Saturday, November 26, 2005

Watch makers and god

Christians periodically push the old “watchmaker” story as a justification for God. They think William Paley invented the argument but he didn’t.

Cicero was discussing it almost 2,000 years earlier. Cicero argued: “When you see a sundial or a water-clock, you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence, when it embraces everything, including these artefacts themselves and their artificers?”

William Paley took the idea and ran with it in his book “Natural Theology”. Basically you have an argument for the existence of god from analogy. In the story you stumble on a watch on the ground. From its intricate design and functions you determine that it had a watch maker. Man is intricate and from his design you can see that he must have a watch maker as well, or a deity.

Now others have dismantled this argument fairly well. All one need do is show a non-creative argument for the existence of the watch. Or in this case one need only show that there are plausible means for the watch to come into existence. When we realise that we are discussing man, and we find other plausible reasons for existence, the analogy falls. Charles Darwin had been convinced of the existence of god based on this analogy. But he later wrote: “The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection had been discovered."

I would like to look at this watch maker argument from another perspective. In the analogy there is a watch and thus a watch maker. From that we are to conclude that man has a creator god. Lots of Christians in particular find this persuasive. And for many this is about as rigourous a debate in logic that they have experienced.

But I see a very fatal flaw in this argument. This analogy rests on two assumptions. In the first we have the watch and a watch maker. The watch is a thing of intricate complexity thus requiring a watch maker. To make the analogy the watch is converted into a man and the man who created the watch is converted into a god.

The analogy is actually arguing that this watch maker of the first part becomes the watch in the second part and that he needed a watch maker.

The watch maker of the first part of the analogy himself needs a watch maker to explain his presence. That is what they are trying to do after all: to prove that man was created by some divine watch maker. So their analogy has a human watch maker who must exist due to the complexity of the watch he created. In the analogy the watch maker is then made into a watch himself to argue that the human watch maker had a divine watch maker explaining his existence in the same way the human watch maker explained the existence of the watch.

The watch maker, who becomes the watch, needs a god to explain his existence. Like the watch, man is complex and intricately designed. In fact he is far more intricately made that even Paley assumed. He didn’t know the half of it.

Everyone sees the analogy between the watch in the first half and the human in the second. But they gloss over something. The watch maker in the first half is not the watch maker in the second half he instead becomes the watch. They assume that the watch maker in the first half himself needs to be explained but they refuse to explain the watch maker in the second par.

The logical process looks something like this.

Watch requires human creator.
Human is now seen as watch.
Human thus needs watch maker.

But if the watch maker in the first half is converted to a watch in the second half then why stop there? Why not assume that the watch maker of the second half merely becomes a watch for an additional chain of argumentation? Why does the argument have to end here?

Thus the process would be like this:

Watch requires human creator.
Human is now viewed like the watch.
Human thus needs watch maker #2 (God).
Watch maker #2 is now seen as a grander watch.
He thus needs watch maker #3 as well.

And it goes on and on.


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