Friday, April 14, 2006

Spencer W. Kimball and the watchmaker analogy

The watchmaker analogy (I've posted on this here) is often used as an argument for the existence of God or a creator.[1] A 1986 book by Richard Dawkins contrasts the difference between intelligent design and natural selection, and dubs the latter The Blind Watchmaker.[2] The watchmaker analogy goes to the heart of the current evolution debate.

Spencer W. Kimball was President of the Church when he used the watchmaker analogy in a devotional address at Brigham Young University in September 1977.[3]

The following year, the talk containing President Kimball's watchmaker remarks was published as his September 1978 "First Presidency Message" in the Ensign.[4] And in 1979, it was again published as his July "First Presidency Message" in the Tambuli.[5] In all three articles, President Kimball strongly denies that the earth came into existence by chance, while affirming the divine origin of man. Here is what he said:

"The watchmaker in Switzerland, with materials at hand, made the watch that was found in the sand in a California desert. The people who found the watch had never been to Switzerland, nor seen the watchmaker, nor seen the watch made. The watchmaker still existed, no matter the extent of their ignorance or experience. If the watch had a tongue, it might even lie and say, ' There is no watchmaker.' That would not alter the truth....

"The Gods organized the earth of materials at hand, over which they had control and power. This truth is absolute. A million educated folk might speculate and determine in their minds that the earth came into being by chance. The truth remains. The earth was made by the Gods as was the watch by the watchmaker. Opinions do not change that.

"The Gods organized and gave life to man and placed him on the earth. This is absolute. It cannot be disproved. A million brilliant minds might conjecture otherwise, but it is still true."

According to Edward Kimball in the recent biography, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005) President Kimball said little about the evolution in public and was noncommittal in family discussions. (p. 97.)

President Kimball's 1977, 1978, and 1979 use of the watchmaker analogy seems to have been overlooked in that assessment.


[1] According to Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, The watchmaker analogy is often used as a teleological argument (argument from design) in support of the view that the universe (or features of it) are the product of a conscious designer or designers. A teleological argument is an argument for the existence of God or a creator based on perceived evidence of order, purpose, design and/or direction in nature. The word "teleological" is derived from the Greek word telos, meaning end or purpose. Teleology is the supposition that there is purpose or directive principle in the works and processes of nature.

[2] According to Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design is a 1986 book by Richard Dawkins in which he presents an explanation of, and argument for, the theory of evolution by means of natural selection.

      In his choice of the title for this book, Dawkins makes reference to the watchmaker analogy made famous by William Paley in his book Natural Theology. Paley, arguing over fifty years before Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, held that the complexity of living organisms was evidence of the existence of a divine creator by drawing a parallel with the way in which the existence of a watch compels belief in a (human) watchmaker. Dawkins, contrasting the difference between human design, with its potential for planning, and the working of natural selection, therefore dubbed the latter The Blind Watchmaker.

[3] Spencer W. Kimball, "Absolute Truth," 1977 BYU Devotional Speeches of the Year, 6 Sept. 1977 [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1978], p. 138.

[4] Spencer W. Kimball, "First Presidency Message: Absolute Truth," Ensign, Sept. 1978, p. 4.

[5] Spencer W. Kimball, "First Presidency Message: Absolute Truth," Tambuli, July 1979, p. 4; see also "Absolute Truth," Tambuli, June 1988, 19; and The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.1.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have to confess that my two most recent articles (The Watchmaker Analogy and Spencer W. Kimball and the watchmaker analogy) are partly in response to your article, Spencer W. Kimball on Evolution, posted yesterday. In actual fact however, these articles were already partly written when I saw yours. If you haven't figured it out already, everything I've posted this month will eventually tie into the second half of my review of Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements.

4/14/2006 06:52:00 AM  
Blogger Jared* said...

Boy, here I was thinking it was a remarkable coincidence. Looks like it was intelligently designed.

4/14/2006 07:34:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

It's because of posts like these that I consider Gary's blog to be one of the most potent anti-mormon sites on the web. While hearing these people deny evolution is bad enough (and that's real bad) using the watch maker analogy to back this disbelief simply reveals a total lack of understanding concerning the relevant issues. While Behe's argument may be right (but certainly doesn't seem to be at all), Paley's argument is terrible, absolutely terrible. It would be best for creationists to avoid it altogether.

4/14/2006 09:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

jeff g,

May I simply remind you that it was LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball who used the watchmaker analogy to back his disbelief in the idea that "the earth came into being by chance."

"The earth was made by the Gods as was the watch by the watchmaker," he said (and published it three times during his Presidency).

President Kimball was neither "creationist" (as you are using the term) nor "anti-Mormon." And please allow me to also deny being "creationist" and "anti-Mormon" myself, while we're at it, although I do confess to quoting the Prophet.

But thanks for your thoughts.

4/14/2006 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

But Gary, if his words are really meant to only be applied to the earth's creation then the entire analogy breaks down even further for nobody sees all that much complexity or design is a sphere held together by gravity. Additionally, the entire quote by Behe which you provided seems absolutely beside the point, for there is no such thing as irreducible complexity in the earth itself.

Furthermore, evolutionists don't believe that modern life is the way it is out of chance either. This is what Dawkin's meant by calling natural selection a watch-maker of sorts, because it can produce real design by a process which takes random variation and non-randomly selects for it. Now since Kimball was talking about the creation of the earth and not biological systems, I can flat out say that anybody who says that life is created totally randomly has no idea what they are talking about and it would be better for them to keep silent for the time being. (I don't have anybody in particular in mind when I say this.)

Of course Kimball was a creationist as I use the term, and so are you. A creationist, as I am using the term here, is simply somebody who says that all life didn't evolve from a common ancestry, but was instead created separately. I didn't call him a young earth creationist, only a creationist. I don't think he would dislike such a label either, for creationism is exactly what he is defending in the passage you quote.

However, I never called him an anti-mormon of any kind, but rather your site. Yes I know you are only quoting the Prophets, but that is exactly what the anti's do as well. They provide lot's of quotes to show how plainly wrong they are and thereby discredity their authority. This is exactly how more than a few people will see your site, for while you certainly don't attempt to discredity their authority, you do provide lot's of quotes which clearly demonstrate how wrong many of them have been. I don't see how any of this creationist quote mongering is faith-promoting in the least, for the only thing which it seems to accomplish to demonstrate how much in conflict Mormonism is in with modern science.

4/14/2006 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger Jared* said...

President Kimball's use of the analogy does not make it a good one, but neither is it (I highly suspect) really where he bases his belief, which is grounded elsewhere.

I think Jeff's point is that if you tie Pres. Kimball to Paley's analogy, and the analogy is discredited, then Pres. Kimball can be discredited by association. But in my view, Pres. Kimball only used the analogy to buttress what he already believed as a sort of argument of last resort. If it's a bad analogy then no problem because it was not the foundation in the first place.

On first reading of the post I was tempted to take on the analogy, but then I realized that the real point of the post was that his use of it sheds light on what he thought, which I think is fair.

4/14/2006 03:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



Spencer Kimball was born in 1895. He wasn't a scientist. Give him a break.

We agree on this: He was "somebody who says that all life didn't evolve from a common ancestry, but was instead created separately." And as you say, that is "exactly what he is defending" in the quoted passage.


4/14/2006 07:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



Yes. To everything you said.


4/14/2006 07:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Jeff and Jared (or anyone else),

Do you really think Spencer W. Kimball used the watchmaker analogy in the same way that Paley and Behe did? To state the question another way, did Spencer W. Kimball argue that the watch provides evidence for the existence of the watchmaker?

4/14/2006 07:39:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff G said...

Actually, I do think that he is using the Watch maker analogy in a way similar to Behe, though I'm not sure about Paley. Behe uses the argument from design to reinforce the beliefs which he already has, just as Kimball seems to be doing, though I would imagine that Kimball's is reliant on such to a lesser degree.

I do think that Kimball counts what the watch maker analogy is meant to convey as evidence for God. If he didn't then he simply wouldn't not have used it, for the analogy is so intricately connected with that line of argument.

Luckily, prophets are supposed to be more acquainted with the argument from divine experience than they are the argument from design, so I don't think Kimball's use of this particular analogy is all that implicating. What I do think implicates the prophets in general is their actually preaching against evolution (and this is the main point of Gary's site). Their preaching against evolution simply demonstrates that one of three things is true:

1. Evolution really is false (this is such a whopper though!)

2. The prophets revelations have been false (probably not very likely, and thus shouldn't be trusted.

3. The prophets speak their own beliefs in a far too official way and therefore shouldn't be trusted as much as people think they should.

I simply think 3 is the most reasonable conclusion.

4/15/2006 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

I think most obvious thing that's being overlooked here is that it is possible to hold to a belief in evolution and a belief in divine creation, simultaneously.

Evolution is one possible means of creation, not an alternative to it.

4/17/2006 10:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



Can you give us a published source for the inference you've made here that President Kimball held "to a belief in evolution and a belief in divine creation, simultaneously"?

Where, for example, can we read that President Kimball thought all organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form? When and where did he express a belief in descent with modification?

Are you suggesting that President Kimball would have agreed with Dawkins that Paley was "gloriously and utterly wrong" — that natural selection, rather than an intelligent God, played the role of the watchmaker?

What, exactly, are you trying to say?

4/17/2006 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Peter said...


I said nothing about what President Kimball believed or didn't believe.

I was responding to your summary of him wherein you wrote: "President Kimball strongly denie[d] that the earth came into existence by chance, while affirming the divine origin of man."

My understanding of your belief (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is that [evolution = chance] and [evolution ≠ divine origin]. But if that is your belief, then it needs to be argued and not asserted.

I am open to evolution being the means whereby God guided the development and creation of our earth and the living things upon it.

4/18/2006 02:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



This post is "about what President Kimball believed or didn't believe."

And yes, he "strongly denie[d] that the earth came into existence by chance, while affirming the divine origin of man."

4/18/2006 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger Peter said...


Most Latter-day Saints who accept evolution also strongly deny that the earth came into existence by chance, and also affirm the divine origin of man.

So what, then, is your point in this blog entry?

4/18/2006 04:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



"The earth was made by the Gods as was the watch by the watchmaker." I don't see how this simple, straightforward declaration can be twisted to mean that the Gods directed the process of evolution.

"The Gods organized and gave life to man and placed him on the earth." Notice the sequence. Adam's physical body is created and his spirit gives it life, then he (as a living soul) is "placed" on the earth. The LDS evolutionist view is that the Gods used evolution to create Adam's physical body, [*] eventually finding just the right specimen for his spirit; at which point Adam's body was already on the earth and could not have been "placed" here.

The point is this: President Kimball saw a "watchmaker," not an evolution-of-the-watch-guidance-counselor who only occasionally intervened in the process.

Do you really think "Latter-day Saints who accept evolution," see God's role in the creative process the same way President Kimball did?


*  Of 282 LDS biologists interviewed in 1992, only one thought "man's body did not evolve in any fashion from simpler species and is not biologically related to them." (Trent D. Stephens and D. Jeffrey Meldrum, Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001, 12.)

"Amongst vertebrates, there is a sequence (in the fossil record) all the way from fish to humans," said Duane E. Jeffrey, professor of zoology. (see "Y professors differ with creationist on evolution and carbon-14 dating," printed in the Daily Universe: June 5, 1996.)

"In the vertebrate lineages, for example, there is a virtually solid line connecting all major groups from fish to humans." (Duane Jeffery, "Claims made by 'origins of life' supporters don't hold water," The Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 11, 2006.)

4/18/2006 11:14:00 PM  

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