10 Feb 2013

Israel Kirzner and the Invisible Hand

Religious 36 Comments

Von Pepe sent me this nice video of Israel Kirzner accepting an award (posted at Coordination Problem):

As Kirzner explains, even though he of course understands the scientific study of “spontaneous order,” nonetheless he sees the hand of God behind events.

This is yet another example of how atheists and theists can look at the same phenomenon, and walk away with opposite conclusions. Kirzner, Gene Callahan, Tom Woods, and I all have different views of God, but we all believe He exists and are awestruck at His genius in designing a social order where the natural depravity of man can be turned unwittingly into showering goodness on others. This obviously fits right in not just with Christianity, but also with Judaism; see for example Joseph’s reassurance to his brothers.

Yet I know atheists draw the opposite conclusion. Indeed, I’ve had them openly ask me things like, “Bob, you can see in your study of economics that there can be order without a designer. So why can’t you just accept that the universe has no grand purpose? It just happened.”

36 Responses to “Israel Kirzner and the Invisible Hand”

  1. George says:

    “As Kirzner explains, even though he of course understands the scientific study of “spontaneous order,” nonetheless he sees the hand of God behind events.”

    Can someone explain the justification for this “nonetheless”?

    As of now, it might as well say “but he doesn’t give a hoot, because”.

  2. Lord Keynes says:

    And do you see the hand of god behind evolution by natural selection? (if you are not a creationist).

    Evolution is, in many ways, horrific, wasteful and results, in every second, in terrible suffering in the animal world. Most species that have ever lived are extinct. The process of weeding out the unfit is deeply cruel. In the oceans, evolution has produced cold, virtually mindless killing machines like sharks. Do you see the hand of god in this murderous monster that once ruled the seas?

    The amount of suffering and death it took to produce the higher mammals like man is inconceivable.

    This is one of the reasons why theism that conceives of a creator god as good, kind or compassionate is so utterly unconvincing, almost infantile: natural selection, if you pay close attention to it, suggests that, even if you think there was a designer (though there doesn’t need to be), it was either amoral or downright immoral, perhaps even evil and delighting in suffering.

    • Ken B says:

      George Williams gives a nice example. In some species of large cat a rival for a female will kill the other male, and then, if the female has young, kill them. This causes the female to go into estrus, and he impregnates her.

      Still think god is good?

      Anyway, +1 LK

    • marris says:

      “Murderous monster” ?

      A shark’s gotta eat. What do you want instead? Photosynthetic sharks?

      Also, if some religious/soul thesis is true, then why is this “inconceivable suffering” any worse than having a bad dream? The number of bad dreams that people have suffered through the years is also inconceivable. But should we care about that, too?

    • Major_Freedom says:

      Re: delighting in suffering…

      You just aptly summarized Keynesianism: Purposeful, human vis a vis human suffering, in a misguided attempt to minimize “natural”, human vis a vis nature “suffering”, is not only called for by you and your ilk, but may perhaps even be delighting to you, as you contemplate the suffering humans endure at the hands of the SWAT team thugs who are morally repugnant enough to actually do what you are too chickens&*t to do yourself. You must feel thankful that there are people willing to purposefully introduce the suffering you desire.

      The horror you feel at the thought of humans vis a vis nature, which by the way is due to your rejection of reason as the sole tool by which humans discern reality, is precisely why you are scared into running to mommy and daddy government. It is so that you don’t have to face reality directly with your reason.

      You are desiring a more cruel and inhumane world by desiring a replacement of reason based action with violence based action that you call various “policies”.

      And by the way, the monsterousness and murderousness of the megalodon doesn’t even come close to the monstrousness and murderousness of governments throughout history. Yet you still stake your faith in governments.

      Your God, your “intelligent designer”, is the state.

      You don’t like it when bad words are spoken about that which you hold as sacred. Theists don’t like bad words being spoken about that which they hold as sacred.

      You don’t like contemplating a stateless world. Theists don’t like contemplating a Godless world.

      Theists want a mommy and daddy God to take care of them. You want a mommy and daddy government to take care of you.

      If there is one thing that amuses me to no end, it is watching statists attempt to criticize theists.

      • Lord Keynes says:

        Your silly rants are proof positive of the utterly vacuous nature of your mind, M_F.

        Funny how the development of the modern state is correlated with an astonishing plunge in deaths per capita in war:

        http://gene-callahan.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-violence-of-pre-state-warfare.html

        No doubt a starving man suffering in a depression is a victim of horrific violence when he gets a job via a stimulus or state welfare!

        • David K. says:

          These comparisons (deaths per capita in war) are not very meaningful, since population used to be much lower. Consider the following scenarios:

          Scenario 1: Tribe A and Tribe B, each of which has 100 members, fight against each other. Each tribe kills one member of the other tribe.

          Scenario 2: Country A and Country B, each of which has 100 million citizens, fight against each other. Each country kills a million citizens of the other country.

          In both scenarios, the deaths per capita are 1%, but the comparison is misleading. Tribe A and Tribe B may have fought in the most restrained manner possible, but Country A and Country B were quite brutal.

          Or imagine a world where each country has only one citizen. In every war, at least one of the participating countries would be completely wiped out, but this is compatible with the assertion that this would be a much more peaceful world than ours.

          • Lord Keynes says:

            No, David K, it is your example that is misleading, if you’d bothered to read the link.

            The per capita death rates in war in tribal societies in the modern era – and by induction historically – appear to have been much higher than in the modern world.

            “”As an example of traditional warfare, Diamond discusses the Dani War in New Guinea during the early 1960s, after a series of revenge killings touched off a protracted and bloody struggle between two alliances that spoke the same Dani language and shared the same culture. The Dani War, for Diamond, epitomized the characteristics of traditional war in general: ambushes; massacres; the demonization of enemies; the involvement of the whole population (not just soldiers); the burning and sacking of villages; low military efficiency combined with chronic hostilities, leading to constant anxiety and fear among the populace; and a per capita death toll higher than Europe’s during the world wars.”
            http://gene-callahan.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-violence-of-pre-state-warfare.html

            • David K. says:

              Lord Keynes, you have just restated your position without responding to my argument.

              • Lord Keynes says:

                The hypotheticals you imagine show the limits of per capita death rates, yes, but only under the conditions you imagine.

                But there is ample evidence that the conditions you imagine aren’t really that common in the real world:

                (1) the per capita rates in tribal societies are much higher, not, as in your first example, the same.

                (2) tribal societies throughout history did not all fight in the “most restrained manner possible”. You’re just living in a fantasy world if you believe that.

                (3) Total war, despite modern notions, is nothing new at all. Also, note how in the New Guinea example civilians were attacked and killed.

              • Ken B says:

                Let me. Law of large numbers. If there was only an isloated war between small tribes once in a very long while you’d be right. But if it’s endemic and perpetual then over time we have a large enough basis for using statistics. And all the evidence points that way.
                And the stats show much higher rates per capita.

              • David K. says:

                “(1) the per capita rates in tribal societies are much higher, not, as in your first example, the same.

                (2) tribal societies throughout history did not all fight in the “most restrained manner possible”. You’re just living in a fantasy world if you believe that.”

                You have misunderstood the point of my examples. I never claimed that per-capita death rates were the same in tribal warfare as in nation-state warfare or that tribes fought in the most restrained way possible. I said that even if tribes had fought in a more restrained way than nation states, the deaths per capita in war might be the same. This means that even if tribal warfare were approximately as brutal or civilized as nation-state warfare, we might still have higher deaths per capita in tribal warfare than in nation-state warfare, which invalidates Callahan’s argument.

                Ken B:
                It depends on how you define “war.” I assume that for a disagreement to count as a war, at least one person must be killed. Consider a world of tribes each of which has 100 members. Disagreements which lead to less than one percent of each tribe being killed don’t count as wars since no one is killed. In every war, deaths per capita are at least 1% by definition. Your argument works only if we consider “deaths per capita per disagreement” instead of “deaths per capita per war.”

              • Ken B says:

                A David K: If the issue is, has the growth of the state made us less violent the relevant datum is the amount of violence, not the amount of violence labelled “war”.

                .

        • Joseph Fetz says:

          Violence has dropped across the board, so how can you attribute this to an institution rather than a tendency of human culture. After all, states have not been historically known to be less violent than their host culture, but rather have been at least equally as violent (but often more so). Does the state dictate the nature of the culture, or does the culture dictate the nature of the state?

          • Lord Keynes says:

            Oh, so you don’t attribute modern state-based law and order and policing some significant role in the fall in violence within societies over the last few hundred years? Culture no doubt had some role too, but only libertarian myths deny the role of state-based institutions.

          • Ken B says:

            How can you not then see the growth of the state as part of this “tendency of human culture”?

            ” After all, states have not been historically known to be less violent than their host culture”
            This ain’t clear at all. Pax Romana. Bleeding Kansas.

            I mean Joe if states form as a way society has of controlling violence then there’s a direct connection. But you want to posit that the culture gets less violent, and then spontaneously grow states.

        • guest says:

          No doubt a starving man suffering in a depression is a victim of horrific violence when he gets a job via a stimulus or state welfare!

          Depressions are the corrections for prior state interventions. Keep the government from intervening in the market and there will be less starving.

          There will be more wealth inequality, but far more people will be better off. But complaining about wealth inequality is just envy.

          Wealth need not be the result of theft in a free market. When it is, then government can be used to protect private property rights.

  3. David K. says:

    “Kirzner, Gene Callahan, Tom Woods, and I all have different views of God, but we all believe He exists and are awestruck at His genius in designing a social order where the natural depravity of man can be turned unwittingly into showering goodness on others.”

    So you think God designed praxeology? One problem with this view is that the laws of praxeology are necessarily true, i.e., they could not possibly be different. But how can someone “design” something that could not be different? (The same reasoning applies to logic and mathematics.)

  4. Ken B says:

    I note Bob doesn’t supply an answer to that closing question. Answer enough in itself I suppose.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Ken B. wrote:

      I note Bob doesn’t supply an answer to that closing question. Answer enough in itself I suppose.

      Ken, didn’t you tell me you were going to make it a New Year’s resolution to not be such a jerk on my blog? Well, I haven’t lost any weight this year either, I suppose.

      • Ken B says:

        No Bob. I did tell you I was going to make an effort to try to get along better with you. I am not however in sole control of that, am I?

        • Bob Murphy says:

          “I’d stop beating my wife if she would JUST LISTEN.”

          • Ken B says:

            I guess I don’t see your fundamental objection to my remark Bob. George put the same point, and did it with a sharper barb. Not to mention LK.

            It’s a legitimate question isn’t it? If someone said that Paris must have a bureaucrat in charge because Paris gets fed, I think you’d have an answer about why no such bureaucrat is needed to explain things. Your atheist friends are playing Bastiat to your belief in a cosmic bureaucrat, and asking a good question.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              Adam Smith actually (invisible hand).

  5. Tru Billeeva says:

    “we all believe He exists and are awestruck at His genius in designing a social order where the natural depravity of man can be turned unwittingly into showering goodness on others.”

    Oh yeah, just like Jesus said: “We should all seek only own own selfish ends… in this way we will all end up helping each other unwittingly, by mistake, as the Lord intended”

    You guys are completely deluded.

    • Roberto Severino says:

      I don’t see anything wrong with worshiping God or several deities as long as these personal beliefs don’t become dogma and start to interfere with maintaining an objective viewpoint on economic issues.

  6. Roberto Severino says:

    Slightly off topic, but I woke up today and saw a story on CNN in which the Pope resigned from the Catholic Church and they were talking about the challenges the organization has had with secularism and militant Islam from both the left and the right. Carol Costello, the host, was also talking about the church and gay rights and the certain scandals that they have faced in the past and talked about America’s growing atheist population. What would be your opinion on this latest story since you’re a Christian and all?

    I’m still a Christian, but I choose not to go to any houses of worship anymore and would rather read The Bible on my own and not have someone else give me a skewed interpretation of the passages.

  7. Anthony Lima says:

    I don’t want to be a jerk. Atheism isn’t primarily about that. But I am truly fascinated by how a mind can maintain two opposing sets of facts alive at the same time? I don’t confront my religious friends about their beliefs and yet for some reason have to defend my position when they ask. I have a consistent set of facts where no god or at least no sign of one exists. When someone asks “Well the how did such and such come about?” I give them the best answer I have at the moment and leave it at that. I don’t just revert to the supernatural when I don’t have an answer. My answer should be -Well you lazy so and so, why don’t you spend four years getting though tough biology and chemistry courses, reading books that might have a clue and countless hours online looking for answers or do some research and figure it out for yourself. The spontaneous order you speak about is just an extension of natural selection, but acting on ideas that use brains to replicate. It may seem like a messy process to many -not resulting in the perfect society in a few thousand years- but evolution is long and messy and makes a bunch of mistakes. Plus it’s a process without any real ends.
    But usually, people don’t want to keep two conflicting sets of facts so the usually don’t devote enough time to the really hard answers. The ones millions of people have spent countless productive hours trying to figure out.

    • Ken B says:

      Actually I think Bob is consistent here: Austrian economics is a science, biology isn’t.

      :) Sorry Bob, I couldn’t resist.

    • Dan says:

      Yeah, because only dummies believe in God.

      • Anthony Lima says:

        No dummies here- least of all our host. No implication intended. Just wonder if I’m holding such opposing views but don’t know it?

  8. thesauros says:

    Why do I get the impression that you guys are all REALLY old. Like eighty or something? I’ve never passed by here before but I could swear I hear coughing and wheezing. And I think I heard a fart from over where Ken is sitting. (Sniff) Yep.

    • Roberto Severino says:

      If it makes you feel better, I’m still 18 and I describe myself as a curmudgeon too!

      • Ken B says:

        Since I see you both here and at Callahan’s Roberto I know you frequent in the right places to learn by example!

  9. Paul says:

    We are commanded by God, above all else, to love God and to love our neighbor. We are told that there is no greater love than to give up our lives as Jesus did for us. We are called to love, and love is difficult to the point that the most extreme form of love is to sacrifice our lives for God and for our neighbors. True love is hard. No. True love is downright terrifying. If we don’t have to sacrifice then we never will know love and thus we would never have been created in the first place. Therefore God created us in a way that we can achieve the greatness that the devil tempted Jesus with. If He really created us to love, then we must have gain something to sacrifice.

  10. Razer says:

    Religion is for rubes.

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