Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?


William Paley
In 1802, English theologian and philosopher William Paley speculated that if he were to find a watch laying on the ground (as opposed to, say, a stone) he would know that it wasn't a natural object and therefore would conclude it must have been made by a watchmaker.  Extrapolating from this idea he concluded that all the complex plants and animals in the world likewise required an intelligent designer to achieve their intricate forms.  Forty years later Charles Darwin published his first book demonstrating that evolution produces these complexities in the various species without the need for a designer.  Nevertheless, Paley's famous watch argument is at the very basis of what is currently called "intelligent design."  This movement argues, as Paley did over two hundred years ago, that an intelligent hand must be behind the wonderful universe we see all around us—that it couldn't have just created itself.

I've posted before about evolution and intelligent design (see Related Posts below at "Is Evolution True?"), and I don't want to rehash all that I previously said.  But the "watch on ground" argument sounds persuasive enough that it's brought up regularly even though it is clearly an invalid attack on evolution.  This post is about why it's a specious argument, and why, indeed, it even supports the concept of evolution.

In a wonderful recent article in Free Inquiry magazine, Alexander Nussbaum goes into considerable detail explaining the complexities of a watch and why finding one on the ground would indeed indicate it was made by an intelligent designer, unlike naturally-evolved life forms.  His article can be accessed at: . [See also his three very interesting Comments to this blog post, all appended below.] A watch has all sorts of bells and whistles on it that indicate a great deal of thought has gone into its creation.  Many watches can stand immersion in water to considerable depths, even though only a tiny percentage of its users will get it wet at all.  Unlike life forms, a watch has no extraneous parts that are vestiges of functions it once had—for example a digital watch does not have an analog dial even though the watch's ancestors all had such a dial.  The watch's intelligent designer dropped the clock face and replaced it with digital numbers as an obvious manufacturing step.  But, as Nussbaum points out, human beings are filled with faulty parts that are explainable only as remnants of their historical evolution.  Our spines (originally designed for creatures that did not stand upright) were not created to last 80 or more years, even though modern humans themselves often last that long, the consequence of which is back trouble starting in middle-age and getting worse as decades pass.  No intelligent designer would make the human spine so prone to this sort of decay.  The human body is filled with remnants of organs ("vestigial structures") we no longer need: arteries for nonexistent "gills" and even that ticking-time-bomb: the appendix (which Darwin himself used as a primary example of human evolution).

In Richard Dawkins's terrific step-by-step explanation as to why evolution is scientifically established beyond question (except to closed minds unwilling to look at the evidence objectively because it might threaten religious beliefs), THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH—THE EVIDENCE FOR EVOLUTION (2009), the author gives us the example of "unintelligent design" in the creation of a giraffe's neck.  In the giraffe the laryngeal nerve starts high up on the neck and then proceeds down into the giraffe's chest before going back up to within centimeters of where it began, finally reaching the larynx (its original destination).  In an adult this can mean a journey of over 15 feet, but because the giraffe's neck evolved slowly as it lengthened, the journey, once short, became ridiculously long.  An intelligent designer would have made the nerve travel a short distance, producing a better giraffe, but evolution is not smart, only steady and incrementally protective of function.

There are no parts in the human body that compare to all the extras found in a watch.  Instead the human body's evolution produces a product that functions but would not be "designed" as badly as evolution has made it.  An intelligent designer would doubtless not have made such a bungle of the resulting product, and a human body with the elegance and extra features of a modern watch would be spectacular.  With my aging and aching knees, I yearn for knees designed to last as many years as I plan to last.  Doubtless, millions more years of evolution might produce such knees, but, alas, I can't wait that long.

Related Posts:
"Is Evolution True," July 13, 2011
"Men, Women and Pornography," December 10, 2010
"I Don't Do Science," July 2, 2010
"If Humans Are Descended From Apes, Why Are There Still Apes?” January27, 2014
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013


  1. Alexander NussbaumMay 12, 2012 at 11:42 PM

    Thank you for your compliment. I appreciate it greatly, especially coming from such a disguised source as yourself. Of course you are correct in all you say about how an intelligent designer would produce humans without their current design flaws. It’s the evolutionary history of the brain, with its not fully integrated parts that leave us vulnerable to mental diseases, and an intelligent designer would certainly have built backup systems in the human heart among other things.

    PS-Had I known about the recently announced Tag Heuer Mikrogirder concept watch at the time I would have mentioned it in article. It has a totally mechanical movement that beats at 7,200,000 times per hour(1000 Hertz).

    This is 200 times the previous maximum (36,000 beats per hour, or10 HZ) for mechanicals.
    The 1000 Hz mechanical watch was accomplished by literarily wiping away 600 years of mechanical watch making design. It has no hairspring, no balance wheel. It's akin to an animal suddenly appearing that has none of the standard innards of other animals. (Let intelligent designers who proclaim ID an "empirical science" look for that!)

    But of course a five-dollar quartz watch vibrates at 32,768 Hz.


  2. Alexander NussbaumMay 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM

    I meant distinguished source-lol- using spell check without reading glasses, another thing about that intelligent designer!! Alex

  3. Alexander NussbaumMay 14, 2012 at 11:51 PM

    36.000 beats per hour is actually 5 HZ (10 beats per second),oops.

    In looking at differences between intelligently designed products and the products of evolution, its not emphasized enough that what may be mankind's first invention, the true wheel, occurs no where in life. Imagine the speed a wheeled animal could achieve! But this pioneering example of intelligent design is off limits to evolution. Wheels on living things may represent a real case of what IDers term "irreducible complexity" but being such, it simply means they don't exist in life. Richard Dawkins in his mount improbable analogy compared wheels to a case where there is no gradually slopping side that allows climbing to the top of that particular mountain.

  4. Sorry to be the lone fly in the ointment but I would like to point out that asserting that evolution moves along on its own is not the same as it being a fact. In point of fact, evolution is an amazingly complex process that produces a myriad of diverse life forms. To assert that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this process occurs without a source or design is exactly the sort of closed mindedness Dawkins attributes to those who do not believe in evolution. You state as a fact, that because humans are not perfectly designed, there can be no force guiding the process. But you are assuming that the goal of the design is a perfect physically adapted human. I hold no such preconceived notions and therefore am unswayed by your argument that a backache or the lack of wheels as body parts is proof that there is no god (or goddess, or spiritual existence). It's not that I don't believe in science. In fact, the remarkable mathematical work being done in quantum mechanics and string theory seem to indicate that we are on the verge of proving the existence of alternate realities and parallel universes. Or maybe we won't. My point is that the only two kinds of people I'm pretty sure don't know what they're talking about are those that absolutely, positively and without any reservations or doubts - know that God exists ... and those that don't.

  5. I don't know that God doesn't exist---you can't prove a negative and no one can know a negative. Many people who believe in evolution also believe in God, and a large number of religions see no contradiction between God and Darwinism. I'm an atheist, but that word only means I don't believe in God (a provable fact: I don't believe in God). But that's not the same as saying that I know God doesn't exist. I also don't know that fairies or unicorns don't exist. But we have to live our lives based on as much provable knowledge as possible, and not cloud our thinking with what we wish were true.


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