Langcliffe: William Paley

I visited a Langcliffe this spring, near Settle I am always interested in vernacular architecture and a number of its buildings craved my attention. One, in the village’s centre, is an old looking- longhouse with mullioned windows, sometimes known as the Old Vicarage. This is an ancestral home of the Paley family, including William, headmaster of nearby Giggleswick school and his son also William, future Archdeacon of Carlisle (1743-1805). The latter is credited with the Watchmaker Analogy, a famous illustration of the teleological argument for the existence of God:

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 forever: 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 I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. ... There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. ... Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.

— William Paley, Natural Theology (1802 

In other words, we can tell a watch is designed because of its regularity, complexity and purpose; how much so the world? Therefore there must be a world designer, whom we call God. It is Paley’s analogy that Dawkins parodies in his own work The Blind Watchmaker

Even Charles Darwin offers in his writings a degree of praise:

In order to pass the B.A. examination, it was, also, necessary to get up Paley's Evidences of Christianity, and his Moral Philosophy. . . The logic of this book and as I may add of his Natural Theology gave me as much delight as did Euclid. The careful study of these works, without attempting to learn any part by rote, was the only part of the Academical Course which, as I then felt and as I still believe, was of the least use to me in the education of my mind. I did not at that time trouble myself about Paley's premises; and taking these on trust I was charmed and convinced of the long line of argumentation 

Charles Darwin, Autobiography

Paley is an interesting man for other reasons. A life-long opponent of the slave trade, he sided with the American colonies during the revolutionary war, partly because he thought it would lead to the destruction of slavery. Paley may never have lived in the house, and he was certainly not born there, but it is almost certain he stayed there. Who would have thought that so obscure a village would be associated with a man who continues to ruffle atheistic feathers?