[asa] Paley's watch in Boyle's pocket

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Fri Aug 21 2009 - 13:40:11 EDT


I have not read most of Behe's newest book (just as you haven't read some
important TE books, I haven't read some important ID books), and I hadn't
picked up on his criticisms of certain arguments from Paley.

I mentioned Boyle and Paley in the same breath, and so thought I would add
the following historical note. I think this note will be of much interest.
I don't know how important it is, but certainly it suggests that there is a
piece of detective work to be done, somewhere, by someone, to uncover the
real source of Paley's famous analogy of the watch on the heath (if anyone
does not recognize this truly famous allusion, do some googling).

Some say the real source, plagiarized by Paley, was

But this is probably incorrect, since Robert Boyle made a highly similar
analogy many years before. I first talked about this in 2000, at the
conference that led to the book, "Debating Design" (in which I do not have a
paper). Here is what I said then:

 ... the degree to which the Anglo-American tradition of natural theology
derives its impulse and content from Boyle is still not fully appreciated:
even Paley’s watch rested in Boyle’s pocket. Consider the following
passage, probably written in the last decade of Boyle’s life. Since it
has never before been published, we cannot assume a direct influence on
Paley, but the remarkable similarity is nowhere clearer than here:

                There is not the same difficulty to be urg’d against such
a Beliefe of the existence of a Deity, as serves to require and warrant our
worshiping and obeying him; that there is to be urg’d against some
abstruse points relateing to the Theory of the Divine Essence and
Attributes. For to know there is a God that has made the world, it may
suffice to know, that the world, which is admirably fram’d and
contriv’d, cannot have made it selfe; or been the Product of blind
Chance: and therefore must have been made by another: who haveing
Impress’d such conspicuous Characters of Wisdom, Power, and Goodnes on
his Workes; warrants us to conclude that the supreame cause of such effects
is both Wise, Potent, and Good, and as such, deserves our Thankes and
Adoration; thô there may be many things in his most singular nature and
Attributes, which we cannot clearly conceive. As if an Indian or Chinois,
should have found a Watch cast on shore in some Trunke or Casket of some
shipwrackt European vessel; by observing the motions and figure of it, he
would quickly conclude that ’twas made by some intelligent & skillfull
Being; thô he would not understand why the parts were made just of such a
number, such shapes, and such sizes, & put together after that determinate
manner; nor how the whole Engine, whose Springe lyes conceal’d in the
Barrell, is made to move so regularly; Thus if a Country fellow light on a
Letter whereof the greatest part is written in Cypher, he will conclude that
’twas some rationall Creature that writt it; thô there by diverse words
and perhaps clauses, in it, of which he perceives he can give himselfe no
account. [Boyle Papers vol. 5, fol. 105]


Since then, the manuscript this comes from (at the Royal Society) has been
published by Jack MacIntosch, in his edition of various Boyle manuscripts
(i.e., unpublished papers) on atheism.

Boyle never published this particular passage, and we can safely assume
that Paley never saw it. Was there then another, common source for both
Boyle and Paley?

Popularly, it is often said that Paley took his analogy from Bernard
Nieuwentijt, and that is probably correct. But, did Boyle also take his own
very similar analogy of the watch on the beach from Nieuwentijt, directly or
indirectly? I don't know enough about Nieuwentijt to say. His ideas became
available in English only long after Boyle's death in 1691, and I do not
know whether there were Dutch versions early enough to have influenced
Boyle. As I say, there is a little project here for someone.


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Received on Fri Aug 21 13:41:09 2009

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