03 January, 2007

Intelligent Design and the Free Market

During my daily blog perusals, I took note of the "subtitle" posted at Cafe Hayek: where orders emerge.

It put me in mind of Adam Smith's "invisible hand". The metaphor Smith used for the phenomena of emergent order in the marketplace whereby the seemingly chaotic and independent choices made by millions of individuals engaged in free trade "coalesced" into an orderly equilibrium of supply and demand for all of the various products and services involved therein. As Smith observed:
As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. (The Wealth of Nations: Book 4, Chapter 2)
Set aside for a moment any consideration of whether or not this observation is actually true (my personal belief is that is more true than not), but note that this idea continues to underlie much of classical economics today. This idea forms the basis of the theory and praxis we call "capitalism".

Now, Intelligent Design advocates, and in truth many theists generally, seem to reject the idea of emergent order. At least where biological entities are concerned. William Dembski has formulated the notion of "specified complexity", Michael Behe postulates "irreducible complexity", Alvin Plantinga argues that evolution cannot produce reliable cognitive faculties, and so on. But if it is the case that order cannot emerge spontaneously from disorder, as these theologians cum philosophers contend, then where should we expect ID theorists and their ilk to fall on the economics spectrum? In order to be consistent with their overall worldview, shouldn't they be communists, or at the very least proponents of some variant of a planned economy (sort of an "intelligently designed market")?

In reality, of course, they are very likely to be capitalistic in their economic outlook, as are most fundamentalist Christians. This would seem to me to raise the specter of a contradiction within their worldviews. If order cannot emerge from disorder, then capitalism is a non-starter. If the principle applies, then it does so equally whether we're talking biology or economics.

The likely rejoinder is going to be that the "disorder" in the economic realm is only "seeming" disorder in that as the minds of the individuals within the marketplace are actually ordered toward an end (divinely, no doubt) the market is actually arising from an order so complex as to only appear disordered (in this paradigm, I could suppose that market failures are likely to be explained as the product of "sin"). Unfortunately, naturalists have access to this hypothesis as well. In this context it must be remembered that natural selection is a teleological process. The "random" components of evolution are environment and mutation. The process itself is anything but random: the goal is survival. And so the seemingly disordered nature of the evolutionary process is actually an exceedingly complex order that only appears disordered.

It's interesting to note that Darwin's formulation of the theory of natural selection was informed in part by the writings of the English demographer and political economist Thomas Malthus whose views on population theory had great influence on Darwin. It seems to me no small coincidence that some of the most virulent attacks on Malthusian theories come from Marxists. Friederich Engels, for example, said of Malthus' theory: "...the crudest, most barbarous theory that ever existed, a system of despair..." As communitarians, Marxists advocate the necessity of a planned economy. The Soviet dictator Josef Stalin opposed Darwinian evolution, favoring instead the debunked theories of Trofim Lysenko because they were a better fit with Marxism.

Of course, this is not to say that ID theorists ARE Marxists, merely that they seem to be, at the very least, intellectual fellow-travelers. Their rejection of emergent order seems to me to necessitate it. Therefore, it seems to me that ID theorists who desire to remain intellectually consistent must abandon all support for capitalism and support instead a theory of planned economy. For if order is not emergent, then capitalism cannot hope for success.

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