Science - Creation/Evolution

The “Watchmaker argument”

Two hundred years ago a bishop, by the name of William Paley, wrote a book in which he used a watch to illustrate how clear it was that God is real. He pointed out how many intricate parts a watch had; and how only a skilled watchmaker could put these parts together. He described how the watch was designed so that each small part had a purpose. He then argued that the watch, because it had so many parts, had to have a planner and that, because the watch had a purpose – to tell time – it had to be an intelligent planner.

And then Bishop Paley also pointed out that there were many creatures much more complex and wonderful than the watch.

Consider the woodpecker

One of these creatures is the woodpecker — a bright, feathered hammerhead, whom we often nickname Woody. And if we look at the complex, awesome parts of the woodpecker, we cannot help but stand in awe of our Creator.

1. Shock-absorbing beak

The woodpecker, is a marvelous bird and far from ordinary. Take his bill, for example. Isn’t it amazing how he can ram it into a tree thousands of times a minute without having to replace it or getting a terrific headache? Well, his head is equipped with shock absorbers. And these shock absorbers cushion the blows so that the skull and brain of the woodpecker do not suffer.

2. Feet that grip

Now consider his feet. Have you ever wondered how this bird could stand sideways against the tree for such a long time without slipping off? Well, God equipped the woodpecker with very stiff tail feathers with which he can brace himself. Also, his feet have four claw-like toes. Two toes point up and two point down — so that he can get a good grip on bark.

3. Glue the grips

Now, once he’s drilled his little hole, how does he manage to reach inside the tree for his supper? Again, our God and his Creator has equipped him well. The woodpecker has a wonderful tongue. It’s long, with special glands on it which secrete a substance that bugs stick to like glue. When the woodpecker pulls his tongue out of the drilled hole it’s covered with a smorgasbord of insects.

4. Tongue that curls

The woodpecker’s tongue is worth even closer scrutiny. Most birds have tongues that are fastened to the back of their beak. The woodpecker would choke if this was the case because his tongue is far too long. So do you know where God fastened it? In his right nostril. Yes, when the woodpecker is not using his tongue, he rolls it up and stores it in his nose. Coming from the right nostril, the tongue divides into two halves. Each half passes over each side of the skull, (under the skin), comes around and up underneath the beak and enters the beak through a hole. And at this point the two halves combine and come out of his mouth. You have to agree that the woodpecker’s tongue is a most intricate and complicated piece of equipment.

Blind to the wonder

Not everyone believes that God created “every winged bird according to its kind.” (Genesis 1:21b) Some evolutionists believe that birds were first reptiles. A 1980 Science Yearbook states that

“paleontologists assume that the bird’s ancestors learned to climb trees to escape from predators and to seek insect food. Once the ‘bird’ was in a tree, feathers and wings evolved (grew) to aid in guiding from branch to branch.”

Isn’t it funny to think of so-called scientific men who believe this? If evolution were really true, why don’t we see lizards sitting in trees today sprouting little feathers? Doesn’t the thought alone make you chuckle? Actually, some evolutionists themselves are even aware that this is not really true. In 1985 an evolutionist named Feduccia said, “Feathers are features unique to birds, and there are no known intermediate structures between reptilian scales and feather.”

So why do people continue to believe and teach evolution? Romans 1:18-20 tells us why. Some people choose to suppress the truth. They have no faith in God’s marvelous creation, even though it is all around them, and these people are “without excuse” (v. 20) before God.

No, we are wise to stick to our faith in Scripture. The complexity of birds, certainly including the woodpecker, point to an intelligent Creator. And Bishop Paley’s argument is good because today, 200 years later, we can point to many other living creatures also, (even tiny microscopic forms of life are infinitely complex), who could never have come about by any chance process of evolution. We praise and thank God for His marvelous creation. With the four and twenty elders of Revelations 4:11 we can say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.”

Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including her new historical fiction novel, Katharina, Katharina, about the times of Martin Luther. This article first appeared in the February 1991 issue of Reformed Perspective.

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  1. Vaclav

    March 23, 2019 at 11:55 am

    Great article explaining the concept of the “Watchmaker Argument.”

    However what you left out is the response that most non-believers make to this. If a woodpecker or for that matter a watch, is so complex that it needed a maker, How much more complex is the maker, and who made the maker?

    I’m afraid that when we get into discussions of the like and we pull out a pseudo-logical example or line of reasoning like that of the watchmaker, we only end up with egg on our face. That line of reasoning should be able to, not only explain our thesis, but be able to respond to all challenges. Scientists and non-believers are comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. We as Christians should be the same. When we don’t know an answer, we are better to say that we don’t know exactly, rather than try to come up with some kind of lame pseudo-scientific response that makes us look like idiots in the end.

  2. Reformed Perspective

    March 23, 2019 at 2:25 pm

    You’re right, evolution proponents do sometimes attempt to counter by asking: “who made God?”

    What’s interesting about that response is that it is a non-response. We’ve asked a question: since we know that something as comparatively simple as a watch come never come about by chance, then how could something much more complex, like a woodpecker be crafted by chance?

    But do we get an answer? Some evolutionary sorts might hazard a pseudo-scientific one, but mutation and natural selection haven’t shown themselves sufficient to produce the new information necessary for the intricate complexity we find even in the inner workings of a single cell. And how much more so for a feather, or a complete woodpecker?

    So then this question comes up: “Who made God?”

    In answer, let me make two points.

    First, we should note this for the deflection it is. Their naturalistic worldview can’t answer our question – it can’t explain the world as we see it in its amazing complexity around us – so instead of answering, they ask their own.

    Second, we need to point out how very different their question is from our own.

    When we ask, “How could evolution produce a woodpecker?” the more fleshed out version of what we’re asking is this: “Given your presumption that the natural world is all there is, how could natural process produce this woodpecker?”

    When they ask us “Who made God?” they won’t find it to their satisfaction for us to say, “No one made God; He always was.” After all, that doesn’t fit in with the naturalistic worldview.

    But we wouldn’t expect it to fit in with their naturalistic worldview. Our point is their naturalistic worldview can’t explain the world around us, so why would we ever expect it to be able to explain God?

    But the Christian worldview lines right up with there being an eternal uncreated Being – that’s entirely consistent with our supernatural worldview. And that there is an all-knowing Designer, also lines up well with the amazing complexity we see around us.

    So when we test out there two worldviews – naturalist and supernaturalist – one falls entirely flat, and the other stands tall. The naturalist worldview can’t explain complexity in the world around us. And while it also can’t explain God, neither they nor we, expected it would. So we should really stop asking it to.

    Meanwhile, the Christian supernaturalist position is consistent both with complexity around us – Nature seems designed on a genius level because it was – and with the eternal God who did that designing.

    For those keeping a scorecard that’s:


  3. Vaclav

    March 24, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    I don’t know who the imaginary referee keeping score in your game is, but you proved absolutely nothing. You score a point when you convince the other side, not yourself. I’m afraid you didn’t even convince me as a Christian. Nothing you said is convincing proof, only things that satisfy your limited intellectual requirements are from your mono-sourced reference book.

    My point is that the bible is not a science book. It is a book written by fallible men trying to communicate an infallible spiritual message. Now because they were fallible and living in the times they did, scientific knowledge was much less than today and technology and customs were different. That’s why we get God’s law about selling daughters into slavery and outright mistakes like bats being birds. We should be comfortable saying, “we don’t know.” Just like they do.

    Evolutionists have a much more credible scientific theory and proof about why a woodpecker is the way he is than creationists who think the world was created in six days and that plants were created before the sun. Saying woodpeckers were “Zapped” into being in a perfect state by a creator that you cannot convincingly prove even exists. Convincing proof generally causes the other party to concede. Remember, non-believers seek the evidence-based truth. Believers seek to prove that their particular “book” is true. Sometimes using circular reasoning and sometimes on flimsy, distorted or totally innacurate scientific evidence. Just admit, that just like them, there are things we do not know for sure yet. Focus on the Spirit of the message, not the details because we will constantly get tripped up.

    You can fantasize all you want that you’re winning, but the real game, the one that Jesus asked us to play and that is to convince them and bring then into the Word. As long as you bring that type of flimsy argument above, you will be constantly striking out in the game is tracked by souls saved!

    • Reformed Perspective

      March 25, 2019 at 8:57 am

      Science books have to be changed and corrected repeatedly. So yes, the unerring Word of God is quite different from that kind of book.

      I was contrasting worldviews – the biblical one vs. the naturalist. When we take God’s Word for what it is – the unerring infallible Word of God, and treat it as such, we can see the world as it really is. And we have explanations for much that the naturalist knows to be true but can’t explain. Our worldview fits with the evidence in a way that the naturalist worldview does not. A few examples:

      Morality – God says the reason we all have a basic agreement on right and wrong is because His law is written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). The naturalist might explain why it would be advantageous not to murder one another – the group will do better – but he can’t explain why it is immoral. And this is why so many hold to relativism – that there is no truth, no morality. And then they can’t even explain why Hitler was wicked: “You think killing Jews is wrong; He thinks it’s good; who’s to judge?” But not only was Hitler wicked, we know He was so obviously so that those who went along with Him were rightly and justly tried for their crimes.

      Responsibility – The naturalist says we are simply chemicals in motion – simply a product of our environment. Do we hold hydrogen responsible when a spark sets it alight? Nope, it is just doing what hydrogen does. Now, we have more chemicals in motion in us, and our processes are more complicated, but if nature is all we are, then what we are is simply what nature made us, and how then are we any more responsible for what we do then hydrogen for what it does? Most naturalists don’t hold to this, but only because they are inconsistent naturalists. Sam Harris, and other atheists like him, are more consistent, arguing we should be nicer to criminals because, after all, they couldn’t help what they do. And yet even he doesn’t act consistently with his own stated beliefs – on the one hand he says we can’t help what we do, and on the other he travels the world trying to convince people to act differently by being nicer to criminals.

      But we know, when we sin, that we did something wrong, that it was our fault, and that as much as we might like to blame our upbringing or find some other excuse, the buck stops here. Just as God tells us. Again, the biblical worldview fits with the evidence – with what we know to be true – in a way the naturalist worldview doesn’t.

      Origin of life – The naturalist tells us that mutation and selection crafted all we see around us but, of course, they have to admit that both mutation and selection have to act on something already existing. So even evolutionists have to admit that evolution can’t explain the origin of life. So what do they offer? Simply luck and lots of time. Something must have happened; we’re here after all. But here’s what’s interesting. What they attribute to luck and time, they can’t recreate with genius and every tool available to science today. If luck could make life without intent, without design, without foresight or direction, why can’t we, today – with innumerable Ph.D. scientists at the ready, supercomputers, refined chemicals, pipettes, beakers, filters, and living cells as our blueprints to reverse engineer things – make life?

      Let’s flip the watchmaker example on its head. We were arguing that if nature can’t make even a comparatively simple watch, how could we expect it to make the astronomically more complex woodpecker? But what we’re asking now is, if brilliant scientists using computers that can make billions and trillions of calculations a second, and using all the other tools at their disposal, can’t make life, why would we imagine dumb luck could? Only someone who doesn’t care about the evidence would continue holding to that position.

      And yet millions of scientists around the world continue to. Why is that? Because this isn’t about evidence. It is about rebellion. They don’t want to bow to God, and in rejecting Him, they have to come up with their own explanations, and they will run with those, no matter how implausible.

  4. Vaclav

    March 31, 2019 at 6:21 am

    Of course, science books need to be updated regularly because newfound evidence constantly confirms or generates new knowledge that causes science to upgrade beliefs and provide us with new avenues of investigation to seek ultimate truth. A simple google search about errors and contradictions in your so called “unerring” Word will burst your delusional bubble that there are no errors or mistakes in the Bible. Do rabbits chew cud (Deuteronomy 14:6-7)? Was the universe was created in six 24-hour days? Can you can sell your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7-11)? Is a bat a bird (Leviticus 11:13-19 and Deuteronomy 14:11-17)? Is it even possible to survive 3 days after being swallowed by a fish?

    Remember the point I made in my previous comment, the bible is not a science book. It is a book written by fallible men trying to communicate an infallible spiritual message. Do these things really negate the spiritual truths by which we are saved or the glory of God? I think not!

    Your illogical, narrow-minded and flawed reasoning is the exact reason that many young people and “thinking” people are leaving the church.

    Don’t bring in morality here. It’s arrogant to believe that Christians base their actions on biblically-inspired morality, or that Christians are the only ones who have morals. Federal Bureau of Prison statistics show that 74% of the prison population is made up of Christians. 7.3% Muslims, 1.8% Jewish, 1.2 % Buddhist, 0.2% Atheist, 0.16% Buddhist. According to the Pew Research Center ( 70.6% of the US population identify as Christian or a believer in Christ. 5.9% self-identify as Non-Christian and 22.8% identify as Atheist, Agnostic or no religion at all. So, if non-Christians have no morality, why don’t they make up the overwhelming majority of prisoners. Of course, it intellectually dishonest so conclude that religious affiliation is the only factor that causes people to go to jail. Factors like income, addiction, mental illness and other factors contribute to the causes of incarceration but it does cause us to question why our jails are filled with people who identify as Christians.

    Don’t bring Hitler into this either. Hitler justified his genocide of the Jews using Biblical “Morality.” Martin Luther would probably have applauded him because, as you probably know, he was a rabid anti-Semite. Non-theistic societies like China and Russia and Non-Christian societies all have laws forbidding many of the practices we forbid in Western cultures like murder, theft and dishonesty. So stop invoking the Holier-than-thou concept that only Christians have morality. It is a social construct of what we call being civilized. I can also quote plenty of rather barbaric practices in the “unerring” word and condoning of immoral practices such as slavery, infanticide (Deuteronomy 21:18–21), should we avoid touching women who are having their periods? (Leviticus 15: 19-20) All these can be found in the “Good” Book. And don’t try to use the “That was the Old Testament” cop-out, Jesus said that He did not come to change one iota of the law.

    Responsibility – You knock “Sam Harris, and other atheists like him,” but look at the life of Jesus. Didn’t He hang out with sinners and forgive those that repented. Isn’t the purpose of our penal system to rehabilitate and not to punish?

    Where do you pull out outrageous statements like, “the biblical worldview fits with the evidence – with what we know to be true – in a way the naturalist worldview doesn’t.” Are you serious?

    Let me give you an example: It reminds me of a time when I invited a work colleague to attend our Sunday worship. I’m sure you’ve heard this in a congregational prayer/world view before, “we pray for Brother or Sister X who is undergoing triple bypass surgery next week. May God guide the hands of the surgeons because, as we all know, He is the Great Physician after all. It is not the surgeons but God who is really heals and is in control! Dear Lord, show your great power that your Glory will be manifest to all!” And then he added in a rather submissive demeanour, “but in all this Your Will be done!” and so on and so on… We all should get this drift which is very consistent with Reformed world view expressed in Lord’s Day 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism.

    After the service, my colleague questioned me on that and asked if God was really in control, why would you not put your money where your mouth is and just pray for healing directly from God and receive it? Why would God expose Brother or Sister X to all that trauma and stress of surgery? If God is really guiding the surgeon’s hands, would he also guide an auto mechanic if he stepped in and did the surgery? He had a good laugh at our expense, and I was at a loss, because we have this obsession to make (automatic and un-reflected) statements to re-affirm (or perhaps reinforce) our beliefs and world view and temper our expectations, but at the same time we provide fodder to skeptics and unbelievers.
    So, if I use your Reformed world-view, how do I respond to my friend (naturalistic) challenges?
    • If God is in control, why don’t you walk that talk and make it easier by avoiding the middle-man (the surgeon) and seek God’s direct intervention through prayer? That would surely convince people like me! After all, “Seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened…” “If God clothes and feeds the birds of the fields, how much more will he do for you…”
    • If God is in control, why did Brother or Sister X get sick in the first place?
    Well, I kind of copped out and asked him to ask the minister, that he would gladly be able to explain it to him? And much to my horror, my friend did just that! Well he got a response that included:
    • Well, who do you think provided the surgeons and gave them the intelligence and knowledge to do the surgery? Then, much to my chagrin, the minister went on to tell the story of the guy on a roof who was drowning in a flood and praying to God for help, and two boats came along and he refused because the drowning man trusted in the Lord. Then when, after all this he actually DID drown, and appeared before God he asked, “Why didn’t you save me from drowning?” God responded, “Who do you think sent the two boats?”
    • Then he went on to quote Jesus when he was tempted by Satan. (He actually brought the devil into this. It was going to be hard enough to get my colleague to believe in God, now we’re asking him to believe in the devil!) Jesus responded to the devil with something like, “do not put the Lord your God to the test!” to which my friend responded, “Why is that not permissible when even when one of His own disciples, Thomas did the same? Ouch!
    • Then my friend challenged the minister about he devil’s power by quoting Lord’s Day 1, which we had also touched on that Sunday. He asked something like, “If I understand your teachings today correctly, didn’t Jesus fully satisfy the penalty for my sins with his perfect sacrifice and deliver me from all the power/tyranny of the devil? Didn’t you say that thing not a hair can fall from my head without the will of God? Now if God has got the power over hair loss, wouldn’t He also have power over the cardio-vascular system? So, in effect, it’s not the Devil doing this, because Jesus delivered us from the devil’s tyranny, but God allowing this.” “Oh boy, where is the minister going to go with this?” I asked myself. However, much to my delight, I thought the minister did a good job of this. He said something like, “Well, we humans cannot predict the future, so our faith helps us to trust that God does all things to bring about His overall Plan for the salvation of his children.” I was relieved that he may have implied Proverbs 3:5-7, but he didn’t come outright and quote it.

    Origin of Life – I don’t know what kind of scientific knowledge you may have, but if you actually took any of these subjects in school, you should apply for a refund! More importantly the scientific method teaches us how to answer questions based on evidence and not circular reasoning. Respectfully I say to you that it seems to me that you refrain from any real intellectual reasoning by saying that the Bible is true because it says it is true, and try to force-fit any question into the limited arguments of fallible men thousands of years ago. Scientists NEVER claimed to be able to explain everything. They seek empirical and evidence-based knowledge that is provable. That very same knowledge is responsible for tremendous technological, social and medical advances we have made as a species. It is also responsible for some of the major problems we are dealing with today such as climate change, pollution, and modern warfare. As I have consistently said in all the responses that I have made, which you seem to ignore, they are comfortable saying, “while we have a very good idea how complex amino acids were formed on the early earth, and even how they combined to form more complex molecules, we still have not figured out (yet) how life originated.” However, you are comfortable saying, “The answer to any difficult question is, God did it!” We look absurd and irrelevant to non-believers and that is the greatest crime of all, because we are charged with bringing those non-believers to the Word.

    As a Christian, I understand that the Word is divinely inspired. However fallible men wrote it and infused it with all sorts of error. And fallible men cherry-picked which ones of these writings would comprise the Bible. God didn’t just give us the book in its present state. Read Jesus’s Parable of the Pearl in (Matthew 13:44-46). Seek the truth of God amid the chaff and dirt put in there by fallible men and focus on that Spiritual Truth! Don’t try to justify everything as the Word of God. Because if you do you will be committing the same heresies that David Koresh, Adolf Hitler, Jim Jones, Jim Bakker, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart and the like have done over the years. And be intellectually honest enough to admit, as the naturalists do, that we can’t explain everything (yet) but that we are led by what the Spirit of the Word tells us.

    • Reformed Perspective

      April 1, 2019 at 9:06 am

      If you think mine is “illogical, narrow-minded and flawed reasoning” it makes me think you’re not all that interested in a reply from me. I mean, why would you want to hear from someone as dumb as me?

      If you do want a reply, I would love to do so, but then tell me what you would like to have answered first.

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