William Paley’s Wonderful Watch

Socrates, though all too mortal, gave us a reasoned argument that the soul is immortal. It is all there in Plato’s Phaedo.

I first read Plato in 1957, as a sixteen-year-old student of one of the most formidable intellects Scotland has ever produced: John Anderson, Sydney University’s Challis Professor of Philosophy.

Anderson had studied mathematics and physics at the University of Glasgow before switching to philosophy rather late in his time as an undergraduate. The son of a village schoolmaster, he spoke with a well-modulated Scots burr, and with his grey hair and a thick moustache was to my mind the very model of a professor. His contemporary Bertrand Russell had also started in mathematics and physics, but where Russell wrote prolifically, Anderson’s collected papers amount to one volume, collected posthumously by former students and friends.

On arrival in Sydney in the 1920s, Anderson found a city dominated by the churches and in a mental ‘peace that passeth all understanding’. Quickly becoming to Sydney what Socrates was to Athens, he brought those churches peace of a new kind; namely a lull in their established routines of interdenominational hostility. The faithful in their marvellous variety took little time to realise that in Anderson they had a mutual enemy, for he was about publicly questioning everything they held dear. Worse, he was encouraging his students to do likewise. In the words of his friend, the former Professor of Psychology WM O’Neil: “Over the years he was probably the professor most often in the news as a result of controversial utterances not fully comprehended by those who took exception to them.” And when not doing that, he was singing bawdy songs at student parties.

We students were soon in detailed study of Plato’s Apology, with considerable attention to the way Socrates dealt with the charge of ‘corrupting the youth,’ a charge Anderson was no stranger to himself. (The art critic Robert Hughes was at Sydney University then, as an architecture student and cartoonist on the lively student newspaper Honi Soit. One cartoon of Hughes’ had Anderson in Grecian robe in deep contemplation of a chalice he was holding, labelled ‘hemlock’, the suicide drink forced upon Socrates.) Then we were given our first assignment; an essay to be written on ‘Philosophy and Religion’, with no alternatives or title choices. That was it. High Noon.

As any newly confirmed 16 year old Anglican should, I consulted the parson of my local church. Though he could not give me any help himself, he put me in touch with a man who definitely could, and shortly after I was invited to enter the book-lined study of the inner city residence of the in-house philosopher of the Sydney Anglican Diocese, the truly saintly Archdeacon Thomas Chatterton Hammond, Rector of St Philip’s Wynyard and former Principal of Moore Theological College. TC, as he preferred to be known, had crossed philosophical swords with Anderson on many public platforms.

TC dictated notes for the essay he would write on the subject, were he in my position, and I scribbled them down. He moved effortlessly through the Cosmological and other arguments for the existence of God, and then, as if reaching the top of a mountain in his native Ireland, he said simply: “And now we come to Paley. Here’s what he said…” And so began the Teleological Argument.

“Imagine that you are walking through a field and you come upon a watch…”

This was the opening of a case so un-metaphysical and so startlingly original that I thought I had not heard it correctly, or had missed something. I asked TC to repeat it. He did. Then, continuing with the case for the existence of God built on the imagined circumstance of finding a watch in a field, he rolled out before me Paley’s Argument from Design. That was all I needed. Later, thanking TC profusely for having brought so much light to my darkness, I headed back to the university to read everything I could get hold of on Paley.

Naturally, I was disappointed to find the problems with the Teleological Argument as pointed out by its numerous critics. So I concluded that it stood to reason: if Paley had really clinched the case for God, there would not be so many agnostics and atheists around. Anderson himself might have become an archbishop. Pope even. Then I read Plato’s Phaedo, and for a short time was content in the knowledge that even if one could provide no watertight proof of God’s existence, at least Socrates had shown that the soul was immortal. So you had to go somewhere when you died. Then came the holes in immortality. So I concluded that the destination could only be based on faith. Reason had made a valiant effort, but was ever found wanting. Anderson said much the same for my essay.

As summed up by O’Neil: “A central feature of Anderson’s teaching was a call for a critical approach to everything. Nothing was to be deemed to be above criticism and nothing was to be allowed to play an obscurantist role in dampening or suppressing criticism. He saw censorship, patriotism, religion and some social conventions such as ‘good taste’ as having this effect, and consequently he attacked each of them, both within and outside the university.” Thus in the regions of philosophy, science and ideas in general, where there was a constant rain of criticism, there could be no finality, end to the search, or end of criticism. Looking for something rock solid would be like looking for a lump of sugar in the streets of Bergen, where it rains nearly every day. There would always be critique, and critique of critique, and critique of critical critique (Marx’s phrase.)

But then there was the exception, the one philosopher whom Anderson would not criticise or hear a word said against: Heraclitus. He had famously described his universe as follows: “It is all a fire, with measures of it kindling, and measures going out.” Everything is becoming; nothing is being. Anderson’s lectures on Heraclitus were the best part of his course.

On the other hand, his 1935 paper Design flicked Paley off in a single sentence, as if he were a fly crawling on the page.

The original of my essay for Anderson is now lost, and I can barely remember what I said in it anyway. So I will have to write a new version of it. Here in Paley’s own words is the opening argument that struck me then as magnificent; as set out in his Natural Theology, (1800):

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer that for anything I knew to the contrary it had lain there forever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for anything I knew the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? Why is it not as admissible in the second case as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, namely, that 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 it… This mechanism being observed – it requires indeed an examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed and understood – the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker-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. (Emphasis in original – IM)

So, find the watch, examine it, think about it, and draw the reasonable conclusion: “an artificer or artificers” made it.

Moving further along, Paley makes numerous references to the design and the designer, the maker of the watch, a contriver, a designing mind, the intending mind, the adapting hand, the intelligence by which that hand was directed, and the creator. In short, always in the singular. It turns out that Paley’s opening statement is his first and last reference to the possibility of multiple ‘designers’. A typical sample of this is the following:

There cannot be design without a designer; contrivance without a contriver; order without choice; arrangement without anything capable of arranging; subserviency and relation to a purpose without that which could intend a purpose; means suitable to an end, and executing their office in accomplishing that end, without the end ever having been contemplated or the means accommodated to it. Arrangement, disposition of parts, subserviency of means to an end, relation of instruments to a use imply the presence of intelligence and mind.

He considers the complex structures of plants and animals in the light of all this, and then whether “irregularities and imperfections” in the watch constitute a problem, arguing that they are “of little or no weight in the consideration when that consideration relates simply to the existence of a Creator.”

And so he draws his conclusion:

The conclusion which the first examination of the watch, of its works, construction, and movement, suggested, was that it must have had… an artificer who understood its mechanism and designed its use. This conclusion is invincible. A second examination presents us with a new discovery. The watch is found, in the course of its movement, to produce another watch similar to itself; and not only so, but we perceive in it a system of organization separately calculated for that purpose. What effect would this discovery have or ought it to have upon our former inference? What, as has already been said, but to increase beyond measure our admiration of the skill which had been employed in the formation of such a machine? Or shall it, instead of this, all at once turn us round to an opposite conclusion, namely, that no art or skill whatever has been concerned in the business, although all other evidences of art and skill remain as they were, and this last and supreme piece of art be now added to the rest? Can this be maintained without absurdity? Yet this is atheism…

In short, Paley argues from finding evidence of design for purpose in nature that the Designer is none other than the Christian God.

…When the argument respects His attributes, they are of weight…

In that phrase the capitalised ‘His’ carries huge implications, almost certainly more than Paley realised at the time. It implies not just singularity and masculinity, but of course, the Bible. The plural designers have been quietly ushered out, leaving only The Designer. Nor are possibilities of one or more female designers entertained.

However, ‘male’ and ‘female’ are dialectical opposites, in the sense that without either one, the other is meaningless. (Like ideal vs real, north vs south, positive vs negative…) So a male god necessarily implies the existence of a goddess, albeit possibly deceased. The truth of this is seen when we consider isolated non-living entities not normally accorded a sex. A cloud is sexless, as is a star, as is a planet, whatever the prevailing linguistic conventions of assigning gender. ‘Planet’ implies nothing more, but in English, the word ‘planetess’ would imply that somewhere there was her male counterpart, and a deal more than that.

Sex has had a long run in the history of life. Though asexual reproduction is known in species in all five taxonomic kingdoms, sex adds mightily to the survival chances of the genes of organisms manifesting it. Some animals, and many plants, combine both sexual and asexual abilities within the one organism. Individuals of some species can switch from one sex to the other. But biologically, sex exists solely and exclusively for reproduction, and can only have arisen and be comprehended within that framework. Whether you take a neo-Darwinist view of the origin of life, or a creationist view, it makes no difference.

Thus, finding that stars and planets were alive and manifested sex differences between individuals would necessitate some revision of astronomy and its related disciplines, but it would add a whole new field of research. It could be inferred that these celestial objects would occasionally mate and produce offspring. Sex in gods likewise.

So if gods are male and female, it follows that they derive by normal processes of reproduction from other gods. Well, analogous to what we consider normal anyway. Therefore, there are father gods and mother gods, which are not unfamiliar concepts. Gods are therefore ‘born’. They do not necessarily die, but if they do not, then their populations inevitably grow. An infinity of time would produce an infinite number of gods, even at infinitesimally small birth rates. It would be possible for there to be one god, but he or she would have to be the last survivor of his/her species. This situation has also been known in biology: the last known thylacine, or ‘Tasmanian tiger’ was a male, and died in Hobart Zoo in 1936.

It may be different in the case of gods, but the birth we know about implies growth and development, which implies nutrition (albeit with metaphysical food), which implies death of something if god food derives from something alive. Heavenly biochemistry may of course operate on an entirely different basis from the kind we are familiar with here in our reality below, but that does not provide a way out of this particular difficulty for the believer who wishes to believe in one male god, eternal, everlasting, without beginning or end. If he is of the male sex, he had a beginning, and if his parents came to an end, then he probably will too, particularly if all other gods who were ever conceived and born have since died; and we might note in passing that the concept of a dying god is a familiar one.

Paley in his time, and I dare say the Christian luminaries of the modern ID movement, would object mightily if the Creator was assumed to be female, and moreover not the Creator, but one of a (mixed sex) crowd of Creators. Understandably then, one of the leading scientists of the ID school, the American biochemist Michael Behe, attacked neo-Darwinism in the following terms:

Within a short time after Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species the explanatory power of the theory of evolution was recognized by the great
majority of biologists. The hypothesis readily resolved the problems of
homologous resemblance, rudimentary organs, species abundance,
extinction, and biogeography. The rival theory of the time, which posited
creation of species by a supernatural being, appeared to most reasonable
minds to be much less plausible, since it would have a putative Creator
attending to details that seemed to be beneath His dignity.

The singular unembodied Intelligent Designer whose presence Behe infers from the ‘irreducible complexity’ of living systems, is straight away the God of Christianity. Behe as it happens, is a Catholic.

But let us leave that for the moment, and consider how Paley’s watch actually came to be. If the reader is already familiar with the history of timekeeping, a move straight to Section 3 is recommended.


A vast number of technicians contributed to the design and production of Paley’s watch.

The earliest clocks were developed in the Neolithic, and were about telling the time of year rather than of day. The precise locations of the equinoxes and solstices were very important, as was prediction of events like the annual flooding of the Nile. As any modern farmer will tell you, you can’t farm without a calendar. In Europe and Asia, farming was based on the ancestors of the modern cereals wheat, barley, oats, rye and rice. In the Americas it was based on maize.

To maximize the probability of cross-fertilisation, plants need to coordinate individuals’ flowering. Most crop plants are photoperiodic: for flowering at their favoured time, they use the alternating periods of light and darkness to ‘tell’ the time of year: specifically by being sensitive to changes in the length of time they are subject to uninterrupted darkness. Plant physiologists working in this area recognise long day, short day and day-neutral plants according to their lighting requirements. The tying of the flowering cycle to day length is understandable: no other annual variation in climate is as even or as precise. Day length variation is also more profound as one moves north or south from the tropics.

Just as an hour glass is converted to an unstable physical state by being tipped so that the chamber containing the sand is above the empty one, and a clock’s entropy reduced by its being wound, so a biologically inactive and stable photoreceptive leaf compound called phytochrome red is converted to an unstable and biologically active form called phytochrome far-red by being illuminated with red light. When darkness resumes and is maintained, it gradually reverts to the stable phytochrome red form. This gives both short and long day annual plants a way to measure the duration of darkness (ie night length), and thus to tell what time of year it is.

Both Egyptian and northern European farmers grew wheat, a long day annual, as a staple.
The ancients were aware that the changing positions of the rising and setting sun on the horizon correlated with the seasons. Changing seasons in the mountains above the headwaters of the Nile caused the annual flooding of that immense river’s delta thousands of kilometres to the north, so solar calendars had relevance there too. Egyptian astronomers around 3100 BC found that the star Sirius rose next to the sun every 365 days, and devised a calendar based on a 365 day year. Further north, a simple circle of stakes driven into the ground could be used as a ‘computer’ to mark the positions of the rising and setting sun on each day of the year, likely metamorphosing over time into circles of gigantic stones, immovable without the use of a large labour force.

Telling the time of day became important when coordination of the activities of village, town and city dwellers became necessary.

Our earliest clock was also a single stake driven into the ground. The higher the latitude the longer its shadow, and thus the more precise the time measurement given by the daily sweep of the shadow around the stake. The change in length of the shadow can also be used to indicate the time of year, but is more subtle than the position of the rising and setting sun on the horizon, and for this reason probably came later. Greek and Roman sundials had the ‘stake’ in the form of a blade, called the gnomon, whose straight upper edge was set parallel to the axis of the Earth’s rotation. This helped Greek astronomers to a heliocentric model of the solar system. This kingdom of clocks we can refer to collectively as the sun-catchers.

Then came the trickler kingdom, based on streams of water or fine dry sand. As a biological parallel, we find members of these two ‘primitive’ kingdoms still around today, being made and sold brand new.

Most histories of timekeeping discuss our sun-catchers and tricklers and then pass on to those mechanical clocks which were developed in mediaeval times in Europe, and which we will shortly consider. But a very sophisticated mechanical clock survives from the high civilisation of classical Greece, and is known as the Antikythera Mechanism. (‘Antikythera’ rhymes with ‘ditherer’.) It kept track of the movement of the sun, moon and possibly the planets, and was able to predict eclipses. At its most basic, it functioned as a time-of-day clock.

The original was made of at least 30 precision cut bronze gears, and possibly driven by falling weights. Certainly, the pulley as used by later clockmakers was around then, as was the block and tackle, which would have been useful to Greek seafarers, stonemasons and traders. Being typically made of wood, none would have survived in deposits of sediment as did vases and bronze objects. According to Herodotus, the block and tackle was invented by Archimedes.

From the ancient Greeks to the present, there may be a more or less continuous tradition of building mechanical clocks. Alternatively, the lost art of the Greeks may have been reinvented in mediaeval times.

Any clock is a device designed to model the apparent movement of the sun around the Earth. The number 60, important to the Babylonians, gives us the number of seconds in the minute, and minutes in the hour. When multiplied by 6, 60 yields the number of days in the Babylonian year, and for the same reason, the number of degrees in a circle. 6 is also a factor of 24, the number of hours in the mean solar day. (For further data on 6, see also the last book of the New Testament.)

Watch and clock faces could be graduated into 24 hours, with a single hand sweeping around the circle once a day. Having the hour hand sweep the circle twice a day made for increased accuracy, and without confusion, as night is easily distinguished from day. Adding an extra hand to sweep the dial once every hour, and then an extra one on top of that to sweep around once a minute made for greater accuracy still, and all independent of the sun’s apparent motion while at the same time tracking it.

One of the earliest water clocks was found in the tomb of the Egyptian Pharoah Amenhotep I, dated at around 1500 BCE. They appear to have been the standard timekeeping devices for ancient Greeks, and quite elaborate partly mechanical versions were developed, and at both ends of the Eurasian landmass. Temperature changes affect water’s ability to flow (ie its viscosity). Also, as water flows out of a container, the pressure at the point of exit changes, also affecting the rate of flow, and containers need periodic recharging. The problems involved in getting water to flow evenly over a long period of time were so great that by the Middle Ages, household trickling clocks were being abandoned in favour community tickers.

The first were introduced into Europe in the 13th Century. They were large weight-driven mechanical clocks in towers high enough to accommodate the slow and even fall of their drive weights. This also made them high enough for all to see. To ensure that the potential energy of the raised weights trickled slowly away and was not released uncontrollably, an ‘escapement’ was needed: the source of the ‘tick’ of a mechanical clock. So radical is their difference from the sun-catching and the trickling kingdoms that the tickers deserve a kingdom all of their own. Tickers also trickle, but they trickle out energy only, not both matter and energy.

The earliest mechanical clock with an escapement is believed to be one installed around 1285 in St Paul’s, London. A vertical shaft called the verge carried the two pallets and the foliot, which was a crossbar with weights at each end, whose positions on the crossbar could be adjusted to vary the period of oscillation of the escapement, and thus speed the clock up or slow it down. The pallets would swing round their vertical axis until one struck a tooth of the escape wheel, whose axis was horizontal. They would then release the escape wheel and swing round in the opposite direction until another tooth on the escape wheel was struck. And so ad infinitum. However, by modern standards, verge-and-foliot clocks were poor timekeepers, needing the attention of hired clock keepers to make regular but variable adjustments to them. One problem arose through thermal expansion and contraction of the foliot bar. The balance wheel was introduced to replace it around 1400, but the foliot continued in use until about 1650. Some glass-encased ornamental clocks display an oscillating foliot as a feature to this day.

Around 1500, a Nuremberg locksmith named Peter Henlein built a clock driven by an uncoiling spring. This opened the way for the introduction not only of portable clocks, watches and chronometers, but also for a whole lot of other ‘clockwork’ driven machinery such as that which eventually rotated the cylinders of the first gramophones. Clocks of this period typically were box-like structures with horizontally oriented faces kept on a table or worn on a chain around the neck as a ‘watch’.

The Earth exerts a gravitational force on a falling weight, which for the clock maker’s purposes can be taken as constant. But the same is not true for a spring, which exerts progressively decreasing force as it unwinds. (For this reason, winding a spring driven clock gets progressively harder the closer it gets to fully wound.) This problem was a major challenge for the designers of marine chronometers, as falling weights do not perform well at sea. Columbus in 1492 sailed due west without a chronometer, and can be excused for thinking he was in India when he had actually landed in the Bahamas. As accurate timekeeping is essential for navigation, the spring driven mechanical clock was a major factor enabling the rise of European maritime power and global colonisation.

The trade of making clocks probably began as a derivative of gunsmithing, locksmithing, and blacksmithing. The great English clockmaker Thomas Tompion [1639-1713] began his career as a blacksmith, while goldsmiths seem to have been the first watchmakers. By the early 16th Century, these watchmakers were producing pieces with what horologists call ‘complications’, such as striking mechanisms, calendar displays, astronomical indications and alarms, and were finding a widening market. The first guild of watch and clockmakers was founded in Paris in 1544, the German guild in Nuremberg in 1565, and the Swiss guild in Geneva in 1601.

In 1582 the Italian physicist Galileo Galilei, by using his pulse as a reference, noticed a very consistent period in the swing of a lamp hanging on a long rope in the cathedral at Pisa. However, it was not until 1637 (55 years later and five years before his death) that he had the idea of using a swinging weight to control the speed of a clock. He had gone blind in the mean time so his student Viviani prepared a diagram (which survives) and his son Vincenzo began working on a prototype. This was the first known attempt to use a pendulum rather than a foliot or balance wheel to regulate a clock. However the Dutch mathematician Christiaan Huygens is recognized as the first person to produce a pendulum clock. He drew the plans from which the clockmaker Salomon Coster worked.

Coster’s clock of 1655, had an error, or ‘daily rate’, of less than one minute per day. Huygens’ later refinements reduced this to less than 10 seconds per day. Ten years later, Huygens substituted a balance wheel and spiral spring for a pendulum in a chronometer, making possible the more modern style of portable and accurate miniature clocks, which could be carried in a pocket rather than on a chain round one’s neck, and whose accuracy was within 10 minutes per day. This level of accuracy justified the addition of a minute hand, which appears to have been first introduced around 1690 by the English watchmaker Daniel Quare. The internal complexity and precision reached in these small machines by 1800 was sufficient to inspire William Paley to the most elegant argument for the existence of God devised to that point in time.

Though the combination of spiral spring and balance wheel is still in use today, the quartz crystal oscillator has largely replaced it. But Paley’s argument is also still around in the form of the Irreducible Complexity and Specified Complexity arguments advanced in use by the adherents of the ID school.

In 1671, the London clockmaker William Clement replaced the verge with his ‘anchor’ escapement, which gave less interference to the motion of a pendulum. Tompion was commissioned to build two clocks for the Royal Greenwich Observatory, and the two he finished in 1676 each had a pendulum 3.96 metres long, with a period of four seconds, and an unprecedented daily rate of seven seconds per day.

Early in the 18th Century, the Swiss watchmaker Nicolas Fatio de Duillier, and the Frenchmen Pierre and Jean Debaufre introduced jewelled movements by using rubies as bearings at the points most prone to wear in their watches. For clocks, George Harrison in 1721 developed a method for compensating for changes in pendulum length with temperature, necessary because of the simple physical fact that period of oscillation in a simple pendulum swinging through a small arc varies with the length of the pendulum. In the 1720s also, the Englishman George Graham introduced the cylinder escapement. About ten years later the duplex escapement was introduced by Baptiste Dutertre, and made functional by Pierre Le Roy. Combining elements of the duplex and cylinder types, John Antoine Lepine (or Jean Andre Lepaute) introduced the virgule escapement. In 1757, Thomas Mudge invented the lever escapement, the Swiss variation of which is still used in mechanical watches. By 1761, George Harrison had built a marine chronometer that, even on a rolling ship, was accurate to within one fifth of a second per day. This was nearly equal to the accuracy of the best pendulum clock then on land. In 1782, John Arnold improved on this with his special chronometer escapement. By 1800 (Paley’s time) watches were accurate enough to have second hands, bringing the final timekeeping total to 3, some were self-winding, and others had the above-mentioned ‘complications’. Paley’s watch was a marvel indeed, contributed to by a multitude of designers.

There were relentless improvements, both to clocks and watches. But then there arose the kingdom of the hummers. Something that oscillates like a bee’s wing, but with greater frequency and precision, provides an excellent regulator for a clock. After quartz crystal oscillators made their appearance in the 1920s, for purposes of accurate timekeeping all pendulum clocks were suddenly obsolete.

In 1967 the second ceased to be defined as one part in 86,400 of a mean solar day, and became exactly 9,192,631,770 oscillations of the cesium atom in its resonant frequency, leaving the Earth and the rest of the solar system to do as it may please. In more recent times, the pocket watch has returned in the form of the mobile phone, whose time display is constantly updated from observatory clocks via the mobile phone network. This development has resulted in a new option taken up by an increasing number: discard the watch completely.


True science is never dogmatic. It follows the evidence of eyes and ears wherever it may lead. William Dembski argues, convincingly, that the evidence at hand, particularly in biology and biochemistry, leads inexorably to the conclusion that life could not exist without an Intelligent Designer. If Dembski is right–and I believe he is–then it is unscientific to deny the existence of God. By making this argument so carefully and so well, Dembski has performed a real service not only for science but also for theology, which has long been intimidated by the aggressive ‘scientific’ claim that reason is the enemy of faith. It is not, and Dembski shows us why it is not.

Thomas G. West, Professor of Politics at the University of Dallas, Senior
Fellow with the Claremont Institute, Author of
Vindicating the Founders:
Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America

From the Intervarsity Press advertisement for William A. Dembski’s Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, (1999)

Arguing from the ID we know about to that which we might infer, we find that any human artifact or piece of technology, no matter how rudimentary, is the work of multiple designers. The mechanical watches of Paley’s day involved not only the generations of watchmakers themselves, but those who invented gearwheels, axles, bearings, glass, the steels from which springs are made, and the tools and equipment by which all of that was made; the concepts of the day, hour, minute and second, of the numbering system for the watch face and the mathematics of gear trains and of simple harmonic motion. The list becomes endless unless qualified by arbitrary criteria.

Why are so many people necessarily involved in the design (never mind production) of anything? For the simple well known reason that two heads are better than one, even if separated in space and time. Moreover, the watch tells us that three heads are better than two, four better than three, and so on to infinity; and as with heads, so also with hands. Any Albert Einstein born in the Paleolithic might have produced the world’s first rudimentary wheel; that is, after a lifetime of concentrated thought punctuated by need to dodge the odd predator. He would not have had a hope of making Paley’s watch, and he didn’t.

To paraphrase the schoolmen: No matter how great an intellectual giant you are, you are a dwarf in comparison to the mountain of giants you stand on.

It follows from Paley’s argument and its modern variants advanced by Michael Behe, William Dembski and others that if design by unembodied immaterial intelligence lies behind life and the universe, the overwhelming probability is for multiple designers rather than one; and certainly not a singular male without even possibility of a female counterpart. I agree with the first two sentences in the passage above quoted from Thomas G West, and assert that this, if we accept it, is the ‘wherever’ the ID argument leads us to.

Leaving aside the problem of divine sex for a moment, why not one eternal, infinite, omnipotent and omniscient designer, not designed or created. Why not Jehovah or Allah?

The trouble is that the trouble remains. By proposing this, we still cannot avoid the problem that two such infinite, omniscient and omnipotent designers will be better than one and three better than two. (It does not follow from their omniscience and omnipotence that there can only be one, even if they have a falling out and start fighting.Though the possibility may have been anathema to the writers of the various holy texts, there is nothing in logic to say that Jehovah could not coexist with Allah, Ahura Mazda and any number of other omnipotent gods) This accords with the fact that the followers of the Abrahamic religions all regularly pray, not just to praise God for His boundless creation, generosity and mercy, but to ask for various additional blessings and considerations. In other words, to get Him to see things from the worshipper’s point of view that He may have overlooked, and yes, to get Him to change His mind. One god cannot be expected to think of everything, but two have a better chance, and three a better chance still. Understandably then, monotheists (Zoroastrians, Jews and Muslims) are outnumbered in the world by polytheists (Christians, Hindus, Manicheans, Animists, etc).

Nothing is ever certain in science. Each of its facts, hypotheses and laws are based on observation and reason, are thus inherently disprovable, and will ever remain ranked in hierarchies of probability. From within the ID perspective, a single sexless designer hypothesis is possible, but less probable than that of the multiple. If those favouring ID operate with a genuine spirit of scientific inquiry, seeking truth without prejudice no matter where the path may lead, they will of course be perfectly happy with the multiple designers variant of the hypothesis, particularly since it accords so well with the ID we already know about and do not have to infer.

If however, they operate from a religious base of received texts, doctrine and propositions that must not be questioned; if the ID movement is political at heart, and all about displacing neo-Darwinism from high school science curricula in order to promote the alleged certainties of religion, they will find it repugnant and treat it accordingly.


ANDERSON, John; Studies in Empirical Philosophy, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1962

Online edition

John Anderson homepage

BEHE, Michael J, Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference, Cosmic Pursuit,March 1, 1998

DIMECH, Adam, The Story of Flowers

INTERVARSITY PRESS, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology

MARCHANT, Jo , In search of lost time


A Walk Through Time


The Origin and Evolution of the Anchor Clock Escapement

Clocks and Time

History [a history of watchmaking]


O’NEIL, W M Australian Dictionary of Biography article on John Anderson

PALEY, William; Teleological Argument

full text of Natural Theology (1800)

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