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."