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MUSE | Natural Selection | Unit Overview and Materials | Section 2: Comparing Explanatory Models | 2B: Understanding Paley's Model


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Course Material 2B: Understanding Paley's Model

The three days of instruction described here are intended to introduce students to the ideas proposed by William Paley in 1802 in the book Natural Theology. His model invokes the supernatural to explain adaptation and is a particularly clear example of the intelligent design ideas that were prevalent at that time. Students will have an opportunity to come to an understanding of the phenomena he was trying to explain and his explanation in part by reading an excerpt of his original writing. Students will also have direct experience examining the structure/function relationships in the mammalian eye that figured prominently in his writing. Finally, they will work in groups to imagine some of the prior knowledge and beliefs that were central in Paley's thinking.

  • Successful completion of this material involves:
  • Reading an edited version of an excerpt from Natural Theology
  • Answering questions about the reading and participating in a class discussion
  • Dissecting a cow or sheep eye to examine structure/function relationships (this is an optional activity)
  • Working in a group to consider and answer questions about Paley's prior knowledge and beliefs


Students will provide written answers to questions on the reading, the eye dissection experience, and the group discussion of Paley's prior knowledge and beliefs.