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God as a Divine Clockmaker, and the Consistency of Clocks

Posted by: Sara Paccione | October 23, 2010 | No Comment |

The idea of God being a divine clockmaker is not an uncommon one.  British theologist William Paley compared the complexity of nature to the inner workings of a clock or watch.  He claimed that people who find a pocket watch lying in a field would assume by its complexity that it was created by another person and did not simply randomly appear there, so a complex thing such as nature and the universe must have been created by a watchmaker-like creator.  Some people have also interpreted this to mean that God built the universe like a clock but lets it run on its own without constant intervention.  The apparently fixed laws of nature and order in the universe are viewed as similar to the fixed and constant motion of hands on a clock.

Clocks are also portrayed in various ways in literature.  Often, they are associated with their most obvious purpose – time.  However, even this might reflect the divine watchmaker idea in some ways.  In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, time is described in a riddle:

“This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.”

This shows the destructive side of time, but time can also be constructive.  In this sense, time is similar to God – it is both a creator and a destroyer.  The associations between God and clocks/time is also present in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, in which Father Time is a giant who sleeps for most of Narnia’s existence, but helps Aslan (the Christ figure) destroy it in the end.  Once Narnia’s literal clock runs out, the world itself dies.

Clocks are also prominent features in real life and pop culture.  The famous Big Ben in London is recognized for its size and reliability.  To many, this giant clock is a structure that has retained a sense of consistency in an otherwise hectic world:


In the movies, there are countless portrayals of clocks, but one of the more familiar ones to many people is probably the clock tower in Back to the Future:

This clock serves as an important fixture in the movie(s), but part of this comes from the fact that it doesn’t keep time (it’s stuck on 10:04) after it is struck by lightning in 1955.  This also might fit with how time itself is sort of broken with the time machine during the same scene in which the clock gets stuck.

The video game The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask revolves almost entirely around a clock:

In this game, the clock (which is located in a town at the center of the game’s world) counts down the three in-game days during which the main character must complete his quest to prevent a catastrophic event from occurring at the end of the third day.  Although the character has the ability to return to the beginning of the cycle as many times as needed in order to collect everything, the concept of time constantly ticking still creates a sense of urgency and can sometimes make things difficult.  Oddly enough, one of the only locations in which time stands completely still is inside the clock tower itself.

In these examples, whether the events surrounding them are positive or negative, clocks generally remain consistent and constant (although there are other interpretations, possibly including the soft, “melting” clocks in Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory”).  Even a broken clock still reads the proper time twice a day every day.

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