Thursday, August 01, 2013

Debating Darwinian Liberalism (2): The Consistency of Affirming Markets and Denying Evolution

Occasionally, I have argued that if one accepts the spontaneous order of free markets, as American conservatives and classical liberals do, then one should also accept Darwinian evolution and reject the ideas of intelligent design or creationism.  I have thus implied that affirming markets and denying evolution is inconsistent.  Friedrich Hayek, Matt Ridley, and many others have expressed the same thought. 

In his contribution to Dilley's book--"On Invisible Hands and Intelligent Design: Must Classical Liberals Also Embrace Darwinian Theory?"--Jay Richards argues that this is false.  He has persuaded me that he is right, and so I have been wrong about this.

There is something intuitively plausible in the thought that if you recognize Adam Smith's invisible hand in economic order, you should also recognize Darwin's invisible hand in evolutionary order.  After all, it's clear that in formulating his theory of evolution, Darwin was influenced--perhaps decisively so--by the Smithian conception of an economy as a spontaneous order.

But despite the intuitive appeal of this thought, is it really true that it is logically contradictory to affirm free markets while denying Darwinian evolution?  Richards has convinced me that the answer is no.

Richards is correct in pointing out that Adam Smith did not present the invisible hand as creating order out of complete chaos.  Free markets work as spontaneous orders only when certain initial conditions are set properly--particularly, legal and cultural rules of property rights and fair exchange.  Smith was not a proponent of laissez-faire, because he saw the need for government to set those initial conditions.  Similarly, Richards argues, we might explain the order in the living world as depending on initial conditions set by the Intelligent Designer, and thus we would have to reject Darwinian evolution insofar as it assumes an undirected process.

Although Hayek's specific argument about market prices as spontaneous order succeeds, Richards observes, his general argument about order emerging out of chaos fails.  Appealing to the "fine-tuning" argument of the intelligent design proponents, Richards maintains that modern science has not discovered that the universe could have arisen from chaos, because in fact cosmological emergence depends on "cosmic initial conditions," which then can be interpreted as showing intelligent design.  Hayek was right about the limitations on human knowledge that make the central planning of an economy impossible, Richards argues, but he was wrong to suggest that this shows the limitations on the knowledge of any intelligent agent.  A divinely intelligent agent could plan an economy or a cosmos!

I agree with Richards that whatever we know about human intelligent design has no application to divine intelligent design, because we have direct experience of the former but no experience of the latter.  But he does not seem to notice that this destroys intelligent design theory, which assumes that we can infer from our ordinary experience of human intelligent design conclusions about divine intelligent design. This does not follow if we have no ordinary experience of divine intelligent design.  William Dembski has said that "the point of the intelligent design program is to extend design from the realm of human artifacts to the natural sciences."  But as Richards has indicated, while detecting the design of human artifacts is a matter of common observation and logic, detecting the design of divine artifacts is not.

Richards concludes that Hayek was "a broad-minded materialist rather than a theist" (84).  If Richards accepts the Dilley Syllogism, then he must believe that Hayek was mistaken in thinking that his classical liberalism did not depend upon Christianity.  (Father Robert Sirico suggested something like this in his lecture at the Mont Pelerin Society conference in the Galapagos, which was the subject of one of my posts on that conference.)

My conclusion from all this is that while I don't find the arguments for intelligent design theory persuasive, I can't say that those arguments contradict the Hayekian arguments for free markets as a spontaneous order.

1 comment:

Timothy Sandefur said...

"A divinely intelligent agent could plan an economy or a cosmos!"

In other words, the proposition of God is so arbitrary that, like any other arbitrary claim, it is "compatible" with any number of true or false claims of any complexion whatsoever, because, being arbitrary, such a claim hangs in the air without any need for logical consistency, factual support, &c. God is therefore a thought compatible with absolutely any proposition, up to and including His own nonexistence (i.e., God being infinite and omniwhatever, can be imagined to be compatible with a logic that doesn't include the principle of non-contradiction).