Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Evolution for Free-Marketeers

via 3QuarksDaily

For some reason, many of the same conservatives who believe that the complexity of the natural world is not possible without an intelligent designer are also convinced that the miracle of the marketplace will solve all economic problems without the need for intervention. The mathematician John Allen Paulos describes the analogy between evolution and the free market in this entry in the Edge:

Let me begin by asking how it is that modern free market economies are as complex as they are, boasting amazingly elaborate production, distribution and communication systems? Go into almost any drug store and you can find your favourite candy bar. And what's true at the personal level is true at the industrial level. Somehow there are enough ball bearings and computer chips in just the right places in factories all over the country. The physical infrastructure and communication networks are also marvels of integrated complexity. Fuel supplies are, by and large, where they're needed. Email reaches you in Miami as well as in Milwaukee, not to mention Barcelona and Bangkok.

The natural question, discussed first by Adam Smith and later by Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper among others, is who designed this marvel of complexity? Which commissar decreed the number of packets of dental floss for each retail outlet? The answer, of course, is that no economic god designed this system. It emerged and grew by itself. No one argues that all the components of the candy bar distribution system must have been put into place at once, or else there would be no Snickers at the corner store.

So far, so good. What is more than a bit odd, however, is that some of the most ardent opponents of Darwinian evolution for example, many fundamentalist Christians are among the most ardent supporters of the free market. They accept the market's complexity without qualm, yet insist the complexity of biological phenomena requires a designer. MORE
I have my doubts that this line of reasoning will be convincing to creationists, though. They will point out that even though nobody designed the entire economy of the planet, each of the individual decisions, e.g. whether to order more Snickers or not, was made by an intelligent decision-maker.

So a fallback position for creationists is that maybe there is no designer for the whole natural world, but each ecological niche might have an intelligent designer. So there might be a god of frogs taking care of frog business, and a god of penguins taking care of penguin business, etc. Maybe it is the free market competition among these gods that produced the wonders of nature?

Daryl McCullough
Ithaca, NY


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