Sunday, December 17, 2006


Paley X

'Neither, lastly [7th], would our observer [of the watch] be driven out of his conclusion [that the watch bespeaks intelligent design], or from his confidence in its truth, by being told that he knew nothing at all about the matter. He knows enough for his argument. He knows the utility of the end: he knows the subserviency and adaptation of the means to the end. These points being known, his ignorance of other points, his doubts concerning other points, affects not the certainty of his reasoning. The consciousness of knowing little, need not beget a distrust of that which he does know.'

This appears to be Paley's response to the objection that would today be known as the 'god of the gaps' objection to the design argument.

Paley points out that this objection would not in fact serve in the instance of infering design from observation of the irreducible, specified complexity of a watch. If such a 'designer of the gaps' objection were really so strong as its proponents seem to think, then no inference to design on the basis of empirical evidence would be sound. But we know that some such inferences are sound. Therefore the designer of the gaps objection must not be so strong. But why?

Well, that is a seperate question; one that might be answered by pointing out that there is a strong, sound argument for design from observing that the watch fits a certain design detection criterion which is well supported by uniform experience: Things that exhibit irreducible and/or specified complexity are, in our experience, the product of intelligent design whenever their causes are known; here is something [a watch] that exhibits such complexity, therefore, even absent our knowledge of the origin of watches, th ebest explanation of the watch is design. Now, no argument can stand against a sound argument unless it be a sound inductive argument of lesser strength. The design argument is a sound inductive argument. Therefore no argument can stand against it unless it be a sound inductive argument of greater strength or a deductive argument. What sort of argument is the 'god of the gaps argument'? Since it does not carry the day in every instance (e.g. the instance of the watch to designer argument) it cannot be a sound deductive argument, so it must be an indictive argument if it is a sound argument at all. It is at the very least questionable whether it is a stronger sound inductive argument against design than the design argument is a sound inductive argument for design...

If the watch grounds a good inductive argument for design and something else [e.g. the fine tuning of the cosmos] seems to ground just as good an inductive argument, then there is every reason to accept the latter argument as there is the former. Since the former was not beaten by the 'gaps' objection', why should we think that the latter argument would be beaten by a 'gaps' objection?

Indeed, all scientific arguments are conducted on the basis of present evidence rather than future evidence, which is why such arguments are in theory falsifiable. To say that the design argument is falsifiable is not to say that it isn't scientific or that it isn't sound or that it isn't true! The burden of proof is clearly upon the person who says, 'Of course the watch looks designed, but it is designoid, it is in fact not the product of intelligent design but of the opperation of natural forces (which may or may not themselves be the product of design, that would be a seperate question).' Likewise in the case of infering design from the anthropic fine tuning of the big bang, or from information in molecules like DNA, or from the bacterial flagellum, or from a radio signal received from space listing the prime numbers, or from an autopsy, or from an archaeological dig, or whatever.

This concludes Paley's first chapter in the Natural Theology of 1802.

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