Defending the Watchmaker Analogy and Refuting the “Watch Maker Fallacy” Accusation

by Jason Petersen

A common response to arguments concerning design, or you can call them teleological arguments, is the accusation by atheists of the “Watchmaker Fallacy.” They seem to think the accusation to be quite clever; however, the accusation itself is fallacious. The particular teleological(design) argument that this accusation targets is known as the Watchmaker Analogy. In this article, I will be presenting William Paley’s Watchmaker Analogy, and then give a rigorous defense of it. The Watchmaker Fallacy is defined by atheists as assuming design for life and the universe based off of an inanimate object. This objection will not be specifically mentioned, but as you will see, will be dealt with in much of the article. As I see other objections brought up, I may be adding them to this article as well.

What is the Watchmaker Analogy?

The Watchmaker Analogy was mentioned by a Christian apologist and philosopher named William Paley(1743-1805). It compares some of the common attributes,such as specified complexity, of a watch to the universe in order to show that the universe is designed. In his book, known as Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity William Paley says:

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 any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: 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 which I had before given, that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone?

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.

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I understand that the way the argument is phrased may be awkward for some people who try to read it, after all, this argument was presented over 200 years ago. Writing styles were quite different back then. What William Paley is saying is that since the watch is complex, but other things within the universe, or even the universe itself, is complex. Anything more complex than a watch must have a designer, because the watch itself is designed.

I think the most effective way to use this argument is to compare the watch to the universe. The universe itself is fine-tuned and complex. You could also compare the watch to biological life. This argument is a rhetorical device and also inductive in nature. We can see that this is an inductive argument due to the fact that it is an analogy, and reasons from the bottom up, instead of using top down reasoning. We can identify possible variations of premises for the argument, but I don’t find it to be necessary. The analogy is defensible as is…

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Defending the Watchmaker Analogy and Refuting the “Watch Maker Fallacy” Accusation – Answers for Hope


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