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Romans 1:18-25 (ESV)

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

This passage reminded me of the watchmaker argument:

The watchmaker analogy or watchmaker argument is a teleological argument which states, by way of an analogy, that a design implies a designer, especially intelligent design by an intelligent designer, i.e. a creator deity. The watchmaker analogy was given by William Paley in his 1802 book Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity.[1] The original analogy played a prominent role in natural theology and the "argument from design," where it was used to support arguments for the existence of God of the universe, in both Christianity and Deism. Prior to Paley, however, Sir Isaac Newton, René Descartes, and others from the time of the scientific revolution had believed "that the physical laws he had uncovered revealed the mechanical perfection of the workings of the universe to be akin to a watch, wherein the watchmaker is God."[2]

(source)

Is Paul, in essence, making the watchmaker argument in Romans 1:18-25?


Related: Is God hidden or not?

4 Answers 4

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Yes, Paul is making a teleological argument here, but it functions somewhat differently from modern watch-maker arguments.

Paul is writing at a time when nearly everyone believed in some supernatural Being or beings; his emphasis is not proving to them that God exists, but that the God with these specific attributes exists.

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Jews vs. Gentiles

Let's back up a few verses:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

In his epistle to the Romans, Paul is addressing the controversies between Jewish Christians & Gentile Christians--verse 16 is one of the principal theses he will defend at length in this epistle: the same gospel message is being offered to everyone.

One of the central disagreements in the early church was the applicability of the Law of Moses and to whom (see Acts 15). Paul will make the case later in the epistle that salvation does not come by the Law of Moses (for Jews or Gentiles); right now he's establishing that those without the Law of Moses are still accountable to God. He calls out several pagan practices in the succeeding verses; Paul indicates that these practices are still sinful--even without the Law of Moses--because Creation manifests the divine nature of God and these practices are contrary to God's nature.

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Conscience

In verse 20 Paul argues that sinners (both Jew & Gentile) are "without excuse" for acting contrary to God's nature; he shows through the teleological argument that nature bears witness to God's nature, meaning everyone has at least some basic understanding of right & wrong. In modern times we call this a "conscience"; this is the word commonly used to translate συνείδησις in Romans 2:15, where Paul further expounds that even the pagans have a basic knowledge of right & wrong.

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Accountability

Paul also points out, however, that God has not given humanity only a conscience. God has spoken explicitly and provided rules, and He holds people accountable for their adherence to the rules they know.

11 For there is no respect of persons with God.

12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;

13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. (Romans 2:11-13)

Paul establishes a few points here that will be frustrating to the Judaizers, including:

  • You aren't better than other people just because you are familiar with what God has said (note his agreement with James 2:19)
  • God has higher expectations of people as He gives them more knowledge

This latter point is also illustrated by Jesus in Luke 12:

47 And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.

48 But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

However, Paul is also clear that ignorance is not bliss. He'll develop that more extensively in chapter 10 (see esp. vss. 13-15), where "salvation", "peace" and "good things" from God do not come in full measure without an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

People need to come to Christ to receive the fulness of His blessings, but at any given stage in coming, they'll be held accountable for and judged according to what they know at that point.

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Conclusion

Yes, Paul is making a teleological argument. But whereas (most) modern watch-maker arguments are arguments that God exists, Paul goes one step further: he's arguing that this specific God exists.

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Paul was not making the watchmaker argument per se but he was assuming it for his larger point, as everyone assumed it at that time.

Rather, Paul is building up to an argument that everyone must be justified by faith in Christ.

Now the alternative to justification by faith is by your own good works -- your own righteousness. For Israel, it was clear that no one in Israel could ever hope to keep the law of Moses -- and be justified by it. Paul goes on at length about that in Romans 3.9-19, but first he has to dispense with other people who were not under the Mosaic law. Those are the ones being addressed in this passage.

In theory, the Greeks could be under a lesser law, one which they could meet, and so they would not need to live by faith and have no need for Christ's salvation. They could live without a guilty conscience knowing they kept some weaker version of God's law that was possible for them to keep.

This is what Paul is addressing in the first two chapters of Romans, when he says:

Romans 1.18:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness [...] For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

So this is not about the existence of God, but about God's wrath and his requirements being made known even to the gentiles, and so it doesn't even matter if you are a jew or greek, you will still be judged by how you keep the Law and moreover you know that you need to keep the Law, even if you are not a jew, because nature has revealed this to you.

Romans 2.11-15

For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

Therefore God does not have two definitions of righteousness, one for jews and one for Greeks, neither does God have different standards. The requirements for righteousness and holiness are manifest in nature and so are given to non-jews as well as jews.

Thus everyone should have a guilty conscience and understand that they do not meet God's righteousness, and thus everyone needs salvation by Christ's atonement.

Then comes the question, well what about those who clearly do not have a guilty conscience? Paul says that their conscience is seared and God has turned them over to their own lusts as a result, and therefore they are doomed to living lives of extreme sinfulness. Thus they are punished for not meeting the requirements of the law even if they are not jews.

Romans 1:24 (KJV 1900)

24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves

and also:

Romans 1.32

Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

So the idea of a watchmaker as a rationale for the existence of God is something that Paul (and his readers) assume without elaboration, but Paul is arguing for the universality of God's definition of Righteousness, that this is revealed by nature and put into every man's conscience, and so every man, not just the jew, is in need of Christ's atonement.

0

The short answer is "No", I do not believe Paul is making the Watchmaker argument in Rom 1:18-23, and Rom 2:14-16. Rather, Paul is arguing something similar to what C. S. Lewis argues in his first five chapters of "Mere Christianity" that: (I paraphrase)

the almost universal existence of Morality among all tribes of the earth, including atheists, argues for the existence of the universal moral law as written by God.

Now, whether one subscribes to this argument for God is another matter. In fact, Paul merely asserts this with providing much supporting debate, except perhaps in Rom 2:14-16 -

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. So they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts either accusing or defending them on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Christ Jesus, as proclaimed by my gospel.

0

Paul is making a laying out an argument that everyone has rejected God and that God has provided reconciliation through faith in Jesus Christ
Paul is not trying to prove the existence of God (an ontological argument).

Paul starts with how people learn about salvation:

Romans 1

14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Paul's is explaining that the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel and that we who believe in faith share in this righteousness.

Next, Paul explains how our relationship with God was broken, how we became unrighteous.

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

The point being that wicked people who have no excuse for their wickedness, they can't claim they did not know better. God's expectations for their behavior is plain.
This is not an argument for the existence of God. Instead, this is an argument that the wicked - the unrighteous - have no excuse - for their wickedness. Notice the next verse:

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

The result of ignoring what they already knew was a rejection of God that led to futile thinking and idolatry which led to other destructive behavior as detailed in the next section.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Chapter 1:14 is the beginning of a argument laying out the case that everyone has sinned against God and needs salvation - even the Jews (Romans 2:17-29)
In chapter 3:21 Paul lays out the solution to the broken relationship between God and people.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Paul says in verse 22 that righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. He then goes into great depth explaining the opening statement back in 1:14.

If you read Romans 1:18 - 20 outside of the context of the rest of Romans it's easy to understand why someone might think there is an argument for the existence of God here.
If you read Romans 1:18 - 20 in the context of the book of Romans you will reach the conclusion Paul intended. A summary of Paul's conclusion is found in Romans 3

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

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