For Paley, a watch is purposeful and thus must have been created by a being with a purpose. A watch needs a watchmaker, just as a world needs a world-maker—God. Yet both Wallace and Paley might have heeded the lesson from Voltaire's Candide (1759), in which Dr. Pangloss, a professor of "metaphysico-theology-cosmolonigology," through reason, logic, and analogy "proved" that this is the best of all possible worlds: '"Tis demonstrated that things cannot be otherwise; for, since everything is made for an end, everything is necessarily for the best end. Observe that noses were made to wear spectacles; and so we have spectacles. Legs were visibly instituted to be breeched, and we have breeches" (1985, p. 238). The absurdity of this argument was intended on the part of the author, for Voltaire firmly rejected the Panglossian paradigm that all is best in the best of all possible worlds. Nature is not perfectly designed, nor is this the best of all possible worlds. It is simply the world we have, quirky, contingent, and flawed as it may be.
A number of years ago, when I was a freshly-appointed instructor, I met, for the first time, a certain eminent historian of science. At the time I could only regard him with tolerant condescension.I was sorry of the man who, it seemed to me, was forced to hover about the edges of science. He was compelled to shiver endlessly in the outskirts, getting only feeble warmth from the distant sun of science- in-progress; while I, just beginning my research, was bathed in the heady liquid heat up at the very center of the glow.In a lifetime of being wrong at many a point, I was never more wrong. It was I, not he, who was wandering in the periphery. It was he, not I, who lived in the blaze.I had fallen victim to the fallacy of the 'growing edge;' the belief that only the very frontier of scientific advance counted; that everything that had been left behind by that advance was faded and dead.But is that true? Because a tree in spring buds and comes greenly into leaf, are those leaves therefore the tree? If the newborn twigs and their leaves were all that existed, they would form a vague halo of green suspended in mid-air, but surely that is not the tree. The leaves, by themselves, are no more than trivial fluttering decoration. It is the trunk and limbs that give the tree its grandeur and the leaves themselves their meaning.There is not a discovery in science, however revolutionary, however sparkling with insight, that does not arise out of what went before. 'If I have seen further than other men,' said Isaac Newton, 'it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.