Friday, October 07, 2005

Adam Smith and Natural Selection

Over on Canadian Econoview, ‘BSF’ opens a piece on ‘Adam Smith and Natural Selection’ by mentioning the piece I wrote recently (September) on the current ‘debate’ in the US on Intelligent Design and Evolution.

After quoting “Moral Sentiments” (V.i.5.10. page 77) on the ‘author of nature’, BSF asks:

“Isn't it lucky, Smith's saying, that we just happen to enjoy, for their own sake, a whole mess of activities which just happen to be essential for our individual survival and for the continuation of the species?Is it really a big jump from there to the idea that our species only continues to exist because we happen to possess those traits, and that any species which didn't posses them would have long ago died out?”

Read the full post ( and the reference to “Moral Sentiments”.

My own ‘answer’ to “BSF’s” questions would be to comment that natural selection works on the individual and not the species, and that those traits that Smith notes are not based on ‘reason’ but on incentives at the individual level (the ‘passions’) – reason is too slow and unreliable to fulfil such important tasks:

“Nature has directed us to the greater part of these by original and immediate instincts. Hunger, thirst, the passion which unites the two sexes, the love of pleasure, and the dread of pain, prompt us to apply those means for their own sakes, and without any consideration of their tendency to those beneficent ends which the great Director of nature intended to produce by them.” (TMS, page 77)

Any individual or species that failed satisfy hunger, quench thirst, avoided sex, hated pleasure and enjoyed pain, would certainly die out. Presumably, all species meet these necessary but not sufficient conditions in normal times. The 18 or so versions of the Hominids, the predecessors of Homo sapiens, all presumably met the necessary conditions – most of them lasted a lot longer than Homo sapiens have so far, counting in millions of years against our mere 200,000. Likewise, with the others, some of which have lasted over 100 million years.

Other factors must intrude for a species to die out other than those imposed by the ‘author of nature’, which is another argument against the fantasies of ID.

Ceck it out with Canadian Econoview. It’s a good read.


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