The Blind Watchmaker

I recently read a book called The Blind Watchmaker written by Richard Dawkins. I was intrigued by the title of this book, as I am so fond of the story that it so cleverly refers to while at the same time refuting (see note 1). At the same time, I was particularly disturbed by the subtitle: "Why the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design". Really? If that is true, then I've got to rethink one of the basic beliefs that my faith relies on. This states that there is no designer, which certainly limits the role of creator that God claims for himself in Genesis.

I carefully read the book to determine what it convincingly proves and what implications these proofs have for my faith. Here is what I discovered...

Overall impression

The book seems to be a passionate and well-reasoned response to what Dawkins rightly perceives as overreaction to Charles Darwin's claims (often from fundamentalist Christians, for religious rather than scientific reasons) that is often over-amplified by a media that seeks confrontation over truth. Dawkins' argument is carefully made at almost every step, and was very helpful in explaining the theory of evolution using terms and analogies accessible to those of us not trained in biology.

The book provides a masterful and compelling description of how complex biological structures (the human eye) and behavior (echolocation in bats) could have come from random mutation of very simple DNA + protein systems driven only by natural selection. It clearly separates the randomness of mutation from the quite clearly nonrandom action of natural selection. It carefully answers a number of naive but common counter arguments to Darwin's theories.

Let the Christian or Jewish reader be forewarned that using his clever wit, Dawkins has sprinkled the text with Biblical references of varying appropriateness, references which are often treated as implicitly false and in any case useful only as analogies. At first, this gave me hope that Dawkins had read the scriptures and understood the arguments positing their truth. I later came to view them as pointless baiting of those who profess religion and so formed prickly-pears to be avoided while savoring the garden that forms the rest of the presentation. Such readers (in fact I believe all readers) will almost certainly prefer reading Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth R. Miller to either The Blind Watchmaker or to my review of it.

What does the book claim to prove?

The book sets out to prove that the existence of all known biological structures and behaviors can be explained using the scientific method starting with basic physical laws and principles and adding only random mutation and natural selection: in particular, that the explanation does not require a designer. "The basic idea of The Blind Watchmaker is that we don't need to postulate a designer in order to understand life, or anything else in the universe." (p. 147)

Does the book actually claim to prove that evidence found by studying creation reveals that it was not designed, that there was not a designer? It does not address this question directly on scientific terms, although it does address it philosophically. I can only assume that the subtitle was added by an overzealous marketing consultant, added to make the book sell better (amplification of confrontation over truth).

On page 15, Dawkins sets out the scope of his task: "My task is to explain elephants, and the world of complex things, in terms of the simple things that physicists can either understand, or are working on. The physicist's problem is the problem of ultimate origins and ultimate natural laws." This requires handing off the argument to another book from an expert in a different field, of course; and it does require the other expert to show that the universe, and all of the energy in it, came about independently of a Creator. This will have to be saved for another review. It also reminds me of another of my favorite stories (see note 2). Leaving aside this handed-off assumption, there are other potential weaknesses in the presentation as an argument against a designer.

Does the book prove this claim?

I found the arguments quite compelling as they wound their way from complex biological structures down to the mutation rate of DNA. The Blind Watchmaker adroitly leaps over several hurdles posed in opposition to the theory of evolution (complex organs like the eyeball appearing 'all at once', 'gaps' in the fossil record, species evolution, etc.). Then it runs into trouble by assuming that we got to DNA + RNA + proteins somehow. On page 128, "we shall keep in mind the fact that these very same ingredients, at least in some rudimentary form, must have arisen spontaneously on the early Earth, otherwise cumulative selection, and therefore life, would never have got started in the first place."

It is at this point that the argument runs past the realm of science. It is not that the claims cannot be true, but rather that their truth or falsehood is not known based on current scientific understanding: "how long would we have to wait before random chemical events on a planet, random thermal jostling of atoms and molecules, resulted in a self-replicating molecule? Chemists don't know the answer to this question." (p. 144) "My personal feeling is that, once cumulative selection has got itself properly started, we need to postulate only a relatively small amount of luck in the subsequent evolution of life and intelligence." (p. 146) "We can hope for nothing more than speculation when the events we are talking about took place four billion years ago and took place, moreover, in a world that must have been radically different from that which we know today." (p. 147) "We still don't know exactly how natural selection began on Earth. This chapter has had the modest aim of explaining only the kind of way in which it must have happened." (p. 165-166)

The way it must have happened?

What is left unproved beyond the formal claim?

Unproved: there was no designer. Dawkins is so eager to disprove a designer that he's willing to leave behind science to do it. He rejects the existence of a designer not using the scientific method on truth-seeking evidential grounds but rather on philosophical grounds. "To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer." (p.141) "The same applies to the odds against the spontaneous existence of any fully fashioned, perfect and whole beings, including - I see no way of avoiding the conclusion - deities." (p. 317)

At this point, the argument reaches a fork in the road. Along one path, it could go forward seeking truth no matter whether we can explain everything or not. The Blind Watchmaker takes the other path, accepting as true only those things that can be explained. A key point to notice is that if the universe had a Designer with both the power and the knowledge to construct it, it does not seem likely that a subset of the creation (mankind) can ever come to posses the knowledge of how the Designer came to be -- and quite possibly not even the whole of the design of which we are a part.

In the end, the statement that universe was not designed rests on this choice of direction. The case of a creating and designing God is discarded as philosophically unpleasant by claiming that it explains "precisely nothing". Paraphrasing the proof to include the assumption results in something like the following: "If we assume that life in the universe can be explained in terms that humans are able to understand, then it must have happened as described here."

This is what causes the fork: the existence of a Designer may imply that there are things which are true but which we cannot explain. Deuteronomy 6:16 brings this to a point, proclaiming "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test..." I attribute my favorite paraphrase of this to Fred Brooks, who renders it "Don't try do experiments on God." The essential foolishness of this will be clear to anyone who watches a small child trying to figure out how to get Mom to do what they want by trying various theorems and strategies; somehow, she always seems to see what the child is after and blocks the way to danger no matter that (in the eyes of a child) it is inconsistent with her earlier behavior. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to seek both the truth of and a full explanation of our universe. It is possible that we are as incapable of complete understanding as computation is of solving all problems (see Random Comments section below).

Note about Occam's razor: If Dawkins had presented a complete description of how evolution constructed DNA and its replication machinery, then he might have employed the inference to the best explanation, also known as Occam's razor, which states that if you have two explanations of a set of data, the one which has fewer assumptions is preferred. That is, if evolution alone explains life and all other observable phenomena and evolution + God explains life and all other observable phenomena, then we would prefer the evolution alone hypothesis because it has fewer assumptions. But he didn't do that; rather, he states that it must have happened in a kind of way that doesn't involve God because if we invoke God then we cannot explain everything (because we cannot explain God).

Note about provability: I am not saying that it will never be the case that science understands how DNA and its replication machinery came about; I'm just pointing out a serious flaw in the argument presented against a creator in The Blind Watchmaker.

Unproved: evolution was not directed in its course. Even if we grant all of his assumptions, my reading of Dawkins' argument leaves open the question of whether evolution on Earth took place due to directed or undirected selection. If it is indeed the case that undirected selection suffices to explain all of the complexity that we see around us, then that is the simpler solution in the absence of other evidence to the contrary.

Cast as an analogy: Assume that the mixture of gases found in the atmosphere on a remote planet indicates that there must be life on that planet. Theory shows that plant life could account for the mixture. This does not let you run the argument backwards to state that because the mixture can be explained assuming only plants, there must be no animals on the planet. This is especially the case when you have an eyewitness who claims to have seen other evidence of animals on that planet.

So, whether we grant all assumptions or not, The Blind Watchmaker does not prove that the universe did not have a designing Creator. It does not even address this issue on the grounds of all available evidence: it dismisses in passing, but does not address the evidence offered by "exceedingly improbable events".

What about miracles?

Chapter 6 treats the topic of miracles, and treats them as a perfectly natural (not supernatural) set of events at the extreme far end of improbability. "A miracle is something that happens, but which is exceedingly surprising." (p. 159) The only miracle that is taken seriously in the entire book is the origin of life; Dawkins attempts to show that it falls within reasonable likelihood and so we don't need to believe that it was caused by a supernatural event. In his view, the 'Argument from Design' has been "always the most influential of the arguments for the existence of a God." (p. 4)

This treatment ignores the other large body of positive evidence for miracles, that found in the old and new testaments of the Bible. Here is one reason that this is important: How can God make himself known to except through "exceedingly improbable events"? How could he prove that it was really him? Moses was faced with this in Exodus 4, when he points out that the Hebrews won't take him at his word that he talked with God; God responds by providing miraculous proof. The test of whether a prophet spoke the word of God was whether all of their predictions came true; this matches Dawkins' description on page 159 in terms of the multiplication of a series of unlikely predictions coincident with their coming true. Jesus responded to John the Baptist's questions about his deity with "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them." [Matthew 11:4-5]

If indeed God has made himself known to us through miracles other than creation itself (which I earnestly believe because of both historical evidence and personal experience), then the question of whether supernatural forces were required for the origin of life is moot. We can choose to believe God when he said that he created life, or not, as we choose to accept or reject his other claims and offers.

The evidence for miracles is presented most convincingly in the miracles and statements of Yeshua the Hebrew messiah (best known today by the name Jesus the Christ). This message is brought to us by his apostles, who experienced something after Jesus' death that turned them from a scattered band of commoners who had lost their leader into a group of evangelists willing to go to their deaths (literally) in order to proclaim the truth of Jesus' rising from the dead. One of the strongest opponents of early Christianity (Saul of Tarsus) testifies that he was converted from a dedicated hunter and slayer of heretics (Christians) into an apostle spreading the word by an encounter with the risen Jesus.

To treat the miracles described in the Bible as fodder for the explanation of evolution implicitly requires that they be dismissed as either nonfactual or as non-improbable. To implicitly treat them as nonfactual is to dismiss their factuality without examining the evidence for and against their literal truthfulness. Skeptics who have done this investigation have found the evidence compelling: C.S. Lewis set out to disprove the work on linguistic grounds and found that it could only be true (read, for example, Mere Christianity). Lee Stroebel proceeded as an investigative reporter and came to the same conclusion in The Case for Christ.

To implicitly treat the miracles as probable is to fail to do the math, even given the lifetime of the universe: Dawkins can't believe that Elijah really raised living people from a valley of dried bones as described on page 128, for its improbability is exceedingly far beyond Dawkins' own example on page 159 of a statue of Mary waving its arm.

This makes no mention of the evidence on which my faith is grounded: the life, message, and miracles of Jesus of Nazareth. Because of this, the book is aimed at the wrong target to damage my faith directly.

Are the facts and arguments consistent with faith in a creating and designing God?

Don't let this be the book that keeps you from faith.

In fact, the explanations found in The Blind Watchmaker have perhaps helped me to better understand how God could have created a world in which live creatures each of whom has free will, yet which are designed in His image and in the end conform to His will.

In the end, Dawkins' computer-based program lacked the sophistication to select its own direction. Like his own choices, or the external, complex, butterflies and bees that Dawkins proposes to guide the evolution of his computer-creatures, perhaps the life in this universe was guided by an external, complex creator/designer who beheld and saw what was good. Thus, free-willed creatures could be formed into the mold the designer would have them fill, the development and behavior of each free from the influence from design, yet the character and outcome of the whole designed by the choices of the creator. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. The sheep and the goats converge to fill the same trade. The weeds and the wheat grow together until the time of harvest. Some are made so that they hear his voice and some so that they do not, yet each is called and each has the potential to know his voice and respond.

The strength of the arguments presented in The Blind Watchmaker and other sources, together with the evidence described in the section ("What about miracles?) is leading me to believe in evolution directed by an external designer. It forms a fascinating and compelling description of "how God did it."

What about Genesis?

Starting on page 316, Dawkins takes us on a side journey in an attempt to denigrate the creation account found in Genesis: "It would obviously be unfairly easy to demolish some particular version of this theory such as the one (or it may be two) spelled out in Genesis. Nearly all peoples have developed their own creation myth, and the Genesis story is just the one that happened to have been adopted by one particular tribe of Middle Easter herders. It has no more special status than the belief of a particular West African tribe that the world was created from the excrement of ants." "We cannot disprove beliefs like this, especially if it is assumed that God took care that his intervention always closely mimicked what would be expected from evolution by natural selection. All that we can say about such beliefs is, firstly, that they are superfluous and, secondly, that they assume the existence of the main thin we want to explain, namely organized complexity." I address the demolition and special status here; the non-provability was discussed above (Dawkins switched from the scientific method to an old philosophical argument).

This topic is a bit difficult to address because of the variety of positions held by religious people. I'll answer it with respect to my personal position, which I adopted from Jim Abrahamson ( when asked the common question "Do you take the Bible literally?" he responds, "No, I take it normally." By this he means that the several books of the Bible are different forms of literature, and each is therefore best read as the type of literature it professes to be. The love poetry in Song of Solomon is read as poetry: we do not state that his lover's breasts really are "two fawns of the same doe". The eyewitness testimony of miracles presented in the Gospels and Acts are read as historical, as they are introduced by statements asserting their actuality.

The question that remains is what sort of literature is Genesis intended to be? What is its purpose? Who was its audience? What culture is it set in? It is surely not intended as a Physics textbook, nor a Biology textbook. Some authors have attempted to present the beginning of Genesis as historical fact. In The Fingerprint of God, Hugh Ross attempts to square the account with available scientific evidence by taking the point of view of an observer on the surface of the Earth, following Genesis' statement that "The Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters". While this may turn out to be true, such attempts strike me as contrived and defensive over-explaining. Please don't feel attacked if you hold such a view; indeed, I quite admire Ross' attempt to point out the consistencies between scriptural and scientific evidence. I'm only stating my personal opinion on a subject I feel is open. It seems to me that there are ditches on both sides of the road: trying to use science (descriptions of the creation) to deduce facts about the creator, and trying to use the Bible (descriptions of God and His relationship to man) to deduce facts about the creation.

Having not researched this myself, I am most convinced by the point of view I've heard expressed by Gerald Wooten (a friend who has studied the topic). He holds the view that Genesis was written to show the order of authority in the world to an audience that consisted largely of polytheists who worshipped many things (the sun, the moon, animals, lightning, the sea). Intending respect and without intending authoritative interpretation, I paraphrase the Genesis account as: "You worship the Moon? God made that. The sea? He made that too. The sun? Yep, even that! Thunder, lighting, sex -- He's got it all covered. The order He established is the inorganic, plants, animals, man, and Himself; man is to be the tender of the rest, as His agent."

In this light, Genesis does not attempt to explain the organized complexity of life, but rather the proper order and respect to be placed on life and living things. Taken this way, the Genesis account is not "obviously ... easy to demolish"; but we need some external validation of its truthfulness (because it doesn't open itself to scientific inquiry). Some external validation can be found in the words of Paul in his second letter to Timothy, chapter 3: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto good works." Jesus himself cites scripture as authoritative several times. I find validation for Jesus' authority on this subject in his miracles (described above), in the prophecies he fulfilled, and in his rising from the dead.

"Wouldn't it be neat..."

Wouldn't it be neat if we could explain everything in the universe, including how it began and how life formed?

Lets turn Dawkins' phrase around: to explain the mechanisms by which molecules can interact and form structures of increasing complexity, to explain how the simplest of these could have formed early replicators, to explain how these early replicators could have formed more complex replicators, and how these could have formed plants, animals, and humans, is to explain precisely nothing. Nothing that really matters. Not what love is, not our internal sense of what is right coupled with our behavior that is counter to it, not how we can find the strength to choose the right. Not the conversion of Saul, nor the behavior of the apostles that together testifies to the miracles of the Hebrew messiah, nor the miracles themselves, and certainly not how we are to be redeemed and brought into right relationship with God.

This leaves us alone with our knowledge, lacking the power to face our brokenness. It leaves us without a personal future beyond the grave. It implies a universe that is much smaller than the one I believe we live in; leaving us in a universe in which everything can be explained by theorems dreamed up by a subset of itself. It strips us of the hope we have to connect with our Creator.

This explanation does at least provide an alternative release from the guilt for our sins by removing the basis for determining what is sin ("My DNA made me do it: hey, I'm just trying to get my genes into the next generation the same as the next person. If you don't like the behavior, blame evolution.") This turns out to be the same temptation presented to Eve and then Adam in Genesis: to adopt the attitude that men and women should be the ones who make the rules; to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Now I've stumbled into another controversial interpretation of Genesis; it is probably best to stop here before I'm accused of being an anti-reptilian.)

I am more convinced by the arguments presented by Kenneth R. Miller in Finding Darwin's God; this is a work that describes how undiluted evolution, undiluted physics, and undiluted faith can all work together in the search for truth. If you've read this far in my commentary, you will almost certainly want to read this book.

Random comments

A wonderful insight. Presented on page 195 is a remarkable insight that I think we do well to keep in mind, "I have become accustomed to receiving my share of crank mail, and have learned that one of the hallmarks of futile crankiness is over enthusiastic analogizing. On the other hand, some of the greatest advances in science have come about because some clever person spotted an analogy between a subject that was already understood, and another still mysterious subject. The trick is to strike a balance between too much indiscriminate analogizing on the one hand, and a sterile blindness to fruitful analogies on the other. The successful scientist and the raving crank are separated by the quality of their inspirations. But I suspect that this amounts, in practice, to a difference not so much in ability to notice analogies as in ability to reject foolish analogies and pursue helpful ones."

It does what I don't expect, so it can do anything! Early in the argument (starting on page 57), Dawkins becomes rightfully enamored with the incredible expressiveness of even simple formal systems, in particular the pictures produced by his computer program. This is the same amazement that each computer scientist is exposed to early in our education. Alan Turing showed that a quite simple symbol-manipulating machine is able to compute anything that has ever been computed or ever could be computed by computers like we have today. He called this machine the universal machine, but it is now known as a Turing machine. (The presentation in the education is often couched in a quite dry and formal framework and would benefit greatly by being recast in the terms found in The Blind Watchmaker.)

The particular computation embedded in Dawkins' program is formally known as an L system. An L-system is an automaton designed by Aristid Lindenmayer in 1968 to model cell development. Cells are represented by symbols and cell subdivision is modeled by replacing these symbols with strings of symbols. (See William McWorter's web tutorial for more information). Each symbol in a string can be associated with a graphical representation, and this has been used to model plants, terrain, and other complex objects in computer-generated images. Much of the content of the rest of the chapter is formally summarized as "L systems are expressive." (Now you see how budding computer scientists might miss the enthusiasm due such systems.)

The enthusiasm of young computer scientists is further dampened by the immediately-following instruction that there are limits to what can be computed. Even strikingly simple questions like "If I feed the string 'aabbccd' as input to a computer program, will the program ever finish?" are beyond the ability of computation to answer. This is known as the Halting Problem, and is a small tip of the iceberg. Basically, it has been proven that there are many more things that can be known than can be computed. There are many more things that can be constructed than can be constructed by a computer algorithm. Turing showed that this is true for computer programs, based on 1931 work by Goedel that showed that not all questions can be answered within a formal mathematical framework.

Dawkins extends the proper "If this program does something I didn't expect, then I cannot tell you what it can do" by adding the improper "and there is no telling what it cannot do." Because it is a computer program, its effects are in fact bounded by what can be computed (unless it interacts with an external, more expressive, designer -- as his programs do). It cannot answer the Halting Problem, and it cannot produce things that are not computable. Dawkins can be forgiven for his limitation, expressed on page 62, that "Unfortunately, I think it may be beyond my powers as a programmer to set up such a counterfeit world." It may turn out to be provably beyond the capabilities any computer to produce such a world, no matter who did the programming. It is not true, as stated by Dawkins, that "It certainly could be done"; that is wishful thinking in the absence of knowledge.

We have no such knowledge of the boundary of what can be expressed by evolution. We don't even know if there is a boundary to its expressiveness. However, we also do not know that it does not have a boundary. If the system is in fact a binary data storage medium that operates using L systems (an analogy used by Dawkins starting on page 115 which should not be considered binding), then it must be limited by the same boundary as computation, unless it interacts with an external, more expressive, entity. I have no opinion on what the boundary for evolution (the expressiveness of DNA) is, but to say that because we do not know the boundary it must be infinite is premature at best.

Man's position in the universe. Dawkins is careful not to be arrogant with man's position, to the point that it is frightening in its implications. I'll not mention the particular instances because it is likely to stir up more heat than light. For some reason, though, his viewpoint reminded me of a story I heard on National Public Radio. A group of people has formed, calling itself the "Brights". From their web page,

A bright is a person who has a naturalistic worldview. A bright's worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements.

By implication, this places those of us who profess a belief in a creating designer into another group, perhaps called "the Dims". On first hearing this, I was a bit offended. Upon deeper reflection, I found the term quite appropriate, in the following sense.

Whether one is strong or weak depends on what you're comparing yourself with; compared against a newborn, I am strong but compared against Superman, I am weak. The same goes for intelligence. The brights compare themselves against all the elements of creation: water, rocks, trees, bugs, chimpanzees and dolphins. When we consider only the created things, humans come out on top with respect to intelligence, so we could rightfully call ourselves bright. Christians, on the other hand, place themselves in a spectrum that includes God. This changes the scale quite a bit and places us in a small cluster of created things that is so far below the Creator that it is like a lamp against the Sun -- dim bulbs indeed! Still brighter than other created things, but the dominant feature to be seen is the dimness compared to the top of the range.

The question of whether the brights are smarter than the dims is perhaps an interesting statistical question that could be determined by IQ tests or the like. Fortunately, the Bible tells us that salvation has not to do with one's intelligence. Over the millennia, smart people and dumb people have been believers. Smart people and dumb people have been unbelievers. I see from an article in the Guardian that Dawkins counts himself among the brights. However the statistical count comes out, count me among the dims; all the smarts in the world won't save my soul, and the dumbest in heaven will rejoice more than the smartest elsewhere.

I never got to hear the end of the radio story because lightning struck the station and knocked it off the air for a few days.

Independent paths to the same solution. In my mind, Dawkins comes closest to arguing a lack of design when he presents the fact that there are often several independent evolutionary paths that lead to the same capability. Why would a designer intentionally produce the same effect by two completely different mechanisms? Surely, one of them would be superior and so would have been selected and used throughout the existing animals!

This argument rests on a hidden assumption: that we know the motivation of the designer and also that we know what is easy and difficult. For a human designer, it would indeed be a waste of valuable time to produce two or more independent solutions for the same problem. It would also be a waste of resources to construct both sets of solutions when one would do. Pushed the other direction, this provides evidence that any designer of the life we see around us was not subject to human limitations regarding attention or material to work with.


Note 1: William Paley, in Natural Theology, lays out the story in chapter one:

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 which I had before given, that for anything 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? Why is it not as admissible in the second case as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, namely, that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive -- what we could not discover in the stone -- that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g., that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, of a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it. To reckon up a few of the plainest of these parts and of their offices, all tending to one result; we see a cylindrical box containing a coiled elastic spring, which, by its endeavor to relax itself, turns round the box. We next observe a flexible chain -- artificially wrought for the sake of flexure -- communicating the action of the spring from the box to the fusee. We then find a series of wheels, the teeth of which catch in and apply to each other, conducting the motion from the fusee to the balance and from the balance to the pointer, and at the same time, by the size and shape of those wheels, so regulating that motion as to terminate in causing an index, by an equable and measured progression, to pass over a given space in a given time. We take notice that the wheels are made of brass, in order to keep them from rust; the springs of steel, no other metal being so elastic; that over the face of the watch there is placed a glass, a material employed in no other part of the work, but in the room of which, if there had been any other than a transparent substance, the hour could not be seen without opening the case. This mechanism being observed -- it requires indeed an examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed and understood -- the inference we think is inevitable, that 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.

Dawkins provides a clear explanation of how the "Boeing 747 assembled by a a hurricane" metaphor described in this story can be (and is) highly unlikely without damaging the arguments of evolution by natural selection (chapter 9, starting on page 234). The watch story is still a clever story, but no longer helpful.

Note 2: The joke goes as follow: One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him. The scientist walked up to God and said, "God, we've decided that we no longer need you. We're to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don't you just go on and get lost." God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the scientist was done talking, God said, "Very well, how about this, let's say we have a man making contest." To which the scientist replied, "OK, great!" But God added, "Now, we're going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam." The scientist said, "Sure, no problem" and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of clay. God just looked at him and said, "No, no, no. You go get your own clay!"

This point of view matches what Paul says to the Athenians in Acts 17:27-28: "That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being." It strikes at the more fundamental question of creation, asking what is the source of the energy in the Universe.

Copyright 2004-2009, Russell M. Taylor II