in factory farming when we deny them such elementary freedoms as space in which to walk or stretch their limbs, in cruel animal experimentation, and in the destruction of habitats. This latter is the main cause of the present-day extinction of whole populations. Some forms of so-called development are so oppressive that species themselves are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. In the process there is much suffering and misery. A conservative estimate of the current rate of extinction is one thousand species a year–and that was in a treatise from 1976. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day.

It seems to me that the main reason so many humans could be so unconcerned about this holocaust is that we assign no more than instrumental value to non-human animals. If we do decide to look after them, it is only because they look after us–means and not ends in themselves. This is a secular view of animals. One writer assumes that animals lack intrinsic value on the proposition that only beings capable of assigning value can have intrinsic value–a claim left unsupported.

A volume of work can and should be done on this issue, but for the sake of time and space, I will seek to diffuse the view mentioned above in support of a view that sees animals as ends as well as means. Firstly, intrinsic value is encapsulated in the experiencing of value. Only feeling confers intrinsic value. We recognize the intrinsic value in humans because they are experiencing entities–more than objects, they are subjects. They are not simply means, but ends in themselves. Alvin Plantinga is a philosopher that has written at length about intrinsic value and theism, and in one particular essay says, “My experiences are the most real thing about me. They are of value to me. Why the tremendous urge to live, even in the face of enormous suffering? We want to live.” This urge to live is also a feature of nonhuman animals. There is much I could say about experience, neurology, feeling, suffering, pleasure, and so on. But the importance of all this is that the recognition of intrinsic value in the creatures besides ourselves makes an ethical claim, an environmental ethical claim, upon us to recognize our obligation towards them. This would lead to a way of talking about animals as having rights that we should uphold.

What is required now is a Christian biocentric ethic, and in reviewing what I’ve written to this point, that certainly seems an appropriate direction. The free-market view is clearly anthropocentric. There could be a case made for an anthropocentric Christian environmental ethic, however, even it would need to pay large attention to the role of human beings as the most esteemed creature. As I have said, that role is chiefly tied up in image bearing, which looks like justice working, which has lead us to this. So in any case, It seems pretty clear that biocentrism is just more fitting. The dominant tendency has been to see nature as none other than the stage on which the drama of human life is performed. Nonhuman creatures are merely props, having no value other than their value to us; intrinsic value resides in humans alone. This view has often been taken as biblical. It is not. In the Genesis account of nature God finds goodness in things before and quite apart from the creation of Adam. Jesus expressed the divine concern for the sparrows, even the grasses of the field. If man is worth multiple sparrows then a sparrow’s worth is not zero.

The recognition that the nonhuman animal is an end in itself and not merely a means to human ends explodes the assumption of traditional ethics. What is needed is a biocentric ethic that recognizes in every animal as well as humans, both ends and means. Conservation movements rest on insecure foundations as long as they do not go beyond instrumental ethics for their justification. In a world in which humans are fast annihilating other species, a conservation ethic requires that humans reduce their demands on the environment in favor of other species.

What is the New Perspective on Paul?

In the past week, I had two of my closest friends ask what on earth the New Perspective on Paul was about. I really did enjoy talking through some of the bigger issues like the shape of Paul’s theology, specifically his revised Jewish understanding of election, justification, and eschatology because of his central belief that Jesus was promised and long desired King of Israel. An exhaustive look at the NPP is something completely beyond me, but I am about 3/4 of the way through N.T. Wright’s massive book Paul and the Faithfulness of God. I also own, but have not read, James D.G. Dunn’s book entitled The New Perspective on Paul and E.P. Sander’s Paul and Palestinian Judaism. 

This short video features two well respected New Testament scholars, and also two of the important emerging voices from amongst the more properly titled New Perspectives on Paul (emphasis on the plural). You might note from their words that before there can be a NPP, the foundational work has to be in a new perspective of Judaism–which is why Sander’s book takes such an important role as an initiator of NPP studies. Let me know what you think:

John Stott: Death

“Death is unnatural and unpleasant. In one sense it presents us with a terrible finality. Death is the end. Yet in every situation death is the way to life. So if we want to live we must die. And we will be willing to die only when we see the glories of the life to which death leads. This is the radical, paradoxical Christian perspective. Truly Christian people are accurately described as ‘those who are alive from the dead.'”

-John Stott, The Radical Disciple

Seeing Christmas as gospel

Some of you may know that I enjoy, over and above all other topics surrounding theology (at least for now), I enjoy discussion about the Gospel. I was exuberant to know that it was going to be made my High School’s theme of the year my Senior year, and I’ve been equally pleased about my church’s emphasis on the Gospel. In the last year my pastor preached through the book of Luke, which was refreshing as it’s often neglected in our circles that see Paul’s epistles as the center of the Biblical Canon. I wanted to share with you on this Christmas Eve, some of my recent thoughts on the gospel and Christmas.

Some of you will recall when Jason Regnier and I spoke in Senior Chapel on redefining the Gospel. Really what we meant by choosing a title like that was that we, as a church, as evangelicals, in America, need to be thinking about rethinking how we talk about the Gospel, and what Jesus and Paul really meant with it.

Briefly then, I just want to clarify what has already been written and said elsewhere, and in doing so, show how Christmas is not merely an introduction, or a bit of rising action, but an essential part of the Gospel.

First, what is not the Gospel. Most people in the American church understand the gospel along these sort of lines: God mad us. He is holing and loving. We sinned, God’s wrath is against us, but he sent his son Christ to die in our place and become our sin. If we believe in his death and resurrection, his righteousness becomes ours and we can escape this world to be with him in heaven when we die.

That is what I have called the personal salvation gospel, Scot McKnight has called it more technically the soterian gospel. Of course everything I just mentioned as part of the soterian gospel is biblical truth (sort of, the parts about imputed righteousness and the platonic view of escaping this earth is less biblical, but i digress…). The big point here is this is not what the New Testament means by Gospel. It is only part, and this overemphasis of personal salvation swallows a much larger and richer story about King Jesus.

This Salvation-centered gospel is what we’ve been “evangelizing” people with for many years now. Let me share with you a statistic in Evangelical American Churches–the people that mainly preach the soterian gospel. 90% of the children in these churches pray the sinner’s prayer and make a decision for Jesus, asking him into their heart, etc. By age 35, less than 20% of those who prayed the sinner’s prayer have anything to do with the Church of Jesus. Here is the fact. Since the emergence of the personal salvation gospel, people are leaving the church in record numbers. I have argued quite lengthily elsewhere, that this is because the personal salvation gospel is good at coercing children into making decisions, but not at making lifelong disciples of Jesus. Primarily because it asks the wrong question: Do you want to be saved from eternal hell? The question the Gospel is really asking is: Who do you say Jesus is? Just as Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And they knew that by answering “you are the lord, and messiah…” that meant life was now going to be different.

On the basis of 1 Corinthians 15, the gospel sermons in Acts, and the gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, let me layout in brief the Gospel: The Gospel is the story of Israel coming to fulfillment in Jesus as Messiah–Jewish for King. The Jews of Jesus’ day were not waiting for God to send someone to get them into heaven and rescue them from earth, they were waiting for the second David, the ruler that would end Roman oppression.

How does this differ from the personal salvation gospel? The personal salvation gospel frames things in an individualistic, escape hell kind of way. The New Testament story of the Gospel is a story that comes to its fulfillment in the King Jesus, who will populate his Kingdom by saving a corporate body, a people of God, the now interlocked Israel and Church. If the Gospel is at its core fundamentally not about rescuing individual sinners, but rather a story that makes disciples, how can we see Christmas?

First, if the Gospel is the story of Jesus, then it follows that Christmas is indeed part of the Gospel. In the personal salvation gospel scheme, it would be just as well if Jesus had simply flown onto the cross. Ask yourself, for what you believe the Gospel is, does it matter if Jesus was born, or lived? Or does just the ending few chapters of the first four books of the NT all that matters? Christmas is the beginning of the story Gospel. If you think the gospel is about personal salvation, you might be puzzled about why Matthew begins his telling of the gospel with that long stuffy genealogy.

The genealogy has 3 main points. 1. Jesus is King-Jewish Messiah. 2. Jesus is a descendant of David. 3. Jesus is a descendant of Abraham. The Gospel, which is what Matthew is, is a declaration that Jesus is King, and the story of ho he became king. Genealogy in Jewish culture only mattered if you were royalty–this being confirmed by the presence of David, and with Abraham, this is the story of Israel, and really the world, because Abraham is classified as a proselyte–so a gentile.

What else is intriguing to me, and quite against the culture of the time, is the mention of 4 women. Each noted for what could be seen as sexual irregularity–setting the stage for Mary, the most irregular of all.

This is not an introduction that can be skipped over. Rather the genealogy in Matthew is an essential framework, a nutshell expression of the Gospel–as we’ve said, Jesus is King. At Christmas we are called to proclaim the Gospel story. This baby, son of Mary, is King, and Son of God. After 400 years of silence, God again comes to dwell with his people. Emmanuel. Matthew 2:1-12 is great here. Matthew is telling us about king Herod to say he is going down, and the son of Mary and Joseph is the reason why. Herod stews and plots, but he has completely failed to secure his rule. God’s promised Messiah will not be thwarted, and even when Rome’s cruelest torture is brought to bare on him, seeming to end his quest for Kingship, King Jesus shows this was the father’s plan all along. Through death, God has unleashed the Kingdom of life.

Merry Christmas!


*Scot McKnight and N.T. Wright have been major influences for some of the thoughts in this blog. McKnight’s book “King Jesus Gospel” and Wright’s “How God Became King” are excellent.

Thoughts on “Phil Robertson Suspended”

Phil Robertson, patriarch on A&E’s hit TV sensation “Duck Dynasty” is being suspended from the show indefinitely for making inappropriate comments that do not align with A&E’s own view. This morning Christians began rallying behind Phil Robertson and “took a stand with Phil.” To me this is utterly perplexing. For the most part, it seems that Christians are confused about what actually happened. Just to clarify, Phil Robertson is not being suspended for a belief that is contrary to A&E’s, he is being suspended for making crude comments. He is not being suspended for being a Christian, for quoting scripture, for proclaiming truth. No, far from it. Phil Robertson is being suspended because in a magazine interview he was asked, “What is sinful?” Phil Robertson responds: Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”and goes on to say: “it seems like, to me, a woman’s vagina, as a man, would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying?”

This is fascinating as an insight into the modern American Christian conception of what sin is: “Start with homosexuality”–as if to say that everything else comes after that or moves out from this point of inertia. This flies in the face of a Biblical view of sin which locates depravity and idolatry as the root, not homosexuality. Why do American Christians have such a fetish with homosexuality? It is hardly mentioned in the New Testament compared with sins like divorce, greed, lust in general, etc. Homosexuality as a great evil is an American Christian agenda, not an agenda of Jesus or Paul.

Next his statement makes horrible implications about how some Christians view homosexuality. Seeming to suggest that a gay man could just “wake up” to the attraction of the female body. That’s the whole thing about sexual attraction, though: you don’t choose it, and you can’t find something attractive that you don’t. If you tell me to wake up to the sexual attractiveness of a cardboard box, my feelings will not just change. Likewise, Phil’s statement implies that gay people can choose what they are attracted to. The room to debate this issue is becoming much smaller. See John Piper, Al Mohler and a host of others on this issue. It isn’t “just a lifestyle choice.” See what I’ve said elsewhere on this issue: https://austinholmes.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/homosexuality-the-evangelical-divide/

It should be noted that some of Phil’s response in regard to this explosion of controversy have been more decent. But all of those comment have been lost in the sea of Christians that have begun to speak out and voice their support for what Phil said and did, which in case you’ve forgotten, see his comments above. This move to position Phil as a figure head and martyr absolutely boggles my mind on several counts.

1.) If you really do care about the issue of homosexuality as it’s found in scripture, wouldn’t you want your opinion to be articulated humbly, lovingly, and well? The caricature we find in Phil’s statements doesn’t seem very well thought out, and certainly isn’t gracious.

2.) Homosexuality is an absolutely massive issue and opportunity for the Church to engage with culture in dialogue. But expressing polarizing views and using the “shock jock” rhetoric that Phil employs is not a way to get conversation going. In fact it does the opposite, solidifying the view of most gays that Christians are hateful bigots and then also making Christians bewilderingly passionate about a skewed issue. This is a mess all around.

3.) The Robertson’s are not living a life that is harmonious with the New Testament vision of Christian living. Their multimillionaire lifestyle combined with the large amount of money they seemingly spend on luxury and foolery might be entertaining, but it’s not Christian. IN fact, I would dare to say that their lifestyle is totally contradictory in a fundamental way to Paul’s idea of Christian life. Phil might want to see what the Bible says to the Christian about money, fading glory, and suffering.

4.) And for me this is the most irritating point. For two years now I have been wrestling with the question, “What is the Gospel?” I have lots of formulations in answer to this and an infinite amount still to read. But in his response, Phil at one point says he was just “standing for the gospel.” Homosexuality as a sin has Zero to do with the Gospel. Zero.

So much more can and should and will be said, but here’s a starting point. Please comment back and let’s flesh this out! Also, thanks to Adam Wagner for his contributions to this post and the much larger conversation about homosexuality. He has been a longtime friend and ally to me in the trenches for this fight! Cheers!

Christianity and Environmental Ethics

In my first semester of college at the University of Toledo this past Fall, I took PHIL 3180–a philosophy course on Environmental Ethics. This was somewhat by accident. I was the sole Freshman in the class of about 30, with all the others being Juniors and Seniors. Aside from the basic work load readiness, the others in the class were also mainly environmental science majors. I’m a History major, specializing in analysis and concepts, not science. This made the large volume of reading material a challenge to say the least. But I have to say, I loved the class. The professor was excellent. If you’re at UT and have the opportunity to take Dr. Ben Grazzini, you absolutely should. He seems to have a genuine concern for the well being of his students. I was really excited to hear back from him in an email last week where he told me that my term paper, “Concerning Christianity and Environmental Ethics” was one of the “most intellectually-curious non-obvious pieces of work” he had ever received from a student. Semester=made. Here is a PDF of my paper below! If you have any feedback or questions please comment! I’d love to flesh this out as much as possible. So much more to be said on this issue, but here’s a start: