Paley's watch maker argument - an argument for the existence of God by
the clearly apparent design in nature is one of the most powerful
arguments for God's existence. How do I know? One need merely take a
look at all the skeptics who try (unsuccessfully) to refute it. From
Youtube bloggers to high profile atheists like Richard Dawkins, doubters
repeatedly try to show the argument invalid - and fail miserably. Why
all the effort? Because it is so clear, so easy to understand, so
obvious, that it is a powerful argument for the existence of God.
Though many objections are put forth, all fail spectacularly
for usually the same small set of reasons: either because the skeptic
doesn't understand the argument and thus raises irrelevant objections -
arguments. (And of course defeating a straw man argument is irrelevant
to the real, actual argument. Apparently those who use straw men
arguments hope the audience is not well versed enough in the real
argument to spot it. So we'll address that here - by briefly explaining
the main argument.)
Or second, the attempted rebuttals fail
because of the use of other logical fallacies. I'll point them out as we
come across them.
Part 1. The Teleological Argument
The teleological argument - from the Greek word τελος
(telos) meaning "end" or "goal" are arguments based on the observation
that most of nature exhibits a clearly apparent goal or design.
The various pieces and parts were fashioned to achieve a particular end
or goal, and thus they have an intelligent goal maker. This argument has
been developed a number of ways:
Aquinas' fifth way in
his Summa Theologiae, the section on proofs of God, is
a teleological argument. He points to an arrow consistently hitting
a target. Arrows neither aim themselves, nor shoot themselves. The
reason they tend to a goal (the target) is because they have been
set in motion "under the direction of someone with awareness and
with understanding."  In other
words, they have a goal maker, or put another way an intelligence
with a design in mind - to hit the target.
"specified complexity" is a teleological argument. He identifies how
we can infer a designer - "if the effect is both complex and
specified" furthermore he notes, we
must rule out automatic or natural processes, so we must also
establish contingency, or as he puts it, to infer design, "we must
establish three things: contingency, complexity and
specification. [emphasis his] Contingency ensures that the
object in question is not the result of an automatic and therefore
unintelligent process..." More on that
"irreducible complexity" is also a teleological argument. Behe
explains the concept thus: "By irreducibly complex [emphasis
his] I mean a single system composed of several well-matched,
interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the
removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively
cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced
directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function,
which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive
modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an
irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition
William Paley's Watch
The above are not the words Paley use. But Paley's concepts of
"purposeful design" and
"contrivances" anticipate these
concepts, and thus his argument is clearly a teleological one - not
an argument based on analogy. Notice the main features of the
arguments above: each instance requires: 1. forethought and
planning, 2. A target or goal in mind, 3. A sequence or action to
achieve the target 4. An Intelligent agent to conceive of, and
execute the entirety of the plan. These components can be
identified in the first three iterations of the teleological
argument above, and I submit they are also implicit in Paley's
argument which include "purposeful design" and "contrivances."
Indeed any object that requires forethought and planning to
be produced is by definition an object that can only be produced
by Intelligent Design.
Why is this important? Because it
undercuts two arguments used to try to defeat Paley's watchmaker
Part 2. Obvious Failures in Attempts to
overcome the Teleological Argument
Skeptics routinely give these two objections to the Paley's
Objection 1. The Argument fails because
the analogy fails.
This objection misses the point and thus fails because Paley's argument
is not an argument based on analogy. He's not making an analogy between
the watch and the universe. His argument is based on the
identification of design. The use of a watch is just to help the reader
understand why we can indentify that the watch is designed.
The universe is also clearly designed. The identification of design
requires a designer. Thus in identifying that the universe is designed,
it is clear the universe must have a designer.
Objection 2. The Argument fails because
complexity doesn't require a designer.
Another common objection is that complexity doesn't require a designer.
Which is true - complexity in and off itself does not require a
designer. That is the essence of the argument of Michael Ruse to Ben
Stein in "Expelled no Intelligence Allowed" - that life may have
developed into the needed
complexity on the back of crystals (1 minute
video). What Ruse and many others skeptics miss, is that the
identification of design is contingent not only on just complexity, put
as Dembski put it "specified complexity" [emphasis mine] or as
Paley put it "purposeful design". There must be an apparent reason for
the complexity and a goal or purpose for the complexity. There is
clearly an apparent reason behind the complexity in a watch: its many
"contrivances" allow it to keep time according to the specification of
hours, minutes and seconds. Not so with crystals. They
exhibit merely a complex ordering of matter, with no apparent goal or
Part 3. Addressing specific errors in
Critiques of Paley
I was asked to defend the
assessment I made of a
critique of Paley's argument
by YouTube channel "Rationality Rules", in which I claimed the video was
a joke because it misunderstood the argument and used straw man
arguments and logical flaws. Specifically I was asked to
1.) If the
video is a "joke" then
why does it seem to represent the argument accurately according to
Christian presentations and others'? Please elaborate.
2.) What are his straw man objections?
3.) What are his (and mine) logical flaws?
So I've already answered
#1 - it does not represent the argument accurately, but let me
apply it to this video:
The critique asserts that "The Watchmaker analogy is a recurring
argument for a designer which by way of analogy asserts that complexity
requires a designer." (Time mark 0:16)
So already we see a number of errors:
1. Paley presented an
argument which contains an analogy.
The analogy is NOT the argument. The analogy is used for what analogies
are typically used for, to help the reader understand a deeper point,
the analogy in and of itself is
NOT the argument. This is critical to understand because this
error is the foundation of many other errors in the video.
understanding of the use of complexity is flawed.
As I noted above, complexity by itself does not require a designer.
Rather specified complexity - as Dembski put it, or "purposeful
complexity" as Paley put it which includes "contrivances" as he
described, is what requires a designer. Yet the Video blogger never
addresses this real argument, thus the glaring flaw, and the straw man
So right off the bat we
see this attempt to debunk Paley's does not represent the argument
accurately according to Christian presentations as elaborated above.
Moving on he keeps
referring to the argument as an "analogy" which, as I've already pointed
out is incorrect. The "analogy" is to help understand the argument. The
argument is based on the identification of design.
He then goes on to state
that the argument says that "Complexity Requires a designer (1:18)
Once again he's missed the
point. As noted above, complexity is a component in identifying an
intelligent designer, but it is not the only component. Those who try to
refute this argument always seem to miss that point.
He then goes on to
"formally" attempt to debunk the argument.
So let's formally show him where he's wrong.
3. False Analogy
Fallacy (Mistake @ 1:35)
"First and foremost what single handedly debunks the watchmaker argument
is that it's a false analogy."
As I've already pointed out. The argument uses an analogy, but the
argument itself is NOT the analogy. Failure to understand this
point means you simply don't understand the argument.
He also conveniently makes a false comparisons to drive home his point,
but I won't bother to go into that error because his whole case is
worthless since the basis of the Teleological argument is not based on
4. False Cause Fallacy
(Mistake @ 2.44)
"... It commits a false cause fallacy. It does this by asserting
complexity and order can only be caused by a designer"
At this point I'm wondering if he's even read Paley's argument because
Paley does not make this assertion. Paley talks about "contrivances"
with clearly designed goals and purposes - which results in complexity.
But once again, Paley's point is not on the complexity alone. It's on
all that has to happen to bring it about - the planning, purpose, the
assembling of parts in a particular order to achieve a specific end.
All these speak to design and purpose, not merely to just complexity.
Once again I must wonder if he has ever read Paley's argument or is
intentionally misrepresenting it - which is at best the fallacy of
evidence and at worse the fallacy of
I could take this point by point - e.g. his assertion that Paley
confuses correlation with causation, also another false assertion that
is unfounded. But as the main point has already been refuted, in the
interest of brevity I will not bother with every sub-mistake under his
5. Ignores Natural
Selection (Mistake @ 3:52)
"...It completely ignores evolution by natural selection"
For evolution to be even remotely feasible, it must explain 1. The
origin of life (which it can't) and 2. Answer where the necessary
increase in information comes to do things like change body types.
(Another thing it can't do.) Because Natural Selection is a
process that REMOVES information, it doesn't add it. As geneticist Dr.
Marciej Giertych puts it:
"Darwin assumed that
the increase of information comes from natural selection. But
natural selection reduces genetic information. And we know this from
all the genetic operations studies that we have."
The only thing in
Neo-Darwinism that can add information is mutations - and they are
always negative in impact
(video). Thus they do not help in the selecting
He further claims "We know
for a fact that nature can, does and has produced remarkably complex
organisms without a conscious and intelligent behind them."(4:14) We
know no such thing. Here he's just spouting Evolutionary dogma while
the question. We know evolutionists know no such thing because they
can't even figure out where the abundance of species and body types
originate that are found in the
I've written a number of
articles on why Evolution is impossible. Here's one that deals with a
topic we've been discussing - specified complexity - and why
Neo-Darwinism - and Dawkins' "Mt. Improbable" simply fail: "Mt
Improbable and other impossible evolutionary dreams"
In this section he also
Circular Reasoning argument, claiming we have "millions of examples
of nature creating complex life." That's his (false) conclusion.
We have no evidence of that, only evolutionary fairytales that
evolutionists tell us. In order for him to make that claim he must be
able to state the origin of life, and demonstrate how nature did it from
the beginning to end - not with fuzzy evolutionary just-so
stories, full of maybe's and perhaps, and could be's - but actual step
by step scientific processes. Failing that, it's his belief, not
science. He's just stating it's true by fiat using the fallacy of
to ignorance and hope you don't know any better.
6. Special Pleading /
Self Refuting (Mistake @ 5:00)
Here he invokes the common atheist "Who designed God?" argument by
trying to "apply the argument to itself."
First we note he starts
with his misunderstanding of the usage of complexity that we noted
above, then states that God (the designer) must be complex:
How does he know the
designer is complex? To follow the example in the argument, we know the
watch is complex by examination. What evidence do we have that God is
complex? How did he examine God? Because every atheist I speak to
no evidence of God. So clearly he doesn't know God is complex by
So why does he think God
is complex? He concludes that because the universe is complex, its
designer must be complex - the way a watch or the universe is complex.
First, to think of God in those terms is to fall to the error of
Anthropomorphism - God is not complex in that manner - with many
pieces and parts and complex workings the way a watch or the universe
is. God is immaterial and thus has no such parts. Second this
objection assumes that in the group of complex things, God is like
the other complex things. Also false. This is the fallacy of
So clearly this objection
is already false, but let's play along. How might we learn something
about God? By looking at his creation - since we can't examine him
directly. And what can we learn from the creation? We learn that
God is timeless, eternal, and all powerful among other things. How
do we know this? As already stated, from an examination of
the nature of creation. Creation, i.e. The Universe consists of:
which is created - which means the creator must be beyond or outside
of time since he existed "before" he created it; Thus the
creator is eternal
which is created - which means the creator must be other than
material or immaterial
which is created - which means the creator must be "beyond" space or
Which requires an intelligence to create - which means the
creator must possess all the necessary information to create the
universe and all life - so omniscient
was created out of nothing
- so the creator must be omnipotent
This is what we expect
from the creator of life and the universe. Notice that a creator who was
designed, and thus began to exist is incompatible with an eternal
creator outside of time. An eternal God is also the Biblical depiction
of God. (Ps 90.2). Thus examining the evidence as Paley did, one must
conclude that God is eternal, and thus uncreated, and thus without
beginning or end, and thus uncaused and un-designed.
Thus the conclusion from
the teleological argument about God is not only does God who created the
universe exist, but based on the nature of that universe, he must
be eternal, immaterial, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent - just as
the Bible depicts him.
The video blogger goes on to defines special pleading as "an argument in
which the speaker deliberately creates an exception to their argument
without justifying why. And that is precisely what one must do to
prevent the watchmaker argument from being completely self refuting."
As noted above - the
conclusion from the teleological argument is that God is eternal, and
thus cannot begin to exist, and thus cannot be designed. So this
argument falls along with the false contention of being self refuting.
7. Self contradicting (mistake @ 5:54)
Once again he puts up a
argument claiming the argument states that nature is both uncomplicated
and random, and also complicated and ordered. The argument does not
"give the universe two incompatible and contradicting qualities" it
simply observes what is, then goes on to state how we know the
difference between how the simple, and how the complicated come to
exist. To deny that there exists items that are "uncomplicated and
random" and other items that are "complicated and ordered" is to deny
reality. So he's really quite deceptive here, making claims the
argument does not make, but then, that's what straw man arguments do.
8. It Doesn't Imply a
Designer, it Implies Many (mistake @ 6:19)
1.) He should make up his mind. The whole point of his little
video is to prove that the watchmaker doesn't imply a designer. Now he
says it does - but adds a caveat - it implies more than 1 designer by
analogy - incorrectly using his mistaken understanding of an analogy as
indicated above. So what he shows here is he's not trying to refute
Paley's argument. He's trying to refute the Judeo-Christian one, unique
God. But he fails at that too.
Further it's incorrect
2.) The argument speaks to the designer of the universe. How many
universes are there? Traditionally - and certainly in Paley's day -
there is only one universe, which would then imply one designer.
In these days when physicists and cosmologists claim the existence of a
multi-verse (to try escape the inescapable conclusion of fine tuning in the
universe) - he might want to claim many designers for a multi-verse -
but that's a separate argument. But in doing so he concedes the
existence of a designer. Again at this point, he's not arguing against Paley,
he's arguing against the Judeo-Christian God. At that
point I need merely prove why there isn't a multi-verse, since he's
already conceded a designer. On that see
9. Ex Nihilo
(Mistake @ 6:55)
Here he states "The watchmaker argument acts as if a watch maker creates
a watch from nothing." No it doesn't. Ex Nihilo is a matter
of Christian doctrine ( Gen 1.1-2), but the watchmaker argument
has nothing to say about where the watchmaker gets materials for the
watch, nor how the creator created the universe. Once again he's just
showing his anti-Christian bias as he puts up another straw man argument
directed at Christianity, not Paley's argument.
10. Doesn't Support
Theism (Mistake @ 7:17)
Here he states, "The watch maker argument doesn't support theism.
Even if it were accepted to be a sound argument ('which it's not' he
puts on the screen), it would only prove that the universe had a
universe designer." So once again, going down this path, he
concedes God, but now he's playing ignorant on what we mean by "God".
Well I've already defined that in number 6 above. By God we mean the
designer of the universe (which the argument does in fact prove) who is
eternal, immaterial, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent.
That's what the creation upon examination points to and that, by the way, is the
Biblical understanding of some of the characteristics of God.
11. Incompetent Design
(Mistake @ 7:40)
Here he complains about "mistakes" and "sub-optimal design". Paley
addresses this in his argument. First: problems in the design does
not negate the fact that we can still detect design. If a house is
half burned down, we can still detect it was once a house. If there are
problems in a design we can still detect it was designed.
But Second: what he's
really addressing is another point in Christian theology. Here he
talks about things like birth defects and pregnancy complications. Those
things exist because of human sin, not because of the creator's design.
So once again he has left the teleological argument and is showing his
anti-Christian bias, stating this argument does not support the
monotheistic God's and "certainly not" the Abrahamic God. At most I will
grant the argument does not identify the Abrahamic God - but that's not
the point of the argument. The point of the argument is to prove God
exists - which it does. Besides, the reason God sent Jesus was to
reveal God. So the incarnation of Jesus reveals God in a way no rational
argument can. So in summary, the argument doesn't identify God,
but neither does it preclude the Abrahamic God.
The Problem of Evil
At the end of this section he goes into the Problem of Evil - another
theological problem not addressed by the Teleological Argument.
For more on the problem of evil, which is addressed by the Moral
Argument (not the teleological argument), see
That concludes his flawed arguments. One of his concluding statements is
"Though the watch maker
argument is thoroughly flawed it is nevertheless what I personally
consider to be one of the best arguments for a deity that has ever
And now that you see all
his fatal flaws in his attempts to refute it, and you see it thus
remains un-refuted, we are left with:
"It is what I personally consider to be
one of the best arguments for a deity that has ever been." To that, I
Duane Caldwell | November 30, 2019
1. Thomas Aquinas,
Summa Theologiae - Volume 1 The Existence of God, Part One: Questions
1-13, Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1969, p.70
2. William Dembski,
Intelligent Design - the Bridge Between Science & Theology, Downer's
Grove, IL:IVP Academic, 1999, p.47
Intelligent Design, p 128
4. Michael J. Behe,
Darwin's Black Box - The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, New
York: Free Press, 1996, p. 39
5. On Paley's use
of purposeful design:
"...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, e. g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to
produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of
the day: that if the different parts had been differently shaped from
what they are, of a different size from what they are, or placed after
any other manner, or in any other order, than that in which they are
placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the
machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by
Ref. from Kele W. Cable, William Paley's Intelligent Contrivance,
Kestrels and Cerevisiae (blog), March 10, 2011,
6. On Paley's use of
"Every indicator 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, subtilty,
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 (Paley 1867, 13)."
Ref From The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP), "Design
Arguments for the Existence of God, accessed 11/29/2019,
7. Marciej Giertych ref.
from Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed, Documentary by Ben Stein,