But can there be any person . . . who can consider the regular movements of the heavenly bodies, the prescribed courses of the stars, and see how all is linked and bound into a single system, and then deny that there is any conscious purpose in this and say that it is the work of chance?
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 Bc), De Natura Deorum
[T]he Almighty discovers more of his Wisdom in forming such a vast multitude of different sorts of Creatures, and all with admirable and irreprovable Art, than if he had created but a few; for this declares the greatness and unbounded capacity of his Understanding.
John Ray, The Wisdom of God (1691)
Natural Theology is the practice of inferring the existence and wisdom of God from the order and beauty of the world. William Paley is so strongly identified with natural theology that he is sometimes thought to have invented it when he published Natural Theology in 1802. In fact, natural theology has a long history, going back well before the time of Jesus. Thus, in philosophy of religion courses today students are taught that there are three different kinds of arguments that seek to demonstrate the existence of God: cosmo-logical, teleological, and ontological. The first two have been around since the ancient Greeks, while the last was most clearly formulated by Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century. The cosmological argument holds that the world, and everything in it, depends on something for its existence. This 'something' must be God. Some forms of the argument go even further and say that the physical causes operating in the natural world (cosmos) were started by a divine first cause (God) at some point in the past. The teleological argument holds that the natural world appears to have been designed, or created, by a designer; some forms of the argument also affirm that the world was created to serve some sort of divinely inspired end (telos). The ontological argument holds that existence is entailed by the concept of God—a move which inherently assumes that
God exists a priori (before experience) and which is dependent upon evidence taken from reason alone (not the physical world). Though dividing up arguments for God's existence into three categories is a helpful heuristic tool, the history of Western thought shows that these arguments did not usually come in neat packages. More often than not, teleological and cosmological premises were combined to form arguments that sought to describe the nature of the divine. A good example of this practice is given in the last dialogue of Plato's Laws. There Clinias, one of the characters, exclaims about unbelievers, 'Why, to begin with, think of the earth, and sun, and planets, and everything! And the wonderful and beautiful order of the seasons with its distinctions of years and months!'
Throughout late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, different versions of natural theology were promoted by Christian Churches, but orthodox believers were reminded that such arguments were only supplementary to what was found in the Bible. With the 'scientific revolution' of the seventeenth century, the telescope and microscope opened new and wonderful vistas, and Plato's belief that the wanderings of the planets across the sky would be shown to be orderly was vindicated. Sir Isaac Newton's law of gravity revealed the simplicity and rationality of the solar system, uniting heaven and earth in a new physics. Natural theology was much strengthened. On his Grand Tour, the philosopher and scientist Robert Boyle visited Strasbourg, and likened the universe to the intricate workings of its great cathedral clock. But was the Deity, First Cause, or Supreme Being who had made the immense clockwork universe and presided over it, also the personal God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, concerned at the fall of a sparrow, ready to work miracles, and to provide salvation? There were many competing answers offered to this question during the early modern period. One of the most influential thinkers on this topic was Isaac Newton.
Although Newton's natural philosophy would eventually become closely intertwined with natural theology, the actual process of linking his ideas with theological topics was done by others. Robert Boyle, an orthodox and pious Anglican and prominent Fellow of the newly founded Royal Society, bequeathed £50 a year to fund lectures confuting atheism. The first series was delivered in 1692 by Richard Bentley, an ambitious young cleric who would later become Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Perceiving how Newton's recently published Principia Mathematica (1687) strengthened the argument from design, he wrote to Newton for advice on how to exploit this in his lectures. Newton took examples not only from astronomy, but also from anatomy: 'such an usefulness of things or a fitness of means to Ends, as neither proceeds from the necessity of their Beings, nor can happen to them by Chance, doth necessarily infer that there was an Intelligent Being, which was the Author and Contriver of that Usefulness.'1 Bentley's project was judged a great success and other works soon followed, each unique in their own way. John Ray's The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (1691) invoked Nature as God's agent, preserving God's wisdom and benevolence while allowing for the explanation of occasional apparent mistakes or failures of design in the world. Conversely, Thomas Burnet's Sacred Theory of the Earth (1684) suggested that the earth was a ruin, a sphere of punishment, hard labour, pain, disease, and death—a spoilt paradise rather than a magnificent clock. Building on the success of these and other works, the publication of natural theology books continued at a steady pace well into the nineteenth century.
Using evidence harvested from the 'Book of Nature' to supplement descriptions of the divine found in the 'Book of Scripture' was a practice that stretched back to the Old and New Testaments through to the Trinitarian debates of the early Christian councils. Early theologians argued that even though the true nature of the divine was beyond human perception or understanding, the personal qualities of God, or the divine attributes, could be inferred from the Bible. Using attributes like wisdom, omniscience, goodness, and immutability as a starting point, Church leaders used the natural world to illuminate these qualities. Personal experience was augmented, first by Aristotle's natural philosophy, and then by Lockean empiricism and Newtonian mechanics. In his Essay (1689), Locke had suggested that the 'idea' of God was not innate, but learned: 'Since then though the knowledge of a GOD, be the most natural discovery of humane reason, yet the Idea of him, is not innate.''1 Though this notion was not fully acceptable to theologians
1 Isaac Newton's Papers and Letters on Natural Philosophy, ed. I. Bernard Cohen and Robert E. Schofield (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958), 393.
1 John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975; reprint of the 4th edn. (1700)), I. iv. x.
(especially since Locke's explication is clouded), it did act to increase the empirical language used to comprehend the attributes of God. Newton made connections between God and physics in the third edition of his Principia (1726) and the fourth edition of his Opticks (1730). Yet Newton's view of God was unorthodox, and so the 'Newtonization' of the divine attributes was left to apologists like Bentley and Samuel Clarke.
By the 1720s natural theology was considered orthodox in the Church of England and was thus a lantern meant to illuminate, but not replace, the scriptural basis of the divine attributes. Because Hanoverian Britain was permissive of heterodox theological thought, there were poets, philosophers, and pamphleteers (and even priests!) who offered natural religion instead. These should not be confused with Paley, whose interest in the attributes of God is evinced in the very subtitle of his Natural Theology: 'Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity': echoing the subtitle of William Derham's Physico-Theology (1713) and other works published throughout the eighteenth century. Paley's orthodoxy explains why he did not directly cite the descriptions of God advanced in works like Burnet's Sacred Theory, William Wollaston's Religion of Nature Delineated (1725), Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man (1733-4), and Joseph Priestley's Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit (1777). Though influenced by some of these heterogeneous works, Paley did not seek to give them greater currency, but sifted them for ideas that were compatible with what he already believed. Science in the eighteenth century was saturated with natural theology, which made it seem serious and relevant (rather than a curious hobby) to a wide audience that ranged from the emerging professional classes to the aristocracy.
Natural theology was also something that might have united all Christians in this time of religious controversy and division, when Dissenters from the established Churches were making their presence felt. But for true believers it was suspiciously close to Deism (belief in a remote creator), or to the scepticism of those, like Edward Gibbon the historian, who saw no certainty in religion. For churchmen, such threats to the moral basis of society needed answering; and so especially did the philosopher David Hume, whose irreligion allied with respectability was deeply shocking. His posthumously published Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779) were a particular challenge to natural theologians, bringing sceptical doubts to their comparisons of human artefacts and divine creation, and suggesting a brutal world of pain and struggle, ill-adapted to happy life. Across Europe, scepticism and enquiry, disseminated by writers and philosophers such as Diderot, d'Alembert, and Voltaire in revolutionary France, alarmed the governing classes;3 it was essential to demonstrate that science properly conducted and understood was the handmaid of religion. The stage was set for William Paley.
William Paley was born in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, in July 1743. He was the eldest child of the Revd William Paley and his wife Elizabeth Clapham; his father was a minor canon at Peterborough and from 1745 headmaster of Giggleswick School in Yorkshire, where his son was educated. He was a clumsy but bright boy, developing a lifelong keenness for fishing: Sir Humphry Davy records an anecdote that, when Natural Theology was being written, the Bishop of Durham (Shute Barrington, to whom the book was in due course dedicated) asked how it was going, and got the reply: 'My Lord, I shall work steadily at it when the fly-fishing season is over.'4 He also developed an early interest in the law, attending a murder trial in York shortly before going up to Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1759. There, after a slow start, he worked hard, taking the prestigious mathematical course, winning scholarships and prizes, and emerging as senior wrangler, the best graduate of the year. He then taught at Greenwich for a time, enjoying theatres and attending trials at the Old Bailey, but determined on a career in the Church. He was ordained deacon in 1766, and became a curate in Greenwich; but was soon elected a fellow of his college, and returned to Cambridge, where he was ordained priest.
There he became a close friend ofJohn Law, whose father Edmund became Bishop of Carlisle in 1768. Energetic and able, they divided the instruction in the college between them, raising its reputation. Paley's teaching of moral philosophy from 1768 to 1776 was particularly effective: he stressed the need to make students see the
3 See esp. J. Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 16-22.
4 [H. Davy], Salmonia, London: Murray (3rd edn., 1832), 7.
problems rather than giving them answers. In 1774 Edmund Law appointed his son to a prebend at Carlisle, and in 1775 presented Paley with a living, a parish in Westmorland. Vicars, but not College fellows, could marry, and in 1776 Paley wed Jane Hewitt, and left Cambridge. In 1785 he published his first book, The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, based upon his Cambridge lectures. Paley was not an original thinker, and the book's utilitarian philosophy was not new, but he was a wonderfully clear, fresh writer and guide to conduct. The book was a great success; though a new author, he was paid a princely £1,000 for it, and the publisher's investment paid off. By 1793 the fifth edition was pirated in Dublin; and by 1809 it was in its seventeenth edition, with many versions still to come.5
Paley was comfortable and well off. He was a cheerful man, who saw Providence in the prevailing happiness of the world, human and animal. From 1789 he had become prominent in the agitation against the slave trade; thus he was neither a closet moralist nor a naive and foolish optimist like Voltaire's Candide. But in 1791 his wife died, leaving him to bring up four sons and four daughters. He had become Chancellor and Archdeacon of Carlisle, holding various other posts in plurality. Content where he was, in 1789 he had turned down the Mastership of Jesus College, but in 1795 was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity at Cambridge. In 1795 he married a second wife, Catherine Dobinson of Carlisle, and moved into the magnificent parsonage at Bishop Wearmouth, Sunderland. Paley's attempt to place reason at the centre of Christian ethics in what he took to be a mainstream Anglican tradition incurred suspicion from clergy and faithful: this may be why, seeming too liberal or latitudinarian at a time of evangelical revival, he never got a bishopric or deanery. His preferment culminated in an archdeaconry, and he ended as a vicar and as subdean at Lincoln Cathedral, where he spent three months each year. It was a useful, comfortable, reasonably eminent but not glittering career.
In Moral and Political Philosophy, Paley had praised Edmund Law for demonstrating that 'whatever renders religion more rational, renders it more credible', purging it of ignorance and superstition.
5 William St Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 626; and this as a 'conduct book', pp. 273 ff.
Paley believed that previous writers had divided 'too much of the law of nature from the precepts of revelation';6 as a good churchman he aimed to keep the two in balance. Because his experience had shown that 'in discoursing to young minds of morality, it required more pains to make them perceive the difficulty, than to understand the solution', he excited curiosity in order to arouse enthusiasm. The morality he sketched might seem simplistic. With statements such as 'So then actions are to be estimated by their tendency. Whatever is expedient is right', his blunt clear style avoided the qualifying or fudging all too often found in such treatises, but alarmed some readers: 'What promotes the public happiness, or happiness upon the whole, is agreeable to the fitness of things, to nature, to reason, and to truth'; and 'such is the divine character, that what promotes the general happiness is required by the will of God.' Morality could not therefore be separated from theology, as Hume had tried to do, without enfeebling it. God, for Paley, showed His benevolence in the ways He made our senses 'instruments of gratification and enjoyment'. He 'might have made, for example, everything we tasted bitter; everything we saw loathsome; everything we touched a sting; every smell a stench; and every sound a discord'—but He wanted us to be happy, and 'contrivance proves design'. We assess human actions in the same way as we look at creation, by their 'tendency' (taking general rules and the long run into account); and that allows us to infer God's love. Paley included powerful images of social injustice, and covered very readably a wide range of topics; the work deserved its success and in many ways it can be seen as a mainstream conduct-book.
The next major task was to authenticate biblical narratives, and in 1790 Paley published his most original book, Horae Paulinae, dedicated to John Law who was by then Bishop of Killalla and Achonry in Ireland. This book sought to demonstrate the truth of the story of St Paul in the Bible by close comparisons between his Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles. Here, in contrast to his other works, Paley looked for artlessness, and absence of design and contrivance. Had there been complete harmony between the Epistles and Acts, this would be evidence of 'meditation, artifice, and design'—like too
6 William Paley, The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (5th edn., Dublin: Byrne, 1793), quoting from pp. iii, xii, 37, 44, 47; references to Hume are on pp. 10, 42.
good a story cooked up by false witnesses in court. Artlessness is the sign of substantial truth; minute, circuitous, and oblique circumstances, which no forger making up a tidy story would have bothered about, are to be ferreted out by detective work: 'If what is here offered shall add one thread to that complication of probabilities by which the Christian history is attested, the reader's attention will be repaid by the supreme importance of the subject, and my design will be fully answered.' Each chapter examines a different Epistle, looking for small links with the others and with Acts, and Paley also sought to establish their independence as texts. He set out to show how unlikely it was that one was derived from another, or that several were forgeries. He wrote in an attractively argumentative style, like a good lawyer. The book is thus one long argument from beginning to end, giving the impression that objections have been foreseen and fairly considered. Paley's sermons were criticized for their lack of peroration and conclusion and so in Horae Paulinae he made his case and stopped. The same plain style is to the reader's advantage in his other writings.
Then in 1794 Paley published Evidences of Christianity, which rapidly became a classic with a seventh edition appearing in 1800. It was unoriginal, but very clear. It was concerned with the historical evidence, more generally than in Horae Paulinae, and thus engaging directly with Gibbon and his ironic account of the early Church in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88). Paley dealt with the fulfilment of prophecy; with the miracles, and especially Jesus' resurrection; with the morality of the Gospels, and the character of Jesus; and then with various popular objections, including the discrepancies between the Gospels. Most agreed that he had clearly, satisfactorily, and judiciously dealt with these questions. These were very traditional and important topics, and the book became a set text in Cambridge. By way of contrast, Paley looked at the success of Islam, 'Mahometanism': like others of his time, he saw it as an imposture, a false religion, not to be compared with Christianity because it was essentially military and political, and its rapid spread had everything to do with conquest, and nothing to do with truth.
Natural Theology, the last of Paley's books, was written during the late 1790s and published in 1802. The atmosphere of the 1790s was fraught. War had been declared with France in 1793 and while bad harvests and high prices added to economic hardship, constant fear of a fifth column of atheistic radicals further destabilized the country. The book was welcome, and it continued to sell throughout the nineteenth century, frequently reprinted by the Religious Tract Society and other publishers. Pantheists and Deists could not ignore Paley's evidence for revealed religion. Now what was required to complete Paley's project was an up-to-date treatise on natural theology, demonstrating how valuable the argument from Design still was, and how science, rightly understood, complemented true religion. After 1800 Paley was often in bad health, probably suffering from kidney stones, but he wrote Natural Theology to complete his work of defending and propagating the faith by demonstrating God's work in nature; it was published only three years before his death in 1805. It is an old man's book, referring to works encountered during his Cambridge years; yet also citing up-to-date scientific authors from around 1800. He had in his writings put ethics and then revealed religion on a sound footing, and so one might have expected that he would be writing a theology of nature, demonstrating how the revealed God of the Scriptures, in whom we have faith through experience, made the world. But Paley's book was a genuine natural theology, looking for the God of Nature: 'in which works, such as they are, the public have now before them, the evidences of natural religion, the evidences of revealed religion, and an account of the duties that result from both. It is of small importance, that they have been published in an order, the very reverse of that in which they ought to be read' (p. 4). We may therefore hope with him that readers who begin with Natural Theology will be interested enough to read his other works, though there the issues are less current in our new century, where creationism is rife and Design thus controversial.
The structure of Natural Theology is like a sandwich. The first half addresses medicine and natural history and the last half treats of the attributes of God. Wedged in the middle are chapters on the four 'elements', and on astronomy. Like its predecessors, Paley's book is divided into thematic chapters, consisting of strings of examples to convince the reader that the world was designed. In order to turn these examples into convincing 'proofs', Paley uses metaphors, analogies, and appeals to probability. His use of metaphors and analogies was shaped by his knowledge of classical rhetoric. Though much neglected by intellectual historians, the influence of compositional methods taken from classical rhetoric had a profound impact upon classification techniques and scientific writing from the Renaissance until the nineteenth century. During his time at Cambridge, Paley had been an avid reader of Cicero, the great Roman orator; a pastime, as his son Edmund tells us,7 that continued all the way up to the end of his life—and he duly cites Cicero in Natural Theology. Such an awareness of rhetoric allowed him to identify and redeploy striking metaphors that already had wide circulation in English anatomy, natural history, and astronomy texts: 'pipes' (for veins), 'tube' (for a butterfly proboscis), an 'orange' (for an oblate spheroid), to name just a few. Paley's style also shows him following the rhetorical practices of his contemporaries in his use of literary figures of speech.8
Yet it was Paley's analogies that most often caught the eye of his later readers, especially because the acceptance of a resemblance between two objects is highly dependent upon the intellectual disposition or training of the observer. The proper use of analogy to establish a premise within a logical argument was an issue that remained unresolved from Antiquity to the Enlightenment. Aristotle's Posterior Analytics had stated that it was sometimes impossible to establish a philosophical principle without the introduction of an analogy. In Paley's day, logic and rhetoric had been fused together into a polite writing style. As the influential rhetorician George Campbell (1719-96) stated: 'To attain either of these ends, the speaker must always assume the character of the close candid reasoner: for though he may be an acute logician who is no orator, he will never be a consummate orator who is no logician.'9
Natural Theology begins with the famous analogy between the world and a pocket-watch (which, in the form of the chronometer, was high technology in 1802). Paley states that if one were to encounter a stone while walking across a heath, one might think it
7 Edmund Paley, An Account of the Life and Writings of William Paley (Farnborough: Gregg, 1970), 60.
8 Jeanne Fahnestock, Rhetorical Figures in Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
9 George Campbell, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (Edinburgh, 1776), V. 11. iv.
had always happened to be there. However, if one were to see a watch lying on the ground in the same manner, the intricacy of its parts would surely lead one to conclude that it had been made by an intelligent designer. Following on from this analogy, the rest of the book demonstrates that the world is a great clock, made by a wise and benevolent God. This was an old analogy: behind the 'scientific revolution' and the Enlightenment lurked the idea that we and other creatures, large or microscopic, were little mechanisms living in an immense clockwork universe. This famous analogy, forming the first and very effective sentences of the text, was often singled out by nineteenth- and twentieth-century authors, most famously perhaps in the title to Richard Dawkins's best-selling evolutionary work The Blind Watchmaker (1986). However, Natural Theology is packed with one analogy after another, thus creating 'the argument cumulative', as Paley explains in Chapter VI. So, as nineteenth-century commentators and editors realized, it is not crucial that biological and geological knowledge was rapidly increasing around the time of Paley's death. When he wrote the book he was not, and was not trying to be, at the frontier of scientific knowledge. In selecting examples that best fitted the analogies used in the book, Paley relied upon familiar and tested science, taken from well-established sources.
Although he does discuss chemistry and astronomy, the bulk of Paley's analogies come from anatomy: particular structures adapted to the curious ways of life of various creatures; and prospective contrivances, where organs were provided which were no use to the infant animal but which would appear at the appropriate moment and be valuable when it grew up, like our second teeth. Paley was impressed by relations, the correlation of the various parts of organisms; and he looked at instincts, further evidence for him of God's foresight and benevolence in the provision of what was necessary. But God was not only wise, but also good: so the contrivances He had supplied were beneficial, and He had also 'superadded pleasure to animal sensations' (p. 237). Paley, by analogy, followed many Enlightenment natural historians and imputed the human emotions (especially happiness) to animals, thereby allowing him to assert that 'It is a happy world after all' (p. 238).
From Francis Bacon's time up to the nineteenth century, the notion of 'evidence' in British philosophical argument experienced a slow redefinition. By the late seventeenth century most followed
Bacon's notion that 'evidence' must be based on personal experience and empirical observation, challenging many canonical Greek and Roman natural philosophers. With the writings of John Locke and others, evidence in the early eighteenth century was directly linked to the five senses. During the eighteenth century another significant form of evidence emerged: probability. Sometimes this could be quantitative. Arguments relevant to mortality rates, population growth, and agricultural production began to be based more heavily on statistics, which affected the related topics of moral philosophy and political economy. Sometimes, however, probability had to be informal and qualitative. Throughout Natural Theology, Paley uses informal probability to support his argument. This was a tactic he imported from his Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy and, to an extent, from Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798).
Throughout his writings, Paley accepts that God's existence cannot be rigorously proved like a theorem in geometry. Bishop Joseph Butler, in his famous Analogy of Religion (1736), had written that 'probable evidence is essentially distinguished from demonstrative by this, that it admits of degrees; and all variety of them, from the highest moral certainty, to the very lowest presumption'. Referring to John Locke, he continued:
Probable evidence, in its very nature, affords but an imperfect kind of information; and is to be considered as relative only to beings of limited capacities. For nothing which is the possible object of knowledge, whether past, present, or future, can be probable to an infinite Intelligence; since it cannot but be discerned absolutely as it is in itself, certainly true, or certainly false. But to Us, probability is the very guide to life.10
For Paley as for Butler, science (natural history and natural philosophy) was therefore important in telling us what God had, in all probability, actually done.
These uncertainties meant that natural theology entailed a less-than-rigorous argument. Deductive reasoning, for which Euclid's geometry was the great example, depends upon the acceptance of axioms. If readers accept that if a is greater than b, and b is greater than c, then a is greater than c; and (more contentiously) that parallel
10 Joseph Butler, The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature (new edn., London: Rivington, 1791), 1, 3.
lines never meet; then they cannot doubt surprising conclusions about squares on hypotenuses, or centres of gravity of curiously shaped solids. Each theorem depends on those which have gone before. This kind of reasoning is much beloved of logicians. Indeed, in the 'ontological argument' that God must necessarily exist, because to deny Him is absurd, Anselm and Descartes tried to apply it to religion. Kant would eventually show that this sort of reasoning did not stand up: that nobody can be brought to faith via a finedrawn argument about 'necessary' existence. Yet Kant was not translated into English until the early nineteenth century and it is unlikely that Paley had ever read him. In Paley's time, mathematicians were beginning to quantify exactly some aspects of probability, like dice or roulette, but in the affairs of humankind, the scope for tight deductive arguments is (despite Sherlock Holmes) rather small. Butler was right that probability is the guide to life.
Paley's argument could not therefore be of the knock-down kind, but had to be cumulative. His Natural Theology is not a chain of reasoning like Euclid's, where one weak link would spoil the whole argument. It is instead a rope, where the various fibres are in themselves weak, but twisted together will support a great weight. If the rope is worn and a few fibres have frayed or broken, it does not matter too much. Practical reasoning, where we decide what to do, depends on this kind of thinking. We weigh up the data, and the likely consequences of doing this or that, in ordinary life or indeed in science. Paley's book was one long argument, but unlike Euclid's it took the form of a series of converging inferences, where if the reader were to feel that one or two were weak or unsatisfactory, the conclusion might still stand.
Paley had a legal cast of mind. When he was a young man, and later in Durham, he attended the law courts for entertainment. As he knew well, legal arguments are often probabilistic. The jury has to make up its mind, from the evidence given and the lawyers' arguments, whether it is beyond reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime. Paley sought to prove the existence of a Designer beyond reasonable doubt—knowing that deductive logical proof was not possible, but that while sceptical logic-choppers could never be silenced, they could be made to look absurd.
Paley's probabilistic approach was closely linked to his perception of moral philosophy. During the Enlightenment, this subject was closely tied to theological doctrine. In Paley's case the divine attribute of goodness gave him the ideal space to combine his utilitarian notion of happiness with the rising tide of probabilistic thinking in science and medicine;11 especially when he suggested that life, on average, was filled more with pleasure than pain (a move that allowed him to use 'benevolent' as an adjective for the divine). Yet within theology's wide-ranging field of relevance were cracks that would widen into disciplinary fissures and eventually lead to the secularization of notions like providence, suffering, free will, and benevolence. Although such a result was not what Paley, an Anglican priest, would have intended, the seeds for this transformation can be seen in the very pages of the books that he wrote; particularly in his Moral and Political Philosophy, where he argued that the government was obliged to protect the collective needs of the population via its regulation of property, contracts, and lending. But Paley's ideas were sometimes thought to be too liberal and the following pigeon analogy ruffled the feathers of George III to the extent that (it was rumoured) he prevented Paley from becoming a bishop:
If you should see a flock of pigeons in a field of corn: and if (instead of each picking where and what it liked, taking just as much as it wanted, and no more) you should see ninety-nine of them gather all they got, into a heap; reserving nothing for themselves, but the chaff and the refuse; keeping this heap for one, and that the weakest, perhaps worst, pigeon of the flock; sitting round, and looking on, all the winter, whilst this one was devouring, throwing about, and wasting it; and if a pigeon more hardy or hungry than the rest, touched a grain of the hoard, all the others flying upon it, and tearing it to pieces; if you should see this, you would see nothing more than what is every day practised and established among
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