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Paley's Natural Theology Paperback – April 5, 2005
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As to the work itself, natural theology is greeted with well-deserved ridicule by modern philosophers, but it is worthwhile to understand just what Paley was trying to accomplish and what contemporary intellectual trends and arguments he was responding to. Though his general line of argumentation is now solely the province of religious cranks, it was in his time a respectable attempt to understand natural philosophy and early modern science in light of the omnipresent religious mythology of the day. In offering his infamous "watchmaker" analogy, he was not (as today's creationists do) jumping to pre-determined conclusions by simple indulgence of his own incredulity, but rather making the point that actual observational evidence, as opposed to mere scripture, could be upheld as a standard of evaluation of theories about the natural world. He also found in this a basis for utilitarian - and thus rationalized - ethics. Given that religious dogma could not have been evaded in any real sense, this was a move toward evidence-based scientific theories and non-dogmatic ethics, and a contribution to the debate between natural philosophy and dogmatic religion - on the side of rationalism - that stands in ironic contrast to the use that is usually made of this work today.