“I do not think I hardly ever admired a book more than Paley’s Natural Theology: I could almost formerly have said it by heart.”

Charles Darwin, 1859. Letter to John Lubbock.

The volume you hold in your hand is not some dusty, outdated text.  True, much of the science has been refined since it was first written in 1809.  The fact that its argument and core truths remain untouched is illustrated by the fact that a modern apologist for evolution, Richard Dawkins, penned a book explicitly inspired by a reading of Paley’s Natural Theology.  That book was The Blind Watchmaker, published in 1996, almost two hundred years after Paley wrote his book.  Dawkins does more than pay homage to Paley, but aims to achieve precisely the same kind of impact that Paley had… and is having:

[Natural Theology] is a book that I greatly admire, for in his own time its author succeeded in doing what I am struggling to do now.  He had a point to make, he passionately believed in it, and he spared no effort to ram it home clearly.  He had a proper reverence for the complexity of the living world, and he saw that it demands a very special kind of explanation.  (pg 4)

On page one, Dawkins writes:  “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”

Obviously, Dawkins believes that Paley derived the wrong inference from the overwhelming appearance of design.  This is odd, since Dawkins himself asserted that the depth of complexity and appearance of purpose in biological organisms is so profound that “Paley could have gone even further.”

Dawkins was flustered—and remains flustered to this day—by resistance to evolution, putting forth any number of reasons for that resistance, most of them having to do with the general stupidity of his fellow man and some of them with the woeful state of education these days;  more recently, in his Delusion, he grappled with a real monumental issue:  each child, when born, appears biological predisposed not merely to see design all around him, but to be a creationist!

Dawkins goes to great lengths in one chapter, titled ‘The Roots of Religion,’ to deal with the fact that we are all ‘psychologically primed for religion.’  His basic answer is that this innate reality is really a misfire… a formerly useful biological trait that has gone horribly wrong.

I trust the reader sees the irony in this.  The complexity in biological organisms is so profound that Dawkins argues that one of the best exponents on that complexity ‘could have gone further,’ and yet he insists this design is only apparent design;  our biological priming for religion, however, he takes as real, even though its empirical basis is far less established.

Therein lies the rub.  How does one distinguish between apparent design and actual design?

Dawkins has his excuses for why religious belief and the inference to God from Design persists so widely, but the simple truth is that the sovereign consciousness of tens of millions of people refuse to chalk up as ‘apparent’ what, in their estimation, bears all the marks of ‘actual.’  Dawkins is free to take our biological predisposition to be creationists as actual, not apparent, because he likewise is sovereign over his own mind (unless Dawkins’ compatriot, Jerry Coyne, is right), but without some empirical mechanism for distinguishing ‘apparent’ from ‘actual,’ one’s conclusion must be seen to have more to do with philosophy than science.

In truth, the actual argument for evolutionary theory boils down to the assumption that science demands that we entertain only purely naturalistic explanations for any given phenomena.  The inference to design is not excluded because the evidence rules it out, but because such inferences are disallowed axiomatically. Not everyone accepts the axiom.

Now, we must ask how seriously to take the strident assertions that evolutionary theory is a ‘fact.’  Is it a ‘fact’ because the evidence supports their explanation, or is it a ‘fact’ because it is the only explanation left after intelligent agency has been taken off the table for consideration?

Imagine if a coroner had to list ‘natural causes’ as the reason for every death because ‘science’ demanded that intelligent agency could never be considered.  The coroner could not rule a death a murder, because that would necessarily imply a murderer, and a murderer is an intelligent agent.  The coroner would have his work cut out for him, but his job is not impossible if he is allowed to be creative and invoke an endless amount of time.

Let us say that he gives us this account:  iron ore fell into hot lava and then, by happy chance, was forged against the rocks, and then swept by water or wind onto a pile of twigs, where, eons later, the hapless man had the unhappy chance to step on one, which launched the knife into his back, because it has been positioned just right, like stepping on the prongs of a rake.

Does this explanation satisfy you?  Why not?  Don’t you admit that iron ore, lava, rocks, river, and twigs exist?  Doesn’t that make the scenario plausible?  No, because you are more interested in what actually happened rather than how we can explain something if one possibility is not allowed to be considered right from the start.  In real life, we do not pretend that we’ve advanced the cause of truth by trying to parse out the difference between the overwhelming appearance of murder and an actual murder.  Honesty and bravery requires that we face up to the fact that a murderer is on the loose, and begin the search for him.

Everyone- even evolutionists- would agree that it is absurd to demand that a coroner exclude human agency as a cause of someone else’s death and say that ‘science’ demands it.  But this is what evolutionists believe must be the approach to the study of biology (and everything else).  The evolutionary account is therefore regarded by millions of people as deeply unsatisfying and even absurd.  Some people are able to reconcile themselves to the Darwinian account if they are allowed to infer that God guided the rise of life on this planet, but of course it is precisely this that the scientists won’t allow.

It is up to the reader to decide for himself whether or not modern science has passed beyond ‘methodological naturalism’ to, for all intents and purposes, ‘philosophical naturalism.’  But note this:  if you assume there is no God and then interpret all the evidence according to the rule that God can never be considered as an option, it should not surprise you when they say that there is no evidence for God.  How could they say anything else?

There is one thing that a reading of Paley’s Natural Theology won’t allow to be said:  the invoking of a Designer stifles curiosity and learning.  William Paley is regarded a great scientist by all sides, but it is clear that Paley’s belief in God and a designer did not end his inquiry, it only increased his awe.  If anything, it drove him to further study.  I commend this volume to you for the same purpose, and implore you to be open minded as you hear his arguments.

Anthony Horvath

Athanatos Christian Ministries

February 2012