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Paley’s Watch

Evidence for the existence of God

by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2009)

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider how a watch can help to suggest evidence for the existence of God.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and three readers, who will need time to rehearse prior to the assembly.

    Optional: if possible, the readers should be dressed in hiking gear and one should be carrying an OS map.

  • You will also need a watch.


Reader 1 walks in, dressed in hiking gear and holding a map.

Reader 1: I’ve been walking for hours. It’s great, the outdoors. No one around: just me, my map and nature. Fantastic!

Reader 1 walks on a little further, and then notices something on the ground.

Reader 1: Hello, what’s this? (Picks up the watch.) Oh! Someone’s lost their watch – how annoying for them! (Looks around.) Let me see if I can find them.

Reader 2 enters, looking searchingly at the ground.

Reader 2:
I’ve lost my watch! How annoying. (Keeps looking.)

Reader 1: Hello! Are you looking for something?

Reader 2: Yes, I’ve lost my watch somewhere. I’ve been looking for it for ages. I thought I’d lost it around about here.

Reader 1: Oh, is it yours? Here it is. You must have dropped it.

Reader 2: Oh, thank you so much! It’s very important to me.

Reader 1: Yes, it must be. (Looks at the watch very carefully.) It’s really intricate and beautifully made. Anyway, Id better be off (taps map); Ive got a few miles to go yet.

Reader 2: Yes, me, too! Thanks again. (Walks off.)

Reader 1 (beginning to leave): Yes, that watch really was lovely, and the mechanism was something special. I wonder who made it . . . (Shrugs, and then walks off.)

Leader: ‘Who made it?’ That’s a good question, and one thats often asked about complex items. I wonder who made it. Was it a machine or a person? Someone in a factory? Did someone make it by hand? Let’s leave our pair of hikers to get to their destinations and tell their separate stories to anyone who will listen. Meanwhile, we can think about our main question today: how can a watch help to prove the existence of God?

In 1802, a man named William Paley decided to use the example of a watch to explain the creation of the world and how it points to the existence of a creator God. This argument is deductive: it argues from what you can see to a conclusion. Paley used this idea to try to prove the existence of God.

Reader 3: William Paley said, ‘When we come to inspect the watch, we perceive . . . that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that, if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it . . . the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker – that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.’

Leader: So, the argument goes that if you look at the universe and its intricacies, there is no way you would think that it could be created or made by chance. The trees are all different shades of green, and the animal kingdom is astonishingly diverse, including snakes, lions, tigers and chameleons. If you turn your thoughts to the complexity of the human body - how you breathe, how you repair yourself and how you developed from a few cells into the most complex thinking creature on Earth - Paley would say that you are like the watch, with its cogs, wheels and mechanisms. You, and the world around you, are so complex and so wonderful that you must have had a designer, and that designer we call ‘God’.

Time for reflection

Of course, we now know much more than William Paley about the creation and development of the universe. Paley published his thoughts over 60 years before Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution. However, whether we believe in a creator God who is present in every part of creation, whether we believe that it is by sheer chance and the process of evolution that we are here now, or whether our beliefs are somewhere in the middle, it cannot be denied that the world in which we live, and the life that we find, are unbelievably complex and brilliant.

So, the next time you check your watch or look at the time on your mobile, consider who made it. You might like to consider the same thought while considering the stars in the sky the next time you look at them, too.

Light a candle, and give the students time to think about what they’ve just heard.

This world,
Your creation,
Rolled into a sphere,
Packaged in sunshine,
Gift-wrapped in love,
Given to us,
Thank you.


‘Fragile’ by Sting, available at: (3.51 minutes long)

Publication date: April 2019   (Vol.21 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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