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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

Nothing New Under the Sun

In a blurb for The Privileged Planet, Phillip Skell says

"In this fascinating and highly original book, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards advance a persuasive argument, and marshal a wealth of diverse scientific evidence to justify that argument. In the process, they effectively challenge several popular assumptions, not only about the nature and history of science, but also about the nature and origin of the cosmos. The Privileged Planet will be impossible to ignore. It is likely to change the way we view both the scientific enterprise and the world around us. I recommend it highly."

- Philip Skell, Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus of Physics, Pennsylvania State University, Member, National Academy of Sciences.

But how original is the basic idea in Gonzalez and Richards' book, that we are especially well-situated to observe and make sense of astronomical data? It turns out that the giant whose shoulders Gonzalez and Richards stand upon is none other than the Reverend William Paley.

In 1802, the Rev. Paley wrote a long treatise on the argument from design. Titled Natural Theology, this work covers a lot of ground, but anyone familiar with the literature of the antievolution movement will see much that has been lovingly preserved in more recent argumentation.

Toward the end of the book, Paley delves into matters of astronomy. One can recognize various statements there as precursors to what we now call the anthropic principle. But Paley did not like to leave any argument unsaid, and so we can also see in his writing the clear delineation of the idea that our ability to make sense of astronomy also counts as an argument that a benign creator set things up that way.

After all; the real subject of admiration is, that we understand so much of astronomy as we do. That an animal confined to the surface of one of the planets; bearing a less proportion to it than the smallest microscopic insect does to the plant it lives upon; that this little, busy, inquisitive creature, by the use of senses which were given to it for its domestic necessities, and by means of the assistance of those senses which it has had the art to procure, should have been enabled to observe the whole system of worlds to which its own belongs; the changes of place of the immense globes which compose it; and with such accuracy, as to mark out beforehand, the situation in the heavens in which they will be found at any future point of time; and that these bodies, after sailing through regions of void and trackless space, should arrive at the place where they were expected, not within a minute, but within a few seconds of a minute, of the time prefixed and predicted: all this is wonderful, whether we refer our admiration to the constancy of the heavenly motions themselves, or to the perspicacity and precision with which they have been noticed by mankind. Nor is this the whole, nor indeed the chief part of what astronomy teaches. By bringing reason to bear upon observation (the acutest reasoning upon the exactest observation), the astronomer has been able, out of the mystic dance,and the confusion (for such it is) under which the motions of the heavenly bodies present themselves to the eye of a mere gazer upon the skies, to elicit their order and their real paths.

Our knowledge therefore of astronomy is admirable, though imperfect: and, amidst the confessed desiderata and desideranda, which impede our investigation of the wisdom of the Deity, in these the grandest of his works, there are to be found, in the phænomena, ascertained circumstances and laws, sufficient to indicate an intellectual agency in three of its principal operations, viz. in choosing, in determining, in regulating; in choosing, out of a boundless variety of suppositions which were equally possible, that which is beneficial; in determining, what, left to itself, had a thousand chances against conveniency, for one in its favour; in regulating subjects, as to quantity and degree, which, by their nature, were unlimited with respect to either. It will be our business to offer, under each of these heads, a few instances, such as best admit of a popular explication.

(William Paley, Natural Theology, 1802, pp.380-382)

So don't let folks like Phillip Skell mislead you. Antievolution literature is long on elaboration of previous antievolution stances, and very, very short on novelty.