design

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William Paley (1743-1805) – Historical Apologist Spotlight

William_Paley_by_George_RomneyWilliam Paley (1743-1805) is a name which echoes through history. His Natural Theology continues to have a profound and lasting impact on the argument from biological design. His Evidences of Christianity  challenges readers on a historical and exegetical level with arguments for the faith. Unfortunately, too few have thoughtfully interacted with his arguments. Here, we will first look at Paley’s views and life. Then, we will examine his major works and arguments. We will discover there is much to learn from this intellectual giant. Note that this post is necessarily brief, and that readers are greatly encouraged to go to the primary sources found below.

Brief Biographical Note*

Paley went to school at Christ’s College and Cambridge. At the latter, he was awarded multiple times for his scholarship. He eventually became the Senior Dean at Christ’s College and was awarded a Doctorate of Divinity from Cambridge. Bishop Barrington of Durham granted him the rectory of Bishop Wearmouth. His life was strewn with accomplishments.

He was a utilitarian with deep Christian convictions. Throughout his life, he remained controversial. His utilitarianism was condemned, as was his critique of the often extreme defenses of property ownership. His anti-slavery was unpopular alongside his support of the American Colonies in the Revolutionary War.

The powerful nature of Paley’s works is revealed in the fact that his major work on utilitarianism, The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, became mandatory reading at Cambridge. His Natural Theology continues to be discussed in courses on philosophy of religion. The man was acclaimed by some within the church, who praised his defense of the faith despite others’ objections to his metaethical views.

His contributions to Christian apologetics are the focus of this piece, and we shall turn to them now.

Natural Theology

Paley’s most famous work nowadays is undoubtedly Natural Theology. In this work, he makes his well-known case for the design argument. He utilizes the analogy of a watch. If one finds a watch on a beach, one knows instantly that someone made the watch. Paley applied this same notion to life; one sees the sheer complexity and life and can infer that it, like the watch, was designed.

Many have dismissed Paley’s work here, noting that at points he relies on scientific explanations which have been discredited, while at others his examples have been explained. Yet the genius of his work is found in broader principles, which moderns should note. First, he argued that simply never having observed design in action on a biological level does not preclude any possibility of arguing for that same design (Natural Theology, 8, cited below). Second, evidence of things “going wrong” within a design does not invalidate the design of an object in and of itself. Third, higher level natural laws which may lead to order does not explain away the order itself. Fourth, when something appears to be designed, the burden of proof is upon those who assert an object is not designed.

These points seem to me to hold true to this day. I am sure none of them are uncontroversial, but Paley places his defense of this points squarely within his analysis of those artifacts which he considers to be designed (i.e. the eye and ear). A full treatment of these points thus must turn to his own arguments, but for now I would provide the following brief defenses. Regarding the first, this point seems obvious. If I have never seen someone construct a car, that does not in any way mean that I cannot conclude that someone had to have made it. The second point should be well taken within the context of the debate between Intelligent Design and Darwinian forms of evolution. The point is that simply pointing out a flaw in a design does not mean an entire object is undesigned. The third item seems correct because if something exhibits order, and that order is shown to be based around an ordering principle, the very order in and of itself has not been explained; instead, it is only the mechanism for generating that order which is observed. Finally, the fourth point is likely to be the most controversial–after all, appearances may deceive. Yet it does seem to be the case that if, a priori, something appears designed, then to conclude that something is not designed one must have defeating evidence for this appearance.

A View of the Evidences of Christianity

Paley’s Evidences (commonly known as “Evidences of Christianity”) became almost instantly famous. The work generated a number of summaries and expositions by other authors who were delighted with its style and the arguments contained therein. It is easy to see why, once one has begun a read through this apologetic treatise. Paley presents a number of arguments in favor of the Christian worldview. These evidences are largely historical in nature and include the suffering of those who spread Christianity as evidence for its truth, extrabiblical evidence for the truth of the Gospels, the authenticity of our Gospel accounts due to the early practices and beliefs of Christians, undesigned coincidences, and many more. Paley also provides a dismantling of David Hume’s argument against miracles.

It seems to me that any and all of these arguments retain the force they had in Paley’s own day. Consider the argument from the suffering of Christians. Well of course those of other faiths are willing to even die for that which they believe is true. But Paley rightly pointed out a huge difference between those of other faiths dying for their beliefs and the early eyewitnesses of the events surrounding Christ dying for their own beliefs. Namely, these people would know for certain whether that which they believed were true. That is, they either saw the resurrected Christ or they did not. If they did not, then explaining their willingness to die for this profession of faith becomes extremely difficult. However, if they did actually see that which they declared, their willingness to suffer unto death for this belief makes perfect sense. Many miss this important distinction even to this day. The rest of Paley’s arguments found in the Evidences is filled with insights similar to this.

Horae Paulinae

An argument which has largely been neglected within modern apologetic circles is that of “undesigned coincidences.” I have made an exposition of this argument already, and it should be noted that the best places to discover it are in the realm of historical apologetics. William Paley dedicated this work, Horae Paulinae, to discovering undesigned coincidences within the Pauline corpus alongside Paul’s history as written in Acts.

Now, the argument from undesigned coincidences takes quite a bit of work to properly outline. It is, in essence, a matter of looking through the Scriptures and finding how incidental details in one account fill in the blanks of another account. However, this description is so brief as to be simplistic. Paley himself acknowledged a number of the difficulties with describing undesigned coincidences in this way. Regarding the Pauline corpus, for example, it could be that someone invented letters from Paul but based them upon his history found in Acts. But the argument itself takes this into account and generally serves as a defeater for this notion by sheer weight of evidence. That is, the more coincidences are found, the more credulity is stretched if one wishes to assert forgery.

Paley buries the objections to undesigned coincidences in this fashion throughout the Horae Paulinae. The sheer volume of coincidences he finds, and the way they seem so clearly to be incidental, serves to dispel doubts about their genuine nature.

Other Works

Here, we have surveyed Paley’s major works, but he was a prolific writer who published sermons and of course his (in)famous work on utlitarian ethics. The preeminence of Paley as a scholar and writer is unquestionable. It is time we acknowledge how much we have to learn from those who have come before us.

Conclusion

We have seen the diverse array of arguments which Paley offered in favor of Christianity. These ranged from biological design arguments to undesigned coincidences to historical arguments in favor of the Gospels. Paley was a masterful writer whose arguments continue to influence apologists and draw ire from atheists to this day. Although the arguments have not been unscathed, I have offered a few reasons to reconsider some which have long been dismissed or forgotten. Paley’s influence endures. 

I would like to dedicate this post to Tim McGrew, who introduced me to the vast field of historical apologetics. Without his bubbling delight and enthusiasm in the field, I would never have known much–if anything–about people like Paley. It is my hope and prayer that you may also be persuaded to pursue historical apologetists/apologetics. Be sure to check the links for some good starting places.

Be sure to check out the links at the end of this post as well as the resources from Paley.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

Library of Historical Apologetics– Here is where I got started, with Tim McGrew’s phenomenal collection of works. In particular, the “annotated bibliography” will set you up with some fine works. The site features a “spotlight” on the main page for various fantastic reads. Browse and download at will. Also check out their Facebook page.

On the Shoulders of Giants: Rediscovering the lost defenses of Christianity– I provide a number of links as well as an annotated list of historical apologetics works which are great jumping off points for learning more about the vast array of arguments which have largely been forgotten within the realm of apologetic argument. I consider this one of the most important posts on this site.

Forgotten Arguments for Christianity: Undesigned Coincidences- The argument stated– Here I outline the argument from undesigned coincidences and explain how it can be used within apologetics.

Sources

William Paley, Evidences of Christianity (this is a free link for the item on Kindle, note that it is also available for purchase in a hard copy). Also see here for a few links to PDF versions of the book.

—-, Natural Theology (Oxford World’s Classics) – This link is for the Kindle edition which I used for this post. I highly recommend this specific edition due to the helpful introduction and other information included in the text. It can be found for free here.

—-, Horae Paulinae – this link is to the kindle version. It is also available for free here.

*I am indebted to the discussion of Paley’s life found in the introduction of the Oxford Classic’s edition of Paley’s Natural Theology, which I have cited above.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Debate Review: Fazale Rana vs. Michael Ruse on “The Origin of Life: Evolution vs. Design”

rana-ruse-dbFazale Rana recently debated Michael Ruse on the topic of the origin of life. Essentially, the question of the debate was whether the origin of life is best explained by naturalism or design. Here, I will provide brief comments on the debate.

Please note I make no claims to being a scientist and I am fully aware that I evaluate this debate as a lay person.

Michael Ruse Opening

Michael Ruse was careful to note that he is not keen on saying design is not possible. Rather, his claim is that naturalism is the most plausible explanation for the origins of life.

Ruse’s argued that design is implausible. Specifically, he noted that if design is the hypothesis put forward, there are any number of ways that one might consider that hypothesis. Is the designer a natural being within the universe or a supernatural being like God? Is there only one designer, or was there a group of designers (and he notes that a group of designers seems more plausible because automobiles require many designers to bring them about)? Finally, he raised the issue of bad design choices. He asked why, if there were a “hands-on” designer, would that designer not grant immunity to HIV and the like.

Ruse also argued that one can fall into the fallacy of selective attention- if one focuses upon only one example in isolation, then one might come to a conclusion that certain laws/theories may not be correct. But placing these same problems in context shows that they can be explained against “the background of our knowledge.”

Finally, Ruse ended with a number of examples for how problems which were seemingly insoluble were explained by naturalistic means. He also argued that one of the popular arguments for design, the flagellum, has so many different varieties (and is sometimes found to be a vestigial organ), and so cannot be shown to be designed.

Fazale Rana Opening

The problems which must be accounted for within an origins of life model are numerous. One must account for self-replication, the emergence of metabolism, the formation of protocells, the synthesis of prebiotic materials, the formation of life’s building blocks, and more.

Rana then turned to some primary models used by researchers to explain origin of life (hereafter OOL). First, there was the replicator-first model, which was problematic because in order for a molecule to be a self-replicator, it must be a homopolymer. But the complexity of the chemical environment on early earth rendered the generation of a homopolymer on the early earth essentially impossible. Next, the metabolism-first model runs into problem due to the chemical networks which have to be in place for metabolism. But the mineral surfaces proposed for the catalytic systems for these proto-metabolic systems cannot serve as such; Leslie Orgel held that this would have to be a “near miracle” and Rana argues that it is virtually impossible. Finally, the membrane-first model requires different steps with exacting conditions such that the model is self-defeating.

Rana argued positively that OOL requires an intelligent agent in order to occur. The reason is because the only way that any of these models can be generated is through the work on OOL in a lab. Thus, they can only be shown to be proof-of-principle and the chemistry breaks down when applied to the early earth. The fact that information is found in the cell is another evidence Rana presented for design. The systems found in enzymes with DNA function as, effectively, Turing machines. Moreover, the way that DNA finds and eliminates mistakes is machine-like as well. The fact that the needed component for success in lab experiments was intelligence hinted, according to Rana, at positive evidence for design.

Finally, Rana argued that due to the “fundamental intractable problems” with naturalistic models for the OOL and the fact that the conditions needed for the OOL and the processes required to bring it about have only been demonstrated as in-principle possible with intelligent agents manipulating the process.

First Cross Examination

At this point, Ruse and Rana engaged in a dialogue. Ruse first challenged Rana to show how the OOL model based on design could actually be based upon Genesis, as he quoted from Rana’s book (written with Hugh Ross), Origins of Life. He pointed out a few difficulties with using the Genesis account in this manner. Rana answered by putting forth his view of the Genesis account as an account of the origins of life on earth–a view which sees the Genesis account as corresponding with the scientific account (concordism). Yet the Genesis account is itself written from the perspective of a hypothetical observer found on the face of the earth rather than a perspective above the earth.

Rana asked Ruse for his thoughts on how much impact philosophy has on the debate over the OOL. He noted that it may be a presupposition of naturalism which lends itself to interpreting the OOL. Ruse answered by saying it is a good point and that philosophy cannot be denied a role in the discussion. But the question is not simply one of “gut commitments” and that one has to also take into account the scientific evidence and a “pragmatic reason” for holding to naturalism: naturalism works. It continually explains problems, even if it takes time.

Ruse Rebuttal

The difficulty with the OOL debate is that it is too easy to take things out of context in order to show how many problems there are with a model. He argued that it is “peculiar” to take the results of a group of researchers and yet somehow go “flatly” against the “overall interpretation that each and every one of these people” would have taken from the research.

Despite all the difficulties, Ruse argued, researchers are starting, slowly, to get some view of how to explain the OOL. He pointed to some successes within the OOL sciences to show how eventually we may discover a naturalistic explanation.

Rana Rebuttal

Rana began with the notion of a creation model. He argued that models are not always drawn from the data, but rather models and theories are constructed from a number of different points.

Regarding the science itself, Rana noted that there is no established source of prebiotic materials on the early earth. The popular theories for how these materials might be generated fail for a number of reasons.

The argument, Rana said, is not a god-of-the-gaps argument. Instead, it is an observation of the breadth of scientific evidence which shows that in-principle experiments have been successful, but when applied to the scenarios for the early earth, the only way for success to be achieved is through intelligent agency (scientists in a lab manipulating the conditions).

100_1912Second Cross Examination

Rana asked Ruse to respond to the notion that OOL research is similar to literary criticism in that all the different theories continue to be debated but none have come into dominance or can be established over the others. Ruse responded by noting that OOL research does have some “just so” stories but that science has taken seriously the criticisms and come towards the possibility of answering some of the questions.

Ruse asked why God would not intervene for things like cancer. Rana answered by noting that in the broad scope of a model with intelligent agency, poor design is no problem. But because Rana believes it is the God of the Bible, he says it may be a legitimate criticism of the design position. However, things which appear to be bad designs can turn out later to have some reason for the way they are used. Moreover, once a creator has put in place designs, they are subjected to the laws of nature and so they could become decayed or break down.

Ruse Closing Argument

Ruse argued that when one takes a “Biblical position” one is “not doing science any more.” If one wants to assert that the science points to miracles, then Ruse said he would argue that the nature of our experience is not “blank” in relation to the OOL, but rather that the previous successes of naturalism means we should fall back upon naturalism regarding the OOL because it has worked in so many other areas. Thus, the problem with the OOL is not with the problems themselves but rather with our own ability to solve the problems.

Rana Closing Argument

The OOL and complexity of the cell require an intelligent agency in order to account for the OOL on earth, Rana maintaned. The problems with naturalistic accounts appear to be intractable, and the role of intelligent agency in lab work cannot be ignored because that same agency is what leads to the allegedly naturalistic successes. The information found in biological systems also give evidence for design.

Finally, methodological naturalism turns science into a game to be played in which the goal is always to find a naturalistic explanation, even if none is forthcoming. Instead, science should be, in practice, open to the possibility of agency within the natural world. Ruse’s argument is essentially an appeal to the future in which the notion is just that one day the answers will come forth.

Analysis

First, I would note how pleased I was with the nature of this dialogue. Unlike some other debates, Ruse and Rana were largely cordial and even amiable towards each other. It is clear that they each had respect for the other’s work and arguments.

The debate itself was very interesting. Fazale Rana continually went back to the science and pointed out the difficulties which remained, while Ruse seemed to continually appeal to the overall success of the naturalistic paradigm. Regarding Ruse’s position, I think it was perhaps disingenuous to conflate naturalism with science,  particularly considering that very point was largely at the center of the debate. Is it indeed the case that we must be methodological naturalists? It seems that even Ruse agreed that our answer to this question will largely shape one’s interpretation of the problems and reactions to the problems brought up.

Regarding the science itself: Ruse brought up several successes which scientific research has yielded, but it seemed clear that none of these offered evidence which countered Rana’s arguments of the intractable problems for the OOL. Rana did an excellent job showing how the models which are in vogue right now for the OOL all fail on a number of levels to account naturalistically for the OOL.

Moreover, the fact that current research does rotate around the actions of intelligent agents. Given that such intelligent agents are necessary to bring about even the in-principle results for the OOL, it seems that Rana’s argument that this hints at an intelligent agent in the overall OOL schema was largely successful. It seems to me to count as positive evidence for design.

Overall, I have to say this was a great debate. I think one’s conclusions regarding the outcome of the debate largely will come down to a matter of worldview.

Links

Be sure to check out my extensive writings on the origins debate within Christianity.

The debate can be found here. It is worth a watch/listen due to the complexity of the issues involved. Or you could just watch it here:

Be sure to check out the Reasons to Believe web site, which is the organization Fazale Rana is part of.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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