Monday, September 28, 2009

Adam Smith and Religous Beliefs

Rev. Allen M Baker, Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut, writes in Banner of Truth HERE

Which will you choose?”

“By the sweat of your face you will eat bread (Genesis 3:19)”

In 1776 Adam Smith, a Scottish economist and Deist, a good friend of David Hume the sceptic, wrote his famous book Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations that has profoundly affected the capitalist system in our world. Smith taught that an 'invisible hand of nature' guides the law of supply and demand and that if left alone will continue the increase in the wealth of nations equitably for all people. Smith failed, however, to heed the words of Genesis 3 concerning the implications of the fall into sin — namely that man is innately selfish and greedy, given to avarice
.”

Comment
Smith taught that an 'invisible hand of nature' guides the law of supply and demand and that if left alone will continue the increase in the wealth of nations equitably for all people.”

News to me, and I am sure it would have been news to Adam Smith. He never taught or wrote anything in the same sentence or paragraph about “the law of supply and demand” (Books I and II) and the “invisible hand of nature” (Book IV) (even the phrase “of nature” on this context is invented).

the wealth of nations equitably for all people”.

Well, he wrote a book called (short title) the “Wealth Of Nations”, but did not refer in it to “equitably”. Distribution in its modern sense was not a topic in political economy in the 18th century. He said “progress to opulence” was a good thing – employment of labourers was good in the sense that it was better than destitution and the average life-span of 25 years.

Whether Smith failed “to heed the words of Genesis 3 concerning the implications of the fall into sin” is not documented. Being brought up in a Presbyterian household – his mother was very religious – he would know his Bible, but whether he took revealed religion seriously after his early 20s is another matter. It was unlikely that he was a Deist, at least after his mother died. In 18th-century Scotland, to be thought to be an atheist was not socially possible; Deism was also condemned but by the 1770s it was less so.

See my paper: The Hidden Adam Smith in his Alleged Theology”, presented to the History of Economics Annual Conference, University of Colorado, Denver, June 2009. Available from the address at the top of Lost Legacy’s Home Page.

man is innately selfish and greedy, given to avarice

“Innately” means it is within man from birth. What a low opinion Rev. Allen M Baker has of mankind. Some people are “selfish and greedy, given to avarice”, but many more are not. If we all were malformed that way we would “enter an assembly of men as [we] enter a den of lions” (Adam Smith, Moral Sentiments, 1759: TMS II.ii.3.4: 86).

It’s Rev. Allen M Baker’s kind of Presbyterianism that drove most Scots from the Church once the “Holy Willies” (as Robert Burns put it) no longer were able to force everybody into conformity with its oppressive doctrines (young Thomas Aitkenhead, a theology(!) student was hanged in Edinburgh in 1697 for so-called blasphemy).

What kind of loveless people were these men?

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