In the 17th and 18th centuries, the watchmaker analogy was used (by Descartes and Boyle, for instance) as a device for explaining the structure of the universe and God's relationship to it. Later, the 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 and for the intelligent design of the universe.The article goes on to cite Descartes's comparison of the body to a machine (a comparison to be developed in atheistical directions by La Mettrie). It cites Robert Boyle as the first user of the clock analogy in something approaching a Design Argument:
[The universe] is like a rare clock, such as may be that at Strasbourg, where all things are so skilfully contrived, that the engine being once set a-moving, all things proceed according to the artificer's first design. . .It does not give an original source for this statement (in which the Design Argument is really only implicit), but as Boyle did not start publishing until 1660, we can confidently put it after this date. The earliest use of the watchmaker analogy, and moreover in a proper Design Argument, is in fact by Lord Herbert of Cherbury, brother of George Herbert, and father of Deism. Take this, from his De religione gentilium, published in 1663 but written as early as 1645:
Et quidem si horologium, per diem et noctem integram horas signanter indicans, viderit quispiam non mente captus, id consilio arteque summa factum judicaverit. Ecquis non plane demens, qui hanc mundi machinam non per 24 horas tantum, sed per tot saecula circuitus suos obeuntem animadverterit, non id omne sapientissimo utique potentissimoque alicui authori tribuat?In 1655 Isaac La Peyrère published his Prae-Adamitae, in which he argued that there were pagans created before Adam—a controversial thesis, as you might expect. According to Gabriel Naudé, according to Richard Popkin, Peyrère's work was finished by 1641. Here we find a Paleyesque passage as follows:
If you look at a clock (and you have not lost your wits), which shows the time exactly for 24 hours, you will conclude that it is the product of skill and work. So, how much more would someone who contemplates the machine of this world, which so regularly goes through its motions not just for 24 hours, but for so many ages, claim that it came from an all-wise and all-powerful Author?
Quoties ergo animum meum subit haec cognitio, homines ad imaginem Dei creatoris, et ad imaginem prototypi optimi primo creatos, perfectos, rectos, et summe bonos; vitio illo, quod natura insevit, a perfectis ad imperfectos, a rectis in pravos, et a bonis in malos degeneravisse: Toties concipio Horologium ab eximio artifice novissime expolitum, dentatarum rotulatum partibus, secundum proportionem, curiose distinctum; nec non aequatis horarum momentis attemperate liberatum: cum pyxide vel imaginibus ad vivum expressis exquisite picta, vel emblemate vermiculato ingeniose composita; quantum auro et electro valuit artifex. Horologium quippe illud omnibus sui partibus absolutum, tamdiu perfectione sua stare putandum est, quamdiu non corrumpitur, vel natura materiae suae corruptibilis, vel incura Domini in cuius potestate est.Prae-Adamitae was swiftly Englished in 1656 as Men Before Adam, and the above passage became this:
Therefore, so often as I think of this, That men being created according to the Image of God the Creator, and according to the Image of the first plat-form, perfect, right, and very good, by a fault in them, ingrafted by nature, did degenerate from righteousness to wickedness, from good to evil: So often I fancy a Watch newly finish'd, by an exquisite artificer curiously order'd, with all the parts of the jagged wheels, proportionably and exquisitely weighed for the just minutes of the hours, with a Case curiously enamelled with pictures set out to the life, or a purl'd lining curiously made, as much as in gold, or Amber, the Craftsman was able to perform: For that Watch will continue intire in all its parts, so long as it is not spoyl'd, either because of the corruptibility of the matter whereof it is made, or the carelessness of the Master that owes [ie. owns] it.Here it is not the created universe, but the created man, who resembles the watch; the basic idea is the same. The wiki article also traces the Design Argument back to Cicero's De Natura Deorum, quoted via Daniel Dennett:
When you see a sundial or a water-clock (clepsydra), you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence, when it embraces everything, including these artifacts themselves and their artificers?Curiously, however, in De Divinatione Cicero approvingly quotes Carneades, who had sneered at the Stoic Chrysippus for suggesting that the 'faces' found in rocks were realistic enough to be considered evidence for intelligent design. Plato nods at the Design Argument when he makes the distinction between an object's immediate material cause (the arrangement of its parts) and its ultimate divine cause—the former gives evidence of the latter. But the earliest actual Design Argument we have is by one Diogenes of Apollonia, around 400 BC, here in the translation of Jonathan Barnes:
For things could not have been parcelled out in this way without thought, so that there are measures of everything: of winter and of summer, of night and of day, of rains and of winds and of fine weather. And the other things, if one wishes to think about them, one would find to have been disposed in the finest way possible.