Monday, February 11, 2013

The Social Order Was Not Designed

Robert P. Murphy offers “Free Advice” in his personal Blog HERE
Von Pepe sent me this nice video of Israel Kirzner accepting an award (posted at Coordination Problem) [follow the above link to see the video]:
“As Kirzner explains, even though he of course understands the scientific study of “spontaneous order,” nonetheless he sees the hand of God behind events.
This is yet another example of how atheists and theists can look at the same phenomenon, and walk away with opposite conclusions. Kirzner, Gene Callahan, Tom Woods, and I all have different views of God, but we all believe He exists and are awestruck at His genius in designing a social order where the natural depravity of man can be turned unwittingly into showering goodness on others. This obviously fits right in not just with Christianity, but also with Judaism; see for example Joseph’s reassurance to his brothers.
Yet I know atheists draw the opposite conclusion. Indeed, I’ve had them openly ask me things like, “Bob, you can see in your study of economics that there can be order without a designer. So why can’t you just accept that the universe has no grand purpose? It just happened.
I shall not repeat here my regular critique of what many economists say about the use by Adam Smith of the “invisible hand” metaphor, but direct my comments to the notion of an invisible being “behind these events” or that “He exists” by affirmations from a Bronze-age tribe wandering across the deserts and fertile areas of today’s Saudi Arabia, Sinai, Palestine/Israel and their environs and now widely believed by proponents of God/Allah and Jesus to have “designed” everything and the “social order”.
The former assertions of “him” designing “everything” have long been argued over by philosophers.  I have commented on Adam Smith’s alleged Christian views in my paper: “The Hidden Adam Smith in His Alleged Theology”, Journal of the History of Economic Theory, September 2011 (a reply to Lisa Hill’s, “The Hidden Theology of Adam Smith”, European Journal of Economic Thought”, 2001).
My admiration for Israel Kirzner’s work on markets is not diminished by his theological “explanations”.  I just ignore them and stick to his interesting contributions to economics.  
Take theology away and the elementary grammatical error (at least in the English and Latin languages) of Kirzner and Murphy both confusing a metaphor’s object (that which the metaphor “describes in a more striking and interesting manner”) with a metaphor’s modest role (see Smith’s “Lectures in Rhetoric and Belles Lettres”, 1763). 
Kirzner’s sees “the hand of God behind events”. 
So 13+ billion years ago (once violently denied by theologians and believers, who timed it as c.6,000 years only) an invisible entity starts the Universe off, creating trillions of star systems, which eons later led to planet Earth and from which “life” emerged billions of years later.  Then by a long process of Natural Selection (Darwin) among species humans evolved (still denied by fundamentalist Christians) and humans eventually formed their “social orders”. 
After going to all this trouble, the invisible being which undertook all these preliminary efforts, the intended outcome was the product of the invisible being’s designs.  That is, 13 billion years to produce a singular species that has lasted so far for about 200,000 years only?
Moreover, some believe that this invisible entity continues to operate to co-ordinate the activities of six billion people in their many hourly billions of pair-wise transactions with each other!  All for what?  For mere equilibrium! Why? Especially as the reality, or the need, for equilibrium is not evidenced by thousands of years of human history, let alone our pre-history.
If that is the essence of Robert Murphy’s “Free Advice”, I am not moved to agree, nor am I moved to seek his “financial advice” (as advertised on his Blog).
[Be quite clear: I am not denying that many people hold strong and sincere religious views and beliefs, and nothing I say above is intended to disrespect their rights to their beliefs. 
I do not impose my views on them and I only ask that they do not try to impose their beliefs on others who do not share them (as was done – sometimes violently) in the recent past in our “social orders”.  Scotland, for eample, has a particularly poor record in this respect up to the end of the 18th century. 
Adam Smith avoided provoking the Christian zealots (see my “Adam Smith On Religion” in (forthcoming) pp. 465-81, the Oxford Handbook on Adam Smith, eds. Christopher Berry, Maria Paganelli, and Craig Smith, Oxford University Press, forthcoming, 2013.]


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