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Discussion 1 to A Miscellany 39
Debates Of Robert G. Ingersoll

from: Eduardo Carrión Letort

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Interesting guy this Colonel Ingersoll. His debates are worth reading.

I particularly liked his answer to Mr. Field regarding the watch problem. The theist argument goes as follows:

“I beg to ask if it is possible for you to take in your hands a watch, and believe that there was no "design" in its construction; that it was not made to keep time, but only "happened" so; that it is the product of some freak of nature, which brought together its parts and set it going. Do you not know with as much positiveness as can belong to any conviction of your mind, that it was not the work of accident, but of design; and that if there was a design, there was a designer? And if the watch was made to keep time, was not the eye made to see and the ear to hear?”

Ingersoll’s answer was:

“You find a watch, and you say that it exhibits, or shows design. You insist that it is so wonderful it must have had a designer -- in other words, that it is too wonderful not to have been constructed. You then find the watchmaker, and you say with regard to him that he too must have had a designer, for he is more wonderful than the watch. In imagination you go from the watchmaker to the being you call God, and you say he designed the watchmaker, but he himself was not designed because he is too wonderful to have been designed. And yet in the case of the watch and of the watchmaker, it was the wonder that suggested design, while in the case of the maker of the watchmaker the wonder denied a designer. Do you not see that this argument devours itself? If wonder suggests a designer, can it go on increasing until it denies that which it suggested?”

Clever argument. Mr. Ingersoll (ca 1890) knew Darwin’s work. After more that a hundred years studying evolution we can add the following to this debate:

Evolution is a two step process. First, due to gene recombination during fecundation, and to lesser degree to mutations, not two living creatures are exactly the same, thus giving natural selection ample material to work with. This process is mainly driven by chance.

Second, since more beings are born in each generation than the available resources allow to survive, any individual with even a slight improvement will have a better chance to survive and, consequently, to transmit his genes.

This second step, natural selection, may also have a chance component because the term “best fitted” is always in direct relation to the particular environment that individual happens to inhabit.

That is how nature produces such complex organs like the eye. Slowly evolving from a simple light sensitive spot to the complex organ we find in some animals. It is now known that the eye was “invented” by this process no less than forty times. Flight was independently developed at least three times, etc.

An excellent book on this topic is “What Evolution Is” by Ernst Mayr.