All too often people of faith are fearful of science because it seems to come into conflict with their belief system. God is all powerful, they argue and functions outside the laws of nature. When they read passages in the bible that teaches God is the creator, they conclude that any natural explanations of how our universe came to be must be wrong. They look to the bible to find science, and in so doing, they create all sorts of arguments that, in my opinion, do more to create a crisis of faith than bring the light of the gospel. There is no science in the scriptures, however; only principles of righteousness.
Back in 1802, for example, an English clergyman by the name of William Paley wrote a book called “Natural Theology; Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. Collected from the Appearances of Nature”. In his book, he penned the watchmaker analogy that has been the go-to argument for creationists ever since.
He presents his argument as follows:
“In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there.”
And later he explains:
“Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.”
And with a swipe of his pen, scientific discovery is dismissed and we are introduced to the notion of the God of the Gaps. That is, if we cannot explain it, it must have been the hand God. The problem is, as we learn more and more about the natural world, the gap becomes smaller and smaller until there is no room for God because this approach assumes that All that is complex was created by magic and not through natural processes, despite the fact that the scriptures do not at any time even hint at how God created his universe. Science is showing more and more that galaxies, solar systems, planets, and organic life can come about through natural processes without the intervention of divine magic.
When trying to solve the mystery of how life came to be, how our planet formed, or how long life has been on the earth, we need to remain scientifically objective. Some 700 years ago, an English Franciscan Friar developed the very sound problem solving principle that, when presented with competing hypothetical answers to a problem, one should select the one that makes the fewest assumptions. This principle is now known as Occams Razor. For example, when considering the complexity of life we should not just assume God did it all and stop there; this leaves for too many assumptions. We know that snowflakes occur naturally without any intelligent intervention. We can see them form and we know how they form and there is no doubt that snowflakes are highly complex geometric wonders.
Allow me, as a believer in a divine creator, to point out the flaws in the watchmaker analogy and why it is so damaging to understanding the divine nature of God. In his example, Paley compares the watch to a stone and explains that the watch is so different from the stone that it must have been created. By his very argument, however, the stone was not created which is a self-defeating argument because, in his theology, God created the stone as well. If he compared it to a highly complex snowflake which can be observed forming naturally, would his argument be as tenable?
The problem is, a watch is so fundamentally different from a rock or even a tree that the comparison is simply not possible. But it follows from the logical fallacy of a false comparison such as claiming that all cats are mammals, cats make great pets. Wales are mammals. Therefore whales make great pets. The problem is that by taking one characteristic in common, being a mammal, you are erroneously attributing other characteristics that do not apply, such as being a great pet.
Let’s compare this logical fallacy to the watchmaker analogy:
Watches are highly complex
Watches have a watch maker
The earth is highly complex
Therefore the earth must have an earth maker.
Snowflakes are highly complex but they do not have a snow maker. We can observe them forming naturally.
Let’s use another example
Leaves are highly complex organic cellulose structures
Leaves grow on trees
Paper currency are highly complex organic cellulose structures
Therefore, paper currency must also grow on trees.
To take it to the next degree, as has been explained by others, if you continued your walk in Paley’s analogy and stumbled upon a shoe, would you conclude that the shoe was made by a watchmaker? No, since you have observed shoes being made you would know that shows are made by a shoemaker. But now we are faced with competing and distinct creators with different and possibly even conflicting purposes. Is there an earth maker, and a fish maker, and a snowflake maker?
The logical conundrum with Paley’s claim is he fails to provide a valid comparison. In his example, he compares the watch to a rock to show that the watch is so different that it must have a creator. Unfortunately, we have nothing to compare the earth too to determine why it must be created by an earth maker.
How is a Watch Different?
But how is a complex watch different from a complex animal, planet or universe? It has to do with its intricate and detailed order. We know from empirical evidence that a watch is carefully designed, engineered, manufactured, and maintained. We have evidence of careful planning as every screw, spring and wheel has a specific purpose. Watches are very minimalistic to be able to fit into a very small casing so it can be worn on your arm. There are just enough bridges, studs and plates. No redundant or non-functioning parts, and all are set in their ideal location. Every part has a purpose and every purpose has a part.
Compare this to the human body. If we say we were created by a God (following the argument of the watchmaker), then our bodies should be infinitely more ordered than a watch. On the contrary, we are a mess. We have non-functioning parts, our eyes are poorly designed, our shoulder and knee joints wear out unnecessarily, many of our nerves travel strange paths, and we have endless physical and psychological, all culminating in death after just 75 years. Watches can keep ticking for hundreds of years. Is he suggesting that humans are better creators than God? Why are there so many dead planets in our solar system, never mind the countless billions of other solar systems that cannot support life?
So you see, it is a flawed comparison. In fact, some critics of creationism argue that if there is a watchman, it must be blind.
To make Paley’s argument conform to Occams razor, we must compare the empirical evidence that tells us a watch has a creator to the empirical evidence that tells us the earth was created. Unfortunately, we have none. You would have to find an example of exact precision in the natural world, of which there are also none. Yes, our bodies are quite remarkable in their complexity: our pituitary glands, our digestive tract, our epidermis. All wonders that science has yet to figure out. But comparing these complex yet flawed systems to a watch simply putts a wedge between a belief in God and the study of science.
Does this all prove there is no God? Of course not, it just proves that trying to argue away science for fear that it is godless is a losing battle and leads to a crisis of faith for the uninformed and naïve. It forces us to reject the very laws of the universe that God put in place; laws such as thermal dynamics, evolution, and geology. I accept that God is our creator, but I also accept that he uses small and simple means. He created the very laws that govern our universe, and he uses these laws to allow all creation to grow and develop naturally. Just like the snowflake.
Keep our religions convictions separate from our scientific integrity. Both the spiritual and the natural laws of our universe come from God. Let the scriptures tell us why we are here, and let science tell us how we got here. We uncover the spiritual laws through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, we uncover natural laws through the scientific method. It is true that the scriptures teach us that God is the creator, but it stops there. The scriptures do not teach science.