Scholar-theologian-bishop William Paley (1743–1802) was already a frequent tenant on the best-seller list when he published his Natural Theology in 1802, three years before his death. The book, which starts with the famous watch argument (“ … suppose I had found a watch upon the ground … when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive … that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose…”, p.1), remained on the best-seller lists for decades, albeit with modifications. Evidences of Christianity, another one of Paley’s books (1794), was a required reading in Cambridge, his Alma Mater, into the twentieth century.
Natural Theology is part of a flow of discussions related to science and religion that accelerated after the scientific revolution. In many respects, Paley follows the path of Isaac Newton’s own natural theology and claims that the scientific study of nature only strenghtens the belief that nature points to an Intelligent Being. Furthermore, when Paley wrote, David Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion had only recently been published (1779). The basic point of Paley was that science and religion go hand in hand and that the study of the “Book of Nature” only reveals an intelligent and good Creator, hence the full title Natural Theology or Evidence of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, collected from the appearance of nature.
One of the problems when trying to read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is the evolution of the text through six editions. This is the result of Darwin’s interaction with his critics, his own reworking of this theory and its wording, his corrections, etc. The sixth and final edition will end up being about 150 pages longer than the first, with fifteen chapters instead of fourteen. All in all, about seventy-five percent of the text was reworked through the six editions.
According to many specialists, Darwin’s changes and interaction with this critics, positive and negative, led to a text that lost the clarity of the original. Furthermore, in the fifth edition, Darwin modified his theory to give less importance to natural selection. If this constant rework was considered a plus for long, this is not the case today. Which edition to read then? If in the past many preferred to read the sixth edition, Darwin’s final formulation, preference often goes today to the first edition (or the second since it is basically a corrected first edition).