William Paley’s famous watchmaker analogy is one of the principal intellectual pillars of the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).
You know how it goes — if something looks designed, then by golly it is designed. The Discoveroids also rely heavily on the God of the gaps — anything not yet fully understood is “best” explained by a supernatural agency. That’s certainly a biggie for them, but Paley’s analogy is their main argument in support of their “theory” of intelligent design.
We’ve written before about this fallacious philosophical foundation of the Discoveroids. See Discovery Institute: Are They Thinking At All?, and also Discoveroids Resurrect William Paley, and most recently Discovery Institute: Their Latest Fallacy — where they also rely on the fallacy of equivocation (the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning).
We don’t pretend to be able to improve on Hume, but given the constant reliance on Paley by the Discoveroids, we can’t resist offering some observations of our own.
When we stumble upon a genuinely designed artifact, like Paley’s watch, we see the unmistakable indications of human workmanship in the wheels, the screws, and the springs. We know that people make such things, so it’s reasonable to assume that someone made the watch. Fair enough, but how do we get from that to various biological phenomena? For example, how do we distinguish Paley’s watch from, say, a spider?
To begin with, people don’t make spiders. We have no reason to do so. It’s doubtful that anyone even breeds them. Inherent in all man-made objects is a purpose for the item — a human purpose. Timekeeping is such a purpose. But a spider serves no human purpose, so it’s unlikely that anyone would guess that someone was crazy enough to make one.
In one of our earlier posts, we quoted Casey saying:
Intelligent design is a scientific theory that holds some aspects of life and the universe are best explained by reference to an intelligent cause. Why? Because they contain the type of complexity and information that in our experience comes only from intelligence.
Notice anything missing? Sure you do — Casey never discusses the purpose of the alleged designs. For Casey, and for all of the Discoveroids, merely detecting complexity — which can be seen everywhere — is sufficient for them to invoke their designer as the cause. But what was the designer attempting to accomplish with his supposed design? What’s the purpose of Saturn’s rings? Of the Andromeda galaxy? Of the termite? These things have no human purpose. To imagine that the designer has his own incomprehensible purposes — or that he does such things to express his artistic impulses — is a bit of a stretch.
But let’s be fair here. We don’t have to limit our thinking to only human purposes. If we found something like a mechanical watch on Mars, and it was constructed to keep time according to the motion of that planet, we could reasonably infer that it was designed by someone — Martian or otherwise — to serve a useful purpose on Mars. We could conclude from such a device that there was an alien designer. But again — that’s because the design would be seen to fulfill a purpose for its designer. Thus, the Antikythera mechanism was intelligently designed, even if the designer is unknown.
Now ask yourself: What kind of designer would construct a flagellum for a bacterium? For what purpose? Is the designer an intelligent and benevolent bacterium who wants to help his immobile brethren? No human would concoct such a contrivance. So what justifies the inference of an intelligent designer for the flagellum? It’s complexity only, but that’s woefully insufficient — especially when evolution is an alternative explanation.
Inherent in Paley’s analogy is that the designed artifact is designed for the benefit of the designer. A biological system that benefits only that organism (who can’t be his own designer) therefore falls outside of Paley’s perspective. In other words, merely finding something that appears to be complicated is not sufficient to infer design.
Thus we present the Curmudgeon’s dictum: A design must be useful to the designer.
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