My smartwatch and the teleological argument for God’s existence

Since about two months I am the proud owner of an Apple Smartwatch. I got it for my birthday from my wife, at the suggestion of my son. The idea is, that for a man like me, who is somewhat advanced in age, this smartwatch can help monitor all sorts of health issues. The device not only looks smart, but can–in combination with my smartphone–also do an incredible amount of different things. Using all sorts of sensors, the smartwatch can count the number of footsteps during my daily walk, measure how many stairs I’ve climbed, the exact distance I’ve covered, and the calories I’ve consumed in these efforts. It can monitor my heart rhythm and even make an electrocardiogram (ECG). The smartwatch has an alarm clock and a GPS. It allows me to read my incoming e-mail, take pictures, check the weather forecast, make phone calls, and much more. Of course, I first bought a book to find out what my smartwatch can do. A Bible app would let me read the Bible, but I have yet to install that. [And yes, the watch also tells me what time it is].

By now, I can handle my new watch quite well, but I still have to figure out how to pay with it. Last night I managed to turn off the Siri function, because it can be annoying when the digital Siri-lady suddenly interferes. That happened this past week when, during a Zoom lecture I was giving, Siri volunteered several times that she could not find a certain term!

It is beyond me as a technical and digital ignoramus to understand how so many functions can be combined in such a small device, and then also has space left for a battery. When I look for a good term to define it, I quickly come up with the word “miracle.” And perhaps it is not so strange to think of a word with a theological association, for in the past people have regularly associated theology with watches.

The all-important theological question is, and remains, whether we can prove that God exists. Over the centuries, theologians and philosophers have come up with a number of classical proofs of God. One of these was the so-called teleological argument. The word “teleological” is derived from the Greek word for “purpose” (telos). The things we find in our world do not just happen to be there, but they have a purpose, and they were made by someone for that purpose. This type of argument for the existence of God will forever be associated with the name of William Paley (1743-1805), a British philosopher and theologian. He became best known for his treatment of the existence of God in his work Natural Theology, in which he used the analogy of the watchmaker. According to Paley, a watch is so complicated that it cannot have come about by chance. There must be a watchmaker. And that applies not only to a watch, but also to the whole world. And, therefore, we do have to assume that there is a “world maker”: God.

Many opponents of the theory of evolution still point to the fact that everything we see in nature shows evidence of “design”, and that, therefore, there must be a (divine) Designer. But nowadays, people generally don’t place much value on the classical proofs of God’s existence, and that includes Paley’s version of the teleological argument. In discussions with atheist friends, it makes little impression. I fear that if I brought up the watch argument, with reference to the “miracle” of my smartwatch, the response would be that my smartwatch does not point to God but to the miracle workers at Apple.

Even owners of miracle devices like the smartwatch will have to acknowledge that there is no “evidence” that God exists. But it is plausible that there is a Maker, and in my opinion, it is harder to believe that there is no God than to believe the opposite. The American theologian of Dutch descent, Alvin Plantinga (born 1932), wrote a book that has meant a lot to me. Its title is Warranted Beliefs. In that book Plantinga shows in a (for me) convincing way that belief in God, and in what has been revealed about Him, is entirely reasonable, even in the absence of absolute evidence. To me, it means that it is totally reasonable to assume that a supernatural Designer somehow “made” people in such a way that they would be able to develop “smart” watches.

One thought on “My smartwatch and the teleological argument for God’s existence

  1. George Tichy

    Great message. Yes, those watches are indeed a miracle, especially because they can still tell the time… lol I won’t ever get one, because of my current sight limitation – and I already have a watch that shows me the time, so I am fine…

    Oh my, if we could only have any proof of the existence of God! I can’t imagine how many problems would be avoided or solved. But, for some reason, it cannot be done. This issue has tortured me for a long time, and the more scientific data about the Universe is accumulated, the more intense the torture becomes…

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