Favorite Arguments from Paley I: Day & Night

Busy busy busy! To buffer against the death of my blog, my next few posts will focus on various arguments from Paley that I am particularly fond of (aside from the few arguments I discussed in my previous post). The first argument I chose is not related to intelligent design as we normally think of it; instead, Paley’s awe towards the relation of living organisms to the cycles of day and night evokes a wider sense of design in the universe than the narrowly constructed “God must have designed the bacterial flagellum.” Paley sees design in the construction of the heavens itself. As Paley points out, this relation is quite wondrous!

(This argument is presented on pages 157-158 of my copy of Natural Theology, or at the bottom of page 191 in this Google Book. I have excised a few paragraphs below so the narrative flow may seem disjointed… because it is.)

The last relation of this kind which I shall mention is that of sleep to night. And it appears to me to be a relation which was expressly intended. Two points are manifest: first, that the animal frame requires sleep; secondly, that night brings with it a silence, and a cessation of activity, which allows of sleep being taken without interruption, and without loss. Animal existence is made up of action and slumber: nature has provided a season for each.

If the relation of sleep to night, and, in some instances, its converse, be real, we cannot reflect without amazement upon the extent to which it carries us. Day and night are things close to us: the change applies immediately to our sensations: of all the phenomena of nature, it is the most familiar to our experience: but, in its cause, it belongs to the great motions which are passing in the heavens.

Whilst the earth glides round her axle, she ministers to the alternate necessities of the animals dwelling upon her surface, at the same time that she obeys the influence of those attractions, which regulate the order of many thousand worlds.

The relation therefore of sleep to night, is the relation of the inhabitants of the earth to the rotation of their globe; probably it is more: it is a relation to the system, of which that globe is a part; and, still further, to the congregation of systems, of which theirs is only one. If this account be true, it connects the meanest individual with the universe itself; a chicken roosting upon its perch, with the spheres revolving in the firmament.

While this is far from convincing anyone of design, Paley does strike a chord, I think. I am quite fond of seeing the intricacies of the world system, and I love that Paley finds such intricacies in the very realm of sleep. We normally think of sleep as the time between nestling into bed and angrily turning an alarm clock off, forgetting not only the neurological processes going on within the brain, but that as the earth rotates, there is an infinite and continuous wave of individuals falling asleep while their counterparts on the opposite side of the globe are rising from their slumber. The fact that this system wasn’t designed, but arose naturally from the contingencies of the earth’s rotation in relation to its sun and from the animalian need for sleep, makes this phenomenon even more wondrous than Paley could have ever imagined. There is no need for Paley’s God to make this world an astounding place.

4 thoughts on “Favorite Arguments from Paley I: Day & Night

  1. What a wonderful argument – apart from owls, blind cave fish, bats, moles, and other nocturnal animals. And animals living closer to the poles that cope with very long days and nights.

    I guess Paley’s sense of wonder was far more localised than he cared to realise.

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    • Paley does address nocturnal creatures, in fact:

      “Nor does it disturb our arguments to confess, that certain species of animals are in motion during the night, and at rest in the day. With respect even to them it is still true, that there is a change of condition in the animal, and an external change corresponding with it.There is still the relation, though inverted. The fact is, that the repose of other animals sets those at liberty, and invites them to their food or sport” (158).

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