William Paley and the Evolution of Natural Theology

William Paley is best known today as the author of an 1802 book titled Natural Theology, in which he argues that the natural world demonstrates evidence of a designer.In recent years, both supporters and opponents of Intelligent Design have invoked Paley as an intellectual precursor to the modern movement. In an article published in 2009 (email me for a copy if you want), I argued that despite reaching the similar conclusions, Paley’s arguments are  fundamentally different from those put forward by ID supporters today. I also suggested that Paley’s views might not be inherently incompatible with theistic interpretations of Darwinian evolution.

My current project looks at the history of the publication, appropriation, teaching, reception, and use of Paley’s Natural Theology from 1802 to the present day.  It asks the question: If people today are invoking Paley in such divergent ways, how did different interpretations emerge and become so  widely accepted? It may also consider the question of how Paley’s approach to science and religion can inform dialogue today.