Thursday, April 1, 2010

Charles Darwin Meet Adam Smith

Kenneth R. Miller, in addition to defending evolution on religious grounds, makes the case for evolution to free market conservatives. Evolution is simply the free market acting in nature:

Capitalism, as conservatives never tire of pointing out, produces economic efficiency not by design from above, but from innovation, investment, and self interest from below. The ability of modern capitalism to invent, adapt, and prosper stands as dramatic testimony against those who would argue that complexity and efficiency cannot arise spontaneously, but must be planned into a system by a supervising authority. Charles Darwin would have loved it.

What impressed Darwin, as well as many others, about living things was how well-suited they are to their environments. Other naturalists could do no better than to attribute this to careful, centralized planning, but Darwin knew better. He supplemented his observations on natural systems with studies of the economic theories of Thomas Malthus and Adam Smith, whose work preceded him by a generation. From economics he gained one of the key insights of his theory: namely, that allowing individuals to struggle for personal gain helps weed out inefficiencies and produces a balanced system that ultimately benefits society as a whole.

In a certain sense Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is unadulterated Adam Smith translated into the language of biology. The unthinking acts of individual organisms, seeking no more than survival and reproductive success, produce biological novelty just as surely as venture capitalists foster innovation.
The truth is that if Charles Darwin were to appear today in midtown Manhattan, I know exactly where I’d take him first. No, it wouldn’t be up to the Museum of Natural History, whose rich collections of fossils have so eloquently documented the historical details of evolutionary change. It wouldn’t even be to the great university laboratories, where studies of molecular genetics have provided the mechanisms to support his theories. It would be to a place where people would really understand him, a place where his theories are put into practice every day, a place where a true evolutionist can have a rip-roaring good time. I’d take him to Wall Street … (Kenneth R. Miller, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul pg. 203-04.)

So not only is intelligent design heresy, postulating a deity who constantly has to tinker with his creation instead of letting it run on natural laws, intelligent design is big government liberalism, postulating a society so complex that only through the direct intervention of a wise president and his allies could we ensure affordable health care to all. As believers in capitalism know, the free market is not some sort of cold ruthless Darwinian jungle where the strong few live in plenty while the rest are left to starve. The market is the story of reason and morality arising out of chaos to defeat Social Darwinism. For all of its limitations, the free market is the most powerful poverty elimination device ever conceived by man. Similarly, while evolution appears to be the story of a godless world ruled by chance and brute force, it is really about the rise of order from chaos and goodness from brute force. Survival of the fittest means the survival of the wise and moral and not simply the strong.  Like Professor Miller, I cannot help but find this spiritual moving, far more so than any fundamentalist harangue against evolution.    

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