A View of the Evidences of Christianity Themes

William Paley

Christian Themes

Although Paley was far from an original thinker, his three major works were extremely influential in shaping mainstream English thought in the nineteenth century. A View of the Evidences of Christianity was required reading for all Cambridge University undergraduates from 1822 to 1920. Charles Darwin, who eventually repudiated the doctrines embodied in Natural Theology, considered them two of the most worthwhile texts he had encountered during his education. The techniques of historical analysis and cross-comparison used by Paley are standard among Roman Catholic and mainstream Protestant biblical scholars today. Although the entire work deals with Christian themes, its core might be characterized as advice to educated Christians on how to read the Bible. In particular, it strikes a reasonable balance between total skepticism about anything failing to meet modern standards of scientific or journalistic accuracy and complete insistence on biblical inerrancy and a literal interpretation of every chapter and verse of the Old as well as the New Testament. The principle, that humans have no need of divine revelation to perceive what they can learn from the senses and their collective experience, and that this applies to the specifics of moral behavior, provides a very useful yardstick against which to measure the myriad provisions of Hebrew law and the less numerous prohibitions contained in the Epistles of Saint Paul, by weighing whether an additional two millennia of experience lead to a different conclusion.