Rewinding Paley’s Watch (Part 1)

Why the argument for design only gets stronger over time

by Calvin Smith on November 20, 2023
Featured in Calvin Smith Blog

Columbo, Patrick Jane, Miss Marple, Monk, and, of course, the many incarnations of the world’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes—these (and many other) colorful characters are the stuff of legend in the literary and entertainment world.

All these daring detectives and marvelous mentalists somehow make minute observations that most of us miss and then come to conclusions that we should have as well.

But of course, we were somehow distracted by the multitude of characters with nefarious motivations, the misdirection offered by many disconnected details, and the slippery subplots that kept us from seeing the obvious.

Patterns of Improbability

However, the one thing that usually typifies why these inspiring investigators are somehow able to piece together a correct conclusion is their ability to recognize patterns of improbability or, to put it another way, evidence of design.

For example, the reason Agatha Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot eventually cracked the murder case on board the Orient Express began when he noticed there were 12 stab wounds on the victim and related that to the fact that there are the same number of people on the typical jury.

Linking this to the 12 individual suspects on the train possibly acting collectively against the victim (Mr. Ratchett), Poirot discovers Ratchett was actually an American criminal known as Cassetti. Despite his obvious guilt, Cassetti had escaped justice in the USA but was known by all the suspects aboard, who synergistically became his judge, jury, and executioner. As Poirot puts it,

I visualized a self-appointed jury of twelve people who condemned him to death. . . . And immediately, on that assumption, the whole case fell into beautiful shining order.1

Design Is Obvious

The human being’s ability to recognize patterns and design is remarkable.

The human being’s ability to recognize patterns and design is remarkable, and although we can be fooled occasionally, it remains a primary tool we use when navigating reality. As a simple example I’ve used before, a group of random rocks would be deemed unremarkable by most, but when found piled in a specific shape (of a human, for example), it’s instantly recognized as having been designed.

And this is ultimately the argument that was used by William Paley, the English clergyman, apologist, and philosopher, who argued that if someone were to come upon a device like a watch, upon analyzing it, it would be most logical to attribute its origin to intelligent design.

Why? Because it would be implausible to conceive that the individual, highly precise components would have been arranged by chance.

And this type of design is found all around us. This is so intuitive that even naturalists have conceded that examples of exquisite design can be seen everywhere in nature. As world-renowned atheist and champion of Darwinism, Professor Richard Dawkins admits,

We have seen that living things are too improbable and too beautifully “designed” to have come into existence by chance.2

However, instead of seeing this as evidence of an intelligent designer, evolutionists like Dawkins argue that the laws of nature act as an unintelligent designer. As he puts it,

All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with future purpose in his mind’s eye.

Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind. . . . It does not plan for the future. . . . It is the blind watchmaker.3

Again, notice the words at the beginning of his first sentence—“All appearances to the contrary.” Dawkins emphasizes here that things really do appear to have been designed by someone with forethought (a mind) and a purpose.

This is made clear by his juxtaposition of this idea towards the end of his statement when he claims “Natural selection . . . has no purpose. . . . It has no mind. . . . It does not plan for the future. . . . It is the blind watchmaker.”

Dawkins (like all naturalists) has declared that natural selection has done away with Paley’s watchmaker argument, so they simply don’t need to deal with it anymore.

Often the average atheist just switches off their mind without even engaging in the specific arguments being presented with a dismissive, “Oh, that’s just the old watchmaker’s argument. We don’t even have to listen because that’s been disproven.” But has it? Absolutely not.

It’s not only that in a negative sense that the story of evolution’s main mechanisms (natural selection and genetic mutation) have never yielded results that come anywhere near producing evidence that would qualify as supporting belief in the evolution of one kind of creature into another, but that positively, science continues to demonstrate design in living things that completely contradicts naturalistic explanations in very specific ways.

Life Is Irreducibly Complex

For instance, inherent in Paley’s argument is the concept of irreducible complexity, which seems to be another idea evolutionists have illegitimately declared falsified. The fact is that a watchmaker not only has to prepare specific pieces of a watch’s internal mechanisms directly in relation to others, but most need to be assembled simultaneously for the watch to work.

The removal or breakdown of just one small specific piece within it could render the entire mechanism useless, as almost every part is interdependent on the others. And they provide no benefit to the watch operating without the other components working in unison.

And this is analogous to many systems in living things we see today with more and more examples being discovered all the time.

It’s ironic that many modern evolutionists simply hand-wave this idea away as being illegitimate when Charles Darwin himself knew it would be a challenge to his story of evolution.

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.4

To be fair, he then also said, “But I can find out no such case”; however, Darwin had no clue what science was yet to discover in living things.

If you aren’t familiar with the idea of irreducible complexity, just picture your average bicycle whose whole purpose is to get you from point A to B. Now, begin removing parts you deem unrequired for it to perform its purpose (handle grips, mudguards, reflectors, extra spokes, etc.).

As you continue, you might even bring it down to the level of a unicycle by removing a wheel. However, at some point, if you remove just one more piece, it becomes unable to perform its function (it’s no longer able to help you travel). Put that piece back and it functions. At that point, it has become irreducibly complex.

Now, because the modern neo-Darwinian story of evolution is supposed to operate via small, step-by-step changes where each change must provide some kind of a survival advantage (and therefore has no ability to bring about large changes involving multiple design features being produced simultaneously) if there are examples of irreducible complexity in nature (which there are), then the story of evolution—absolutely—fails.

Prepare to Repair What’s Not There

One discovery that was quite shocking to scientists was the fact that the common thale cress plant (Arabidopsis thaliana) has been found to have the ability to repair a mutation (a spelling error within its DNA) even when it doesn’t have the correct copy of the original DNA sequence in its genome! And the repair was confirmed not to be brought about via some random mutation that just happened to repair the broken sequence.5

The scientists involved conducted repeated, well-designed studies (by ruling out several random processes they thought might have brought this about) demonstrating that the mutation was corrected in a “template-directed process” and not through random mutations.

Now, if you aren’t quite understanding the significance of what they’ve found, this programmed feature is directly analogous to the “revert to save” function you might employ when you find out your toddler has made some undesirable changes to the word document you left up on your unguarded computer. It’s like an “undo” function found inside the genome of a living thing.

But wait a second, if natural selection is supposed to be a step-by-step process where each small change provides a benefit to the organism when it slowly develops, how could a repair mechanism evolve to fix a problem that hasn’t yet occurred?

You see, software programmers anticipated that being able to bring up a previously saved copy of a document that was corrupted would be a significant benefit to computer owners because they could use their intelligence and foresight to predict problems that might occur in the future.

However, in just the same way that all the sophisticated programming within the operating system of your computer for a “revert to save’” function provides no benefit to you until you need to activate it, what benefit is a program like that inside an organism prior to a detrimental mutation happening? How could natural selection “select” for the ability to fix mistakes that don’t exist yet?

Some evolutionists might attempt to argue that such a function could actually help evolution occur by fixing harmful mutations within the organism and allowing beneficial ones to flourish.

But how could a mindless mutation repair mechanism distinguish between individual, step-by-step mutations that are harmful and those that will eventually be beneficial—all before they result in some completed sequence that codes for some new form, function, or feature that would benefit the organism?

How or why would mindless machinery decide between good or bad mutations?

How or why would mindless machinery decide between good or bad mutations? What would the criteria be? Because until the entire “good” sequence is completed or conversely, the “bad” sequence is repaired, there is no benefit. The entire process is anticipatory.

Evolutionists can try to come up with all sorts of storytelling scenarios to try to explain such findings, but it doesn’t take a super sleuth to recognize the hallmarks of design when you see the clues in front of you.

In fact, discoveries such as this make you realize the reality of even more mind-boggling forethought and preprogramming that must have been involved in the creation of living things.

For example, if the repair mechanism is working off some template, but that template isn’t the DNA (its current blueprint), then what exactly is it accessing to accomplish the repair? Where is the original copy stored or what is it comparing the “bad” sequence to, in order to revert it back to the original “good” sequence.

As my IT-specialist friend Charles would say, all good questions Cal, all good questions.

Stay tuned for Rewinding Paley’s Watch Part 2, where we will be exploring the spectacular spliceosome to see if we can gain more clues and gather more insight into these types of discoveries.


  1. Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express (New York: Harper, 2011), 205.
  2. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1987), 43.
  3. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, 43.
  4. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species: A Facsimile of the First Edition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964), 189.
  5. Susan J. Lolle, Jennifer L. Victor, Jessica M. Young, and Robert E. Pruitt, “Genome-wide None-Mendelian Inheritance of Extra-Genomic Information in Arabidopsis,” Nature 434, no. 7032 (March 2005): 505–509,

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