Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Intelligent Design

In the Times today, the mathematician John Allan Paulos' new book Irreligion is reviewed. It is another critique of theism, a la Hitchens , Dawkins, Harris. While I'm on his side, here is an argument against ID I wish he hadn't used - although I've used it myself. He says, according to the reviewer, that the idea that we can infer a designer from a design is refuted by Darwinian natural selection and "free market economics" (e.a) It's the last clause I take issue with.

Of course the idea is that the spontaneous order exhibited by a laissez-faire economy is an instance of design without a designer. The trouble is that I can't think of any spontaneously ordered economies for which intelligent design (and I don't mean the Deity!) isn't implicated to some degree in the order achieved. A judicial system able to underpin a complex economy doesn't come into existence spontaneously. The Bretton-Woods system had intelligent designers - and so on and so on. The "market" is not a natural fact. It is embedded in institutions and to the extent that it functions with any kind of order, the intelligent designers of these institutions deserve some of the credit. We saw the fallacy of the belief in the spontaneous ordering of the market as a natural fact in the tremendous disorder following 1989 in Russia.

Just sayin'!

15 comments:

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Kevin,

Well, the matter of judicial systems is very much at the heart of the "legal origins" debate, with the harder line of the folks who say that the common law is a superior system economically to civil law systems noting the relatively spontaneous nature of its emergence, something emphasized especially by Hayek. Sure, there was the Magna Carta, but most of it in Britain at least evolved over time out of precedent upon precedent.

Barkley

hardindr said...

Additionally, Michael Shermer, of the Skeptics Society, has a new book coming out entitled, Mind of the Market, and it doesn't look too good...

Sandwichman said...

What's wrong with the proposition that in the case of the universe the creation is identical to its creator? In that case there is, by definition, "intelligent design" as well as Darwinian natural selection. But the intelligence in question IS the selection process and the "design" is simultaneous to its execution.

So it's all just semantic confusion based on the rather infantile compulsion to anthropomorphize God. If God was anywhere near as humanoid as the fundies make Him out to be, He'd have snuffed the whole species in a drunken rage eons ago.

Shane Taylor said...

Well, the matter of judicial systems is very much at the heart of the "legal origins" debate, with the harder line of the folks who say that the common law is a superior system economically to civil law systems noting the relatively spontaneous nature of its emergence, something emphasized especially by Hayek.

But what counts as spontaneous? Does the enclosure movement? How neatly can the development common law be separated from that of civil law?

Standardization of weights and measures, as well as settling on a single currency within a nation, seem crucial but hardly spontaneous.

My main reading here has been Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation, but I do not know in what standing his work is in with historians and/or anthropologists.

Jack said...

What on earth is this discussion aiming to accomplish? The fact that Dawkins thought to waste his time and energy on the topic only begs the question as to how much cash the publisher offered for his input. The fact that Hitchens, in his current guise as scum bag extraordinaire, chose to chime in on the subject only proves that it is a subject with no useful purpose. Faith, faith, faith.
Faith is not open to debate. The only debate is whether or not the faithful have the right to waste our time or impinge upon our daily lives. They don't. Enforce the constitution and keep the faithful in their places of worship, not in the public limelight. Keep God in your heart, not on your shirt sleeve.

Thomas said...

When used in a theology vs. science context, "design implies a designer" is a useless bit of argument for both sides. It is not, in this context, a falsifiable proposition and is therefore without empirical basis. Contrawise, believers wouldn't accept any such experiment anyway, arguing that one cannot step outside of god's design.

It's all a totally useless argument.

Anonymous said...

Some on the right talk about property being a "natural law" and other such nonsense. However, I've never seen a cop having to force people to obey the law of gravity...

They also talk about non-intervention in the economy while also arguing that the legal code should reflect capitalist notions of private property! And, of course, ignoring the substantial state intervention required to create capitalism in the first place... And,to keep it going today.

Iain
An Anarchist FAQ

Jack said...

anon, "And, of course, ignoring the substantial state intervention required to create capitalism in the first place...And, to keep it gooing today."

Exactly!! And what better point need be made to justify the taxation of the fruits of capitalism? Why is it that capitalists especially don't want to pay for the maintenance of the very governmental systems that insures that they are free to practice their "craft." Is this an example of having one's cake and eating it? The result is that the rest of us have to pay an unreasonable share of the cost of government. The capitalist is too often a sponge wanting to soak up the benefits of the system within which they operate, but refusing to be squeezed for even a drop in order to support the substantial costs of that system.

kevin quinn said...

Shane, Yes, I should have mentioned Polanyi!

Barkley, I know Hayek's position on the common law. I am skeptical, but not up on the literature. Who is on the other side of the debate?

Incidentally, Ted Burczak's book goes after Hayek on the question of'efficiency' of the common law, if memory serves.

Jack, I'm not interested in the theism issue - this was just a hook for discussing the alleged spontaneity of market orderings.

Kevin

kevin quinn said...

Shane, Yes, I should have mentioned Polanyi!

Barkley, I know Hayek's position on the common law. I am skeptical, but not up on the literature. Who is on the other side of the debate?

Incidentally, Ted Burczak's book goes after Hayek on the question of'efficiency' of the common law, if memory serves.

Jack, I'm not interested in the theism issue - this was just a hook for discussing the alleged spontaneity of market orderings.

Kevin

Robert D Feinman said...

There is some experimental evidence that people have an innate sense of fairness.

If so, then laws which have evolved to promote fairness could be seen as a "natural" outgrowth of the starting conditions.

The fact that certain people at certain times systematized these tendencies is just happenstance. If not the Magna Carta then some other event.

The interesting question is why does unfairness persist even after the concepts of fairness have been defined?

After "all men are created equal" what's the defense for "no they are not"?

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Shane,

The alternative is a constitutional system, or civil law code, whose foundation is set up in one fell swoop, such as at the US Constitutional Convention (although the US gets classified as a common law country by those who are studying this stuff), as compared with the Napoleonic Code, the usual alternative in these studies, which often boil things down to England vs France, with a few sideshows like the Scandinavian system thrown in for kicks. One can get the state supporting ruling classes out of either of these systems, near as I can tell.

Kevin,

Well, I am not a fan of this common law argument, and am fully aware that Burczak criticizes Hayek on this point. My wife and I did criticized it also in our paper on our website entitled "A critique of the new comparative economics," in which we went after the main proponents of this "legal origins" literature, Glaeser and Shleifer, whose 2003 QJE paper is one of the five most cited published anywhere in the last several years. This paper is simply an outrage, crawling with outright historical errors: e.g. the claim that Latin America has the Napoloeonic Code (which it does not fully) because Napoleon conquered Spain. Latin American independence was mostly won during the time of Napoleon's rule, and to the extent some countries adopted the Napoleonic Code (some did), it was much later.

Barkley

Jack said...

Robert, "After 'all men are created equal,' what's the defense for 'no they are not"? No defense, just the "natural" selfishness of man. I can't imagine where there is any evidence of an innate sense of fairness. There is 5,000 years of reasonably well recorded history indicating that fairness is not something that comes natural to humans. Do men learn to be fair? More likely than not, and the learning process is inconsistent within and across learners and learning groups.

Think of the issue in Freudian term, only for the purpose of conceptualizing the argument. We absorb rules and regulations through our experiences in the real world, think superego. We don''t even think of the rules as having been learned. We know them. Even the sociopath knows them and knows to be discrete in any transgressions of the rules.

At the same time we learn self protection in its various and complicated manifestations. The ego, our contact with the real world. We behave in certain ways so that those around us will have a certain regard for who we are and so that those we interact with will reflect back to us an adherence to the generally accepted rules of fair play.

Only the self protective aspect might be shown as having some innate foundations. Pain hurts. Things associated with pain, like hunger and various forms of retribution, take on avoidance characteristics. This is not the same as saying that fairness has an innate foundation. In fact what is seen as fair in some cultures is not so iin others, and vise versa.

Robert D Feinman said...

Jack:
I don't have the links (sorry), but there are numerous psychological experiments where people are given the option of sharing money with a stranger at some cost to themselves or not.

One variation has the subject not a beneficiary as well.

An interesting variation had to do with sharing your portion (supplied by the experimenter) with a stranger when you were told that the other person was needy through some fault of their own (like being a drug user) or just a hapless loser.

Sharing was much higher if the other person was perceived as an unfortunate victim.

Jack said...

Studies like the ones you refer to are weak in that they are to the subjects an obviously isolated instance of their lives. They are incredibly difficult to control for subject bias, etc. Such studies generally are carried out in the area of social psychology, and while interesting, are often amongst the least "scientific" of the general field of experimental psychology. I'm not saying that they are wrong. I'm saying such studies have to be reviewed with a fine tooth comb, so to speak.

I can tell you that in the experimental psychologists' academic training, when they are working to obtain a PhD, what is often looked at as good examples of what not to do are the research in the softer areas, such as social, educational and clinical psychology. Don't read the abstracts. Study the methodology sections and then the conclusions. A budding PhD could make an entire carrier out of demonstrating the inadequacies of such studies. Fancy statistical manipulations don't correct for inherent design flaws.