The evidence for design in the natural realm has always been a favorite argument for God’s existence. Though in the past it has been criticized for its lack of rigor and thoroughness, the design argument has consistently proved the most compelling argument for God. That’s because the design evidence is simple, concrete, and tangible.

Paley’s Watchmaker Argument

A classic historical example of such tangible simplicity comes from the eighteenth-century British theologian-naturalist William Paley and is called “the Watchmaker argument.”

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 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 anything I knew, the watch might have always been there…. The watch must have had a maker: that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use…. 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.1

No one of sound mind, Paley explains, would ever conclude that watch was the product of bits of dust, dirt, and rock being shuffled together under natural processes. Even if the natural processes were allowed to operate for a very long time, there would still be no rational hope for a watch to be assembled. Yet, as all the naturalists of Paley’s day admitted and all the biologists of today emphatically concur, the complexity and capability of living organisms far transcends anything we see in a watch. If a watch’s complexity and capability demand an intelligent and creative maker, surely, Paley reasoned, the living organisms on our planet demand of Maker of far greater intelligence and creative ability.

Rebuttals by Hume, Darwin, and Gould

As persuasive as Paley’s Watchmaker argument may seem, it has been largely rejected by secular scholars. The basis for the rejection stems from three rebuttals: one by philosopher David Hume, one by biologist Charles Darwin, and one by paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.

Hume argued that the analogy between the watch and a living organism was not close enough. He claimed that a living organism only has the appearance of an engine, and that, therefore, the complexity and capability of living organisms were only evidences for apparent design. As to where the apparent design of organisms came from, Hume hypothesized a universe composed of a finite number of particles all in perpetual random motion for infinite time. In such a universe, Hume declared, the random shuffling of matter eventually would produce complex bioforms well adapted to their environment. Such complexity and adaptation would bear to the casual observer the appearance of design.2

Darwin argued that observations within Earth’s biosphere established three self-evident truths: (1) tremendous variations existed among populations of organisms, (2) these variations could be inherited, and (3) all organisms were involved in an intense competition for survival that would favor the preservation by natural selection of superior variations. To these three can now be added a fourth: New variations to replace those extinguished through natural selection are generated by random changes, or mutations, in the genetic codes within organisms that are responsible for the inheritable characteristics. Many modern Darwinists therefore conclude that random mutations and natural selection are capable of explaining all of the changes in life forms that have occurred during the history of our planet.

In summarizing the claims of such radical Darwinists, biochemist Jacques Monod says, “Chance alone is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution.”3

In his best-selling book The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, biologist and self-professed atheist Richard Dawkins declares,

Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.4

This is the heart of the materialists’ reply to Paley, the claim that the apparent design and purpose seen in Earth’s life forms is not real but rather the product of strictly natural processes.

Gould attempts to buttress the Darwinists’ attack on Paley by pointing out a number of “bad designs” in nature.5 He argues from his examples that living organisms develop by random tinkering, not as the result of any real design. Specifically, he gives the credit to opportunistic utilization of previously existing parts. In his most famous example, he claims that the panda’s thumb is a clumsy adaptation of a wrist bone, not the work of a divine designer.

A Reply to Hume

Hume’s attack on Paley’s watch analogy is unfounded for the following reason: While no mechanical engine is an organism, all organisms are engines. An engine is any system capable of processing energy to perform work. All organisms do this. But they do a lot more. Thus, since no one would rationally argue that a working engine designed by another human could be chance-assembled by purely natural processes, it is far more ludicrous to suggest that strictly natural processes could assemble living organisms.

Hume made his argument before astronomers could measure the cosmos. He did not know his necessary condition for the natural assembly of bioforms, namely infinite time, was false. Neither did he know that suitable conditions for life chemistry have existed for only a brief portion of the universe’s duration.

Hume also wrote before biologists were capable of appreciating the incredible complexity and functionality of living organisms. Statistical mechanics tells us that if the means to preserve the initial and intermediate stages of assembly are absent, the greater the complexity and functionality of a system, the less advantageous additional time becomes for assembly by random processes (the parts wear out too soon). Moreover, assembly is not enough. Just as the assemble watch must first be wound up and the time set before it is able to function, so also something or Someone must set the assembled organism into operation.

Thanks to the invention of a new kind of microscope, Hume’s claim that not strict analogy exists between a machine and an organism has been proven incorrect. For the last four years biochemists have possessed X-ray scanning electron microscopes so powerful they can map complex biological molecules down to the level of the individual atoms that make up the molecules.

Design that has been hidden from view now has been exposed. One of the earliest molecules so mapped was the crystal structure of the F1-ATPase enzyme. The Japanese team that produced the map discovered nature’s own rotary engine-no bigger than ten billionths by ten billionths of a meter.6 This tiny motor includes the equivalent of an engine block, a drive shaft, and three pistons. It is a variable speed motor that runs at speeds between 0.5 and 4.0 revolutions per second.

Near the other end of the size spectrum is a map produced by a German research team of the yeast 26S proteasome molecule.7 This molecule contains over two million protons and neutrons. Its map reveals that it serves s as an intracellular waste-disposal and recycling system. Smaller molecules within the cell attach protein markers (called ubiquitin) to other protein molecules deemed waste material. (Apparently the cell’s command center informs the marker molecules which proteins are ready for disposal.) Since these ready-for-disposal proteins resemble tangled balls of yarn, the first job of the 26S proteasome, after identifying a tagged protein, is to unfold, untwist, and unravel it. This function is performed by an apparatus at one end of the proteasome.

Once the targeted protein is straightened out, the proteasome slowly drags it into its core and cuts the protein into segments. These segments are precisely measured by a “ruler” inside the proteasome. The cut-up pieces are then ejected from the proteasome, and a “sanitation” fleet (other proteins) drives by to pick them up and sort them, separating the stuff that can be reused from the stuff that cannot.

To date, several dozen different biological molecules have been so mapped. Not only do biochemists now see strict analogies in these molecules to humanly designed machines, they are observing designs that are actually superior to our best human efforts. Nanomotors (motors that are just several billionths of a meter in diameter) designed and built by human engineers, for example, are more than ten times less efficient than the equivalently sized motors biochemists find in biological molecules.

The molecular biological machines biochemists have so far mapped do not work in isolation. They are strict analogies to factories. The biological machines cooperatively support one another in their tasks. Thus, not only have all of Hume’s rebuttals been refuted, Paley’s design argument is now acknowledged as being far too conservative.

The Origins Question

A major flaw in the attack by radical Darwinists on the Watchmaker argument is their failure to address the origin of life. The Darwinist mechanisms of natural selection and mutations are useless until the first life form is assembled. In spite of decades of intense research, origin-of-life scientists have yet to demonstrate the feasibility of any mechanism(s) for the assembly of a living organism from inorganic materials by strictly natural processes (see chapter 16). Here the analogy with Paley’s watch remains quite close. Both have a high degree of complexity, and both move from zero functionality to complete functionality.

Another flaw is that, just like Hume, Darwin failed to understand that the geologic eras do not provide even remotely sufficient time for living organisms to change significantly by natural processes. While it is beyond dispute that life forms have changed very significantly over the course of the history of planet Earth, only micro-evolutionary changes have been determined to occur by strictly natural processes.

Natural selection can move a species only a limited distance from the species’ norm, and the greater the distance, the lower the probability for survival. A good example of these limitations is demonstrations in dog breeding. One cannot possibly breed a dog significantly smaller than a teacup poodle. Moreover, such a poodle requires an intense level of care just to survive. More tellingly, if all the dog breeds were allowed to interact sexually, they would quickly revert back to their wild dog ancestries.

For macro-evolution to occur by strictly natural processes, multiple favorable mutations must take place simultaneously at a rate sufficient to overcome the natural extinction rate. This leads to an insurmountable problem, a problem I address more fully in my book, The Genesis Question.8

Evolution Reversal

According to the fossil record, more and more species of life came into existence through the millennia before the appearance of modern humans. Through time, the number of species extinctions nearly balanced the number of introductions, but introductions remained slightly more numerous.

Everything changed, however, with the arrival of the human species. Since the first human being, the number of species going extinct has remained high while the number of new species appearing measures a virtual zero. Estimates of the current rate of extinction vary, from a low of one species per day to a high of five species per hour.9 Though many believe that the influence of the human race on that rate predominates, environmental experts are willing to say that even if no humans existed, at least one species per year would still go extinct.10 Meanwhile, as biologists Paul and Anne Ehrlich disclose, “The production of a new animal species in nature has yet to be documented.” Furthermore, “in the vast majority of cases, the rate of change is so slow that it has not even been possible to detect an increase in the amount of differentiation.”11 Obviously, a tremendous imbalance between extinctions and speciation now exists.

The imbalance between speciation today and speciation in the fossil record era cannot be explained by radically different natural conditions. The conditions are known, and they are not significantly different. What is different is God’s activity. The Bible declares that since God created Eve he has ceased from His work of creating new life forms. But in the fossil record era (God’s six days of creation), God was active in creating millions of species of life, introducing new species and replacing and upgrading all those going extinct by natural processes.

What the materialists fail to address in their Darwinist musings is the reversal in the direction of biological evolution. Before the appearance of the human race, life on Earth was becoming progressively complex and diverse (during God’s days of creation). Since the appearance of human beings, life on Earth has become less complex and diverse (during God’s seventh day of rest).

Much more could be added to the argument against the materialistic interpretation of life, such as the problems of mass extinctions, similarities in chemistry and form among Earth’s species, the origin of sex, non-random mutations, missing horizontal branches in the fossil record tree, genetic decay, etc. But space does not permit. Modern research in astronomy, biology, and paleontology, far from discrediting Paley, full exonerate him.

A Bad Design

As for Gould’s examples of bad design, three responses come to mind. The first is that his judging of certain biological components as bad is largely subjective. Others have disagreed with his evaluations. In particular, Peter Gordon takes issue with Gould’s best-known example of the panda’s thumb. Gordon argues that rather than the thumb being clumsy and jury-rigged, it is a functional, original design.12 Gordon’s conclusion has been established in a recent study by six Japanese biologists who used three-dimensional computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate that certain bones of the giant panda’s hand form a double pincer-like apparatus that allows the panda to “manipulate objects with great dexterity.”13

Organisms are so complex that no biologist can claim to understand them completely. Thus, even biologists are in a poor position to judge the quality of the Creator’s work.

A second response is that to believe in creation by God is not to claim that all the development in organisms is strictly divine. In addition to divine intervention, natural processes are obviously at work to change, at least to some degree, the form and function of organisms. Thus the second law of thermodynamics, for example, would guarantee increasing degradation of the divine designs.

A third response is that Gould provides no new explanation for the design in the “previously existing parts.” All he can muster are the already discredited Darwinist explanations.

A Better Argument

Far from being shattered, Paley’s Watchmaker argument stands firm. But an obvious way to strengthen Paley’s argument is to look at the whole addition to the part. Paley did the only thing he could do: examine a tiny part of God’s creation in search of evidence for Him. That left unanswered, however, the relationship of the whole to the part. But this is a relationship that can now be explored. The universe now has been measured and new understandings of the whole help us to comprehend more about the Creator.

1Wlliam Paley, Natural Theology on Evidence and Attributes of Deity, 18th ed. Rev. (Edingburgh, U.K.: Lackington, Allen and Co., and James Sawers, 1818), pages 12-14.
2David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, spanana Library Edition (London: Collins, 1963), pages 154-156.
3Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity (London: Collins, 1972), page 110 (emphasis in original).
4Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (New York: W.W. Norton, 1987), page 5 (emphasis in original).
5Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1980).
6Steven M. Block, “Real Engines of Creation,” Nature, 386 (1997), pages 217-219; Hiroyuki Noji, Ryohei Yasuda, Masasuke Yoshida, and Kazuhiko Kinosita Jr., “Direct Observation of the Roatation of F1-ATPase,” Nature, 386 (1997), pages 299-302.
7Michael Groll et al., “Structure of 26S Proteasome from Yeast at 2.4 A Resolution,” Nature, 386 (1997), pages 463-471.
8Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998), pages 50-57.
9J. Raloff, “Earth Day 1980: The 29th Day?” Science News 117 (1980), page 270; Roger Lewin, “No Dinosaurs This Time, ” Science, 221 (1983), page 1169.
10Paul R. Ehrlich, Anne H. Ehrlich, and J.P. Hodren, Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment (San Francisco, CA: W.H. Freeman, 1977), page 142; Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species (New York: Ballantine, 1981), page 33.
11Ehrlich and Ehrlich, page 23.
12Peter Gordon, “The Panda’s Thumb Revisited: An Analysis of Two Arguments Against Design, “Origins Research, 7, no. 1 (1984), pages 12-14.
13Hideki Endo, et al., “Role of the Giant Panda’s ‘Pseudo-Thum,'” Nature, 397 (1999), pages 309-310.

Excerpted from Creator and the Cosmos, copyright 2001, by Hugh Ross. Used by permission of Navpress.
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