The watchmaker argument has been a pinnacle argument for Christian apologetics for a very long time. Evolution has been propped up as an appropriate piece of evidence serving to debunk the argument. Is this really the case?
In order to address this appropriately, we will first need a cursory overview of the watchmaker argument. This is a 200 year old claim made by British theologian William Paley. The original argument is that if a person happened to be walking along and discovered a rock, they would think nothing of it. If a person were walking along and found a watch, they would think that someone had made it. In the same way, our universe is much more representative of a watch. It is a system of specific rules and order that must have been designed.
One counter to this claim is that evolution explains how things can “seem” to be perfected after such a long period of time even though this was not always the case. Life has gone through many trial and error phases and there is evidence around us that indicates this. Another counter to this claim is to point out something that does not seem to be fine-tuned or efficient as an example that evolution is still occurring and natural selection is a much more likely explanation for what we are seeing around us.
One example of inefficiency I have seen is a protein called Rubisco, one of the most abundant proteins on the planet, which is used by plant life in order to facilitate photosynthesis. Rubisco takes co2 and removes the carbon from it. The reason it is considered inefficient is because it cannot seem to differentiate between co2 and o2. This results in both photosynthesis and photorespiration, basically plants are able to consume Oxygen and create Carbon Dioxide as well as the more commonly known action of consuming Carbon Dioxide and producing Oxygen. This is seen as damaging to the plant because it is not yet understood how a plant benefits from photorespiration.
It is interesting to me that Rubisco is pointed to as an “inefficiency”. I suppose it my be seen as inefficient if we are looking at evolution as a way for a form of life to refine and better itself specifically but what if that is not the case? Plants served a role in preparing the earth for animal life. They accomplished this not only as a food source but also by modifying our very atmosphere. Plants converted co2 to oxygen prior to oxygen-breathing animals emerging. This likely means that it would have been very beneficial for plants to be capable of balancing their contribution to the atmosphere by ensuring they did not consume all of the Carbon Dioxide and starve themselves as a result. What better way to do this than by creating Carbon Dioxide as well?
Certainly plants do not possess the self-awareness or physical capabilities needed to control how they evolve and what their bodies consume. If plants were not gifted an inefficient Rubisco protein we may have ended up with an imbalance of oxygen in our atmosphere resulting in a global temperature that would be either far too hot or far too cold. We could say that it was mere chance that plant life evolved the way that it did and we are merely fortunate that plants continue to contribute to the balance of gasses in our atmosphere, or we can suggest something more than chance.
To me, the argument against a watchmaker can just as easily be an argument for a watchmaker. A universe that is fine-tuned to support the emergence of life that is capable of evolving and adapting in order to sustain itself is a far more impressive accomplishment for an ultimate creator than a glass lizard case with a few specimens tossed inside. Or to put it another way, causing something to create itself according to your specifications is far more impressive than merely creating something that is fine-tuned. Even if the end result appears a little “inefficient” from our perspective.