It is a happy world after all. The air, the earth, the water, teem with delighted existence. In a spring noon, or a summer evening, on whichever side I turn my eyes, myriads of happy beings crowd upon my view. The insect youth are on the wing. Swarms of newborn flies are trying their pinions in the air. Their sportive motions, their wanton mazes, their gratuitous activity, their continual change of place without use or purpose, testify their joy, and the exultation which they feel in their lately discovered faculties. A bee amongst the flowers in spring, is one of the most cheerful objects that can be looked upon. Its life appears to be all enjoyment; so busy, and so pleased: yet it is only a specimen of insect life.
It appears to be the very picture of what David Hume had in mind when excoriating the natural theologians for their neglect of the evil all around them. Paley, who came after Hume, is yet another reminder of the recycling of ideas in the history of thought. Did Paley not realize how well he caricatured Hume’s target? Did he not recall Hume’s retort that a perpetual war is kindled amongst all living creatures, and that nature is so arranged so as to embitter the life of every living being? Or was his English garden supposed to offset Hume’s vicious world?
Either way, it hardly matters. Regardless of the century, it seems the pious continue to exhalt nature’s harmony while the skeptics continue to complain of its evils. There are common threads running through our thinking that seem to transcend the traditions at hand. There will always be a Hume and a Paley.
The banality of (arguments about) evil
Unfortunately, consistency does not imply quality. For all of their fame, Hume and Paley presented remarkably naïve thought. “I find it astonishing,” commented one philosopher recently of Hume’s work, “how well posterity has treated ‘Of Miracles,’ given how completely the confection collapses under a little probing.”
I was also astonished when I first read Paley. He emphasized the happiness of nature’s creatures as evidence for God, and he even presented a proof for his cheery dictum that God “wills and wishes the happiness of His creatures.”
Paley began with the premise that when God created human beings He either wished for their happiness, or their misery, or He was indifferent. Paley then ruled out God wishing for our misery, for if that were the case He didn’t do a very good job. God certainly could have made things much more miserable. Likewise, if God were indifferent then why do our senses have the capacity to receive pleasure and why is there such an abundance of external objects fitted to produce it?
By the process of elimination Paley thought he had proved that God wills and wishes the happiness of His creatures. In a few short pages, and without reference to scripture, Paley reduced a profound theological question to a triviality. The implication, Paley concluded, was that “the method of coming at the will of God, concerning any action, by the light of nature, is to inquire into the tendency of that action to promote or diminish the general happiness.”
Next in line: Darwin
Darwin, as evolutionists will not let us forget, demolished Paley’s natural theology. True enough, but so what? Darwin, who was steeped in Hume and reused his arguments when convenient, was unfortunately no better than the Scottish philosopher. We might say that we find it astonishing how well posterity has treated ‘Origins,’ given how completely the confection collapses under a little probing. For instance, consider this Darwinian gem:
How inexplicable are the cases of serial homologies on the ordinary view of creation! Why should the brain be enclosed in a box composed of such numerous and such extraordinary shaped pieces of bone, apparently representing vertebrae? … Why should similar bones have been created to form the wing and the leg of a bat, used as they are for such totally different purposes, namely flying and walking? Why should one crustacean, which has an extremely complex mouth formed of many parts, consequently always have fewer legs; or conversely, those with many legs have simpler mouths? Why should the sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils, in each flower, though fitted for such distinct purposes, be all constructed on the same pattern?
Such pathetic rationalism is typical of Darwin’s confection. It was “one long argument” against Paley. As Simon Conway Morris recently wrote:
Curiously, it is seldom appreciated that whatever else [Darwin’s] masterpiece set out to achieve it was at heart an exorcism of William Paley. With consummate skill, and in striking contrast to the belligerent and graceless rhetoric of some of his intellectual descendants, he systematically dismantled Paley's creationism. But 150 years on the message has evidently failed to sink in.
Yes it has failed to sink in, but not as Morris thinks. Evolutionists such as Morris are concerned IDs have not yet read the memo. Don’t IDs know Darwin demolished Paley?
Of course they do.
What hasn’t sunk in is that it doesn’t matter. What hasn’t sunk in is that Darwinian thought is the height of rationalism, and that evolution is soaking in metaphysics. What hasn’t sunk in is that evolution, and its overwhelming evidence, hinge on the same old religious confection.