25 Oct 2015

Intelligently Designed Society

Economics, Religious 38 Comments

There are Christians who are scientists (I don’t want to use the term “Christian scientists” since it might confuse readers). They think that the wonder, detail, and beauty of nature in their narrow area of study provides yet even more evidence–as if more were needed!–that there is a loving God who created it all.

You’re skeptical, I know. Well let’s look at the subject matter I study: economics. Here, the economists who (generally speaking) are most worried about doing their job without violating general rules of morality–in today’s world, the free-market economists–end up seeing the market take the most ambitious and successful leaders, and making them servants of the masses.

So a Christian familiar with free-market economics can easily conclude, “God took the base instincts of man and turned them into altruistic outcomes. What man intended for greed, God turned to service.”

If you are an atheist, then add this to the list of all the crazy “coincidences” that had to occur in order for us to even be alive, pondering our existence. If, for some reason, humans had to rely on only altruism and willpower in order to make it worthwhile to brainstorm about “How do I make others happy?” we would have died out as a species.

You still think I’m grasping at straws? OK, well the most obvious candidate (though there are others) for “father of economics” was a moral philosopher who was awed by a market economy that operated “by an Invisible Hand.”

Let me put it this way: Suppose the Christian God is true. Don’t you think He could be surprised that few economists marvel that “Don’t steal” and “Don’t kill” make civilization possible and even flourish, the more people who observe them?

38 Responses to “Intelligently Designed Society”

  1. anon says:

    “God took the base instincts of man and turned them into altruistic outcomes. What man intended for greed, God turned to service.”

    I don’t see it. The “base instincts” of nature are murder, rape, and savagery; the grizzly eats the lactating ewe teats first before eating the lamb, and there’s nary an altruistic outcome to be had in that interaction. Raw Randian greed is saintly compared to what we witness in nature. It also raises the question of why the world needs animal savagery at all–if human evil can be turned to good (ignoring Paul’s argument against doing evil so that good may abound), why do we need the spectacle of the cat torturing the mouse to death, people dying from bowel cancer, or Schopenhauer’s tigers eating the dogs who eat the turtles who only leave the water to breed baby turtles to start the farce anew?

    I can imagine a better world that doesn’t involve an interminable chain of miserable trade-offs ultimately leading to the pretty good but tenuous life that I enjoy today. Why can’t God? Ignoring our existential uncertainty, what about all our ancestors who died at the age of 25 or 30 because this or that microbe or warlord moved east rather than west? Did millions of people starve to death a century ago so that good might abound?

    • E. Harding says:

      Yes, anon is right, there are a substantial amount of selfish interactions that lead to social destructiveness; it would not be surprising, however, if a minority of selfish interactions led to social cooperation.

  2. BacHoMuonNam says:

    If it’s intelligently designed, then how come we have Keynesian economics? Checkmate theist!!!

    • E. Harding says:


    • guest says:

      So that we could have the Contra Krugman show.

      Do you like apples?

    • Tel says:

      God wants us to have the satisfaction of sorting out the Keynesians for ourselves (nonviolently of course).

      If you turn up to your first job and you get told, “Oh everything just got finished up already, we are just sitting around drinking beer now.” You would feel kind of ripped of wouldn’t you?

      • Major.Freedom says:

        What can’t we just figure out how to make better and better beers instead of having to deal with the Keynesian psychopaths?

        God is cruel.

  3. knoxharrington says:

    This post reminded me of this story concerning Napoleon and Laplace and Laplace’s work on the workings of the universe which Wikipedia cites as apocryphal but which is funny nonetheless:

    “Laplace went in state to Napoleon to present a copy of his work, and the following account of the interview is well authenticated, and so characteristic of all the parties concerned that I quote it in full. Someone had told Napoleon that the book contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, ‘M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.’ Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là. (“I had no need of that hypothesis.”) Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, Ah! c’est une belle hypothèse; ça explique beaucoup de choses. (“Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains many things.”)”


  4. Harold says:

    I may have submitted this without filling in email adress etc. Anyway, if we do accept that God is a good explanation fro why greed is good, is there any reason why we should thank the Christian God rather than any of the others available?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Good point, the ID program doesn’t by itself tell us the Christian idea of God is exactly right, you would need other arguments / evidence for that.

  5. Andrew_FL says:

    The result of human action but not human design. Perhaps not how I would read that but technically not inconsistent with it.

    With regard to Smith as the father of economics, Rothbard had a great deal of contempt for the notion, not least because he Smith conceded far too much ground to the state.

    My own opinion is that the men to which we attribute certain ideas are far less important than the ideas themselves, so I prefer to take the good from Smith and leave the bad (though not unremarked).

    (Anyone wondering “What’s bad in Adam Smith?” I recommend start with Garrison’s “The Intertemporal Adam Smith”)

    • guest says:

      From the Adam Smith article:

      The Intertemporal Adam Smith

      “But the intertemporal allocation under a system of natural liberty was in conflict with his own vision of economic growth. The market will not allocate as many of society’s resources to capital formation, and hence to future consumption, as Smith would prefer. He was therefore inclined to advocate policies … aimed at increasing the capital stock at the expense of consumption, or what amounts to the same thing, increasing future consumption at the expense of present consumption.

      “Smith saw his intertemporal bias as “entirely different” from the interspatial bias of the Mercantilists, but his economics of time is closely analogous to their economics of space.”

      Very interesting.

      Yep: same basic error. He ignores the preferences – in this case, time preferences – of consumers.

  6. Craw says:

    I assume you agree that the good intentions of interventionists, whether in the economy or foreign affairs, often go wrong and cause great harm. There must be two gods, one who turns base desire to gold, and one who turns good intentions awry.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Craw but they violate the Ten Commandments while trying to implement their “good intentions.”

      • Craw says:

        Whose commandments? Those of the God who twists good intentions? You can’t mean your god’s commandments because then your argument would be circular, using as a premise the existence of your God to declare those commandments.

        • Craw says:

          This God needs a name. I name Her murphy, after the eponymous law.

  7. Scott says:

    I am a Christian and a scientist and generally dislike the ID movement.

    But I have had (roughly) this exact thought before and agree with this sentiment. The division of labor/production structure is an amazing thing, especially the way it emerges out of basically ‘acting right,’ and contracts out of not doing so. Incredible.

  8. Gil says:

    Euthyophro’s Dilemma defeats God – either God is revealing the great moral truth to us or He’s just revealing His personal preferences. If God is revealing the great moral truth then it supersedes even Him and we don’t need God to find the Truth If God is revealing His personal preferences then He become no more than a powerful alien whose technology seems as though it’s magic.

    Nowadays people would side with the first argument but throughout history people would go for the latter – religion isn’t about “being good” but obeying the deities. You obey God because He will beat the stuffing out of you if you disobey. It’s His Universe hence His rules and you can’t even leave His Universe.

    The reality is religious is about agreement – it doesn’t matter what the religion says so much as everyone agrees on the same principles so we can all get along. It’s akin to driving on the left side of the road versus the right – neither side is better but as long as everyone picks the same one.

    • guest says:

      It wouldn’t make much sense to say “God is good” if there wasn’t an objective standard apart from God.

      But consider this: If stolen property was instantly replaced by a duplicate, or if killing people didn’t result in permanent death (think, “The Highlander” movies), then theft and murder wouldn’t be bad.

      I submit that what is “good” is an objective standard, but its application is dependent on what kind of being you are, and since God created us, only he is in a position to know precisely what that looks like for humans.

      Dilemma solved.

      • Gli says:

        No solved. You’re assuming God created us. Even then it doesn’t assume God knows what good is. If God’s personality can be judged from viewing the Bible then He comes as across as sick puppy. In some respects it fits the notion that God is a powerful alien merely imposing His will onto people.

        • guest says:

          ” You’re assuming God created us.”

          To use Euthyphro’s Dilemma is to assume God created us, since it grants this premise in the attempt to make the argument that it is self-refuting to say that morality comes from a law giver.

          “Even then it doesn’t assume God knows what good is.”

          True. Only that he is in a position to know.

          He could be tricking us. You have to decide for yourself.

          “If God’s personality can be judged from viewing the Bible then He comes as across as sick puppy.”

          By what standard that doesn’t also suffer, in your view, from Euthyphro’s Dilemma?

          “In some respects it fits the notion that God is a powerful alien merely imposing His will onto people.”

          That’s pretty much the case, yes. But, now what?

          Whether he’s good or a jerk wouldn’t matter, since he can still, in the Biblical paradigm, make us suffer for all eternity.

          • Gil says:

            In both cases of the dilemma God merely comes across as a powerful alien. Either he’s a well-meaning alien trying to teach people right from wrong.pr a malevolent alien forcing people to obey him under threat of violence.

            You seem to be assuming people can’t know right from wrong without God however I disagree.

    • Craw says:

      “You obey God because He will beat the stuffing out of you if you disobey.”
      That’s still the teaching when you really look at it. They just lard it up with moral assertions. Look at the posts Murphy puts up here: god will beat the stuffing out of you and that’s a good thing.

      • guest says:

        Well, Calvinists believe that.

        It follows logically from their conception of God’s “sovereignty”, which can be a loaded term. It’s argued about all the time, in-house.

        So, the effectiveness of your point may vary depending on the denomination.

        • Craw says:

          Giving a disease a name does not cure it.

          • guest says:

            True. The point is that some of us recognize that it’s a disease, but consider it a peripheral, rather than essential, issue.

    • Scott says:

      Euthyphro’s dilemma was being used against a pagan metaphysics. It does not apply to a transcendant monotheistic metaphysics. Euthyphro was trying too hard to play the pietist pagan to understand (or at least accept) the nature of the dilemma, so Socrates never got to whip out his discovery & show how it solved the problem before the guy ran off (which was Socrates’s usual schtick — make some blowhard look like a moron by pretending he didn’t know anything about something he’d actually given a great deal of thought to.)

      Socrates/Plato were very religious men. I don’t know why an argument of theirs would be used so often against religion, except that most Christians have come to accept a pagan worldview (& most atheists don’t know any better…)

  9. Z says:

    Here’s your weekly religious song, folks:


    -Your resident agnostic moral nihilist

  10. John Arthur says:

    Hi Bob,

    The Dalai Lama favours capitalist methods of production and socialist methods of distribution. However, by ‘socialist’, I take him to mean that a good society will have a social safety net for those who, through no fault of their own, fall through the cracks.

    John Arthur

  11. RPLong says:

    So a Christian familiar with free-market economics can easily conclude, “God took the base instincts of man and turned them into altruistic outcomes. What man intended for greed, God turned to service.”

    I agree with this, except for the part about god. I think people turned their instincts into a viable social system. I don’t see this as evidence of god, but I do recognize the truth in what you’re saying, and I think your observation is, in the main, exactly correct.

    • Craw says:

      Right. The system does after all depend on quite a lot of virtue. If most people break deals or ignore rules (including the enforcers) then the system cannot operate. And the more of this kind of virtue there is the better markets work.

  12. JRousseau says:

    The bible says that God gave the world to everyone. It belongs to us all.

    According to the bible, Rousseau and Proudhon were absolutely correct: private property is theft.

    • guest says:

      No it doesn’t:

      In order for the prohibition of coveting your “neighbor’s stuff” (paraphrase) to be a no-no, they would have to own stuff, privately.

      It is said of women whose “price is far above rubies” (paraphrase) that they should be given the fruits of their labor.

      Before Ananias and Saphira were killed, Paul said that their stuff was theirs to do with what they wanted; They should have just kept all of their riches, rather than tell people they gave more than they did.

      (There’s more that could be said about that story, for those who don’t know it. It’s a very brief description. The point is that Paul recognized their right to private property.)

      Paul (I think) had good things to say of one of the churches that was being persecuted, saying that they gladly accepted the confiscation of their property by their persecutors, knowing that they had a greater reward in heaven.

      The few parts in the Bible where it talks about the Christians (not others) having “all things in common” appears to have been for momentary convenience, given the other parts of the Bible that acknowledge private property rights.

      Paul said to one of the churches that, although he had the right to payment for his preaching, that he chose to work for his own stuff; Which is an acknowledgement of *their* private property rights, as well as his.

      Proverbs talks about diligent hands providing wealth, while slack hands not so much.

    • Major.Freedom says:

      Theft presupposes private property.

      Try harder. Like that mooch Rousseau who tried to woo that rich lady.

      • JRousseau says:

        “Theft presupposes private property.”

        No it doesn’t. If the bible is correct and the world belongs to us all, then claiming and enforcing exclusive private ownership over part of it is theft. If something is common property, and you unilaterally claim part of it as your exclusive private property, you are stealing.

        • guest says:

          Looks like you’re going to ignore the parts of the Bible which assume private property.

          So, instead, would you consider that the concept of common property is self-refuting?

          If the world belongs to us all, as you believe, then it’s not just your neighbors or your countrymen that have a say in how you live as an individual, but the entire population of the world.

          Not a representative body for the entire world, as you likely imagine, but each individual.

          So, there’s at least some logistical problems with your worldview.

          Beyond that, in order for anyone to have *any* kind of property claim – including common property – that individual must *already* have authority over the property. I can’t share someone else’s house with you, because I don’t own the house.

          Further still, the concept of common property is functionally equivalent to the concept of zero natural right of ownership, since in both cases you need a basis beyond a mere claim of ownership in order to justify your right to eat, say, the sandwich you made for yourself, rather than your neighbor or the dog that your other neighbor wants to feed.

          And yes, logically consistent applications of common property (as you understand the term) would include everything, not just the resources you find that permit you to make things. Because everything you make was made by things that appear in nature.

          The fact that you had to mix your labor with resources to create arrangements of them that would not otherwise exist would be irrelevant, in your worldview, to the fact that it was created with resources that already exist.

          This is not a problem for the libertarian, since it is precisely the fact that we mixed our labor with a resource that makes it ours, since, to lay a claim on something that has already been transformed by another, is to also lay a claim on his labor, making him a slave.

  13. guest says:

    “So a Christian familiar with free-market economics can easily conclude, “God took the base instincts of man and turned them into altruistic outcomes.”

    It might be helpful to point out that unregulated trade is not “base”, but inherently good, such that the abundance of free trade should be thought to follow logically from it.

    Unregulated trade is a recognition of others’ property rights. Er go, mutual benefit for both parties of a trade.

    To say that it’s bad to seek one’s own profit is to also say that others are entitled to one’s labor. But since each individual, alone, bears the opportunity costs of hiw own actions, no debt can logically accrue to another through someone’s labor.

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