Saturday, June 27, 2009

Peer Review This Morning

I am presenting my paper, 'The Hidden Adam Smith in His Religiosity' (an initial response to Lisa Hill's 'The Hidden Theology in Adam Smith', 2001) to the 'Smith, Morality, and Religion' session of the 26th Annual Conference of the History of Economics Society, in Denver, Colorado.

This is a real test of my thesis that Adam Smith was not a Christian, though a regular attender with his mother of his local Kirk in Edinburgh, was not a Providentialist (though he often used its language), and was not a Deist, though he never expressed any degree of explicit atheism. He was probably agnostic, being unable to explain what was increasingly clear that the religious accounts of the 'final cause' of the world and everything in it were inadequate as an explanation.

Smith, of course, was not informed about Darwin's theory of natural selection, of Mandel's theory of inheritance, or of genetics and Watson and Crick's 'double helix'. From 1785 Smith was aware from his friendship with James Hutton, the geologist, that the age of the Earth was much older than Bishop Usher's Biblical date of 2004 years. The Earth had 'no vestiges of a beginning, no prospect of an end' said Hutton.

In the absence of a credible alternative explanation, though theology, rooted in 'pusillanimous superstition' (his History of Astronomy) was impregnable until evidence emerged, Smith wrote in a barely discernable code that hid his doubts, a not unreasonable protection against the Presbyterrean zealots then prowling across Scottish society searching for heresy, aspostacy, and signs of atheisim.

I shall report on how my colleagues receive my paper.



Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

The presentation went quite well though the time slot was very short at 15 minutes.

The discussion divided 50-50 on whether my thesis had substance with the discussant politely in disagreement, though with some positive points. The chairman, a distinguished senior scholar on Adam Smith did not think I had made the case, which was hardly my intention on this occsion.

Other scholars came out in support, which was gratifying.

It seems I am encouraged to continue developing the paper, perhaps by dealing with some expressions of doubt about whether Smith was a Christian, a Providentialist, or a Deist, and I should deal with this question.

That's my point: because it is not clear which he was this sustains my assertion that he deliberately wrote Moral Sentiments to obscure his real views.

Later I chaired a session on Adam Smith which went off in a disciplined manner, itself worthy of the positive comments of those attending, given how some other sessions were run!

I shall have a 'night in' this evening, being somewhat tired.

1:07 am  

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