[Marxism] intelligent design?

Sudhir Devadas sudhirdin at gmail.com
Tue Nov 29 05:11:53 MST 2005


Smith vs. Darwin
Like Intelligent Design, the idea of the Invisible Hand stubbornly persists
in the face of overwhelming evidence

*James K. Galbraith *
November/December 2005 Issue     Mother Jones

In today's great God-versus-Science debate, both sides maneuver for the
middle ground. Though he's otherwise tolerant of nothing, George W. Bush
calls for evolution and Intelligent Design to be taught together in the
science classes of public schools. Meanwhile, our great gray citadel of
secular humanism, the *New York Times*, finds it comforting to tell us (on
the front page on August 23) that there really are good Christian scientists
out there who do evolution on weekdays and church on Sunday. So what's the
problem?

In his wonderful book on American pragmatism, *The Metaphysical Club*, Louis
Menand explains what the problem is. God and science really don't mix.
Darwin didn't invent evolution. He invented Godless Evolution. Menand
writes: "On the *Origin of Species* was published on November 24, 1859. The
word 'evolution' barely appears in it. Many scientists by 1859 were
evolutionists—that is, they believed that species had not been created once
and for all, but had changed over time…. The purpose of On the *Origin of
Species* was not to introduce the concept of evolution; it was to debunk the
concept of supernatural intelligence—the idea that the universe is the
result of an idea."

Before Darwin, when scientists gazed on the natural world, they imposed
categories on it: order, families, genera, species, with *Homo sapiens
sapiens* coming out on top. Evolution meant progress; order and progress
were signs of God's plan. Darwin shifted the focus to individuals, to
mutation, and to the processes of natural, sexual, and social selection.
Order now recedes. Variations are key, and they occur entirely by chance.
God is left out. "What was radical about On the *Origin of Species*," Menand
writes, "was not its evolutionism, but its materialism."

Economists, on the other hand, have been Intelligent Designers since the
beginning. Adam Smith was a deist; he believed in a world governed by a
benevolent system of natural law. Consider this familiar passage from *Wealth
of Nations*, published in 1776, with its now mostly forgotten
anti-globalization flavor:

"By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry [every
individual] intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in
such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only
his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible
hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention…. By pursuing his
own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually
than when he really intends to promote it."

Smith's Creator did not interfere. He simply wrote the laws and left them
for events to demonstrate and man to discover. The greatest American
economist, Thorstein Veblen, observed that "the guidance of…the invisible
hand takes place…through a comprehensive scheme of contrivances established
from the beginning." What is this if not Intelligent Design?

But to Veblen this was, precisely, unscientific. And so he made a mighty
effort back in 1898 to move economics into the Darwinian age. In a
magnificent essay entitled "Why Is Economics Not an Evolutionary Science?"
Veblen pointed out the problems of classical economics: too much preoccupied
with classification schemes and higher purposes, too little with material
process and "cumulative or unfolding sequence." Economics could become a
science, but only if it detached itself from the idea that change
intrinsically led to improvement.

Yet economists resisted Veblen's message. Sentences like this one—though my
favorite in all economics—might possibly help explain why he didn't quite
get through: "If we are getting restless under the taxonomy of a
monocotyledonous wage doctrine and a cryptogamic theory of interest, with
involute, loculicidal, tomentous and moniliform variants, what is the
cytoplasm, centrosome or karyokinetic process to which we may turn, and in
which we may find surcease from the metaphysics of normality and controlling
principles?"

(Don't get it? Sorry, can't help you.)

More than a century later, economics has not escaped its pre-Darwinian rut.
Economists still don't understand variation; instead they write maddeningly
about "representative agents" and "rational economic man." They still teach
the "marginal product theory of wages," which excuses every gross inequality
faced by the laboring poor. Alan Greenspan even recently resurrected the
idea of a "natural rate of interest" to justify raising rates, though that
doctrine had been extinct for 70 years. Economists still ignore the
diversity of actual economic and social life. They say little about forms of
ownership and the distribution of power, and almost nothing about how
pointless product differentiation and technical change now shape and drive
the struggle for survival among firms.

Metaphysics still persists in economics. It takes the form of "competitive
equilibrium"—the conditions under which selfish individuals and tiny small
businesses in free competitive markets interact to produce the best results
for social welfare. Competitive equilibrium is a state of perpetual economic
stagnation, its study an exercise in mental stasis. This is because there is
nothing to study: The idea dominates textbooks and journals but has never
existed in real life.

In each generation since Veblen, some economists have fought for
evolutionary ideas, but the ID types keep coming back. Today their most
lethal champions call themselves the "School of Law and Economics." This
group holds that markets are self-policing, that fraud is really impossible
except where publicly provided insurance creates "moral hazard." Get rid of
regulations, they believe, and we won't much need the SEC, the FTC, and the
Justice Department to protect us from Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom. Now that
John Roberts has taken over at the Supreme Court, we'll see how this
touching faith works out.

Modern economics resembles religion in other, more prosaic ways. The
American Economic Association (AEA) runs like a priesthood; its flagship *
Review* is as unreadable as a Dead Sea Scroll. And when heretics gather in
the Association for Evolutionary Economics and elsewhere, Inquisitors keep
after them. (At the annual academic meetings, the AEA sends seat counters to
the heretical sessions, looking for groups small enough to cut from its
rolls.) To borrow an old line from Robert Kuttner, the evolutionists are "a
tiny and despised sect that stubbornly refuses to disappear."

Yet we're a threat. For Darwin cannot be erased; his material, randomized,
godless view of change informs every aspect of the way real scientists
investigate physical, biological, and social problems, from cosmology to the
study of political or technological change. The new mathematics of chaos and
complexity are evolutionary, for they study how simple determinate processes
can give rise to lifelike diversity. These techniques yield many new
insights into the origins of pattern and structure. (For a fun example,
download John Conway's "Game of Life" and have a look at what it can do.)
One day, they may break through even in economics, and Veblen's long-delayed
evolutionary revolution will be complete.

Evolutionism, in the Darwinian form that cannot be reconciled to God's
design or even to the Invisible Hand, remains a pure—if I were religious I
would say sublime—product of free human thought. Religion has other virtues,
but it isn't, generally speaking, a domain of free inquiry. And you cannot
relabel a quasi-religious doctrine as "science" and thereby make it free.
That is why Intelligent Design in biology and the Invisible Hand in
economics must have well-heeled foundations to promote them, while Darwinian
evolution grows up everywhere on its own.

And so, the real issue facing the United States in this matter is quite
simple: Do we want free human thought to continue to flourish here? Or do we
want to suppress it? If we choose the latter, rest assured, free thought,
the future of science, and also the future of economics will eventually crop
up somewhere else. Evolution promises us: If a niche appears, sooner or
later something will come along to inhabit it.

And as for the raw merits of the debate, consider this easy proof of
evolution's explanatory power. Intelligent Design cannot explain Darwinian
evolution. Darwin's whole point is that variation and change are random and
without higher purpose. We cannot imagine that God designed the disproof of
his own existence.

But can evolution explain Intelligent Design? Easily. After all, it was less
than a century back—when William Jennings Bryan prosecuted (and Clarence
Darrow defended) the Scopes case—that the fundamentalists Bryan represented
demanded that only a literal biblical account of creation be taught in
public schools. They didn't want evolution taught at all. Bryan won in
court, but in the schools Darrow and Darwin ultimately prevailed.

And what is Intelligent Design, now seeking its niche in a culture
conditioned by tolerant and pliable minds, which pretends to want a
peaceable coexistence with evolution rather than to supplant it? What is it
indeed, if not the mutant offspring of creationism, born into the world that
evolution made? It's a political adaptation. Q.E.D.

*James K. Galbraith teaches economics at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of
Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin. He previously served in
several positions on the staff of the U.S. Congress, including executive
director of the Joint Economic Committee. *
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