Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Statism is not creationism, part 2

Don Boudreaux once again makes a facile and fallacious comparison between creationism/Darwinism and statism/libertarianism.
Pinker says, defending the theory of natural selection against the idea of "intelligent design," that "Overcoming naive impressions to figure out how things really work is one of humanity’s highest callings."... I don’t here write to enter my two-cents in the debate between Darwinians and creationists (although, for the record, I am solidly in the Darwinian camp). I write to record that Pinker’s insight applies to society no less than to biological beings. ...

A social deist assumes that sovereign power is necessary to design and maintain the foundation, but not the superstructure, of society. That is, a social deist regards conscious design and maintenance of the ‘constitutional’ level as necessary. Upon this foundation, social order grows unplanned.

Social deists are contrasted, on one hand, with "social creationists." Social creationists are members of that species of juvenile thinkers who regard conscious, central direction by a wise and caring higher human authority as necessary for all social order – not only for the foundation, but for all, or much, of what the foundation supports.
I am fine with the Hayek-ian idea that spontaneous social order is superior to social order planned by human governments. But Boudreaux is wrong to frame this idea in terms of Darwinism v. creationism.

As I wrote before, Darwinism v. creationism is a debate about what, in fact, happened to cause the evolution of complex living things, not about which way would be better. As it happens, creationism is false, but one could easily argue that it would be nicer if it were true. Natural selection is cruel and wasteful; it works by relying on prodigious over-reproduction and death (or reproductive failure) of the less fit. To get to a well-adapted life form, you must go through (i.e., kill) millions upon millions of less-well-adapted life forms. By any human moral standards, it's not a "nice" way to go about making life. How much kinder and gentler if a benevolent old man with a beard really did just say "Let there be tigers" on October 28, 4004 BC and lo, there were tigers!

The point of Darwinism isn't to say that natural selection is a better way to generate complex life than God - but to say that natural selection is a plausible way, and God is not necessary to explain the current state of the biosphere. In contrast, the point of libertarianism or anarchism is to say that catallaxy is a better way to generate social order than central planning. It's one thing to argue that central planning isn't necessary for social order, and quite another to argue that centrally planned order is inferior to spontaneous order. It might or might not be, but the analogy to the evolution/creationism debate fallaciously tries to imply that the anarchism/statism argument has already been won by the biologists. The analogy is incorrect and merely confuses matters.

9 Comments:

Blogger Gil said...

I disagree.

I think it's a great analogy.

The whole "Intelligent Design" argument is that some cannot concieve of such wonderfully successful outcomes arising from a process that is unguided by a planner.

It's not about whether they are both explanations of fact or theories about what's better. It's about whether a complex process MUST be centrally guided in order to be dramatically successful.

The creationists think so, and they're wrong in both realms.

8/17/2005 01:52:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Well, I disagree with you. It is about whether they are both explanations of fact or theories about what's better.

In biology, it's easy to talk about how living things work and not slip into normative statements about how living things should be. In social sciences, that's not the case at all. Social theorists always have both an idea about how the world works and how they think it should work. And libertarianism is both a descriptive and prescriptive ideology. Natural selection is merely descriptive.

The problem with Boudreaux's analogy is that he's taking an analogy between two ways of thinking about how the world actually works, and trying to the analogy to support a prescription for how the world should work. And this analogy just can't do the work he wants it to.

8/17/2005 06:03:00 AM  
Blogger driftwood said...

Many people want to take evolution as being teleological. All those who see evolution as being “guided” by some god certainly do. But there are also people who think of evolution as having “goals” (i.e., creating us) in some sort of naturalistic sense that lacks divine intervention. I think that the same kind of problem is going on here. I’ve not read enough of Boudreaux’s posting to know his views, so I’ll abstract a bit and comment on the camp that he seems to be with and thus avoid putting words in his mouth.

For years I’ve been puzzled by the fixation that many libertarians have on the power of the market and the threat that government poses to its workings. Two things in particular are odd: first, they worry a lot about government distortions of the market but rarely talk about the power of large corporations to distort either the market or the government; second, they rarely talk about market failures—“externalities” in the lingo. If they were scientists, they would spend a lot of time addressing the problems that critics of their theory bring up. But I think that they are more like religious believers with a fundamentalist-like faith in the market. If so, then Hayek has written part of their theology.

So how do you come up with a strange argument like the one Boudreaux posted? If you think of Darwinian evolution (wrongly) as being teleological, and you likewise think of the free-market as being teleological, then it is easy to imagine an analogy between them. The funny thing is that when people intervene in the market, it is obviously goal driven. The only question is how effective are their efforts. To believe that not intervening usually or always creates the better outcome is just that—a leap of faith. It is the belief that “nature” (in a sense) has better goals for us than ones we choose to pursue on purpose.

8/17/2005 06:27:00 PM  
Blogger driftwood said...

Hmm. If you are going to make that analogy, then you should also consider those cases where humans are directly intervened in evolution. By selective breeding, we have created plants and animals that better suit our needs than the ones that had evolved naturally. So in the analogy, should we expect modified markets to better suit our needs than “natural” ones?

8/17/2005 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger Russell said...

Unfortunately, Andrew, although you'd really really like Donald's theory of Social Creationism to be wrong, it isn't. The Evolution / Creation debate is also prescriptive. Should we worship God because he created us? Or is the existance of God orthogonal to the existance of life? Clearly, if we could answer the Evolution/Creation debate that would affect people's future actions.

Plus the metaphor is a good theory, because it's predictive. Creationists believe what they believe in spite of the evidence. They misinterpret existing evidence. They take disagreements among experts as evidence that their theory is correct. Just because Evolution is not a perfect theory, that doesn't mean that Creationism is correct. The various economist jokes like "If you line up 100 economists head to toe, you'll have 101 opinions." are typical Social Creationist attempts to ignore economics.

After all, if Donald was correct, you would have to change, and you're clearly too conservative to want to do that.
-russ

8/18/2005 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Unfortunately, Andrew, although you'd really really like Donald's theory of Social Creationism to be wrong, it isn't.

Don't condescend to me, and don't tell me what "I'd really really like."

The Evolution / Creation debate is also prescriptive. Should we worship God because he created us?

This is a red herring. I note that you have selected a prescription of creationism, but not of Darwinism. The key point is that evolution makes no prescriptive claims, whereas free-market economics does. Evolution says God wasn't necessary to create life, but is ultimately silent on whether there is some sort of deity out there that humans might meaningfully worship (though it does contradict the God of the religious right). In contrast, anarchism says both that the state isn't necessary to create social order, but also that the state is downright harmful to social order.

Creationists believe what they believe in spite of the evidence.

That doesn't necessarily make it a good analogy. There are tons of pseudoscientific "theories" that "misinterpret existing evidence" and "take disagreements among experts as evidence that their theory is correct" - for example, the idea that MMR vaccine causes autism, or that chelation purges the body of toxins, and so on. The rejection of science and expert knowledge in both creationism and other pseudosciences is a common intellectual trend, but doesn't make them analogous beyond that point.

After all, if Donald was correct, you would have to change, and you're clearly too conservative to want to do that.

Who do you think you are? Why don't you read a bit more of my blog before you jump to conclusions about my being "too conservative"?

8/18/2005 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

you should also consider those cases where humans are directly intervened in evolution. By selective breeding, we have created plants and animals that better suit our needs than the ones that had evolved naturally. So in the analogy, should we expect modified markets to better suit our needs than “natural” ones?

Yes, Driftwood, I think that's a great point. The whole point of this post was to point out that the goodness/badness of natural selection cannot be used to justify the goodness/badness of free-market economics. Natural selection doesn't always produce results that are good by human moral standards. So, in pre-bioengineering times, we used artificial selection to improve on nature. And nowadays we're using all sorts of fancy medical techniques, and probably soon genetic engineering techniques, to improve on our own bodies. If one were to take the analogy literally - catallaxy creates social order, and catallaxy is best for social order - one would almost think Boudreaux would suggest that we should just go along with natural selection gave us and stop with all the artificial interventions in the market, er I mean, biosphere.

8/18/2005 06:25:00 PM  
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