The Dysteleological Argument, Part 2: The Watchmaker Analogy


For the second post on the dysteleological argument, I will tackle the watchmaker analogy. Put fourth by William Paley, this analogical argument aims to show that since the complexity of a watch implies a designer, and the universe is relevantly analogous to a watch, a designer of the universe must exist.

Imagine you’re walking through a forest and find a watch. The existence of this watch, because of the remarkable complexity it exhibits, seem to imply a watch-maker. The universe and all of life is very complex as well, and so it would follow (by analogical reasoning) that these seem to imply a designer too. The argument can thus be run as follows:

(1) The complex inner workings of a watch imply the existence of an intelligent designer.
(2) By analogy with the watch, the complexity of X (a particular organ or organism, the structure of the solar system, the universe, or anything complex) implies an intelligent designer.
First, this analogy does not fully take into account Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which proposed a testable and observable explanation for complexity and adaptation with regards to the origins of biological diversity. While evolution is generally held to provide a naturalistic explanation for the origin of biological diversity, some have argued that even given evolution, a designer can still be inferred. Since such arguments are beyond the scope of my present investigation into the dysteleological argument, I will save them for a future time.
The watch analogy, however, can be shown to be relevantly disanalogous to biological complexity. Michael Alan Park establishes this by observing the following:
 “A timepiece is obviously designed and so requires a designer. Watches are a lot less complex than even simple living forms; thus, those too must require a designer. But the analogy is, in one important way, false, and, indeed, works to support just the opposite of what is claimed.
A particular watch is designed. That’s obvious. But at no point did some designer wake up one morning, decide to invent a device that kept an account of time, and make up from scratch all the parts and their interactions that resulted in a watch. Rather, watchmakers appropriated parts and concepts already in place, many for other functions, and modified and cobbled them together in unique ways for the specific function they required. For example, the escapement mechanism of a timepiece resembles a water wheel; perhaps the latter inspired the former.
And does this sound familiar — the appropriation of existing parts, slightly modified and put together in unique new ways of resulting, after trial and error, in a new form? It’s natural selection. So while a singular watch is designed, to be sure, the idea of various forms of watches evolved. The watch example, in fact, works against intelligent design.
Finally, of course, the presence of an intelligent designer is both beyond scientific inquiry and not really necessary. We have models — testable and well-supported — that account perfectly well for even complex biological systems, say, the human eye.” (Exploring Evolution)
In a previous post on the critical thinking required to evaluate analogies, I explicated a long list of factors which one could plausibly take to be relevantly disanalogous between a complex machine (for instance, a watch or a house) and the biological and physical realm. These, one may contend, undermine the watchmaker analogy.
Finally, it is important to note that I am still in the explication phase of the teleological and dysteleological arguments. As of yet, I haven’t claimed any argument or counter-argument succeed. The evaluative portion of the series will commence in part three.
While this is all somewhat tangential to the dysteleological argument as presented in part one of this series, rest assured that in part three I will be exploring and examining a variety of criticisms of the dysteleological argument. I am looking forward to it!
Author: Joe

One Comment

  1. Pingback:An Index of Blog Series! | Majesty of Reason

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *