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In praise of William Paley, a man much maligned

Left: An artistic portrayal of a toast. Hip hip horray! Artists celebrating at Skagen by Danish painter P. S. Kroyer, 1888. Gothenburg Museum of Art. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Right: Rev. William Paley (1743-1805), a man to whom I'd like to offer a posthumous toast. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thomism and Intelligent Design: MAIN PAGE Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 (current page) Page 5 Page 6 Page 7


Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding. I'd like to propose a toast to Rev. William Paley (1743-1805), a brilliantly lucid expositor of the Argument from Design and a man of courage, integrity and humanity.

In this post, I'm going to talk about Paley's famous (and much-misunderstood) Argument from Design. Despite the limpid clarity of Paley's prose in his Natural Theology, it is frequently misconstrued. In Section 2, I'll be puncturing twelve commonly accepted myths about Paley's design argument. In Sections 3 and 4, I'll be discussing what two Thomist professors have to say about Paley's argument from design.

Professor Edward Feser thinks Paley's argument from design actually takes us to a false god - a Demiurge, rather than a Deity - despite the fact that Paley himself argues for the existence of a transcendent Being, beyond space and time, Who maintains every creature in existence and Who is infinite in Wisdom, Power and Goodness. Feser also mistakenly thinks that Paley's argument is a merely probabilistic one, when in fact Paley declares over and over again that he intended it as a proof. I regret to say that Professor Feser has completely misread Paley's Natural Theology - which is quite an astonishing feat, as it is written in the clearest and most elegant language one could possibly hope for, in an argument for the existence of God. I'll be responding to Feser's criticisms in Section 3.

Professor Marie George, who is well-versed in the writings of Rev. William Paley, takes a much more synpathetic view of the man than Feser does. In a recent article entitled, "An Aristotelian-Thomist responds to Edward Feser's 'Teleology'", (Philosophia Christi, Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring 2010), she argues that Paley's and Aquinas' arguments are much closer than is commonly supposed. I'll be commenting on her claims in Section 4.

In Section 5, I shall address a question of historical interest: if the philosopher Paley wasn't a mechanist (as is commonly alleged), then who was? Which philosophers embraced this error? The answer, as it turns out, is that it was the philosophers of the seventeenth century who were the most enthusiastic proponents of mechanism - especially Descartes and Boyle.

But before I discuss Paley's Argument from Design and evaluate what Professors Feser and George have written about Paley, I'd like to say a little about the man himself.



1. Who was William Paley?


Left: Rock Pigeons feeding in the park of Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna. Image courtesy of Alexander Gamauf and Wikipedia.
Right: King George III, the monarch who excluded Rev. William Paley from the highest positions in the Church of England because of his progressive political views. Portrait by Allan Ramsay, 1762. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
William Paley is famous for his Parable of the Pigeons, criticizing the monopolization of power by kings. In the parable, Paley likened the human race to a flock of pigeons, gathering all the food they could collect into a heap without reserving anything for themselves, and being forced to give it all to one greedy pigeon in the flock. King George III blocked Paley's promotion because he found the parable so offensive.


William Paley (1743-1805) was an English Christian apologist, theologian and philosopher who is best known today for his 1802 work, Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature, in which he put forward a teleological argument for the existence of God. Other popular works of Paley's include his The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (1785) and his A View of the Evidences of Christianity (1794). After graduating from Christ's College, University of Cambridge, in 1763, Paley was elected a fellow of the College in 1766 and became a tutor there in 1768, teaching moral philosophy, divinity and the Greek New Testament. In 1767, Paley was ordained an Anglican priest, and in later life, he served numerous parishes, becoming Archdeacon of Carlisle in 1782 and subdean of Lincoln Cathedral in 1795.


There's a lot to like about William Paley. American readers will like him, since he enthusiastically supported the American colonies during their War of Independence.

Civil rights advocates will like him too, as he was a tireless campaigner against the evil of slavery.

People who oppose religious bigotry should admire Paley, as well. In his classic work, Natural Theology (1802), he expressed the hope that "That part of mankind which never heard of Christ's name, may nevertheless be redeemed, that is, be placed in a better condition, with respect to their future state, by his intervention" (Chapter XXVI, p. 530).



Paley's political views: progressive but not radical

The following extract from Paley's Wikipedia biography conveys his political views, which were strikingly progressive for his day:

Paley strenuously supported the abolition of the slave trade, and his attack on slavery in the book was instrumental in drawing greater public attention to the evil trade. In 1789 a speech he gave on the subject in Carlisle was published.

Some of his other political, social and economic ideas are remarkably advanced. He defends the right of the poor to steal, particularly if they are in need of food, and proposes a graduated income tax in order to limit excessive accumulations of wealth in few hands. He was also an advocate of enabling women to take up careers, rather than perpetually to depend on the property owned and inherited by male relations. (He was well aware of the fact that women lower in the social scale worked - his argument was with the system which prevented talented and capable middle-class women from taking a role in the economy.)

Paley's famous, and controversial, fable of the pigeons, which has a strong criticism of the system of property ownership and of the draconian means used to defend it - the Bloody Code - is found in Book III of [Paley's 1785 work,] Principles [of Moral and Political Philosophy]. John Law tried to get Paley to remove the passage, because it would prevent him becoming a bishop. Paley refused.

His political views are said to have debarred him from the highest positions in the Church, the King, George III, at one point saying, Pigeon Paley? Not sound, not sound. Even so, he was offered the Mastership of Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1789, by the Bishop of Ely, but he turned it down, being content with his life in Carlisle, and not wishing to disrupt his children's education. John Law observed at this time that "Paley has missed a mitre".

Readers might be curious to learn more about Paley's fable of the pigeons, so I've decided to reproduce it in full:


Paley's fable of the pigeons
"If you should see a flock of pigeons in a field of corn; and if (instead of each picking where and what it liked, taking just as much as it wanted, and no more) you should see ninety-nine of them gathering all they got, into a heap; reserving nothing for themselves, but the chaff and the refuse; keeping this heap for one, and that the weakest, perhaps worst, pigeon of the flock; sitting round, and looking on, all the winter, whilst this one was devouring, throwing about, and wasting it; and if a pigeon more hardy or hungry than the rest, touched a grain of the hoard, all the others instantly flying upon it, and tearing it to pieces; if you should see this, you would see nothing more than what is every day practised and established among men. Among men, you see the ninety-and-nine toiling and scraping together a heap of superfluities for one (and this one too, oftentimes the feeblest and worst of the whole set, a child, a woman, a madman, or a fool); getting nothing for themselves all the while, but a little of the coarsest of the provision, which their own industry produces; looking quietly on, while they see the fruits of all their labour spent or spoiled; and if one of the number take or touch a particle of the hoard, the others joining against him, and hanging him for the theft."
(The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, Book III, Chapter 1, 1785.)


No doubt about it, the man certainly had a way with words.

I should point out that Paley was a staunch supporter of property rights, which he argued for very cogently in Book III, Chapter 2 of The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (1785). Paley was certainly no political radical: he did not support the French Revolution, and in his work, Reasons for Contentment: Addressed to the labouring part of the British public (F. Jollie, 1792), he urged workers to be satisfied with their lot in life, on the grounds that a life of labor "is attended with greater alacrity of spirits, a more constant chearfulness and serenity of temper" than the lifestyle of the rich.

Paley's belief that the poor have the right to steal from the rich in times of urgent necessity did not make him into a nineteenth century Robin Hood. What he actually wrote in Book II, Chapter 11 of The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy was that in a situation of "extreme necessity," each of us has "a right to take, without or against the owner's leave, the first food, clothes, or shelter, we meet with, when we are in danger of perishing through want of them." Such a statement can be paralleled by the declaration of St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica II-II q. 66 art. 7 (ad. 2, ad. 3), that "It is not theft, properly speaking, to take secretly and use another's property in a case of extreme need: because that which he takes for the support of his life becomes his own property by reason of that need," and "In a case of a like need a man may also take secretly another's property in order to succor his neighbor in need." (See here for a long list of Catholic theologians from the fourth century onward, who thought likewise.)

Paley's support of a graduated income tax was hardly radical either. If one examines his discussion of taxation in Book VI, Chapter 11 of The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy it turns out that he was considering the effects of a 10% tax, levied upon the wealthy, who could afford to pay it much more easily than people of other classes. Readers who are well-versed in history will of course be aware that tax rates in Paley's day were much lower than they are now. According to Brian Roach's well-researched History of taxation in the United States, even during the American Civil War, "income tax rates were low by modern standards – a maximum rate of 10% along with generous exemptions meant that only about 10% of households were subject to any income tax." Indeed, as late as 1915, the top marginal tax rate was only 7%. It was only during the Woodrow Wilson administration that marginal tax rates skyrocketed to 73%, according to economist Thomas Sowell.



Paley's design argument: how well has it withstood the test of time?

Left: An eighteenth century portrait of David Hume. Scottish National Gallery. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Right: Portrait of Charles Darwin, by George Richmond. Late 1830s. Image courtesy of Richard Leakey, Roger Lewin and Wikipedia.
Hume and Darwin are both popularly supposed to have refuted Paley's arguments. I argue below that this supposition is mistaken.


I wasn't always a William Paley fan, and I've only recently read his Natural Theology myself. Having read it, I have to say that I was profoundly impressed by the clarity of Paley's style and the cleverness of his argument.

Neo-Darwinists often claim that Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species, published in 1859, decisively refuted Paley's argument for a Designer, once and for all. For my part, I think Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection made a relatively minor dent in Paley's case. In a nutshell, Paley's argument is that intelligent agency is the only process adequate to account for the origin of what he calls contrivances - that is, systems whose parts are intricately arranged and co-ordinated to subserve some common end. (For the purposes of Paley's argument, it is utterly irrelevant whether this end is intrinsic to the parts in question, as in a living organism, or extrinsic, as in an artifact.) What Charles Darwin did was to put forward a mechanism (natural selection) which is capable (in principle) of explaining how one complex, highly co-ordinated system of parts which assists an organism's survival could, over millions of years, gradually evolve into another complex system serving an altogether different purpose, through an undirected ("blind") process. (Of course, such an evolutionary transformation can only occur if there is a viable pathway between the two systems, which blind processes are capable of traversing without any intelligent guidance.) What Darwin did not show, however, is how the fundamental biochemical systems upon which all organisms rely for their survival, could have came into existence, in the first place. We might refer to these fundamental systems in Nature as Paley's original contrivances. These contrivances cannot be explained away as modifications of pre-existing biological systems, since by definition, anything that preceded them was not viable. Some Neo-Darwinists have hypothesized that autocatalytic reactions, by creating more and more complex arrangements of parts, could have given rise to these original contrivances over millions of years. But this proposal ignores the most fundamental characteristic of living things: their teleology. How did these arrangements of parts come to serve a common end? A telos is not the sort of thing that comes in halves; a biochemical system either has it or it doesn't. I conclude that Paley's argument from design remains essentially intact. The origin of teleological systems without a Designer remains as inexplicable as it was in Paley's day.

Evolutionists still have one ace up their sleeve, however: the Scottish empiricist philosopher David Hume is widely supposed to have refuted Paley's argument from design on philosophical grounds. The supposition is absurdly anachronistic: Hume died in 1776, and his posthumous Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion were published in 1779, but Paley's Natural Theology was not published until 1802. Paley had read Hume's Dialogues; indeed, he even refers in passing to "Mr. Hume, in his posthumous dialogues" on page 512 of Chapter XXVI of his Natural Theology. Moreover, a careful examination of Paley's design argument shows that he had anticipated and responded to Hume's main criticisms. For the purposes of this post, I'd just like to draw attention to one major difference between the design argument put forward by the character Cleanthes (and subsequently refuted by Philo) in Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and the design argument formulated by Paley. As Professor John Wright has pointed out in some online remarks on Hume's Dialogues, Cleanthes' design argument was an inductive argument based on an analogy between human artifacts (which we observe being produced by intelligent agents) and the machines we find in Nature, whereas Paley argued that we could immediately infer Intelligent Design from any machine we happen to find:

Paley thinks we infer the existence of an intelligent cause immediately from the observation of the machine itself. According to the argument which Cleanthes puts forward, the only reason we ascribe an intelligent cause to machines like watches, is because we discover from observation that they are created by beings with thought, wisdom and intelligence. (Paley had read Hume and was obviously aware of this difference in their arguments: see his answer to his first Objection.)

For Paley the inference from watch to intelligent watchmaker is no different from the inference from complex natural organisms to an intelligent designer. He is just trying to show you can make the same inference in both cases. For Cleanthes, on the other hand, it is important that we observe the maker in the case of the human productions and we do not in the case of the productions of nature. We observe the effects in both cases and that they are somewhat similar to each other. But we never observe the cause in the case of natural machines: it is only inferred through the scientific principle "like effects, like causes." Cleanthes draws the conclusion that the cause of natural machines something like a human mind, but very much greater.

Cleanthes' argument is a genuine inductive argument, based on observation of the relation of cause and effect in the case of human production; Paley's is not.


There are of course many other objections which Hume marshals against the design argument, relating to the imperfections found in living things, the possibility that Nature may be capable of creating order by itself through some process as yet unknown to us, and the impossibility of inferring whether there is one Designer or several, or whether the Designer is benevolent, malevolent or indifferent. Suffice it to say that Paley addresses these objections at considerable length in his book. Another popular undergraduate-level objection, that living things reproduce and watches don't, is rebutted by Paley in Chapter II of his Natural Theology, in a devastatingly incisive fashion.

In the end, it seems to me that the fundamental disagreement between Hume and Paley is an epistemic one: it boils down to what justifies us in inferring the existence of an intelligent agent. Hume thinks that no structure, however complex it may be, can warrant a design inference on its own, and that we are only warranted in making such an inference if we know something about the goals, modus operandi and modus vivendi of the alleged designers; whereas Paley thinks that a system's having the property of being a contrivance is enough to warrant the inferential leap that it was designed.



Paley's final years

Left: Lincoln Cathedral (Western entrance). Image courtesy of Anthony Shreeve and Wikipedia.
Right: Lincoln Cathedral (view of the nave). Image courtesy of Tilman2007 and Wikipedia.
William Paley was appointed sub-dean of Lincoln Cathedral in 1795, ten years before his death, in recognition of his outstanding services to Christian apologetics, after having published A View of the Evidences of Christianity (1794), in which he argued for the truth of Christianity based on his understanding of historical evidence. Paley's work was considered to be of such excellent quality that it was added to the examinations at Cambridge, remaining on the syllabus until the 1920s.


Despite missing out on ecclesiastical promotion to the rank of bishop, Paley was showered with good fortune in the final years of his life, according to his Wikipedia biography:

For his services in defence of the faith, with the publication of the Evidences, the Bishop of London gave him a stall in St Paul's; the Bishop of Lincoln made him subdean of that cathedral, and the Bishop of Durham conferred upon him the rectory of Bishopwearmouth. The income he drew from these positions alone would have made him one of the wealthiest clergymen in England - wealthier than many bishops, and even some noblemen. But he also inherited several thousand pounds from his father-in-law, a commercial magnate, in the same year.


Paley's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography (vol. 43, pp. 100 ff.) is well worth a read, for those who are interested in learning more about the man and his ideas.



Paley's courage in the face of severe pain

What I found most moving, when researching Paley's life, was the fact that Paley wrote his Natural Theology, in which he not only argued for the existence of God, but defended His omnibenevolence, while he was suffering from kidney disease. He was frequently in great pain, and he had to write his Natural Theology during the brief intermissions from the pain he suffered. A lesser man might have been tempted to doubt the goodness of his Creator, but not Paley. He managed to rise above his illness, and pen the following passage, in which he explained why even pain provides us with an excellent argument for God's goodness:

Pain also itself is not without its alleviations. It may be violent and frequent; but it is seldom both violent and long-continued: and its pauses and intermissions become positive pleasures. It has the power of shedding a satisfaction over intervals of ease, which, I believe, few enjoyments exceed. A man resting from a fit of the stone or gout, is, for the time, in possession of feelings which undisturbed health cannot impart. They may be dearly bought, but still they are to be set against the price. And, indeed, it depends upon the duration and urgency of the pain, whether they be dearly bought or not. I am far from being sure, that a man is not a gainer by suffering a moderate interruption of bodily ease for a couple of hours out of the four-and-twenty. Two very common observations favour this opinion: one is, that remissions of pain call forth, from those who experience them, stronger expressions of satisfaction and of gratitude towards both the author and the instruments of their relief, than are excited by advantages of any other kind; the second is, that the spirits of sick men do not sink in proportion to the acuteness of their sufferings; but rather appear to be roused and supported, not by pain, but by the high degree of comfort which they derive from its cessation, or even its subsidency, whenever that occurs: and which they taste with a relish, that diffuses some portion of mental complacency over the whole of that mixed state of sensations in which disease has placed them.
(Natural Theology, 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, pp. 497-498)


The following passage attests to Paley's sunny disposition, even in the midst of affliction:

It is a happy world after all. The air, the earth, the water, teem with delighted existence. In a spring noon, or a summer evening, on whichever side I turn my eyes, myriads of happy beings crowd upon my view. "The insect youth are on the wing." Swarms of newborn flies are trying their pinions in the air. Their sportive motions, their wanton mazes, their gratuitous activity, their continual change of place without use or purpose, testify their joy, and the exultation which they feel in their lately discovered faculties. A bee amongst the flowers in spring, is one of the most cheerful objects that can be looked upon. Its life appears to be all enjoyment; so busy, and so pleased: yet it is only a specimen of insect life, with which, by reason of the animal being half domesticated, we happen to be better acquainted than we are with that of others. The whole winged insect tribe, it is probable, are equally intent upon their proper employments, and, under every variety of constitution, gratified, and perhaps equally gratified, by the offices which the Author of their nature has assigned to them.
(Natural Theology, 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, pp. 456-457.)


Without further ado, I'd now like to move on to discuss Paley's design argument.



2. Twelve myths about Paley's design argument, or: Why everything you thought you knew about Paley's Natural Theology is wrong

If you've read anything about Paley's "design argument" for the existence of God, then you've probably heard it expressed in the following garbled form:

Rev. William Paley argued that there were strong similarities between complex structures that we find in Nature (such as the eye) and human artifacts, such as a watch. The human eye is like a machine, he claimed. So are the other organs of the body. But we already know from observation that mechanical artifacts, such as watches, are invariably designed by intelligent beings - namely, human beings. Operating on the principle, "like effects, like causes," we can infer by analogy that complex organs, such as the eye, were probably made by an Intelligent Designer, Who is like a human being, but much, much smarter. Since this inference is based on an inductive argument (rather than a deductive one) which makes use of an analogy, its conclusion is not absolutely certain. Nevertheless, maintained Paley, it is extremely probable that an Intelligent Designer exists. Paley then went on to argue that since the whole world is rather like a giant watch, we may legitimately conclude that the universe was made by a Designer - a Cosmic Watchmaker, if you like.

You've probably read about Hume's devastating rebuttal of the Design argument, which goes like this:

There are several flaws in Paley's Design argument, which were pointed out by the eighteenth century Scottish philosopher, David Hume.

First, Paley's "watch analogy" for complex natural systems was never a very good one in the first place. The eye isn't a watch, and neither is the universe. The numerous disanalogies between complex natural structures (such as the eye) and a human artifact, undermine the inference that these natural structures were designed. The design inference is even weaker when we examine the universe as a whole: in reality, it is nothing like a watch.

Second, the numerous defects that we find in the organs of living things constitute powerful evidence against the hypothesis that they were designed by an Intelligent Creator.

Third, even if we had good evidence for an Intelligent Designer of Nature, our experience tells us that intelligent designers are invariably complex entities, so we would then have to ask: who designed the Designer? And who designed the Designer's Designer? And so on, ad infinitum. Wouldn't it be more rational, then, to simply say that Nature is self-ordering, instead of opening the door to an infinite regress of designers, which in the end, explains nothing?

Fourth, even if we could establish the existence of a Designer of Nature who can somehow avoid this infinite regress, we would still faced with another question: how can the Designer of Nature be a bodiless agent, as theists maintain? Our experience tells us that intelligent agents are always embodied beings, and nobody has ever seen a disembodied agent making anything. There is no good evidence for spooks. The notion of a spiritual Designer is therefore both absurd and unsupported by any credible evidence.

Fifth, even if could make sense of the notion of a spiritual Designer, how can we be sure that there's only one Designer of Nature? Might there not be many designers, as polytheism supposes?

Sixth, even if we could establish the unity of the Cosmic Watchmaker, such a Being would not need to be continually involved with the cosmos; maybe He created its complex systems at some point in the past, but He no longer interacts with the cosmos. So how do we know that the Designer of the cosmos is still alive?

Seventh, even if He still exists, we have no way of knowing whether the Cosmic Designer is a personal Being; for all we know, the Designer might be an impersonal force, like Spinoza's Deity.

Finally, even if we could establish that the Designer is a personal Being, there is no way of demonstrating that He is infinitely powerful, wise or good. The effects we see in Nature are finite, and from a finite effect, it is illicit to infer the existence of an Infinite Cause.

We can only conclude, then, that Rev. William Paley's identification of the Designer of Nature with the God of Judaism and Christianity in his Natural Theology is utterly unwarranted: it is a gigantic leap of faith which defies the laws of logic.

The above exposition of Paley's design argument contains several errors, which I've collected together under the heading of twelve myths, which are commonly found in discussions of Paley's argument for God's existence.


Myth One: Paley likens the world to a giant watch in his Natural Theology.

Fact: Paley explicitly rejected the analogy between the world and a watch, in his Natural Theology. He points out that when making design inferences, "we deduce design from relation, aptitude, and correspondence of parts." However, "the heavenly bodies do not, except perhaps in the instance of Saturn's ring, present themselves to our observation as compounded of parts at all," since they appear to be quite simple and undifferentiated in their internal structure (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, p. 379). When discussing the movements of the heavenly bodies, he writes: "Even those things which are made to imitate and represent them, such as orreries, planetaria, celestial globes, &c. bear no affinity to them, in the cause and principle by which their motions are actuated" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, p. 379) - the reason being that the mechanism of a watch requires that its parts be in physical contact with one another, whereas the gravitational influence exerted by one heavenly body on another is action at a distance.

Indeed, nowhere in his Natural Theology deos Paley declare that the world is like a watch. The closest statement I can find is his declaration, "The universe itself is a system; each part either depending upon other parts, or being connected with other parts by some common law of motion, or by the presence of some common substance" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXV, pp. 449-450). To be sure, Paley does argue that "In the works of nature we trace mechanism" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pp. 416-418), but he never declares that Nature itself is one giant mechanism. Rather, Paley's proof of God was based on the existence of mechanisms (plural) occurring in the natural world.

What Paley does liken to watches are the biological structures (such as the eye) that we find in the natural world. For example, he writes that "very 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 and more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation," and in the same passage he adds that "here is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision, as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, pp. 17-18). Elsewhere, when discussing the example of the eye and other organs, he writes: "If there were but one watch in the world, it would not be less certain that it had a maker... Of this point, each machine is a proof, independently of all the rest. So it is with the evidences of a Divine agency... The eye proves it without the ear; the ear without the eye" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VI, pages 76-77).



Myth Two: Paley's argument for a Designer in his Natural Theology is an argument from analogy.

Fact: Paley's argument is not based on any analogy. He doesn't say that the complex organs found in living things are like artifacts; he says that they are the same as artifacts in certain vital respects. In particular, these complex organs share several common properties with artifacts: "properties, such as relation to an end, relation of parts to one another, and to a common purpose" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 413), or as he puts it elsewhere, "[a]rrangement, disposition of parts, subserviency of means to an end, [and] relation of instruments to a use" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter II, p. 11). Paley refers to the organs of the body as "contrivances," precisely because they share these vital properties with man-made artifacts. (For the benefit of Thomist readers who may be wondering, I should point out that Paley is fully aware of the teleology of living things, and that he repeatedly refers to "final causes" in his Natural Theology.)

Next, Paley argues that intelligence is the only known adequate cause of objects possessing the combination of properties found in artifacts and complex organs. Our experience tells us that that no other cause, apart from intelligence, is capable of producing effects possessing these properties. Paley concludes that the complex organs of living creatures (such as the eye) must therefore have had an Intelligent Designer. In his own words: "We see intelligence constantly contriving, that is, we see intelligence constantly producing effects, marked and distinguished by certain properties; not certain particular properties, but by a kind and class of properties, such as relation to an end, relation of parts to one another, and to a common purpose. We see, wherever we are witnesses to the actual formation of things, nothing except intelligence producing effects so marked and distinguished. Furnished with this experience, we view the productions of nature. We observe them also marked and distinguished in the same manner. We wish to account for their origin. Our experience suggests a cause perfectly adequate to this account. No experience, no single instance or example, can be offered in favour of any other. In this cause therefore we ought to rest" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 413-414).

For Paley, the inference to design, upon seeing a contrivance, is immediate:

This mechanism being observed (it requires indeed an examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed and understood), the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker...

Nor would it, I apprehend, weaken the conclusion, that we had never seen a watch made; that we had never known an artist capable of making one; that we were altogether incapable of executing such a piece of workmanship ourselves, or of understanding in what manner it was performed...

Ignorance of this kind exalts our opinion of the unseen and unknown artist's skill, if he be unseen and unknown, but raises no doubt in our minds of the existence and agency of such an artist, at some former time, and in some place or other. (Chapter I, pp. 3-4)



Myth Three: Paley put forward an inductive argument for a Designer: because there are complex systems in Nature which resemble human artifacts, which are made by intelligent agents, we can infer that an Intelligent Designer made Nature's complex systems.

Fact: Paley himself declares on several occasions that his argument for a Designer of Nature is a deductive argument. Thomist scholar Del Ratzsch, in his article on Teleological Arguments for God's Existence in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, also acknowledges that Paley's argument is a deductive one. Paley provides abundant confirmation of this fact in his Natural Theology. For example, he writes of "the marks of contrivance discoverable in animal bodies, and to the argument deduced from them, in proof of design, and of a designing Creator" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter IV, p. 67). Nowhere in his Natural Theology does Paley ever describe his argument as an inductive one.

The premises of Paley's deductive argument are as follows. First, we know that intelligent agents are capable of producing effects marked by the three properties of (i) relation to an end, (ii) relation of the parts to one another, and (iii) possession of a common purpose.

Second, no other cause has ever been observed to produce effects possessing these three properties.

We are therefore entitled to conclude that if there are systems in Nature possessing these same three properties, then the only cause that is adequate to account for these natural effects is an Intelligent Agent.



Myth Four: Paley's argument for God in his Natural Theology is a merely probabilistic argument, rather than a demonstrative proof.

Fact: Paley explicitly states, over and over again, that he views his argument for a Designer not as a merely probabilistic argument, but as a proof, whose conclusion was certain and indubitable. For example, in his discussion of the ligament of the ball-and-socket joint of the thigh, Paley declares that it provides us with unequivocal proof of a Creator: "If I had been permitted to frame a proof of contrivance, such as might satisfy the most distrustful inquirer, I know not whether I could have chosen an example of mechanism more unequivocal, or more free from objection, than this ligament" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VIII, pp. 112-113). After describing the circulation of the blood, he writes: "Can any one doubt of contrivance here; or is it possible to shut our eyes against the proof of it?" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter X, p. 161).

Finally, in summing up his case, Paley wrote:

For my part, I take my stand in human anatomy: and the examples of mechanism I should be apt to draw out from the copious catalogue, which it supplies, are the pivot upon which the head turns, the ligament within the socket of the hip-joint, the pulley or trochlear muscles of the eye, the epiglottis, the bandages which tie down the tendons of the wrist and instep, the slit or perforated muscles at the hands and feet, the knitting of the intestines to the mesentery, the course of the chyle into the blood, and the constitution of the sexes as extended throughout the whole of the animal creation. To these instances, the reader's memory will go back, as they are severally set forth in their places; there is not one of the number which I do not think decisive; not one which is not strictly mechanical; nor have I read or heard of any solution of these appearances, which, in the smallest degree, shakes the conclusion that we build upon them.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, p. 536).



Myth Five: Paley overlooked the numerous disanalogies between complex natural structures (such as the eye) and a human artifact, such as a watch. Additionally, his watch analogy for the cosmos was a very poor one.

Fact: As I demonstrated in my reply to Myth One above, Paley never likened the universe to a watch, so the objection against his watch analogy for the cosmos rests on a false premise.

As regards the organs of living things, Paley did indeed compare them to watches, but as I pointed out in my response to Myth Two above, Paley did not declare that the complex organs found in living things are like artifacts; rather, he says that they are the same as artifacts in certain vital respects. In particular, these complex organs share several common properties with artifacts: "properties, such as relation to an end, relation of parts to one another, and to a common purpose" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 413).

In a telling passage, Paley compares the eye to a telescope, and argues that despite the evident dissimilarities between the two, their common possession of the three properties described above, which characterize what he calls contrivances, warrants the inference that they were both intelligently designed:

As far as the examination of the instrument goes, there is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision, as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it...

To some it may appear a difference sufficient to destroy all similitude between the eye and the telescope, that the one is a perceiving organ, the other an unperceiving instrument. The fact is, that they are both instruments. And, as to the mechanism, at least as to mechanism being employed, and even as to the kind of it, this circumstance varies not the analogy at all. For observe, what the constitution of the eye is. It is necessary, in order to produce distinct vision, that an image or picture of the object be formed at the bottom of the eye. Whence this necessity arises, or how the picture is connected with the sensation, or contributes to it, it may be difficult, nay we will confess, if you please, impossible for us to search out. But the present question is not concerned in the inquiry...

In the example before us, it is a matter of certainty, because it is a matter which experience and observation demonstrate, that the formation of an image at the bottom of the eye is necessary to perfect vision... The formation then of such an image being necessary (no matter how) to the sense of sight, and to the exercise of that sense, the apparatus by which it is formed is constructed and put together, not only with infinitely more art, but upon the self-same principles of art, as in the telescope or the camera obscura. The perception arising from the image may be laid out of the question; for the production of the image, these are instruments of the same kind. The end is the same; the means are the same. The purpose in both is alike; the contrivance for accomplishing that purpose is in both alike. The lenses of the telescope, and the humours of the eye, bear a complete resemblance to one another, in their figure, their position, and in their power over the rays of light, viz. in bringing each pencil to a point at the right distance from the lens; namely, in the eye, at the exact place where the membrane is spread to receive it. How is it possible, under circumstances of such close affinity, and under the operation of equal evidence, to exclude contrivance from the one; yet to acknowledge the proof of contrivance having been employed, as the plainest and clearest of all propositions, in the other?
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, pp. 18-21)



Myth Six: Paley failed to address the argument that the numerous defects that we find in the organs of living things constitute powerful evidence against the hypothesis that they were designed by an Intelligent Creator.

Fact: Paley addressed this objection in the very first chapter of his Natural Theology, where he argued that someone who came across a watch lying in a field would still infer that it was designed, even if it contained defects. A badly designed object is still a designed object. In Chapter V, he returned to the objection, and allowed that imperfections might call God's skill, power or benevolence into question, but even so, countervailing evidence that convincingly attests to God's omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence could outweigh the evidence against God's wisdom, power and goodness from the natural evils we observe in the world:

Neither, secondly, would it invalidate our conclusion, that the watch sometimes went wrong, or that it seldom went exactly right. The purpose of the machinery, the design, and the designer, might be evident, and in the case supposed would be evident, in whatever way we accounted for the irregularity of the movement, or whether we could account for it or not. It is not necessary that a machine be perfect, in order to show with what design it was made: still less necessary, where the only question is, whether it were made with any design at all.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter I, pp. 4-5)


When we are inquiring simply after the existence of an intelligent Creator, imperfection, inaccuracy, liability to disorder, occasional irregularities, may subsist in a considerable degree, without inducing any doubt into the question: just as a watch may frequently go wrong, seldom perhaps exactly right, may be faulty in some parts, defective in some, without the smallest ground of suspicion from thence arising that it was not a watch; not made; or not made for the purpose ascribed to it...

Irregularities and imperfections are of little or no weight in the consideration, when that consideration relates simply to the existence of a Creator. When the argument respects his attributes, they are of weight; but are then to be taken in conjunction ... with the unexceptionable evidences which we possess, of skill, power, and benevolence, displayed in other instances; which evidences may, in strength; number, and variety, be such, and may so overpower apparent blemishes, as to induce us, upon the most reasonable ground, to believe, that these last ought to be referred to some cause, though we be ignorant of it, other than defect of knowledge or of benevolence in the author.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter V, pp. 56-58)



Myth Seven: Paley's Intelligent Designer would still have to be complex, which means that on Paley's own logic, He would need to be designed, too.

Fact: Paley was well-aware of Hume's "infinite regress" objection, which has been popularized in our own day by Professor Richard Dawkins. He refuted it by denying its initial premise: he contended that the Designer must be immaterial and could not be composed of any complex contrivance of parts. Thus Paley's Designer is an immaterial, simple Being:

Of this however we are certain, that whatever the Deity be, neither the universe, nor any part of it which we see, can be He. The universe itself is merely a collective name: its parts are all which are real; or which are things. Now inert matter is out of the question: and organized substances include marks of contrivance. But whatever includes marks of contrivance, whatever, in its constitution, testifies design, necessarily carries us to something beyond itself, to some other being, to a designer prior to, and out of, itself. No animal, for instance, can have contrived its own limbs and senses; can have been the author to itself of the design with which they were constructed. That supposition involves all the absurdity of self-creation, i. e. of acting without existing. Nothing can be God, which is ordered by a wisdom and a will, which itself is void of; which is indebted for any of its properties to contrivance ab extra. The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see. Which consideration contains the answer to a question that has sometimes been asked, namely, Why, since something or other must have existed from eternity, may not the present universe be that something? The contrivance perceived in it, proves that to be impossible. Nothing contrived, can, in a strict and proper sense, be eternal, forasmuch as the contriver must have existed before the contrivance.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412).



Myth Eight: Paley fails to address Hume's objection that in our experience, intelligent designers are always embodied beings, so the Intelligent Designer of Nature would need to be one, too.

Fact: Paley put forward two arguments for God's spirituality in his Natural Theology. First, he argued (following the opinion of most scientists of his day), that matter is essentially inert, in the sense that it is unable to make something move, unless something else first moves it. It follows that the ultimate source of motion in the cosmos must be something immaterial, or spiritual:

"Spirituality" expresses an idea, made up of a negative part, and of a positive part. The negative part consists in the exclusion of some of the known properties of matter, especially of solidity, of the vis inertiae, and of gravitation. The positive part comprises perception, thought, will, power, action, by which last term is meant, the origination of motion; the quality, perhaps, in which resides the essential superiority of spirit over matter, "which cannot move, unless it be moved; and cannot but move, when impelled by another (Note: Bishop Wilkins's Principles of Natural Religion, p. 106.)." I apprehend that there can be no difficulty in applying to the Deity both parts of this idea.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 448).

Second, Paley contended that the Designer of Nature could not be composed of any matter that was organized into contrivances made up of interacting parts, because then He would have to have been designed by some entity outside Himself, which would mean that He would no longer be self-existent:

Of this however we are certain, that whatever the Deity be, neither the universe, nor any part of it which we see, can be He. The universe itself is merely a collective name: its parts are all which are real; or which are things. Now inert matter is out of the question: and organized substances include marks of contrivance. But whatever includes marks of contrivance, whatever, in its constitution, testifies design, necessarily carries us to something beyond itself, to some other being, to a designer prior to, and out of, itself. No animal, for instance, can have contrived its own limbs and senses; can have been the author to itself of the design with which they were constructed. That supposition involves all the absurdity of self-creation, i. e. of acting without existing. Nothing can be God, which is ordered by a wisdom and a will, which itself is void of; which is indebted for any of its properties to contrivance ab extra. The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412).



Myth Nine: Paley's Design argument fails to establish that there's only one designer of Nature.

Fact: In his Natural Theology, Paley argued that the uniformity of the laws of Nature constituted the best evidence of the Creator's unity:

Of the "Unity of the Deity," the proof is, the uniformity of plan observable in the universe. The universe itself is a system; each part either depending upon other parts, or being connected with other parts by some common law of motion, or by the presence of some common substance...

In our own globe, the case is clearer... We never get amongst such original, or totally different, modes of existence, as to indicate, that we are come into the province of a different Creator, or under the direction of a different will. In truth, the same order of things attend us, wherever we go.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXV, pp. 449-450)

The works of nature want only to be contemplated... We have proof, not only of both these works proceeding from an intelligent agent, but of their proceeding from the same agent; for, in the first place, we can trace an identity of plan, a connexion of system, from Saturn to our own globe: and when arrived upon our globe, we can, in the second place, pursue the connexion through all the organized, especially the animated, bodies which it supports. We can observe marks of a common relation, as well to one another, as to the elements of which their habitation is composed. Therefore one mind hath planned, or at least hath prescribed, a general plan for all these productions. One Being has been concerned in all.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, pp. 540-541)



Myth Ten: Paley's God in his Natural Theology was only required to wind up the clockmaker universe at the beginning; after that, He is redundant, so we can't be sure if He still exists or not.

Fact: Paley, like most of his contemporaries, believed that a material object is incapable of making another object move, unless it is moved by something else. As he puts it, matter "cannot move, unless it be moved; and cannot but move, when impelled by another" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412). Since bodies are incapable of initiating motion, Paley concludes that the bodies in the cosmos can only act upon each other if something immaterial is continually acting on them. We also find that bodies throughout the natural world whose parts are arranged in a complex manner, enabling them to work together for a common end. Experience tells us that intelligent agency is the only cause which is capable of producing systems with this combination of properties. From this, we may deduce that the Immaterial Agent that keeps the world moving is also an Intelligent Agent. In Paley's words: "In the works of nature we trace mechanism; and this alone proves contrivance: but living, active, moving, productive nature, proves also the exertion of a power at the centre: for, wherever the power resides, may be denominated the centre" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 418).

Another problem with the objection is that it assumes Paley thought he could prove the universe had a beginning. In fact, he argued that even if it were eternal, it would still require a Designer:

Nor is any thing gained by running the difficulty farther back, i. e. by supposing the watch before us to have been produced from another watch, that from a former, and so on indefinitely. Our going back ever so far, brings us no nearer to the least degree of satisfaction upon the subject. Contrivance is still unaccounted for. We still want a contriver. A chain, composed of an infinite number of links, can no more support itself, than a chain composed of a finite number of links. (Chapter II, pp. 12-13)

The machine which we are inspecting, demonstrates, by its construction, contrivance and design. Contrivance must have had a contriver; design, a designer; whether the machine immediately proceeded from another machine or not. That circumstance alters not the case. That other machine may, in like manner, have proceeded from a former machine: nor does that alter the case; contrivance must have had a contriver. That former one from one preceding it: no alteration still; a contriver is still necessary. No tendency is perceived, no approach towards a diminution of this necessity. It is the same with any and every succession of these machines; a succession of ten, of a hundred, of a thousand; with one series, as with another; a series which is finite, as with a series which is infinite. (Chapter II, pp. 13-14)

Our observer would further also reflect, that the maker of the watch before him, was, in truth and reality, the maker of every watch produced from it; there being no difference (except that the latter manifests a more exquisite skill) between the making of another watch with his own hands, by the mediation of files, lathes, chisels, &c. and the disposing, fixing, and inserting of these instruments, or of others equivalent to them, in the body of the watch already made in such a manner, as to form a new watch in the course of the movements which he had given to the old one. It is only working by one set of tools, instead of another. (Chapter II, p. 16)



Myth Eleven: Paley's God in his Natural Theology is an impersonal Designer, and not the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Fact: Paley argued that God must be a personal Being, because He is capable of designing things. As he put it: "that which can contrive, which can design, must be a person" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 408). A designer, by definition, possesses consciousness and thought, and must be capable of perceiving a goal or end, and adapting and directing means to achieve this goal. Such a being, Paley argued, must be a person (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pp. 408, 441).



Myth Twelve: At most, Paley's design argument establishes only the existence of a finite, limited Deity, which falls short of the Infinite God of classical theism.

Fact: A careful examination of Paley's writings shows that he put forward no less than four arguments for God's infinity, in his Natural Theology.

First, using the example of the eye, Paley argued that God's designs are infinitely more skillful than our own (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, p. 21).

We can also discern a second argument for God's infinite intelligence in Paley's observation that when God selected the laws of Nature, He had to make a choice from among an infinite number of alternatives, only an infinitesimal proportion of which were compatible with the formation of a stable cosmos (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, p. 393).

Third, Paley argued that God must be infinitely powerful, because He is able to control an indefinitely large region of space by His volitions: His power extends everywhere.

Fourth, Paley considered that God must be infinitely wise, because He is apparently capable of manifesting His wisdom and benevolence in an unlimited number of ways, and upon an unlimited number of objects (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, p. 492; Chapter XXVII, p. 548).



3. How Professor Feser completely misconstrues Paley's Argument from Design


Professor Edward Feser, a leading Thomistic critic of Intelligent Design. Image taken from http://www.edwardfeser.com/.

At the beginning of this post, I accused Professor Feser of having completely misread Paley's Natural Theology I am perfectly well aware that to accuse a Professor of Philosophy of having totally misunderstood an author like William Paley is a pretty impertinent thing to do - especially when the accusation is made by a non-academic like myself. Nevertheless, it is something which I feel impelled to do, out of a sense of duty. Professor Feser has made a number of statements (see here and here for examples) about Rev. Paley's philosophical views, and in particular his argument from design, which are flat-out false: they totally contradict what Paley himself says in his own writings. It is quite remarkable that Feser has managed to misconstrue Paley's meaning, for Paley wrote his Natural Theology in the most pellucid prose imaginable. I sincerely hope that after reading this post, Professor Feser will issue a retraction of his false statements about Paley, and offer a posthumous apology to the man.



Where did Feser get his mistaken ideas about Paley's design argument?

In his writings elsewhere on Paley, Professor Feser leans heavily on the interpretation given to his writings by other Christian (and especially Aristotelian-Thomistic) philosophers - an interpretation which I shall argue below is utterly wrong-headed. Indeed, Feser leans so heavily on the wrong-headed interpretation of Paley by these secondary sources that at first, I wondered whether he had actually read Paley's Natural Theology. However, since his 2011 Reply to Marie George makes it quite clear that he has read Paley, then I have no option but to accuse Professor Feser of having read Paley in a very uncharitable manner - which is precisely the fault that he takes Professor George to task for, in her discussion of articles written by him! In this post, I shall endeavor to persuade Feser that his reading of Paley is wholly mistaken.

I would also like to offer some advice to Professor Feser about reading an author: if you want an unprejudiced view of an author, then it is best to read the author first and form your own views of what he meant, before reading what others have written about him. Paley wrote his treatise, not in Greek or Latin, but in English, and in a very clear style of prose at that. The possibility of mistaking his meaning is greatly reduced if you read him before reading what his commentators - friendly or hostile - have to say about him.

I should add that I was fortunate enough to read Paley online. I was thus able to do a word search of terms like "probability", "proof", "analogy" and so on. This proved to be of invaluable assistance, as it enabled me to spot patterns in Paley's usage of these terms, that I might not have noticed otherwise.

Let us now examine the authors cited by Feser in support of his bizarre reading of Paley.

In his online post, Thomism versus the design argument (March 15, 2011), Professor Feser approvingly cites several passages from Thomistic authors who denigrate Paley's argument. Here's a passage he quotes from An Elementary Christian Metaphysics, by Joseph Owens:

This argument [St. Thomas Aquinas' Fifth Way] is clearly not the argument from design, made notorious by Paley... Paley's argument is only an analogy, a probable argument. It is not a metaphysical demonstration... Paley merely multiplies instances upon instances of design in nature in order to drive home the impression... that a designer is required. The starting point of St. Thomas's fifth way, on the other hand, is not that things show design, but rather that something is being done to them, namely, that they are being directed to an end by an efficient cause. (Center for Thomistic Studies, 1985, p. 349)


And here's a brief excerpt from another passage cited by Feser, taken from Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations by Professor Christopher F. J. Martin, (Edinburgh University Press, 1998, pp. 180-82):

It is no coincidence that the most famous presentation of the argument from design actually compares the world to a clock: it is known by the name of Paley's watch...

The Being whose existence is revealed to us by the argument from design is not God but the Great Architect of the Deists and Freemasons, an impostor disguised as God, a stern, kindly, and immensely clever old English gentleman, equipped with apron, trowel, square and compasses....

The Great Architect is not God because he is just someone like us but a lot older, cleverer and more skilful. He decides what he wants to do and therefore sets about doing the things he needs to do to achieve it. God is not like that... God is mysterious: the whole objection to the great architect is that we know him all too well, since he is one of us.


I have already criticized Martin for his historical inaccuracy in the above passage. For example, the title "Great Architect" goes back to John Calvin, not the Masons, and artistic depictions of God as an architect date from as far back as the thirteenth century.

Feser also quotes from Fr. Ronald Knox, who describes Paley's argument from design as a "feeble argument" in his book, Broadcast Minds. In his book, The Belief of Catholics, Fr. Knox has this to say about Paley's argument:

This [Aquinas'] argument from the order and systems to be found in Creation is not synonymous with the argument from design; the argument from design, in the narrow sense, is a department or application of the main thesis. Design implies the adaptation of means to ends; and it used to be confidently urged that there was one end which the Creator clearly had in view, the preservation of species, and one plain proof of his purposive working, namely, the nice proportion between the instincts or endowments of the various animal species and the environment in which they had to live. The warm coats of the Arctic animals, the differences of strength, speed, and cunning which enable the hunter and the hunted to live together without the extermination of either--these would be instances in point; modem researches have given us still more salient instances of the same principle, such as the protective mimicry which renders a butterfly or a nest of eggs indistinguishable from its surroundings. Was it not a Mind which had so proportioned means to ends?

The argument was a dangerous one, so stated. It took no account of the animal species which have in fact become extinct; it presupposed, also, the fixity of animal types. God's mercy, doubtless, is over all his works, but we are in no position to apply teleological criticism to its exercise, and to decide on what principle the wart-hog has survived while the dodo has become extinct. In this precise form, then, the argument from order has suffered badly. But the argument from order, as the schoolmen conceived it, was and is a much wider and less questionable consideration. It is not merely in the adaptation of means to ends, but in the reign of law throughout the whole field of Nature, that we find evidence of a creative Intelligence.

In fact, while Paley does assert in passing (pp. 352, 480, 506) that species never die out, this assertion is incidental to his central argument, which is that Nature contains contrivances, and that intelligence is the only cause known to be capable of producing contrivances.

Moreover, Paley himself argued from the occurrence of uniform laws of Nature to the existence of a Deity. I conclude that Fr. Knox had only a passing familiarity with Paley's work.

It is a great pity that Feser has allowed himself to be influenced by writers who never studied Paley's arguments in detail.



How does Feser perpetuate myths about Paley's design argument?

Not only does Professor Feser enthusiastically cite Scholastic authors who have misread Paley, but he wholeheartedly endorses their misrepresentation. In his book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009, p. 115), Feser offers his own perspective on William Paley's argument from design, in the following paragraph:

Paley, taking for granted as he does a modern mechanistic view of nature, denies that purpose or teleology is immanent or inherent to the natural order. That is why his argument is a merely probabilistic one. The design argument allows that there might in fact be no purpose at all in the natural world, but only the misleading appearance of purpose; its claim is simply that, at least where complex mechanistic processes are concerned, this supposition is unlikely. And even if there is a purpose, it is imposed from outside, in just the way a human watchmaker imposes a certain order on metal parts that have no inherent tendency to function as a timepiece. The natural world remains as devoid of immanent teleology after the designer's action as before. Moreover, as with a watch, once Paley's designer has done his "watchmaking," there is no need for him to remain on the scene, for once built the mechanism can function without him.


As we shall see, the above passage egregiously misrepresents Paley's argument in his Natural Theology.

Professor Feser repeats his misconstrual of Paley's design argument in a recent article entitled, "Teleology: A Shopper's Guide" (Philosophia Christi 12 (2010): 142-159). Here are some examples:

Aristotelian teleological realism ... holds ... that teleology is both immanent to the natural world and in need of no further explanation, divine or otherwise. One of the differences between Paley and ID [Intelligent Design] defenders on the one hand, and A-T [Aristotelian-Thomistic] defenders of Aquinas's Fifth Way on the other, is that the latter acknowledge the Aristotelian challenge and take it seriously. The reason is that they reject the mechanistic conception of nature held in common by naturalists on the one hand and Paley and ID defenders on the other — a conception which, by definition, rules out from the start the Aristotelian view that teleology is immanent to natural substances. (p. 153)

...[F]or ID theory as for Paley, it is (contrary to the A-T position) at least possible that natural substances have no end, goal, or purpose; they just think this is improbable. The reason is that their essentially mechanistic conception of nature leads them to model the world on the analogy of a human artifact. The bits of metal that make up a watch have no inherent tendency toward functioning as a timepiece; it is at least theoretically possible, even if improbable, that a watch-like arrangement might come about by chance. (p. 154)

[Aquinas] says that unintelligent natural objects cannot move towards an end unless directed by an intelligence, not that it is highly improbable that they will do so... It is not an inductive generalization at all, nor an argument from analogy, nor an argument to the best explanation... This is a metaphysical assertion, not an exercise in empirical hypothesis formation. (p. 157)

The argument [of Aquinas] differs from Paley-style design arguments and the arguments of ID theorists in ways other than those already mentioned. For example, since the entities comprising the natural world have the final causes they have as long as they exist, the intellect in question has to exist as long as the natural world itself does, so as continually to direct things to their ends. The deistic notion that God might have "designed" the world and then left it to run independently is ruled out. Here, as in the other main Thomistic arguments for God's existence, the aim is to show that God is a sustaining or conserving cause of the world rather than that He got the world started at some point in the past. (pp. 158-159)



In a nutshell, what is wrong with Professor Feser's analysis of Paley's argument?

The errors in Feser's misreading of Paley can be grouped under five main headings.

Feser's first error lies in his astonishing assertion that Paley denied that natural objects possess any immanent causal powers of their own. The absurdity of this charge should be evident to anyone who has read Paley's Natural Theology: there are dozens of passages in the book which clearly indicate that Paley believed that natural objects possessed powers in their own right - active as well as passive. For example, Paley refers to the "powers of nature which prevail at present" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, page 440) and he writes about "gravity, magnetism, electricity; together with the properties also and powers of organized substances, of vegetable or of animated nature" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, page 446). Paley's view of living things is also clearly teleological. For example, in his Natural Theology, he describes the process by which living things nourish themselves, as follows:

Unconscious particles of matter take their stations, and severally range themselves in an order, so as to become collectively plants or animals, i.e. organized bodies, with parts bearing strict and evident relation to one another, and to the utility of the whole. (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, page 420).

What Paley denied, however, was that natural objects lacking intelligence could possess any built-in powers to adapt means to ends, as such, or to assemble themselves into intricate arrangements of parts which are adapted to some common end. That is what Paley means when he scoffs at the notion of "a principle of order in nature" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter V, page 71). Paley is simply asserting that Nature doesn't possess any magical powers.


Second, Feser's claim that Paley's argument for a Deity in his Natural Theology is "a merely probabilistic one" is contradicted over and over again, in passages which make it clear that Paley envisaged his argument as nothing less than a positive proof of God's existence. For example, he refers to "the marks of contrivance discoverable in animal bodies, and to the argument deduced from them, in proof of design, and of a designing Creator" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter IV, page 67) and when discussing the example of the eye, he writes:

"If there were but one watch in the world, it would not be less certain that it had a maker... Of this point, each machine is a proof, independently of all the rest. So it is with the evidences of a Divine agency... The eye proves it without the ear; the ear without the eye." (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VI, pages 76-77.)


Paley maintained that design without a Designer is impossible, and not merely improbable. I am at a loss to imagine how Feser could have overlooked passages like these.


Third, Feser's assertion that "it is at least theoretically possible, even if improbable, that a watch-like arrangement might come about by chance" is contradicted by no less an authority than St. Thomas Aquinas himself, in his Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, Book 7, Lesson 8, paragraph 1436, where he writes that "some things, for instance, health, sometimes come to be by art and sometimes by chance, while others, for instance, a house, come to be only by art and never by chance." Aquinas goes on to give the reason: "in the case of stones and timbers there is no active power by which the matter can be moved to receive the form of a house" (paragraph 1438), and he adds: "Therefore those artificial things which have this kind of nature, such as a house made of bricks, cannot set themselves in motion; for they cannot be moved unless they are moved by something else" (paragraph 1440).

It gets better. Aquinas goes on to give an example from biology, in his discussion of the "higher" animals, which Aristotle referred to as perfect animals - a term which roughly corresponds to what we call mammals. Aquinas maintains that while these animals have a natural power of generating themselves through sexual reproduction, they are incapable of originating through spontaneous generation: "But those things whose matter cannot be moved by itself by that very motion by which the seed is moved, are incapable of being generated in another way than from their own seed; and this is evident in the case of man and horse and other perfect animals" (paragraph 1454). The reason, as he explains in his Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, Book 7, Lesson 6, paragraph 1401, is that "the more perfect a thing is, the more numerous are the things required for its completeness." If this is not a Paleyan argument, then I don't know what is.


Fourth, although Paley envisaged the purposes of living creatures' organs as having been "imposed from outside", they were nonetheless inherent to those creatures. As I argued in Parts One and Three above, it makes perfect sense to speak of an externally imposed power as being inherent to a creature.


Finally, Paley's Designer is no absentee Deity, who wanders away from His creation after he has finished his "watchmaking." In his Natural Theology, Paley argues that God is needed to maintain the cosmos at every moment of its existence, and that nothing could continue working without him. Paley, like Aquinas, believed that matter "cannot move, unless it be moved; and cannot but move, when impelled by another" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, page 448.) Spirit, on the other hand, is self-moving, and this power of originating motion is "the quality, perhaps, in which resides the essential superiority of spirit over matter" (ibid.) Hence for Paley it follows that something extraneous to the material world is continually required to keep it moving: "In the works of nature we trace mechanism; and this alone proves contrivance: but living, active, moving, productive nature, proves also the exertion of a power at the centre: for, wherever the power resides, may be denominated the centre." (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, page 418.) Later, Paley specifically declares that God conserves things in existence: he refers to God as "the Preserver of the world" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XVII, page 298) and writes: "Under this stupendous Being we live. Our happiness, our existence, is in his hands. All we expect must come from him. (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, p. 541)


Professor Feser's complete misreading of Paley's argument can best be illustrated by setting forth fourteen theses, which I have drawn from Paley's work, and which I will establish below, with supporting quotes:

Thesis 1. For Paley, the inference to an Intelligent Designer of Nature is absolutely certain and not merely probable. This deductive inference is based on the fact that intelligence is capable of producing systems whose parts are intricately arranged and co-ordinated so as to serve some common end, coupled with the fact that nothing else is capable of producing these systems. If inferences of this kind were not valid, argues Paley, then an absurd consequence would follow: that no co-ordinated arrangement of parts subserving some end could ever suffice to establish the existence of an intelligent designer, no matter how intricate the arrangement was.
Thesis 2. For Paley, the organs of living things are the best possible proof of the Designer's existence, because they furnish numerous examples where a large number of parts are intricately arranged and exquisitely adapted as means to some end (of the organism), thereby clearly indicating to even the dullest observer that an Intelligence was required to produce them. The term contrivance, as used by Paley, denotes not an artificial contraption, but a co-ordinated arrangement of parts subserving some end. Paley insists that "the contrivances of nature surpass the contrivances of art"; hence the intelligence required to produce them is super-human.
Thesis 3. Paley contends that the laws of Nature show signs of having been chosen by an Intelligent Agent, as well. They are finely tuned: out of an infinite number of possible laws, those laws which allow the existence and continuation of a stable cosmos are very few, and those which support life are even fewer. If we look at physical systems within our universe (e.g. solar system), we find that the initial conditions required to form such systems were also fine-tuned. Since the laws of Nature hold throughout the cosmos, it follows that the Intelligent Agent responsible for them must exist outside and beyond Nature.
Thesis 4. In response to those who would explain the harmony of the cosmos by appealing to laws, Paley argues that laws and mechanisms are incapable of explaining anything, in the absence of agency. Properly understood, a law or mechanism simply refers to the way in which the power of some agent operates. It therefore follows that no law or mechanism in Nature can ever do away with the need for an original Designer; nor is it capable of doing the Designer's work in his absence. Thus the Designer cannot just wander off, after establishing the laws of Nature; nothing would work if He did.
Thesis 5. Paley, like Aquinas, holds that a body is incapable of making another body move, unless it is currently being moved by something else. It follows that if we find contrivances in Nature which are moving, there must exist something which is currently making them move. This fact is of vital importance, for it establishes without a doubt that the Intelligent Designer of Nature is still alive. According to Paley, the agency of this Intelligent Designer is continually required, in order to explain the ongoing movements of the numerous contrivances we find in Nature.
Thesis 6. For the most part, Paley uses the illustration of a watch not as a metaphor for the universe as a whole, or even as a metaphor for living organisms, but for the parts of living things, such as the eye. At one point, however, he uses the illustration of a watch to argue that the world could only be ordered and kept in motion by a Designer Who is still living, just as a watch in motion shows the existence of an original designer and of a force keeping it moving.
Thesis 7. Paley reasons that anything which is capable of contriving and designing things must also be capable of consciousness and thought, and must therefore be a person. Thus the Designer of Nature is a personal agent and not merely a blind or impersonal principle. (As an Anglican archdeacon, Rev. Paley of course believed that God is actually a Trinity of persons, but since his book is about natural theology, he makes no attempt to demonstrate a truth that unaided reason could never discover.)
Thesis 8. In addition to being personal, the Designer of Nature must be:

(a) transcendent, because contrivances are found at all levels throughout Nature, so their Author must lie beyond Nature;
(b) uncaused, or self-existent, because His existence does not have any preceding cause;
(c) the cause not only of the origin of things, but of their continuation in existence, because the physical laws which define their very natures, could only have been chosen by an intelligent agent, and because these laws only continue to hold by virtue of the ongoing activity of this intelligent agent;
(d) one, because the unformity of His plan can be seen throughout Nature;
(e) spiritual, because He is a personal agent capable of thought and will, and capable (unlike matter) of moving things without needing anyone to move Him;
(f) good, because the contrivances He has placed in living things are designed for the good of those creatures, and not for their harm;
(g) omnipresent, because His power extends throughout Nature;
(h) omnipotent, because everything is His handiwork, so there is nothing to limit His power over Nature;
(i) omniscient, because the knowledge required for the formation of created nature is infinite, since He selected the laws of the cosmos from an infinite range of possible options;
(j) simple, because complex beings require an external cause for the skillful contrivance of their parts, whereas God has no cause;
(k) beyond space and time, since He is their Author, and has no limits. (One could draw the conclusion, though Paley himself does not explicitly say so, that God is therefore timeless and immutable.)

In all these respects, Paley's God is identical with the God of classical theism. On two points, however, Paley differs from most classical theists. First, Paley equates the necessity of God with the possibility of our demonstrating His existence, whereas for classical theists, God's necessity is usually grounded in the notion that God is Pure Existence, and hence incapable of non-existence. Second, Paley appears to believe that God is capable of perceiving the world in some way. Even if this perception occurs timelessly in the mind of God, it would still mean that He is passible, or capable of being affected by the world. Classical theism, however, traditionally holds that God is impassible. However, neither the necessity nor the impassibility of God forms part of the defined teachings of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. None of these religions teach that God is Pure Existence. Nor do they teach that God is impassible, or incapable of being affected by His creatures; rather, what they teach is that God does not have passions, or bodily feelings.

I conclude that Paley falls within the broad tradition of classical theism, albeit of a very pragmatic variety, insofar as he endeavors to explain the Divine attributes in terms of how they affect us, rather than describing them in terms of God's inner being - a subject about which Paley prefers not to speculate.

Thesis 9. Paley's writings make it quite clear that he is a teleologist, like Aquinas: he believes that a living thing has a nature of its own, and that its parts are arranged in a way that subserves the good of the whole. He explicitly affirms the reality of final causes in living things, and declares that the various parts of a plant or animal are intended for the action or the use to which we see them applied.
Thesis 10. Paley also holds that both living and non-living things possess certain powers - both active and passive - which naturally inhere in them. In other words, Paley is a firm believer in immanent finality, like Aquinas.
Thesis 11. Although Paley disparages the Aristotelian doctrine of "essential forms" for its philosophical vagueness, he nevertheless vigorously affirms that things possess natures, and he repeatedly refers to their forms. According to Paley, the form of a living thing organizes the body of a developing individual into a mature organism, through a process which is largely mysterious to us, but which is (in principle) amenable to scientific investigation.
Thesis 12. Paley's doctrine of matter is more like Aquinas' than Descartes'. Paley nowhere maintains that matter is wholly passive and devoid of all attributes save extension, as Descartes did in the seventeenth century. Writing in the early nineteenth century, Paley has to contend with atheistic materialists who were prepared to impute a host of active properties to matter, in order to explain how it had given rise to life and intelligence. In keeping with the science of his day, Paley maintained that matter in the form of a body still possessed the natural property of inertia - in other words, that one body is naturally incapable of moving another body, unless something else is moving it. Aquinas upheld the same view, as did Aristotle.
Thesis 13. Paley stoutly denies the existence of a principle of order in Nature. By "principle of order", he does not mean immanent finality. Rather, what Paley is denying is that things have a spontaneous or built-in tendency to form co-ordinated arrangements of parts subserving some end, or what he elsewhere refers to as contrivances. Thus Paley would reject as absurd the notion (championed by Stuart Kauffman) that life itself may have arisen through the development of an initial molecular autocatalytic set which evolved over time. Abiogenesis, according to Paley, cannot be a spontaneous natural process. Only intelligent agents are capable of creating co-ordinated arrangements of parts subserving some end.
Thesis 14. Paley repeatedly affirms the existence of mechanisms in living things, by which he simply means: co-ordinated arrangements of parts subserving some end, or what Paley elsewhere refers to as contrivances. In affirming that "there is mechanism in animals", Paley is not reducing them to artifacts, whose finality is purely extrinsic. Nor is he denying that the parts of living things have an inherent tendency to function together. All he is saying is that the parts of living things, like those of machines, are arranged and co-ordinated in order to serve some end. In a mechanism, this end may be either intrinsic to the entity (as in organisms) or extrinsic to it (as in a watch). It is only because there is no common English word for describing co-ordinated arrangements of parts which subserve an end (whether internal or external) that Paley is forced to settle on the awkward term "mechanism".



3.1 Paley on the absolute certainty of God's existence

Thesis 1. For Paley, the inference to an Intelligent Designer of Nature is absolutely certain and not merely probable. This deductive inference is based on the fact that intelligence is capable of producing systems whose parts are intricately arranged and co-ordinated so as to serve some common end, coupled with the fact that nothing else is capable of producing these systems. If inferences of this kind were not valid, argues Paley, then an absurd consequence would follow: that no co-ordinated arrangement of parts subserving some end could ever suffice to establish the existence of an intelligent designer, no matter how intricate the arrangement was.



Sherlock Holmes, a fictional detective who was renowned for his powers of deductive logic, and his companion Dr. Watson. Holmes' most famous remark was one he made to Dr. Watson in chapter 6 of The Sign of the Four: "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Illustration by Sidney Paget from the Sherlock Holmes story The Greek Interpreter.
William Paley put forward what he claimed was a deductive proof of the existence of an Intelligent Designer of Nature. For example, in his Natural Theology, he refers to "the marks of contrivance discoverable in animal bodies, and to the argument deduced from them, in proof of design, and of a designing Creator." (Natural Theology, 12th edition, J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter IV, p. 67.)


In his book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009, p. 115), Professor Feser alleges that William Paley's Paley's argument for a Deity in his Natural Theology is "a merely probabilistic one." This sloppy assertion is contradicted over and over again by passages in Paley's writings, where he is quite emphatic that his argument for God's existence is intended as a proof - that is, a convincing, knock-down demonstration, which is intended to leave no room for doubt.


(a) Paley intended his argument to be a knock-down proof, and not a merely probabilistic argument

The fact is that there are well over three dozen passages where Paley uses the word "proof" in his Natural Theology, with reference to his argument for an Intelligent Designer of Nature. What's more, Paley thinks he can show that there is only one Being Who designed Nature, and that this Being is good. If Professor Feser had even skimmed through Paley's Natural Theology, he would have come across these passages. The fact that he never alludes to them in his writings leads me to conclude that he hasn't read Paley.

For example, in Chapter IV, Paley refers to "the marks of contrivance discoverable in animal bodies, and to the argument deduced from them, in proof of design, and of a designing Creator" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter IV, p. 67).


For Paley, human anatomy furnishes us with the best possible proof of an Intelligent Designer:

Amongst a multitude of proofs, it is one that does the business... [T]here is no subject, of which, in its full extent, the latitude is so great, as that of natural history applied to the proof of an intelligent Creator. For my part, I take my stand in human anatomy, and [of] the examples of mechanism I should be apt to draw out from the copious catalogue...there is not one of the number which I do not think decisive; not one which is not strictly mechanical; nor have I read or heard of any solution of these appearances, which, in the smallest degree, shakes the conclusion that we build upon them.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, pp. 535-536)


Paley emphatically declares that even if there were only a single organ in the human body whose parts were contrived, it would be sufficient to prove the existence of a Designer:

If there were but one watch in the world, it would not be less certain that it had a maker... Of this point, each machine is a proof, independently of all the rest. So it is with the evidences of a Divine agency. The proof is not a conclusion which lies at the end of a chain of reasoning, of which chain each instance of contrivance is only a link, and of which, if one link fail, the whole falls; but it is an argument separately supplied by every separate example... The eye proves it without the ear; the ear without the eye.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VI, pp. 76-77)


For Paley, the eye alone proves the existence of a Designer:

...[T]here is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision, as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, p. 18)


Paley goes on to assert that the ligament of the ball-and-socket joint of the thigh provides us with unequivocal proof of a Creator:

If I had been permitted to frame a proof of contrivance, such as might satisfy the most distrustful inquirer, I know not whether I could have chosen an example of mechanism more unequivocal, or more free from objection, than this ligament.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VIII, pp. 112-113)


The circulation of the blood is another proof of a Designer which leaves absolutely no room for doubt, according to Paley:

So long as the blood proceeds in its proper course, the membranes which compose the valve, are pressed close to the side of the vessel, and occasion no impediment to the circulation: when the blood would regurgitate, they are raised from the side of the vessel, and, meeting in the middle of its cavity, shut up the channel. Can any one doubt of contrivance here; or is it possible to shut our eyes against the proof of it?
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter X, p. 161)


Not only does Paley repeatedly assert that Nature furnishes abundant proof of the existence of an Intelligent Designer; he also claims to be able to prove there is only one Designer of the contrivances we find in Nature:

Of the "Unity of the Deity," the proof is, the uniformity of plan observable in the universe.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXV, p. 449)


Later on, Paley claims he can prove that one and the same Intelligent Agent planned both the trajectory of the planet Saturn and the mechanism for the clasping of the humming-bird's feather filaments:

We have proof, not only of both these works proceeding from an intelligent agent, but of their proceeding from the same agent; for, in the first place, we can trace an identity of plan, a connexion of system, from Saturn to our own globe: and when arrived upon our globe, we can, in the second place, pursue the connexion through all the organized, especially the animated, bodies which it supports.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, pp. 540-541)


Finally, Paley argues that Nature provides us with proof of God's goodness, in addition to His existence and unity:

The proof of the divine goodness rests upon two propositions; each, as we contend, capable of being made out by observations drawn from the appearances of nature.

The first is, "that, in a vast plurality of instances in which contrivance is perceived, the design of the contrivance is beneficial."

The second, "that the Deity has superadded pleasure to animal sensations, beyond what was necessary for any other purpose, or when the purpose, so far as it was necessary," might have been effected by the operation of pain.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, pp. 454-455)


I can only ask in bafflement: if Professor Feser actually read Paley, how could he have overlooked all these passages, in which Paley declares his argument to be a proof, and not as a merely probabilistic argument?

Of course, I can understand that Feser might wish to argue that Paley's proof was unsuccessful. But in that case, he should have written, "Although Paley intended his argument as a proof of God's existence, in my opinion it fails. Here's why." Instead, he wrote:

Paley, taking for granted as he does a modern mechanistic view of nature, denies that purpose or teleology is immanent or inherent to the natural order. That is why his argument is a merely probabilistic one. The design argument allows that there might in fact be no purpose at all in the natural world, but only the misleading appearance of purpose; its claim is simply that, at least where complex mechanistic processes are concerned, this supposition is unlikely. (Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009, p. 115.)

I leave it to my readers to decide whether Professor Feser has misrepresented Paley.



(b) Paley clearly stated that his argument was a deductive argument, which demonstrates that God exists

As we have seen, Professor Feser, in his book Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009, p. 115), refers to William Paley's argument as "a merely probabilistic one," which "allows that there might in fact be no purpose at all in the natural world," but simply claims that "at least where complex mechanistic processes are concerned, this supposition is unlikely." However, anyone who takes the trouble to read Paley's Natural Theology can easily verify that Paley repeatedly refers to his argument as a deductive argument - i.e. one whose conclusion follows by logical necessity from its premises - and as a demonstration of God's existence. Not once in his entire book does Paley refer to his argument as an inductive argument, or suggest that its conclusion is merely probable, as opposed to certain.

Paley refers to his argument as a deductive argument in the following passages in his Natural Theology:

...the marks of contrivance discoverable in animal bodies, and to the argument deduced from them, in proof of design, and of a designing Creator...
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter IV, p. 67)

Now we deduce design from relation, aptitude, and correspondence of parts.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, p. 379)

... the universality which enters into the idea of God, as deduced from the views of nature.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 443)


Paley states several times that his argument is intended to be a deductive proof. Again, I have to ask: how could Paley have made his intentions any plainer?



(c) Paley argued that design without a Designer is impossible and not merely improbable


Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BC; the alabaster mantle is a modern addition. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Aristotle is the author of the earliest known sustained work on the subject of logic. Aristotle drew a fundamental distinction between two kinds of logic: deductive logic and inductive logic. Paley's argument is an example of deductive logic.


Paley's inference from the contrivances we find in Nature to the existence of a Designer is not based on a mere analogy, as some of his less-informed critics think. Rather, it is a simple deduction, based on two premises.

The first premise is the fact that we constantly see intelligence producing effects marked by the three properties of (i) relation to an end, (ii) relation of the parts to one another, and (iii) possession of a common purpose.

The second premise is the fact (amply borne out by experience) that no other cause apart from intelligence is capable of producing such effects.

From these premises, Paley proceeds to demonstrate that the organs of living creatures (such as the eye) must have had an Intelligent Designer:

Wherever we see marks of contrivance, we are led for its cause to an intelligent author. And this transition of the understanding is founded upon uniform experience. We see intelligence constantly contriving, that is, we see intelligence constantly producing effects, marked and distinguished by certain properties; not certain particular properties, but by a kind and class of properties, such as relation to an end, relation of parts to one another, and to a common purpose. We see, wherever we are witnesses to the actual formation of things, nothing except intelligence producing effects so marked and distinguished. Furnished with this experience, we view the productions of nature. We observe them also marked and distinguished in the same manner. We wish to account for their origin. Our experience suggests a cause perfectly adequate to this account. No experience, no single instance or example, can be offered in favour of any other. In this cause therefore we ought to rest; in this cause the common sense of mankind has, in fact, rested, because it agrees with that, which, in all cases, is the foundation of knowledge,--the undeviating course of their experience. The reasoning is the same, as that, by which we conclude any ancient appearances to have been the effects of volcanoes or inundations, namely, because they resemble the effects which fire and water produce before our eyes; and because we have never known these effects to result from any other operation. And this resemblance may subsist in so many circumstances, as not to leave us under the smallest doubt in forming our opinion. Men are not deceived by this reasoning: for whenever it happens, as it sometimes does happen, that the truth comes to be known by direct information, it turns out to be what was expected. In like manner, and upon the same foundation (which in truth is that of experience), we conclude that the works of nature proceed from intelligence and design, because, in the properties of relation to a purpose, subserviency to a use, they resemble what intelligence and design are constantly producing, and what nothing except intelligence and design ever produce at all.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pp. 413-415)

It is very important to clear up a possible misunderstanding at this point. In modern parlance, the term "contrivance" often carries connotations of artificiality. The first definition given in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary is:

1 a : a thing contrived; especially : a mechanical device
b : an artificial arrangement or development

However, in the passage above, Paley defines contrivance in terms of three characteristics, none of which implies that the thing so described is an artificial assemblage of parts: "relation to an end, relation of parts to one another, and to a common purpose."

Paley repeatedly affirms in his book that the existence of what he called "contrivance" in Nature renders God's existence absolutely certain. In the passage below, Paley lists the same three distinguishing characteristics of a contrivance and declares that there cannot be contrivance without a contriver:

There cannot be design without a designer; contrivance without a contriver; order without choice; arrangement, without any thing capable of arranging; subserviency and relation to a purpose, without that which could intend a purpose; means suitable to an end, and executing their office, in accomplishing that end, without the end ever having been contemplated, or the means accommodated to it. Arrangement, disposition of parts, subserviency of means to an end, relation of instruments to a use, imply the presence of intelligence and mind.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter II, p. 11)



(d) Thomist scholar Del Ratzsch acknowledges that Paley's argument was intended as a deductive proof

Before dismissing William Paley's design argument in such contemptuous terms, Professor Feser would have been well-advised to read Thomist scholar Del Ratzsch's article on Teleological Arguments for God's Existence by in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. After discussing the flaws (ably exposed by Hume) of design arguments which are based on mere analogies between human artifacts and certain natural entities, Ratzsch moves on to address deductive arguments for the existence of a Designer, and he cites Paley as a proponent of a deductive argument for God's existence:

But some advocates of design arguments had been reaching for a deeper intuition. The intuition they were attempting to capture involved properties that in and of themselves constituted some degree of evidence for design... Intricate, dynamic, stable, functioning order of the sort we encounter in nature was frequently placed in this category. Such order was taken to be suggestive of minds in that it seemed nearly self-evidently the sort of thing minds, and so far as was definitively known, only minds were prone to produce. It was a property whose mind-resonating character we could unhesitatingly attribute to intent...

Along with this perception of mind-suggestiveness went a further principle — that the mind-suggestive or intention-shaped (the design-like) characteristics in question were too palpable to have been generated by non-intentional means.

That allows specification of a second design inference pattern:

Schema 2:

5. Some things in nature (or nature itself, the cosmos) are design-like (exhibit a cognition-resonating, intention-shaped character R)

6. Design-like properties (R) are not producible by (unguided) natural means — i.e., any phenomenon exhibiting such Rs must be a product of intentional design.

Therefore

7. Some things in nature (or nature itself, the cosmos) are products of intentional design. And of course, the capacity for intentional design requires agency of some type.

Notice that explicit reference to human artifacts has dropped out of the argument, and that the argument is no longer comparative but has become essentially deductive. Some arguments were historically intended as arguments of that type. Consider the widely reproduced opening passages of William Paley's 1802 Natural Theology:

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 which I had before given, that for anything I knew the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? Why is it not as admissible in the second case as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, namely, that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive - what we could not discover in the stone - that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose ... [The requisite] mechanism being observed … the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker.... Every observation which was made in our first chapter concerning the watch may be repeated with strict propriety concerning the eye, concerning animals, concerning plants, concerning, indeed, all the organized parts of the works of nature.... [T]he eye ... would be alone sufficient to support the conclusion which we draw from it, as to the necessity of an intelligent Creator...

Although Paley's argument is routinely construed as analogical, it in fact contains an informal statement of the above variant argument type. Paley goes on for two chapters discussing the watch, discussing the properties in it which evince design, destroying potential objections to concluding design in the watch, and discussing what can and cannot be concluded about the watch's designer. It is only then that entities in nature - e.g., the eye - come onto the horizon at all. Obviously, Paley isn't making such heavy weather to persuade his readers to concede that the watch really is designed and has a designer. He is, in fact, teasing out the bases and procedures from and by which we should and should not reason about design and designers. Thus Paley's use of the term "inference" in connection with the watch's designer.

Once having acquired the relevant principles, then in Chapter 3 of Natural Theology - "Application of the Argument" - Paley applies the same argument (vs. presenting us with the other half of the analogical argument) to things in nature. The cases of human artifacts and nature represent two separate inference instances:

up to the limit, the reasoning is as clear and certain in the one case as in the other. (Paley 1802 [1963], 14)

But the instances are instances of the same inferential move:

there is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it. (Paley 1802 [1963], 13)

The watch does play an obvious and crucial role - but as a paradigmatic instance of design inferences rather than as the analogical foundation for an inferential comparison.

Schema 2, not being analogically structured, would not be vulnerable to the ills of analogy, and not being inductive would claim more than mere probability for its conclusion. That is not accidental. Indeed, it has been argued that Paley was aware of Hume's earlier attacks on analogical design arguments, and deliberately structured his argument to avoid the relevant pitfalls. Paley's own characterization of his argument would support this deductive classification...


Thomist scholar Del Ratzsch was able to easily discern that Paley's argument is a deductive one, because he took the time and trouble to carefully examine what Paley actually said. He didn't follow the "received interpretation"; he went straight to the original text and got his facts straight.



(e) For Paley, the contrivances that we find in Nature (e.g. the eye) prove the existence of God beyond all shadow of a doubt


Left hip-joint, opened by removing the floor of the acetabulum from within the pelvis. Image courtesy of Gray's Anatomy and Wikipedia.
For William Paley, the ligament of the ball-and-socket joint proved the existence of a Designer beyond all shadow of a doubt.


Paley insists that the single example of the eye is enough to render the existence of a Deity certain beyond all doubt:

Were there no example in the world, of contrivance, except that of the eye, it would be alone sufficient to support the conclusion which we draw from it, as to the necessity of an intelligent Creator.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VI, p. 75)

The ligament of the ball and socket joint in the thigh constitutes another unequivocal proof of the existence of God:

If I had been permitted to frame a proof of contrivance, such as might satisfy the most distrustful inquirer, I know not whether I could have chosen an example of mechanism more unequivocal, or more free from objection, than this ligament... One single fact, weighed by a mind in earnest, leaves oftentimes the deepest impression. For the purpose of addressing different understandings and different apprehensions, -- for the purpose of sentiment, for the purpose of exciting admiration of the Creator's works, we diversify our views, we multiply examples; but for the purpose of strict argument, one clear instance is sufficient...
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VIII, pp. 112-113)



(f) Paley: it is only through the contrivances we find in Nature that we can reason our way to the existence of God, our Creator

Paley placed such a high value on arguments for the existence of God based on the contrivances we find in Nature that he even declared that in the absence of these contrivances, we could never reason our way to God:

It is only by the display of contrivance, that the existence, the agency, the wisdom of the Deity, could be testified to his rational creatures. This is the scale by which we ascend to all the knowledge of our Creator which we possess, so far as it depends upon the phænomena, or the works of nature. Take away this, and you take away from us every subject of observation, and ground of reasoning; I mean as our rational faculties are formed at present.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, p. 40)


This statement may offend some Aristotelian-Thomists, who might point out that St. Thomas Aquinas put forward no less than five distinct arguments for the existence of God in his Summa Theologica. However, only one of these arguments explicitly attempts to show that the Author of Nature is an intelligent Being, and it is this point which Paley is most concerned to demonstrate. The reason why (as we shall see below) is that it is God's intelligence which establishes for Paley that He is a personal agent, and not some blind, impersonal Force.



(g) Paley's clinching argument: if the design skeptics are right, then all design inferences are invalid, which is absurd

Paley puts forward one final argument to convince diehard skeptics in his day, who were still inclined doubt the legitimacy of any inference from the numerous contrivances that we find in the natural world to the existence of a Designer of Nature. He offers a reductio ad absurdum: if the skeptics are right, he says, an absurd consequence follows: it would mean that no matter how perfectly ordered the universe was, we could still never be sure that it had an Intelligent Creator. No sane person would accept such a ridiculous conclusion, he says:

Of every argument, which would raise a question as to the safety of this reasoning, it may be observed, that if such argument be listened to, it leads to the inference, not only that the present order of nature is insufficient to prove the existence of an intelligent Creator, but that no imaginable order would be sufficient to prove it; that no contrivance, were it ever so mechanical, ever so precise, ever so clear, ever so perfectly like those which we ourselves employ, would support this conclusion. A doctrine, to which, I conceive, no sound mind can assent.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pp. 414-415)



(h) None of Paley's references to probability in Natural Theology support Feser's claim that Paley's inference to a Designer is merely probabilistic


Four colored six-sided dice, arranged in an aesthetic way. All six possible sides are visible. Image courtesy of Diacritica and Wikipedia.
None of Paley's references to probability in his book, Natural Theology, in any way support the notion that the inference to a Designer is a probabilistic one.


After digging up so many quotes showing that William Paley intended his argument to be a demonstrative proof that left absolutely no room for doubt as to the existence of a Designer, I was mystified as to how Professor Edward Feser could possibly think that William Paley's argument for a Deity in his Natural Theology is "a merely probabilistic one" (Aquinas, Oneworld, Oxford, 2009, p. 115). Then I came across the following passage in his 2011 essay, On Aristotle, Aquinas, and Paley: A Reply to Marie George:

Paley appeals to what is "probable" or to "probability" or "improbability" several times in the course of his argument for a designer of the natural world, e.g. at pp. 108, 135, 162, 167, 179, and 201. (2011, p. 5, footnote 22)


So I thought I'd have a look at what Paley wrote on the subject of probability in his Natural Theology. Were there any references, I wondered, to the design argument for God's existence being merely probable, as opposed to absolutely certain? I have to say that I found absolutely none. What I found instead is that on occasions when the word "probable" is employed in Paley's Natural Theology, it is used either when Paley is speculating about the precise function of various organs in the human body, or in connection with supplementary arguments for God's existence, which go beyond Paley's core argument, that that the occurrence of contrivances in the natural world implies a Designer. I have to conclude that if Professor Feser really believes that Paley's argument is a merely probabilistic one, then he has badly misread Paley.

The various usages of the word "probable" in Paley's Natural Theology can be grouped under several headings, which I propose to examine in turn, in order to discover if there is any category which suggests that Paley regarded his argument for God's existence as a probabilistic one, as Feser contends.

Before we do so, however, I would like to mention one striking fact. Paley never uses the word "probable" when discussing the eye, the ear, the ligament of the ball-and-socket joint, and his other favorite examples of design. When discussing these, Paley always speaks of "proof" and "certainty", as in the following passages:

There cannot be design without a designer; contrivance without a contriver; order without choice.... Arrangement, disposition of parts, subserviency of means to an end, relation of instruments to a use, imply the presence of intelligence and mind.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter II, p. 11)

...[T]here is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, p. 18)

If there were but one watch in the world, it would not be less certain that it had a maker.... Of this point, each machine is a proof, independently of all the rest. So it is with the evidences of a Divine agency... The eye proves it without the ear; the ear without the eye.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VI, pp. 76-77)

Were there no example in the world, of contrivance, except that of the eye, it would be alone sufficient to support the conclusion which we draw from it, as to the necessity of an intelligent Creator. It could never be got rid of; because it could not be accounted for by any other supposition, which did not contradict all the principles we possess of knowledge; the principles, according to which, things do, as often as they can be brought to the test of experience, turn out to be true or false.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VI, p. 75)


(i) What design inferences could we make if we discovered a watch capable of replicating itself?


A self-replicating automaton: the Nobili-Pesavento self-replicator, with a daughter copy in the process of making a grand-daughter copy. The automaton uses the 32-state extended John von Neumann rules, based on his work on universal constructors and self-reproducing automata. Image courtesy of Renato Nobili and Umberto Pesavento, Tim Hutton, Ferkel and Wikipedia.
William Paley, in his Argument from Design, considered the possibility of a self-replicating watch. If we found one, he said, this would not weaken the argument that the original design of the watch had to come from an artificer, even if this particular watch came from another before it.


In the second chapter of his book, Natural Theology, Paley imagines a person finding a watch that, on subsequent examination, turned out to be capable of replicating itself. Paley allows that in this instance, it would no longer be probable that the watch was "made immediately by the hand of an artificer", but he still considers it certain that there was an original designer. Since the term "probable" is here contrasted with the certainty of the design inference, it is no help to Feser's case:

Suppose, in the next place, that the person who found the watch, should, after some time, discover that, in addition to all the properties which he had hitherto observed in it, it possessed the unexpected property of producing, in the course of its movement, another watch like itself (the thing is conceivable)...
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter II, p. 8)

Though it be now no longer probable, that the individual watch, which our observer had found, was made immediately by the hand of an artificer, yet doth not this alteration in anywise affect the inference, that an artificer had been originally employed and concerned in the production. The argument from design remains as it was.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter II, pp. 10-11)


Astonishingly, in his article, On Aristotle, Aquinas, and Paley: A Reply to Marie George, Feser quotes the very same passage and triumphantly concludes:

This implies that the original inference from the watch to a designer was in Paley's view a matter of probability.


Nonsense; it does nothing of the sort. Paley explicitly declares that the discovery that the watch had probably not been immediately produced by an artificer does not in any way affect "the inference, that an artificer had been originally employed and concerned in the production." "The argument from design," he says, "remains as it was." Could anything be clearer?

I conclude that Feser has completely misread Paley's argument, at an early stage in his book. This does not bode well for Feser's assertion that Paley's argument for a Designer is merely a probabilistic one.



(ii) Probable conclusions as to the functions of various bodily organs


GIF-animation showing a moving echocardiogram; a 3D-loop of a heart viewed from the apex, with the apical part of the ventricles removed and the mitral valve clearly visible. Due to missing data the leaflet of the tricuspid and aortic valve is not clearly visible, but the openings are. To the left are two standard two-dimensional views taken from the 3D dataset. Image courtesy of Kjetil Lenes and Wikipedia.
For William Paley, the valves of the heart were an irrefutable example of design in Nature. He wrote, Can any one doubt of contrivance here; or is it possible to shut our eyes against the proof of it? (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter X, p. 161) At the same time, however, Paley was unsure as to what the biological purpose of the blood circulation was, exactly. He thought it "probably" served "to distribute nourishment to the different parts of the body." (Natural Theology, Chapter X, p. 164)


Elsewhere in Paley's Natural Theology, the term "probable" is used when Paley is speculating as to the possible purposes of the various contrivances that we find in Nature - especially, the organs of the human body. Thus he considers it probable (not certain) that the purpose of the blood circulation is to "distribute nourishment to the different parts of the body". At the same time, however, Paley is quite emphatic that our lack of certainty regarding the precise purpose for which the various contrivances occurring in organisms were designed does not detract from the absolute certainty with which we can justifiably infer that they were designed.

The following examples illustrate Paley's uncertainty with regard to the precise functions of the various organs of the human body. In such cases, Paley qualifies his remarks by saying that his tentative conclusions as to their true purpose are merely probable:

It appears probable... that a collateral, if not principal, use of the membrane, is to cover and protect the barrel of the ear which lies behind it.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter IV, p. 49)

The septa of the brain probably prevent one part of that organ from pressing with too great a weight upon another part.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XI, p. 195)

The gall-bladder is a very remarkable contrivance. It is the reservoir of a canal. It does not form the channel itself, i.e. the direct communication between the liver and the intestine, which is by another passage, viz. the ductus hepaticus, continued under the name of the ductus communis; but it lies adjacent to this channel, joining it by a duct of its own, the ductus cysticus; by which structure it is enabled, as occasions may require, to add its contents to, and increase, the flow of bile into the duodenum...

There may be other purposes answered by this contrivance; and it is probable that there are.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter X, pp. 174-175)


However, Paley's uncertainty regarding the functions of some organs of the body does not diminish his absolute certainty that these organs were designed. In the following passage, Paley discusses the circulation of the blood. He is not sure of its exact purpose, but thinks it "probably" serves "to distribute nourishment to the different parts of the body." But of one thing Paley is absolutely certain: the valves which regulate the flow of blood were designed by an intelligent agent. "Can any one doubt of contrivance here?" he asks rhetorically. He even wonders how it is possible "to shut our eyes against the proof of it." Thus in the same passage, Paley expresses his absolute certainty on the question of whether the valves of the blood vessels were designed, while acknowledging that he is uncertain as to what the blood circulation is designed for. The term "probably" is only used in connection with the latter question, not the former. In Paley's own words:

One use of the circulation of the blood probably (amongst other uses) is to distribute nourishment to the different parts of the body.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter X, p. 164)

So long as the blood proceeds in its proper course, the membranes which compose the valve, are pressed close to the side of the vessel, and occasion no impediment to the circulation: when the blood would regurgitate, they are raised from the side of the vessel, and, meeting in the middle of its cavity, shut up the channel. Can any one doubt of contrivance here; or is it possible to shut our eyes against the proof of it?
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter X, p. 161)


There is another interesting passage in Paley's Natural Theology where Paley describes the process by which food (or aliment) gets into the blood. He is deeply impressed by the existence of "pipes as small as hairs," which convey a milky fluid (chyle) from food in the intestine. These pipes form part of a larger structure which serves "a manifest and necessary purpose." Two or three features of this structure "show, not only the contrivance, but the perfection of it." Up to this point, Paley's language is clear and confident, displaying not even a hint of uncertainty as to the system's having been designed. Later on, Paley describes the process whereby this milky fluid (chyle) re-enters the bloodstream, at a large vein near the heart. He is not sure why the fluid re-enters the bloodstream at this point, but speculates that a "churning in the lungs... is, probably, necessary for the intimate and perfect union of the old blood with the recent chyle." The term "probably" merely reflects Paley's incomplete anatomical knowledge. In no way does it imply that Paley believed that the inference to design in this case was merely probable rather than certain:

[W]e have now the aliment in the intestines, converted into pulp; and, though lately consisting of ten different viands, reduced to nearly an uniform substance, and to a state fitted for yielding its essence, which is called chyle, but which is milk, or more nearly resembling milk than any other liquor with which it can be compared. For the straining off this fluid from the digested aliment in the course of its long progress through the body, myriads of capillary tubes, i. e. pipes as small as hairs, open their orifices into the cavity of every part of the intestines. These tubes, which are so fine and slender as not to be visible unless when distended with chyle, soon unite into larger branches. The pipes, formed by this union, terminate in glands, from which other pipes of a still larger diameter arising, carry the chyle from all parts, into a common reservoir or receptacle.... Now, beside the subserviency of this structure, collectively considered, to a manifest and necessary purpose, we may remark two or three separate particulars in it, which show, not only the contrivance, but the perfection of it....

[T]the chyle enters the blood in an odd place, but perhaps the most commodious place possible, viz. at a large vein in the neck, so situated with respect to the circulation, as speedily to bring the mixture to the heart. And this seems to be a circumstance of great moment; for had the chyle entered the blood at an artery, or at a distant vein, the fluid, composed of the old and the new materials, must have performed a considerable part of the circulation, before it received that churning in the lungs, which is, probably, necessary for the intimate and perfect union of the old blood with the recent chyle.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter X, pp. 166-167, 170)

Finally, in the passage below, Paley makes it clear that he regards the inference to a Designer not as a probabilistic one, but as a clear and unambiguous proof. Each organ of the body proves the existence of a Designer: "The eye proves it without the ear; the ear without the eye." Paley is not envisaging a multiplication of probabilities here, but a cumulation of arguments, each of which is 100% certain. Even if we were to suppose (hypothetically) that a single alleged example of design might be mis-stated, there would still remain numerous other examples of organs in the human body, of whose design we could be absolutely certain. The notion of probability does not even arise in these design inferences; instead, Paley speaks of "proof":

So it is with the evidences of a Divine agency. The proof is not a conclusion which lies at the end of a chain of reasoning, of which chain each instance of contrivance is only a link, and of which, if one link fail, the whole falls; but it is an argument separately supplied by every separate example. An error in stating an example, affects only that example. The argument is cumulative, in the fullest sense of that term. The eye proves it without the ear; the ear without the eye.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VI, p. 77)



(iii) Paley's argument that the beauty we observe in plants and animals is probably the product of design

Left: A Red Pierrot butterfly, feeding at the M.E.S. Abasaheb Garware College campus in Pune, India. Image courtesy of Akshay Rao and Wikipedia.
Right: The human iris. This is an example of a Blue-Green-Grey iris, a relatively rare eye color that changes according to its surroundings. Image courtesy of Jon Leonard and Wikipedia.
For William Paley, instances of beauty such as these were probable cases of design in Nature. Paley did not regard the design inference as certain in these cases, because their biological function was not apparent.


Paley regarded the existence of beauty in the plant and animal kingdoms as a most remarkable fact, and he considered it probable, but not certain, that the beauty we observe in living creatures was the product of design. The reader may be wondering why Paley hesitated to draw the design inference here. Of the complexity of "parts and materials" there could be no doubt: Paley writes admiringly of "the painted wings of butterflies and beetles," and "the rich colours and spotted lustre of many tribes of insects." However, we need to recall that for Paley, a contrivance (which for Paley, necessarily requires a Designer) is more than a complex arrangement of parts. The parts have to serve a common end. Now, with the body's internal organs, the end is usually (but not always) readily discernible, because it is a biological end. A biological function, once established, leaves no room for argument. However, the beauty of the external coloring of a plant or animal often does not appear to serve any biological function, leaving Paley somewhat perplexed. Perhaps, he suggests, animal beauty is meant to attract other animals. Perhaps the beauty of flowers serves the same purpose. Now that would qualify as a bona fide end, if it were confirmed. At the same time, Paley was troubled by the existence of complex systems of parts which seemed to serve no other purpose than ornamentation.

A third general property of animal forms is beauty. I do not mean relative beauty, or that of one individual above another of the same species, or of one species compared with another species; but I mean, generally, the provision which is made in the body of almost every animal, to adapt its appearance to the perception of the animals with which it converses. In our own species, for example, only consider what the parts and materials are, of which the fairest body is composed; and no further observation will be necessary to show, how well these things are wrapped up, so as to form a mass, which shall be capable of symmetry in its proportion, and of beauty in its aspect...

All which seems to be a strong indication of design, and of a design studiously directed to this purpose. And it being once allowed, that such a purpose existed with respect to any of the productions of nature, we may refer, with a considerable degree of probability, other particulars to the same intention; such as the teints of flowers, the plumage of birds, the furs of beasts, the bright scales of fishes, the painted wings of butterflies and beetles, the rich colours and spotted lustre of many tribes of insects.

There are parts also of animals ornamental, and the properties by which they are so, not subservient, that we know of, to any other purpose. The irises of most animals are very beautiful, without conducing at all, by their beauty, to the perfection of vision; and nature could in no part have employed her pencil to so much advantage, because no part presents itself so conspicuously to the observer, or communicates so great an effect to the whole aspect.

In plants, especially in the flowers of plants, the principle of beauty holds a still more considerable place in their composition; is still more confessed than in animals. Why, for one instance out of a thousand, does the corolla of the tulip, when advanced to its size and maturity, change its colour? ... It seems a lame account to call it, as it has been called, a disease of the plant. Is it not more probable, that this property, which is independent, as it should seem, of the wants and utilities of the plant, was calculated for beauty, intended for display?
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XI, pp. 197-200)

Here, then, Paley's cautious assertion that the beauty observed in animals and plants gives "a strong indication of design" with "a considerable degree of probability" reflects his lack of certainty as to whether beauty actually serves a legitimate biological purpose in the organisms in which it is found. Professor Feser, being a Thomist, knows more than most philosophers about purpose. The point that Paley is making here is that we need to be absolutely certain that there is a purpose served by a complex arrangement of parts, before we can impute design to it. This makes sense: snowflakes are complex, but serve no purpose whatsoever. We see no need to impute design to them.



(iv) The probability that some organs of the body were designed for their future use

Foresight is one of the hallmarks of an intelligent designer, and if it could be established that some of the organs of the body developed in a way that required foresight on the part of their maker, then that would surely constitute additional proof of their maker's intelligence. Paley regarded the evidence of foresight in the design of the body's organs as a powerful supplement to his argument for design, which was based on the existence of contrivances in Nature, such as the eye. For Paley, however, such evidence was not decisive to his case.

Paley was also cautious about resting too much weight on the argument that the design of the organs of the human body required foresight on the part of their Maker. He considered it probable, but not certain. If it were established, it would furnish a "certain proof of design"; however, the evidence did not strike him as irrefragable, as the evidence for the design of the eye did.

For Paley, teeth were one of the best examples of body parts whose development required foresight on the part of their Maker. If infants were born with adult teeth then this would be an impediment to breast-feeding; consequently, their development had to be carefully timed. The fact that all the other parts of the mouth were fully developed at the time of an infant's birth rendered it all the more probable that the teeth were designed to develop gradually.

I can hardly imagine to myself a more distinguishing mark, and, consequently, a more certain proof of design, than preparation, i. e. the providing of things beforehand, which are not to be used until a considerable time afterwards; for this implies a contemplation of the future, which belongs only to intelligence.

Of these prospective contrivances, the bodies of animals furnish various examples.

I. The human teeth afford an instance, not only of prospective contrivance, but of the completion of the contrivance being designedly suspended. They are formed within the gums, and there they stop: the fact being, that their further advance to maturity would not only be useless to the new-born animal, but extremely in its way; as it is evident that the act of sucking, by which it is for some time to be nourished, will be performed with more ease both to the nurse and to the infant, whilst the inside of the mouth and edges of the gums are smooth and soft than if set with hard pointed bones...

Nature, namely, that intelligence which was employed in creation, looked beyond the first year of the infant's life; yet, whilst, she was providing for functions which were after that term to become necessary, was careful not to incommode those which preceded them. What renders it more probable that this is the effect of design, is, that the teeth are imperfect, whilst all other parts of the mouth are perfect. The lips are perfect, the tongue is perfect; the cheeks, the jaws, the palate, the pharynx, the larynx, are all perfect: the teeth alone are not so.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XIV, pp. 252-253)


Here, then, we have Paley, using his skills as an apologist to put forward a supplementary argument for the existence of a Creator - a persuasive argument to which he attached a high degree of probability, but did not consider to be proved beyond all doubt.


(v) The improbability of atheistic attempts to account for animal instinct

In other passages in Natural Theology, Paley disparages various atheistic explanations of natural phenomena as inherently improbable. One example of this can be found in his discussion of animal instincts. Paley vigorously defends the existence of parental instincts in animals, against skeptics in his day who had proposed that a female bird would know how to hatch her eggs because she remembered having hatched from an egg as a chick, thereby dispensing with the need to invoke a Divinely implanted instinct in order to account for parental behavior in animals. Paley dismisses the proposal as improbable, before going on to argue that the skeptical hypothesis could not possibly account for the existence of parental affection in animals:

Unless we will rather suppose, that she remembers her own escape from the egg; had attentively observed the conformation of the nest in which she was nurtured; and had treasured up her remarks for future imitation: which is not only extremely improbable (for who, that sees a brood of callow birds in their nest, can believe that they are taking a plan of their habitation?), but leaves unaccounted for, one principal part of the difficulty, "the preparation of the nest before the laying of the egg." This she could not gain from observation in her infancy.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XVIII, p. 304)

But suppose the address, and the selection, and the plan, which we perceive in the preparations which many irrational animals make for their young, to be traced to some probable origin; still there is left to be accounted for, that which is the source and foundation of these phenomena, that which sets the whole at work, the the parental affection which I contend to be inexplicable upon any other hypothesis than that of instinct.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XVIII, p. 307)


In the above passage, then, Paley is not arguing that non-theistic accounts of the origin of animal instinct might be right; he is simply arguing that even taken at face value, and considered independently of the design argument, these accounts are wildly implausible. In other words, Paley is endeavoring to defeat these skeptical arguments by ridicule, as well as rigorous argument.



(vi) Probability in relation to astronomical (as opposed to biological) arguments for the existence of God


Planets and dwarf planets of the solar system with sizes shown to scale, but distances from the Sun greatly compressed. Courtesy of NASA, Farry, Cmglee and Wikipedia.
Although William Paley regarded the arrangement of planets in the solar system as having been designed to human beings, he did not consider it impossible that this arrangement had come about by chance. Instead, he merely considered it to be highly improbable. By contrast, Paley viewed the origin of biological organs by chance as being impossible, rather than improbable.

Finally, Paley uses the term "improbable" in connection with astronomical arguments for the existence of God, which he considers rather weak, and hence unsuitable for attempting to "prove the agency of an intelligent Creator":

My opinion of Astronomy has always been, that it is not the best medium through which to prove the agency of an intelligent Creator; but that, this being proved, it shows, beyond all other sciences, the magnificence of his operations...
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, p. 378)

When we consider, therefore, that the sun is one; that the planets going round it are, at least, seven; that it is indifferent to their nature, which are luminous and which are opaque; and also, in what order, with respect to each other, these two kinds of bodies are disposed; we may judge of the improbability of the present arrangement taking place by chance.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, p. 383)

Towards the end of his Natural Theology, Paley finally puts forward a non-probabilistic argument for the cosmos having had a single Creator, based on the uniformity of the laws of Nature:

Of the "Unity of the Deity," the proof is, the uniformity of plan observable in the universe. The universe itself is a system; each part either depending upon other parts, or being connected with other parts by some common law of motion, or by the presence of some common substance. One principle of gravitation causes a stone to drop towards the earth, and the moon to wheel round it. One law of attraction carries all the different planets about the sun. This philosophers demonstrate. There are also other points of agreement amongst them, which may be considered as marks of the identity of their origin, and of their intelligent author. In all are found the conveniency and stability derived from gravitation...

In our own globe, the case is clearer. New countries are continually discovered, but the old laws of nature are always found in them: new plants perhaps, or animals, but always in company with plants and animals which we already know; and always possessing many of the same general properties. We never get amongst such original, or totally different, modes of existence, as to indicate, that we are come into the province of a different Creator, or under the direction of a different will. In truth, the same order of things attend us, wherever we go. (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXV, pp. 449-450)


Biological arguments, on the other hand, Paley considers to be absolutely certain proofs of the existence of a Creator:

Amongst a multitude of proofs, it is one that does the business. ... For my part, I take my stand in human anatomy: and the examples of mechanism I should be apt to draw out from the copious catalogue, which it supplies, are the pivot upon which the head turns, the ligament within the socket of the hip-joint, the pulley or trochlear muscles of the eye, the epiglottis, the bandages which tie down the tendons of the wrist and instep, the slit or perforated muscles at the hands and feet, the knitting of the intestines to the mesentery, the course of the chyle into the blood, and the constitution of the sexes as extended throughout the whole of the animal creation. To these instances, the reader's memory will go back, as they are severally set forth in their places; there is not one of the number which I do not think decisive; not one which is not strictly mechanical; nor have I read or heard of any solution of these appearances, which, in the smallest degree, shakes the conclusion that we build upon them.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, pp. 535-536)


To sum up: we have examined the various usages of the word "probable" in Paley's Natural Theology, and found not a single case in which he regards the inference to a Designer from a clearcut example of a contrivance in Nature (i.e. a complex arrangement of parts subserving a common end) as anything less than 100% certain. Professor Feser's attempt to construe Paley as claiming that the argument for God's existence is merely a probabilistic one, is completely misguided, and rests on a misreading of Paley.



(i) How did Paley refute the skeptical argument that in an infinite amount of time, all possible arrangements of matter would occur, including ordered arrangements?


The Greek philosopher Empedocles (490-430 B.C.), the first to propose a theory of evolution. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Wikipedia summarizes Empedocles' theory of the origin of plants and animals as follows:
"As the elements entered into combinations, there appeared strange results – heads without necks, arms without shoulders. Then as these fragmentary structures met, there were seen horned heads on human bodies, bodies of oxen with human heads, and figures of double sex. But most of these products of natural forces disappeared as suddenly as they arose; only in those rare cases where the parts were found to be adapted to each other, did the complex structures last. Thus the organic universe sprang from spontaneous aggregations, which suited each other as if this had been intended. Soon various influences reduced the creatures of double sex to a male and a female, and the world was replenished with organic life. It is possible to see this theory as an anticipation of Darwin's theory of natural selection, although Empedocles was not trying to explain evolution."
What Empedocles did not realize, however, was that natural selection could refine and transform creatures' organs over the course of time, owing to the survival advantage of adaptive variations. That insight had to wait until the time of Darwin and Wallace.


Paley was well aware of the skeptical argument that given enough time, anything could happen - including the transformation of disorganized matter into systems exhibiting order. In his Natural Theology, he addresses this argument on three occasions. In the first chapter, he considers how a normal man would account for a watch, composed of many intricate parts working together for a common purpose. The natural inference would be that it was designed by someone who made it. No sane man, declares Paley, would attempt to account for the watch's intricate structure by saying that the parts had to be configured in some way or other, and that they just happened to be configured as a watch when he came across the watch:

Nor, ... would any man in his senses think the existence of the watch, with its various machinery, accounted for, by being told that it was one out of possible combinations of material forms; that whatever he had found in the place where he found the watch, must have contained some internal configuration or other; and that this configuration might be the structure now exhibited, viz. of the works of a watch, as well as a different structure.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter I, p. 6)


At this point, a diehard skeptic might want to retort: "Why not? Surely, given enough time, any arrangement is possible." Actually, it does not follow that all logically possible arrangements of matter must be realized over an infinite time, since some arrangements of matter may still turn out to be nomologically impossible: in other words, the laws of Nature may prevent their ever coming into being in the first place.

The point Paley wants to make, however, relates to epistemic possibility rather than ontological possibility. The question we need to ask is: is it ever reasonable, given that we have never seen the parts of a watch come together to form a watch as a result of an unguided process, but have often seen intelligent agents making watches, to infer, upon finding a watch, that it was the outcome of an unguided process? Epistemically, it would always be irrational to make that inference; hence one would be justified in claiming with certainty that the watch was produced by an intelligent agent.

In a later chapter, Paley considers the Empedoclean hypothesis that the various living creatures we see in the world today are the only surviving remnants of a lost world of the past, in which every possible variation was experimented with, in a cosmic lottery. At the time when he wrote his reply in 1802, the history of life on Earth was almost totally unknown; thus Paley could truthfully declare that there was absolutely no evidence to support the view that things could transform themselves in the limitless variety of ways imagined by the Greek philosopher Empedocles (490-430 B.C.), and that there was no fossil evidence that these transformations had ever occurred. Today, however, we have fossil evidence that major transformations have occurred; the only remaining unanswered question is: how did they arise?


Left: "The Centaur of Tymfi". A fake centaur skeleton prepared and articulated by Skulls Unlimited International as a work for hire commissioned by Bill Willers. Image courtesy of Bill Willers, Sklmsta and Wikipedia.
William Paley argued that if Empedocles' theory that Nature experimented with every possible variation in living things in the past was correct, then we should have found the remains of centaurs by now. Why haven't we? A Darwinian evolutionist would reply that Nature never generated centaurs because their evolutionary forbears were not viable in the first place. That is, there was no traversable evolutionary pathway from the first living cell to a centaur.
Center: The hierarchy of biological classification's eight major taxonomic ranks. Image courtesy of Peter Halasz and Wikipedia.
Paley argued that if Nature had experimented in the past with every conceivable variation in living organisms, as Empedocles' theory of evolution supposed, then we shouldn't expect to be able to classify living things into neatly ordered nested hierarchies. Why, then, do nested hierarchies exist in Nature? A Darwinian evolutionist would respond that Markov chains can generate nested hierarchies, by a random, memoryless process.
Right: Prototype of a Quartz Wristwatch, CEH Switzerland, 1967. Courtesy of Centre Electronique Horloger and Wikipedia.
Paley's most telling argument against Empedocles' theory of evolution was that if nobody would credit the hypothesis that a watch formed by unguided natural processes, then the formation of life by unguided processes should also be deemed incredible, since the task of generating a living cell is far more difficult than the task of generating a watch. To this day, Darwinists have not answered this challenge in a satisfactory fashion. Indeed, even the formation of a single protein appears to be beyond the reach of unguided natural processes, let alone a living cell.


Paley also pointed out that if Empedocles' hypothesis were correct, we should expect to find the remains of all sorts of fantastic creatures, including "unicorns and mermaids, sylphs and centaurs". More tellingly, Paley argued that purely random variation could not possibly account for the nested hierarchies we encounter when classifying living things.

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution supplied the missing ingredient that Empedocles' theory lacked: the non-random element of natural selection. Mermaids never arose because their evolutionary predecessors were not viable. A Darwinist would also vigorously contest Paley's argument about nested hierarchies, by pointing out that Markov chains can in fact account for them perfectly well.


However, Paley had one more argument up his sleeve. He contended that the formation of a living thing by chance was a far more incredible occurrence than the formation of a watch, and yet we would never credit the latter to chance:

There is another answer which has the same effect as the resolving of things into chance; which answer would persuade us to believe, that the eye, the animal to which it belongs, every other animal, every plant, indeed every organized body which we see, are only so many out of the possible varieties and combinations of being, which the lapse of infinite ages has brought into existence; that the present world is the relict of that variety: millions of other bodily forms and other species having perished, being by the defect of their constitution incapable of preservation, or of continuance by generation...

The hypothesis, indeed, is hardly deserving of the consideration which we have given to it.What should we think of a man who, because we had never ourselves seen watches, telescopes, stocking-mills, steam-engines, &c. made, knew not how they were made, or could prove by testimony when they were made, or by whom, -- would have us believe that these machines, instead of deriving their curious structures from the thought and design of their inventors and contrivers, in truth derive them from no other origin than this; viz, that a mass of metals and other materials having run when melted into all possible figures, and combined themselves in all possible forms, and shapes, and proportions, these things which we see, are what were left from the accident, as best worth preserving; and, as such, are become the remaining stock of a magazine, which, at one time or other, has by this means, contained every mechanism, useful, and useless, convenient and inconvenient, into which such like materials could be thrown? I cannot distinguish the hypothesis as applied to the works of nature, from this solution which no one would accept, as applied to a collection of machines.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter V, pp. 66-67)


Paley's last point remains a substantial one, even in the 21st century. Prebiological natural selection, as Dobzhansky was fond of observing, is a contradiction in terms; and the formation of even a single protein by unguided natural processes has never been observed - let alone a living thing. The design inference remains the only adequate explanation of the origin of life.

In chapter XII, Paley puts forward one final argument for the design of organs we see in living creatures: they display the feature of variations on a theme, which points to their having had an intelligent designer:

Whenever we find a general plan pursued, yet with such variations in it as are, in each case, required by the particular exigency of the subject to which it is applied, we possess, in such plan and such adaptation, the strongest evidence that can be afforded of intelligence and design; an evidence which the most completely excludes every other hypothesis. If the general plan proceeded from any fixed necessity in the nature of things, how could it accommodate itself to the various wants and uses which it had to serve under different circumstances, and on different occasions? Arkwright's mill was invented for the spinning of cotton. We see it employed for the spinning of wool, flax, and hemp, with such modifications of the original principle, such variety in the same plan, as the texture of those different materials rendered necessary. Of the machine's being put together with design, if it were possible to doubt, whilst we saw it only under one mode, and in one form; when we came to observe it in its different applications, with such changes of structure, such additions and supplements, as the special and particular use in each case demanded, we could not refuse any longer our assent to the proposition, "that intelligence, properly and strictly so called (including under that name, foresight, consideration, reference to utility), had been employed, as well in the primitive plan, as in the several changes and accommodations which it is made to undergo."

Very much of this reasoning is applicable to what has been called Comparative Anatomy.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XII, pp. 211-212)


To sum up: Paley's strongest response to the skeptical argument that anything can happen, given enough time, was to point out that on an epistemic level, the design inference would always win out, as the only rational explanation for the origin of a contrived structure, whose parts were co-ordinated for the good of the whole.



3.2 Paley on why the organs of living things are the best possible proof of the Designer's existence

Thesis 2. For Paley, the organs of living things are the best possible proof of the Designer's existence, because they furnish numerous examples where a large number of parts are intricately arranged and exquisitely adapted as means to some end (of the organism), thereby clearly indicating to even the dullest observer that an Intelligence was required to produce them. The term contrivance, as used by Paley, denotes not an artificial contraption, but a co-ordinated arrangement of parts subserving some end. Paley insists that "the contrivances of nature surpass the contrivances of art"; hence the intelligence required to produce them is super-human.


Left: The human eye. According to William Paley, "Were there no example in the world, of contrivance, except that of the eye, it would be alone sufficient to support the conclusion which we draw from it, as to the necessity of an intelligent Creator."
Parts of the eye: 1. vitreous body 2. ora serrata 3. ciliary muscle 4. ciliary zonules 5. canal of Schlemm 6. pupil 7. anterior chamber 8. cornea 9. iris 10. lens cortex 11. lens nucleus 12. ciliary process 13. conjunctiva 14. inferior oblique muscle 15. inferior rectus muscle 16. medial rectus muscle 17. retinal arteries and veins 18. optic disc 19. dura mater 20. central retinal artery 21. central retinal vein 22. optic nerve 23. vorticose vein 24. bulbar sheath 25. macula 26. fovea 27. sclera 28. choroid 29. superior rectus muscle 30. retina. Image courtesy of Chabacano and Wikipedia.
Right: A Russian mechanical watch. Image courtesy of Kristoferb and Wikipedia.


(a) Why the organs of living things constitute the best possible argument for God's existence, according to Paley

In comparing the organs of the body to man-made contrivances, Paley did not mean to downgrade organs but to highlight their superiority as mechanisms: they contained many more parts, and were much more artfully fitted to attain their goal. In describing these organs as mechanisms, Paley simply meant, as we saw above, that each of them was an ordered arrangement of parts adapted to some end. (A Thomist would point out here that in the case of an organ, the means-end finality is intrinsic rather than extrinsic, and Paley himself would agree with this statement, as we'll see below in Thesis 9.)

I mean that the contrivances of nature surpass the contrivances of art, in the complexity, subtility, and curiosity of the mechanism; and still more, if possible, do they go beyond them in number and variety; yet, in a multitude of cases, are not less evidently mechanical, not less evidently contrivances, not less evidently accommodated to their end, or suited to their office, than are the most perfect productions of human ingenuity.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, p. 18)

I contend, therefore, that there is mechanism in animals; that this mechanism is as properly such, as it is in machines made by art; that this mechanism is intelligible and certain; that it is not the less so, because it often begins or terminates with something which is not mechanical; that whenever it is intelligible and certain, it demonstrates intention and contrivance, as well in the works of nature, as in those of art; and that it is the best demonstration which either can afford.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VII, p. 82)


(i) Paley: Even the existence of a single eye is enough to prove the existence of God

The single example of the eye is enough to render the existence of a Deity certain beyond all doubt, for Paley:

Were there no example in the world, of contrivance, except that of the eye, it would be alone sufficient to support the conclusion which we draw from it, as to the necessity of an intelligent Creator. It could never be got rid of; because it could not be accounted for by any other supposition, which did not contradict all the principles we possess of knowledge; the principles, according to which, things do, as often as they can be brought to the test of experience, turn out to be true or false.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VI, p. 75)



(ii) The ball and socket joint: an unequivocal proof of God's existence

For Paley, the ligament of the ball and socket joint in the thigh constitutes an unequivocal proof of the existence of God:

If I had been permitted to frame a proof of contrivance, such as might satisfy the most distrustful inquirer, I know not whether I could have chosen an example of mechanism more unequivocal, or more free from objection, than this ligament. Nothing can be more mechanical; nothing, however subservient to the safety, less capable of being generated by the action of the joint. I would particularly solicit the reader's attention to this provision, as it is found in the head of the thigh-bone; to its strength, its structure, and its use. It is an instance upon which I lay my hand. One single fact, weighed by a mind in earnest, leaves oftentimes the deepest impression. For the purpose of addressing different understandings and different apprehensions,--for the purpose of sentiment, for the purpose of exciting admiration of the Creator's works, we diversify our views, we multiply examples; but for the purpose of strict argument, one clear instance is sufficient; and not only sufficient, but capable perhaps of generating a firmer assurance than what can arise from a divided attention.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VIII, pp. 112-113)



(iii) Other instances of design in Nature which prove the existence of God, for Paley

For Paley, the workings of the valves of the heart constitute unequivocal proof of a Creator:

So long as the blood proceeds in its proper course, the membranes which compose the valve, are pressed close to the side of the vessel, and occasion no impediment to the circulation: when the blood would regurgitate, they are raised from the side of the vessel, and, meeting in the middle of its cavity, shut up the channel. Can any one doubt of contrivance here; or is it possible to shut our eyes against the proof of it?
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter X, p. 161)

Whilst we see, therefore, the use and necessity of this machinery, we can look to no other account of its origin or formation than the intending mind of a Creator.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter X, pp. 162-163)


Paley considers our ability to move our limbs to be no less remarkable: he maintains that it is "impossible to conceive" of how the various parts of the body could work together so harmoniously without a Designer:

It has been said, that a man cannot lift his hand to his head, without finding enough to convince him of the existence of a God. And it is well said; for he has only to reflect, familiar as this action is, and simple as it seems to be, how many things are requisite for the performing of it... All these share in the result; join in the effect: and how all these, or any of them, come together without a designing, disposing intelligence, it is impossible to conceive.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter X, pp. 183-184)


Paley argues that even the existence of webbed feet in ducks (but not in land-dwelling birds) is enough to prove the existence of a Designer:

The utility of the web to water-fowl, the inutility to land-fowl, are so obvious, that it seems impossible to notice the difference without acknowledging the design. I am at a loss to know, how those, who deny the agency of an intelligent Creator, dispose of this example.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XII, p. 238)



(iv) For Paley, anatomy furnishes the strongest proofs of the existence of a Designer of Nature

In all cases, wherein the mind feels itself in danger of being confounded by variety, it is sure to rest upon a few strong points, or perhaps upon a single instance. Amongst a multitude of proofs, it is one that does the business. If we observe in any argument, that hardly two minds fix upon the same instance, the diversity of choice shows the strength of the argument, because it shows the number and competition of the examples. There is no subject in which the tendency to dwell upon select or single topics is so usual because there is no subject, of which, in its full extent, the latitude is so great, as that of natural history applied to the proof of an intelligent Creator. For my part, I take my stand in human anatomy: and the examples of mechanism I should be apt to draw out from the copious catalogue, which it supplies, are the pivot upon which the head turns, the ligament within the socket of the hip-joint, the pulley or trochlear muscles of the eye, the epiglottis, the bandages which tie down the tendons of the wrist and instep, the slit or perforated muscles at the hands and feet, the knitting of the intestines to the mesentery, the course of the chyle into the blood, and the constitution of the sexes as extended throughout the whole of the animal creation. To these instances, the reader's memory will go back, as they are severally set forth in their places; there is not one of the number which I do not think decisive; not one which is not strictly mechanical; nor have I read or heard of any solution of these appearances, which, in the smallest degree, shakes the conclusion that we build upon them.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, pp. 535-536)



(b) Paley: A single mechanical device is enough to demonstrate the existence of a Designer


A Russian mechanical watch. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
For Paley, even if there were only one watch in the world, it would nonetheless be certain that it had a Designer.

For Paley, just as the existence of even a single watch suffices to render the existence of a Designer absolutely certain, so too, the discovery of a single mechanism in Nature suffices to demonstrate the existence of a Designer:

If there were but one watch in the world, it would not be less certain that it had a maker. If we had never in our lives seen any but one single kind of hydraulic machine, yet, if of that one kind we understood the mechanism and use, we should be as perfectly assured that it proceeded from the hand, and thought, and skill of a workman, as if we visited a museum of the arts, and saw collected there twenty different kinds of machines for drawing water, or a thousand different kinds for other purposes. Of this point, each machine is a proof, independently of all the rest. So it is with the evidences of a Divine agency.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VI, pp. 76-77)

I contend, therefore, that there is mechanism in animals; that this mechanism is as properly such, as it is in machines made by art; that this mechanism is intelligible and certain; that it is not the less so, because it often begins or terminates with something which is not mechanical; that whenever it is intelligible and certain, it demonstrates intention and contrivance, as well in the works of nature, as in those of art; and that it is the best demonstration which either can afford.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VII, p. 82)


The illustration of Paley's watch serves to show that whenever we encounter an object (natural or artificial) whose parts are contrived, we are warranted in immediately inferring, with certitude, that it must have had a Designer:

This mechanism being observed (it requires indeed an examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed and understood), the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker: that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter I, p. 3)


Paley then envisages the possibility of a watch that was capable of replicating itself: as he puts it, "the thing is conceivable"
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter II, p. 8). Even if we found a machine that had been constructed by another one, an original Designer would still be necessary:

Though it be now no longer probable, that the individual watch, which our observer had found, was made immediately by the hand of an artificer, yet doth not this alteration in anywise affect the inference, that an artificer had been originally employed and concerned in the production. The argument from design remains as it was. Marks of design and contrivance are no more accounted for now, than they were before. (Paley, W. Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter II, pp. 10-11)

The machine which we are inspecting, demonstrates, by its construction, contrivance and design. Contrivance must have had a contriver; design, a designer; whether the machine immediately proceeded from another machine or not. That circumstance alters not the case. That other machine may, in like manner, have proceeded from a former machine: nor does that alter the case; contrivance must have had a contriver. That former one from one preceding it: no alteration still; a contriver is still necessary.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter II, pp. 13-14)


Paley is adamant that even the presence of defects in the design of a mechanism render it no less certain that it was the product of "an intelligent Creator":

When we are inquiring simply after the existence of an intelligent Creator, imperfection, inaccuracy, liability to disorder, occasional irregularities, may subsist in a considerable degree, without inducing any doubt into the question: just as a watch may frequently go wrong, seldom perhaps exactly right, may be faulty in some parts, defective in some, without the smallest ground of suspicion from thence arising that it was not a watch; not made; or not made for the purpose ascribed to it.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter V, p. 56)



3.3 Paley on the signs of Intelligent Design not only in living things, but also throughout the cosmos, pointing to a transcendent Designer

Thesis 3. Paley contends that the laws of Nature show signs of having been chosen by an Intelligent Agent, as well. They are finely tuned: out of an infinite number of possible laws, those laws which allow the existence and continuation of a stable cosmos are very few, and those which support life are even fewer. If we look at physical systems within our universe (e.g. solar system), we find that the initial conditions required to form such systems were also fine-tuned. Since the laws of Nature hold throughout the cosmos, it follows that the Intelligent Agent responsible for them must exist outside and beyond Nature.

Left: Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1689. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Right: Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation was believed by William Paley (1743-1805) to constitute powerful evidence for God's existence. Paley spoke of the laws of Nature as "powers of nature which prevail at present" (Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, p. 440). Writing on the subject of gravitational attraction, Paley argued that "out of an infinite number of possible laws, those which were admissible for the purpose of supporting the heavenly motions, lay within certain narrow limits" - a striking anticipation of the fine-tuning argument. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.


For Paley, whereas arguments for an Intelligent Designer that are based on biology leave no possible room for doubt as to His existence, arguments based on astronomy are persuasive but not compelling, owing to the simplicity of the heavenly bodies and their movements. The mind, wrote Paley, typically infers design from complexity rather than simplicity:

My opinion of Astronomy has always been, that it is not the best medium through which to prove the agency of an intelligent Creator; but that, this being proved, it shows, beyond all other sciences, the magnificence of his operations. The mind which is once convinced, it raises to sublimer views of the Deity than any other subject affords; but it is not so well adapted, as some other subjects are, to the purpose of argument. We are destitute of the means of examining the constitution of the heavenly bodies. The very simplicity of their appearance is against them. We see nothing, but bright points, luminous circles, or the phases of spheres reflecting the light which falls upon them. Now we deduce design from relation, aptitude, and correspondence of parts. Some degree therefore of complexity is necessary to render a subject fit for this species of argument. But the heavenly bodies do not, except perhaps in the instance of Saturn's ring, present themselves to our observation as compounded of parts at all. This, which may be a perfection in them, is a disadvantage to us, as inquirers after their nature. They do not come within our mechanics.

And what we say of their forms, is true of their motions.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, pp. 378-379)

Despite the limitations of astronomy, Paley argued that the laws of Nature displayed signs of having been specially chosen by an Intelligent Creator.


(a) Paley: The laws of Nature are fine-tuned

The fine-tuning argument was alive and well even back in the early nineteenth century. Paley cited Newton's inverse square law of universal gravitation as a striking example of a law which allows the heavenly bodies to remain in stable orbits, as well as being indispensable to life in the cosmos:

Our knowledge therefore of astronomy is admirable, though imperfect: and, amidst the confessed desiderata and desideranda, which impede our investigation of the wisdom of the Deity, in these the grandest of his works, there are to be found, in the phenomena, ascertained circumstances and laws, sufficient to indicate an intellectual agency in three of its principal operations, viz. in choosing, in determining, in regulating; in choosing, out of a boundless variety of suppositions which were equally possible, that which is beneficial; in determining, what, left to itself, had a thousand chances against conveniency, for one in its favour; in regulating subjects, as to quantity and degree, which, by their nature, were unlimited with respect to either.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, pp. 381-382)

[Later on, Paley cites Newton's inverse square law of universal gravitation as an example of a fine-tuned law of Nature]

This is the principle which sustains the heavenly motions. The Deity, having appointed this law to matter (than which, as we have said before, no law could be more simple), has turned it to a wonderful account in constructing planetary systems.

The actuating cause in these systems, is an attraction which varies reciprocally as the square of the distance; that is, at double the distance, has a quarter of the force; at half the distance, four times the strength; and so on. Now, concerning this law of variation, we have three things to observe: First; that attraction, for any thing we know about it, was just as capable of one law of variation, as of another: Secondly; that, out of an infinite number of possible laws, those which were admissible for the purpose of supporting the heavenly motions, lay within certain narrow limits: Thirdly; that of the admissible laws, or those which come within the limits prescribed, the law that actually prevails is the most beneficial. So far as these propositions can be made out, we may be said, I think, to prove choice and regulation: choice, out of boundless variety; and regulation, of that which, by its own nature, was, in respect of the property regulated, indifferent and indefinite.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, pp. 390-391)

"If we suppose the matter of the system to be accumulated in the centre by its gravity, no mechanical principles, with the assistance of this power of gravity, could separate the vast mass into such parts as the sun and planets; and, after carrying them to their different distances, project them in their several directions, preserving still the quality of action and re-action, or the state of the centre of gravity of the system. Such an exquisite structure of things could only arise from the contrivance and powerful influences of an intelligent, free, and most potent agent. The same powers, therefore, which, at present, govern the material universe, and conduct its various motions, are very different from those, which were necessary, to have produced it from nothing, or to have disposed it in the admirable form in which it now proceeds." -- Maclaurin's Account of Newton's Philos. p. 407. ed. 3.).
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, p. 404)



(b)The universe cannot be self-existent, because it contains signs of contrivance and of being ordered

Atheists in Paley's day were wont to ask, "Why, since something or other must have existed from eternity, may not the present universe be that something?" Paley argued that signs of contrivance in the universe preclude the possibility of its being self-existent:


The contrivance perceived in it [the universe], proves that to be impossible. Nothing contrived, can, in a strict and proper sense, be eternal, forasmuch as the contriver must have existed before the contrivance.

Wherever we see marks of contrivance, we are led for its cause to an intelligent author.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 413)


Since the universe itself needs to be ordered by an Intelligence beyond it, it follows that it cannot be called "God" in any meaningful sense. That which is contrived requires a Contriver:

Of this however we are certain, that whatever the Deity be, neither the universe, nor any part of it which we see, can be He... Nothing can be God, which is ordered by a wisdom and a will, which itself is void of; which is indebted for any of its properties to contrivance ab extra.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412)



3.4 Laws and mechanisms cannot do away with the need for an original Designer, nor can they continue to do a Designer's work in His absence

Thesis 4. In response to those who would explain the harmony of the cosmos by appealing to laws, Paley argues that laws and mechanisms are incapable of explaining anything, in the absence of agency. Properly understood, a law or mechanism simply refers to the way in which the power of some agent operates. It therefore follows that no law or mechanism in Nature can ever do away with the need for an original Designer; nor is it capable of doing the Designer's work in his absence. Thus the Designer cannot just wander off, after establishing the laws of Nature; nothing would work if He did.

File:Archimedes water balance.gif File:Archimedes-screw one-screw-threads with-ball 3D-view animated small.gif

Left: Archimedes' principle is a law of Nature, which states that a body immersed in a fluid experiences a buoyant force equal to the weight of the fluid it displaces. There is a (not very well-attested) story that this principle was used by Archimedes in order to determine whether the golden crown of King Hiero II was less dense than gold, as it would have been if silver had been illicitly mixed in by the goldsmith who made it for the king. If the laurel wreath (left) was less dense than the reference weight (right), its larger volume would displace more water and thus experience a larger upward buoyant force, causing it to weigh less in the water. According to the Roman architect Vitruvius, the test was conducted successfully, proving that silver had indeed been mixed in by the dishonest goldsmith. Image courtesy of Tonyle and Wikipedia.
Right: Archimedes' screw is a mechanism that was originally developed in order to remove the bilge water from an ancient luxury ship, the Syracusia, which was capable of carrying 600 people and included garden decorations, a gymnasium and a temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite among its facilities. Archimedes' machine was a device with a revolving screw-shaped blade inside a cylinder. It was turned by hand. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
According to William Paley, neither laws nor mechanisms can remove the need for an Intelligent Agent, Who designed the contrivances we see in Nature. Laws and mechanisms, argued Paley, are incapable of doing anything on their own; they both presuppose the existence of powers. Neither laws nor mechanisms are capable of producing co-ordinated arrangements of parts subserving some end; nor can they maintain them in existence. Powers or dispositions are required to do that, maintains Paley, and as we'll see in Thesis 6 below, these powers must ultimately come from an immaterial agent.


(a) Why laws of Nature and physical mechanisms are incapable of explaining anything, in their own right

In his discussion of the laws of Nature, Paley is most emphatic that laws and physical mechanisms are incapable of explaining anything in their own right, and that they presuppose the existence of an agent:

It is a perversion of language to assign any law, as the efficient, operative cause of any thing. A law presupposes an agent; for it is only the mode, according to which an agent proceeds: it implies a power; for it is the order, according to which that power acts. Without this agent, without this power, which are both distinct from itself, the law does nothing; is nothing.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter I, p. 7).

We have already noticed (Note: Ch. J. sect. vii.), and we must here notice again, the misapplication of the term "law," and the mistake concerning the idea which that term expresses in physics, whenever such idea is made to take the place of power, and still more of an intelligent power, and, as such, to be assigned for the cause of any thing, or of any property of any thing, that exists.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 415)

I say once more, that it is a perversion of language to assign any law, as the efficient, operative cause of any thing. A law presupposes an agent, for it is only the mode according to which an agent proceeds; it implies a power, for it is the order according to which that power acts. Without this agent, without this power, which are both distinct from itself, the "law" does nothing; is nothing.

What has been said concerning "law," holds true of mechanism. Mechanism is not itself power. Mechanism, without power, can do nothing.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 416)

Neither mechanism, therefore, in the works of nature, nor the intervention of what are called second causes (for I think that they are the same thing), excuses the necessity of an agent distinct from both.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 419)



(b) Laws of Nature describe the powers of natural objects, for Paley

This invites the question: are laws, for Paley, descriptions of the built-in powers of natural objects, or are they simply statements which describe the power and agency of God? In his discussion of Newton's First Law of Motion, which he considers to be the simplest law, Paley speaks of "the Deity" as "having appointed this law to matter" (Natural Theology, Chapter XXII, p. 390). He then proceeds to discuss Newton's Universal Law of Gravitation, and appears to be undecided as to whether gravitational attraction is a "primordial property of matter" or "the agency of something immaterial" such as vortices (Natural Theology, Chapter XXII, p. 391). Paley also acknowledges the reality of "powers of nature which prevail at present" (Natural Theology, Chapter XXIII, p. 440).


Perhaps the clearest statement of Paley's view of laws of Nature can be found in the following passage:

Whatever is done, God could have done without the intervention of instruments or means: but it is in the construction of instruments, in the choice and adaptation of means, that a creative intelligence is seen. It is this which constitutes the order and beauty of the universe. God, therefore, has been pleased to prescribe limits to his own power, and to work his end within those limits. The general laws of matter have perhaps the nature of these limits; its inertia, its re-action; the laws which govern the communication of motion, the refraction and reflection of light, the constitution of fluids non-elastic and elastic, the transmission of sound through the latter; the laws of magnetism, of electricity; and probably others, yet undiscovered.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, pp. 40-41)

Thus Paley seems to have believed that laws of Nature describe the limited powers of natural objects, which were arbitrarily imposed on those objects by God – a philosophical position that contains elements of both immanent finality and extrinsic finality.



(c) The laws of Nature are themselves contrived

But what was most important for Paley was that each law of Nature was "a choice of one law out of thousands which might equally have taken place" (Natural Theology, Chapter XXII, p. 400), and as such, attested to the Wisdom and Benevolence of God. Writing on the subject of gravitational attraction, Paley argued that "out of an infinite number of possible laws, those which were admissible for the purpose of supporting the heavenly motions, lay within certain narrow limits" and that "of the admissible laws, or those which come within the limits prescribed, the law that actually prevails is the most beneficial" (Natural Theology, Chapter XXII, p. 390). Paley explained the occurrence of natural evil by arguing that "general laws, however well set and constituted, often thwart and cross one another" (Natural Theology, Chapter XXVI, p. 492).



(d) Secondary causes do nothing to weaken the inference to a Designer

Finally, Paley argued that even the discovery of natural processes that are capable of generating contrivances in Nature would do nothing to weaken the inference to a Designer, since these processes are themselves contrived, and hence in need of a Designer:

"The plumule [sprout - VJT] (it is said) is stimulated by the air into action, and elongates itself when it is thus most excited; the radicle is stimulated by moisture, and elongates itself when it is thus most excited. Whence one of these grows upward in quest of its adapted object, and the other downward (Note: Darwin's Phytologia, p. 144.). Were this account better verified by experiment than it is, it only shifts the contrivance. It does not disprove the contrivance; it only removes it a little further back. Who, to use our author's own language, "adapted the objects?" Who gave such a quality to these connate parts, as to be susceptible of different "stimulation;" as to be "excited" each only by its own element, and precisely by that, which the success of the vegetation requires?
(Natural Theology, Chapter XX, pp. 358-359)



(e) Why the laws of Nature must have been designed

Chapter III, pp. 39-42

One question may possibly have dwelt in the reader's mind during the perusal of these observations, namely, Why should not the

[page] 39 Deity have given to the animal the faculty of vision at once? Why this circuitous perception; the ministry of so many means; an element provided for the purpose; reflected from opaque substances, refracted through transparent ones; and both according to precise laws; then, a complex organ, an intricate and artificial apparatus, in order, by the operation of this element, and in conformity with the restrictions of these laws, to produce an image upon a membrane communicating with the brain? Wherefore all this? Why make the difficulty in order to surmount it? If to perceive objects by some other mode than that of touch, or objects which lay out of the reach of that sense, were the thing proposed; could not a simple volition of the Creator have communicated the capacity? Why resort to contrivance, where power is omnipotent? Contrivance, by its very definition and nature, is the refuge of imperfection. To have recourse to expedients, implies difficulty, impediment, restraint, defect of power. This question belongs to the other senses, as well as to sight; to the general functions of animal life, as nutrition, secretion, respiration; to the œconomy of vegetables; and indeed to almost all the operations of nature. The question, therefore, is [page] 40
of very wide extent; and amongst other answers which may be given to it; beside reasons of which probably we are ignorant, one answer is this: It is only by the display of contrivance, that the existence, the agency, the wisdom of the Deity, could be testified to his rational creatures. This is the scale by which we ascend to all the knowledge of our Creator which we possess, so far as it depends upon the phænomena, or the works of nature. Take away this, and you take away from us every subject of observation, and ground of reasoning; I mean as our rational faculties are formed at present. Whatever is done, God could have done without the intervention of instruments or means: but it is in the construction of instruments, in the choice and adaptation of means, that a creative intelligence is seen. It is this which constitutes the order and beauty of the universe. God, therefore, has been pleased to prescribe limits to his own power, and to work his end within those limits. The general laws of matter have perhaps the nature of these limits; its inertia, its re-action; the laws which govern the communication of motion, the refraction and reflection of light, the constitution of fluids non-elastic and elastic, the transmission of sound through the latter; the laws of [page] 41

magnetism, of electricity; and probably others, yet undiscovered. These are general laws; and when a particular purpose is to be effected, it is not by making a new law, nor by the suspension of the old ones, nor by making them wind, and bend, and yield to the occasion (for nature with great steadiness adheres to and supports them); but it is, as we have seen in the eye, by the interposition of an apparatus, corresponding with these laws, and suited to the exigency which results from them, that the purpose is at length attained. As we have said, therefore, God prescribes limits to his power, that he may let in the exercise, and thereby exhibit demonstrations of his wisdom. For then, i. e. such laws and limitations being laid down, it is as though one Being should have fixed certain rules; and, if we may so speak, provided certain materials; and, afterwards, have committed to another Being, out of these materials, and in subordination to these rules, the task of drawing forth a creation: a supposition which evidently leaves room, and induces indeed a necessity for contrivance. Nay, there may be many such agents, and many ranks of these. We do not advance this as a doctrine either of philosophy or of religion; but we say that the subject may safely be represented [page] 42

under this view, because the Deity, acting himself by general laws, will have the same consequences upon our reasoning, as if he had prescribed these laws to another. It has been said, that the problem of creation was, "attraction and matter being given, to make a world out of them:" and, as above explained, this statement perhaps does not convey a false idea.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, pp. 39-42)

For Paley, Newton's laws afforded an excellent example of contrivance in Nature. Newton's law of Universal Gravitation, which states that the attraction between two bodies is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them, is a case in point:

The Deity, having appointed this law to matter (than which, as we have said before, no law could be more simple), has turned it to a wonderful account in constructing planetary systems.

The actuating cause in these systems, is an attraction which varies reciprocally as the square of the distance; that is, at double the distance, has a quarter of the force; at half the distance, four times the strength; and so on. Now, concerning this law of variation, we have three things to observe: First; that attraction, for any thing we know about it, was just as capable of one law of variation, as of another: Secondly; that, out of an infinite number of possible laws, those which were admissible for the purpose of supporting the heavenly motions, lay within certain narrow limits: Thirdly; that of the admissible laws, or those which come within the limits prescribed, the law that actually prevails is the most beneficial. So far as these propositions can be made out, we may be said, I think, to prove choice and regulation: choice, out of boundless variety; and regulation, of that which, by its own nature, was, in respect of the property regulated, indifferent and indefinite.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, pp. 390-391)



3.5 For Paley, the inability of a body to move other bodies unless it is currently being moved by an agent, points to the continued existence of a Designer of Nature

Thesis 5. Paley, like Aquinas, holds that a body is incapable of making another body move, unless it is currently being moved by something else. It follows that if we find contrivances in Nature which are moving, there must exist something which is currently making them move. This fact is of vital importance, for it establishes without a doubt that the Intelligent Designer of Nature is still alive. According to Paley, the agency of this Intelligent Designer is continually required, in order to explain the ongoing movements of the numerous contrivances we find in Nature.

File:Orbit5.gif

A simulation of a binary star system. Image courtesy of Zhatt and Wikipedia.
William Paley referred to the power of gravitational attraction several times in his Natural Theology. A binary star system is a good example of two bodies exercising this power on each other. However, Paley also maintained that a body is naturally incapable of moving another body, unless something else is moving it. Hence he regarded motion as something that ultimately needed to be explained in terms of something immaterial, or spiritual.


(a) For Paley, as for Aquinas, a body cannot move other bodies unless something moves it

Paley believed that a material object is incapable of making another object move unless something else moves it. Thus in Chapter XXIV of his Natural Theology, entitled, Of the Natural Attributes of the Deity, Paley (citing the apologetic work of Bishop John Wilkins) refers to "the origination of motion; the quality, perhaps, in which resides the essential superiority of spirit over matter, 'which cannot move, unless it be moved; and cannot but move, when impelled by another (Note: Bishop Wilkins's Principles of Natural Religion, p. 106)'" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412).

Again, in Chapter XXIII, Of the Personality of the Deity, when discussing the nature of the Deity, Paley writes that whatever the Deity may be, "inert matter is out of the question" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412).

Interestingly, St. Thomas Aquinas shared Paley's belief that matter "cannot move, unless it be moved." In his Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, chapter 20 (That God is not a body), he states in paragraph 8 that "no body moves locally unless it be moved," and again in paragraph 27 that "no body moves except by being moved."

We can now understand why for Paley, the continued motion of the contrivances found throughout the cosmos could only be explained by the fact that their Designer was still alive and active in keeping them in operation:

In the works of nature we trace mechanism; and this alone proves contrivance: but living, active, moving, productive nature, proves also the exertion of a power at the centre: for, wherever the power resides, may be denominated the centre. (Paley, W. Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 418)



(b) Why Paley thinks that the Designer must be still alive

In his book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009, p. 115), Professor Feser raises a common objection to William Paley's argument from design:

Moreover, as with a watch, once Paley's designer has done his "watchmaking," there is no need for him to remain on the scene, for once built the mechanism can function without him.


This is a commonly repeated criticism of Paley's watchmaker argument. However, what many people do not realize is that Paley anticipated this very criticism in his Natural Theology, and vigorously rebutted it. The flaw in the critic's argument is that it assumes that a law or mechanism, once established, suffices to explain how things work, and require no further explanation. As Paley pointed out, laws and mechanisms are incapable of explaining anything, in the absence of agency:

A law presupposes an agent, for it is only the mode according to which an agent proceeds; it implies a power, for it is the order according to which that power acts. Without this agent, without this power, which are both distinct from itself, the "law" does nothing; is nothing.

What has been said concerning "law," holds true of mechanism. Mechanism is not itself power. Mechanism, without power, can do nothing.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 416)

Neither mechanism, therefore, in the works of nature, nor the intervention of what are called second causes (for I think that they are the same thing), excuses the necessity of an agent distinct from both.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 419)



(c) The watch and the hand mill: two analogies used by Paley to illustrate the world's continual dependence on God


A human-powered treadmill, used for grinding wheat or corn. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
In his book, Natural Theology, William Paley used the image of a human-powered grinding mill as an analogy for the continual dependence of the universe on the power of God, who upholds it. Paley's analogy of the grinding mill is clearer than his watch analogy, because it is obvious that it requires the continual activity of an intelligent agent to keep it moving.

Paley used two analogies to illustrate his claim that the cosmos requires the continual activity of a living God to keep it functioning: that of a watch and that of a grinding mill (illustrated above).

Let a watch be contrived and constructed ever so ingeniously; be its parts ever so many, ever so complicated, ever so finely wrought or artificially put together, it cannot go without a weight or spring, i.e. without a force independent of, and ulterior to, its mechanism... By inspecting the watch, even when standing still, we get a proof of contrivance, and of a contriving mind, having been employed about it. In the form and obvious relation of its parts, we see enough to convince us of this... But, when we see the watch going, we see proof of another point, viz. that there is a power somewhere, and somehow or other, applied to it; a power in action;--that there is more in the subject than the mere wheels of the machine;--that there is a secret spring, or a gravitating plummet;--in a word, that there is force, and energy, as well as mechanism.

So then, the watch in motion establishes to the observer two conclusions: One; that thought, contrivance, and design, have been employed in the forming, proportioning, and arranging of its parts; and that whoever or wherever he be, or were, such a contriver there is, or was: The other; that force or power, distinct from mechanism, is, at this present time, acting upon it. If I saw a hand-mill even at rest, I should see contrivance: but if I saw it grinding, I should be assured that a hand was at the windlass, though in another room. It is the same in nature. In the works of nature we trace mechanism; and this alone proves contrivance: but living, active, moving, productive nature, proves also the exertion of a power at the centre: for, wherever the power resides, may be denominated the centre.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pages 416-418.)


First, Paley appeals to the illustration of a watch to argue that the Designer of Nature must still be alive and active in the cosmos. The contrivances that we see in Nature tell us that it had a Designer, but it is the movement of the cosmos that tells us that the Designer must still be alive and active in the world.

Second, Paley's analogy of the human-powered grinding mill illustrates the way in which the cosmos requires the continual activity of an intelligent agent (God) to keep it moving.



(i) A problem with the watch analogy? Why Paley believed that God was needed to keep the cosmos moving

To the modern reader, it may appear that Paley's watch analogy overlooks a rather obvious objection: watches, when wound up, can continue running for a very long time without further intervention from their maker, and a hypothetical perfect watch, once constructed, might continue running throughout the duration of the cosmos. Thus it seems that Paley's argument fails to establish the existence of a God Who is still living; all it shows is that the cosmos once had a Designer, Who may or may not still be alive.

The answer to this objection is that Paley and his contemporaries shared a common belief about matter that no longer strikes us as self-evident: namely, that a material object is incapable of making another object move unless something else moves it. Thus in Chapter XXIV of his Natural Theology, entitled, Of the Natural Attributes of the Deity, Paley refers to "the origination of motion; the quality, perhaps, in which resides the essential superiority of spirit over matter, 'which cannot move, unless it be moved; and cannot but move, when impelled by another (Note: Bishop Wilkins's Principles of Natural Religion, p. 106.).'" Again, in Chapter XXIII, Of the Personality of the Deity, when discussing the nature of the Deity, Paley writes that whatever the Deity may be, "inert matter is out of the question" (Paley, W. Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412).


Chapter XXIII of Paley's Natural Theology, entitled, Of the Personality of the Deity, contains a striking passage in which Paley simultaneously affirms his belief in secondary causality and in the built-in teleology of living organisms, "with parts bearing strict relation... to the utility of the whole." Paley insists that regardless of whether these parts are guided in their movements by "particular intelligent beings" (e.g. angels) or whether they are simply "the result of trains of mechanical dispositions" (emphasis mine), there must be an Intelligence beyond Nature which not only designed these parts, but supplies the power to keep them in action:

Neither mechanism, therefore, in the works of nature, nor the intervention of what are called second causes (for I think that they are the same thing), excuses the necessity of an agent distinct from both...

There may be many second causes, and many courses of second causes, one behind another, between what we observe of nature, and the Deity: but there must be intelligence somewhere; there must be more in nature than what we see; and, amongst the things unseen, there must be an intelligent, designing author. The philosopher beholds with astonishment the production of things around him. Unconscious particles of matter take their stations, and severally range themselves in an order, so as to become collectively plants or animals, i.e. organized bodies, with parts bearing strict and evident relation to one another, and to the utility of the whole: and it should seem that these particles could not move in any other way than as they do; for, they testify not the smallest sign of choice, or liberty, or discretion. There may be particular intelligent beings, guiding these motions in each case: or they may be the result of trains of mechanical dispositions, fixed beforehand by an intelligent appointment, and kept in action by a power at the centre. But, in either case, there must be intelligence. (Paley, W. Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pp. 419-420)



(ii) The human-powered grinding mill: a better analogy for Paley?

Nevertheless, I think it is fair to say that the analogy of the human-powered grinding mill, in the passage above, was actually much more suitable than that of the watch for making the point that Paley wished to establish: that the world continually depends on God to keep it functioning. It is a great pity, then, that Paley did not begin his book, Natural Theology, with an illustration employing a complex machine that continually requires an intelligent human being in order to operate it. As we'll see in Part Five, the Christian Church employed just such an analogy when arguing for the existence of God, as far back as the fourth century A.D.: the analogy of the lute.


We can now summarize the argument that Paley is developing. Since bodies in the cosmos evidently cause each other to move, and since a material object is incapable of moving another object unless something else moves it, we are forced to conclude that there must be something currently keeping the cosmos in motion. However, the mere existence of a cosmos in motion cannot tell us anything about what this "something" might be. It is only the existence of contrivance in Nature that shows us that the "something" must also be intelligent. Thus we are led to conclude that the Designer of the cosmos is neither extinct, nor an absentee landlord, but very much alive and in charge of the cosmos.



(d) St. Thomas Aquinas shared Paley's belief that a body is incapable of moving another body unless something else moves it

St. Thomas Aquinas shared Paley's belief that matter "cannot move, unless it be moved." In his Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, chapter 20 (That God is not a body), he states in paragraph 8 that "no body moves locally unless it be moved," and again in paragraph 27 that "no body moves except by being moved."

In his Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, chapter 23 (That the Motion of the Heavens comes from an Intellectual Principle), Aquinas argues that celestial bodies need to be be moved by an intelligent agent, regardless of whether we consider these bodies to be somehow alive (in which case, their motion comes from the intelligence that animates them) or whether they are conceived to be inanimate (in which case, they are moved by an external agent). What is interesting is that Aquinas, in developing his argument, appeals to the (then universally accepted) premise that "no body moves unless it is moved" - which is the same premise that William Paley appealed to, in his Natural Theology:

[3] Again, everything that is moved must be moved by another being, as we proved earlier. Therefore, a celestial body is moved by something else. So, this other thing is either completely separated from it, or is united with it in the sense that the composite of the celestial body and the mover may be said to move itself, in so far as one of its parts is the mover and another part is the thing moved. Now, if it works this way, since everything that moves itself is alive and animated, it would follow that the heavens are animated, and by no other soul than an intellectual one: not by a nutritive soul, for generation and corruption are not within its power; nor by a sensitive soul, for a celestial body has no diversity of organs. The conclusion is, then, that it is moved by an intellective soul. - On the other hand, if it is moved by an extrinsic mover, this latter will be either corporeal or incorporeal. Now, if it is corporeal, it will not move unless it is moved, for no body moves unless it is moved, as was evident previously. Therefore, it will also have to be moved by another. And since there should be no process to infinity in the order of bodies, we will have to come to an incorporeal first mover. Now, that which is utterly separate from body must be intellectual, as is evident from earlier considerations. Therefore, the motion of the heavens, that is of the first body, comes from an intellectual substance.

However, if one accepts the notion that "no body moves unless it is moved", as Paley (and before him, St. Thomas Aquinas) did, then the notion that the entire cosmos could be wound up like a watch and still keep running, makes absolutely no sense.



3.6 Paley uses the watch metaphor for the organs of living things, rather than for the the world as a whole

Thesis 6. Paley uses the watch not as a metaphor for the universe as a whole, or even as a metaphor for living organisms, but for the parts of living things, such as the eye. However, at one point he uses the illustration of a watch to argue that the world could only be ordered and kept in motion by a Designer Who is still living, just as a watch in motion shows the existence of an original designer and of a force keeping it moving.


(a) Surprise: Paley rejected the watch metaphor for the cosmos!

Looking at Paley's Natural Theology, I can find no passage in which he says that the world is a giant watch – so it is incorrect, strictly speaking, to speak of "Paley's watch metaphor." Nor does Paley anywhere liken the world to a watch, so we cannot even speak of a simile here.

Indeed, Paley specifically rejected the watch as an apt metaphor for the cosmos, in his Natural Theology. He did so for two reasons: first, watches have a complex internal structure, but the heavenly bodies are "simple" insofar as they lack any internal structure; and second, the mechanism of a watch requires that its parts be in physical contact with one another, whereas the gravitational influence exerted by one heavenly body on another is action at a distance. For these reasons, Paley thinks that astronomy is unsuitable for proving the existence of God:

My opinion of Astronomy has always been, that it is not the best medium through which to prove the agency of an intelligent Creator; but that, this being proved, it shows, beyond all other sciences, the magnificence of his operations. The mind which is once convinced, it raises to sublimer views of the Deity than any other subject affords; but it is not so well adapted, as some other subjects are, to the purpose of argument. We are destitute of the means of examining the constitution of the heavenly bodies. The very simplicity of their appearance is against them. We see nothing, but bright points, luminous circles, or the phases of spheres reflecting the light which falls upon them. Now we deduce design from relation, aptitude, and correspondence of parts. Some degree therefore of complexity is necessary to render a subject fit for this species of argument. But the heavenly bodies do not, except perhaps in the instance of Saturn's ring, present themselves to our observation as compounded of parts at all. This, which may be a perfection in them, is a disadvantage to us, as inquirers after their nature. They do not come within our mechanics.

And what we say of their forms, is true of their motions. Their motions are carried on without any sensible intermediate apparatus; whereby we are cut off from one principal ground of argumentation and analogy. We have nothing wherewith to compare them; no invention, no discovery, no operation or resource of art, which, in this respect, resembles them. Even those things which are made to imitate and represent them, such as orreries, planetaria, celestial globes, &c. bear no affinity to them, in the cause and principle by which their motions are actuated. I can assign for this difference a reason of utility, viz. a reason why, though the action of terrestrial bodies upon each other be, in almost all cases, through the intervention of solid or fluid substances, yet central attraction does not operate in this manner. It was necessary that the intervals between the planetary orbs should be devoid of any inert matter either fluid or solid, because such an intervening substance would, by its resistance, destroy those very motions, which attraction is employed to preserve. This may be a final cause of the difference; but still the difference destroys the analogy.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, pp. 378-380)


It is true that in a later passage, Paley cites the inter-dependence of the various parts of the cosmos, which are all subject to the same laws of Nature, as evidence for the unity of the Creator. Even here, however, he goes no further than to describe the universe as a "system", without likening it to a watch:

Of the "Unity of the Deity," the proof is, the uniformity of plan observable in the universe. The universe itself is a system; each part either depending upon other parts, or being connected with other parts by some common law of motion, or by the presence of some common substance. One principle of gravitation causes a stone to drop towards the earth, and the moon to wheel round it. One law of attraction carries all the different planets about the sun. This philosophers demonstrate. There are also other points of agreement amongst them, which may be considered as marks of the identity of their origin, and of their intelligent author.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXV, pp. 449-450)


Finally, there is a passage in Paley's Natural Theology where he uses the analogy of a watch to argue that the Divine Watchmaker is no absentee landlord; rather, His continual action is required to keep things in Nature in motion. Paley could make this argument because he, like most of his contemporaries (and like Aquinas before him) believed that matter was incapable of self-movement: one piece of matter was only capable of moving another piece of matter if something else was moving the first piece of matter - an argument which (as Paley realized) implies the existence of an immaterial Prime Mover. However, the point I wish to make here is that even while arguing that "in the works of nature we trace mechanism", Paley did not liken the cosmos as a whole to a giant watch. Instead, his argument was that there are multiple watch-like entities (or contrivances, as he called them) in the cosmos - which is why he uses the plural form, "works of Nature" - and that each of these proves the existence of a living, active Creator. He then goes on to collectively describe these contrivances as "living, active, moving, productive nature", but it would be totally unwarranted to infer from this phrase that Paley was likening them to the parts of a watch, especially in view of his explicit rejection of the watch metaphor for the cosmos in Chapter XXII:

...[T]he watch in motion establishes to the observer two conclusions: One; that thought, contrivance, and design, have been employed in the forming, proportioning, and arranging of its parts; and that whoever or wherever he be, or were, such a contriver there is, or was: The other; that force or power, distinct from mechanism, is, at this present time, acting upon it... It is the same in nature. In the works of nature we trace mechanism; and this alone proves contrivance: but living, active, moving, productive nature, proves also the exertion of a power at the centre: for, wherever the power resides, may be denominated the centre.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pp. 416-418)


I conclude that the popular belief that Paley likened the world to a watch is a myth, and I am surprised that it has not been punctured sooner. I find it astonishing that scholars such as Professor Feser have accepted this myth so uncritically.


(b) Paley likened the organs of living things to watches

Although he rejected the watch metaphor for the cosmos as a whole, it is certainly fair to say that he likens the biological structures (such as the eye) that we find in the natural world to watches – for example, when he writes:

...[E]very 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 and more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation. I mean that the contrivances of nature surpass the contrivances of art, in the complexity, subtility, and curiosity of the mechanism; and still more, if possible, do they go beyond them in number and variety; yet, in a multitude of cases, are not less evidently mechanical, not less evidently contrivances, not less evidently accommodated to their end, or suited to their office, than are the most perfect productions of human ingenuity.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, pp. 17-18)



3.7 Since the Designer is capable of contriving things, it must be capable of thought, and must therefore be a personal agent

Thesis 7. Paley reasons that anything which is capable of contriving and designing things must also be capable of consciousness and thought, and must therefore be a person. Thus the Designer of Nature is a personal agent and not merely a blind or impersonal principle. (As an Anglican archdeacon, Rev. Paley of course believed that God is actually a Trinity of persons, but since his book is about natural theology, he makes no attempt to demonstrate a truth that unaided reason could never discover.)


The statue of Rodin's Thinker, at Musee Rodin in Paris. Image courtesy of Andrew Horne and Wikipedia.
William Paley argued that any being capable of co-ordinating and arranging parts to serve some end must be capable of thought, and hence a person. Hence the Designer of the countless contrivances we see in Nature must be a personal being, according to Paley.


Why the Designer of Nature must be personal

Paley argues that the existence of contrivance in Nature shows that it must have been designed by a personal Being:

Contrivance, if established, appears to me to prove every thing which we wish to prove. Amongst other things, it proves the personality of the Deity, as distinguished from what is sometimes called nature, sometimes called a principle: which terms, in the mouths of those who use them philosophically, seem to be intended, to admit and to express an efficacy, but to exclude and to deny a personal agent. Now that which can contrive, which can design, must be a person. These capacities constitute personality, for they imply consciousness and thought. They require that which can perceive an end or purpose; as well as the power of providing means, and of directing them to their end (Note: Priestley's Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, p. 153, ed. 2.) They require a centre in which perceptions unite, and from which volitions flow; which is mind. The acts of a mind prove the existence of a mind: and in whatever a mind resides, is a person.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 408)

Upon the whole; after all the schemes and struggles of a reluctant philosophy, the necessary resort is to a Deity. The marks of design are too strong to be gotten over. Design must have had a designer. That designer must have been a person. That person is GOD.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 441)

It is an immense conclusion, that there is a GOD; a perceiving, intelligent, designing, Being; at the head of creation, and from whose will it proceeded.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 441)

As an Anglican divine, Paley of course believed in a tri-personal Deity, rather than a God Who is only one person. Paley could not appeal to revelation in a work on natural theology, but he would surely have seen the existence of not one but three persons in the Godhead as strengthening his argument for a personal Deity.



3.8 In addition to being transcendent, the Designer of Nature must also be one, spiritual, good, omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient - in other words, the God of classical theism

Thesis 8. In addition to being personal, the Designer of Nature must be:

(a) transcendent, because contrivances are found at all levels throughout Nature, so their Author must lie beyond Nature;
(b) uncaused, or self-existent, because His existence does not have any preceding cause;
(c) the cause not only of the origin of things, but of their continuation in existence, because the physical laws which define their very natures, could only have been chosen by an intelligent agent, and because these laws only continue to hold by virtue of the ongoing activity of this intelligent agent;
(d) one, because the unformity of His plan can be seen throughout Nature;
(e) spiritual, because He is a personal agent capable of thought and will, and capable (unlike matter) of moving things without needing anyone to move Him;
(f) good, because the contrivances He has placed in living things are designed for the good of those creatures, and not for their harm;
(g) omnipresent, because His power extends throughout Nature;
(h) omnipotent, because everything is His handiwork, so there is nothing to limit His power over Nature;
(i) omniscient, because the knowledge required for the formation of created nature is infinite, since He selected the laws of the cosmos from an infinite range of possible options;
(j) simple, because complex beings require an external cause for the skillful contrivance of their parts, whereas God has no cause;
(k) beyond space and time, since He is their Author, and has no limits. (One could draw the conclusion, though Paley himself does not explicitly say so, that God is therefore timeless and immutable.)

In all these respects, Paley's God is identical with the God of classical theism. On two points, however, Paley differs from most classical theists. First, Paley equates the necessity of God with the possibility of our demonstrating His existence, whereas for classical theists, God's necessity is usually grounded in the notion that God is Pure Existence, and hence incapable of non-existence. Second, Paley appears to believe that God is capable of perceiving the world in some way. Even if this perception occurs timelessly in the mind of God, it would still mean that He is passible, or capable of being affected by the world. Classical theism, however, traditionally holds that God is impassible. However, neither the necessity nor the impassibility of God forms part of the defined teachings of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. None of these religions teach that God is Pure Existence. Nor do they teach that God is impassible, or incapable of being affected by His creatures; rather, what they teach is that God does not have passions, or bodily feelings.

I conclude that Paley falls within the broad tradition of classical theism, albeit of a very pragmatic variety, insofar as he endeavors to explain the Divine attributes in terms of how they affect us, rather than describing them in terms of God's inner being - a subject about which Paley prefers not to speculate.


The first paragraph of the Shema, as written on a Torah scroll: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one." Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
The unity of God is one of several attributes that classical theists ascribe to Him, along with such attributes as transcendence, aseity (being uncaused), omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, simplicity, timelessness, immutability, and impassibility. William Paley ascribed most of these attributes to God.

What is classical theism?

Finding a generally agreed definition of classical theism is no easy matter. I have decided to use the definition given in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in its article on Concepts of God:

Most theists agree that God is (in Ramanuja's words) the "supreme self" or person — omniscient, omnipotent, and all good. But classical Christian theists have also ascribed four "metaphysical attributes" to God — simplicity, timelessness, immutability, and impassibility.



Did Paley believe in classical theism?

Scotus on God, time and impassibility in God and the Nature of Time:

http://books.google.co.jp/books?id=DDPk9eGFpS8C&pg=PA191&lpg=PA191&dq=Scotus+God+everlasting&source=bl&ots=XZu7jVNeLu&sig=-O2Sqb-ZE5smrEoMlBhoJ65ECf4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=uh0sUIWBHKXemAX0-4BI&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Scotus%20God%20everlasting&f=false

See also http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/eternity/#LocCla

It is fair to assume that Paley, as an Anglican clergyman, would have assented to the first of the Elizabethan Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, which reads as follows:

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The article clearly affirms God's omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence, and describes God as being without parts - or in other words, simple.

Since the article describes God as being both everlasting and eternal (see also the second article, which speaks of "the very and eternal God"), and since the doctrine of God's timelessness and immutability was generally accepted by Christians of all stripes in Paley's day, it is reasonable to conclude that Paley would have imputed these attributes to God as well. It is true that there are passages in Paley's Natural Theology where he speaks of God as existing before His creation, but similar passages can be found in Scripture itself (Proverbs 8:23-26; John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20), and Paley elsewhere speaks of God as possessing "a power ... to which we are not authorized, by our observation or knowledge, to assign any limits of space or duration" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 444). As a clergyman, Paley must also have been aware of the Scriptural affirmation, "I the Lord do not change" (Malachi 3:6). Regarding these two Divine attributes, then, I think Paley deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Finally, the first of the Elizabethan Thirty-nine articles describes God as being without passions, so in this qualified sense, Paley would have accepted the notion of Divine impassibility. In his Natural Theology, however, he speaks of God as "a perceiving, intelligent, designing, Being" ((Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 441-442). At the very least, then, Paley must have held that God is capable of being timelessly made aware of events occurring in this world. In the strict sense of the word, then, Paley did not accept the notion of Divine impassibility.



Two views of classical theism

Thomas Williams, in his article on John Dus Scotus, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, argues that there are at least two ways of grounding God's attributes. On Aquinas' view, since God is Pure Existence, His absolute simplicity is what grounds the other Divine attributes; whereas on Scotus' view, God is Infinite Being, His infinity is what grounds these attributes:

...[T]he concept of "infinite being" has a privileged role in Scotus's natural theology. As a first approximation, we can say that divine infinity is for Scotus what divine simplicity is for Aquinas. It's the central divine-attribute generator. But there are some important differences between the role of simplicity in Aquinas and the role of infinity in Scotus. The most important, I think, is that in Aquinas simplicity acts as an ontological spoilsport for theological semantics. Simplicity is in some sense the key thing about God, metaphysically speaking, but it seriously complicates our language about God. God is supposed to be a subsistent simple, but because our language is all derived from creatures, which are all either subsistent but complex or simple but non-subsistent, we don't have any way to apply our language straightforwardly to God. The divine nature systematically resists being captured in language.

For Scotus, though, infinity is not only what's ontologically central about God, it's the key component of our best available concept of God and a guarantor of the success of theological language. That is, our best ontology, far from fighting with our theological semantics, both supports and is supported by our theological semantics. The doctrine of univocity rests in part on the claim that "[t]he difference between God and creatures, at least with regard to God's possession of the pure perfections, is ultimately one of degree" (Cross [1999], 39). Remember one of Scotus's arguments for univocity. If we are to follow Anselm in ascribing to God every pure perfection, we have to affirm that we are ascribing to God the very same thing that we ascribe to creatures: God has it infinitely, creatures in a limited way. One could hardly ask for a more harmonious cooperation between ontology (what God is) and semantics (how we can think and talk about him).



Did Paley argue for classical theism, in his Natural Theology?

The question of whether classical theism is properly grounded in God's absolute simplicity (as Aquinas thought) or God's infinity (as Scotus maintained) has a significant bearing on whether Rev. William Paley can legitimately be said to have argued for the truth of classical theism in his Natural Theology.

Paley emphatically argued for God's simplicity in his Natural Theology, in a passage where he contends that the Designer of Nature must be immaterial and could not possibly be composed of material parts. If He contained any contrivances, argues Paley, then He would no longer be self-existent:

Of this however we are certain, that whatever the Deity be, neither the universe, nor any part of it which we see, can be He. The universe itself is merely a collective name: its parts are all which are real; or which are things. Now inert matter is out of the question: and organized substances include marks of contrivance. But whatever includes marks of contrivance, whatever, in its constitution, testifies design, necessarily carries us to something beyond itself, to some other being, to a designer prior to, and out of, itself. No animal, for instance, can have contrived its own limbs and senses; can have been the author to itself of the design with which they were constructed. That supposition involves all the absurdity of self-creation, i. e. of acting without existing. Nothing can be God, which is ordered by a wisdom and a will, which itself is void of; which is indebted for any of its properties to contrivance ab extra. The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see. Which consideration contains the answer to a question that has sometimes been asked, namely, Why, since something or other must have existed from eternity, may not the present universe be that something? The contrivance perceived in it, proves that to be impossible. Nothing contrived, can, in a strict and proper sense, be eternal, forasmuch as the contriver must have existed before the contrivance.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412).


While the foregoing argument by Paley precludes God's having any material parts, a Thomist might still object that Paley makes no attempt to establish that the Designer has no metaphysical parts. As Professor Edward Feser explains in his online post, Classical theism (30 September, 2010), in classical theism, God's simplicity is defined in metaphysical terms:

To say that God is simple is to say that He is in no way composed of parts – neither material parts, nor metaphysical parts like form and matter, substance and accidents, or essence and existence.


From a Thomistic perspective, then, Paley's argument for classical theism appears incomplete.

In reply, I would suggest that Paley does not spell out the argument for God's absolute simplicity in further detail, precisely because it was so well-known to his contemporaries. In his Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 448), Paley quotes from page 106 of Bishop Wilkins' Principles of Natural Religion, when arguing that the Designer of Nature must be a spiritual being, in order to account for the continued motion of matter, 'which cannot move, unless it be moved; and cannot but move, when impelled by another.' But if we look at the preceding page of Bishop Wilkins' Principles of Natural Religion, we find the following argument for God's absolute simplicity:

God cannot be compounded of any Principles, because the Principles and Ingredients which concur to the making of any thing, must be anteceddent to that thing. And if the Divine Nature were compounded, it would follow that there must be something in Nature antecedent to Him. Which is inconsistent with His being the First Cause. (Principles of Natural Religion, sixth edition, London, 1710, Chapter VIII, pp. 104-105.)


Since Paley was an Anglican divine who wrote admiringly of Bishop Wilkins and quoted from his apologetic works, it makes sense to assume that he would have endorsed Wilkins' argument for God's absolute simplicity, even if he does explicitly refer to this argument in his Natural Theology.


If, on the other hand, we follow Duns Scotus in regarding God's infinity, rather than His simplicity, as the central Divine-attribute generator, then a case for classical theism can be made simply by arguing that the Designer of Nature must be infinite. In that case, Paley can be legitimately said to have explicitly argued for the truth of classical theism, as he put forward no less than four arguments for God's infinity in his Natural Theology.

Paley's first argument was that God's designs are infinitely more skillful than our own. Paley illustrated this point using the example of the human eye:

I know no better method of introducing so large a subject, than that of comparing a single thing with a single thing; an eye, for example, with a telescope. As far as the examination of the instrument goes, there is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision, as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it. (Chapter III, p. 18)

Were there no example in the world, of contrivance, except that of the eye, it would be alone sufficient to support the conclusion which we draw from it, as to the necessity of an intelligent Creator. It could never be got rid of; because it could not be accounted for by any other supposition, which did not contradict all the principles we possess of knowledge; the principles, according to which, things do, as often as they can be brought to the test of experience, turn out to be true or false. Its coats and humours, constructed, as the lenses of a telescope are constructed, for the refraction of rays of light to a point, which forms the proper action of the organ; the provision in its muscular tendons for turning its pupil to the object, similar to that which is given to the telescope by screws, and upon which power of direction in the eye, the exercise of its office as an optical instrument depends; the further provision for its defence, for its constant lubricity and moisture, which we see in its socket and its lids, in its gland for the secretion of the matter of tears, its outlet or communication with the nose for carrying off the liquid after the eye is washed with it; these provisions compose altogether an apparatus, a system of parts, a preparation of means, so manifest in their design, so exquisite in their contrivance, so successful in their issue, so precious, and so infinitely beneficial in their use, as, in my opinion, to bear down all doubt that can be raised upon the subject. (Chapter VI, pp. 75-76)

The formation then of such an image being necessary (no matter how) to the sense of sight, and to the exercise of that sense, the apparatus by which it is formed is constructed and put together, not only with infinitely more art, but upon the self-same principles of art, as in the telescope or the camera obscura. (Chapter III, p. 21)


Paley's second argument was that God, when He was determining the laws of Nature, had to make a choice from among an infinite number of alternatives, only an infinitesimal proportion of which were compatible with the formation of a stable cosmos. Presumably, only a Being of infinite intelligence could be relied on to make such a selection and get it right:

Another thing, in which a choice appears to be exercised, and in which, amongst the possibilities out of which the choice was to be made, the number of those which were wrong, bore an infinite proportion to the number of those which were right, is in what geometricians call the axis of rotation. (Chapter XXII, p. 385)

... out of an infinite number of possible laws, those which were admissible for the purpose of supporting the heavenly motions, lay within certain narrow limits... (Chapter XX, p. 390)

Our second proposition is, that, whilst the possible laws of variation were infinite, the admissible laws, or the laws compatible with the preservation of the system, lie within narrow limits. (Chapter XXII, p. 393)


A third argument put forward by Paley is that God is able to control an indefinitely large region of space by His volitions. Since He is capable of controlling as large a region of space as he likes, we must suppose Him to be a Being of infinite power:

We have no authority to limit the properties of mind to any particular corporeal form, or to any particular circumscription of space. These properties subsist, in created nature, under a great variety of sensible forms. Also every animated being has its sensorium, that is, a certain portion of space, within which perception and volition are exerted. This sphere may be enlarged to an indefinite extent; may comprehend the universe; and, being so imagined, may serve to furnish us with as good a notion, as we are capable of forming, of the immensity of the Divine Nature, i. e. of a Being, infinite, as well in essence as in power; yet nevertheless a person. (Chapter XXIII, p. 409)


A fourth argument mounted by Paley for God's infinity is that He is apparently capable of manifesting His wisdom and benevolence in an unlimited number of ways, upon an unlimited number of objects:

Whilst these propositions can be maintained, we are authorized to ascribe to the Deity the character of benevolence: and what is benevolence at all, must in him be infinite benevolence, by reason of the infinite, that is to say, the incalculably great, number of objects, upon which it is exercised. (p. 492)

Upon the whole; in every thing which respects this awful, but, as we trust, glorious change, we have a wise and powerful Being, (the author, in nature, of infinitely various expedients for infinitely various ends), upon whom to rely for the choice and appointment of means, adequate to the execution of any plan which his goodness or his justice may have formed, for the moral and accountable part of his terrestrial creation. (p. 548)


It is for all these reasons that Paley feels entitled to conclude that only a Being with infinite knowledge and power could have created the cosmos:

The degree of knowledge and power, requisite for the formation of created nature, cannot, with respect to us, be distinguished from infinite. (p. 445)


We have seen that Paley advances no less than four distinct arguments for God's infinity in his Natural Theology. Some of these arguments are more convincing than others, but whatever their merit, they can certainly serve as a foundation for an argument leading to the God of classical theism, if Duns Scotus' conception of the Divine attributes is correct.

I conclude, then, that the God of Paley's Natural Theology is indeed the God of classical theism, even if Paley's account of some of the Divine attributes differs in certain respects from that given by medieval Scholastic philosophers.




Do any of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) require a belief in the God of classical theism?

Surprisingly, neither Judaism nor Christianity nor Islam requires its members to believe in the God of classical theism.

The essential tenets of Judaism in relation to God's nature, as defined in Maimonides' Thirteen Articles of the Jewish Faith, are that God exists, God is one and unique, God is incorporeal, God is eternal, and God knows the thoughts and deeds of men. Although God is generally agreed to be omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and eternal, the thirteen articles make no claim that God is infinite. God is also said to be indivisible, from which God's simplicity might be deduced, but the articles say nothing about God's timelessness, immutability or impassibility.

If we look at the Christian faith, we find a great diversity of denominations, each with its own credal statements. I shall limit my discussion to the ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church, which is generally acknowledged to be the most dogmatic of the various forms of Christianity. It also claims to be the apostolic faith of the first Christians.

The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 made the following declaration concerning God, in Chapter 1 of its decrees:

428 Firmly we believe and we confess simply that the true God is one alone, eternal, immense, and unchangeable, incomprehensible, omnipotent and ineffable, Father and Son and Holy Spirit: indeed three Persons but one essence, substance, or nature entirely simple.

The ecumenical Council of Florence (1438-1445) made the following declaration concerning God, in session 11:

First, then, the holy Roman church, founded on the words of our Lord and Saviour, firmly believes, professes and preaches one true God, almighty, immutable and eternal, Father, Son and holy Spirit; one in essence, three in persons...

The position of the Catholic Church was reiterated in the following pronouncement by the First Vatican Council (1869-1870):

The Holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church believes and professes that there is one living and true God, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, omnipotent, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intellect and will and in all perfection Who, being One, singular, absolutely simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, is to be regarded as distinct really and in essence from the world most blessed in and from Himself, and unspeakably elevated above all things that exist, or can be conceived, except Himself. (Session III, April 24, 1870) (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02062e.htm )


If we carefully examine these dogmatic declarations, we find to our surprise that God's omniscience, omnipresence and omnibenevolence are nowhere explicitly affirmed, although the phrase, "infinite in intellect and will and in all perfection" might reasonably be taken to imply them. Only God's omnipotence is explicitly affirmed, and its scope is not specified. Aquinas held that God could do anything which was logically possible, but the Catholic Church has never defined this.

The absolute simplicity of God is clearly affirmed, but only insofar as it pertains to the Divine essence. There is no dogmatic declaration by the Catholic Church condemning the notion that in God, there may be a distinction between His substance (or essence) and His accidents; nor is the Eastern Orthodox theological notion that God's operations are distinct from His essence condemned by any ecumenical council.

Regarding God's immutability: at the First Vatican Council, God is said to be an "unchangeable spiritual substance." Nothing is said, however, regarding whether God is capable of changing in other ways, not relating to His substance as such. Nor is there any official dogmatic declaration that God is timeless.

Finally, God's impassibility is nowhere affirmed, either explicitly or implicitly. Even to this day, it is not a defined Catholic doctrine. Some Thomists, including Professor Feser, have claimed that God's impassibility is a logical consequence of His immutability. In reality, however, all that follows from the doctrine of God's immutability is that if God is affected by His creatures, He is affected in a timeless manner. It does not follow that He is not affected at all.


The official teaching of Islam is somewhat vaguer than that of Christianity. While Muslim teaching on the Nature of Allah declares Him to be utterly incomprehensible, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and incorporeal, as well as both just and merciful, there is nothing, as far as I can tell, requiring Muslims to believe that He is simple, timeless, immutable or impassible.

Let us now examine the arguments Paley puts forward in relation to the Divine attributes.



Paley on the Divine Attributes

If we examine Paley's Natural Theology, we find that he explicitly affirms the vast majority of the attributes traditionally ascribed to God by Jews and Christians, as well as most of those ascribed to God by classical theists.

(a) The Designer of Nature is Transcendent

Paley explicitly affirms God's transcendence in the following passage, where he declares that God is known through His effects, that His nature is wholly mysterious to us, and that His nature is far removed from all things that we can see:

The great energies of nature are known to us only by their effects. The substances which produce them, are as much concealed from our senses as the Divine essence itself. Gravitation, though constantly present, though constantly exerting its influence, though every where around us, near us, and within us; though diffused throughout all space, and penetrating the texture of all bodies with which we are acquainted, depends, if upon a fluid, upon a fluid which, though both powerful and universal in its operation, is no object of sense to us; if upon any other kind of substance or action, upon a substance and action, from which we receive no distinguishable impressions. Is it then to be wondered at, that it should, in some measure, be the same with the Divine nature?

Of this however we are certain, that whatever the Deity be, neither the universe, nor any part of it which we see, can be He... Nothing can be God, which is ordered by a wisdom and a will, which itself is void of; which is indebted for any of its properties to contrivance ab extra. The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412)

The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412)

...[A] power which could create such a world as this is, must be, beyond all comparison, greater than any which we experience in ourselves, than any which we observe in other visible agents; greater also than any which we can want, for our individual protection and preservation, in the Being upon whom we depend. It is a power, likewise, to which we are not authorized, by our observation or knowledge, to assign any limits of space or duration.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 444)



(b) The Designer of Nature is Uncaused, or Self-existent

Paley also explicitly affirmed God's self-existence:

The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412)

"Self-existence" is another negative idea, viz. the negation of a preceding cause, as of a progenitor, a maker, an author, a creator.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 448)



(c) The Designer of Nature is the Cause of existence of everything in Nature

Paley declared God to be the cause of existence of all things occurring in Nature:

... I shall not, I believe, be contradicted when I say, that, if one train of thinking be more desirable than another, it is that which regards the phenomena of nature with a constant reference to a supreme intelligent Author. To have made this the ruling, the habitual sentiment of our minds, is to have laid the foundation of every thing which is religious. The world thenceforth becomes a temple, and life itself one continued act of adoration. The change is no less than this, that, whereas formerly God was seldom in our thoughts, we can now scarcely look upon any thing without perceiving its relation to him. Every organized natural body, in the provisions which it contains for its sustentation and propagation, testifies a care, on the part of the Creator, expressly directed to these purposes. We are on all sides surrounded by such bodies; examined in their parts, wonderfully curious; compared with one another, no less wonderfully diversified.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, p. 539)

Against not only the cold, but the want of food, which the approach of winter induces, the Preserver of the world has provided in many animals by migration, in many others by torpor.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XVII, p. 298)

Under this stupendous Being we live. Our happiness, our existence, is in his hands. All we expect must come from him.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, p. 541)

God is "the original cause of all things"
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, p. 542)

...[T]he Creator must know, intimately, the constitution and properties of the things which he created; which seems also to imply a foreknowledge of their action upon one another, and of their changes; at least, so far as the same result from trains of physical and necessary causes. His omniscience also, as far as respects things present, is deducible from his nature, as an intelligent being, joined with the extent, or rather the universality, of his operations.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 444-445)

One and the self-same spring, acting in one and the same manner, viz. by simply expanding itself, may be the cause of a hundred different and all useful movements, if a hundred different and well-devised sets of wheels be placed between it and the final effect; e. g. may point out the hour of the day, the day of the month, the age of the moon, the position of the planets, the cycle of the years, and many other serviceable notices; and these movements may fulfil their purposes with more or less perfection, according as the mechanism is better or worse contrived, or better or worse executed, or in a better or worse state of repair: but in all cases, it is necessary that the spring act at the centre.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pp. 416-417 )

Unconscious particles of matter take their stations, and severally range themselves in an order, so as to become collectively plants or animals, i.e. organized bodies, with parts bearing strict and evident relation to one another, and to the utility of the whole: and it should seem that these particles could not move in any other way than as they do; for, they testify not the smallest sign of choice, or liberty, or discretion. There may be particular intelligent beings, guiding these motions in each case: or they may be the result of trains of mechanical dispositions, fixed beforehand by an intelligent appointment, and kept in action by a power at the centre. But, in either case, there must be intelligence.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 420)



(d) The Designer of Nature is One

Paley argued for the unity of God at some length. For Paley, the uniformity of the laws of Nature constituted the best evidence of God's unity:

Of the "Unity of the Deity," the proof is, the uniformity of plan observable in the universe. The universe itself is a system; each part either depending upon other parts, or being connected with other parts by some common law of motion, or by the presence of some common substance. One principle of gravitation causes a stone to drop towards the earth, and the moon to wheel round it. One law of attraction carries all the different planets about the sun. This philosophers demonstrate. There are also other points of agreement amongst them, which may be considered as marks of the identity of their origin, and of their intelligent author. In all are found the conveniency and stability derived from gravitation... Nothing is more probable than that the same attracting influence, acting according to the same rule, reaches to the fixed stars: but, if this be only probable, another thing is certain, viz. that the same element of light does. The light from a fixed star affects our eyes in the same manner, is refracted and reflected according to the same laws, as the light of a candle. The velocity of the light of the fixed stars is also the same, as the velocity of the light of the sun, reflected from the satellites of Jupiter.

In our own globe, the case is clearer. New countries are continually discovered, but the old laws of nature are always found in them: new plants perhaps, or animals, but always in company with plants and animals which we already know; and always possessing many of the same general properties. We never get amongst such original, or totally different, modes of existence, as to indicate, that we are come into the province of a different Creator, or under the direction of a different will. In truth, the same order of things attend us, wherever we go.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXV, pp. 449-450)

The works of nature want only to be contemplated. When contemplated, they have every thing in them which can astonish by their greatness: for, of the vast scale of operation, through which our discoveries carry us, at one end we see an intelligent Power arranging planetary systems, fixing, for instance, the trajectory of Saturn, or constructing a ring of two hundred thousand miles diameter, to surround his body, and be suspended like a magnificent arch over the heads of his inhabitants; and, at the other, bending a hooked tooth, concerting and providing an appropriate mechanism, for the clasping and reclasping of the filaments of the feather of the humming-bird. We have proof, not only of both these works proceeding from an intelligent agent, but of their proceeding from the same agent; for, in the first place, we can trace an identity of plan, a connexion of system, from Saturn to our own globe: and when arrived upon our globe, we can, in the second place, pursue the connexion through all the organized, especially the animated, bodies which it supports. We can observe marks of a common relation, as well to one another, as to the elements of which their habitation is composed. Therefore one mind hath planned, or at least hath prescribed, a general plan for all these productions. One Being has been concerned in all.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, pp. 540-541)

If, in tracing these [secondary] causes, it be said, that we find certain general properties of matter which have nothing in them that bespeaks intelligence, I answer, that, still, the managing of these properties, the pointing and directing them to the uses which we see made of them, demands intelligence in the highest degree.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 419)



(e) The Designer of Nature is spiritual

Paley put forward both positive and negative arguments for why God must be a spirit:

"Spirituality" expresses an idea, made up of a negative part, and of a positive part. The negative part consists in the exclusion of some of the known properties of matter, especially of solidity, of the vis inertiae, and of gravitation. The positive part comprises perception, thought, will, power, action, by which last term is meant, the origination of motion; the quality, perhaps, in which resides the essential superiority of spirit over matter, "which cannot move, unless it be moved; and cannot but move, when impelled by another (Note: Bishop Wilkins's Principles of Natural Religion, p. 106.)." I apprehend that there can be no difficulty in applying to the Deity both parts of this idea.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 448)



(f) The Designer of Nature is good

Paley devotes a whole chapter oif his Natural Theology to the subject of God's goodness:


Male Lion (Panthera leo) and Cub eating a Cape Buffalo in Northern Sabi Sand, South Africa. Photo by Luca Galuzzi. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
For Paley, predation posed an apparent difficulty for his claim that God is good, for the bodies of predators were clearly designed for the killing of other creatures. Paley's answer to this difficulty was that these adaptations for killing were at least good for the animals possessing them (predators), and that in any case, nature needed some way to keep animal populations in check. As he put it: "Immortality upon this earth is out of the question. Without death there could be no generation, no sexes, no parental relation, i. e. as things are constituted, no animal happiness.... The term then of life in different animals being the same as it is, the question is, what mode of taking it away is the best even for the animal itself." (Chapter XXVI, p. 473) Paley then argued that there would be even more animal pain in the world if animals were not killed by predators, because deaths from disease and starvation were slow and lingering: "Is it then to see the world filled with drooping, superannuated, half-starved, helpless, and unhelped animals, that you would alter the present system, of pursuit and prey?"
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, p. 474)


Paley believes he can establish God's goodness by a process of elimination: both of the alternatives (God is evil, or God is indifferent) are absurd:

"When God created the human species, either he wished their happiness, or he wished their misery, or he was indifferent and unconcerned about either.

"If he had wished our misery, he might have made sure of his purpose, by forming our senses to be so many sores and pains to us, as they are now instruments of gratification and enjoyment: or by placing us amidst objects, so ill suited to our perceptions as to have continually offended us, instead of ministering to our refreshment and delight. He might have made, for example, every thing we tasted, bitter; every thing we saw, loathsome; every thing we touched, a sting; every smell, a stench; and every sound, a discord."

"If he had been indifferent about our happiness or misery, we must impute to our good fortune (as all design by this supposition is excluded) both the capacity of our senses to receive pleasure, and the supply of external objects fitted to produce it."

"But either of these, and still more both of them, being too much to be attributed to accident, nothing remains but the first supposition, that God, when he created the human species, wished their happiness; and made for them the provision which he has made, with that view and for that purpose." (Chapter XXVI, pp. 465-466.)


Paley also puts forward two positive arguments for God's goodness:

THE proof of the divine goodness rests upon two propositions; each, as we contend, capable of being made out by observations drawn from the appearances of nature.

The first is, "that, in a vast plurality of instances in which contrivance is perceived, the design of the contrivance is beneficial."

The second, "that the Deity has superadded pleasure to animal sensations, beyond what was necessary for any other purpose, or when the purpose, so far as it was necessary," might have been effected by the operation of pain.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, pp. 454-455)

Contrivance proves design: and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the designer. The world abounds with contrivances: and all the contrivances which we are acquainted with, are directed to beneficial purposes. Evil, no doubt, exists; but is never, that we can perceive, the object of contrivance. Teeth are contrived to eat, not to ache; their aching now and then is incidental to the contrivance, perhaps inseparable from it: or even, if you will, let it be called a defect in the contrivance: but it is not the object of it. This is a distinction which well deserves to be attended to.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, p. 467)

The two cases which appear to me to have the most of difficulty in them, as forming the most of the appearance of exception to the representation here given, are those of venomous animals, and of animals preying upon one another. These properties of animals, wherever they are found, must, I think, be referred to design; because there is, in all cases of the first, and in most cases of the second, an express and distinct organization provided for the producing of them. Under the first head, the fangs of vipers, the stings of wasps and scorpions, are as clearly intended for their purpose, as any animal structure is for any purpose the most incontestably beneficial. And the same thing must, under the second head, be acknowledged of the talons and beaks of birds, of the tusks, teeth, and claws of beasts of prey, of the shark's mouth, of the spider's web, and of numberless weapons of offence belonging to different tribes of voracious insects. We cannot, therefore, avoid the difficulty by saying, that the effect was not intended. The only question open to us is, whether it be ultimately evil. From the confessed and felt imperfection of our knowledge, we ought to presume, that there may be consequences of this economy which are hidden from us; from the benevolence which pervades the general designs of nature, we ought also to presume, that these consequences, if they could enter into our calculation, would turn the balance on the favourable side. Both these I contend to be reasonable presumptions.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, pp. 468-469)

The capacities, which, according to the established course of nature, are necessary to the support or preservation of an animal, however manifestly they may be the result of an organization contrived for the purpose, can only be deemed an act or a part of the same will, as that which decreed the existence of the animal itself; because, whether the creation proceeded from a benevolent of a malevolent being, these capacities must have been given, if the animal existed at all. Animal properties, therefore, which fall under this description, do not strictly prove the goodness of God: they may prove the existence of the Deity; they may prove a high degree of power and intelligence: but they do not prove his goodness; forasmuch as they must have been found in any creation which was capable of continuance, ...
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, p. 482)



(g) The Designer of Nature is omnipresent

Paley argues that since human reason could assign no limits to the Designer's power and knowledge, they could be regarded as infinite, for all practical intents and purposes. Moreover, since the laws of Nature hold in every nook and cranny of the cosmos, and since laws presuppose the existence of an intelligent agent, we may conclude that the Designer is omnipresent:

The Divine "omnipresence" stands, in natural theology, upon this foundation. In every part and place of the universe with which we are acquainted, we perceive the exertion of a power, which we believe, mediately or immediately, to proceed from the Deity. For instance; in what part or point of space, that has ever been explored, do we not discover attraction? In what regions do we not find light? In what accessible portion of our globe, do we not meet with gravity, magnetism, electricity; together with the properties also and powers of organized substances, of vegetable or of animated nature? Nay further, we may ask, What kingdom is there of nature, what corner of space, in which there is any thing that can be examined by us, where we do not fall upon contrivance and design? The only reflection perhaps which arises in our minds from this view of the world around us is, that the laws of nature every where prevail; that they are uniform and universal. But what do we mean by the laws of nature, or by any law? Effects are produced by power, not by laws. A law cannot execute itself. A law refers us to an agent. Now an agency so general, as that we cannot discover its absence, or assign the place in which some effect of its continued energy is not found, may, in popular language at least, and, perhaps, without much deviation from philosophical strictness, be called universal: and, with not quite the same, but with no inconsiderable propriety, the person, or Being, in whom that power resides, or from whom it is derived, may be taken to be omnipresent. He who upholds all things by his power, may be said to be every where present.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 445-446)



(h) The Designer of Nature is omnipotent

Paley advances two arguments for God's omnipotence:

...[A] power which could create such a world as this is, must be, beyond all comparison, greater than any which we experience in ourselves, than any which we observe in other visible agents; greater also than any which we can want, for our individual protection and preservation, in the Being upon whom we depend. It is a power, likewise, to which we are not authorized, by our observation or knowledge, to assign any limits of space or duration.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 444)

We ascribe power to the Deity under the name of "omnipotence," the strict and correct conclusion being, that a power which could create such a world as this is, must be, beyond all comparison, greater than any which we experience in ourselves, than any which we observe in other visible agents; greater also than any which we can want, for our individual protection and preservation, in the Being upon whom we depend.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 443-444)



(i) The Designer of Nature is omniscient

Paley argued for God's omniscience, on the grounds that the creativity of His intellect appears to be infinitely versatile:

The degree of knowledge and power, requisite for the formation of created nature, cannot, with respect to us, be distinguished from infinite.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 445)

...[T]he same sort of remark is applicable to the term "omniscience," infinite knowledge, or infinite wisdom. In strictness of language, there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom; wisdom always supposing action, and action directed by it. With respect to the first, viz. knowledge, the Creator must know, intimately, the constitution and properties of the things which he created; which seems also to imply a foreknowledge of their action upon one another, and of their changes; at least, so far as the same result from trains of physical and necessary causes. His omniscience also, as far as respects things present, is deducible from his nature, as an intelligent being, joined with the extent, or rather the universality, of his operations. Where he acts, he is; and where he is, he perceives. The wisdom of the Deity, as testified in the works of creation, surpasses all idea we have of wisdom, drawn from the highest intellectual operations of the highest class of intelligent beings with whom we are acquainted; and, which is of the chief importance to us, whatever be its compass or extent, which it is evidently impossible that we should be able to determine, it must be adequate to the conduct of that order of things under which we live. And this is enough.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 444-445)

... we have a wise and powerful Being, (the author, in nature, of infinitely various expedients for infinitely various ends), upon whom to rely for the choice and appointment of means, adequate to the execution of any plan which his goodness or his justice may have formed, for the moral and accountable part of his terrestrial creation.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, p. 548)

See also p. 390 - infinite number of options requires infinite knowledge



(j) God is simple

Paley emphatically argued for God's simplicity in a passage in his Natural Theology, where he defines a contrivance as a co-ordinated arrangement of parts subserving some end. A contrivance requires a Designer. Since God, by definition, has no Designer, it follows that God cannot be composed of carefully co-ordinated parts - for if He were, then He would no longer be self-existent. Hence Paley must have been affirming God's simplicity when he wrote the following:

Of this however we are certain, that whatever the Deity be, neither the universe, nor any part of it which we see, can be He. The universe itself is merely a collective name: its parts are all which are real; or which are things. Now inert matter is out of the question: and organized substances include marks of contrivance. But whatever includes marks of contrivance, whatever, in its constitution, testifies design, necessarily carries us to something beyond itself, to some other being, to a designer prior to, and out of, itself. No animal, for instance, can have contrived its own limbs and senses; can have been the author to itself of the design with which they were constructed. That supposition involves all the absurdity of self-creation, i. e. of acting without existing. Nothing can be God, which is ordered by a wisdom and a will, which itself is void of; which is indebted for any of its properties to contrivance ab extra. The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see. Which consideration contains the answer to a question that has sometimes been asked, namely, Why, since something or other must have existed from eternity, may not the present universe be that something? The contrivance perceived in it, proves that to be impossible. Nothing contrived, can, in a strict and proper sense, be eternal, forasmuch as the contriver must have existed before the contrivance.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412-413).



(k) God is beyond space and time

For Paley, a being is eternal if it exists, and if it has no beginning or end:

"Eternity" is a negative idea, clothed with a positive name. It supposes, in that to which it is applied, a present existence; and is the negation of a beginning or an end of that existence.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 447)

We have seen that for Paley, God is unlimited, and hence beyond the bounds of space and time. However, whether Paley actually believed that God is timeless and immutable is more debatable. Passages can be found in his writings which appear at first glance to suggest that he envisaged God as everlasting, rather than timeless:

Nothing contrived, can, in a strict and proper sense, be eternal, forasmuch as the contriver must have existed before the contrivance.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 413)

There may be particular intelligent beings, guiding these motions in each case: or they may be the result of trains of mechanical dispositions, fixed beforehand by an intelligent appointment, and kept in action by a power at the centre.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 420)

In strictness, however, we have no concern with duration prior to that of the visible world. Upon this article therefore of theology, it is sufficient to know, that the contriver necessarily existed before the contrivance.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 447-448)


It would be unwise to conclude too much from these passages, however. We should recall that Scripture itself speaks of God as existing before His creation, as the following examples show:

Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2)

"I was appointed from eternity,
from the beginning, before the world began.
When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
when there were no springs abounding with water;
before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
before he made the earth
or its fields
or any of the dust of the world. (Proverbs 8:23-26, speaking of the Wisdom of God)

"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4)

He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. (1 Peter 1:20)


Further support for the view that Paley affirmed God's absolute immutability comes from the fact that Paley approvingly quotes from Bishop Wilkins' Principles of Natural Religion in Chapter XXIV of his Natural Theology, when arguing for God's spirituality. In chapter VIII of his apologetic work, on pages 115-117, Wilkins emphatically affirms his belief in God's absolute immutability, approvingly quotes the pagan philosophers Seneca and Plato in support of the doctrine, and approvingly cites the argument put forward by Plato for God's immutability in Book II of his Republic: if God were capable of change, it would have to be either externally imposed (which is impossible, as nothing can necessitate a change in God) or voluntary, and if the latter, either a change for the better or a change for the worse - both of which are incompatible with God's perfection. Wilkins then puts forward his own argument for God's immutability:

We esteem Changeableness in Men either an Imperfection, or a Fault. Their Natural Changes, as to their Persons, are from Weakness and Vanity; their Moral Changes, as to their Inclinations and Purposes, are from Ignorance and Inconstancy. And therefore there is very good reason why we should remove this from God, as being that which would darken all his other Perfections. The greater the Divine Perfections are, the greater Imperfection would Mutability be. Besides, that it would take away the foundation of all religion, Love and Fear, and Affiance, and Worship: In which Men would be very much discouraged, if they could not certainly rely upon God, but were in doubt that His Nature might alter, and that hereafter he might be quite otherwise from what we now apprehend him to be.
(Of the Principles and Duties of Natural Religion, sixth edition, London, 1710, Chapter VIII, p. 117.)


Given the forcefulness of the above passage, the default assumption must be that Paley, who was familiar with it, espoused the traditional Christian doctrine of God's absolute immutability.

Additionally, there are passages in Paley's Natural Theology which lend support to the view that he envisaged God as being absolutely immutable. For instance, Paley argues that God is beyond the limits of space and time, which would suggest that he viewed God as being atemporal:

...[A] power which could create such a world as this is, must be, beyond all comparison, greater than any which we experience in ourselves, than any which we observe in other visible agents; greater also than any which we can want, for our individual protection and preservation, in the Being upon whom we depend. It is a power, likewise, to which we are not authorized, by our observation or knowledge, to assign any limits of space or duration.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 444)

In the two passages below, Paley also argues that God is the ultimate originator of motion, which would imply that He is outside time:

The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412)

"Spirituality" expresses an idea, made up of a negative part, and of a positive part. The negative part consists in the exclusion of some of the known properties of matter, especially of solidity, of the vis inertiae, and of gravitation. The positive part comprises perception, thought, will, power, action, by which last term is meant, the origination of motion; the quality, perhaps, in which resides the essential superiority of spirit over matter, "which cannot move, unless it be moved; and cannot but move, when impelled by another (Note: Bishop Wilkins's Principles of Natural Religion, p. 106.)." I apprehend that there can be no difficulty in applying to the Deity both parts of this idea.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 448)


I can only conclude that Paley did indeed hold to the doctrine of Divine immutability, even if he did not elaborate on the point in his Natural Theology.



Two ways in which Paley differed from classical theism

Paley interprets God's necessity to mean nothing more than the fact that His existence can be established by us:

"Necessary existence" means demonstrable existence.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 448 - Attributes of God)


However, Paley notion of God's self-existence corresponds closely to the way in which traditional believers would define God's necessity:

"Self-existence" is another negative idea, viz. the negation of a preceding cause, as of a progenitor, a maker, an author, a creator.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 448 - Attributes of God)


Paley also appears to deny the impassibility of God, and ascribe perceptions to Him:

IT is an immense conclusion, that there is a GOD; a perceiving, intelligent, designing, Being; at the head of creation, and from whose will it proceeded. The attributes of such a Being, suppose his reality to be proved, must be adequate to the magnitude, extent, and multiplicity of his operations: which are not only vast beyond comparison with those performed by any other power, but, so far as respects our conceptions of them, infinite, because they are unlimited on all sides.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 441-442)

...[T]he Creator must know, intimately, the constitution and properties of the things which he created; which seems also to imply a foreknowledge of their action upon one another, and of their changes; at least, so far as the same result from trains of physical and necessary causes. His omniscience also, as far as respects things present, is deducible from his nature, as an intelligent being, joined with the extent, or rather the universality, of his operations. Where he acts, he is; and where he is, he perceives.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 444-445)


To sum up: Paley believed that he could demonstrate, on the basis of reason and observation alone, that the Designer of Nature must be personal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, spiritual (and hence immaterial), one and good. That sounds a lot like the God of classical theism to me. It is true that Paley nowhere argues that the Designer is absolutely simple; nor does he argue for the Thomist doctrine that in God alone are essence and existence identical (a doctrine that some Scholastic philosophers rejected, as they regarded the distinction between essence and existence to be a purely logical one, even in creatures). It is also true that Paley treats intelligence as a univocal predicate, having the same meaning for God as it does for us, even if God's intelligence is infinitely greater than our own. However, there were classical theistic philosophers in the Middle Ages who were of the same view, Anselm and Duns Scotus being notable examples. I therefore conclude that Professor Feser is over-stating his case when he maintains that William Paley's God is not the God of classical theism.



3.9 For Paley, living things have a "good of their own", and there are "final causes" in living things

Thesis 9. Paley's writings make it quite clear that he is a teleologist, like Aquinas: he believes that a living thing has a nature of its own, and that its parts are arranged in a way that subserves the good of the whole. He explicitly affirms the reality of final causes in living things, and declares that the various parts of a plant or animal are intended for the action or the use to which we see them applied.


Two giraffes in the old giraffe enclosure at Wellington Zoo, New Zealand. The evolution of the giraffe's neck is often used as the example in explanations of Lamarck's theory of evolution. Paley rejected the theory, because it put the cart before the horse, metaphysically speaking. That is, it tried to explain the appearance of final causes in Nature, in terms of the use of pre-existing powers, without explaining where these powers came from. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.


(a) Paley's view of organisms was unmistakably teleological

In his book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), Professor Feser accuses William Paley of denying that anything in Nature possesses a built-in teleology of its own:

Paley, taking for granted as he does a modern mechanistic view of nature, denies that purpose or teleology is immanent or inherent to the natural order. (2009, p. 115)


However, Paley's view of living things is clearly teleological. For example, in his Natural Theology, he describes the process by which living things nourish themselves, as follows:

Unconscious particles of matter take their stations, and severally range themselves in an order, so as to become collectively plants or animals, i.e. organized bodies, with parts bearing strict and evident relation to one another, and to the utility of the whole.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 420).


If that is not a ringing affirmation of teleology in living organisms, then I don't know what is.

Paley also refers in his Natural Theology to "the law of vegetable nature" and "the law of animal nature" (Natural Theology, Chapter I, p. 7). It is clear, then, that he envisaged living things as having a nature of their own, and as being composed of parts dedicated to the good of the whole organism.



(b) Paley envisaged the growth and development of organisms in teleological terms

Paley also described the development of living organisms from embryos to adults in unmistakably teleological terms:

In the most general case, that, as we have said, of the derivation of plants and animals from one another, the latent organization is either itself similar to the old organization, or has the power of communicating to new matter the old organic form.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, pp. 545-546)

A frog produces a tadpole. A black beetle, with gauze wings, and a crusty covering, produces a white, smooth, soft worm; an ephemeron fly, a cod-bait maggot. These, by a progress through different stages of life, and action, and enjoyment (and, in each state, provided with implements and organs appropriated to the temporary nature which they bear), arrive at last at the form and fashion of the parent animal.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 422)

Paley, whose embryological knowledge was very limited, like that of his contemporaries, seems to have entertained the notion that the form of an organism might be communicated through information contained in the "germs" from which organisms developed:

In the ordinary derivation of plants and animals, from one another, a particle, in many cases, minuter than all assignable, all conceivable dimension; an aura, an effluvium, an infinitesimal; determines the organization of a future body: does no less than fix, whether that which is about to be produced, shall be a vegetable, a merely sentient, or a rational being: an oak, a frog, or a philosopher; makes all these differences; gives to the future body its qualities, and nature and species.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, p. 544)



(c) Paley often refers to final causes when writing about organisms

All the great cavities of the body are enclosed by membranes, except the skull. Why should not the brain be content with the same covering as that which serves for the other principal organs of the body? The heart, the lungs, the liver, the stomach, the bowels, have all soft integuments, and nothing else. The muscular coats are all soft and membranous. I can see a reason for this distinction in the final cause, but in no other.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XI, p. 209)

...[B]ears, wolves, foxes, hares, which do not take the water, have the fur much thicker on the back than the belly: whereas in the beaver it is the thickest upon the belly; as are the feathers in water-fowl.

We know the final cause of all this; and we know no other.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XII, pp. 214-215)

It is easy to understand how much more necessary such a provision may be to the body of an animal of an erect posture, and in which, consequently, the weight of the food is added to the action of the intestine, than in that of a quadruped, in which the course of the food, from its entrance to its exit, is nearly horizontal: but it is impossible to assign any cause, except the final cause, for this distinction actually taking place.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XII, pp. 228-229 - Intestines)

The eyes of animals which follow their prey by night, as cats, owls, &c. possess a faculty not given to those of other species, namely, of closing the pupil entirely. The final cause of which seems to be this. -- It was necessary for such animals to be able to descry objects with very small degrees of light.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XII, pp. 239-240)

To this great variety in organized life, the Deity has given, or perhaps there arises out of it, a corresponding variety of animal appetites. For the final cause of this, we have not far to seek.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XIX, p. 345)

[T]hough the action of terrestrial bodies upon each other be, in almost all cases, through the intervention of solid or fluid substances, yet central attraction does not operate in this manner. It was necessary that the intervals between the planetary orbs should be devoid of any inert matter either fluid or solid, because such an intervening substance would, by its resistance, destroy those very motions, which attraction is employed to preserve. This may be a final cause of the difference; but still the difference destroys the analogy.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, p. 380)



(d) Paley rejected Lamarckian evolution, precisely because it neglected final causes

Perhaps the most convincing evidence that Paley acknowledged the reality of final causes may be found in Chapter XXIII of his Natural Theology, entitled, Of the Personality of the Deity, in which he critiques a Lamarckian version of evolution, without mentioning Lamarck by name. (Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection would not be published for another 50 years.) Paley characterizes Lamarck's theory as follows: matter is endowed with certain "appetencies" or propensities for certain actions which it does not yet manifest, and it is the continual exercise of these propensities which explains how matter, over the course of millions of years, came to take on the forms of the various living things we see today. (The reader may recall Lamarck's explanation for how the giraffe got its long neck: a given giraffe could, over a lifetime of straining to reach high branches, develop a longer neck, which would be passed on to its descendants.)

Paley acknowledges that Lamarck's theory leaves room for an Intelligent Author of Nature, but still objects to it, because "it does away final causes." Instead of the parts of living things being for the sake of the function they currently possess, the mere action of exercising a pre-existing (and more primitive) body part is claimed to be sufficient to explain the origin of a new body part. Paley observes that Lamarck's theory "dispenses with that which we insist upon, the necessity, in each particular case, of an intelligent, designing mind," and then goes on to dismiss the outlandish theory on the grounds that "No changes, like those which the theory requires, have ever been observed... [T]he hypothesis remains destitute of evidence." I shall reproduce the relevant passage from Paley here, as it establishes beyond reasonable doubt that Paley genuinely believed in immanent finality, contrary to Professor Feser's assertions:

Another system, which has lately been brought forward, and with much ingenuity, is that of appetencies. The principle, and the short account, of the theory, is this: Pieces of soft, ductile matter, being endued with propensities or appetencies for particular actions, would, by continual endeavours, carried on through a long series of generations, work themselves gradually into suitable forms: and, at length, acquire, though perhaps by obscure and almost imperceptible improvements, an organization fitted to the action which their respective propensities led them to exert. A piece of animated matter, for example, that was endued with a propensity to fly, though ever so shapeless, though no other we will suppose than a round ball, to begin with, would, in a course of ages, if not in a million of years, perhaps in a hundred millions of years (for our theorists, having eternity to dispose of, are never sparing in time), acquire wings. The same tendency to locomotion in an aquatic animal, or rather in an animated lump which might happen to be surrounded by water, would end in the production of fins: in a living substance, confined to the solid earth, would put out legs and feet; or, if it took a different turn, would break the body into ringlets, and conclude by crawling upon the ground...

Although I have introduced the mention of this theory into this place, I am unwilling to give to it the name of an atheistic scheme... because, so far as I am able to understand it, the original propensities and the numberless varieties of them... are, in the plan itself, attributed to the ordination and appointment of an intelligent and designing Creator...

In one important respect, however, the theory before us coincides with atheistic systems, viz. in that, in the formation of plants and animals, in the structure and use of their parts, it does away final causes. Instead of the parts of a plant or animal, or the particular structure of the parts, having been intended for the action or the use to which we see them applied, according to this theory, they have themselves grown out of that action, sprung from that use. The theory therefore dispenses with that which we insist upon, the necessity, in each particular case, of an intelligent, designing mind, for the contriving and determining of the forms which organized bodies bear...

The scheme under consideration is open to the same objection with other conjectures of a similar tendency, viz. a total defect of evidence. No changes, like those which the theory requires, have ever been observed.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pp. 431-433)

I submit that a fair-minded person would have to conclude that Paley's view of living things was teleological, and that it would be incorrect to characterize him as a mechanist.



3.10 For Paley, both living and non-living things possess inherent active and passive powers

Thesis 10. Paley also holds that both living and non-living things possess certain powers - both active and passive - which naturally inhere in them. In other words, Paley is a firm believer in immanent finality, like Aquinas.


Magnetic field of an ideal cylindrical magnet. William Paley described magnetism as a power of an organized substance. Like Aquinas, he believed in immanent finality. Image courtesy of Geek3 and Wikipedia.


Chapter XXIV of Paley's Natural Theology, entitled, Of the Natural Attributes of the Deity, contains a striking passage in which Paley refers to the powers of natural objects as being observable throughout the entire cosmos:

In every part and place of the universe with which we are acquainted, we perceive the exertion of a power, which we believe, mediately or immediately, to proceed from the Deity. For instance; in what part or point of space, that has ever been explored, do we not discover attraction? In what regions do we not find light? In what accessible portion of our globe, do we not meet with gravity, magnetism, electricity; together with the properties also and powers of organized substances, of vegetable or of animated nature?
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 445-446)


It should be noted that the powers listed in the passage quoted above are not merely passive powers, but active powers of natural objects: in particular, the power of attraction, which can be observed in the phenomena of "gravity, magnetism, electricity." Additionally, Paley's reference to the "powers of organized substances, of vegetable or of animated nature," shows that he attributes causal powers to both animate and inanimate objects. Finally, Paley obviously believes that these powers inhere in natural objects, since he elsewhere refers to them as "powers of nature which prevail at present" (Natural Theology, Chapter XXIV, p. 440).

In Chapter VII, On the Mechanical and Immechanical Parts and Functions of Animals and Vegetables, Paley writes of "the number and variety of the muscles and the corresponding number and variety of useful powers which they supply to the animal; which is astonishingly great" (Natural Theology, Chapter VII, p. 80).

Finally, in his chapter on astronomy, Paley contends that "there is a power above the highest of the powers of material nature; a will which restrains and circumscribes the operations of the most extensive" (Natural Theology, Chapter XXII, pp. 406-407).

So far, I have confined my discussion of Paley's views on teleology to his remarks on living things. The reader may be wondering whether Paley believed that inanimate objects possess what Aristotelian philosophers refer to as immanent finality. In other words, did he believe that all natural objects possess built-in powers and tendencies of their own? Anyone who examines Paley's writings can readily verify that he repeatedly refers to the powers and propensities of natural objects.



(i) Natural objects as secondary causes

Left: Light micrograph of a moss's leaf cells at 400X magnification. Image courtesy of Kristian Peters and Wikipedia.
Right: Structure of a typical plant cell. Image courtesy of Mariana Luiz (Lady of Hats) and Wikipedia.
William Paley marveled at the way in which "Unconscious particles of matter take their stations, and severally range themselves in an order, so as to become collectively plants or animals, i.e. organized bodies, with parts bearing strict and evident relation to one another, and to the utility of the whole." (Paley, W. Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 420)


Chapter XXIII of Paley's Natural Theology, entitled, Of the Personality of the Deity, contains a striking passage in which Paley simultaneously affirms his belief in secondary causality and in the built-in teleology of living organisms, "with parts bearing strict relation... to the utility of the whole." Paley insists that regardless of whether these parts are guided in their movements by "particular intelligent beings" (e.g. angels) or whether they are simply "the result of trains of mechanical dispositions" (emphasis mine), there must be an Intelligence beyond Nature which not only designed these parts, but supplies the power to keep them in action:

Neither mechanism, therefore, in the works of nature, nor the intervention of what are called second causes (for I think that they are the same thing), excuses the necessity of an agent distinct from both...

There may be many second causes, and many courses of second causes, one behind another, between what we observe of nature, and the Deity: but there must be intelligence somewhere; there must be more in nature than what we see; and, amongst the things unseen, there must be an intelligent, designing author. The philosopher beholds with astonishment the production of things around him. Unconscious particles of matter take their stations, and severally range themselves in an order, so as to become collectively plants or animals, i.e. organized bodies, with parts bearing strict and evident relation to one another, and to the utility of the whole: and it should seem that these particles could not move in any other way than as they do; for, they testify not the smallest sign of choice, or liberty, or discretion. There may be particular intelligent beings, guiding these motions in each case: or they may be the result of trains of mechanical dispositions, fixed beforehand by an intelligent appointment, and kept in action by a power at the centre. But, in either case, there must be intelligence.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pp. 419-420)



(ii) Powers of natural objects

Chapter XXIV of Paley's Natural Theology, entitled, Of the Natural Attributes of the Deity, contains a striking passage in which Paley refers to the powers of natural objects as being observable throughout the entire cosmos:

In every part and place of the universe with which we are acquainted, we perceive the exertion of a power, which we believe, mediately or immediately, to proceed from the Deity. For instance; in what part or point of space, that has ever been explored, do we not discover attraction? In what regions do we not find light? In what accessible portion of our globe, do we not meet with gravity, magnetism, electricity; together with the properties also and powers of organized substances, of vegetable or of animated nature? (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 445-446)


It should be noted that the powers listed in the passage quoted above are not merely passive powers, but active powers of natural objects: in particular, the power of attraction, which can be observed in the phenomena of "gravity, magnetism, electricity." Additionally, Paley's reference to the "powers of organized substances, of vegetable or of animated nature," shows that he attributes causal powers to both animate and inanimate objects. Finally, Paley obviously believes that these powers inhere in natural objects, since he elsewhere refers to them as "powers of nature which prevail at present" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 440).



(a) The powers of living organisms


The human digestive system. Image courtesy of Mariana Luiz (Lady of Hats), Joaquim Alves Gaspar and Wikipedia.
William Paley, in his Natural Theology, described digestion as an internal power belonging to an animal.


Most of Paley's references to powers in his Natural Theology relate to powers belonging to living organisms, especially animals.

For instance, in Chapter VII, On the Mechanical and Immechanical Parts and Functions of Animals and Vegetables, Paley writes of "the number and variety of the muscles and the corresponding number and variety of useful powers which they supply to the animal; which is astonishingly great" (Natural Theology, Chapter VII, p. 80). Later in the same chapter, when discussing digestion, Paley muses:

Why does the juice, which flows into the stomach, contain powers, which make that bowel, the great laboratory, as it is by its situation the recipient, of the materials of future nutrition?
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VII, p. 91)

Paley explicitly refers to an animal's internal powers as playing an active role in the process of digestion:

There are, first, what, in one form or other, belong to all animals, the parts and powers which successively act upon their food...
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XV, p. 263)

There subsists a general relation between the external organs of an animal by which it procures its food, and the internal powers by which it digests it.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XV, p. 267)

From the foregoing remarks, it is clear that Paley imputes these powers to the creatures which exercise them, rather than to their Creator, as an occasionalist would. In other words, he genuinely envisaged these powers as being internal to creatures.


In another chapter, when discussing the way in which our bones, joints and sinews work together to enable us to stand upright, Paley attributes our erect stance to the operation of combined powers:

The whole is a wonderful result of combined powers, and of very complicated operations.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XI, p. 206)


Paley is particularly impressed by the fact that the powers of the various creatures which live on the Earth all correspond, in an appropriate fashion, to the terrestrial environment in which they have been placed:

Take the earth as it is; and consider the correspondency of the powers of its inhabitants with the properties and condition of the soil which they tread.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XVII, pp. 294-295)



(b) The powers of inanimate objects

Paley also occasionally refers to the powers of inanimate objects in his Natural Theology. For instance, in his chapter on astronomy, Paley contends that "there is a power above the highest of the powers of material nature; a will which restrains and circumscribes the operations of the most extensive" (Natural Theology, Chapter XXII, pp. 406-407).



(c) The powers of spiritual creatures

Finally, in chapter XXIII, entitled, Of the Personality of the Deity, Paley even alludes to the powers of spirits, when he suggests that these powers may be manifest to rational creatures who are higher in the order of Creation than ourselves:

There may be more and other senses than those which we have. There may be senses suited to the perception of the powers, properties, and substance of spirits. These may belong to higher orders of rational agents: for there is not the smallest reason for supposing that we are the highest, or that the scale of creation stops with us.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 411)



(iii) Propensities


A black woodpecker with its young, in Finland. Image courtesy of Alistair McRae and Wikipedia.
William Paley cited the example of the woodpecker as a living creature whose propensities must have been planted into it by a Designer.


Propensity is another term frequently used by Paley in his Natural Theology, which carries unmistakable connotations of immanent finality. Here, for example, is how he defines instinct:

An Instinct is a propensity, prior to experience, and independent of instruction.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XVIII, p. 299)


In the same chapter, Paley rebuts the suggestion that the abilities of certain birds to adapt their nest-building behavior to their environment may reflect skill and intelligence on their part rather than instinct, by pointing out that this fails to account for why birds have a propensity to build nests in the first place:

The thing which we want to account for, is the propensity. The propensity being there, it is probable enough that it may put the animal upon different actions, according to different exigencies. And this adaptation of resources may look like the effect of art and consideration, rather than of instinct: but still the propensity is instinctive. For instance, suppose what is related of the woodpecker to be true... that in each situation she prepares against the danger which she has most occasion to apprehend... and to be alleged, on the part of the bird that builds these nests, as evidence of a reasoning and distinguishing precaution; still the question returns: whence the propensity to build at all?
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XVIII, pp. 311-312)



3.11 Did Paley deny the reality of substantial forms?

Thesis 11. Although Paley disparages the Aristotelian doctrine of "essential forms" for its philosophical vagueness, he nevertheless vigorously affirms that things possess natures, and he repeatedly refers to their forms. According to Paley, the form of a living thing organizes the body of a developing individual into a mature organism, through a process which is largely mysterious to us, but which is (in principle) amenable to scientific investigation.


The initial stages of embryogenesis. Image courtesy of Zephyris and Wikipedia.
William Paley marveled at the process by which a developing organism acquired its form, writing: "In the ordinary derivation of plants and animals, from one another, a particle, in many cases, minuter than all assignable, all conceivable dimension; an aura, an effluvium, an infinitesimal; determines the organization of a future body: does no less than fix, whether that which is about to be produced, shall be a vegetable, a merely sentient, or a rational being: an oak, a frog, or a philosopher; makes all these differences; gives to the future body its qualities, and nature and species." (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, p. 544)

It has been argued by some scholars that Paley's conception of bodies was a purely mechanistic one, and that he denied the reality of substantial forms. The following passages in Paley seem to support this interpretation.

Whilst so many forms of plants and animals are already in existence, and, consequently, so many "internal moulds," as he calls them, are prepared and at hand, the organic particles run into these moulds, and are employed in supplying an accession of substance to them, as well for their growth, as for their propagation. By which means, things keep their ancient course. But, says the same philosopher, should any general loss or destruction of the present constitution of organized bodies take place, the particles, for want of "moulds" into which they might enter, would run into different combinations, and replenish the waste with new species of organized substances.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 428)

Lastly; these wonder-working instruments, these "internal moulds," what are they after all? what, when examined, but a name without signification; unintelligible, if not self-contradictory; at the best, differing in nothing from the "essential forms" of the Greek philosophy?
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 430)

On the other hand, Paley elsewhere refers to bodies as possessing natures, forms and qualities of their own - which puts him at odds with Descartes' conception of matter.

... the bodies of animals hold, in their constitution and properties, a close and important relation to natures altogether external to their own; to inanimate substances, and to the specific qualities of these, e. g. they hold a strict relation to the ELEMENTS by which they are surrounded.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XVII, p. 291)

When we pass from the earth to the sea, from land to water, we pass through a great change: but an adequate change accompanies us, of animal forms and functions, of animal capacities and wants; so that correspondency remains.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809,, Chapter XVII, p. 295)

... that which we insist upon, the necessity, in each particular case, of an intelligent, designing mind, for the contriving and determining of the forms which organized bodies bear.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 433)

... it is a straining of analogy beyond all limits of reason and credibility, to assert that birds, and beasts, and fish, with all their variety and complexity of organization, have been brought into their forms, and distinguished into their several kinds and natures, by the same process (even if that process could be demonstrated, or had it ever been actually noticed) as might seem to serve for the gradual generation of a camel's bunch, or a pelican's pouch.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 438)

In the ordinary derivation of plants and animals, from one another, a particle, in many cases, minuter than all assignable, all conceivable dimension; an aura, an effluvium, an infinitesimal; determines the organization of a future body: does no less than fix, whether that which is about to be produced, shall be a vegetable, a merely sentient, or a rational being: an oak, a frog, or a philosopher; makes all these differences; gives to the future body its qualities, and nature and species.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, p. 544)



3.12 Did Paley consider matter to be wholly passive, as the mechanists of the 17th century did?

Thesis 12. Paley's doctrine of matter is more like Aquinas' than Descartes'. Unlike Descartes, Paley nowhere maintains that matter is wholly passive and devoid of all attributes save extension, as Descartes did in the seventeenth century. Writing in the early nineteenth century, Paley has to contend with atheistic materialists who were prepared to impute a host of active properties to matter, in order to explain how it had given rise to life and intelligence. In keeping with the science of his day, Paley maintained that matter in the form of a body still possessed the natural property of inertia - in other words, that one body is naturally incapable of moving another body, unless something else is moving it. Aquinas upheld the same view, as did Aristotle.


Three-dimensional Cartesian co-ordinates. The seventeenth century philosopher Rene Descartes denied that matter possessed either a substantial form or qualities, as Scholastic philosophers had maintained. The only property that Descartes was willing to ascribe to matter was that of extension.
William Paley, on the other hand, wrote his Natural Theology in the early nineteenth century. Unlike Descartes, Paley ascribed to each body a nature or form of its own, along with various powers and qualities. His conception of matter was very different from Descartes'. Image courtesy of Andeggs and Wikipedia.


(a) Paley, unlike Descartes, did not believe that matter was wholly passive

William Paley wrote his Natural Theology in the early nineteenth century. It would therefore be absurd to impute to him ideas about matter which were held in the seventeenth century, and long abandoned since. One such notion was the Cartesian idea that matter is wholly passive and devoid of form, and of any properties except for extension.

Atheists of the early nineteenth century, by contrast, were prepared to impute to matter a whole host of dynamic properties - for example, a built-in striving towards actions that would only be realized in the distant future (appetencies, discussed in Thesis 9 above), or a tendency towards self-ordering (which I shall discuss in Thesis 13 below) - precisely because they believed that doing so would enable them to dispense with the need for a Creator. Later in the nineteenth century, Marx would elaborate on the notion that matter has dynamic properties, with his theory of dialectical materialism.

When reading Paley, it is therefore advisable to keep in mind the intellectual milieu in which he lived. When he writes of matter being inert, he does not mean that it is wholly passive, as Descartes did; rather, as he explains, he simply means that it is incapable of self-movement. Aquinas, as we have seen, held the same belief; he taught that "no body moves except by being moved" (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, chapter 20, paragraph 27), which is identical with what Paley meant when he wrote that matter "cannot move, unless it be moved" (Natural Theology, Chapter XXIII, p. 412).

God, therefore, has been pleased to prescribe limits to his own power, and to work his end within those limits. The general laws of matter have perhaps the nature of these limits; its inertia, its re-action; the laws which govern the communication of motion, the refraction and reflection of light, the constitution of fluids non-elastic and elastic, the transmission of sound through the latter; the laws of magnetism, of electricity; and probably others, yet undiscovered.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, pp. 40-41)

Of this however we are certain, that whatever the Deity be, neither the universe, nor any part of it which we see, can be He. The universe itself is merely a collective name: its parts are all which are real; or which are things. Now inert matter is out of the question: and organized substances include marks of contrivance.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412)

"Spirituality" expresses an idea, made up of a negative part, and of a positive part. The negative part consists in the exclusion of some of the known properties of matter, especially of solidity, of the vis inertiae, and of gravitation. The positive part comprises perception, thought, will, power, action, by which last term is meant, the origination of motion; the quality, perhaps, in which resides the essential superiority of spirit over matter, "which cannot move, unless it be moved; and cannot but move, when impelled by another (Note: Bishop Wilkins's Principles of Natural Religion, p. 106.)." I apprehend that there can be no difficulty in applying to the Deity both parts of this idea.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 448)


(b) Paley did not believe that matter could exist without form

At times, Paley writes as if he believed that form was something superimposed on pre-existing matter, which might appear to suggest that his God was a mere Demiurge Who shaped matter rather than creating it. In other passages, though, Paley speaks of attraction being a "primordial property of matter." He also speaks of God as having "appointed" laws to matter, and he also insists that the laws of Nature show that everything in the cosmos is maintained in existence by God - something which he could not have written, had he supposed that formless matter was capable of existing on its own.

It has been said, that the problem of creation was, "attraction and matter being given, to make a world out of them:" and, as above explained, this statement perhaps does not convey a false idea.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, pp. 42)

The Deity, having appointed this law to matter (than which, as we have said before, no law could be more simple), has turned it to a wonderful account in constructing planetary systems. (Paley, W. Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, p. 390)

If attraction be what Cotes, with many other Newtonians, thought it to be, a primordial property of matter, not dependent upon, or traceable to, any other material cause; then, by the very nature and definition of a primordial property, it stood indifferent to all laws.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXII, p. 391)

Neither mechanism, therefore, in the works of nature, nor the intervention of what are called second causes (for I think that they are the same thing), excuses the necessity of an agent distinct from both. (Paley, W. Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 419)

If, in tracing these causes, it be said, that we find certain general properties of matter which have nothing in them that bespeaks intelligence, I answer, that, still, the managing of these properties, the pointing and directing them to the uses which we see made of them, demands intelligence in the highest degree.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 419)

Of the "Unity of the Deity," the proof is, the uniformity of plan observable in the universe. The universe itself is a system; each part either depending upon other parts, or being connected with other parts by some common law of motion, or by the presence of some common substance. One principle of gravitation causes a stone to drop towards the earth, and the moon to wheel round it. One law of attraction carries all the different planets about the sun. This philosophers demonstrate...

We never get amongst such original, or totally different, modes of existence, as to indicate, that we are come into the province of a different Creator, or under the direction of a different will. In truth, the same order of things attend us, wherever we go.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXV, pp. 449-450)

The Divine "omnipresence" stands, in natural theology, upon this foundation. In every part and place of the universe with which we are acquainted, we perceive the exertion of a power, which we believe, mediately or immediately, to proceed from the Deity. For instance; in what part or point of space, that has ever been explored, do we not discover attraction? In what regions do we not find light? In what accessible portion of our globe, do we not meet with gravity, magnetism, electricity; together with the properties also and powers of organized substances, of vegetable or of animated nature? Nay further, we may ask, What kingdom is there of nature, what corner of space, in which there is any thing that can be examined by us, where we do not fall upon contrivance and design? The only reflection perhaps which arises in our minds from this view of the world around us is, that the laws of nature every where prevail; that they are uniform and universal. But what do we mean by the laws of nature, or by any law? Effects are produced by power, not by laws. A law cannot execute itself. A law refers us to an agent. Now an agency so general, as that we cannot discover its absence, or assign the place in which some effect of its continued energy is not found, may, in popular language at least, and, perhaps, without much deviation from philosophical strictness, be called universal: and, with not quite the same, but with no inconsiderable propriety, the person, or Being, in whom that power resides, or from whom it is derived, may be taken to be omnipresent. He who upholds all things by his power, may be said to be every where present.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 445-446)



3.13 Did Paley deny the existence of immanent finality within Nature?

Thesis 13. Paley stoutly denies the existence of a principle of order in Nature. By "principle of order", he does not mean immanent finality. Rather, what Paley is denying is that things have a spontaneous or built-in tendency to form co-ordinated arrangements of parts subserving some end, or what he elsewhere refers to as contrivances. Thus Paley would reject as absurd the notion (championed by Stuart Kauffman) that life itself may have arisen through the development of an initial molecular autocatalytic set which evolved over time. Abiogenesis, according to Paley, cannot be a spontaneous natural process. Only intelligent agents are capable of creating co-ordinated arrangements of parts subserving some end.


The citric acid cycle, a key component of the metabolic pathway by which all aerobic organisms generate energy. The citric acid cycle is an autocatalytic cycle run in reverse. An autocatalytic cycle is said to be self-sustaining. The citric acid cycle is now known to have evolved from a simpler system: components of the cycle were derived from anaerobic bacteria. In 1995, the biologist Stuart Kauffman proposed that life itself originally arose as an autocatalytic chemical network. In his Natural Theology, however, William Paley argued that a contrivance, or a co-ordinated arrangement of parts working towards some end, could not arise naturally from disorganized parts. Nature, he argued, has no built-in tendency to produce such arrangements; only i>intelligent agents are capable of creating them. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.


There is a passage in Paley's Natural Theology which appears, on a superficial reading, to contradict the Aristotelian notion that natural objects possess an immanent finality of their own. For instance, in Chapter V, Paley categorically rejects the suggestion that Nature may contain its own principle of order, on the grounds that: (i) there would be no practical way to distinguish such a principle from the activity of an intelligent Creator; (ii) without a suitable analogy to explain it, the notion of such a principle makes no sense; and (iii) if such a principle existed, then order should be found everywhere throughout Nature, which it is not:

Others have chosen to refer every thing to a principle of order in nature. A principle of order is the word: but what is meant by a principle of order, as different from an intelligent Creator, has not been explained either by definition or example: and, without such explanation, it should seem to be a mere substitution of words for reasons, names for causes. Order itself is only the adaptation of means to an end: a principle of order therefore can only signify the mind and intention which so adapts them. Or, were it capable of being explained in any other sense, is there any experience, any analogy, to sustain it? Was a watch ever produced by a principle of order? and why might not a watch be so produced, as well as an eye?

Furthermore, a principle of order, acting blindly, and without choice, is negatived, by the observation, that order is not universal; which it would be, if it issued from a constant and necessary principle: nor indiscriminate, which it would be, if it issued from an unintelligent principle.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter V, pp. 71-72)

To a Thomist such as Feser, the passage above may appear to contradict the Aristotelian claim that immanent finality is found in all natural objects. But this would be a mis-reading of Paley, whose target (in the passage above) is not Aristotle but the 18th century naturalist, Count Buffon:

...[T]he old system of atheism and the new agree. And I much doubt, whether the new schemes have advanced any thing upon the old, or done more than changed the terms of the nomenclature. I could never see the difference between the antiquated system of atoms, and Buffon's organic molecules. This philosopher, having made a planet by knocking off from the sun a piece of melted glass, in consequence of the stroke of a comet; and having set it in motion, by the same stroke, both round its own axis and the sun, finds his next difficulty to be, how to bring plants and animals upon it.... For this, however, our philosopher has an answer. Whilst so many forms of plants and animals are already in existence, and, consequently, so many "internal moulds," as he calls them, are prepared and at hand, the organic particles run into these moulds, and are employed in supplying an accession of substance to them, as well for their growth, as for their propagation. By which means, things keep their ancient course...

One short sentence of Buffon's work exhibits his scheme as follows: "When this nutritious and prolific matter, which is diffused throughout all nature, passes through the internal mould of an animal or vegetable, and finds a proper matrix, or receptacle, it gives rise to an animal or vegetable of the same species." Does any reader annex a meaning to the expression "internal mould,"in this sentence?
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pp. 427, 428, 430)

In other words, Paley is not denying that objects have built-in tendencies of their own. What he is denying is that they have a built-in tendency to create what he calls "order." Paley continually refers to "order" and "contrivance" in the same sentence, in his book, - e.g. when he writes: "There cannot be design without a designer; contrivance without a contriver; order without choice; arrangement, without any thing capable of arranging" (Natural Theology, Chapter II, p. 11). It is reasonable to suppose that he equates the two here. But as we saw above, the three distinguishing properties of contrivance are: "relation to an end, relation of parts to one another, and to a common purpose" (Natural Theology, Chapter XXIII, p. 413). A contrivance is a co-ordinated arrangement of parts subserving some end.

In other words, Paley is not denying here that things possess natural tendencies of their own. Rather, he is denying that the chemical constituents of which a living thing is composed have an innate tendency to suddenly come together and form an ordered, co-ordinated arrangement of parts subserving some end. If the constituents of things possessed such an innate tendency to create order, argues Paley, then we would be far more likely to see the constituents of a watch coming together to form a watch - which we never do. And if Professor Feser were to object that the watch is not a proper entity but a mere assemblage of parts, Paley (were he alive today) would probably answer, "That's precisely my point. How much more unlikely is it that separate molecules of amino acids, nucleotides and other chemicals could come together in a co-ordinated fashion to form a single entity whose parts are subservient to the good of the whole - in other words, a living thing?"



3.14 Was Paley a mechanist?

Thesis 14. Paley repeatedly affirms the existence of mechanisms in living things, by which he simply means: co-ordinated arrangements of parts subserving some end, or what Paley elsewhere refers to as contrivances. In affirming that "there is mechanism in animals", Paley is not reducing them to artifacts, whose finality is purely extrinsic. Nor is he denying that the parts of living things have an inherent tendency to function together. All he is saying is that the parts of living things, like those of machines, are arranged and co-ordinated in order to serve some end. In a mechanism, this end may be either intrinsic to the entity (as in organisms) or extrinsic to it (as in a watch). It is only because there is no common English word for describing co-ordinated arrangements of parts which subserve an end (whether internal or external) that Paley is forced to settle on the awkward term "mechanism".



A Gram-negative bacterial flagellum. Paley would have unhesitatingly described this as a mechanism, had he known about it, and he would have been right. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
A flagellum (plural: flagella) is a long, slender projection from the cell body, whose function is to propel a unicellular or small multicellular organism. The depicted type of flagellum is found in bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella, and rotates like a propeller when the bacterium swims. The bacterial movement can be divided in 2 kinds: run, resulting from a counterclockwise rotation of the flagellum, and tumbling, from a clockwise rotation of the flagellum.


Many of Paley's critics have portrayed him as a mechanist in his approach to living things. I shall argue below that he was no more of a mechanist than Aquinas.

(a) How ancient philosophers viewed animals in mechanical terms, long before Descartes

Before we go on, here's a quiz for my readers: which mechanistic philosopher said this?

The movements of animals may be compared with those of automatic puppets, which are set going on the occasion of a tiny movement; the levers are released, and strike the twisted strings against one another; or with the toy wagon. For the child mounts on it and moves it straight forward, and then again it is moved in a circle owing to its wheels being of unequal diameter (the smaller acts like a centre on the same principle as the cylinders). Animals have parts of a similar kind, their organs, the sinewy tendons to wit and the bones; the bones are like the wooden levers in the automaton, and the iron; the tendons are like the strings, for when these are tightened or leased movement begins. However, in the automata and the toy wagon there is no change of quality, though if the inner wheels became smaller and greater by turns there would be the same circular movement set up. In an animal the same part has the power of becoming now larger and now smaller, and changing its form, as the parts increase by warmth and again contract by cold and change their quality. This change of quality is caused by imaginations and sensations and by ideas. Sensations are obviously a form of change of quality, and imagination and conception have the same effect as the objects so imagined and conceived For in a measure the form conceived be it of hot or cold or pleasant or fearful is like what the actual objects would be, and so we shudder and are frightened at a mere idea. Now all these affections involve changes of quality, and with those changes some parts of the body enlarge, others grow smaller. And it is not hard to see that a small change occurring at the centre makes great and numerous changes at the circumference, just as by shifting the rudder a hair's breadth you get a wide deviation at the prow. And further, when by reason of heat or cold or some kindred affection a change is set up in the region of the heart, even in an imperceptibly small part of the heart, it produces a vast difference in the periphery of the body — blushing, let us say, or turning white, goose-skin and shivers and their opposites.

Give up? The above passage is taken from Aristotle's On the Motion of Animals, Part 7. Elsewhere, Aristotle defined not only the movements but also the emotions of animals in mechanical terms, even while referring to their built-in teleology:

...[A]nger should be defined as a certain mode of movement of such and such a body (or part or faculty of a body) by this or that cause and for this or that end. That is precisely why the study of the soul must fall within the science of Nature, at least so far as in its affections it manifests this double character. Hence a physicist would define an affection of soul differently from a dialectician; the latter would define e.g. anger as the appetite for returning pain for pain, or something like that, while the former would define it as a boiling of the blood or warm substance surround the heart. The [one] assigns the material conditions, the [other] the form or formulable essence; for what he states is the formulable essence of the fact, though for its actual existence there must be embodiment of it in a material such as is described by the other. (De Anima, Book I, Part 1)



(b) For Paley, a machine is not the same thing as an artifact

Although Paley frequently described the workings of living things as "mechanical", he did not envisage living things as artifacts, which lack a "good of their own", and whose parts have no inherent tendency to function together. Rather, for Paley, the term "mechanism" was synonymous with "contrivance" - a term which, as we have seen, did not connote, for Paley, an artificial arrangement, but rather a system whose components exhibit the three properties of "relation to an end, relation of parts to one another, and to a common purpose." Such a definition is perfectly compatible with the Aristotelian-Thomist view that what distinguishes living things from other objects is the fact that the causal processes occurring inside them begin and remain within the agent itself, and typically benefit the agent. A Scotist would also add that the parts of a living thing should exhibit a nested hierarchy of function. All of this Paley could happily accept, and as we have seen, he describes living things as "organized bodies, with parts bearing strict and evident relation to one another, and to the utility of the whole" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 420).

Proof that Paley equated "mechanisms" with "contrivances" can be found in the following passage:

I mean that the contrivances of nature surpass the contrivances of art, in the complexity, subtility, and curiosity of the mechanism; and still more, if possible, do they go beyond them in number and variety; yet, in a multitude of cases, are not less evidently mechanical, not less evidently contrivances, not less evidently accommodated to their end, or suited to their office, than are the most perfect productions of human ingenuity.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, p. 18)

Paley then goes on to compare the human eye with the telescope, declaring that "As far as the examination of the instrument goes, there is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision, as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it."



(c) Paley: animals are not automata, but they do contain mechanical parts and functions, which point to a Designer

Thus we should not be surprised that in one passage in his Natural Theology, Paley likened animals to automatons, the difference being that "in the animal, we trace the mechanism to a certain point, and then we are stopped" (Chapter III, p. 20). However, it is also true that Paley carefully distinguished between the mechanical and non-mechanical parts and functions of animals and vegetables. For instance, he regarded muscular contraction and impulse transmission as mechanical processes, but the origin of muscular motion was wholly mysterious and non-mechanical (Paley, W. Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, pp. 78-80).

The difference between an animal and an automatic statue, consists in this, -- that, in the animal, we trace the mechanism to a certain point, and then we are stopped; either the mechanism becoming too subtile for our discerment, or something else beside the known laws of mechanism taking place; whereas, in the automaton, for the comparatively few motions of which it is capable, we trace the mechanism throughout. But, up to the limit, the reasoning is as clear and certain in the one case, as in the other.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, p. 20)

I mean that the contrivances of nature surpass the contrivances of art, in the complexity, subtility, and curiosity of the mechanism; and still more, if possible, do they go beyond them in number and variety; yet, in a multitude of cases, are not less evidently mechanical, not less evidently contrivances, not less evidently accommodated to their end, or suited to their office, than are the most perfect productions of human ingenuity.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, p. 18)

IT is not that every part of an animal or vegetable has not proceeded from a contriving mind; or that every part is not constructed with a view to its proper end and purpose, according to the laws belonging to, and governing the substance or the action made use of in that part; or that each part is not so constructed as to effectuate its purpose whilst it operates according to these laws; but it is because these laws themselves are not in all cases equally understood; or, what amounts to nearly the same thing, are not equally exemplified in more simple processes, and more simple machines; that we lay down the distinction, here proposed, between the mechanical parts and other parts of animals and vegetables.

For instance: the principle of muscular motion, viz. upon what cause the swelling of the belly of the muscle, and consequent contraction of its tendons, either by an act of the will, or by involuntary irritation, depends, is wholly unknown to us. The substance employed ... is also unknown to us: of course, the laws belonging to that substance, and which regulate its action, are unknown to us. We see nothing similar to this contraction in any machine which we can make, or any process which we can execute. So far (it is confessed) we are in ignorance, but no further. This power and principle, from whatever cause it proceeds, being assumed, the collocation of the fibres to receive the principle, the disposition of the muscles for the use and application of the power, is mechanical; and is as intelligible as the adjustment of the wires and strings by which a puppet is moved. We see, therefore, as far as respects the subject before us, what is not mechanical in the animal frame, and what is.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VII, pp. 78-81)

That an animal is a machine, is a proposition neither correctly true nor wholly false. The distinction which we have been discussing will serve to show how far the comparison, which this expression implies, holds; and wherein it fails. And whether the distinction be thought of importance or not, it is certainly of importance to remember, that there is neither truth nor justice in endeavouring to bring a cloud over our understandings, or a distrust into our reasonings upon this subject, by suggesting that we know nothing of voluntary motion, of irritability, of the principle of life, of sensation, of animal heat, upon all which the animal functions depend; for, our ignorance of these parts of the animal frame concerns not at all our knowledge of the mechanical parts of the same frame. I contend, therefore, that there is mechanism in animals; that this mechanism is as properly such, as it is in machines made by art; that this mechanism is intelligible and certain; that it is not the less so, because it often begins or terminates with something which is not mechanical; that whenever it is intelligible and certain, it demonstrates intention and contrivance, as well in the works of nature, as in those of art; and that it is the best demonstration which either can afford.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter VII, pp. 81-82)



(d) Reproduction, while teleological, is also a mechanical process, which demonstrates the existence of a Designer

Left: Hoverflies mating in midair flight. Image courtesy of Fir0002/Flagstaffotos and Wikipedia. Right: The sexual cycle. Image courtesy of UserStannered and Wikipedia.


The generation of the animal no more accounts for the contrivance of the eye or ear, than, upon the supposition stated in a preceding chapter, the production of a watch by the motion and mechanism of a former watch, would account for the skill and intention evidenced in the watch, so produced; than it would account for the disposition of the wheels, the catching of their teeth, the relation of the several parts of the works to one another, and to their common end, for the suitableness of their forms and places to their offices, for their connexion, their operation, and the useful result of that operation. I do insist most strenuously upon the correctness of this comparison; that it holds as to every mode of specific propagation; and that whatever was true of the watch, under the hypothesis above-mentioned, is true of plants and animals... Has the plant which produced the seed any thing more to do with that organization, than the watch would have had to do with the structure of the watch which was produced in the course of its mechanical movement? I mean, Has it any thing at all to do with the contrivance? The maker and contriver of one watch, when he inserted within it a mechanism suited to the production of another watch, was, in truth, the maker and contriver of that other watch. All the properties of the new watch were to be referred to his agency: the design manifested in it, to his intention: the art, to him as the artist: the collocation of each part to his placing: the action, effect, and use, to his counsel, intelligence, and workmanship. In producing it by the intervention of a former watch, he was only working by one set of tools instead of another. So it is with the plant, and the seed produced by it.

Can any distinction be assigned between the two cases; between the producing watch, and the producing plant; both passive, unconscious substances; both by the organization which was given to them, producing their like, without understanding or design; both, that is, instruments?

From plants we may proceed to oviparous animals; from seeds to eggs. Now I say, that the bird has the same concern in the formation of the egg which she lays, as the plant has in that of the seed which it drops; and no other, nor greater. The internal constitution of the egg is as much a secret to the hen, as if the hen were inanimate... Although, therefore, there be the difference of life and perceptivity between the animal and the plant, it is a difference which enters not into the account. It is a foreign circumstance. It is a difference of properties not employed. The animal function and the vegetable function are alike destitute of any design which can operate upon the form of the thing produced. The plant has no design in producing the seed, no comprehension of the nature or use of what it produces: the bird with respect to its egg, is not above the plant with respect to its seed. Neither the one nor the other bears that sort of relation to what proceeds from them, which a joiner does to the chair which he makes.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter IV, pp. 49-52)

The minds of most men are fond of what they call a principle, and of the appearance of simplicity, in accounting for phænomena. Yet this principle, this simplicity, resides merely in the name; which name, after all, comprises, perhaps, under it a diversified, multifarious, or progressive operation, distinguishable into parts. The power in organized bodies, of producing bodies like themselves, is one of these principles. Give a philosopher this, and he can get on. But he does not reflect, what this mode of production, this principle (if such he choose to call it) requires; how much it presupposes; what an apparatus of instruments, some of which are strictly mechanical, is necessary to its success; what a train it includes of operations and changes, one succeeding another, one related to another, one ministering to another; all advancing, by intermediate, and, frequently, by sensible steps, to their ultimate result!
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pp. 420-421)



(e) The eye, like the telescope, is a contrivance, which proves the existence of a Designer

Paley's reference to the eye as being a mechanism, like the telescope, is likely to discomfit Aristotelian-Thomists, who may interpret him as declaring that there is no fundamental difference between organs and artifacts. However, as Paley makes clear in the passages below, this is not his intent: he declares that the eye was "made for vision."

I mean that the contrivances of nature surpass the contrivances of art, in the complexity, subtility, and curiosity of the mechanism; and still more, if possible, do they go beyond them in number and variety; yet, in a multitude of cases, are not less evidently mechanical, not less evidently contrivances, not less evidently accommodated to their end, or suited to their office, than are the most perfect productions of human ingenuity.

I know no better method of introducing so large a subject, than that of comparing a single thing with a single thing; an eye, for example, with a telescope. As far as the examination of the instrument goes, there is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision, as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, p. 18)

To some it may appear a difference sufficient to destroy all similitude between the eye and the telescope, that the one is a perceiving organ, the other an unperceiving instrument. The fact is, that they are both instruments. And, as to the mechanism, at least as to mechanism being employed, and even as to the kind of it, this circumstance varies not the analogy at all. For observe, what the constitution of the eye is. It is necessary, in order to produce distinct vision, that an image or picture of the object be formed at the bottom of the eye.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, p. 19)



(f) Does Paley's mechanical conception of chemistry in any way undermine his belief in immanent finality?

Paley believed that chemical agents operate in a purely mechanical fashion: "natural chemistry, for instance, would be mechanism, if our senses were acute enough to descry it" (Natural Theology, Chapter XXIII, p. 419). Does that statement in any way weaken the force of his earlier statements on the powers of Nature? Not at all. We need to keep in mind what Paley meant by "mechanism". Paley describes a mechanism as a "system of parts" united by a common purpose (Natural Theology, Chapter III, p. 8), and goes on to treat "mechanism" and "contrivance" as equivalent terms in the following passage, where he describes the mechanical properties of the parts of living things:

...[T]he contrivances of nature surpass the contrivances of art, in the complexity, subtility, and curiosity of the mechanism; and still more, if possible, do they go beyond them in number and variety; yet, in a multitude of cases, are not less evidently mechanical, not less evidently contrivances, not less evidently accommodated to their end, or suited to their office, than are the most perfect productions of human ingenuity.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, p. 18)


As I showed above (see my comments on Thesis 1 and Thesis 2), the term "contrivance", as used by Paley, does not connote a mere assemblage of parts; rather, it means an ordered arrangement of parts, subserving some end.

In the case of chemical agents, the end in question could be described as a dual one: it is both internal and external.

The external end subserved by the laws of chemistry is the smooth and harmonious functioning of the cosmos, which requires most objects to remain fairly stable over time, and to behave in a law-governed fashion. Paley wrote about this end when he declared:

Of the "Unity of the Deity," the proof is, the uniformity of plan observable in the universe. The universe itself is a system; each part either depending upon other parts, or being connected with other parts by some common law of motion, or by the presence of some common substance. One principle of gravitation causes a stone to drop towards the earth, and the moon to wheel round it. One law of attraction carries all the different planets about the sun.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXV, pp. 449-450)


The other end served by the laws of chemistry is an internal one - namely, the exercise of the chemical agent's powers and dispositions. Paley referred to these powers in his Natural Theology, when he wrote about "gravity, magnetism, electricity; together with the properties also and powers of organized substances, of vegetable or of animated nature" (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 445-446).

I conclude that Paley's mechanical conception of chemistry in no way undermines his belief in immanent finality in Nature, as expressed in statements where he refers to the powers and propensities of natural objects.



4. Aquinas and Paley: just how far apart were they?


St. Thomas Aquinas used the example of an arrow in his famous Fifth Way, arguing for the existence of God. Image of a target arrow and a medieval arrow, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In a recent article entitled, "An Aristotelian-Thomist responds to Edward Feser's 'Teleology'", (Philosophia Christi, Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring 2010), Thomist philosopher Marie George made several pointed criticisms of Feser's modern recasting of Aquinas' teleological argument. In her view, the differences between Aquinas' teleological argument and Paley's design argument have been greatly exaggerated, and there are in fact powerful similarities between the two arguments.


4.1 Does Feser exaggerate the differences between natural objects and artifacts?

First, Professor George argues that the stark contrast drawn by Professor Feser between natural and artificial teleology is not found in the writings of Aquinas, who considers the difference in teleology as irrelevant to the argument of his Fifth Way, which invokes the artifactual illustration of the arrow to support its conclusion that "some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end" (italics mine).

In Feser's final section on teleological arguments in Paley, ID Theory, and Thomism, he draws a number of unwarranted conclusions from an important point that he makes concerning natural things. Feser reiterates that the parts of natural things are inherently ordered to their ends, whereas the parts of artificial things are ordered by us (and by certain other animals) to ends that they have no tendency to realize. But the fact that "artifacts and the ends they are made to serve presuppose natural substances and the tendencies they naturally exhibit," does not mean without qualification that it is "incoherent to model natural substances on artifacts." [The quote is taken from Feser's article, "Teleology: A Shopper's Guide," Philosophia Christi 12 (2010): 155. - VJT]
(2010, p. 445)

Feser's overemphasis on the difference in natural and artificial teleology results in another error; he asserts that the difference in the intrinsic ordering of natural things to their ends as opposed to the extrinsic ordering of (the parts of) artificial things to their ends "entails that God does not create them [natural things] in the way a craftsman arranges parts so as to produce an artifact." This is not entirely true. It is true that the craftsman does not give an artifact its nature, but harnesses the natural tendencies of natural things to his end, whereas God (assuming for the moment that he is the Maker) gives things their natures in virtue of which they tend to their ends, their natural perfection. This difference, however, does not entail that the way that God and a craftsman arranges parts of natural things and artificial things respectively must be other than employing intelligence. The difference in the teleology of natural and artificial things does not preclude one from drawing a conclusion based upon the generic characteristic of acting for an end. Indeed, to say that a difference in teleology of the natural and the artificial indicates that there is no need for both to have the same type of cause is to pronounce the Fifth Way defunct. Aquinas does not see the said difference in teleology as relevant to the argument of the Fifth Way. Aquinas says: "Everything which tends to an end, lacking knowledge, is a thing that is directed by some knowing and intelligent being, as the arrow by an archer." He does not say things whose tendencies are within as opposed to imposed from without. He says "everything." (2010, pp. 446-447)


In a 2011 online article entitled, On Aristotle, Aquinas, and Paley: A Reply to Marie George, Feser complains that Professor George has unfairly characterized his position:

But she is attacking a straw man. I never said or implied either that natural substances are without qualification unlike human artifacts, or that action for an end in nature is in no way like human action. The question is whether there are similarities of a sort that would justify treating Paley's design argument as if it were merely a variation on reasoning of essentially the same sort that Aquinas is engaged in in his Fifth Way. George says nothing to show that there are. (2011, p. 3)


Professor Feser goes on to explain that even though both Aquinas and Paley argue for the existence of an Intelligent Designer of Nature, there is a yawning chasm between their respective arguments: Paley argues for a God whose intelligence is fundamentally like our own, whereas the God of classical theism, Whose existence Aquinas argues for, possesses an intelligence altogether unlike our own, so that we can only predicate "intelligence" of Him in an analogous way. I shall argue below, however, that "classical theism" is a broad Church, which includes Scholastic philosophers (such as John Duns Scotus) whose conception of God's intelligence is quite similar to Paley's. Moreover, I will show that Paley's alleged "anthropomorphism" is largely a product of Feser's imagination; he is reading Paley uncharitably, and imputing to him a position which he does not hold.



4.2 Aquinas on the role of the good in final causality

Professor George also accuses Feser of watering down St. Thomas Aquinas' teachings regarding final causality, in his attempt to recast Aquinas' teleological argument in a sophisticated form for a modern, 21st century audience. For Aquinas a central feature of final causality was the fact that it tends towards some effect which is good. What this meant was that for Aquinas, the paradigmatic cases of final causality were biological. In this respect, Aquinas' teleological argument resembles Paley's argument from design, which appeals to examples such as the eye:

What he [Feser] does not point out is that the regular realization of an effect by an efficient cause does not suffice for concluding that that effect is the final cause aimed at by the efficient cause; the effect must also be a good. The heart regularly produces a sound detectable by stethoscope, but this is not a good for the organism, and is not the final cause of the heart.... [I]t is not immediately apparent that it is the same thing to argue from regularity in natural causality to an intelligent being as to argue from natural causality which regularly achieves some good, and this is something Feser fails to bring out. (2010, pp. 444-445)

It is worth noting that the aspect of goodness involved in final causality explains why Aquinas looks most often to biological examples when speaking of finality in nature. The goods achieved by the parts of animals are much more apparent than the goods achieved by nonliving natural things. (2010, p. 445)

When Paley applies the general principle to nature, he chooses biological examples, which, as we have seen, Aquinas acknowledges to be the clearest example of finality. (2010, p. 448)


In his 2011 online article, On Aristotle, Aquinas, and Paley: A Reply to Marie George, Professor Feser argues that his position is perfectly in keeping with that of Aquinas, and that he was only arguing (as all Thomists do) that inanimate objects, while tending towards some good that lies outside themselves, lack a good of their own:

...[T]here is no conflict between what I wrote and what Aquinas says. There would be a conflict only if I had said that inorganic processes do not act for the sake of any good at all. But I said no such thing; I said only that they "do not promote the cause's own good."... What I was saying, then (as is, again, clear from the context), is that inorganic causal processes, being merely transeunt and not immanent, do not promote the good of some whole of which they are a part in the sense of promoting the perfection or flourishing of that whole, but rather terminate in something external to any whole from which they might proceed – a standard part of the A-T understanding of what distinguishes the non-living from the living.


Nevertheless, I would contend that there is a significant difference between Professor Feser's position and that of Aquinas. Consider Feser's argument for the existence of an Intelligence directing natural objects to their built-in ends. Feser's argument, which can be found in a recent article entitled, "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways" (Australian Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, 2011, pp. 237-267), can be expressed as follows:

[T]here are final causes or ends immanent to the natural order.

But unintelligent natural causes can "point to" or be "directed at" such ends only if guided by an intelligence.

So there is such an intelligence.

[Note: the three-step syllogism above is identical with steps 3, 4 and 5 of Feser's ten-step reconstruction of what he takes to be the argument Aquinas is making in his Fifth Way. - VJT]


On the surface, Feser's syllogism looks just like the argument of Aquinas' is making. But for Feser, to "point to" or be "directed at" an end means nothing more than "to have a natural inclination toward something" (Aquinas, Oneworld, Oxford, 2009, p. 19) - in other words, to have a tendency, or disposition. A final cause is thus "a potency, power, or disposition which inherently 'points to' the generation of that specific effect," as Feser explains in his blog post, Teleology revisited (September 24, 2009). For Feser, the reason why animate and inanimate bodies possessing natural tendencies require a guiding Intelligence in order to attain their ends is that these ends lie in the future: As he puts it, "the whole point is that the coldness that the ice will produce, or the oak that the acorn will grow into, have not yet come about but are initially merely 'pointed' to by the ice or the acorn" (Teleology revisited, September 24, 2009). Feser contends that only a being with a conception of the future - i.e. an intelligent being - can guide unintelligent objects towards a future goal. (The end, it will be recalled, doesn't yet exist in the natural world.)

Aquinas' Fifth Way, however, contains a vital ingredient which is missing from Feser's argument: the notion that things lacking intelligence have a built-in tendency to attain the best results, which is inexplicable unless they are guided by some intelligence:

We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.


Aquinas' argument here is markedly different from Feser's, and it makes the latter look rather anemic by comparison.



4.3 The underlying similarity between Aquinas' and Paley's arguments that Feser has overlooked

Additionally, George contends that Professor Feser has overlooked the profound similarities between Aquinas' teleological argument for the existence of God, in his Fifth Way, and Paley's argument from design:

... [Feser's] emphasis on the intrinsic directedness to an end of natural things leads him to be unduly critical of Paley's argument, when in fact there are many striking similarities between Paley's argument and the Fifth Way, similarities that merit careful reflection. (2010, p. 449)

I think Feser's preoccupation with the distinction between natural and artificial things prevents him from seriously entertaining that there might be a fundamental similarity in Aquinas's and Paley's approaches. For example, note how Aquinas readily sees the example of a clock — an obvious equivalent of Paley's watch — as equivalent to the arrow example he uses over and over again to illustrate the principle that the end-directedness of non intelligent beings must ultimately be reduced to beings that are intelligent... (2010, p. 447)


To drive home the point that she is making, Professor George quotes parallel passages from Aquinas and Paley:

A final suggestion that I will make here is that the same idea underlies both Paley's general principle that a multiplicity of parts ordered and adjusted to achieve a goal must ultimately be traced back to an intelligent being and the corresponding principle in Aquinas's argument that "those things which lack cognition do not tend to an end unless directed by someone knowing and intelligent." As Paley puts it: "Arrangement, disposition of parts, subserviency of means to end, relation of instruments to an [sic] use, imply the presence of intelligence and mind."35 As Aquinas puts it:

However, in order for the action of the agent to be suited to the end, it is necessary for it to be adapted and proportioned to it, which cannot come about except from some intellect which knows the end and the notion of the end and the proportion of the end to that which is to the end; otherwise the suitability of the action for the end would be chance. But the intellect ordering things to the end is sometimes conjoined to the agent...[and] sometimes separate, as is manifest in the case of the arrow.36

35. William Paley, Natural Theology (1802; Houston: St. Thomas Press, 1972), 9
36. Aquinas, Quaestiones Disputatae, vol. 2, Quaestiones Disputatae de Potentia, ed. P. M. Pession (Turin: Marietti, 1965), 1.5.
(2010, p. 448)


Nevertheless, there is a subtle difference in the two arguments, which George remarks upon in an article entitled, Where Intelligent Design and Dawkins meet: "Aquinas says things which lack cognition do not tend to an end unless directed by someone knowing and intelligent, as the arrow by an archer. Paley says that a thing having multiplicity of parts ordered and adjusted to achieve a goal is necessarily the work of an intelligent being."



4.4 Do Aquinas and Paley argue for design in completely different ways?

At this point, Professor Feser might argue that there is in fact a fundamental difference between Aquinas' teleological argument and Paley's argument from design: all that matters for Aquinas is the mere fact that things exhibit tendencies towards certain built-in ends, whereas for Paley, the complexity of things is of critical importance in establishing that the natural world has an Intelligent Designer. As Feser puts it in his book, Aquinas (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009):

While Paley and his successors focus on complex biological structures, Aquinas is not especially interested either in biology or complexity per se; even extremely simple inorganic phenomena suffice in his view to show that a Supreme Intelligence exists... For to repeat, he is not interested here in complexity per se in the first place; as Garrigou-Lagrange points out, even a simple physical phenomenon like the attraction of two particles would suffice for his purposes. (2009, pp. 112, 113)


Feser is over-stating the contrast between Aquinas and Paley here: as we have seen, Aquinas appeals most often to biological examples when speaking of the finality in Nature.

Moreover, I believe that Feser is mistaken in his contention that Aquinas' argument can be formulated perfectly well without appealing to complex phenomena. On the contrary, complex phenomena form a vital part of his argument for the existence of God. This can be seen if we examine the earlier version of the teleological argument in Aquinas' writings: the argument from the harmony of the world in the Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, chapter 13, paragraph 35:

Damascene proposes another argument for the same conclusion taken from the government of the world [De fide orthodoxa I, 3]. Averroes likewise hints at it [In II Physicorum]. The argument runs thus. Contrary and discordant things cannot, always or for the most part, be parts of one order except under someone's government, which enables all and each to tend to a definite end. But in the world we find that things of diverse natures come together under one order, and this not rarely or by chance, but always or for the most part. There must therefore be some being by whose providence the world is governed. This we call God.


We have already seen that for Aquinas, the attainment of some good is a vital feature of his concept of final causality. Here we see him arguing that things of various natures all form part of one harmonious world order. I think it is fair to conclude that Aquinas' teleological argument presupposes a certain amount of complexity in the world, and that it could not be formulated in a satisfactory manner for a universe consisting of nothing more than, say, two particles displaying mutual attraction. Something more is needed: a teleological system has to "hang together" in an ordered, harmonious way. In other words, it has to be complex.



4.5 Do Aquinas and Paley argue for the existence of two different gods?

Professors Feser and George are both Thomists. They agree that there are profound dissimilarities between natural objects and artifacts, and that there is a crucial difference between a mere craftsman and God insofar as the craftsman does not give an artifact its nature. They also agree that both Aquinas and Paley advance arguments for an Intelligent Designer of Nature. So far, so good. But whereas George contends that "there are many striking similarities between Paley's argument and the Fifth Way" (2010, p. 449), Feser begs to differ:

What A-T philosophers (other than George) object to is the way Paley argues for this conclusion (a way which is incompatible with a metaphysics of immanent finality) and his implicitly anthropomorphic construal of divine "intelligence" (which is incompatible with the Thomist position that attributes like intelligence are to be predicated of God and of human designers in an analogous rather than univocal way). (2011, p. 4)

Here at last we come to Feser's key objection to design inferences based on artificial teleology: they will only take you to an anthropomorphic designer, whose mind is all too like our own - and not the God of classical theism. But if we read what Paley himself says, we find that he rejects anthropomorphism:

IT is an immense conclusion, that there is a GOD; a perceiving, intelligent, designing, Being; at the head of creation, and from whose will it proceeded. The attributes of such a Being, suppose his reality to be proved, must be adequate to the magnitude, extent, and multiplicity of his operations: which are not only vast beyond comparison with those performed by any other power, but, so far as respects our conceptions of them, infinite, because they are unlimited on all sides.

Yet the contemplation of a nature so exalted, however surely we arrive at the proof of its existence, overwhelms our faculties. The mind feels its powers sink under the subject.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, page 441-442)


Paley was all too keenly aware of the inadequacy of our notions of God. He goes on to warn that our thoughts tend to "seek relief in sensible images," and make "idolatrous substitutions" for the true God (Chapter XXIV, p. 442). He also warns that we should avoid "more precision in our ideas than the subject allows of, the several terms which are employed to denote the attributes of the Deity" (Chapter XXIV, p. 443). Does this sound like anthropomorphism?

Feser might object that Paley's conception of the Divine intellect is anthropomorphic, insofar as He conceives of God's Mind as being like ours, only infinitely greater. But if we look at Paley, we find him making the same argument as Aquinas - namely, that anything capable of directing things to an end, and providing means to attain that end, must be intelligent. That is the limit of his "anthropomorphism" with regard to the Divine Intellect:

Contrivance, if established, appears to me to prove every thing which we wish to prove. Amongst other things, it proves the personality of the Deity, as distinguished from what is sometimes called nature, sometimes called a principle: which terms, in the mouths of those who use them philosophically, seem to be intended, to admit and to express an efficacy, but to exclude and to deny a personal agent. Now that which can contrive, which can design, must be a person. These capacities constitute personality, for they imply consciousness and thought. They require that which can perceive an end or purpose; as well as the power of providing means, and of directing them to their end ...
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, page 408)



4.6 Did Paley really liken the world to a watch?

Finally, Professor George defends Paley's use of a watch in his argument for God, on the grounds that Paley was not likening the world to a watch, but simply using the watch to illustrate his point that a complex arrangement of parts ordered and adjusted to achieve a goal must ultimately be traced back to an intelligent being.

The same claim that Feser makes with regard to Aquinas – that Aquinas is not making a weak induction or giving an argument by analogy starting from the example of the arrow – applies equally well to Paley. Paley simply uses a watch to illustrate a basic principle that is either similar or the same as that invoked by Aquinas. (Aquinas, again, says: "everything which tends to an end, lacking knowledge, is a thing that is directed by some knowing and intelligent being, as the arrow by an archer"). When Paley applies the general principle to nature, he chooses biological examples, which, as we have seen, Aquinas acknowledges to be the clearest example of finality. (2010, p. 448)



5. If Paley wasn't a real mechanist, then who was?


Robert Boyle (1627-1691) could, unlike Paley, be fairly described as a mechanist, insofar as he denied the existence of immanent finality within natural objects. Objects, for Boyle, had no inherent tendencies of their own; the laws governing their behavior were continually being imposed on them by God. As Professor Feser pointed out in Part One above, while such a view leaves plenty of room for God to act, it does so at the expense of robbing things of their very "thinghood." Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

http://www.library.utoronto.ca/see/SEED/Vol4-3/Hulswit.htm

http://www.epsociety.org/userfiles/Feser-Reply%20to%20Marie%20George%20_revised_.pdf (Feser's response to Marie George)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Keller (Frank Jackson "Mary")

http://personal.stthomas.edu/jdkronen/hylomorphism.html Suarez


By now, the reader may be wondering: if even Willian Paley wasn't a real mechanist, then who was? From my own reading of history, it appears that if we examine the writings of theistic philosophers, the most outspoken defenders of mechanism published their work not in the early nineteenth century but in the seventeenth century. An obvious case in point is the French Catholic philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who denied the reality of formal causes, and who allowed a very limited role for final causes - not in Nature, but only in God's intentions. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was somewhat less radical: he did not deny the reality of final causes in Nature, but regarded them as unknowable to science.

But perhaps the most interesting example of a 17th-century Christian philosopher who rejected final causes in Nature was that of Robert Boyle, who was renowned not only as a scientist but also as an apologist for Christianity. Jay Richards provides a very insightful description of Boyle's thinking in his book, God and Evolution (Discovery Institute, Seattle, 2010). In an essay entitled "Separating the Chaff from the Wheat" (Chapter 12), he writes:

Robert Boyle (1627-1691), a teleo-mechanist like Newton, objected to Aristotelian philosophy because he thought it tended to make nature autonomous and self-sufficient. Boyle, in contrast, used the atomistic (or corpuscularian) philosophy that was fashionable in his day as Aristotelianism had been in previous centuries...

For Boyle, a virtue of this teleo-mechanist view was precisely that it showed that the physical world depended on an intelligent Creator. Since matter could do hardly anything on its own, Boyle could argue that nature's manifest design could only be the product of a transcendent Creator. The apparent teleology of nature pointed clearly beyond nature for its source, as it did in Plato, and was not "immanent" within nature itself, as it was for Aristotle. (2010, p. 244. Emphases mine - VJT.)

I should observe in passing that St. Thomas Aquinas' own views on teleology lay somewhere between that of Plato and Aristotle. Like Aristotle, Aquinas staunchly affirmed the reality of immanent finality in Nature, but he parted company with Aristotle in holding, with Plato, that any teleology we observe in the natural world had to be the work of an Intelligence beyond Nature. (Aristotle's Prime Mover attracted creatures to Himself as an Ultimate Final Cause, but He did not endow these creatures with their built-in ends.)

Richards continues:

Boyle emphasized that physical laws and properties of matter (he preferred to speak of "rules" rather than "laws") are the result of God's will and not his nature, and so had to be discovered rather than deduced from reason. They quite explicitly reflect the purposes of God, and must constantly be upheld by God. "Laws," for Boyle, implied an active and independent Lawgiver.

He could speak of God as constantly involved in the outcome of physical events and of fashioning human beings from a "Lump of Stupid matter." Though not the most felicitous way of speaking, the "stupidity" of matter was not, for him, an insult to God or to the matter he created. God simply chose to create and use a quite limited material to create much more admirable beings.

In hindsight, with our knowledge of chemistry and quantum physics, Boyle's theistic atomism looks like an over-reaction to the Aristotelian tradition. Still, Boyle was right to suspect that Aristotelian philosophy lends itself to a type of naturalism, albeit one with an Unmoved Mover at the top story. Whereas Boyle was inclined to give matter few innate properties, Aristotle's inclinations were just the opposite...

Held together, the contrasting views of nature in Boyle and Aristotle provide a valuable lesson: if we want to know the innate (and God-given) capacities and limits of nature, we need to look at nature itself. That is, we need to discover them....

This is a robustly Thomistic attitude. In using Aristotle, Thomas was using what he took to be the most up-to-date and rigorous "science" then available, though he was careful to separate the wheat from the chaff. (2010, pp. 244-245)

Boyle's insistence that God was needed to continually uphold the laws of Nature is admirable, and I shall be making essentially the same point in my next post. However, Boyle's theism comes at a tremendous ontological cost: as Professor Feser pointed out in Part One above, while his occasionalistic view leaves plenty of room for God to act, it does so at the expense of robbing things of their very "thinghood." However, whereas Boyle's argument was predicated on the assumption that natural objects possess no built-in powers of their own, I shall be arguing in my next post that they do possess these powers, but that they need to be continually "ontologically re-charged", so to speak, by God, Who keeps the rules of Nature applying from one moment to the next. It is these rules which define the very nature of things, constituting their substantial forms.

Given that Boyle was such an outspoken and articulate apologist for the Christian faith, the reader might be wondering how science came to move in the opposite direction, in the two centuries following Boyle's death. The answer, as Intrelligent Design proponent Professor William Dembski explains in Part Eight below, is that Boyle's atomism readily lent itself to a kind of atheistic perspective, in which the universe was conceived as a giant clock, whose laws were immutable. On such a view, there was no apparent need for Divine fiat. Boyle might have retorted, however, that atheists cannot consistently appeal to the clock metaphor: clocks themselves will only keep ticking if the laws of Nature continue to apply as they have always done.

For me, the take-home massage from this story is that for any scientific view of Nature that leaves room for God to act, atheists will always try to find some way of pushing God out of the picture.



5. Conclusion

I conclude, then, that Paley (like many of his Christian contemporaries) was not a true mechanist in his view of natural objects, and that his views on mechanism were far less radical than those of the Christian atomists of the seventeenth century. While Paley's watch analogy for biological structures (such as the eye) was indeed a mechanistic one, he also acknowledged the existence of "powers of nature", and his overall concept of living things was undeniably holistic and teleological. Thus my exegesis of Paley's views lies somewhere in between that of Professor Feser, who portrays him as an out-and-out mechanist, and Professor George, who denies that Paley resorts to argument by analogy in his writings on natural theology.

Regardless of whether Paley's use of the watch in his argument was actually intended to be a metaphor, an analogy or, as Professor George contends, merely an illustration, most Intelligent Design proponents would actually agree with Professor Feser that Paley's watch is indeed a bad metaphor for the world. And with good reason: they have much better ones at their disposal.



EXTRA

http://www.thebestschools.org/bestschoolsblog/2012/07/20/darwin-vii-physical-properties-life/

Good on teleology


The Muslim polymath al-Jazari designed the world's first programmable robot in 1206. Al-Jazari's robot was a boat with four automatic musicians that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties. His mechanism had a programmable drum machine with pegs (cams) that bump into little levers that operate the percussion. The drummer could be made to play different rhythms and different drum patterns by moving the pegs to different locations. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.


Drawing of a medieval automaton, pouring wine, designed by the Muslim polymath al-Jazari. Syria or Egypt 1315. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
One of al-Jazari's humanoid automata was a waitress that could serve water, tea or drinks. The drink was stored in a tank with a reservoir from where the drink drips into a bucket and, after seven minutes, into a cup, after which the waitress appears out of an automatic door serving the drink.

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/to-dream-the-impossible-dream-the-quest-for-the-50-bit-life-form/



For ancient views on animals and automata, see http://www2.gsu.edu/~phltso/Berryman-comments.html
See also Sylvia Berryman, "Ancient Automata and Mechanical Explanation", Phronesis, Volume 38, #4, 2003.
Aristotle: http://abcdunlimited.com/liberty/refs/aristotle.html