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Natural Theology

by William Paley

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Despite the atheists’ best efforts to ignore him, William Paley just won’t go away. Most moderns, if they think of Paley at all, have been trained to think of him as an anachronism—someone who provided a quaint argument for the existence of God that two centuries of science shattered.

But Paley’s teleological argument—the argument that the design of the universe indicates a Designer—has actually flourished in light of recent scientific discoveries. The more scientists discover about the natural world, especially in microbiology, the more the universe looks like a precision instrument, designed by a Watchmaker far more creative than any down here.

Michael Denton, a molecular biologist who does not seem to be biased toward Christianity, says that it wasn’t until the twentieth century that science caught up to Paley’s argument:

“It has only been over the past twenty years with the molecular biological revolution and with the advances in cybernetic and computer technology that [David] Hume’s criticism has been finally invalidated and the analogy between organisms and machines has at last become convincing. . . . Paley was not only right in asserting the existence of an analogy between life and machines, but was also remarkably prophetic in guessing that the technological ingenuity realized in living systems is vastly in excess of anything yet accomplished by man.”

Denton says it well, except for that word “guessing.” Paley didn’t guess; he had God’s Word on it: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Paul proclaimed the teleological argument before Paley, as did Augustine and John Donne. Paley’s contribution was to offer a useful analogy and then answer objections.

The more we find out about the universe, the fewer objections there should be.

by Jeff Baldwin