21 Jul 2013

Atheist Libertarians Need to Stop Citing Adam Smith Against Christians

Religious 140 Comments

A common complaint in the comments of this blog runs like this: “Bob, how can you possibly believe in a central planner in the sky, when you understand spontaneous order from economics? Man, even Adam Smith wrote that the market works ‘as if’ led by an invisible hand, but that was just a metaphor!”

Perhaps because I spent so much of my formative years as an atheist, I too thought Smith’s famous quote had “as if” in it, but actually it doesn’t, neither in Wealth of Nations nor Theory of Moral Sentiments. Here’s the WoN passage:

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.
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations par. IV.2.9

In case you think I’m harping on a triviality, note that Don Luskin (apparently) made exactly this mistake when arguing on Kudlow’s show about the legacy of Ayn Rand.

One obvious way to demonstrate that there is no problem in reconciling belief in God with free-market economics, would be to cite Smith’s own belief in God. However, this is easier said than done; apparently it is an open question among Smith scholars, although I should mention that the deniers are forced to argue that Smith’s explicit references to the “Great Architect of the Universe” etc. were only done to cover himself from persecution.

So, regardless of Smith’s personal views, I must admit that it’s hard for me to even take this particular atheist criticism seriously. In general, I hope we can all agree that simply using analogies between economics and other fields is a dangerous game. For example, suppose the zookeeper is about to open the lion cage as my son and I are walking by it; would I be a hypocrite for insisting on the maintenance of “coercion” against the giant cat? I mean, I think drugs should be legalized–how the heck can I simultaneously advocate locking up the King of the Forest?!

If you can understand why the above, hypothetical criticism is silly, then you understand my feelings when someone argues:

“Government officials overriding private decisions will lead to inefficiency. ==> There most likely isn’t a God.”

But what if we make things more specific? Isn’t a popular Christian tactic to invoke the “irreducible complexity” of organisms, as apparent proof that there must have been a Designer? Surely that flies in the face of the spontaneous order we see in social life.

Nope, I don’t think so. The sophisticated arguments from people in the Intelligent Design camp take the standard atheist evolutionary explanations and claim that they simply don’t add up, or involve large amounts of hand-waving. It’s really not a good argument when atheist evolutionary biologists respond, “Your lack of imagination is no refutation of my theory.” In any other context, that would be a laugh-out-loud admission of failure, yet it’s taken as a snappy comeback for Darwinians.

And it’s not just biology. There is also the fine-tuning argument, which claims that the physical constants of Nature seem to be exquisitely calibrated to support human life on Earth. The standard atheist response to this one, is to argue that there are an infinity of possible universes, and sentient beings will only observe and ask, “Why?” in the ones with the right combination of physical constants. (If you think about it, that rhetorical move is the worst violation of Occam’s Razor and a few other supposedly cherished atheist scientific principles one could construct. But when you’re fighting a war against religion, all is fair.)

Let me close with an argument I often bring up regarding Intelligent Design: The atheist biologist will usually say something like, “You are throwing out science itself. We can’t answer everything, it’s true; there will always be some boundary of ignorance, that scientific inquiry must take as a starting point. But when you abandon naturalistic explanations in favor of intervention by a conscious being, you are reverting back to explaining thunder by invoking the gods. It’s not just that the ID movement is wrong, its very nature is anti-scientific.”

This is nonsense. It means that doctors can never look at a corpse and tell the government, “You know, this guy was killed by genetically engineered bacteria. Only the Russians could have done this.” Nope, such an explanation is unscientific; you have to explain the bacteria’s DNA by reference to billions of years of random mutation operated upon by natural selection. I don’t care how impossible such a story seems to be; it must be true, because “design talk” is throwing in the towel.

Or on a grander scale: Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that intelligent aliens arose in a different solar system in a very straightforward, step-by-step evolutionary chain. Biologists looking at the cells in an alien’s body wouldn’t hit the “irreducible complexity” that so intrigues the Intelligent Design theorists. Then those aliens came to earth a billion years ago, and designed some “super cells” which they used to seed life here. Those cells had most of the information that is currently found in the DNA of today’s life forms, which could not possibly have arisen in a mere few billion years through undesigned evolution.

The above scenario is theoretically possible. Now, if it were true, how would we ever learn the truth? One obvious way is that our scientists would have to conclude, “There is no way we can explain the structure of cells today, by reference to mere natural selection. The universe isn’t old enough to generate this outcome. Some intelligent thing designed the life we observe on Earth. But who, or what?”

That is a perfectly valid scientific question. To deny this, and insist that life on Earth can only be permissibly explained by reference to non-conscious causes, is itself incredibly unscientific.

One last thing: It should go without saying that I see plenty of Christians and others, spouting all sorts of foolishness in these debates. That doesn’t mean their conclusion is wrong.

140 Responses to “Atheist Libertarians Need to Stop Citing Adam Smith Against Christians”

  1. Ken B says:

    If you look at the image next to my name you will see the answer to your argument Bob. No-one, least of all that hypothetical atheist you slightly misleadingly epitomize in your italics argues that science *proves* anything. It is always possible, any scientist will proclaim, that there is something I missed, some other theory that fits the known facts. Science is not “synthetic a priori” and does not reach irrefutable tautological conclusions. Science is about the ambit and specificity of its proposed explanations and models. Failing to see this is what leads you, and Tel, and Gene astray.

    Why do I say you miss characterize? Because the atheist would be concerned not just with the possibility of a being’s intent, but with the necessity of that step.

    • Tel says:

      Science is not “synthetic a priori” and does not reach irrefutable tautological conclusions.

      Precisely why the evolutionary “just so” stories are not really science.

      You still haven’t actually posted up what are the basic principles of evolution… after telling me the principles that I stated were wrong.

      • Ken B says:


        I recommend The Extended Phenotype by Dawkins as well.

        • Tel says:

          Thanks for the link, I worked my way through it, and it’s probably a good example of exactly what annoys me about modern evolutionary study, and why it isn’t leading anywhere useful. Not to say it never will, but not the way this guy is going.

          Yes he does used the exact words “Survival of the Fittest” in several places, by the way… but in other cases he points out that the fittest might not end up surviving after all.

          He promises a lot with a chapter “What Evolution Is” but somewhere in his excitement he never gets around to spelling it out. You would think that 30 pages would be enough to at least nail down the basics.

          THIS CHAPTER introduces three basic building blocks of evolutionary dynamics: replication, selection, and mutation. These are the fundamental and defining principles of biological systems. They apply to any biological organization anywhere in our or other universes and do not depend on the particular
          details of which chemistry was recruited to embody life. Any living organism has arisen and is continually modified by these three principles.

          That’s a pretty bold statement for someone who doesn’t have bring any direct evidence along from other universes… yet, even though he knows what’s going on in the next door universe, he still feels that evolution must be a principle of biological systems. What if some sort of mechanoid creature existed in another universe? Would that be sufficiently biological for evolution to apply? The author doesn’t make clear. What about a bio-mechanical half robot? What about a world that has been completely abstracted away and only the software still survives?

          Let’s not nitpick, and look at his three main points:

          Evolution requires populations of reproducing individuals. In the right environment, biological entities, such as viruses, cells, and multicellular organisms can make copies of themselves.

          OK, so what is an “individual” then? What does he mean by “copies of themselves”? After all, a human baby is not by any means a perfect copy of his/her parents. Later on the author explains that copies don’t have to be perfect, but this is the same guy who claims “evolution has become a discipline that is based on precise mathematical foundations,” yet his foundations don’t seem all that precise when he never defines what an individual is, nor ever defines what a copy is for that matter. An individual is whatever seems to be copying itself, where by copy I mean something that is a bit like the original individual, no not exactly like, just mostly like, oh well good enough, let’s just keep going.

          Maybe I’m just a lot harder to please than most, but if these are fundamental definitions, you can’t just shoulder off the difficult bit by dumping it onto some other concept that you then don’t bother defining. Is a human a population of cells, or an individual person? Is a corporation a population of people, or an individual legal entity? All answers are correct from a suitable point of view.

          In his later section on reproduction, he starts with an example (fair enough) then launches into population dynamics and differential equations… there you go, definitional issues are solved, just skip past and presume it all works. After that we just have equations to worry about.

          Then there’s the dynamics. eq (2.1) and eq (2.2) show exponential growth as a difference equation, he comes up with an answer of 1E65 for his example problem. Then eq (2.3) and eq (2.4) supposedly show the same problem as a differential equation and come up with the slightly different answer 6E93 a mere 28 orders of magnitude different. Rather than think “crap, I’ve blundered here” he explains it away with this howler:

          The discrepancy between the differential equation and the difference equation is a consequence of the varying assumptions for the distribution of the generation time. The difference equation assumes that each cell division occurs after exactly 20 minutes. The differential equation assumes that each cell division occurs after a time which is exponentially distributed around an average of 20 minutes.

          Cobblers, the difference between discrete time and continuous time is never that big! He just didn’t translate the rate properly, which is what happens when you don’t use carefully defined units for consistency. Anyhow, there’s an explanation on Wikipedia:

          The e-folding time τ is the time it takes to grow by a factor e. The doubling time T is the time it takes to double.


          There’s a conversion formula in there as well (which I can’t paste here).

          Anyhow, skip past obvious problems like that, there’s more subtle things wrong with it as well.

          I’m going to end up writing book just to cover it all. Take a look at equation (2.5) where you have a reproduction rate, and a death rate. So more reproduction and less death makes the population grow faster, more death and less reproduction makes the population shrink. Nothing shocking there. Take careful note of the units, x is measured in number of individuals (let’s call them “people” just for sake of calling them something, since exactly what an individual is never got properly defined). Thus, r is a rate which is babies per person per time (whatever unit of time he is using here, I lost track, but I think we all did), and since d is subtracted from r they must be compatible units so it would be deaths per person per time.

          Right, hold that in mind and compare with eq (2.13) where you have the same thing, only instead of death you have this phi factor doing the same job. Well fair enough in principle, someone has to be killed off if there is reproduction and yet also a constant population (oh yeah, the constant population was another arbitrary and unrealistic assumption introduced out of left field without explanation but I digress). The author never explains that the phi factor is doing the job of death, nor even draws the reader’s attention to compare against the earlier equation, let’s presume most readers just spot that right off the bat.

          The really whack thing is the phi factor (i.e. death) is exactly the same for the two competing subpopulations A and B! Where did that come from? and on what basis? Again, no fundamental principles need be invoked in the creation of these equations, throw in anything you like at any time.

          Now that we have silently presumed that death cannot be in any way a differentiating factor, we can explain where this comes from:

          Selection operates whenever different types of individuals reproduce at different rates. At the very least we need two types (Figure 2.1). Let us call them A and B. Type A individuals reproduce at rate a. Type B individuals reproduce at rate b. The rate of reproduction is interpreted as fitness. Therefore the fitness of A is a, the fitness of B is b.

          There you go, nothing else matters for fitness other than rate of reproduction. We have a definition for fitness at last! In the first few examples he explains why the subpopulation with the highest reproduction rate will eventually take over entirely (for this example).

          But it gets more whack later on, when we get to eq (2.17) and the phi factor doesn’t change but the reproduction factor is now in a different unit. The exact unit depends on c but let’s look at the simple case where c = 2 so the reproduction rate is now measured in babies per square person per time. Note the unit change, but yet this value is still the official fitness, because it is the coefficient on the reproduction term in the equation. How to compare a rate in one unit against the rate used in the earlier equation that was in a different unit? I dunno… You won’t be able to have “survival of the fittest” when you have values in completely different units that are in no way comparable.

          What is a square person by the way? The author hints at that later on:

          The intuitive explanation is as follows: we can think of the case c = 2 as implying that two individuals of the same type have to meet in order to reproduce. If there is only an infinitesimally small fraction of A individuals, then two A individuals will never meet and hence A will not reproduce.

          So there you go, a square person is a married couple, but wait a moment here. If I move from a country town with a population of one thousand, to a big city with a population of one million, the amount of sex I get should therefore increase as the relative ratio of the population squared or one million times. Hmmm, my life experience suggests these equations are not entirely realistic.

          In a very low density environment where meeting between pairs is rare, then it might make sense that every single possible mating opportunity is always acted upon, but that in itself is a massive assumption.

          So now you are going to come down on me like I’m being unfair, right? These equations are just toy examples, showing how the process of dynamics works, right? Of course, they are not supposed to be 100% realistic, the details get worked in later and we build it up into a cohesive picture.

          Well, no actually, I’m not being unfair. This chapter is supposed to be defining, “What Evolution Is” remember, and these reproduction rate coefficients are being defined to be synonymous with evolutionary “fitness” which is the key concept that the whole box and dice depends on. Yet these definitions are riddled with assumptions and ad-hoc pronouncements. You can’t build an edifice on that.

          There’s more, but I’m worried Major Freedom might try to outdo me in the longest post in the world championship, so it’s safer to just let him win.

          • Tel says:

            Hmmm, I got a stray bold tag in there somewhere, I started rushing toward the end, should have sold the series in five weekly instalments or something.

          • Ken B says:

            That is one chapter in a book. The book has the same name on Amazon. It’s on my list but I haven’t read beyond that chapter. It’s gonna be a while before I get to it!
            My list is as long as a typical Major_Freedom post …

          • Ken B says:

            Couple remarks. Is survival of the fittest a mere tautology here? Explain your answer in view of the conditions where it fails.

            Your squared discussion omits the fact that Its about an A seeking an A not a willing B. with scare A this really is close to linear. It also ignores the sex appeal that FA readers exude.

            You argued it had no content, and rested just on tautology. Now you argue it rests on dubious assumptions and is wrong. These are incompatible Tel!

          • Tel says:

            He has gone beyond the tautological definition, by boldly defining “fitness” to be equal to one of the coefficients in a differential equation. This is a declaration without backing and at best can only work within the very limited scope of comparing coefficients of the same power term in the equation.

            Think about a truly universal concept such as energy. So you have kinetic energy, potential energy, heat energy, electrical energy, etc. All must have the same units, all types of energy are comparable with all other types of energy.

            Now with the “fitness” being defined as a coefficient in the differential equation, it might be the linear coefficient, it might be the quadratic coefficient, or even the constant, and the author above gives examples of all three! Indeed, one equation might quite reasonably contain all three at once: constant term, linear term and quadratic term… then you have three “fitness” values for the one creature, at the one time, with three different units.

            So, yes there might be special cases (e.g. ultra low population density) where certain presumptions are reasonable, and this concept even works, but no it doesn’t satisfy me as a general purpose theory.

            Those differential equations are a handy toolbox to dip into, so you can make conclusions about the effect of certain conditions (that’s especially because we have a lot of high quality differential equation solvers available these days), but the big danger of this sort of modelling is people convincing themselves that it represents reality… no it’s a highly oversimplified version of reality. That’s even more apparent if you attempt to use that kind of modelling to predict when and how a new species will form.

            Steve Keen and other “neo Keynesians” are off using differential equations to model economic problems in a very similar way. I’m glad economists have discovered some new tools, but they haven’t discovered a deeper reality at the same time. Steve Keen is careful to say that his model is only a three sector economy, designed to demonstrate the principle of how economic cycles can develop out of very simple behaviour patterns. It is interesting in as much as a lot of people presume such a thing is impossible

  2. Stadius says:

    So you’re an Austrian AND an apologist for intelligent design? 😀 Haha … this is just too perfect. Let me guess, you’re a climate change skeptic as well? A homeopathy enthusiast?

    While there’s plenty of hilariously beef-headed arguments here-I particularly liked the ‘genetically engineered bacteria’ part (take a trip to the biology department for a quick explanation of why the theory of evolution does not rule out genetic engineering)-I’m instead going to highlight a very large problem vis-a-vis being a libertarian and a Christian that you ignored: scripture.

    A few examples:

    Romans 13: 1-5
    “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”

    Romans 13: 6-7
    “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

    Titus 3:1
    “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work”

    1 Peter 2: 13-17
    “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

    Leviticus 19: 9-10
    “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.”

    Matthew 27: 17-21
    “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

    Proverbs 22: 7
    “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”

    Luke 21:1-4
    “Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

    Luke 16: 19-25
    “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.”

    Mark 12:41-44
    “And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

    Proverbs 29: 7
    “A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.”

    And I’m not even getting in to all the stuff about sexual immorality, etc.

    • joe says:

      great post and thanks for the quotes.

    • David says:

      Several of these quotes pose no problems whatsoever to libertarians. And Bob has already written about Romans 13, which also applies to the quotes from Titus and I Peter.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        You mean, after refuting and hand waving at as many quotes as you honestly can, you agree that in the last place there exists quotes inconsistent with libertarianism?

        • Ken B says:

          And how about the collective guilt quotes in Matthew?

        • David says:

          Quotes that at least appear to be inconsistent with libertarianism, but a libertarian like Bob can still argue that there are ways to reconcile them. It really doesn’t matter to me, as I’m not a libertarian. I was just pointing out that at least half of Stadius’ post is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            “Quotes that at least appear to be inconsistent with libertarianism, but a libertarian like Bob can still argue that there are ways to reconcile them.”


    • rayray says:

      I see no contradiction between Catholicism and libertarianism. I’m not alone. http://freeisbeautiful.net/

      • Major_Freedom says:

        The golden rule would lead to mass tyranny if masochists got what they wanted.

  3. Dan H says:

    Intellectual Intelligent Designers may well be on to something when they cite as examples of a higher power biological complexity or our inability to fully explain the Big Bang and what preceded it.

    But, I dont see how this provides a justification for believing in the Christian god.

    On whose authority has Old Testament been rewritten? Unless there is evidence from its authors that its tales are parables, analogies and what not then what provides justification for throwing out the bits of the bible (or the literal understanding of bits of the bible) that no longer fit with scientific reality?

  4. Ken B says:

    Here’s what this argument sounds like to me Bob. “OK scientific atheist, PROVE your theory.”

    Well, we can’t. I once linked to a Penn & Teller skit about Teller lighting a cigarette. Science is like that. Maybe it’s really a cosmic Teller at work but the simpler explanation seems to work. And the whole corpus of biology is consistent and often clearer in light of evolutionary theory, like the chemical bond and quantum theory. This is a key bit of evidence for evolution just as chemistry is a key bit of evidence for QCD.

    What IS unscientific is the standard of certainty you demand from science.

    This is why I, and others here, say we cannot prove there is no god. (Don’t jump to conclusions. We can prove yours doesn’t exist, or ABT’s, just not all of them.)

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Ken B. wrote:

      Here’s what this argument sounds like to me Bob. “OK scientific atheist, PROVE your theory.”

      What sentence made you think that was my argument, Ken?

      • Ken B says:

        The whole thing. But let’s stick with the alien example. That’s a logical possibility but not one that presents a realistic alternative to the modern evolutionary theory, which has independent evidence for billions of years of available time. Yet you brandish this possibility, logical but far fetched, as a shield against the obvious conclusions. That looks like setting the bar as high as I allege you do.

        • Matt Tanous says:

          ” That’s a logical possibility but not one that presents a realistic alternative to the modern evolutionary theory, which has independent evidence for billions of years of available time.”

          It does? Every evidence I was taught in school was refuted BY EVOLUTIONISTS even before I was taught it!

      • Ken B says:

        Let me try another tack to explain why your post feels that way.
        I grant you quantum mechanics looks impressive, but maybe all these impressive confirmations of randomness are due to cunningly contrived initial conditions. So it’s really quite unscientific to draw conclusions from Bell’s Inequalities.

        In no sentence did I say quantum theory has to PROVE its claims but that’s clearly what my argument means.

  5. Scott Lazarowitz says:

    Your last four paragraphs are the best I’ve seen on this subject. But regarding the reference by someone to a “central planner in the sky,” i think that God or Creator (or whatever you want to call him/her) created the basic means of life as we know it, but didn’t particularly “plan” for things to go in any particular way. If that were the case, then he or she would have to be a very sadistic creator, in my opinion.

  6. Dean T. Sandin says:

    It isn’t design, per se, that science rejects, it’s magic. If one is willing to stipulate that God does everything in a way that looks natural, there is no conflict. I don’t follow the intelligent design movement closely, but I’ve only seen it presented as an alternative to evolution, not a bridge from modern biological science to religious belief. If your claim is “the success of modern biology doesn’t disprove the existence of God” then everyone should agree. But if you’re trying to lend support to people who would say “nothing to see here, folks, God just made it this way, end of story”, then yes, science is being thrown out the window, by definition. The difference between Russian scientists/ancient space aliens and God is magic.

    As a counter-example, make a historical list of all the other scientific conclusions that religious types rejected at some point. Wouldn’t we feel dumb having claimed that “only the existence of a supreme being can explain celestial observations” after learning about general relativity and everything else since the Copernican revolution?

    • Ken B says:

      It’s worse than you think Dan. One regular here, and its unclear if Bob agrees, argues that consciousness did not evolve. Instead it existed before human bodies evolved! Free floating consciousness waiting for a host body to evolve.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Dean T. Sandin wrote:

      It isn’t design, per se, that science rejects, it’s magic

      Dean, in the popular debates between leaders of ID and defenders of the Darwinian orthodoxy–such as Eugenie Scott–yes, the latter most certainly *do* say that even talk of design by an intelligent being is per se outside the bounds of scientific inquiry. If you are saying you doubt that, I will try to find an example.

      • Ken B says:

        I bet Bob they say it about putative beings for which we have no other evidence, so quite unlike your Russian example. As for rejecting designers en banc, that’s always in the context of the adequacy of explanations and that razor thingy.

        You yourself reject my theory that Thor manipulates prices and that supply and demand have nothing to do with it. Why? I bet your reasons sound a lot like Dawkins’s, mutatis mutandis.

        • Major_Freedom says:

          I would hope he doesn’t refer to biology for justifying a rejection of a claim in economics.

      • Silas Barta says:

        It’s probably because they don’t have the guts to say, “yeah, we looked for evidence that biological history showed evidence of good design from the start, or of intelligent refactorings of previous versions, but all we found was kludges that kept the unnecessary, obsolete features of previous forms, suggesting that biological history did, in essence, grope around in the dark.” (c.f. recurrent laryngeal nerve

      • Dean T. Sandin says:

        I wasn’t speaking for any specific person other than myself, just attempting to communicate a more sensible position on the atheist/evolution side of the argument.

        • Ken B says:

          Are you saying Dean that Bob, not remotely casually, mischaracterized the evolutionist position?

          • Bob Murphy says:

            I can provide actual quotes giving exactly what I said their position was. In contrast, Ken, you are not going to find people here saying what you claim–not even in the comments, let alone me.

            • Ken B says:

              “You know a lot of people here think Lincoln is a war criminal, right?” RPM to me.

              There are lots of comments denying or belittling the Confederacy’s warlike nature, we just had a huge thread. And ongoing denials of the importance of slavery http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog/2012/12/tom-woods-says-secession-is-as-american-as-star-wars.html#comment-51866 or http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog/2012/12/tom-woods-says-secession-is-as-american-as-star-wars.html#comment-51854 it is obvious mockery to characterize this kind of white washing as ” them nice confederates”.

              And then there is this http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog/2012/12/tom-woods-says-secession-is-as-american-as-star-wars.html#comment-51868

              As for making up quotes for rhetorical effect

              • Bob Murphy says:

                Ken B. wrote:

                it is obvious mockery to characterize this kind of white washing as ” them nice confederates”.

                Right, the fact that you routinely mock people by inventing positions and attributing to them, is hardly a defense of what you do. And a casual passerby might not realize that the people you included with your statement spent dozens of comments telling you, “Of course Ken nobody is saying the Confederacy is swell. TW is an an-cap after all. What’s wrong with you?!”

              • Ken B says:

                Perhaps you missed the bit about white-washing.

                There certainly has been some of that going one here. The issue has been all over the Libertarian blogosphere. Check out bleedingheartlibertatians or volokh.

              • Ken B says:

                Just as one example Bob. We know that the Confederacy was pro-war, wanting to launch wars of conquest into central America and Cuba to spread slavery. Even as late as 1865 they were proposing this. But from commenters here we heard REPEATED denials the confederacy was pro-war.

                I think that deserves mockery; your mileage may differ.

              • Bob Murphy says:

                Ken just because you are pro-mass-murder doesn’t mean I have to concede anything to you in this argument over internet rhetoric.

              • Mike T says:

                Ken –

                ” But from commenters here we heard REPEATED denials the confederacy was pro-war. ”

                >> Not to distract too much from the topic of this post, but regarding your comment above, wasn’t that debate about the Confederacy’s war position confined to the specific event/conflict between the North and the South, and not in general?

              • Ken B says:

                @Mike T
                No, the plans and proposals for other wars were a prominent part of the discussion.

                Perhaps that’s an olive branch, but in case it’s not, when DK talked about why its justified to oppose secession you immediatley leapt to him carpet bombing Dallas. So I know you don’
                t usually blanch at a little obvious hyperbole.

  7. joe says:

    This post reminds me of the “Would anybody like to smoke some pot?” scene from Animal House.

  8. Edward says:

    Believing in God doesn’t necessarily mean you believe in religion.

    Ever heard of something called Deism?

  9. Edward says:

    Against hard money fetishism….

    Ive never understood the IDIOTIC obsession many conservatives have with hard money. never
    To the extent that we have an ideal theoretical standard, it would be multiple private currencies competing against each other for efficiency. This could be achieved by repealing the “private” part of legal tender laws (This note is legal tender for all debts public and…..)
    The MMTers are wrong and so is Major Freedom. its not taxes themselves that crowd out other currencies, its legal tender for private debt laws.
    The ideal system would be you pay your taxes in the governments currency . Convert whatever private notes you use, (JP morgan silver/gold electronic dollars, Barclays) and then use the governments currency to pay your taxes and thats it. Saving investment, and hoarding would be done in completely private currencies.
    Whenever there would be a cash panic, people would switch to cheaper more abundant precious metals, and more plentiful currencies, and its not necessarily the case that prices in one currency would fall. This shows a lack of imagination on the part of hard money freaks. there’s still money illusion, Theres still price stickiness. The gold standard and free market money ARE NOT THE SAME THING AT ALL. people like Murray Rothbard, who argued in favor of 100 percent gold dollar, are either being hypocritical and self contradictory in arguing something that involves force, or if they are making a prediction as to what people will value on the free market, they are being foolish and unimaginative. i ask again to the goldbugs, what makes you so sure that the market will choose gold?
    If I support free market money, then why do I support Scott Sumner’s NGDPL targeting? Because his specific proposal of NGDP futures is actually the closest to what the free market in money would actually accomplish. Given the SNAILS pace at the willingness of the VSP’s and the elites to accept new ideas, we’re still a couple of decades away from central banks accepting NGDp targeting. We’re centuries away from accepting free market money.
    So it makes sense to support Scott as the closest thing to an ideal system.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      “The MMTers are wrong and so is Major Freedom. its not taxes themselves that crowd out other currencies, its legal tender for private debt laws.”

      Edward, without taxes, the government could not even finance “governmental” enforcement of legal tender laws.

      YOU’RE wrong.

      You seriously have to consider the implications of what would happen if tomorrow morning, all taxes were revoked.

      “The ideal system would be you pay your taxes in the governments currency.”

      No that is not “the” ideal system. That is “an” ideal. Your ideal.

      The only system where each and every individual can achieve their own unique ideals (which requires no coercion), given the existence and activities of every other individual seeking their ideal (which requires no coercion as well, obviously), would be a totally private monetary order, whereby if you and your thug cronies want to finance an institution that you want to call a “state”, then you will have to do so with private money, private lending, and private equity investment. That’s it. You would not be able to externalize your costs on other individuals against their wills, because then they would not be able to achieve their ideal.

      “Convert whatever private notes you use, (JP morgan silver/gold electronic dollars, Barclays) and then use the governments currency to pay your taxes and thats it.”

      No that’s not it. Once the government collects these notes, then what? If people don’t have to accept those government notes, if they have the option of choosing only private currency, then the government would not be able to collect government money from people who don’t even have any.

      In order for those calling themselves government to act like a government, would be if they threaten those who don’t have any government currency, and don’t otherwise want to accept them in trade, to nevertheless go out and acquire ownership of them in some way, so that they can pay what those calling themselves government demand.

      “Saving investment, and hoarding would be done in completely private currencies.”

      Then there can be no government currency. The state would collapse to a private institution that initiates violence. It would become apparent really quick that it was a criminal enterprise all along.

      “Whenever there would be a cash panic, people would switch to cheaper more abundant precious metals, and more plentiful currencies, and its not necessarily the case that prices in one currency would fall.”

      If the state is no longer intervening in the society’s monetary order, “cash panics” would become extremely rare.

      “This shows a lack of imagination on the part of hard money freaks.”

      No it doesn’t. It only shows your lack of imagination as a soft money freak.

      “there’s still money illusion, Theres still price stickiness.”

      Define “price stickiness.”

      The existence of price ratios that don’t instantly change with every change in demand, does not justify initiating violence against innocent people so that some centralized banking system that ensures “effective demand” doesn’t fall, is imposed.

      “The gold standard and free market money ARE NOT THE SAME THING AT ALL.”

      IN PRACTISE, THEY ARE VIRTUALLY IDENTICAL, because in a free market of money, most individuals would come to choose gold as the money of choice on their own free will. Of course, this is not guaranteed, but during this time in human history, with given technology and given resources, gold would likely become the money of choice.

      “people like Murray Rothbard, who argued in favor of 100 percent gold dollar, are either being hypocritical and self contradictory in arguing something that involves force, or if they are making a prediction as to what people will value on the free market, they are being foolish and unimaginative.”

      Rothbard argued for a gold standard given the assumption that this is what a free market would generate. If he were alive, and it just so happened that everyone in an anarcho-capitalist society wanted to use Bitcoins instead, then he would of course not seek to have a government impose gold on everyone.

      And speaking of hypocrisy, it always amuses me when statists such as yourself, the biggest hypocrites in the world, seek to find hypocrisy in libertarians. It’s cute.

      Here you are saying that initiating violence is justified, but only if those calling themselves statesmen do it. That’s hypocrisy.

      “i ask again to the goldbugs, what makes you so sure that the market will choose gold?”

      It best fulfills the requirements of a good money. Nobody would deny that gold would be a better money than polonium, since the latter is highly radioactive and would kill humans should they come into direct contact with it.

      We can do similar reasoning, which you obviously have never done, for why gold is better than other elements, and narrow things down.

      Gold has throughout history been a popular money, and there are good reasons for this. It is rare, but not too rare. It is maleable, but not too maleable like mercury. It is not poisonous. You can eat it and not die. It is homogenous and typically found as gold nuggets, rather than as some element in a complex molecule which would require more costly extraction. It is highly valued, for many reasons, including visual appeal, status, etc. It is not very corrosive. Iron easily rusts. Gold does not. In other words, it is durable.

      I recommend you stop this unhealthy anti-gold fetishism mental defect you have going on. It certainly isn’t helping your cognitive abilities. You need to dig deep as to why you really hate gold. You need to figure out why you have such a problem with it. And no, you won’t find the answer to this by making gold-bugs appear as idiots. You have to make a positive case, which you have of course never done, because as soon as you attempt this, your answer must immediately be logically categorized as a subjective value judgment, which of course would imply my judgment, and every other individual judgments, are no less important than yours, which means your more universal anti-gold position would collapse in on itself.

      “If I support free market money, then why do I support Scott Sumner’s NGDPL targeting?”

      Because you’re a contradictory thinker, as is every other statist.

      “Because his specific proposal of NGDP futures is actually the closest to what the free market in money would actually accomplish.”

      No it isn’t. A closer standard would be a productivity norm, where more money is printed when overall productivity rises, and less money is printed when overall productivity falls. The reason this is closer, is because in a free market, the production of free market money, for example gold, would increase and decrease based economic productivity. The more capital invested per worker, the more the average worker can help produce, and ceteris paribus, the more gold can be mined/produced.

      NGDP targeting is further away from a free market because in a free market, country level NGDP would be free to fluctuate. If one country becomes more competitive relative to other countries, then money and spending would be “attracted” to that country, which of course will leave less money and spending in all other countries. A free market would also allow for universal NGDP changes based on prevailing money demand and goods demand.

      “Given the SNAILS pace at the willingness of the VSP’s and the elites to accept new ideas, we’re still a couple of decades away from central banks accepting NGDp targeting. We’re centuries away from accepting free market money.”

      Bullshit. You’re not Nostradamus. You don’t have any cosmic, mystical insight into the inner workings of the universe that would enable you to know such a thing. All you’re really doing with that comment is telling us how long you yourself expect to take in order to understand the basics of how a free market would function, that’s all.

      For the rest of us (well, most of the rest of us), we understand humans as learning and acting entities, not merely chapters in some grand story whereby we have to wait things out while history unfolds without our imput.

      Your philosophical view of the world is historicist, and that is why you are unable to grasp economic science.

      Intellectual revolutions can, and do, occur quite rapidly. With fewer people thinking the way you do, and more people thinking the way praxeologists do, the easier it will be to introduce free markets in money. Remember, the Fed has only existed since 1913. It’s not like a 600 year old Roman Empire that has to be dismantled. It’s a relatively new institution in the western world.

      We’re only as far away from it as we choose to be.

      “So it makes sense to support Scott as the closest thing to an ideal system.”

      No it doesn’t. It makes sense to reject it and put it in the same trash bin as every other central bank scheme.

    • Richie says:

      What’s the matter, lunatic? Afraid no one will see this idiotic comment over at the other post to where you posted this? What does your rant have to do with Dr. Murphy’s topic?

  10. Lord Keynes says:

    “There is also the fine-tuning argument, which claims that the physical constants of Nature seem to be exquisitely calibrated to support human life on Earth. The standard atheist response to this one, is to argue that there are an infinity of possible universes, and sentient beings will only observe and ask, “Why?” in the ones with the right combination of physical constants.”

    You do not even need the multiple worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics; it is just a matter of probability.

    To make it easy for you: suppose the probability of physical and chemical laws developing after the big bang in this universe conducive to carbon-based life were astronomically improbable.

    So what? Astronomically improbable things happen all the time. Virtually every week someone wins the lottery. This is not supernatural or mysterious.

    Theists are exactly like some person who just won the lottery and then said:

    “well, it so improbable, obviously this is almost certainly good evidence that some supernatural being must have done it by a miracle!”

    • Ken B says:

      On my way in to work I saw license plate W36DG4. What are the odds?

      (That’s an allusion btw.)

      • Lord Keynes says:

        Is it 1 in 17,576,000?

        • Ken B says:

          And and and I saw 31DF44 !!

        • Lord Keynes says:

          ” There is also the fine-tuning argument, which claims that the physical constants of Nature seem to be exquisitely calibrated to support human life on Earth. “

          And of course even that is not true.

          Rather, it is the other way round: living systems have been able to adapt themselves by natural selection to the universe’s natural conditions and different environments.

          But even this existence is not necessary but contingent, and humans did not need to exist. Our presence here is the result of a vast number of contingent events. If the planet had been, say, hit by an asteroid 10,000 years ago or a hypernova had exploded somewhere nearby we would not be here.

          • Matt Tanous says:

            “Rather, it is the other way round: living systems have been able to adapt themselves by natural selection to the universe’s natural conditions and different environments.”

            The vast amount of conditions that are necessary even for there to be ATOMS to build on is staggering. So this claim is not accurate.

    • Richard Moss says:


      I don’t see how your analogy here makes sense.

      You could certainly engineer a lottery in which someone hardly ever wins, but they are designed so that someone does win, otherwise people would not pay to participate. It is no ‘mystery’ why ‘someone’ should win a lottery.

      But, for a series of improbable events all to line up and support human life? The ‘chance’ for this happening is a ‘chance’ in a much different sense. There is no ‘need’ for it to work out the way it did, like there is a need for someone to win a lottery.

      • Lord Keynes says:

        “But, for a series of improbable events all to line up and support human life? “

        And anyone who wins the lottery has a “series of improbable events all … line up “, yet it still happens.

        Hell, the number of contingent events that went into you, say , meeting your present partner is also a “series of improbable events [that] all … line up “, but it still happens.

        You can’t comprehend that extremely improbable things can and do happen, and it is not convincing evidence of the supernatural.

        • Ken B says:

          That’s not his point LK. He argues that in your example of a lottery there is a constraint, someone must win, and asks what the equivalent is with evolution. Not a very convincing argument, but also not one you’ve answered directly.

          For one thing the premise is wrong, perhaps no one will ever win. The odds favor a winner is all. Perhaps in a big old universe the odds favor life arising somewhere.

        • Richard Moss says:


          You said if a Christian in believes there must have been a designer in order for a series of improbable events to have occurred to support human life, he then must also believe that people win lotteries for a ‘supernatural’ or ‘mysterious’ reason’.

          I am saying that doesn’t make sense at all. They are two completely different things. The universe was not designed to produce a ‘winner’ in the same sense lotteries are.

          • Lord Keynes says:

            “You said if a Christian in believes there must have been a designer in order for a series of improbable events to have occurred to support human life, he then must also believe that people win lotteries for a ‘supernatural’ or ‘mysterious’ reason’.”

            I did not say or imply the words in bold, you have simply distorted the argument.

            I said only that someone who thought, after winning the lottery, that this was most probably a miracle would be making an ANALOGOUS argument to the one made by fine tuning theists.

            • Richard Moss says:


              I think what you wrote does imply what I said. You said theists are like people who win lotteries and say it was a miracle – that is they (theists) do not know how lotteries work.

              I think ‘theists’ do know how lotteries work, so they are not like such a person at all. They don’t agree universes are designed like lotteries.

        • Richard Moss says:


          Also – I agree the ‘improbability’ of a world that supports human life is not conclusive evidence that there must have been a creator (and I think Bob does too).

          But that such improbability can be dismissed by comparing it to the improbability of certain people winning lotteries is just wrong.

          • Lord Keynes says:

            Actually, if look at my argument I only made it highly improbable as a favour to theists.

            In fact, it is utterly unclear what the probability is of universe having its present physical laws, and the assumption that it is highly improbable is just conjecture:

            “A life-friendly universe is not necessarily highly improbable. Rob mentions the “100-plus constants (that have to be there for life on planet earth)”, but there are only 26 dimensionless parameterized constants in the Standard Model of physics (precision and factual accuracy do not seem to be Rob’s strong suits), and many of them “describe the properties of the unstable strange, charmed, bottom and top quarks and mu and tau leptons which seem to play little part in the universe or the structure of matter.” [Wikipedia]

            We not certain, however, that this universe is improbable at all. We do know that the Standard Model of physics is incomplete: physicists have not yet reconciled quantum mechanics with general relativity. If they can reconcile the two, we might change our estimate of the probabilities; “


            You cannot construct any such objective a priori probabilities; anyone who thinks so is pulling numbers out of a magic hat.

            • Richard Moss says:

              You cannot construct any such objective a priori probabilities; anyone who thinks so is pulling numbers out of a magic hat.

              So you can’t do that – fine. But that doesn’t mean you can then say it probably isn’t improbable either.

            • Richard Moss says:


              I don’t get where the ‘a priori’ comment is coming from. Where did someone say the improbability of a life supporting universe is ‘a priori’?

              • Lord Keynes says:


                How does anyone know:

                (1) the complete set of finite outcomes (in a sample space) that might arise from antecedent conditions before the universe to the point when laws are formed?

                (2) how does anyone know objectively the actual probability of any one outcome in (1)? For a a priori probability you must have proven equiprobable outcomes.


                In short, nobody can give objective answers to (1) or (2). You cannot construct a priori probabilities and you cannot conduct empirical tests of relative frequencies of outcomes in trials because that, for example, require tests of creating the universe over and over again to example the set of outcomes and whether we have stable relative.

                Since that is not possible either, there are no known objective probabilities.

                The very idea that the present universe’s laws are high improbable is unproven speculation.

              • Richard Moss says:


                I don’t get it.

                What does it matter to you that a certain universe is improbable or probable? You said earlier that improbable stuff happens all the time.

                And my point was that I don’t think theists believe that a ‘universe’ is designed like a ‘lottery’ and therefore your analogy doesn’t make sense.

                Now you are saying a set of possible universes cannot be understood in the same way a set of possible lotteries can. Great – I agree.

                But, if that is the case then I still do not see how you somehow made theists look silly in your original comment that they don’t get how probability works.

              • Lord Keynes says:

                “What does it matter to you that a certain universe is improbable or probable? “

                lol.. so theists assume the the present universe is extremely improbable (as the basis of their fine tuning argument from design), yet you are mystified about why I am interested in how they even prove that claim about improbability?

              • Richard Moss says:

                Nope. I am mystified as to why you acknowledge that a ‘probable’ universe cannot be understood the way the outcome of a lottery can, yet claim theists are like people who don’t understand lotteries.

      • Tel says:

        You dont know the probability when you have only one sample to base your theory on. It is entirely speculative. Fun perhaps, but pointless.

    • Matt Tanous says:

      “So what? Astronomically improbable things happen all the time.”

      Given a number of repeated events. How many universe creations have there been? Unless we are resorting to the secular God of the Gaps (Many Worlds) or the long out of favor cyclic universe, there’s just the one….

      • Lord Keynes says:

        (1) An improbable outcome in a unique event is still perfectly possible.

        (2) secondly, the very claim that the universe having its present physical laws is highly improbable is itself utterly unproven speculation, and no objective probabilities can be created.

  11. Bogdan says:

    Are you claiming that “invisible hand” is God? It seems to contradict Austrian fundamentals (Mises, Hayek) so deep, I can’t even believe you can imply that.

    Market spontaneous order and biological one are not analogies, but having the same characteristics are similar: as system rises in complexity, possibility for it to be designed and managed decreases.It is possible to create and manage a company, and it becomes harder and less effective as company rises, and it’s impossible to manage a market with big number of independent actors. People by projecting their actions would like to imagine that a country could be managed as well. There is a desire to impose a law, because good consequences are obvious (they come from simple act of law design as being its motivators), but as our actions in everyday life are simple and don’t have too much different effects, we are not used to “unpredictable” effects beyond our management. The same fallacy we see in law and economics people tend to make with nature: by giving purposeful consciousness to wind, ocean, forest, fire (as our knowledge of nature expanded the conscious one was moving from simple things to one God-creator, but the idea is the same. The Christian God has it’s roots in paganism).
    It may be also interesting that Darwin presumably was influenced by Smith.

  12. Major_Freedom says:

    If God exists, why do theocratic dictatorships, led by the most devout and those “closest” to God, have the worst outcomes, whereas predominantly atheist “invisible hand” economies have the best outcomes, in terms of wealth and prosperity?

    In other words, why do I as an atheist live a healthier and more prosperous life than your average devout Muslim in Botswana?

    Now, given that we cannot compare utility across people, I am of course of the mindset that the man in Botswana is better off, for himself, if he was devout than if he was atheist. I cannot legitimately claim that he would be better off if he were atheist, because then that would imply I am comparing our utilities in some way, which I cannot do.

    What I can claim is that I myself became better off, for myself, after I became an atheist, from being previously Christian. I improved. I became happier. I became a better me. If God exists, how can this be? How can I be better off not believing in God, if God exists?

    • Ken B says:

      This is the improved you we’ve been seeing??


      • Major_Freedom says:

        Now you’re making me doubt what I just said.

        Better stick with antagonism Ken B, it helps with my reflection on what I thought.

        Unless of course you’re improving, in which case I’ll start to believe you might be on the right track.

    • Z says:

      Well, being healthier and more prosperous has nothing automatically to do with what is right or wrong. Not that I think religion is correct, I’m personally agnostic.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        “Well, being healthier and more prosperous has nothing automatically to do with what is right or wrong.”

        Agreed (because I also don’t accept the notion that feeling good thinking X means one is objectively correct about X).

        But still, given that I feel so much better and have such a better life becoming an atheist, I was wondering how that squares with God existing. I mean, isn’t it a weird juxtaposition: me being a better me thinking God doesn’t exist on the one hand, and God existing on the other?

        • Major_Freedom says:

          The theist has the same thing going on:

          “But still, given that I feel so much better and have such a better life becoming an theist, I was wondering how that squares with God not existing. I mean, isn’t it a weird juxtaposition: me being a better me thinking God does exist on the one hand, and God not existing on the other?

          • Ken B says:

            Your point is better than you think. Why would a benevolent god arrange things to lead you to your doom rather than arrange it for you to be and feel better as a believer.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              The devout would be compelled to think I’m somehow possessed by evil spirits and that my happiness and health and prosperity are illusory.

              In other words, if I instead impoverished myself, mentally, spiritually and materially, and became a worse person, for myself, then my Earthly existence would be more ideal to the theist, because true happiness and prosperity really await for me in the afterlife, not during this Earthly life of illusory prosperity.

              Paging Mother Teresa.

    • skylien says:

      You must have signed a pact with the devil obviously.


      • Ken B says:

        If he did I want my 10%


        • Flashman says:

          So now you’re collecting souls?

          Even though we are both atheists, I accept your gift of Michael Nyman’s music (in this forum, I think) a few months ago as a blessing — based on our subjective valuations, of course. Thank you.

    • Tel says:

      The golden years of the British Empire were somewhere round 18th and 19th Centuries and probably we can say for the USA it was the 20th but in either case there were predominantly Christians amongst these empires.

  13. Z says:

    Bob, not to ridicule you, but this is all just a waste of time. Morality is just a fiction invented because it was beneficial to humanity, not because such a characteristic actually exists out in the world. I wish it wasn’t, but it is.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      If you argue morality is a human creation, then it is by definition a characteristic of the real world. You can’t claim something was created, and then deny its existence.

      I mean, you do hold that the Sears Tower exists, right? Created by humans because it is beneficial to humans. According to your logic, the Sears Tower is “just a waste of time” and a “fiction.”

      Are you saying the only reality is that which humans have no part of? I know some who would call that dogmatism.

      • Z says:

        That’s all very interesting, but what if someone says Santa Claus is fiction? Santa would then still exist by your reasoning.
        I believe that we confuse what we call ‘moral intuitions’ with what are in reality other emotions, such as anger and fear and sadness and horror.

        • Major_Freedom says:

          I don’t think those who say morality is real are saying that morality is real like Santa Clause is real.

          Morality isn’t tangible. Saint Nick, in principle, is.

          • Z says:

            I think I just didn’t write clearly in the response. In the first comment, I should have written that I think that Morality is a fiction and that the idea that it exists was created, not that morality itself was created. After that point, I think we veered off into arguing about things neither of us intended.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              I think I am having trouble understanding what you mean when you say that morality is a “fiction.”

              If you mean morality isn’t referring to something physical, then I will agree, morality is “fiction.”

              But when a person thinks “murdering my children is wrong” and they then live their life according to that principle, which makes their ideas relevant to their actions, I am not sure that it makes sense to say that morality is a non-existent concept, a total illusion, meaningless, etc.

              If a human creates an idea, for example a particular moral claim, of what they ought to do and what they ought not do, then I would argue that it isn’t fiction like Santa Clause is fiction.

              The person who thinks up a moral claim isn’t thinking that the moral claim is tangible, the way a person who thinks Santa Clause exists is thinking that Santa Clause is tangible.

              I don’t agree with the validity of the inference you made from my original argument. It does not follow from what I argued. I was talking about an intangible thought guiding a person’s conduct. Your inference is talking about a tangible concept that is thought to be tangible when it really isn’t.

    • Sam Geoghegan says:

      Morality is a universal propensity. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have come into existence.
      Positivists say the craziest faith-based things.

      My fave is the epithet “free-thinker”

      • Z says:

        I’m not really swayed by people saying something is crazy. Anarcho capitalism is considered crazy by most people as well.
        And morality isn’t a universal propensity at all, much less the individual rules that make it up. You’re confusing anger and sadness and horror with feelings of “rightness’ and ‘wrongness’

        • Sam Geoghegan says:

          If we’re made of star dust, as they say, then surely it would be remiss of you to claim our psychology is independent of the natural world. If man was to “invent” morality, being an evolved species would be a prerequisite, with all the necessary brain morphology in stand-by mode, for him to “invent” morals.
          As you can see, this argument is silly. If you believe this to be true, then you also must believe that man created himself, so that he can have morals.

          Even an atheist must concede that this is wrong.

      • Tel says:

        Morality is a universal propensity. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have come into existence.

        Shoes are a universal propensity, for exactly the same reason, because they exist.

        Farting is absolutely a universal propensity, don’t hold back because the universe insists you let rip. If it were otherwise then farts wouldn’t exist.

        Continue the series … until the whole universe becomes a universal propensity.

        This all comes back to the same evolutionary tautology, it is what it is, so therefore that’s what it is. I can’t fault the logic, but I can question the relevance.

        • Ken B says:

          So then are universal propensities universal propensities?

          Bad arguments, now there’s a universal propensity!

        • Sam Geoghegan says:

          But Z wasn’t denying the existence of farts and shoes. He was invalidating the veritableness of certain values because according to him (or her), they are driven by localised forces.
          What’s more alarming, is that I’m sure he wouldn’t deny the actual existence of shoes and farts!

          To clarify, I’m not suggesting that something is “real” because the universe created it, I’m saying that its application is universal. An alien life form would likely employ a code of morals like ours, even if those morals were an aberration of our morality. The necessary conditions for morality, language, aesthetics etc., already exist. People don’t invent them.

          • Sam Geoghegan says:

            This is in stark contrast to the contingency argument, used by materialists.

  14. Eric Evans says:

    Post about Senate testimony? A few comments.

    Post about raising money for a good cause? One comment.

    Post about religion? Tear the roof off this sucka!

    • Ken B says:

      You should see the posts about how Lincoln done them nice confederates wrong.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Sometimes your casual mischaracterization of opponents stuns even me, Ken B., and I’ve been watching you for awhile.

        • Ken B says:

          Lighten up Bob, this was an obvious bit of provocation, an exaggeration. But I will concede it fits your commentariat better than it fits you, and I shouldn’t have said posts, as those are yours, but discussions.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            It’s always easy to tell someone to lighten up after a joke is made at their expense.

            Emotional intelligence needs some polishing up.

      • Richie says:

        Wow, talk about an incredibly original comment there.

      • Richie says:

        Oh, and this is a textbook definition of trolling.

  15. Ivan Jankovic says:

    So, the conclusion is that Smith believed God actively controls the process of exchange? Is that the point? But that would be a very awkward if not heretical doctrine – in mainstream Christianity God does not intervene very often. Would that mean that God is a libertarian since He allows only free market arrangements to be driven by His invisible hand and to have beneficial outcomes, while wickedly obstructing all attempts to do the same thing (production and allocation of goods) by a visible hand of social intelligent design? Is God maybe this way punishing commies and other Satanic forces for their atheism?

  16. Ivan Jankovic says:

    And the “arguments” Intelligent designers in biology are invoking against Darwinian theory are exactly the carbon copy of the socialist superstitions in economy: the lack of “predictive skills”, no empirical evidence, constant unfavorable comparisons with physics, engineering approach to complex phenomena and self-organizing structures etc; everything refuted by Hayek 60 years ago.

    • Tel says:

      Speaking of lack of predictive skills, get a load of this…


      There you go, someone has successfully clocked the speed of evolution, and the absolute limit is one degree C every million years worth of adaptation.

      You could of course check the Vostok ice core data and notice a 10 degree C swing visible every hundred thousand years (observable temperature swings happening 100 times faster than the absolute fastest that evolution can cope with) but then again, no doubt some species died. Egat! Something died! Evolution must be broken if anything ends up dead!

      Utter fruitcake, but the same nutters will have a go at Christians for the glibness of “God wanted it that way”.

      Ignorance I can deal with, I admit ignorance on many issues myself, but blatant hypocritical ignorance does toast my waffle at times.

  17. Ivan Jankovic says:

    And the multiverse is not some crazy idea concocted by the atheists to harass the God’s people but rather a necessary consequence of the state of art product of modern physics – string theory. The Multiverse hypothesis appeared because it was the most elegant way of dealing with certain problems within the string theory: mathematics of string theory implied the extra-dimensions of space, and also the multiple universes.although many theorists were at first very uncomfortable with this idea (and some are even today). And this is a very common way of how the new insights are gained in physics: the Big Bang theory which is now universally accepted (save for your friends Young Earth creationists) was implied by the Einstein’s equations of general relativity. Since the prevailing wisdom of that time was an unchanging universe Einstein tweaked his theory slightly to get rod of this problem of “singularity”, i.e Big Bang. Some decades later, when the observational evidence for Big Bang was found people understood that Einstein’s mathematics was right and that it contained the answer already, just they were driven by current prejudices to reject it. The same thing is with the multiverse: the fact that we, the laymen, consider this a weird or unrealistic or crazy doctrine does not matter one yota.

  18. Drigan says:

    Wow Bob, you seem to have hit a nerve with this one. It’s really amusing to me that atheists try to use science against religion. The reason the Catholic church invented the scientific method was to learn more about how God works . . . I know that you can take things and use them in unintended ways, but it seems rather difficult to use a tool to explore how God does things and prove that “He doesn’t” with it.

    • knoxharrington says:

      The Catholic Church didn’t invent the scientific method. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_scientific_method

      And science has disproved so much of what religion teaches is that we are left now with the god of the gaps and little else.

      I would say, however, that the Catholic Church nearly cornered the market on man-boy rape and the use of fear and intimidation to cover up their crimes. Sandusky aspired to their success in this area.

      • Sam Geoghegan says:

        I’ve heard Neil deGrasse Tyson make that claim.

        You’re a classic victim of scientism. Apparently you do not know what science is, or understand that it doesn’t set out to disprove anything. The “god of the gaps” argument only applies to believers who claim science and religion are at tension with one another. The exact opposite argument can be thrown at the new atheists for assuming science tells us things that it doesn’t.

        The new atheists rival CAGW advocates in their religiosity.

        • knoxharrington says:

          Do you know any other form of argumentation other than constructing strawmen? I never claimed that science set out to disprove anything only that science HAS disproved many, if not most, religious claims particularly with regard to creation mythology .

          The “god of the gaps” argument applies to any believer who holds that god exists in the shadows of the unknown. Don’t understand cellular differentiation? It’s god. Don’t understand black holes? It’s god. I’m sick of hearing believers trumpet ignorance as proof of god. They demand an explanation for EVERYTHING and then, when you rightfully plead ignorance, voila god. They fill their own ignorance with the ultimate trump variable. I might be a victim of scientism but would that make you a victim of superstition and nonsense? See, I didn’t assume you were an assclown I just asked if that was the case.

          • Ken B says:

            And not just ‘voila god’, but ‘voila MY god’.

          • Sam Geoghegan says:

            The new atheists rely on ignorant believers to falsify things not generally claimed by religion, which basically gives weight to the new atheist mythology, such as contingency, nihilism, positivism and the belief that science will herald in a new renaissance.
            I believe the only strawman is your claim.
            And I’m agnostic.

            • knoxharrington says:

              I think you need to figure out what a strawman argument is first. You knocked down a claim which I did not make. Again, I never said science sets out disprove anything only that science HAS disproved much of what religions teach.

              So your an agnostic and an assclown.

              • Sam Geoghegan says:

                No no, the strawman is the use of the “god of the gaps” argument. No scientist worth their salt would use such a phrase let alone raise it to dispute religion.

              • Ken B says:

                “No scientist worth their salt would use such a phrase let alone raise it to dispute religion.”

                So much for Richard P Feynman http://www.scienceforums.net/topic/63765-feynman-and-gaps/

              • Sam Geoghegan says:

                I cede you on this point. It’s a diversion, not a strawman.

            • knoxharrington says:

              As to the new atheists (I assume you are mainly referring to Harris) I disagree strongly about his scientific morality argument.

              • Ken B says:

                Why is it wrong to punch little old ladies? Because it hurts them. Oh theres a lot of related side issues but thats the heart of it. If punches made them happy healthy beautiful and rich I think our moral perceptions of the punch would be different.

              • knoxharrington says:

                I hear what you are saying but Harris’ notions of well-being seem to end up in socialism where the human intellect becomes the thing being worshipped. I’m more circumspect about the ability of science to “tell” us what are moral ends. On the simple things – it is better to be well fed than to starve. Duh. But the conclusion inevitably is this – if we know it’s better to be well fed we better have the government get into the business of feeding. A “science of well-being” sounds too much like “scientific socialism” to me.

              • Ken B says:

                Knox, I don’t disagree but I think Harris’s main point, that he naturalistic fallacy is way oversold, is right.

  19. Sam Geoghegan says:

    Bob, Roy Spencer and yourself seem to have similar views. Did you have a private exchange with him after the hearing? What did you think of his response to the creationism artifice, raised by Sen. Whitehouse?

  20. gold price says:

    Studies on the half-life of DNA suggest that even under ideal circumstances, DNA sequences older than 1.5 million years will be too short to be readable. So it’s highly unlikely that DNA will be recovered from dinosaurs, since they disappeared 65 million years ago, except for the lineage leading to modern birds.

  21. Sam Geoghegan says:

    Why is there no reply capability to Ken B’s posts?

    I’m happy to talk about his link so long as this thread is still kicking on.

    I reiterate, there is no tension between science and religion. Disproving biblical stories won’t change a thing.
    You only need to define what science is to conclude that it is descriptive, not explanatory. But alas, herein lies the glaring contradiction. Scientists both reject dispositions and purpose, but can not extricate themselves from employing them to describe anything from the function of organs to say, the behaviour of subatomic particles. Oddly enough, atheists say things like life is meaningless and evolution is accidental, without the slightest sense of irony. I’d suggest that the explanatory bits of science, which can not be avoided, is teleology. Why? Because the reducibility of matter (while useful in advancing knowledge and technology), is otherwise an attempt to abate purpose by shifting attention somewhere else in the production process. Smashing your PC into components doesn’t dispute the fact that silicone chips, wires and logic have a final cause: The PC. Reductionism in itself tells you nothing until you temper it with purpose. In lieu of the above, be prepared to say that matter exists and changes through magic.

    • Ken B says:

      So to paraphrase, Ken B’s arguments are unanswerable.


    • knoxharrington says:

      “I reiterate, there is no tension between science and religion.”

      Of course there is. To the extent that religion makes scientific claims, like the world was created 6,000 years ago, there is tension. Why do you think religious people want their views taught in science classrooms?

      “Disproving biblical stories won’t change a thing.”

      You are probably right on this point. You can lead a believer to reason but you can’t make him think.

      Science: the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding. Merriam-Webster.

      I guess if you want to define science as descriptive and not explanatory then you can form your convoluted conclusion. Quite frankly, I don’t know what the hell you are getting at in your reductionism tempered with purpose bit.

      “atheists say things like life is meaningless”

      Which atheists say that? I’ve never heard that from an atheist. Ever. I’m an atheist and find life full of meaning and purpose. Don’t confuse nihilism with atheism – they are not the same thing.

  22. Sam Geoghegan says:

    By descriptive, I mean observation, summary of its parts, categorical patterns of behaviour. An explanation suggests a disposition, inclination or potential. Semantics, maybe?
    Materialists view these terms as loaded and unscientific, and adhere to rigorous standards of methodology, taxonomy, nomenclature and so forth, thus, reducing objects to featureless, elementary and universal components. The difference between a toaster and a giraffe, is a question of composition and structure, not their end purposes.

    I’m suggesting that nothing can be understood in absence of these so-called dispositions, inclinations, purposes etc. Eliminating them from explanation makes all change unintelligible. In other words, function engenders the process, not the other way around.
    The eye is for seeing, gravity is for attracting, rubber is for elasticity, brain function is for thinking etc.
    Effect follows from cause because statistically, there are limited latent possibilities in the cause.
    Dawkins, Krauss et al propose an entirely different and unscientific conclusion.

    Follow so far?

    • knoxharrington says:

      I understand what your saying but your style reminds me of Cornel West on LSD.

      • Ken B says:

        Better than Cornel West then.

        • knoxharrington says:

          At least Sam didn’t use “transmogrify” – he has that going for him.

          • Sam Geoghegan says:

            So I take it that you don’t agree then?

            It’s the “Function” of an object that makes it intelligible, not its reducible components.
            Unfortunately, you can’t quantify function (In the non-mathematical sense), which is why I said atheists say things like life is meaningless. Z in the comments said that morality is a fiction, and materialists often say things like colour perception isn’t real and humans are “moist robots”. (see below)

            Reductionist methodology has transmogrified into a doctrinist cult.

  23. knoxharrington says:

    I’m inclined to disagree. Here is at least one materialist who disagrees all, or in part, with your contention.


  24. silver price says:

    The staff is musing of his prospective fate when he arrives to the state of a silverback. It is hoped by then, (with any reasonable degree of probability) his intelligent design and unreconcilable complexity will have become stablized; civilized to the point where he may live a happy productive life.

  25. Silver Price says:

    This theory is a favorite of theists. It says that life is simply too complex to have developed via natural selection or random mutation. However…- on July 11, 2002, scientists artificially re-created polio. Using only the DNA of the polio virus and a series of synthetic chemicals, they recreated the natural desire to reproduce, the ability to evolve, and all other mechanisms that make a virus, LIFE, work.- the bacterial flagellum argument has also been disproven. Back in 1996, scientists found that the 10-part “Type 3 secretion mechanism” that pathogenic germs have is very similar in function to the bacterial flagellum, but does so with only 10 parts. Therefore, each supposedly “irreducible” mechanism is perfectly functional if you take away the RIGHT parts. It is still reducible. – the Eye argument has also been disproven. All you need are some simple photo-receptive cells that just detect light. As the species ages, this mechanism becomes more and more useful as these traits develop into actual senses. Keep in mind that these mechanisms had countless opportunities to develop across countless species during the Cambrian Explosion 500 million years ago, and have been getting more and more complex over that amount of time.Sorry for using science and fact, but keep in mind that if you make a claim, there’s always someone willing to check your facts.

  26. oolalaa says:

    “There is also the fine-tuning argument, which claims that the physical constants of Nature seem to be exquisitely calibrated to support human life on Earth. The standard atheist response to this one, is to argue that there are an infinity of possible universes”

    My goodness.

    No, Mr Murphy, the standard response is “the earth wasn’t adapted for human life, rather human life has adapted to earth.” Did you purposely choose to omit such an obvious and sound respost, or were you really and truly blind to the possibility that human beings have adapted to earth, rather than the other way around? Deceitfulness or ignorance?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Did you purposely choose to omit such an obvious and sound respost, or were you really and truly blind to the possibility that human beings have adapted to earth, rather than the other way around? Deceitfulness or ignorance?

      Follow the link oolalaa. This isn’t about the earth’s atmosphere having the right concentration of oxygen for human lungs, it’s about the charge on an electron and the gravitational constant being within a limited range that makes carbon-based life possible, etc.

      • Lord Keynes says:

        (1) Just because the physical laws of the universe are *compatible* with life, it does not follow that the universe is “life friendly* in the way theists think.

        In fact, some considerable evidence exists to show that the steps from the evolution of the first self-replicating compounds to complex organisms like whales, monkeys and humans were long and very difficult. There was nothing necessary about life — it was all contingent and did not follow from the mere emergence of the physical laws of the universe after the Big Bang.

        (2) the very claim that the present universe with its specific laws is highly improbable is utterly unproven speculation. It *might* be that the probability of our universe is 1; or 0.8; or 0.7 or 0.5. At the moment we do not know.

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