Sunday, September 10, 2006


Paley III

Continuing my trawl through the first edition of William Paley's Natural Theology (1802)...

What conclusion does Paley reason that we are justified in reaching concerning the watch, having obsered its irreducible complexity and added beauty (cf. previous two posts)?

'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.' (p. 8.)

This conclusion, it will be noticed, is extremely limited. And this is just as it should be.

The inference to intelligent design:

a) does not justify the belief that the source of design currently exists (of course, it does not rule this out either),
b) does not tell us anything about the location of the designer/s - it does not even necesitate the conclusion that the designer/s had or have a spatial location,
c) it does not necessitate the conclusion that there was only one designer (although Occam's razor would favour this conclusion in the absence of evidence for multiple designers),
d) entails that the designer or designers be (at least jointly) intelligent and knowledgable enough to comprehend (or to have once comprehended) the construction of the artifact in question - but not necessarily any more intellgient and knowledgable than that.

In other words, there is while the conclusion of 'intellgient design' is compatible with explanation in terms of a supernatural and even a theistic explanation - there is nothing in that inference which justifies such an explanation, considered in and of itself. Only by combining the inference to intelligent design with additional considerations might one possibly hope to justify the conclusion that the designer currently exists, has no spatial location, is singular, and is omniscient. Intelligent Design is not necessarily a supernatural explanation, let alone a theistic explanation, and certainly not a theistic explanation as required by any particular interpretation of any religious text. ID is NOT young earth creationism, NOT old earth creationism, NOT inherently theistic, NOT even inherently supernatural. ID IS logically compatible with all of these positions, and additional argumentation at a philosophical level may (indeed, I believe does) justify a more specific identification and characterization of the designer along theistic lines. Just how specific a theistic theory of design can get depends wholly upon one's interpretation of a wide range of evidence. Nevertheless, the take home point from Paley should be that design arguments may contribute to natural theology, but they can't do the job on their own. Unfortunately, Paley himself went on to push the boat out too far in his conclusion (as we will eventually see).

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