Evolving Thoughts about the Watchmaker

The Watchmaker: Being Methodical in Planning for Success

As a Scoutmaster and counselor in a ward Young Men presidency, I attended a stake priesthood leadership meeting as part of our stake conference this weekend.

Explanatory Aside: In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, congregations are organized into geographical units called wards; a group of wards in a geographic region forms a stake, which references the Old Testament scripture, "Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes" (Isaiah 54:2).

In this meeting, a member of our stake presidency referred to the Watchmaker analogy. This analogy is to the effect that if you were to be walking through a desert and came upon a perfectly functioning pocket watch, then your thought would not be that the watch had happened due to random fluctuations in nature, but rather that there had been a watchmaker that had designed this watch and through some circumstance, the watch had been left behind. The analogy is often cited in support of creationism and more recently in support of the theory of intelligent design.

In our meeting, we drew lessons from the analogy of the watchmaker by thinking about the attributes of a watchmaker in his or her plan to design and create a functioning watch and then applying those principles to how we lead church programs and activities to prepare our youth to be a dedicated, committed and converted force for the future. I found the exercise to be uplifting and insightful and left with a renewed commitment to reflect on how activities that I influence might focus on the bigger objectives of helping youth come unto Christ.

I also found that I was somewhat bothered by the use of the analogy. You see, the watchmaker analogy is often used as an anti-evolution argument, which in turn becomes an anti-science argument. Now, as a religious scientist, I want to be clear that I do believe that God is the great Creator. I believe that there is a design and a plan. Viewing the wonders of creation, of nature, of our bodies, and of the intricate web of interactions between plants, animals, and the earth strengthens my faith in God's love for me, in particular, and all of us, in general.

No, it is not the idea that there is intelligent design behind the workings of the universe that bothers me, but it is the discounting of the scientific method as a way to understand those workings. I see evolution as a scientific framework for understanding natural history and the balance of interactions of living organisms on this earth. In this light, the scientific theory gives me a perspective into the designs and methods that our Creator used to prepare the earth for the time in which we now live.

Creation: Conditions Suitable for Life

Mormon doctrine in relation to the creation does not follow traditional creationism. We believe that there was a spiritual creation (a plan) before the physical creation. In addition, we do not believe in ex nihilo creation, but that God organized the matter in a way that would accomplish His purposes. One of our books of scripture to supplement the Bible, called The Book of Abraham, gives an inspired perspective on the creation.

Explanatory Aside: We (Mormons) believe in a pre-mortal existence, where we lived as spirits in the presence of our Heavenly Father, who is God. Our Father presented His plan whereby we, His children, might obtain a fulness of joy. This plan required that we come to an earth and participate in a mortal experience, obtain a body and learn to choose between good and evil. God's preeminent and perfect Son, who would be born as Jesus, accepted the necessary role of Redeemer of all mankind. The first step toward fulfilling this plan would be to prepare an earth.

Under the direction of the Father, the pre-mortal Jesus guided the creation.
"And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell" (Abraham 3:24).
 The account continues by indicating that the creation was a process of ordering and waiting.
 "And the Gods said: Let us prepare the earth to bring forth grass; the herb yielding seed; the fruit tree yielding fruit, after his kind, whose seed in itself yieldeth its own likeness upon the earth; and it was so, even as they ordered. … and the Gods saw that they were obeyed" (Abraham 4:11-12).
"And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed" (Abraham 4:18).
"And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth the beasts after their kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after its kind; and the Gods saw they would obey" (Abraham 4:25).
As I read this account, I can imagine the expanse of the universe under the tender eye of a creator, presenting conditions in which stars might be born and planets might form. In one of these solar systems, a planet was formed at a location that would be suitable for plants to grow, for life to develop in the great waters, for animals to emerge and thrive, and all conditions develop to be suitable for God's children to have a place of habitation and to fulfill that great plan of happiness presented by their Eternal and Heavenly Father.

Because science seeks answers to "How?" rather than "Why?", science ascribes randomness to what someone with faith might ascribe purpose and design. The story of evolution therefore becomes a story of a patient Creator adapting His creation toward the fulfillment of His plan. I, therefore, do not see this universe, this world, or even my physical body as similar to a watch that was designed with all parts laid out with their designated purpose and then constructed according to that plan. My faith in God's purpose and direction of the creation is nevertheless strengthened in light of the scientific theory and not in spite of what science explains.

Revisiting the Watchmaker's Shop

I come back to where I started, imagining myself in a stake priesthood leadership meeting, talking about how we can learn lessons from the analogy of the watchmaker. But instead of a the attributes and plans of the watchmaker, I want to think about the attributes and strategies of the Creator and how that might influence my approach to guiding youth toward becoming dedicated, committed and converted.
  • Purpose — The watchmaker and the creator share this attribute. They prepared their plans with a specific purpose. The watchmaker's purpose was to create a thing; the Creator's purpose was to prepare an earth whereon His children might dwell. People are not things we can act on, they are agents that act for themselves. So perhaps the question should be, "Am I helping to establish an environment that will best prepare participants for experiences that they need to progress?"
  • Patient — A watchmaker's patience is related to the tedious nature of putting the pieces in place, in the inevitable misplaced pieces, the alignment of parts, and so on. The Creator's patience was that sometimes it took time for the one stage of development to occur before a new stage could proceed. The watchmaker needs patience for the task; the Creator's patience is for the individual.
  • Adaptable — A watchmaker has a plan and follows the plan, because a watch will always turn out right when you follow the plan. The Creator established a pattern and ordered nature to follow that pattern. But our understanding of this process suggests that different stages of development required different conditions. Adaptations were introduced that prepared for future stages. I am certain that our Heavenly Father sees each of His children according to their divine potential and prepares experiences that will prepare each according to his or her unique needs.
  • Understanding — The watchmaker requires a mechanistic understanding of how springs, gears and other materials work together to form a precise time piece. An evolutionary view of creation suggests that the Creator applied an understanding of adaptation and selection to guide the process toward the ultimately desired outcome. Individuals are neither uniform nor mechanistic. They have different motivations and experiences. Understanding an individual will lead to a motivation for different experiences than might be necessary for a different individual.
  • Process — Perhaps an extension of understanding, I am here focused on an understanding of the process of change. In evolution, mutations and other molecular events affecting an organism's DNA allow new traits to be manifest or existing traits to change. In the perspective of conversion, the process of change requires faith and repentance, which comes about by feeling the power of the Holy Ghost and choosing to act on that prompting.
As I contemplate how this analogy might affect my perspective in serving youth in my ministry, I think that the biggest take-home messages are that:
  • Efforts need to focus on the needs and circumstances of individuals.
  • A primary emphasis needs to be in creating an environment in which individuals can feel the Spirit and choose to act on those feelings.
  • Activities need purpose at multiple levels. An activity might have a particular purpose specific to its time, but it should also be viewed in a continuum of experiences that will facilitate the long-term objective of helping individuals come unto Christ and be perfected in Him.
  • Ultimate success (individual conversion) may not be measurable in the short term. Measures of success may need to based upon how we are preparing the environment. Are we seeking inspiration from the Creator and acting on that inspiration? Are we providing experiences where individuals could feel the Holy Ghost? Are we inviting them to make choices? Are we providing them opportunities where they can share the effects of those choices?
I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on these ideas. What other attributes come to your mind regarding the pattern of creation and how it could guide us in our ministry to others?


  1. Brian, thank you for this beautiful, thoughtful blog. I am suppose to submit the message for the stake YW newsletter - can I use some of your thoughts?
    thanks, Becky McIntyre

    1. Becky, feel free to use the thoughts. The original discussion was led by Pres. Schill. Joe probably has some notes on that as well.

  2. Yeah, he did take notes and he was also very impressed with the discussion. However, you pulled it all together so nicely - especially for those of us not in the meeting. thanks!

  3. Brian - I appreciate your blog's thoughtful observations about the intersection(s) between Scouting, faith, and science.



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