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William Paley and the Watchmaker Analogy

Just as the apostle Paul dodged the ruling Sanhedrin by exploiting internal bickering, transforming that august group into a free-for-all catfight, so Tom Weedsandwheat scored an important victory in his ongoing dispute with the ruling committee of the Judge First - Ask Questions Later religious conference. That committee has put Weedsandwheat’s grand prize for his groundbreaking research paper on the exothermic nature of hell under review, while they examine the ugly charge of plagiarism. You may recall that the losers were murmuring even when the prize was initially given to Weedsandwheat. In spite of Weedandwheat’s earnest and repeated entreaties to that prestigious body that they should “get a life,” the controversy has not abated; rather, it has intensified.

Now when Paul took note that the one part was of Sadducees but the other of Pharisees, he proceeded to cry out in the Sanhedrin: “Men, brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. Over the hope of resurrection of the dead I am being judged.”  Because he said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the multitude was split.  For Sadducees say there is neither resurrection nor angel nor spirit, but the Pharisees publicly declare them all.  So there broke out a loud screaming, and some of the scribes of the party of the Pharisees rose and began contending fiercely, saying: “We find nothing wrong in this man; but if a spirit or an angel spoke to him,—.”  Now when the dissension grew great, the military commander became afraid that Paul would be pulled to pieces by them, and he commanded the force of soldiers to go down and snatch him from their midst and bring him into the soldiers’ quarters.        Acts 23:6-10

The clever Weedsandwheat adapted a page from Acts 23 into his own drama with the Judge First committee. At the hearing, his situation was looking increasingly bleak, since the committee was unimpressed with his explanation of his blatant plagiarism being, in reality, commendable recycling. Displaying remarkable agility, he abruptly changed tactics and cried out that he was merely following the course laid down two centuries ago by William Paley. Of course, this brought the hearing to a standstill, for William Paley is a most highly regarded figure. He is the originator of the watchmaker analogy.

Watchtower publications, and probably creationist publications, sometimes make use of the watchmaker analogy in refuting evolutionist claims. If you were to stumble across a precise watch, so the analogy goes, with it’s intricate internal mechanisms for keeping time, you would never under any circumstances conclude that it had just come about on it’s own. Instead, you would deduce from the product that there must have been a designer, and an ingenious one at that, even though that designer is nowhere to be seen. Readers may imagine that The Watchtower just dreamed up that illustration, but in fact, the watchmaker analogy is as old as ….um….time. It is credited to William Paley for his 1802 publication Natural Theology.

Paley authored his tome as the evolutionist view was rapidly gaining ground among the avant garde religious intelligentsia. He “took them on” with some success, due, not so much to his originality, but to his formidable reasoning ability. His book is still regarded as a substantial bulwark to those in the “God” camp.

Shortly after publication, however, Paley was accused of plagiarism, just like Weedsandwheat. The watchmaker analogy was not his, it was charged, but had been used by many prior writers. Yet, it is precisely in this fact that Paley’s (and Weedsandwheat’s) salvation lies! To wit, the analogy was no longer the intellectual property of any one person! Obviously, it was at one time, but in Paley’s day it was so familiar and so commonly employed, that it could be incorporated in a book without attribution, which, in any case, would be difficult to trace. Paley’s contribution was not so much in originating ideas as in organizing them.

This is precisely the essence of Weedsandwheat’s argument over why he should be given a free pass regarding his exothermic nature of hell research. Since that research has bounced around on the internet for years and is familiar to every online nerd out there, why shouldn’t he appropriate it for his own use? Besides, he cleaned it up for submission to the conference, the original version being of dubious moral merit.

Of course, the rest of the Whitepebble Religious Institute is standing behind their guy. His grand prize brings prestige for the entire Institute. Besides, there’s not much else in the pipeline. Tom Pearlsandswine for years has been immersed in research attempting to prove the Trinity, but that project is not going too well.

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The theme of [P D Q Bach’s musical score] for band instruments and piano bears a certain kind of resemblance to the theme of [Beethoven’s] eroica symphony variations. The name of the certain type of remembrance that it bears is “identity.”      Professor Peter Schickele

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me               No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

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