26 comments on “The Watchmaker Analogy: not an argument

  1. Piezoelectric crystals vibrate at perfectly regular frequencies when energy is applied. Certain elements decay with such precision they use them to measure time dilation due to gravity between the surface and the top of a mountain. The earth rotates once every 24 hours, the moon orbits about the earth every 28 days, they both orbit the sun in 365 days, and the sun orbits the galaxy approximately once every 200’000 years. Keep digging and you’ll find a lot of very complex clocks that can be shown to have developed from entirely natural phenomenon: water drips and jets; plant growth; animal migration. No need to prove the analogy itself is false, just throw the analogy back at them by demonstrating the countless natural clocks that developed via evolution.

  2. People who think the watchmaker analogy disproves evolution understand neither evolution nor watchmaking.

  3. Honestly, the biggest problem I see with the Watchmaker argument is S1, above. To wit, the characteristics associated with watches and their construction are not replicated at all in the natural world, so the whole argument falls flat on its face right there, really.

  4. The biggest issue with the watchmaker analogy is that “design” is not the way you tell a watch is made by an outside element: The materials and methods do. The fact that it moves or has a 24 hour cycle already have analogs in the natural world around it.

    If I found a watch in a field, I’d notice it stood out by the materials: refined metals, polymers, and glass. Those materials have then been shaped in ways that no local natural processes can explain, and placed together in ways which again, have no analog in the surrounding environment. It’s only by casting my gaze wider that I can see the mines and wells which extract the materials, the refineries and factories which process and shape them, and the human hands involved in the process, transport and use of those watches.

    The silly thing is, I can actually see the Watchmaker Argument as a valid way of pointing out an outside creator. We can see that life comes from life, we can see natural methods for the appearance of design and variation. We can even infer that since nothing in life is all that rare or unusual in terms of basic chemistry, it likely arose through natural processes from that same environment. But imagine we found that the only known process to start that biological self-replicating reaction as alien to primitive Earth as a watch factory was to a pristine field? Suddenly the watch analogy works, and we’d have strong reason to consider an outside “creator” or system.

    I don’t think that’s likely, but it’s at least possible. Creationists meanwhile, pull the wrong conclusion from the analogy, declare victory, and proudly march out in public with their pants on inside-out.

  5. “But imagine we found that the only known process to start that biological self-replicating reaction as alien to primitive Earth as a watch factory was to a pristine field? Suddenly the watch analogy works, and we’d have strong reason to consider an outside “creator” or system.”

    Well, yes and no.

    For something to be “as alien to primitive Earth as a watch factory was to a pristine field” would just be something that we’d never come across before. That doesn’t necessarily entail outside creation.

    But, as I mentioned in the essay, this does imply that further investigation is needed. I have zero issues with implied extra-terrestrial creation: there’s nothing self-contradictory about ‘life on other planets’. But no matter how weird, or strange, or bizzare, the things are that we find, none of them will entail god.

  6. I would think a counter to the watch argument might go:

    what if you found thousands of watches, and somehow they could reproduce on their own, and each generation of watches was slightly different than the last, and some of the watches told better time than other watches, and the watches that told better time got to breed more than the other watches, so that over time only the watches that were the best at telling time survived, and there were also sundials and grandfather clocks, and hour glasses, and in the fossil record we found things that looked a bit like pocket watches, but also a bit like grandfather clocks, even though nothing like that actually existed now…..

  7. If out on the moor you found a watch, you’d know a human being had been there, because you know people and only people create and carry watches.

    If instead you found a clump of grass, you’d not be tempted to claim this showed that a human being had been there. People are known not to create clumps of grass: grass exists independently of human creativity. We might plant grass seeds, but grasses also grow on their own independently of us, and we certainly don’t create grass seeds (dormant plants) anyway. Grasses are not at all like created things that people fashion.

    Yet, creationists want to claim that the clump of grass is proof that something with creative powers, comparable to those of a human being, had been there creating grass — despite the fact that people are never seen to create grass, nor is anything else.

    Anyone who has to use such a bad argument doesn’t have much of a case. It’s correct to say it’s not really an argument at all.

  8. I posit (but will not assert without considerable netter evidence than my own musings) that something equivalent to evolution is inevitable given a very few factors. This is my list:
    – the things you are interested in reproduce by some method that can go slightly awry of a perfect copy
    – the slight imperfections do not 100% of the time cause total failure
    – the things have to compete for resources in order to be able to reproduce

    No need for sex, intent, sentience, nor even so far as I can see actual ‘life’ in any ordinary sense. If your watch can reproduce you’ll likely end up with a long case clock given some time… or a doorbell.

  9. But, as I mentioned in the essay, this does imply that further investigation is needed.

    Oh absolutely; widen your gaze and you find the factories and refineries capable of making the watch, and they’re still completely materialistic processes. Alien to our world still implies as fitting in with a naturalistic universe. To get to a “god”, you’d have to have something impossible by the physics of our universe. Even then, you’d still have to rule out a naturalistic process from outside our universe as well.

    That said, think it’s almost certain that life arose from naturalistic chemical processes here on Earth, with a very slim chance that it arose by natural process elsewhere in the solar system. Aliens, multiverse contamination and God are all in the realm of “theoretically possible bullshit”, like Lightsabers and Hyperspace.

  10. Jeebus man! Please don’t ask me to listen to that fucktard. I’m sick of hearing his voice & seeing the smug, vacuous look on his face. Yeah, you can’t explain anything to someone too damn dumb to listen.

  11. Apolo-trolling: Watches are complex with the appearance of design, and are in fact designed by humans. Biological/ecological systems are complex with the appearance of design, therefore they were also designed by humans. Problem, religious people? :D

  12. Works much better with “design” instead of “watchmaker”.

    The quip currently at the top of my personal homepage:
    “There are two sorts of people who sincerely believe that evolution cannot create complex structures that appear designed: those who fundamentally do not understand evolution, and those who fundamentally do not understand design.”

    Anyone who has designed something sufficiently complex has examples of “survival of the fittest” in the various piles of prototypes (or absurdly high build numbers and large revision trees in the case of software) laying around ;)

  13. Hey Crommunist

    I think that you already know I am a Christian, and if you didn’t … well, now you do. When I decided to write a response, it was starting in my head something like “As a Christian I wasn’t aware if the watchmaker analogy, I agree that it is not an argument but a rhetoric device that is used too often in the place of an argument among those who believe in creation.” That was until I looked up the watchmaker analogy from the link in your article and realized how often I actually use the watchmaker analogy.

    As I thought about it more, I found that I use the watchmaker analogy with a sense of awe about the things around me because I am a Christian that has set his belief in creation. So, let me restate some things. I think the watchmaker analogy is not an argument for the stance of creation over evolution; but is justified when used as a metaphor for the premise of complexity through design when one starts with the belief that the universe and everything in it was intelligently created.

    What I wanted to touch on from your post was this theme of proof that seems to weave it’s way through your article. You touched on the point I want to make in your analogy of the painters: “we now need to compare A1 and A2 (themselves) to see how likely it is that they created the painting”. And then cracked it over the head three paragraphs later with the statement “there is no evidence for god”. The reality is, as much as the theist cannot prove there is a god, the atheist cannot prove there is no god either.

    You’ll have to excuse me but it has been several years since my logic class at uwaterloo. But from reading your article “Why people don’t like to answer theistic questions…” I’m sure you will understand what I am trying to get to.

    Within science, researchers can never say that they have proven anything. They must always suggest with a theory. This arrives from the logical argument which follows the form of

    If A is B
    And B is C
    Then A is C

    Or

    If A causes B
    And B causes C
    Then A cause C

    Within the scientific method researchers manipulate A and B while they observe C and infer back to suggest that A causes B (or A is B) but can never actually prove a relationship between A and B. This is the basis of the arguments over evidence for or against creation or evolution. Since we were not present to witness the big bang and the primordial amino acid cocktail or the six days of creation we can only argue to one or the other by inference (to which it is relatively weak inference at that on both sides).

    Whether you set your belief in creation or evolution, when broken right down all anyone can say is that ‘they don’t know’. So where does that leave us … It leaves us with hope and faith.

    What I have gleaned from following your blog is that you have faith in science. You place your hope in the process of observe, investigate, challenge. As you put it in your post

    1. See something weird.
    2. Notice that weird thing is analogous to other known/explained things.
    3. Posit that said weird thing has an analogous source to other known/explained things.
    4. Go check if the analogy is correct.

    To which one could almost finish with

    5. Rinse and Repeat.

    And that is the point of the scientific method. By continually working through the process over and over we will eventually reach a greater understanding of the things around us and the questions we have. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not against the scientific process, it has given a great understanding to what is around us. But I don’t think it is going to be able to answer all of our questions.

    As a Christian I have faith in God; and specifically as a Christian, it is in Jesus. I place my hope in his design and control. Even if this means that I don’t always understand and the answers to some of my questions are kept from me.

    Thanks again for your continuing articles
    Andy

    Post script: I realize that my last set of statements open up a whole host of arguments and discussion, the favour I would ask is that you not refer me back to a list a previous posts. I read the post from the link “bogus on it’s face” and wrote this response afterwards. I enjoy your posts and will obviously continue to read them. I also look forward to your response. I would just hope that it would not be a ‘read this you idiot’ response that I have seen with other writers.

  14. Whether you set your belief in creation or evolution, when broken right down all anyone can say is that ‘they don’t know’. So where does that leave us … It leaves us with hope and faith.

    This is blatently false.

    ‘Hope’ lies with regards to the future, as does ‘faith’ in something to support that future. Neither of these things have anything to do with what is a true and accurate explanation of our past.

    To a large degree, evolution explains the biological past of our species. That there are current gaps in our understanding does not entail that the whole ediface collapses, and we return to the cave to marvel at fire. That’s neither hope, nor faith, but idiocy.

    the six days of creation we can only argue to one or the other by inference (to which it is relatively weak inference at that on both sides).

    You seem to be confused: after the inference is made, we need to check the likelihood of the event occuring. Since there is a flat 0 probability of a contradictory god existing, and thus a flat 0 probability of a non-existent god performing a creation event, we are required to exclude the bullshit notions from our options.

    Only the theist continues to insist that the bullshit is still possible.

    What I have gleaned from following your blog is that you have faith in science.

    If you genuinely want to have a serious conversation, do not do these stupid word games. They are contemptible.

    But I don’t think it is going to be able to answer all of our questions.

    Historically, the bulk of people who have uttered that have been shown to be incorrect.

    As a Christian I have faith in God; and specifically as a Christian, it is in Jesus. I place my hope in his design and control. Even if this means that I don’t always understand and the answers to some of my questions are kept from me.

    You don’t want me to refer you to prior writings?

    You would rather that I spend my time, instead, re-writing those things specifically for you? How obnoxious of you.

    There is no evidence for god.
    There is no evidence for Jesus.

    Please don’t waste my time in the future. If you’re going do anything other than troll, you will be required to provide some evidence for god. This is the entry-fee for participation. Any other comments that do not do this will be ignored as trolling. You claim to have read the post http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist/2012/01/16/why-people-dont-like-to-answer-theistic-questions/ : in that case you are fully aware of the bar you need to reach to be taken seriously.

  15. Hey Andy. This one isn’t actually my article. Brian wrote it, so you’ll have to take it up with him (at this point I see he’s responded in his usual style…)

    The argument you seem to be making is essentially “we don’t know X, therefore Yahweh”. You have a scientific background, so you have to know that that is in no way analogous to having “faith in science” (which, I’ve got to say, is a REALLY tired canard that I (and countless others) have thoroughly debunked before). Science deals in conditional probabilities based on the available evidence. If there is something that science cannot yet explain, we look to analogous explanations and say “it is likely due to X, because we have seen X as a mechanism before.” This is the difference between religious faith and science – faith says “it is likely due to Yahweh, because science can’t explain it.” No positive evidence of Yahweh has ever been brought forth, and yet we are asked (if not outright demanded) to take such explanations seriously.

    Saying “you can’t prove this ISN’T true” is not a position worth taking seriously. It opens up the possibility of INFINITE things being proposed as explanations. If we treat all of these infinite things as being equally possible (since we can’t NOT PROVE any of them), then they are all infinitesimally possible (i.e., 1/infinity = 0). Until someone can say “here is a thing that can only be explained supernaturally”, which has never happened, then belief in Jesus of Nazareth being the causal mechanism is no more plausible than belief that Carl of Minnesota did it. Or invisible gremlins. Or unicorn farts. Even if supernatural intervention WAS the only explanation, the evidence supporting a particularly interpretation of a particular fable of a particular group of human beings from a particular time period is thin and self-contradictory. Saying “well I just believe it” is not a position that I can take seriously as worth considering.

    I appreciate your comment, and I hope that you will continue reading.

  16. Hi Brian

    Thanks for the reply.

    Let me start by addressing this point.

    “You don’t want me to refer you to prior writings? You would rather that I spend my time, instead, re-writing those things specifically for you? How obnoxious of you.”

    I apologize if my request not to be referred back to previous articles upset you. My hope was to encourage a conversation not to challenge you to re-write everything. If you would like direct me to previous posts, please feel free.

    Ok here we go with the rest of it.

    “‘Hope’ lies with regards to the future, as does ‘faith’ in something to support that future. Neither of these things have anything to do with what is a true and accurate explanation of our past.”

    I agree with you that hope lies in the future. This is why I used it in context with the cycle of observe, investigate and challenge. On the other hand, I don’t think faith can be claimed to the past, present or future. Faith relates most to trust. One can trust in what has occurred in the past, what is being observed in the present and what will possibly occur in the future.

    “You seem to be confused: after the inference is made, we need to check the likelihood of the event occurring.”

    I agree with you that once an inference is made or theory proposed, we investigate the probability of its occurrence. What I was trying to get to in the larger context was that some inferences are very difficult to investigate. I think the farther we look into the past, events become increasingly difficult to investigate and the inferences surrounding these events lose their concreteness.

    “‘What I have gleaned from following your blog is that you have faith in science.’

    If you genuinely want to have a serious conversation, do not do these stupid word games. They are contemptible.”

    I realize that “faith in science” is not the greatest phrase to use. ‘Trust in the theories that have and will come from the scientific process’ is closer to the idea that I was trying to get at. I’m not running to the extreme and suggesting that I have no trust in the theories of science. I trust medical science to keep me healthy and theories from engineering and physics to keep my apartment warm, my car running and my computer on, just to name a few. It’s just that my trust in the theories of science eventually reach a limitation. Lastly, I’m also not saying that we should not try and strengthen these theories. Simply because something isn’t trusted doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be investigated; really it should be the opposite, a lack trust should encourage study … because really that’s the fun of science.

    “Historically, the bulk of people who have uttered that have been shown to be incorrect”

    The older I get the more I find qualifying words fun and intriguing. (Please don’t take this as an insult Brian as it is not meant to be. I do realize that it is leading in sounding like one.) You used the phrase ‘bulk of people’ which inherently suggests that historically we have not answered every question that has arose. Philosophically there are still many questions that are unanswered. And its these ‘basic’ unanswered questions that are the drive to many scientists’ interests today and throughout history.

    “what is a true and accurate explanation”

    I think is a dangerous phrasing to use insofar as I falls in line with not actually being able to prove something. ‘According the evidences and inferences it is a reasonable explanation’ would be more acceptable. Using the word true implies trust, especially without the act of being a first person witness. This is the trap so many theists fall into when arguing from or for their doctrine and/or teachings and writings. Saying something is true doesn’t actually make it true, isn’t that what pisses you of most about talking with theists.

    “There is no evidence for god.
    There is no evidence for Jesus.”

    I’m not trying to convince you or your readers there is a God or that Jesus actually lived and was who he claimed to be. To paraphrase from another article “that’s my problem” and I believe it is. My intent was to suggest, that at some core level, some form of trust is required with science as well; whether it be in it’s processes or it’s inferences.

    “you are fully aware of the bar you need to reach to be taken seriously”

    I am fully aware how high the bar is. But might suggest that the bar is high for both the theist and the atheist depending on who is the convincer and the convincee within a conversation. I accept that theists are often the instigator of such conversations, thus it is fair for you to issue such a challenge. I would assert there is a challenge for you as well if you are to convince someone that there is no god. Simply stating a present lack of evidence as reason to consider a matter closed and not worth investigating would truly have us still living in a “cave to marvel at fire”.

  17. I apologize if my request not to be referred back to previous articles upset you

    Aaaaaand we’ve immediately moved into speculation of my personal mental state.

    Of course, there’s no way that a request for someone to re-write past material specially for you could be obnoxious, so Brian must actually be upset while writing this, right? For fuck’s sake…

    What I was trying to get to in the larger context was that some inferences are very difficult to investigate.

    Fortunately, this is not the case with the ‘god’ inference. It’s very simple to check: does the term ‘god’ refer to a non-contradictory concept, the effect of which on the world can be measured? No, ergo this inference is tossed.

    I realize that “faith in science” is not the greatest phrase to use.

    The correct phrase is “contemptible”.

    You used the phrase ‘bulk of people’ which inherently suggests that historically we have not answered every question that has arose

    This is painfully obvious. Your point?

    I think is a dangerous phrasing to use insofar as I falls in line with not actually being able to prove something.

    I think that for someone who wants to have a conversation, you have so far failed to make a single point and just waffled.

    My intent was to suggest, that at some core level, some form of trust is required with science as well; whether it be in it’s processes or it’s inferences.

    Your writing is confused here: “as well” as what?

    Trust in beings that don’t exist? The metaphysics of that are mindboggling…..

    But might suggest that the bar is high for both the theist and the atheist depending on who is the convincer and the convincee within a conversation. I accept that theists are often the instigator of such conversations, thus it is fair for you to issue such a challenge. I would assert there is a challenge for you as well if you are to convince someone that there is no god.

    No, you may not suggest such a thing. Such a suggestion indicates a profound lack of understanding of the topic.

    It doesn’t matter who ‘instigates’ a conversation: the burden of proof lies with the person with the contentious, positive claim.

    I am more than prepared to have a serious conversation with someone whose beliefs are based on a rational foundation, who sincerely attempts to hold themselves to coherent standards of belief, such that they proportion their beliefs to the level of evidence available to support those beliefs, and they endeavour to hold beliefs that do not contradict one another.

    By definition, theists do not do this. By definition, many Christians (and, to some degree, Muslims too) hold to the bullshit notion that faith is all there is, that there need not be a reason involved.

    Unlike theists, I am aware of the various different definitions of ‘god’ (including many different Christian definitions), so when a Christian ignorantly demands that I ‘prove that god doesn’t exist’, I have no idea to start because I don’t know which already-refuted concept they hold as their particular belief. Often, I find that they don’t actually have a referent for ‘god': it’s just a noise they make to signal to other Christians that they are part of the same group, and they will nod along with whatever other people say.

    Ultimately, people with these vapid beliefs will not listen to any arguments against the existence of god: any explanation of why any particular definition is false will be met with the shaking of a head and the claim that that definition does not represent their belief, all the while they refuse to put forth a positive statement of belief.

    Simply stating a present lack of evidence as reason to consider a matter closed and not worth investigating would truly have us still living in a “cave to marvel at fire”.

    As much as I appreciate you attempting to sum up an argument that I haven’t made, I’d appreciate it if you could avoid this kind of bullshit in the future.

    At this point, anyone acting in accordance with intellectual integrity will move their investigation up a notch, to discuss whether or not A1 (god) or A2 (evolution) exists. As there are only self-contradictory definitions of god, and as there is no evidence for god, and as there are no non-question-begging arguments for god, one cannot assert that god (A1) is a viable explanatory mechanism.

    Unless you are prepared to put forward a non-contradictory definition of god (a working definition is fine), then we’re done here.

    Shit, or get off the pot.

  18. Hi Crommunist

    Thanks for the reply, sorry for the writer mix-up

    My intent was not to suggest that “we don’t know X, therefore Yehwah”, it was simply to try and convey that ‘we don’t know X, therefore we don’t know X’ and that in that some level of trust is required.

    I’m also sorry for using the phrase “faith in science”; I do realize that it is a lazy phrasing to use. I was trying to get into the area of trust, specifically trust in the process of science. That which we observe evidence, device a theory based on that evidence and then work to crush or refine that theory.

    I agree that suggesting ‘if something can’t be proven, it isn’t true’ is dangerous as it leads to an infinite number of possibilities. And if we treat them all as equally possible we are left with nothing. I think the opposite is dangerous as well, ‘even though something can’t be proven, it is true’, insofar as we loose all sense of the meaning of true because it eliminates the option of false. As you pointed out Science works to solve this by filtering possibility through probability. My fear is that without maintaining some small sense that there is a multitude of possibilities (even when the immediate probability is low) that we will end up with biased study, investigation and conversation.

  19. There’s an interesting oversight in Paley’s “argument”.

    He’s walking along the heath, sees a watch, and suspects that an intelligent designer must have had a hand in it (pun ignored). But how many trees, shrubs and herbs did he pass by or step over before he saw something that appeared compellingly designed?

    Paley seems to know intuitively by its geometry and composition that an apparently perfectly circular and graduated piece of refined metal and glass are the work of an intelligent, potent and volitional agent, but that the vegetation around and under it is different.

    Then, he wants to argue how much more the living thing demands an intelligent agent after just implying the opposite.

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