Friday, June 11, 2010

Free Markets, Evolution, and Design

I've noticed that a lot of atheists and Christians share the same basic premise about evolution: Surely a loving God would not have allowed spontaneous, unplanned growth to be the mechanism by which new species came into being. Christians who take this point of view hold onto God and reject evolution; atheists hold onto evolution and reject God.

That's kind of interesting. It's almost the exact same impulse that leads people to be skeptical of free markets. How can free, spontaneous growth lead to economic prosperity? Surely anyone who cares about the poor, our environment, and the betterment of society will have a better idea than to leave the economy up to free, unplanned exchanges between individuals.

Thus I shouldn't be surprised if secular liberals reject the free market. Spontaneous evolution is, for them, the result of the absence of sovereign grace; if we want to run the economy right, we need to figure out how to do what a loving God would have done had he bothered to show up.

One might then ask why it appears that so many Christians who reject Darwinian evolution appear to accept free market ideology. My response would be that it is doubtful that these Christians have any sort of genuine commitment to the principles of economic freedom. Voting Republican is certainly no sign of believing in the free market. And if many Christians do seem skeptical of big government, this surely has many explanations unrelated to economics, such as the tradition of individualism in American Protestantism.

And we should not be surprised if we see many Christians rejecting the principles of free markets. I believe I heard a comment from N. T. Wright once to this effect: "Many of the same Christians who reject Darwinian evolution also embrace social Darwinism."

Let me make one thing clear: social Darwinism is a caricature of the free market. The free market is not about "survival of the fittest." It is simply about unplanned, free exchanges between individuals. Indeed, this requires as its foundation a respect for human life, without which free trade will never happen.

But the idea that something unplanned can lead to the best result seems to bother us all on some level. Christians, because surely God's design of the world means he actually designed it; the plans must be lying around in His attic somewhere. Secularists, because surely we rational humans can do better than nature's horrific disorder.

On that provocative note, I think I'll stop here, and leave the details for another time.

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