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Was Paley a classical theist, and does his design argument lead us to a false God?

My intention in writing this post is to clear Rev. William Paley of two charges that have been leveled against him: first, that the God he argues for is different in certain vital respects from the God of classical theism, and second, that Paley’s design argument leads us to a false God: not a Creator, but a mere cosmic architect, who is a powerful but finite being, differing from us merely in degree. Both of these charges have been hurled against Paley by Associate Professor Edward Feser (who surely needs no introduction here) and by Professor Christopher F. J. Martin, of the University of St. Thomas, Department of Philosophy and Center for Thomistic Studies, in Houston, Texas. These are grave charges, and if true, they would imply that no-one who believes in the transcendent God of the Bible (as many people do) can support Intelligent Design – for if Paley’s God is a false one, surely the same could be said of the Intelligent Designer. (As it is an empirical research program, ID theory makes no pronouncements regarding the identity of the Designer, but it would be fair to say that most ID supporters believe that this Designer is God.) If Feser and Martin are right, then many Intelligent Design advocates worship a false God: Zeus (pictured above), perhaps, but not YHWH.

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Feser’s and Martin’s charges against Paley and the Intelligent Design movement

In his blog post, Thomism versus the design argument (March 15, 2011), Professor Edward Feser makes the extraordinary claim that both Paley and Intelligent Design theory take us away from classical theism and towards paganism:

My objection to Paley and to ID theory has consistently been that, given:

(a) their eschewal, even if only “for the sake of argument,” of immanent formal and final causes and thus of the classical metaphysical apparatus associated with them (such as the act/potency distinction), and

(b) their univocal application of predicates both to God and to human designers (as opposed to “analogous” predication, in the Thomistic sense of the term),

these approaches lock us within the natural order and cannot in principle get us beyond it. In particular, they cannot in principle get us to a “designer” that is anything but one creature among others, even if a grand and remote one. In short, they get us to paganism, and thus away from classical theism.

Strong words, indeed! And Feser is not alone. Professor Christopher Martin, author of Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations, whom Professor Feser cited favorably in his online posts, The trouble with William Paley (November 4, 2009) and Thomism versus the design argument (March 15, 2011). Here is what Christopher Martin has to say about Paley’s Design Argument in his chapter, The Fifth Way:

The argument from design had its heyday between the time of Newton and the time of Darwin, say, a time in which most people apparently came to see the world as a minutely designed piece of craftsmanship, like a clock. It is no coincidence that the most famous presentation of the argument from design actually compares the world to a clock: it is known by the name of Paley’s watch…

The Being whose existence is revealed to us by the argument from design is not God but the Great Architect of the Deists and Freemasons, an impostor disguised as God, a stern, kindly, and immensely clever old English gentleman, equipped with apron, trowel, square and compasses. Blake has a famous picture of this figure to be seen on the walls of a thousand student bedrooms during the nineteen-seventies: the strong wind which is apparently blowing in the picture has blown away the apron, trowel and set-square but left him his beard and compasses. Ironies of history have meant that this picture of Blake’s is often taken to be a picture of God the Creator, while in fact Blake drew it as a picture of Urizen, a being who shares some of the attributes of the Great Architect and some of those of Satan.

The Great Architect is not God because he is just someone like us but a lot older, cleverer and more skilful. He decides what he wants to do and therefore sets about doing the things he needs to do to achieve it. God is not like that.

As Hobbes memorably said, “God hath no ends”: there is nothing that God is up to, nothing he needs to get done, nothing he needs to do to get things done…. God is mysterious: the whole objection to the great architect is that we know him all too well, since he is one of us. Whatever God is, God is not one of us: a sobering thought for those who use “one of us” as their highest term of approbation.
(Christopher F. J. Martin, Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations, Edinburgh University Press, 1998, pp. 180-82.)

So if Professor Martin is right, those who worship Paley’s false God are worshiping a being who has some of the features of Satan! I have to say that this is really over the top. Not only that, but it’s manifestly inaccurate, as I’ll demonstrate below.

Before I go on, however, I’d like to address a specific accusation that Professor Feser makes against Paley and the Intelligent Design movement: that they are guilty of “univocal application of predicates both to God and to human designers (as opposed to ‘analogous’ predication, in the Thomistic sense of the term).” In other words, Feser thinks that both Paley and modern Intelligent Design proponents are guilty of anthropomorphism: in the words of J.B. Phillips, our God is too small.

According to Feser, that Paley’s Design argument implicitly assumes that the word “intelligent” has the same meaning when applied to the Intelligent Designer and human designers – otherwise design inferences from patterns in Nature would be invalid. But if this Intelligent Designer is God, then what the Design argument is really saying is that the word “intelligent” means the same thing when applied to God and to ourselves. That’s univocal predication, and Feser (who is a Thomist) will have none of it. Feser insists that the differences between God (Who is Pure Being) and His creatures are so vast that no term that we apply to human beings (e.g. the term “intelligent”) can possibly have the same meaning when applied to God. At best, it can only have a meaning that is similar in some respects, but very different in others. God’s intelligence is in some ways similar to our own, but in others it is radically different. Paley’s design argument, which claims that the existence of an Intelligent Designer is knowable through a scientific study of Nature, offers us a pint-sized deity: one who differs from us only in degree, and not in kind. For Feser, that’s blasphemy.

In response, let me begin by noting that the Thomistic doctrine of analogy (see here for a short, simple explanation) isn’t defined doctrine, even for Catholics. Scotists (who follow the philosophical teachings of Blessed John Duns Scotus) famously reject the Thomist doctrine of analogy. The medieval philosopher John Duns Scotus (1265-1308) held that since intelligence and goodness were pure perfections, not limited by their very nature to a finite mode of realization, they could be predicated univocally (i.e. in the same sense) of God and human beings. To be sure, God’s manner of knowing and loving is altogether different from ours: it belongs to God’s very essence to know and love perfectly, whereas we can only know and love by participating in God’s knowledge and love. Also, God’s knowledge and goodness are essentially infinite, while our knowledge and goodness are finite. Indeed, God is Pure Knowledge and Love, whereas we merely possess these attributes. However, according to Scotus, what it means for God to know and love is exactly the same as what it means for human beings to know and love. This is because the verb “know,” when applied to an intelligent being, is not meant to refer to the manner of his/her knowledge or for that matter, the degree of knowledge he/she possesses; rather, it simply refers to the fact that he/she stands in the right relation towards that which is known – a relation we call “understanding.”

And I should add that the Catholic Church has never condemned Duns Scotus’ views. As The Catholic Encyclopedia notes in its article on Scotism, there have even been bishops, cardinals, popes, and saints who were followers of Duns Scotus’ philosophy. So Feser’s theological charge against Paley and the Intelligent Design movement is starting to look very shaky. If he can’t even make his charge stick for the Catholic Church, how much less so for other religious groups which profess to believe in the God of the Bible?

The second point I’d like to make in reply to Feser is that there’s nothing anthropomorphic about the way in which the ID movement defines the word “intelligent.” Here, for instance, is how Professors William Dembski and Jonathan Wells define the terms “intelligent design,” “intelligence” and “design” in their book, The Design of Life (2008, Foundation for Thought and Ethics, Dallas, page 3):

Intelligent Design. The study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the product of intelligence.
Intelligence. Any cause, agent, or process that achieves and end or goal by employing suitable means or instruments.
Design. An event, object, or structure that an intelligence brought about by matching means to ends.

On page 315, Dembski and Wells define intelligence in more detail, as “A type of cause, process or principle that is able to find, select, adapt, and implement the means needed to effectively bring about ends (or achieve goals or realize purposes). Because intelligence is about matching means to ends, it is inherently teleological.”

In calling the Designer intelligent, then, all we are saying is that the Designer is capable of directing means towards their ends. Nothing more than that. Professor Feser is a Thomist, so he will doubtless recall that Aquinas said the same thing, in his Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, chapter 44, paragraph 7:

Since, then, things do not set for themselves an end, because they have no notion of what an end is, the end must be set for them by another, who is the author of nature. He it is who gives being to all things and is through Himself the necessary being. We call Him God, as is clear from what we have said. But God could not set an end for nature unless He had understanding. God is, therefore, intelligent.

I would like to ask Professor Feser: is this anthropomorphism? If not, then why do you accuse Rev. William Paley and Intelligent Design proponents who believe in God of being anthropomorphic for saying the same thing?

I shall rebut the charges that Professor Christopher Martin makes against Paley and the Intelligent Design movement later in this essay. But first of all, I’d like to examine what Rev. William Paley actually wrote about God in his Natural Theology.

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What did Paley actually say about God, in his Natural Theology?


The first paragraph of the Shema, as written on a Torah scroll: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
The unity of God is one of several attributes that classical theists ascribe to Him, along with such attributes as transcendence, aseity (being uncaused), omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, simplicity, timelessness, immutability, and impassibility. William Paley explicitly ascribed most of these attributes to God, and it can be argued that he would have willingly ascribed all of them to God, in at least a broad sense.

In his Natural Theology, Paley argued that the Designer of Nature must be:

(a) transcendent, because contrivances are found at all levels throughout Nature, so their Author must lie beyond Nature;
(b) uncaused, or self-existent, because His existence does not have any preceding cause;
(c) the cause not only of the origin of things, but of their continuation in existence, because the physical laws which define their very natures, could only have been chosen by an intelligent agent, and because these laws only continue to hold by virtue of the ongoing activity of this intelligent agent;
(d) one, because the uniformity of His plan can be seen throughout Nature;
(e) spiritual, because He is a personal agent capable of thought and will, and capable (unlike matter) of moving things without needing anyone to move Him;
(f) good, because the contrivances He has placed in living things are designed for the good of those creatures, and not for their harm;
(g) omnipresent, because His power extends throughout Nature;
(h) omnipotent, because everything is His handiwork, so there is nothing to limit His power over Nature;
(i) omniscient, because the knowledge required for the formation of created nature is infinite, since He selected the laws of the cosmos from an infinite range of possible options;
(j) simple, because complex beings require an external cause for the skillful contrivance of their parts, whereas God has no cause;
(k) beyond space and time, since He is their Author, and has no limits. (One could draw the conclusion, though Paley himself does not explicitly say so, that God is therefore timeless and immutable.)

In all these respects, Paley’s God is identical with the God of classical theism. On two points, however, Paley differs from most classical theists.

First, Paley equates the necessity of God with the possibility of our demonstrating His existence, whereas for classical theists, God’s necessity is usually grounded in the notion that God is Pure Existence, and hence incapable of non-existence. However, since Paley argued that God is outside time, it would follow for him also that God is incapable of ceasing to exist.

Second, Paley appears to believe that God is capable of perceiving the world in some way. Even if this perception occurs timelessly in the mind of God, it would still mean that He is passible, or capable of being affected by the world. Classical theism, however, traditionally holds that God is impassible, in the strict sense: the world has no power to causally influence God, as He is in no way affected by the actions of His creatures. However, neither the necessity nor the impassibility of God (in this strict sense) forms part of the defined teachings of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. None of these religions teach that God is Pure Existence. Nor do they teach that God is impassible, in the strict sense of being in no way affected by His creatures; rather, what they teach is that God does not have passions, or bodily feelings.

I conclude that Paley falls within the broad tradition of classical theism, albeit of a very pragmatic variety, insofar as he endeavors to explain the Divine attributes in terms of how they affect us, rather than describing them in terms of God’s inner being – a subject about which Paley prefers not to speculate.

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What is classical theism?

Finding a generally agreed definition of classical theism is no easy matter. I have decided to use the definition given in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in its article on Concepts of God:

Most theists agree that God is (in Ramanuja’s words) the “supreme self” or person — omniscient, omnipotent, and all good. But classical Christian theists have also ascribed four “metaphysical attributes” to God — simplicity, timelessness, immutability, and impassibility.

Impassibility, in the strict sense of the word, means that nothing affects God; God has no experiences, and the world has no influence over Him:

…[N]othing acts on God or causally affects him. While the world is affected by God, God is not affected by it…

According to the doctrine of impassibility, God is not affected by his creatures. Everything other than God depends upon him for both its existence and qualities. God himself, though, depends upon nothing.

However, Wikipedia also gives another, broader definition of the term:

God does not experience pain or pleasure from the actions of another being.

Defined in this broader sense, the doctrine of impassibility simply means that God does not have passions, or bodily feelings. As we shall see, this broader definition was used in some credal statements.


Do any of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) require a belief in the God of classical theism?

Surprisingly, neither Judaism nor Christianity nor Islam requires its members to believe in the God of classical theism.

What Judaism teaches about the nature of God

The essential tenets of Judaism in relation to God’s nature, as defined in Maimonides’ Thirteen Articles of the Jewish Faith, are that God exists, God is one and unique, God is incorporeal, God is eternal, and God knows the thoughts and deeds of men. Although God is generally agreed to be omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and eternal, the thirteen articles make no claim that God is infinite. God is also said to be indivisible, from which God’s simplicity might be deduced, but the articles say nothing about God’s timelessness, immutability or impassibility.

What Christianity teaches about the nature of God

If we look at the Christian faith, we find a great diversity of denominations, each with its own credal statements. I shall limit my discussion to the dogmatic pronouncements of the Catholic Church, the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, and on the Protestant side, the Westminster Confession of Faith.

(a) What the Catholic Church teaches

The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 made the following declaration concerning God, in Chapter 1 of its decrees:

428 Firmly we believe and we confess simply that the true God is one alone, eternal, immense, and unchangeable, incomprehensible, omnipotent and ineffable, Father and Son and Holy Spirit: indeed three Persons but one essence, substance, or nature entirely simple.

The ecumenical Council of Florence (1438-1445) made the following declaration concerning God, in session 11:

First, then, the holy Roman church, founded on the words of our Lord and Saviour, firmly believes, professes and preaches one true God, almighty, immutable and eternal, Father, Son and holy Spirit; one in essence, three in persons…

The position of the Catholic Church was reiterated in the following pronouncement by the First Vatican Council (1869-1870):

The Holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church believes and professes that there is one living and true God, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, omnipotent, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intellect and will and in all perfection Who, being One, singular, absolutely simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, is to be regarded as distinct really and in essence from the world most blessed in and from Himself, and unspeakably elevated above all things that exist, or can be conceived, except Himself. (Session III, April 24, 1870) (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02062e.htm )

If we carefully examine these dogmatic declarations, we find to our surprise that God’s omniscience, omnipresence and omnibenevolence are nowhere explicitly affirmed, although the phrase, “infinite in intellect and will and in all perfection” might reasonably be taken to imply them. Only God’s omnipotence is explicitly affirmed, and its scope is not specified. St. Thomas Aquinas held that God could do anything which was logically possible, but the Catholic Church has never defined this.

The absolute simplicity of God is clearly affirmed, but only insofar as it pertains to the Divine essence. There is no dogmatic declaration by the Catholic Church condemning the notion that in God, there may be a distinction between His substance (or essence) and His accidents; nor is the Eastern Orthodox theological notion that God’s operations are distinct from His essence condemned by any ecumenical council.

Regarding God’s immutability: at the First Vatican Council, God is said to be an “unchangeable spiritual substance.” Nothing is said, however, regarding whether God is capable of changing in other ways, not relating to His substance as such. Nor is there any official dogmatic declaration that God is timeless.

Finally, God’s impassibility (in the strict sense of the term) is nowhere affirmed, either explicitly or implicitly. Even to this day, it is not a defined Catholic doctrine. Some Thomists, including Professor Feser, have claimed that God’s impassibility is a logical consequence of His immutability. In reality, however, all that follows from the doctrine of God’s immutability is that if God is affected by His creatures, He is affected in a timeless manner. It does not follow that He is not affected at all.

The sixth century theologian Boethius is commonly supposed to have held that God knows the past, present and future by a kind of “knowledge of vision”: He timelessly observes all our actions. On Boethius’ account, then, the world is capable of causally influencing God. Indeed, most Catholic laypeople envisage God’s foreknowledge in this fashion. If we define “impassibility” in its strict sense, we would then have to say that Boethius was not a classical theist! However, Boethius is generally regarded as a thinker within the classical theist tradition.

(b) What the Church of England teaches

The first of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, promulgated in 1571 with the approval of Queen Elizabeth I, is titled, “Of faith in the Holy Trinity,” and reads as follows:

THERE is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The article thus declares God to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, but does not explicitly mention His omnipresence. God is said to be without parts, making Him simple, but He is nowhere said to be timeless; rather, He is said to be eternal (which may mean either timeless or omnitemporal). Nothing in the article explicitly declares God to be immutable. Finally, the statement that God is without passions could be interpreted as meaning that He is impassible; alternatively, it could simply mean that God has no bodily passions, such as hunger or desire.

As an Anglican archdeacon, Rev. William Paley would have presumably assented to the statements made in this article of religion.

(c) What the Presbyterian Church teaches

Chapter 2 of The Westminster Confession of Faith is titled, Of God, and of the Holy Trinity. The chapter reads as follows:

I. There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

II. God has all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He has made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and has most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleases. In His sight all things are open and manifest, His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them.

III. In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

The article thus declares God to be almighty and most wise, and declares that He has sovereign dominion over His creatures, as well as infinite knowledge. These statements would seem to imply that God is omnipotent and omniscient. God’s omnibenevolence is nowhere explicitly affirmed, but one might argue that it follows from His being “most holy” and “most loving.” The chapter does not explicitly mention God’s omnipresence, but it does declare that all things take place “in His sight.” God is said to be without parts, making Him simple. Although God is not explicitly said to be timeless, the article explicitly declares God to be immutable, which would imply that God is timeless. Finally, the statement that God is “without passions,” coupled with the statements that “nothing is to Him contingent” and that God is “unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He has made,” seems to imply that God is impassible.

The Westminster Confession of Faith is thus the only Christian credal document I know of which implicitly or explicitly affirms all of the tenets of classical theism.

What Islam teaches about the nature of God

The official teaching of Islam is somewhat vaguer than that of Christianity. While Muslim teaching on the Nature of Allah declares Him to be utterly incomprehensible, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and incorporeal, as well as both just and merciful, there is nothing, as far as I can tell, requiring Muslims to believe that He is simple, timeless, immutable or impassible.

Let us now examine the question of whether Rev. William Paley himself believed in classical theism.

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Did Paley believe in classical theism?

It is fair to assume that Paley, as an Anglican clergyman, would have assented to the first of the Elizabethan Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, which reads as follows:

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The article clearly affirms God’s omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence, and describes God as being without parts – or in other words, simple.

Since the article describes God as being both everlasting and eternal (see also the second article, which speaks of “the very and eternal God”), and since the doctrine of God’s timelessness and immutability was generally accepted by Christians of all stripes in Paley’s day, it is reasonable to conclude that Paley would have imputed these attributes to God as well. It is true that there are passages in Paley’s Natural Theology where he speaks of God as existing before His creation, but similar passages can be found in Scripture itself (Proverbs 8:23-26; John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20), and Paley elsewhere speaks of God as possessing “a power … to which we are not authorized, by our observation or knowledge, to assign any limits of space or duration” (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 444). As a clergyman, Paley must also have been aware of the Scriptural affirmation, “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6). Regarding these two Divine attributes, then, I think Paley deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Finally, the first of the Elizabethan Thirty-nine articles describes God as being “without passions,” so in this broad sense, Paley would have accepted the doctrine of Divine impassibility, held by classical theists. In his Natural Theology, however, he speaks of God as “a perceiving, intelligent, designing, Being” (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 441-442). Since (as we saw above), Paley almost certainly believed that God is unchangeable, he must therefore have held that God is capable of being timelessly made aware of events occurring in this world. This would not require God to change, but it would mean that He was capable of being causally influenced by the world. In the strict sense of the word, then, Paley did not accept the notion of Divine impassibility. If, however, impassibility is defined more broadly as “inability to suffer or experience pain or other bodily feelings,” then Paley would certainly have accepted this definition, as He held that God is a spirit, and a perfect one at that.

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Two views of classical theism

Thomas Williams, in his article on John Dus Scotus (Pictured above right), in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, argues that there are at least two ways of grounding God’s attributes. According to St. Thomas Aquinas (Pictured above left), since God is Pure Existence, His absolute simplicity is what grounds the other Divine attributes; whereas on Scotus’ view, God is Infinite Being, His infinity is what grounds these attributes:

…[T]he concept of “infinite being” has a privileged role in Scotus’s natural theology. As a first approximation, we can say that divine infinity is for Scotus what divine simplicity is for Aquinas. It’s the central divine-attribute generator. But there are some important differences between the role of simplicity in Aquinas and the role of infinity in Scotus. The most important, I think, is that in Aquinas simplicity acts as an ontological spoilsport for theological semantics. Simplicity is in some sense the key thing about God, metaphysically speaking, but it seriously complicates our language about God. God is supposed to be a subsistent simple, but because our language is all derived from creatures, which are all either subsistent but complex or simple but non-subsistent, we don’t have any way to apply our language straightforwardly to God. The divine nature systematically resists being captured in language.

For Scotus, though, infinity is not only what’s ontologically central about God, it’s the key component of our best available concept of God and a guarantor of the success of theological language. That is, our best ontology, far from fighting with our theological semantics, both supports and is supported by our theological semantics. The doctrine of univocity rests in part on the claim that “[t]he difference between God and creatures, at least with regard to God’s possession of the pure perfections, is ultimately one of degree” (Cross [1999], 39). Remember one of Scotus’s arguments for univocity. If we are to follow Anselm in ascribing to God every pure perfection, we have to affirm that we are ascribing to God the very same thing that we ascribe to creatures: God has it infinitely, creatures in a limited way. One could hardly ask for a more harmonious cooperation between ontology (what God is) and semantics (how we can think and talk about him).

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Did Paley argue for classical theism, in his Natural Theology?

The question of whether classical theism is properly grounded in God’s absolute simplicity (as Aquinas thought) or God’s infinity (as Scotus maintained) has a significant bearing on whether Rev. William Paley can legitimately be said to have argued for the truth of classical theism in his Natural Theology.

Paley emphatically argued for God’s simplicity in his Natural Theology, in a passage where he contends that the Designer of Nature must be immaterial and could not possibly be composed of material parts. If He contained any contrivances, argues Paley, then He would no longer be self-existent:

Of this however we are certain, that whatever the Deity be, neither the universe, nor any part of it which we see, can be He. The universe itself is merely a collective name: its parts are all which are real; or which are things. Now inert matter is out of the question: and organized substances include marks of contrivance. But whatever includes marks of contrivance, whatever, in its constitution, testifies design, necessarily carries us to something beyond itself, to some other being, to a designer prior to, and out of, itself. No animal, for instance, can have contrived its own limbs and senses; can have been the author to itself of the design with which they were constructed. That supposition involves all the absurdity of self-creation, i. e. of acting without existing. Nothing can be God, which is ordered by a wisdom and a will, which itself is void of; which is indebted for any of its properties to contrivance ab extra. The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see. Which consideration contains the answer to a question that has sometimes been asked, namely, Why, since something or other must have existed from eternity, may not the present universe be that something? The contrivance perceived in it, proves that to be impossible. Nothing contrived, can, in a strict and proper sense, be eternal, forasmuch as the contriver must have existed before the contrivance.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412).

While the foregoing argument by Paley precludes God’s having any material parts, a Thomist might still object that Paley makes no attempt to establish that the Designer has no metaphysical parts. As Professor Edward Feser explains in his online post, Classical theism (30 September, 2010), in classical theism, God’s simplicity is defined in metaphysical terms:

To say that God is simple is to say that He is in no way composed of parts – neither material parts, nor metaphysical parts like form and matter, substance and accidents, or essence and existence.

From a Thomistic perspective, then, Paley’s argument for classical theism appears incomplete.

In reply, I would suggest that Paley does not spell out the argument for God’s absolute simplicity in further detail, precisely because it was so well-known to his contemporaries. In his Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 448), Paley quotes from page 106 of Bishop Wilkins’ Principles of Natural Religion, when arguing that the Designer of Nature must be a spiritual being, in order to account for the continued motion of matter, ‘which cannot move, unless it be moved; and cannot but move, when impelled by another.’ But if we look at the preceding page of Bishop Wilkins’ Principles of Natural Religion, we find the following argument for God’s absolute simplicity:

God cannot be compounded of any Principles, because the Principles and Ingredients which concur to the making of any thing, must be anteceddent to that thing. And if the Divine Nature were compounded, it would follow that there must be something in Nature antecedent to Him. Which is inconsistent with His being the First Cause. (Principles of Natural Religion, sixth edition, London, 1710, Chapter VIII, pp. 104-105.)

Since Paley was an Anglican divine who wrote admiringly of Bishop Wilkins and quoted from his apologetic works, it makes sense to assume that he would have endorsed Wilkins’ argument for God’s absolute simplicity, even if he does not explicitly refer to this argument in his Natural Theology.

If, on the other hand, we follow Duns Scotus in regarding God’s infinity, rather than His simplicity, as the central Divine-attribute generator, then a case for classical theism can be made simply by arguing that the Designer of Nature must be infinite. In that case, Paley can be legitimately said to have explicitly argued for the truth of classical theism, as he put forward no less than four arguments for God’s infinity in his Natural Theology.

Paley’s first argument was that God’s designs are infinitely more skillful than our own. Paley illustrated this point using the example of the human eye:

I know no better method of introducing so large a subject, than that of comparing a single thing with a single thing; an eye, for example, with a telescope. As far as the examination of the instrument goes, there is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision, as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it. (Chapter III, p. 18)

Were there no example in the world, of contrivance, except that of the eye, it would be alone sufficient to support the conclusion which we draw from it, as to the necessity of an intelligent Creator. It could never be got rid of; because it could not be accounted for by any other supposition, which did not contradict all the principles we possess of knowledge; the principles, according to which, things do, as often as they can be brought to the test of experience, turn out to be true or false. Its coats and humours, constructed, as the lenses of a telescope are constructed, for the refraction of rays of light to a point, which forms the proper action of the organ; the provision in its muscular tendons for turning its pupil to the object, similar to that which is given to the telescope by screws, and upon which power of direction in the eye, the exercise of its office as an optical instrument depends; the further provision for its defence, for its constant lubricity and moisture, which we see in its socket and its lids, in its gland for the secretion of the matter of tears, its outlet or communication with the nose for carrying off the liquid after the eye is washed with it; these provisions compose altogether an apparatus, a system of parts, a preparation of means, so manifest in their design, so exquisite in their contrivance, so successful in their issue, so precious, and so infinitely beneficial in their use, as, in my opinion, to bear down all doubt that can be raised upon the subject. (Chapter VI, pp. 75-76)

The formation then of such an image being necessary (no matter how) to the sense of sight, and to the exercise of that sense, the apparatus by which it is formed is constructed and put together, not only with infinitely more art, but upon the self-same principles of art, as in the telescope or the camera obscura. (Chapter III, p. 21)

Paley’s second argument was that God, when He was determining the laws of Nature, had to make a choice from among an infinite number of alternatives, only an infinitesimal proportion of which were compatible with the formation of a stable cosmos. Presumably, only a Being of infinite intelligence could be relied on to make such a selection and get it right:

Another thing, in which a choice appears to be exercised, and in which, amongst the possibilities out of which the choice was to be made, the number of those which were wrong, bore an infinite proportion to the number of those which were right, is in what geometricians call the axis of rotation. (Chapter XXII, p. 385)

… out of an infinite number of possible laws, those which were admissible for the purpose of supporting the heavenly motions, lay within certain narrow limits… (Chapter XX, p. 390)

Our second proposition is, that, whilst the possible laws of variation were infinite, the admissible laws, or the laws compatible with the preservation of the system, lie within narrow limits. (Chapter XXII, p. 393)

A third argument put forward by Paley is that God is able to control an indefinitely large region of space by His volitions. Since He is capable of controlling as large a region of space as he likes, we must suppose Him to be a Being of infinite power:

We have no authority to limit the properties of mind to any particular corporeal form, or to any particular circumscription of space. These properties subsist, in created nature, under a great variety of sensible forms. Also every animated being has its sensorium, that is, a certain portion of space, within which perception and volition are exerted. This sphere may be enlarged to an indefinite extent; may comprehend the universe; and, being so imagined, may serve to furnish us with as good a notion, as we are capable of forming, of the immensity of the Divine Nature, i. e. of a Being, infinite, as well in essence as in power; yet nevertheless a person. (Chapter XXIII, p. 409)

A fourth argument mounted by Paley for God’s infinity is that He is apparently capable of manifesting His wisdom and benevolence in an unlimited number of ways, upon an unlimited number of objects:

Whilst these propositions can be maintained, we are authorized to ascribe to the Deity the character of benevolence: and what is benevolence at all, must in him be infinite benevolence, by reason of the infinite, that is to say, the incalculably great, number of objects, upon which it is exercised. (p. 492)

Upon the whole; in every thing which respects this awful, but, as we trust, glorious change, we have a wise and powerful Being, (the author, in nature, of infinitely various expedients for infinitely various ends), upon whom to rely for the choice and appointment of means, adequate to the execution of any plan which his goodness or his justice may have formed, for the moral and accountable part of his terrestrial creation. (p. 548)

It is for all these reasons that Paley feels entitled to conclude that only a Being with infinite knowledge and power could have created the cosmos:

The degree of knowledge and power, requisite for the formation of created nature, cannot, with respect to us, be distinguished from infinite. (p. 445)

We have seen that Paley advances no less than four distinct arguments for God’s infinity in his Natural Theology. Some of these arguments are more convincing than others, but whatever their merit, they can certainly serve as a foundation for an argument leading to the God of classical theism, if Duns Scotus’ conception of the Divine attributes is correct.

I conclude, then, that the God of Paley’s Natural Theology is indeed the God of classical theism, even if Paley’s account of some of the Divine attributes differs in certain respects from that given by medieval Scholastic philosophers.

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Paley on the Divine Attributes

If we examine Paley’s Natural Theology, we find that he explicitly affirms the vast majority of the attributes traditionally ascribed to God by Jews and Christians, as well as most of those ascribed to God by classical theists, and that he contradicts none of the claims of classical theism.

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(a) The Designer of Nature is Transcendent

Paley explicitly affirms God’s transcendence in the following passage, where he declares that God is known through His effects, that His nature is wholly mysterious to us, and that His nature is far removed from all things that we can see:

The great energies of nature are known to us only by their effects. The substances which produce them, are as much concealed from our senses as the Divine essence itself. Gravitation, though constantly present, though constantly exerting its influence, though every where around us, near us, and within us; though diffused throughout all space, and penetrating the texture of all bodies with which we are acquainted, depends, if upon a fluid, upon a fluid which, though both powerful and universal in its operation, is no object of sense to us; if upon any other kind of substance or action, upon a substance and action, from which we receive no distinguishable impressions. Is it then to be wondered at, that it should, in some measure, be the same with the Divine nature?

Of this however we are certain, that whatever the Deity be, neither the universe, nor any part of it which we see, can be He… Nothing can be God, which is ordered by a wisdom and a will, which itself is void of; which is indebted for any of its properties to contrivance ab extra. The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412)

The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412)

…[A] power which could create such a world as this is, must be, beyond all comparison, greater than any which we experience in ourselves, than any which we observe in other visible agents; greater also than any which we can want, for our individual protection and preservation, in the Being upon whom we depend. It is a power, likewise, to which we are not authorized, by our observation or knowledge, to assign any limits of space or duration.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 444)

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(b) The Designer of Nature is Uncaused, or Self-existent

Paley also explicitly affirmed God’s self-existence:

The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412)

“Self-existence” is another negative idea, viz. the negation of a preceding cause, as of a progenitor, a maker, an author, a creator.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 448)

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(c) The Designer of Nature is the Cause of existence of everything in Nature

Paley declared God to be the cause of existence of all things occurring in Nature:

… I shall not, I believe, be contradicted when I say, that, if one train of thinking be more desirable than another, it is that which regards the phenomena of nature with a constant reference to a supreme intelligent Author. To have made this the ruling, the habitual sentiment of our minds, is to have laid the foundation of every thing which is religious. The world thenceforth becomes a temple, and life itself one continued act of adoration. The change is no less than this, that, whereas formerly God was seldom in our thoughts, we can now scarcely look upon any thing without perceiving its relation to him. Every organized natural body, in the provisions which it contains for its sustentation and propagation, testifies a care, on the part of the Creator, expressly directed to these purposes. We are on all sides surrounded by such bodies; examined in their parts, wonderfully curious; compared with one another, no less wonderfully diversified.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, p. 539)

Against not only the cold, but the want of food, which the approach of winter induces, the Preserver of the world has provided in many animals by migration, in many others by torpor.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XVII, p. 298)

Under this stupendous Being we live. Our happiness, our existence, is in his hands. All we expect must come from him.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, p. 541)

God is “the original cause of all things
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, p. 542)

[T]he Creator must know, intimately, the constitution and properties of the things which he created; which seems also to imply a foreknowledge of their action upon one another, and of their changes; at least, so far as the same result from trains of physical and necessary causes. His omniscience also, as far as respects things present, is deducible from his nature, as an intelligent being, joined with the extent, or rather the universality, of his operations.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 444-445)

One and the self-same spring, acting in one and the same manner, viz. by simply expanding itself, may be the cause of a hundred different and all useful movements, if a hundred different and well-devised sets of wheels be placed between it and the final effect; e. g. may point out the hour of the day, the day of the month, the age of the moon, the position of the planets, the cycle of the years, and many other serviceable notices; and these movements may fulfil their purposes with more or less perfection, according as the mechanism is better or worse contrived, or better or worse executed, or in a better or worse state of repair: but in all cases, it is necessary that the spring act at the centre.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pp. 416-417.)

Unconscious particles of matter take their stations, and severally range themselves in an order, so as to become collectively plants or animals, i.e. organized bodies, with parts bearing strict and evident relation to one another, and to the utility of the whole: and it should seem that these particles could not move in any other way than as they do; for, they testify not the smallest sign of choice, or liberty, or discretion. There may be particular intelligent beings, guiding these motions in each case: or they may be the result of trains of mechanical dispositions, fixed beforehand by an intelligent appointment, and kept in action by a power at the centre. But, in either case, there must be intelligence.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 420)

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(d) The Designer of Nature is One

Paley argued for the unity of God at some length. For Paley, the uniformity of the laws of Nature constituted the best evidence of God’s unity:

Of the “Unity of the Deity,” the proof is, the uniformity of plan observable in the universe. The universe itself is a system; each part either depending upon other parts, or being connected with other parts by some common law of motion, or by the presence of some common substance. One principle of gravitation causes a stone to drop towards the earth, and the moon to wheel round it. One law of attraction carries all the different planets about the sun. This philosophers demonstrate. There are also other points of agreement amongst them, which may be considered as marks of the identity of their origin, and of their intelligent author. In all are found the conveniency and stability derived from gravitation… Nothing is more probable than that the same attracting influence, acting according to the same rule, reaches to the fixed stars: but, if this be only probable, another thing is certain, viz. that the same element of light does. The light from a fixed star affects our eyes in the same manner, is refracted and reflected according to the same laws, as the light of a candle. The velocity of the light of the fixed stars is also the same, as the velocity of the light of the sun, reflected from the satellites of Jupiter.

In our own globe, the case is clearer. New countries are continually discovered, but the old laws of nature are always found in them: new plants perhaps, or animals, but always in company with plants and animals which we already know; and always possessing many of the same general properties. We never get amongst such original, or totally different, modes of existence, as to indicate, that we are come into the province of a different Creator, or under the direction of a different will. In truth, the same order of things attend us, wherever we go.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXV, pp. 449-450)

The works of nature want only to be contemplated. When contemplated, they have every thing in them which can astonish by their greatness: for, of the vast scale of operation, through which our discoveries carry us, at one end we see an intelligent Power arranging planetary systems, fixing, for instance, the trajectory of Saturn, or constructing a ring of two hundred thousand miles diameter, to surround his body, and be suspended like a magnificent arch over the heads of his inhabitants; and, at the other, bending a hooked tooth, concerting and providing an appropriate mechanism, for the clasping and reclasping of the filaments of the feather of the humming-bird. We have proof, not only of both these works proceeding from an intelligent agent, but of their proceeding from the same agent; for, in the first place, we can trace an identity of plan, a connexion of system, from Saturn to our own globe: and when arrived upon our globe, we can, in the second place, pursue the connexion through all the organized, especially the animated, bodies which it supports. We can observe marks of a common relation, as well to one another, as to the elements of which their habitation is composed. Therefore one mind hath planned, or at least hath prescribed, a general plan for all these productions. One Being has been concerned in all.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, pp. 540-541)

If, in tracing these [secondary] causes, it be said, that we find certain general properties of matter which have nothing in them that bespeaks intelligence, I answer, that, still, the managing of these properties, the pointing and directing them to the uses which we see made of them, demands intelligence in the highest degree.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 419)

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(e) The Designer of Nature is spiritual

Paley put forward both positive and negative arguments for why God must be a spirit:

“Spirituality” expresses an idea, made up of a negative part, and of a positive part. The negative part consists in the exclusion of some of the known properties of matter, especially of solidity, of the vis inertiae, and of gravitation. The positive part comprises perception, thought, will, power, action, by which last term is meant, the origination of motion; the quality, perhaps, in which resides the essential superiority of spirit over matter, “which cannot move, unless it be moved; and cannot but move, when impelled by another (Note: Bishop Wilkins’s Principles of Natural Religion, p. 106.).” I apprehend that there can be no difficulty in applying to the Deity both parts of this idea.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 448)

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(f) The Designer of Nature is good

Paley devotes a whole chapter of his Natural Theology to the subject of God’s goodness:

Male lion (Panthera leo) and cub eating a Cape Buffalo in Northern Sabi Sand, South Africa. Photo by Luca Galuzzi. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
For Paley, predation posed an apparent difficulty for his claim that God is good, for the bodies of predators were clearly designed for the killing of other creatures. Paley’s answer to this difficulty was that these adaptations for killing were at least good for the animals possessing them (predators), and that in any case, nature needed some way to keep animal populations in check. As he put it: “Immortality upon this earth is out of the question. Without death there could be no generation, no sexes, no parental relation, i. e. as things are constituted, no animal happiness…. The term then of life in different animals being the same as it is, the question is, what mode of taking it away is the best even for the animal itself.” (Chapter XXVI, p. 473) Paley then argued that there would be even more animal pain in the world if animals were not killed by predators, because deaths from disease and starvation were slow and lingering: “Is it then to see the world filled with drooping, superannuated, half-starved, helpless, and unhelped animals, that you would alter the present system, of pursuit and prey?”
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, p. 474)

Paley believes he can establish God’s goodness by a process of elimination: both of the alternatives (God is evil, or God is indifferent) are absurd:

When God created the human species, either he wished their happiness, or he wished their misery, or he was indifferent and unconcerned about either.

If he had wished our misery, he might have made sure of his purpose, by forming our senses to be so many sores and pains to us, as they are now instruments of gratification and enjoyment: or by placing us amidst objects, so ill suited to our perceptions as to have continually offended us, instead of ministering to our refreshment and delight. He might have made, for example, every thing we tasted, bitter; every thing we saw, loathsome; every thing we touched, a sting; every smell, a stench; and every sound, a discord.

If he had been indifferent about our happiness or misery, we must impute to our good fortune (as all design by this supposition is excluded) both the capacity of our senses to receive pleasure, and the supply of external objects fitted to produce it.”

“But either of these, and still more both of them, being too much to be attributed to accident, nothing remains but the first supposition, that God, when he created the human species, wished their happiness; and made for them the provision which he has made, with that view and for that purpose.” (Chapter XXVI, pp. 465-466.)

Paley also puts forward two positive arguments for God’s goodness:

THE proof of the divine goodness rests upon two propositions; each, as we contend, capable of being made out by observations drawn from the appearances of nature.

The first is, “that, in a vast plurality of instances in which contrivance is perceived, the design of the contrivance is beneficial.

The second, “that the Deity has superadded pleasure to animal sensations, beyond what was necessary for any other purpose, or when the purpose, so far as it was necessary,” might have been effected by the operation of pain.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, pp. 454-455)

Contrivance proves design: and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the designer. The world abounds with contrivances: and all the contrivances which we are acquainted with, are directed to beneficial purposes. Evil, no doubt, exists; but is never, that we can perceive, the object of contrivance. Teeth are contrived to eat, not to ache; their aching now and then is incidental to the contrivance, perhaps inseparable from it: or even, if you will, let it be called a defect in the contrivance: but it is not the object of it. This is a distinction which well deserves to be attended to.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, p. 467)

The two cases which appear to me to have the most of difficulty in them, as forming the most of the appearance of exception to the representation here given, are those of venomous animals, and of animals preying upon one another. These properties of animals, wherever they are found, must, I think, be referred to design; because there is, in all cases of the first, and in most cases of the second, an express and distinct organization provided for the producing of them. Under the first head, the fangs of vipers, the stings of wasps and scorpions, are as clearly intended for their purpose, as any animal structure is for any purpose the most incontestably beneficial. And the same thing must, under the second head, be acknowledged of the talons and beaks of birds, of the tusks, teeth, and claws of beasts of prey, of the shark’s mouth, of the spider’s web, and of numberless weapons of offence belonging to different tribes of voracious insects. We cannot, therefore, avoid the difficulty by saying, that the effect was not intended. The only question open to us is, whether it be ultimately evil. From the confessed and felt imperfection of our knowledge, we ought to presume, that there may be consequences of this economy which are hidden from us; from the benevolence which pervades the general designs of nature, we ought also to presume, that these consequences, if they could enter into our calculation, would turn the balance on the favourable side. Both these I contend to be reasonable presumptions.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, pp. 468-469)

The capacities, which, according to the established course of nature, are necessary to the support or preservation of an animal, however manifestly they may be the result of an organization contrived for the purpose, can only be deemed an act or a part of the same will, as that which decreed the existence of the animal itself; because, whether the creation proceeded from a benevolent of a malevolent being, these capacities must have been given, if the animal existed at all. Animal properties, therefore, which fall under this description, do not strictly prove the goodness of God: they may prove the existence of the Deity; they may prove a high degree of power and intelligence: but they do not prove his goodness; forasmuch as they must have been found in any creation which was capable of continuance, …
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVI, p. 482)

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(g) The Designer of Nature is omnipresent

Paley argues that since human reason could assign no limits to the Designer’s power and knowledge, they could be regarded as infinite, for all practical intents and purposes. Moreover, since the laws of Nature hold in every nook and cranny of the cosmos, and since laws presuppose the existence of an intelligent agent, we may conclude that the Designer is omnipresent:

The Divine “omnipresence” stands, in natural theology, upon this foundation. In every part and place of the universe with which we are acquainted, we perceive the exertion of a power, which we believe, mediately or immediately, to proceed from the Deity. For instance; in what part or point of space, that has ever been explored, do we not discover attraction? In what regions do we not find light? In what accessible portion of our globe, do we not meet with gravity, magnetism, electricity; together with the properties also and powers of organized substances, of vegetable or of animated nature? Nay further, we may ask, What kingdom is there of nature, what corner of space, in which there is any thing that can be examined by us, where we do not fall upon contrivance and design? The only reflection perhaps which arises in our minds from this view of the world around us is, that the laws of nature every where prevail; that they are uniform and universal. But what do we mean by the laws of nature, or by any law? Effects are produced by power, not by laws. A law cannot execute itself. A law refers us to an agent. Now an agency so general, as that we cannot discover its absence, or assign the place in which some effect of its continued energy is not found, may, in popular language at least, and, perhaps, without much deviation from philosophical strictness, be called universal: and, with not quite the same, but with no inconsiderable propriety, the person, or Being, in whom that power resides, or from whom it is derived, may be taken to be omnipresent. He who upholds all things by his power, may be said to be every where present.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 445-446)

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(h) The Designer of Nature is omnipotent

Paley advances two arguments for God’s omnipotence:

[A] power which could create such a world as this is, must be, beyond all comparison, greater than any which we experience in ourselves, than any which we observe in other visible agents; greater also than any which we can want, for our individual protection and preservation, in the Being upon whom we depend. It is a power, likewise, to which we are not authorized, by our observation or knowledge, to assign any limits of space or duration.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 444)

We ascribe power to the Deity under the name of “omnipotence,” the strict and correct conclusion being, that a power which could create such a world as this is, must be, beyond all comparison, greater than any which we experience in ourselves, than any which we observe in other visible agents; greater also than any which we can want, for our individual protection and preservation, in the Being upon whom we depend.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 443-444)

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(i) The Designer of Nature is omniscient

Paley argued for God’s omniscience, on the grounds that the creativity of His intellect appears to be infinitely versatile:

The degree of knowledge and power, requisite for the formation of created nature, cannot, with respect to us, be distinguished from infinite.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 445)

…[T]he same sort of remark is applicable to the term “omniscience,” infinite knowledge, or infinite wisdom. In strictness of language, there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom; wisdom always supposing action, and action directed by it. With respect to the first, viz. knowledge, the Creator must know, intimately, the constitution and properties of the things which he created; which seems also to imply a foreknowledge of their action upon one another, and of their changes; at least, so far as the same result from trains of physical and necessary causes. His omniscience also, as far as respects things present, is deducible from his nature, as an intelligent being, joined with the extent, or rather the universality, of his operations. Where he acts, he is; and where he is, he perceives. The wisdom of the Deity, as testified in the works of creation, surpasses all idea we have of wisdom, drawn from the highest intellectual operations of the highest class of intelligent beings with whom we are acquainted; and, which is of the chief importance to us, whatever be its compass or extent, which it is evidently impossible that we should be able to determine, it must be adequate to the conduct of that order of things under which we live. And this is enough.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 444-445)

… we have a wise and powerful Being, (the author, in nature, of infinitely various expedients for infinitely various ends), upon whom to rely for the choice and appointment of means, adequate to the execution of any plan which his goodness or his justice may have formed, for the moral and accountable part of his terrestrial creation.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXVII, p. 548)

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(j) God is simple

Paley emphatically argued for God’s simplicity in a passage in his Natural Theology, where he defines a contrivance as a co-ordinated arrangement of parts subserving some end. A contrivance requires a Designer. Since God, by definition, has no Designer, it follows that God cannot be composed of carefully co-ordinated parts – for if He were, then He would no longer be self-existent. Hence Paley must have been affirming God’s simplicity when he wrote the following:

Of this however we are certain, that whatever the Deity be, neither the universe, nor any part of it which we see, can be He. The universe itself is merely a collective name: its parts are all which are real; or which are things. Now inert matter is out of the question: and organized substances include marks of contrivance. But whatever includes marks of contrivance, whatever, in its constitution, testifies design, necessarily carries us to something beyond itself, to some other being, to a designer prior to, and out of, itself. No animal, for instance, can have contrived its own limbs and senses; can have been the author to itself of the design with which they were constructed. That supposition involves all the absurdity of self-creation, i. e. of acting without existing. Nothing can be God, which is ordered by a wisdom and a will, which itself is void of; which is indebted for any of its properties to contrivance ab extra. The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see. Which consideration contains the answer to a question that has sometimes been asked, namely, Why, since something or other must have existed from eternity, may not the present universe be that something? The contrivance perceived in it, proves that to be impossible. Nothing contrived, can, in a strict and proper sense, be eternal, forasmuch as the contriver must have existed before the contrivance.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412-413).

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(k) God is beyond space and time

For Paley, a being is eternal if it exists, and if it has no beginning or end:

“Eternity” is a negative idea, clothed with a positive name. It supposes, in that to which it is applied, a present existence; and is the negation of a beginning or an end of that existence.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 447)

We have seen that for Paley, God is unlimited, and hence beyond the bounds of space and time. However, whether Paley actually believed that God is timeless and immutable is more debatable. Passages can be found in his writings which appear at first glance to suggest that he envisaged God as everlasting, rather than timeless:

Nothing contrived, can, in a strict and proper sense, be eternal, forasmuch as the contriver must have existed before the contrivance.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 413)

There may be particular intelligent beings, guiding these motions in each case: or they may be the result of trains of mechanical dispositions, fixed beforehand by an intelligent appointment, and kept in action by a power at the centre.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 420)

In strictness, however, we have no concern with duration prior to that of the visible world. Upon this article therefore of theology, it is sufficient to know, that the contriver necessarily existed before the contrivance.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 447-448)

It would be unwise to conclude too much from these passages, however. We should recall that Scripture itself speaks of God as existing before His creation, as the following examples show:

Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2)

“I was appointed from eternity,
from the beginning, before the world began.

When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
when there were no springs abounding with water;
before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
before he made the earth
or its fields
or any of the dust of the world. (Proverbs 8:23-26, speaking of the Wisdom of God)

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4)

He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. (1 Peter 1:20)

Further support for the view that Paley affirmed God’s absolute immutability comes from the fact that Paley approvingly quotes from Bishop Wilkins’ Principles of Natural Religion in Chapter XXIV of his Natural Theology, when arguing for God’s spirituality. In chapter VIII of his apologetic work, on pages 115-117, Wilkins emphatically affirms his belief in God’s absolute immutability, approvingly quotes the pagan philosophers Seneca and Plato in support of the doctrine, and approvingly cites the argument put forward by Plato for God’s immutability in Book II of his Republic: if God were capable of change, it would have to be either externally imposed (which is impossible, as nothing can necessitate a change in God) or voluntary, and if the latter, either a change for the better or a change for the worse – both of which are incompatible with God’s perfection. Wilkins then puts forward his own argument for God’s immutability:

We esteem Changeableness in Men either an Imperfection, or a Fault. Their Natural Changes, as to their Persons, are from Weakness and Vanity; their Moral Changes, as to their Inclinations and Purposes, are from Ignorance and Inconstancy. And therefore there is very good reason why we should remove this from God, as being that which would darken all his other Perfections. The greater the Divine Perfections are, the greater Imperfection would Mutability be. Besides, that it would take away the foundation of all religion, Love and Fear, and Affiance, and Worship: In which Men would be very much discouraged, if they could not certainly rely upon God, but were in doubt that His Nature might alter, and that hereafter he might be quite otherwise from what we now apprehend him to be.
(Of the Principles and Duties of Natural Religion, sixth edition, London, 1710, Chapter VIII, p. 117.)

Given the forcefulness of the above passage, the default assumption must be that Paley, who was familiar with it, espoused the traditional Christian doctrine of God’s absolute immutability.

Additionally, there are passages in Paley’s Natural Theology which lend support to the view that he envisaged God as being absolutely immutable. For instance, Paley argues that God is beyond the limits of space and time, which would suggest that he viewed God as being atemporal:

…[A] power which could create such a world as this is, must be, beyond all comparison, greater than any which we experience in ourselves, than any which we observe in other visible agents; greater also than any which we can want, for our individual protection and preservation, in the Being upon whom we depend. It is a power, likewise, to which we are not authorized, by our observation or knowledge, to assign any limits of space or duration.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 444)

In the two passages below, Paley also argues that God is the ultimate originator of motion, which would imply that He is outside time:

The not having that in his nature which requires the exertion of another prior being (which property is sometimes called self-sufficiency, and sometimes self-comprehension), appertains to the Deity, as his essential distinction, and removes his nature from that of all things which we see.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 412)

“Spirituality” expresses an idea, made up of a negative part, and of a positive part. The negative part consists in the exclusion of some of the known properties of matter, especially of solidity, of the vis inertiae, and of gravitation. The positive part comprises perception, thought, will, power, action, by which last term is meant, the origination of motion; the quality, perhaps, in which resides the essential superiority of spirit over matter, “which cannot move, unless it be moved; and cannot but move, when impelled by another (Note: Bishop Wilkins’s Principles of Natural Religion, p. 106.).” I apprehend that there can be no difficulty in applying to the Deity both parts of this idea.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 448)

I can only conclude that Paley did indeed hold to the doctrine of Divine immutability, even if he did not elaborate on the point in his Natural Theology.

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Two ways in which Paley differed from traditional classical theism

Somewhat oddly, Paley interprets God’s attribute of necessity to mean nothing more than the fact that His existence can be established by us:

“Necessary existence” means demonstrable existence.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 448 – Attributes of God)

However, Paley notion of God’s self-existence corresponds closely to the way in which traditional believers would define God’s necessity:

“Self-existence” is another negative idea, viz. the negation of a preceding cause, as of a progenitor, a maker, an author, a creator.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 448 – Attributes of God)

Paley also appears to deny the impassibility of God, in the strict sense of the word, as he ascribes perceptions to Him:

IT is an immense conclusion, that there is a GOD; a perceiving, intelligent, designing, Being; at the head of creation, and from whose will it proceeded. The attributes of such a Being, suppose his reality to be proved, must be adequate to the magnitude, extent, and multiplicity of his operations: which are not only vast beyond comparison with those performed by any other power, but, so far as respects our conceptions of them, infinite, because they are unlimited on all sides.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 441-442)

…[T]he Creator must know, intimately, the constitution and properties of the things which he created; which seems also to imply a foreknowledge of their action upon one another, and of their changes; at least, so far as the same result from trains of physical and necessary causes. His omniscience also, as far as respects things present, is deducible from his nature, as an intelligent being, joined with the extent, or rather the universality, of his operations. Where he acts, he is; and where he is, he perceives.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, pp. 444-445)

Nowhere, however, does God claim that God experiences bodily feelings, such as pain. On the contrary, Paley insists that God is a spirit. Thus Paley clearly accepts impassibility in the broad sense of the term.

To sum up: Paley believed that he could demonstrate, on the basis of reason and observation alone, that the Designer of Nature must be personal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, spiritual (and hence immaterial), one and good. It is true that Paley nowhere argues that the Designer is absolutely simple; but he does argue that God has no physical parts, and as an Anglican clergyman, he would certainly have believed in the doctrine of Divine simplicity. It is also true that Paley credited God with the ability to perceive His own creation, but as we argued above, the notion of timeless perception (which was upheld by Boethius in the sixth century) involves no change on God’s part. A God Who is incapable of undergoing change and Who has no bodily feelings could be described as “impassible,” in the broad sense of that word. It is also quite true that Paley makes no attempt to argue for the Thomist doctrine that in God alone are essence and existence identical – but as we have seen, this was a doctrine that some Scholastic philosophers (who were also classical theists) rejected, as they regarded the distinction between essence and existence to be a purely logical one, even in creatures. Additionally, it is true that Paley treats “intelligence” as a univocal predicate, having the same meaning for God as it does for us, even if God’s intelligence is infinitely greater than our own. However, there were classical theistic philosophers in the Middle Ages who were of the same view, Anselm and Duns Scotus being notable examples. I therefore conclude that Rev. William Paley believed in the God of classical theism, and that Professor Feser is in error when he maintains that Paley’s God is not the God of classical theism.

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Was Paley a theistic personalist?

Paley reasons that anything which is capable of contriving and designing things must also be capable of consciousness and thought, and must therefore be a person. Thus the Designer of Nature is a personal agent and not merely a blind or impersonal principle. (As an Anglican archdeacon, Rev. Paley of course believed that God is actually a Trinity of persons, but since his book is about natural theology, he makes no attempt to demonstrate a truth that unaided reason could never discover.)

The statue of Rodin’s Thinker, at Musee Rodin in Paris. Image courtesy of Andrew Horne and Wikipedia.
William Paley argued that any being capable of co-ordinating and arranging parts to serve some end must be capable of thought, and hence a person. Hence the Designer of the countless contrivances we see in Nature must be a personal being, according to Paley.

Paley argues that the existence of contrivances in Nature shows that Nature must have been designed by a personal Being. The reader will recall that for Paley, the term “contrivances” does not mean “artifacts,” but simply systems possessing the three distinguishing properties of “relation to an end, relation of parts to one another, and to a common purpose” (Natural Theology, 12th edition, J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, page 413), indicating that they were designed by an intelligent being:

Contrivance, if established, appears to me to prove every thing which we wish to prove. Amongst other things, it proves the personality of the Deity, as distinguished from what is sometimes called nature, sometimes called a principle: which terms, in the mouths of those who use them philosophically, seem to be intended, to admit and to express an efficacy, but to exclude and to deny a personal agent. Now that which can contrive, which can design, must be a person. These capacities constitute personality, for they imply consciousness and thought. They require that which can perceive an end or purpose; as well as the power of providing means, and of directing them to their end (Note: Priestley’s Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, p. 153, ed. 2.) They require a centre in which perceptions unite, and from which volitions flow; which is mind. The acts of a mind prove the existence of a mind: and in whatever a mind resides, is a person.

(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 408)

Upon the whole; after all the schemes and struggles of a reluctant philosophy, the necessary resort is to a Deity. The marks of design are too strong to be gotten over. Design must have had a designer. That designer must have been a person. That person is GOD.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 441)

It is an immense conclusion, that there is a GOD; a perceiving, intelligent, designing, Being; at the head of creation, and from whose will it proceeded.
(Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIV, p. 441)

Paley refers to the Designer as “a person,” and adds: “That person is GOD.” Professor Feser, who is a Thomist, will doubtless take exception to Paley’s implicit assertion that “God is a person,” as symptomatic of an underlying malaise in Paley’s theology: theistic personalism, or the anthropomorphic doctrine that God is a person like we are, only without bodily and other limitations. Indeed, Feser criticizes the very phrase, “God is a person,” in a post entitled, God, Man and Classical Theism (October 8, 2010), noting that it is of Unitarian origin, dating to 1644.

As an Anglican divine, Paley of course believed in a tri-personal Deity (one God in three Persons), rather than a God Who is only one person. Indeed, Paley’s Clergyman’s Companion, contains a prayer which he authored, for the Feast of the Trinity, in which he declares:

Who art one God, one Lord ; not one only Person, but three Persons in one substance. For that which we believe of the glory of the Father, the same we believe of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, without any difference or inequality.

However, Paley could not appeal to revelation in a work on natural theology, as the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be established by human reason. In any case, Paley would surely have seen the existence of not one but three persons in the Godhead as strengthening his argument for a personal Deity.

For the purposes of comparison, here is what St. Thomas Aquinas has to say on the question of whether the word “person” should be said of God (Summa Theologica, I, q. 29, art. 3). After listing four objections to applying the term to God, Aquinas refutes them (“On the contrary,…”) by citing the Athanasian Creed, and then adds his own response:

On the contrary, In the Creed of Athanasius we say: “One is the person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Ghost.”

I answer that, “Person” signifies what is most perfect in all nature — that is, a subsistent individual of a rational nature. Hence, since everything that is perfect must be attributed to God, forasmuch as His essence contains every perfection, this name “person” is fittingly applied to God; not, however, as it is applied to creatures, but in a more excellent way; as other names also, which, while giving them to creatures, we attribute to God; as we showed above when treating of the names of God (13, 2)

No-one would accuse Aquinas of “theistic personalism.” Nor should they do so with Rev. William Paley, an Anglican clergyman and renowned Christian apologist. Likewise, I think it is reasonable to interpret Rev. Paley as simply maintaining that the term “person” could be fittingly applied to God.

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Do Intelligent Design proponents worship a “lesser god” than the God of classical theism?

In a blog post, entitled, Thomism versus the design argument (March 15, 2011), Professor Feser approvingly cites the words of Thomist philosopher Christopher Martin, who dismisses Paley’s Design argument. Here is what Christopher Martin has to say about Paley’s Design Argument in his chapter, The Fifth Way:

The argument from design had its heyday between the time of Newton and the time of Darwin, say, a time in which most people apparently came to see the world as a minutely designed piece of craftsmanship, like a clock. It is no coincidence that the most famous presentation of the argument from design actually compares the world to a clock: it is known by the name of Paley’s watch. It is also worth noticing that according to the great computerised Index Thomisticus, in the 8,000,000 words Thomas Aquinas definitely wrote, and the 3,000,000 he may have written besides, the universe is never compared to a clock…

The Being whose existence is revealed to us by the argument from design is not God but the Great Architect of the Deists and Freemasons, an impostor disguised as God, a stern, kindly, and immensely clever old English gentleman, equipped with apron, trowel, square and compasses. Blake has a famous picture of this figure to be seen on the walls of a thousand student bedrooms during the nineteen-seventies: the strong wind which is apparently blowing in the picture has blown away the apron, trowel and set-square but left him his beard and compasses. Ironies of history have meant that this picture of Blake’s is often taken to be a picture of God the Creator, while in fact Blake drew it as a picture of Urizen, a being who shares some of the attributes of the Great Architect and some of those of Satan.

The Great Architect is not God because he is just someone like us but a lot older, cleverer and more skilful. He decides what he wants to do and therefore sets about doing the things he needs to do to achieve it. God is not like that.

As Hobbes memorably said, “God hath no ends”: there is nothing that God is up to, nothing he needs to get done, nothing he needs to do to get things done…. God is mysterious: the whole objection to the great architect is that we know him all too well, since he is one of us. Whatever God is, God is not one of us: a sobering thought for those who use “one of us” as their highest term of approbation.
(Christopher F. J. Martin, Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations, Edinburgh University Press, 1998, pp. 180-82.)

The passage quoted above contains so many errors that it is difficult to know where to begin. Briefly:

1. The argument from design was popular long before Newton. It goes back to ancient times. Socrates (469-399 B.C.) argued that the adaptation of human parts to one another, such as the eyelids protecting the eyeballs, could not have been due to chance and was a sign of wise planning in the universe. (Xenophon, Memorabilia I.4.6; Franklin, James (2001). The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability Before Pascal. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 229.)

Socrates’ pupil Plato (c. 427–c. 347 B.C.) postulated that the cosmos had been fashioned and designed (but not created ex nihilo) by a “Demiurge” of supreme wisdom, benevolence and intelligence, in his work Timaeus.

Later on, Cicero (106–43 B.C.) put forward his own argument from design in his work, De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods), Book II, Section XXXIV, arguing for the existence of a Divine power from the fact that the works of Nature display a Mind at work in the world. As I’ll demonstrate in Part Six, Cicero even formulated an early version of the clock analogy, which was later developed by William Paley.

In the late second or early third century A.D., the Christian writer Marcus Minucius Felix also advanced a design argument for the existence of God, based on the analogy of an ordered house:

Now if, on entering any house, you should behold everything refined, well arranged, and adorned, assuredly you would believe that a master presided over it, and that he himself was much better than all those excellent things. So in this house of the world, when you look upon the heaven and the earth, its providence, its ordering, its law, believe that there is a Lord and Parent of the universe far more glorious than the stars themselves, and the parts of the whole world.
(Octavius, Chapter 18.)

It should be noted that nothing in Minucius Felix’s argument hinges on whether the arrangement of the parts is externally imposed, or whether it is built into the very nature of things. It is the harmonious arrangement of parts that interests him.

2. Nowhere in his Natural Theology does Paley declare that the world is like a watch. The closest statement I can find is his declaration, “The universe itself is a system; each part either depending upon other parts, or being connected with other parts by some common law of motion, or by the presence of some common substance” (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXV, pp. 449-450). To be sure, Paley does argue that “In the works of nature we trace mechanism” (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, pp. 416-418), but he never declares that Nature itself is one giant mechanism. Rather, Paley’s proof of God was based on the existence of mechanisms (plural) occurring in the natural world.

What Paley does liken to watches are the biological structures (such as the eye) that we find in the natural world. For example, he writes that “every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater and more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation,” and in the same passage he adds that “there is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision, as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it” (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter III, pp. 17-18).

NOTE: I should like to point out to Professor Martin that when Paley speaks of contrivances, he simply means: systems whose parts are intricately arranged and co-ordinated to serve some common end, or as he puts it, a system possessing the following three features: “relation to an end, relation of parts to one another, and to a common purpose.” (Natural Theology. 12th edition. J. Faulder: London, 1809, Chapter XXIII, p. 413.) For the purposes of Paley’s argument, it is utterly irrelevant whether this end is intrinsic to the parts in question, as in a living organism, or extrinsic, as in an artifact.

3. The clockwork universe is a metaphor that goes back to the Middle Ages and beyond: indeed, we can find the metaphor being used in Roman times. The notion that the clockwork universe was invented by Newton is a silly myth. In fact, Newton was strongly opposed to the clockwork universe theory: he believed that it was theologically inappropriate, because it ignored God’s providential role in sustaining the universe. This sentiment of Newton’s was reflected in the writings of Newton-supporter Samuel Clarke. Responding to Gottfried Leibniz, a prominent supporter of the theory, in the Leibniz–Clarke correspondence, Clarke wrote:

The Notion of the World’s being a great Machine, going on without the Interposition of God, as a Clock continues to go without the Assistance of a Clockmaker; is the Notion of Materialism and Fate, and tends, (under pretence of making God a Supra-mundane Intelligence,) to exclude Providence and God’s Government in reality out of the World.”
(See Davis, Edward B. 1991. “Newton’s rejection of the ‘Newtonian world view’: the role of divine will in Newton’s natural philosophy.” Science and Christian Belief 3, no. 2: 103-117. Abstract here.)

As for Newton himself, Professor Edward Davis has this to say, in the abstract of the above-mentioned article:

…[T]he typical picture of Newton as a paragon of Enlightenment deism, endorsing the idea of a remote divine clockmaker and the separation of science from religion, is badly mistaken. In fact Newton rejected both the clockwork metaphor itself and the cold mechanical universe upon which it is based. His conception of the world reflects rather a deep commitment to the constant activity of the divine will, unencumbered by the “rational” restrictions that Descartes and Leibniz placed on God, the very sorts of restrictions that later appealed to the deists of the 18th century.

The clockwork metaphor of the universe is far older than Newton; indeed, it first became popular back in the 14th century. Astrophysicist Adam Frank, who is the author of a recent best-seller entitled, About Time: From Sun Dials to Quantum Clocks, How the Cosmos Shapes Our Lives (Oneworld Publications, Oxford, 2012), contends that mechanical clocks, which became widespread in Europe in the 14th century, radically changed the way we view the cosmos itself, as the metaphor of the “clockwork universe” began to take hold. An excellent review of Frank’s book, by science journalist Dan Falk, can be found here.

Frank quotes from the writings of the medieval philosopher, mathematician and scientist, Bishop Nicole d’Oresme (1330-1382), who described the world as “a regular clockwork that was neither fast nor slow, never stopped, and worked in summer and winter.” As for the planets circling above, Oresme found them “similar to when a person has made a horologe [a clock] and sets it in motion, and then it moves by itself.”

The concept of the clockwork universe is implicitly invoked in John of Sacrobosco’s early 13th-century introduction to astronomy, On the Sphere of the World (c. 1230), which was widely popular in the Middle Ages. Indeed, it was one of the most influential works of pre-Copernican astronomy in Europe, as it was required reading for students at all Western European universities for the next four centuries after it was published. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) would certainly have read it, too.

In Chapter One of his book, Sacrobosco spoke of the universe as the machina mundi, or machine of the world. Sacrobosco regarded the universe as having been made in the likeness of an Archetype, or Idea in the Mind of God, Who disposed it to behave in a regular fashion.

St. Thomas Aquinas himself uses the phrase, “the machine of the world,” in his Compendium of Theology, Book 1, chapter 170, which is available online in both Latin and English. In this chapter, Aquinas discusses the question of what will remain in the New Heaven and the New Earth. He says there will no longer be any plants and animals, as they are essentially corruptible and mortal, and man will no longer have any need for them. However, Aquinas thinks that the heavenly bodies (which he viewed as incorruptible) and the elements will still remain. In the final paragraph, he explains why:

…the essential parts of the universe are the heavenly bodies and the elements, for the entire world machine is made up of them.

Thus although it may be technically true that the universe is never compared to a clock in the writings of Aquinas, as Professor Martin claims, it is certainly false to say that it is never compared to a machine. Nor is this the only instance where Aquinas uses the phrase, machina mundi: it occurs also in his Quodlibet XI, question 1, Aquinas discusses the question of whether it belongs to God alone to be everywhere. Aquinas distinguishes between different senses of being in a place: God alone is present, whole and entire, everywhere, and contains any place where He is said to be present, whereas a body (such as the machine of the world, which can be treated as one continuous body) is contained within the place where it is said to be.

Left: Cicero (106 – 43 B.C.) at the age of about 60, from a marble bust. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Cicero argued that if we can be sure that a water-clock can only be produced by some intelligent being, then we can be even more certain that the universe, whose movements are much more precise and intricate than any clock’s, is directed by a Higher Intelligence.
Right: An ancient water-clock. The image above is a 19th century illustration of Ctesibius’s clepsydra from the 3rd century BC. In this example, water enters and raises the human figure, which points at the current hour for the day. Spillover water operates a series of gears that rotates a cylinder so that the hour lengths are appropriate for today’s date. Source: Abraham Rees (1819) “Clepsydra ” in Cyclopaedia: or, a New Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

However, the notion of the clockwork universe is not of medieval origin; it actually goes back to antiquity. Its most famous exponent in ancient times was Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.), who carefully developed the analogy in Book II of his work, The Nature of the Gods:

How is it consistent with common-sense that when you view an image or a picture, you imagine it is wrought by art; when you behold afar off a ship under sail, you judge it is steered by reason and art; when you see a dial or water-clock, you believe the hours are shown by art, and not by chance; and yet that you should imagine that the universe, which contains all arts and the artificers, can be void of reason and understanding? (Book II, Section XXXIV)

Is he worthy to be called a man who attributes to chance, not to an intelligent cause, the constant motion of the heavens, the regular courses of the stars, the agreeable proportion and connection of all things, conducted with so much reason that our intellect itself is unable to estimate it rightly? When we see machines move artificially, as a sphere, a clock, or the like, do we doubt whether they are the productions of reason? And when we behold the heavens moving with a prodigious celerity, and causing an annual succession of the different seasons of the year, which vivify and preserve all things, can we doubt that this world is directed, I will not say only by reason, but by reason most excellent and divine? (Book II, Section XXXVIII)

Here, Cicero used the clock analogy, not in order to argue that the universe is a giant clock, but rather to argue that if we can be sure that a clock can only be produced by some intelligent being, then we can be even more certain that the universe, whose movements are much more precise and intricate than any clock’s, is directed by a Higher Intelligence.

Left: Urizen, a Demiurge-like figure depicted in William Blake’s etching/watercolor, “Ancient of Days”. 1794. British Museum, London.
Right: God as Architect/Builder/Geometer/Craftsman. Image from the Frontispiece of Bible Moralisee (Codex Vindobonensis 2554), mid-13th century, France. Now kept in the Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek. Science, and particularly geometry and astronomy/astrology, was linked directly to the divine for most medieval scholars. The compass in this 13th century manuscript is a symbol of God’s act of Creation.
Both pictures depict the Maker of this world as using a compass, and as measuring things out very carefully when making the world. Thomist scholar Christopher Martin is therefore on shaky ground when he claims that only a Demiurge would need to make things from the bottom up, and that God the Creator could have made them from the top down. In my next post, I shall argue that the notion of “top-down creation” is logically absurd and hence impossible, even for a Deity.

4. Christopher Martin’s assertion that the God of the Design Argument is really “Great Architect of the Deists and Freemasons” is a cheap shot. God was artistically depicted as the Architect of the Universe, as far back as the mid-thirteenth century. The picture on the right above is taken from a French medieval Bible, circa 1250 A.D. The term “Great Architect” goes back at least to John Calvin, who in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), repeatedly calls the Christian God “the Architect of the Universe”, also referring to his works as “Architecture of the Universe”, and in his commentary on Psalm 19 referring to the Christian God as the “Great Architect” or “Architect of the Universe”.

5. The two pictures above demonstrate the falsity of the charge that only a lesser being, such as a Masonic Great Architect, was imagined to have carefully measured things out, when making the world. On the left is Blake’s 1794 illustration of his Demiurge-like character, Urizen. The picture on the right shows that even God Himself was depicted as using compasses in the Creation of the world, in the thirteenth century. In medieval thought, geometry was linked directly to the divine. Look at the two pictures, and ask yourself: what’s the difference?

6. I should add that Augustine, Aquinas and many other Christian writers were fond of quoting Wisdom 11:21, which declares that God has “ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight.

7. Christopher Martin’s assertion that God is not like an architect, because there is “nothing he needs to do to get things done”, misses the point. Intelligent Design proponents do not claim that God needed to do anything before making creatures. For instance, He didn’t need to make acorns before making oaks. What we do claim is that the Designer of Nature had to specify exactly what He intended to produce, right down to the last detail, when making creatures, including oaks. Or as St. Augustine memorably put it (City of God v, 11): “Not only heaven and earth, not only man and angel, even the bowels of the lowest animal, even the wing of the bird, the flower of the plant, the leaf of the tree, hath God endowed with every fitting detail of their nature.” The idea that God could have created the first oak using nothing more than a high-level, purely teleological “one-line definition” of what it means to be an oak is absurd and utterly unintelligible, as I’ll argue in my next post.

I would like to conclude this post by saying that Thomist philosophers who criticize Paley and his argument from design – and I am well aware that not all do (Del Ratzsch, Marie George and Alexander Pruss are exceptions that come to mind) simply haven’t done their homework. Either they haven’t read Paley, or they’ve read him through the jaundiced lens of other scholars who have written about him, instead of simply picking up his Natural Theology afresh and diving into it without any prejudices, as I did recently. “Group-think” can be a dangerous thing, and the “received interpretation” of an author is simply an academic form of group-think. I would also add that when reading an author, one should endeavor to be as fair-minded as possible, and to apply the principle of charitable interpretation. I make no claim to being perfect on this score; at times, I myself have innocently mis-read what Professor Feser meant in some of his writings – a point which I have publicly acknowledged. But what I will say here is that Professors Feser and Martin have completely mis-read Rev. William Paley’s Natural Theology, and they would do well to come clean and admit it. Otherwise, they are guilty of slandering a dead man, who cannot answer them back. In this essay, I have sought to restore to Paley something which any man values: his good reputation.

I would also ask the critics of Paley and Intelligent Design to refrain from making ridiculous theological characterizations of their opponents. Accusing someone of worshiping a lesser God is no light matter.

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17 Responses to Was Paley a classical theist, and does his design argument lead us to a false God?

  1. While Paley could play the piano, he was no classical pianist.

  2. I think part of the problem arises due to a conflation of Paley’s argument with that of modern intelligent design.

    The modern intelligent design argument is not intended to demonstrate the existence of God. It can’t take us to any god, much less a lesser god than the God of classical theism.

    So to that objection I give a big so what.

    And it’s not as if modern intelligent design proponents don’t acknowledge that fact, right?

    And as for Paley, it’s not what he believed about God, but about what can be demonstrated by his argument. Does it lead to the God of classical theism?

    Guess I’ll need to read the OP (and/or Paley). :)

  3. VJT: more good work, and we see more is to come. It is important for us to understand Paley as this is the other side (in material part) of the debate Darwin was engaging. Of course, today, I would notice that Paley is th be taken on a reasonable assessment, and is to be read fairly on his own terms. I found his discussion of the self-replicating watch which has a main time indicating function, and the additional thought exercise one of being able to replicate itself. The significance for inferring to cause becomes highly significant regarding OOL. Of course, seeing good signs of design as process is not the same as identifying the “culprit.” I have often contrasted that twerdun with whodunit. KF

  4. This is another remarkable presentation. It is comprehensive, historically sound, well reasoned, and supported by quotes from all the main players. I can’t imagine why Professors Feser and Martin would maintain their position after reading it.

    Here is a thought: God designed the human body with empirically-detectable, machine-like features that point to a designer. If a Christian acknowledges this fact, that is, if he detects these machine-like design patterns in the immune system, or in the metabolic function, or in the blood cycle, or in the blood itself, is he suggesting that God is nothing more than a machine maker? Is such a Christian worshiping a false God? The very idea is absurd at every turn.

  5. The title of this thread is tricky. William Paley was an Anglican Christian. Should the question be raised here: are *any* Anglican Christians ‘classical theists’? What does highlighting ‘classical theist’ actually mean or contribute?

    if this Intelligent Designer is God, then what the Design argument is really saying is that the word “intelligent” means the same thing when applied to God and to ourselves. That’s univocal predication, and Feser (who is a Thomist) will have none of it.” – vjtorley

    First, Big-ID theorists deny they can speak as directly as you have, unless their audience is church folk, in which case they freely flee from their ‘public’ inhibitions. Witness S. Meyer’s Big-ID-theodicy comments at Cambridge recently. You are far more ‘theological’ than they are here now in public, vjtorley. Hat tip to this seemingly intentional balance instead of promoting natural scientism (i.e. the notion that Big-ID is a natural science-only theory)! Very evangelical Catholic of you to actually have the honest nerve to identify ‘Intelligent Designer’ with ‘God.’ Most IDists don’t and won’t…unless.

    Second, Feser is a Christian, full stop. Specifically, he is a (Roman) Catholic Christian. You have recently indicated that you are too. The key seems to be that you are an anti-Thomist Catholic while Feser is ‘more Thomist’ than you. Or at least, in as much as you accept Aquinas’ ideas, you reject his views of analogy and embrace Scotus’ views of univocal predication. Shall we make that clear or just keep it muddy. In any case, it is still wrong to reduce Feser to being merely a ‘Thomist’ when the broader identity that he is a ‘Christian’ and a ‘Catholic’ remains.

    Now, to the specific question: do you personally believe, Vincent, that what you call ‘God’ differs in ‘degree’ or ‘kind’ from human beings? Your no term complaint above seems frivolous until you answer that question.

    I believe God differs in kind from what He has created (i.e. Creator/creature), apparently consistent with the Orthodox and Catholic traditions. You seem to differ with this belief. If so, do you still call that ‘Catholic?’

    Please note again, Vincent, that your language differs significantly from Big-ID theory claims. You (hopefully now recognise that you are trying to) consistently refer to Big-ID (upper case) ‘Intelligent Design.’ This linguistic move appears to ‘deify’ the language – iow, you are referring not to merely natural aliens, but rather to a supernatural Being as the Designer of Nature (all Bigs purposeful and intentional on your part and having nothing to do with natural science and everything to do with your personal theology). These Bigs are not reducible to natural scientific theories and I’m quite sure you know that, even if you don’t want to publically admit it.

    “So Feser’s theological charge against Paley and the Intelligent Design movement is starting to look very shaky.” – vjtorley

    No, the Catholic Church’s rejection of Paley’s (and Scotus’, which you are attempting to spin) univocal predication and Big-ID’s demand for scientificity is quite sound and not in danger. The fact that well over half of the IDM intentionally (unless they are speaking in their local evangelical Protestant churches) doesn’t capitalise ‘Intelligent Design’ as you do indicates that you simply don’t speak for them. You are as much an IDM outsider as Timaeus, even if he lives in N. America. And surely the fact that you live in Japan and don’t publish and have little contact with IDists, not knowing a single IDist in Japan shows that you are an IDist by aspiration and internet only.

    The responsible position for Abrahamic believers is small-id ‘intelligent design’ (even if most people don’t call it that because they don’t want to be affiliated with the Discovery Institute and right-wing American educational-politics). Big-ID Intelligent Design continues to be either religiously heterodox or purposefully numb. Continue to argue it is not and you will continue to lose faith to orthodoxy – the Catholic Church is not going to change to accommodate American Big-ID’s scientism, even if you seek to do so, Vincent. But since Big-ID theory qua theory has nothing to do with heterodoxy or orthodoxy by narrow definitional fiat, noone who defends it really need care a lick. They can soft-pillow-up and sleep easy.

    Obviously Torley is already introducing way too much theology for UD’s liking. But hey, once one openly admits that ID/id is properly seen as a science, philosophy, theology discourse first and foremost, that problem fades away.

  6. Gregory:

    First, Big-ID theorists deny they can speak as directly as you have, unless their audience is church folk, in which case they freely flee from their ‘public’ inhibitions.

    It might help if you didn’t conflate Paley’s argument with the argument of modern intelligent design.

    VJT, was obviously, when you look at the context, writing of Paley’s Intelligent Designer, but that doesn’t quite fit your narrative, so you make one up more to your liking.

    By the way, Dembski has published numerous books, available to both church and non-church audiences, in which he discusses the relationship of id to theology, so that rather puts the lie to your little talking point.

  7. as to:

    “Dembski has published numerous books, available to both church and non-church audiences, in which he discusses the relationship of id to theology, so that rather puts the lie to your little talking point.”

    Dr. William Dembski, “An Informative-Theoretic Proof of God’s Existence” – video – June 2012
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuarexO9p0g

  8. Mung: Please don’t imagine that I take your posts seriously. Anything anti-Mungian must simply be ‘lying’ because because because Mung is an intellectual giant wearing anonymous combox blogger shoes! And as you’ve already said here, *everything* is Designed (Torley’s capitalisation), which means so is Evil. And an Evil God is ‘classically’ a false God, but an Evil God (if there is One, cuz we can’t say one way or another) is (would be, could be) ‘Intelligently Designed’ according to Big-ID theory. Just so long as people allow Big-D ‘Design’ a finger or foot in the door of natural scientism is really all that matters, right? ; )

    Oh, silly, that’s not a Washingtonian-Meyerian ‘historical science’ defence of Big-ID!

    Now it’s time to tell another mundane joke, now it’s time to insult and mock anyone who rejects Big-ID theory, even a theist, Mung in defense of Big-ID fanaticism. Because rejecting Big-ID theory means one cannot be religious or a theist, right?

  9. Hi Gregory,

    I have to say that I find your latest post bizarre and mischievous. It seems that you are attempting to drive a doctrinal wedge between (a) my thinking and that of the Catholic Church, and (b) the Intelligent Design movement and that of the Catholic Church.

    For the record:

    (i) Duns Scotus does not hold that God differs from us merely in degree. Neither do I. You evidently mis-read the quote from Frank Cross, in the article by Thomas Williams on Duns Scotus in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    The doctrine of univocity rests in part on the claim that “[t]he difference between God and creatures, at least with regard to God’s possession of the pure perfections, is ultimately one of degree” (Cross [1999], 39)… If we are to follow Anselm in ascribing to God every pure perfection, we have to affirm that we are ascribing to God the very same thing that we ascribe to creatures: God has it infinitely, creatures in a limited way. One could hardly ask for a more harmonious cooperation between ontology (what God is) and semantics (how we can think and talk about him). (Bold emphases mine.)

    Only with regard to pure perfections is the difference between God and human beings one of degree, according to the above quote from Frank Cross. And even here I would say that Cross doesn’t quite get it right: creatures have those perfections, whereas God is those perfections;

    (ii) The notion of univocal predication, which was held by Scotus and which I accept, is perfectly orthodox, according to Catholic teaching. Aquinas (and most Catholic theologians) hold instead that terms we ascribe to God are predicated of Him analogically. However, the Scotist teaching of univocal predication has been accepted by bishops, cardinals, popes, and saints, as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes in its article on Scotism. To imply that it is unorthodox is flat out wrong;

    (iii) Professor Feser is a Catholic and a Christian. So am I. He’s a Thomist. On some matters, such as univocal predication, I differ from Aquinas, as Catholics are free to do. I have the greatest respect for Professor Feser’s personal faith and orthodoxy. Feser himself has never said that univocal predication is unorthodox, or that the Catholic Church rejects univocal predication. He is far too intelligent a man to make such an absurd claim;

    (iv) I don’t claim, and have never claimed, to speak for the Intelligent Design movement;

    (v) I reject your references to “natural science” and “natural scientific theories,” as I don’t hold to the absurd doctrine of methodological naturalism, which is a scientific novelty, as it became entrenched as part of scientific methodology only in the late 19th century. I hold that science can and should leave room for the supernatural, and that God-talk has a legitimate place in science. If you don’t like that, fine. It’s a free country;

    (vi) I wrote this post not in order to denigrate Professor Feser, but in order to clear the good name of Rev. William Paley, a man who I feel has been unjustly maligned by his critics;

    (vii) I don’t know where you get your statistic that “well over half of the IDM intentionally (unless they are speaking in their local evangelical Protestant churches) doesn’t capitalise ‘Intelligent Design’ as you do.” In any case, even if it’s true, so what? I have consistently explained my usage of capital letters to you numerous times. I don’t propose to do so again;

    (viii) To hold, as the Intelligent Design movement does, that there can be scientific evidence for a Designer of Nature is perfectly orthodox. I for one refuse to be bullied into keeping the search for a Designer within a purely natural framework. I don’t hold that science can take us to the God of classical theism, as such, but I think it can take us to the supernatural, at least in principle;

    (ix) Your remark that “Big-ID Intelligent Design continues to be either religiously heterodox or purposefully numb” is tantamount to heresy-hunting. I have revealed quite a lot about my own personal life to you on previous threads, and I have to say I feel profoundly offended when you turn around and impugn my orthodoxy as a Catholic;

    (x) It seems to me that you are trying to play a theological game of tarring the Intelligent Design movement with the accusation of heresy, in order to discredit it.

    I’m going to have to ask you to do something which I have never asked anyone to do before. Please refrain from making any further comments on this thread or on any other thread authored by myself. Also, please refrain from communicating with me in the future. I wish you well, Gregory, and I sincerely hope you enjoy the rest of your life. God be with you. Goodbye and good luck.

  10. Gregory, based upon my observations of your behavior here at UD, I have no expectation of being taken seriously by you. Neither does anyone else who disagrees with you.

    Take, for example, your absurd claim that the reason you are a liar is because you disagree with me. This assertion was dealt with previously and you failed to address it then.

    To my previous response I’ll add the following:

    Your hypothesis fails to explain why others can disagree with me without being a liar.

    If fails to account for the fact that you had to make specific claims that were false before I called them lies. Surely simple disagreement absent any such false assertions would have precipitated an earlier claim.

    And why did those specific claims which you made, which I identified as lies, having nothing to do with any disagreement with me?

    You see, Gregory, your rationalization is full of holes.

    As for the God of classical theism. In Scripture, God clearly brings about events that we would label evil. Does that make God evil? Not to me. But a “classical theism” that fails to deal with those facts is not something I want to be associated with.

    So I don’t have whatever issues you think I have.

    Ex. 4:11, John 9:1-3

  11. HMMM:

    “Please refrain from making any further comments on this thread or on any other thread authored by myself. Also, please refrain from communicating with me in the future.”

    Dr. Torley, of all people, miffed at a commenter?? Is this the same Dr. Torley who put up with Dr. Liddle’s endless inanity for months on end???,, Don’t step on my blue seude shoes !! :)

    elvis presley blue suede shoes
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1Ond-OwgU8

  12. vjtorley:

    I hold that science can and should leave room for the supernatural, and that God-talk has a legitimate place in science.

    Why?

    I really don’t understand why science should “leave room for the supernatural”; neither do I get how exactly “leaving room” ought to be done. Could you please explain this?

    And then, what is the place of God-talk in science?

    In all these cases, it totally eludes me as to what the “supernatural” or “God-talk” adds to scientific understanding of scientific problems. Please don’t take me to be hostile. I’m just saying I don’t get why–in this day and age–science needs to be beholden to theistic ideas.

  13. LarTanner,

    Thank you for your post. You raise a lot of substantive issues. All I’ll say is that I’ll be putting out a post on methodological naturalism later this month which addresses you raise. For the time being, I’ll just say that the view that science should stay within the bounds of the natural is a very novel one, historically speaking. Also, I’m not saying that good science must include God-talk; all I’m saying is that it may. Thanks again.

  14. vjtorley, I’ll look forward to that post. One thing:

    the view that science should stay within the bounds of the natural is a very novel one, historically speaking

    Ok, but in some senses science is novel, historically speaking. The novelty of MN in the evolution of scientific techniques should not itself be counted as a fault, should it?

  15. LarTanner-

    Science is about reality. And if we are here by design then that would also mean there is most likely a purpose to our existence, a real purpose.

    We would totally miss that under MN. And that means we would be conducting our research improperly. For example it would be like geologists trying to explain the existence of Stonehenge without relying on agency involvement.

    We could never understand Stonehenge looking at it at as a purely geological formation.

  16. Paley was overly optimistic about how much theological mileage could be obtained from the design argument.

    – William Dembski

  17. For me, I Corinthians 2:14 perfectly describes the limitations of the natural mind, even as Hebrews 11:3 describes an insurmountable limitation to the science its native reason devises in the cosmos within which it finds itself, temporarily, alive.

    YMMV.

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