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William Paley (1743-1805) was an English theologian, born at Peterborough near Northampton . In 1758 Paley entered Christ College, Cambridge. He was ordained in 1767 and lectured on moral philosophy. Paley was an intimate friend of John Law and lectured successfully on metaphysics, morals, and the Greek Testament.

Paley was made a prebendary of the cathedral church of Carlisle in 1780, he became archdeacon of the diocese in 1782, and chancellor in 1785, the year he published Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy. He wrote Horae Paulinae (1790), in proof that the New Testament is not a cunningly devised fable, and A View of the Evidences of Christianity (1794), for which he is celebrated. Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (1802) achieved great popularity. In 1825 a complete edition of his writings was published by his son, Edmund Paley. He died at Lincoln May 25, 1805.

William Paley may be most noted for his “parable of Paley,” a logical view offering proof that God exists. It is noted below.

“In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there: I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever; nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, — that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? Why is it not as admissible in the second case, as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz. that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; …This mechanism being observed (it requires indeed an examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed and understood), the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker: that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer: who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.” (Paley, 1807)”

“A large part of virtue consists in good habits.”

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