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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Evolution and free market

After tooling round some other blogs and websites (reachable from SH in a couple of clicks generally) that have mentioned the evolution/intelligent design (ID) debate I've been struck by a distinctive feature of the discussion. That is that those most derisive of ID and/or propounding evolution are by and large on the lefter side of the spectrum. It is notable because these people are generally opposed to free market ideas. It strikes me as something of a cognitive dissonance on their parts because on the one hand they deny the possibility of a creator and/or guiding hand in the evolution of life while on the other demanding that a similar system, the total market, must have guidance and cannot be left to chance or nature. (This turned into a bit of an essay, so click the link to continue.)

From here on I'm going to take the evolutionary stance, because I don't like ID and also because it doesn't really matter too much here.

Life and free markets are both complex systems with many similarities. They both have no creator and no conscious guiding force, yet both tend towards more complexity, diversity and increasing specialisation. The free market is not Darwinian, yet the important components, the individuals, receive information and act on it without knowledge of the state of the entire system. In fact it is impossible for them to have such information. So in this regard they are similar to genes, which also have no ability to "know" their environment but get information about their environment through the total phenotype expressed by their body. So in both cases better adaption to the limited amount of information possibly available increases the chance of the individual/gene carrying on into the future.

Even more than that the human ideas of evolution and free markets share a tight history. While the idea of evolution was not new at the time of Charles Darwin he was the one to gather the mountain of evidence and set forth the foundations of a coherent scientific theory. It is no coincidence that this occured at the same time as the modern theory of free markets was advanced, Darwin was heavily influenced in his thinking by Adam Smith.
"Adam Smith was the last of the moralists and the first of the economists, so Darwin was the last of the economists and the first of the biologists."
It is not surprising, since Smith's ideas are fundamentally evolutionary and both economics and evolution are concerned with spontaneous ordering and self-organisation.
"The study of spontaneous orders has long been the peculiar task of economic theory, although, of course, biology has from its beginning been concerned with that special kind of spontaneous order which we call an organism. Only recently has there arisen within the physical sciences under the name of cybernetics a special discipline which is also concerned with what are called self-organizing or self-generating systems."
So there is a very tight connection between evolution and free market economics, while they differ in detail the crucial aspects are the same.

Conscious actors can direct evolution, after all humans have bred various living things to encourage and discourage traits and the rapid advancement of genetic techniques opens up ever wider fields of possibilities. Yet no conscious will comparable to a human intellect could have directed the evolutionary history of life to produce, for instance, the human intellect. The sheer information needed compared to that available and usable makes the probability vanishingly small. Of course God could, but that is because God in this case is circularly defined as that consciousness that could do this. However, the complexity of life from the planetary scale down to the chemical scale, is able to be generated by a self-organising system whose components have absolutely no knowledge of the future and very limited knowledge about its immediate surroundings.

Likewise with the free market involving literally billions of components. No single individual or clique can ever know the current state of the system, take account of random external factors and most importantly the desires of the individuals themselves. They can direct small parts of the system, just as a breeder can select for some traits in a breeding group, and they have some very limited ability to know the future. In both cases they can't control the direction of even a moderate size piece of the system they are working with and when they attempt to it is always with unforeseen and often counter-productive consequences.

So it is amusing to see advocates of controlled markets coming down against ID. They will, naturally, try to wiggle round it by appeal to rationality. However in all cases what they appeal to is constructive rationalism which fails to admit the limits of knowledge and deliberately (irrationally) ignores that the extended order generated by such systems is capable of creating results beyond what they can reason. Worse than this they attempt to impose a moral condition on the market, yet this too is often in accordance with a faulty rationalism. As Hume said
"The rules of morality are not the conclusion of our reason"
While a breeder accepts that he can only select for a limited set of traits and the geneticist knows that their engineering can't create a desired species or environment, the anti-free-marketeer has little appreciation of the parallels. That their attempts to impose an order, moral or not, are bound to be counter-productive or have unforeseen consequences is rarely considered because their ideals are what is important to them despite that the self-organisation has no idea of any ideals and works towards no specific outcome. Likewise the derision of the crucial feedback mechanism, prices, is about as sensible as denying that natural selection can act on genes to adapt species to changing conditions better than a deliberate breeder could. One need look no further than the food market to see what advantages a free market has over planning, most Western countries have something approaching free food markets with a huge diversity of choice and price. Planned economies repeatedly suffer shortages and starvation.

So economically speaking the analog of the ID proponent is the socialist. Scientifically the analog of the free marketeer is the evolutionist. An ID advocate who also wants to control the economy is at least consistent to a set of principles, even if you might disagree with them. Those deriding ID while backing market interference or planning are inconsistent and anything but rational, let alone moral.
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Posted by Chefen | 9/29/2005 05:04:00 pm


Blogger Cathy Odgers said...


Who the hell are you then? Where did you spring from.

Jesus christ that hurt my head.

Can you write an executive summary?

9/29/2005 07:37:00 pm  
Blogger Chefen said...

Cathy, sorry, sometimes the keyboard runs off at the mouth eh? Executive summary? Just the last paragraph maybe?

9/29/2005 07:48:00 pm  
Anonymous andrei said...

Everybody has a faith - even being an athiest is a statement of faith.

The thing is if you don't believe in a higher power then humanity and human thought is the pinacle of intelligence. To me this is form of arrogance and it is this arrogance which leads left wing thinkers into believing they have the power to control everything (and to know better than everybody else.)

On the other hand religious people, such as myself, live in a universe we know that we cannot ever fully understand, let alone control. We therefore seek to take charge of only those things that are within our sphere of influence.

This is why you have the paradox you have noted in your post.

9/29/2005 07:50:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

"Everybody has a faith - even being an athiest is a statement of faith."

Die please.


9/29/2005 07:56:00 pm  
Blogger Chefen said...

Andrei, it is not necessarily about faith in a "higher power". The paradox, or rather contradiction, is not recognising that complex systems generate order not always amenable to simplistic reason. It isn't mysterious in anyway or requiring of faith, just plain fact.

9/29/2005 08:03:00 pm  
Blogger Chefen said...

Sorry for double comment, but Andrei
The thing is if you don't believe in a higher power then humanity and human thought is the pinacle of intelligence.
I don't think that follows, but even if it did any selfconsistent system of knowledge has true statements that can't be proven to be true within that system, so there is fundamentally a limit to *any* intelligence, pinnacle or not.

But that is beside the point here anyway...

9/29/2005 08:14:00 pm  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

Thanks for the comment Alex.

I've noticed the most hardened opponents of Intelligent Design/Creator or whatever you want to call it are often people with zip-to-little understanding of the scientific evidence underlying theories of evolution and therefore have no ability to persuade others to consider evolution. I ask myself - how then did these people come to think of evolution as the One Explanation superceding all others?

The only answer I can think of is they have replaced belief or faith in God and creation with faith in the popular culture trappings of the theory of evolution, as presented to them by crappy High School courses, pretty TV programs and popular books written by physicists who can't really explain the primary evidence either (no offence Chefen).

Our favourite lefty Russell Brown is a good example - could he explain to anyone ignorant about such matters why they should believe in evolution? I doubt it. Yet he's so ready to sneer at Christians in general and any mention of ID (etc) being taught in American schools.

9/29/2005 08:54:00 pm  
Anonymous andrei said...

If you subscribe to ID you must almost by definition believe there is a higher power.

"The paradox, or rather contradiction, is not recognising that complex systems generate order not always amenable to simplistic reason." I don't believe this is a true statement - it is contradicted by the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Can you show me any disordered system where order appears spontaneously? Everything we create is the result of hard work - so we create an orderly system - say a computor but only at the expense of more disorder elsewhere in the universe. Not only that but whatever we create will eventually breakdown and wear out i.e. move back to a more disorderly state.

Why free markets work is that people left to their own devices are free to try anything that they can imagine out. 99% of the time the ideas don't work out but the 1% that do make up for it. But the path of Human progress is littered with failed ideas.

It is mysterious!

9/29/2005 09:22:00 pm  
Anonymous george said...

The common thread you notice about the left is fairly consistent with what lurks in their mind.

The left tries to dismiss the idea of God. Having got rid of that constraint they are then faced with a problem....someone has to run the planet and humanity. Hence things like the global whining hysteria. The christian reads his bible and finds the verse that follows the great flood, sees that god has promised never to shift the bounds of the oceans again and he relaxes and goes on with life. The green sees a panic piece in some daily newspaper and starts to flap, based on impotence and fear.

The beleiver sees the poor of the earth and finds out a way to help personally. The pinko starts a movement to soak the rich because someone must be to blame.

Aquiring wealth is empty enough, ask anybody about to die whether they would like some more money or more life.

The left will oppose any cause that hints of absolutes in behaviour and a judgement to come. The freemarket and the right are the true Darwinistas. Dog eat dog and rat eat rat. To what end?

Right wing, left wing, its still the same bird.

It rains on both of us in the meantime and Caesar still takes our money. I personally wish our own set of Sawdust Caesers were replaced on Saturday by a fresh crew. Their social engineering gets up my nose. They are not up to the job of running this country let alone the planet.

9/29/2005 09:31:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

"The left tries to dismiss the idea of God."

I'm as right as right can be and anyone with intelligence dismisses the idea of God. Evolution as a scientific theory isn't perfect or complete, but it's infinitely more worthy of teaching than the caveman, by definition completely unscientific, "if I don't understand then the guy-in-the-sky must have done it". Christ.

9/29/2005 10:07:00 pm  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

Hmm. Reducing the opposing idea to something riddled with flaws so that you can then shoot it down doesn't count as an argument Alex.

9/29/2005 10:22:00 pm  
Anonymous andrei said...

Hey Alex
" anyone with intelligence dismisses the idea of God."

Sigh - so Issac Newton wasn't intelligent?

so Albert Einstein wasn't intelligent?

Both believed in God.

I can understand someone saying they don't know if God exists or not but to dogmatically deny his existance and claim that this demonstrates intelligence is just the converse.

If you don't believe in God, fine but that is an article of faith not a scientifically provable position

9/29/2005 10:29:00 pm  
Blogger Chefen said...

Andrei, it isn't contradicted by the 2nd law. What I'm talking about is human reason, in particular the problems of constructive rationalism. If we went back a few billion years and looked down on the Earth as it formed, knew all its constituent elements, the sun shining in energy, the laws of physics etc... we still would not predict human civilisation. We probably still would not expect it say if we went to a point before hominid evolution. Complex systems do have extended order, order beyond what we can rationally deduce or control. It doesn't violate any laws of physics, it is merely a limit to what we can actually know. One part is chaos, one part is not having the full set of true axioms, yet another part is incompleteness a-la Gödel. Yes if you believe ID you probably believe in a higher power, personally I don't.

But what I find amusing is the supposed rationalists are highly irrational when dealing with similar systems. They don't even realise it half the time, so by accident they rationally support evolution but seek to deny the power of the free market over a so-called "fair" market or planned economy.

Oh and crystallisation is the simplest form of order from disorder I can think of. Yes you require energy in, but no one is guiding it. That and evolution. The free market is similar, lots of energy going in but no one actually busy constructing and directing it from the top. An eventua heat-death may well await the universe, but it is billions of years off so we may as well make the most of it.

9/29/2005 10:33:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

It's way too riddled with flaws to need my help reducing it, or shooting it down even.

"The only answer I can think of is they have replaced belief or faith in God and creation with faith in the popular culture trappings of the theory of evolution"

I have no faith that the current theory of evolution has the perfect answer right now for everything. But large aspects of it are as proven as anything we know. And it's scientific. It's up for debate, alterations, additional knowledge, competing scientific theories etc. Intelligent design isn't. It's not a scientific theory at all; it simply doesn't meet the criteria. It's by nature completely non-falsifiable, and as such completely unscientific and unworthy to be taught anywhere.

"Our favourite lefty Russell Brown is a good example - could he explain to anyone ignorant about such matters why they should believe in evolution? I doubt it."

How about righty Alex, can he have a go? We use evolution as the current working theory because it's:

1. Scientific.
2. Large parts of it are as proven as the fact that the world is round.
3. It's pretty much the only scientific theory we have right now that explains life.

Intelligent Design is not worthy of being used as toilet paper because:

1. It's unscientific.
2. It is stupid to posit the existence of some mystical, undefined "higher power" whenever we don't understand something yet.
3. Who was the intelligent designer that created the intelligent designer?
4. Equally non-falsifiable is the theory that there have been or will be an infinite number of big bangs, and chemicals used to form life can come naturally together and with infinitesimally small chance form the beginnings of life, therefore the chance of life appearing without an intelligent designer is 1. And this "theory" is actually superior, because it doesn't suffer from 3!

9/29/2005 10:42:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

"so Albert Einstein wasn't intelligent?"

My bad, intelligent people are quite capable of cognitive dissonance. Anyone intelligent without cognitive dissonance doesn't give the idea of God much/any credence.

"If you don't believe in God, fine but that is an article of faith not a scientifically provable position"

I'm an atheist. I'm not 100% sure there are no higher powers. Yet the concept is so nebulous, fraught with logical problems, unsupportable, unprovable, with absolutely no reason to believe it... I just don't think the idea deserves much discussion or attention. It's like the statement, "The dark side of the moon is populated by giant purple space spiders!" I can't say I'm 100% sure that's not the case... but it's prima facie quite a silly claim, and not worthy of closer attention.

You see? Absolutely NOTHING requiring "faith" there. Christ you religious idiots annoy me, trying to taint me with your illogical lunacy by saying I suffer from the same "faith" delusions as you do. *gag*

9/29/2005 10:50:00 pm  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

You've managed to completely miss the point of my comment.

Are you actually aware of evidence supporting the theory of evolution, because you haven't stated any in your own comment.

9/29/2005 10:54:00 pm  
Blogger Chefen said...

Einstein was a Marxist who despised the free market as well, but a brilliant physicist and mathematician. He is the epitome of what I have been talking about really.

9/29/2005 10:54:00 pm  
Blogger Bernard Woolley said...

Chefen - I'd go a step smaller, the way that sub-nuclear particles behave, as well as electrons. The various different mixtures of protons and neutrons to form elements, and the way they behave, as well as the way electron shells work and are structured. It is amazing how ordered they are, and how well they work to provide everything around us. I wonder if the Intelligent Designer falls part of this order or falls outside it?

9/29/2005 11:00:00 pm  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

He was a marxist ?! No wonder he fled Nazi Germany early on. A jew AND a marxist. I've never read more than Einsteins upbringing and early years around the time of the Swiss Patent Office.

Did the Nazis persecute atheists?

9/29/2005 11:02:00 pm  
Blogger Chefen said...

He was definitely a Marxist, google "Einstein Marxist" for lots of links. I don't know how much he actually believed in the Jewish God anyway.

9/29/2005 11:05:00 pm  
Blogger Bernard Woolley said...

God now I wish I could remember some of the stage two philosophy course I pulled out of. Proving that something exists is trivial - you just have to show one instance of it. For example, 'Some sheep are white' - you only have to show one white sheet to prove that statement. Proving that something doesn't exist is near impossible - 'All sheep are white'/'No sheep are black', to prove this, you have to find every single sheep and check what colour they are. And even if you find every single sheep and don't find a black sheep, that doesn't mean that there isn't one out there. Apologies to the true philosophers out there - I know that paragraph must have made you cringe ;)

9/29/2005 11:08:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

I'm aware of fossil evidence tracking gradual changes of species, missing links, common ancestry; all sorts of artificial natural selection creating evolutionary change; observation of moths, fruit flies, viruses; all sorts of breeding programs, including dogs; genetic similarities. I'm aware the areas of evolution not perfectly understood are to do with macroevolution and speciation (it's in doubt which evolutionary mechanism achieves it, rather than whether one does or not), and probably more importantly, origins of proteins/DNA etc.

There is nothing "faithful" about that you disgusting religious idiots. I'm aware of the evidence, and I'm aware where the current difficulties of understanding lie.

But omgz wait. There's a gap in knowledge. The guy-in-the-sky did it!

9/29/2005 11:10:00 pm  
Blogger Lucyna said...

AL, there appear to be quite a number of Marxists around that time that were Jewish in Europe. Most most probably were not, but a number were. I have read of a number of cities in the East where the non-Jewish inhabitants fled from the Soviets in 1939, but were welcomed by the remaining inhabitants.

9/29/2005 11:28:00 pm  
Blogger Lucyna said...

Alex, you seem to have a real problem with the possibility of God existing.

You said .. you disgusting religious idiots ..

Be careful now, your carefully constructed scientific facade is slipping.

9/29/2005 11:33:00 pm  
Blogger Bernard Woolley said...

Mmm, you could go as far as quantum mechanics as well. If the similarities held, the mere fact of the Designer observering (measuring) us, would by the principles of quantum mechanics actually cause us to change, albiet at an atomic level.

9/29/2005 11:40:00 pm  
Anonymous Alex said...

I have as much problem with the possibility of God existing as I have with the possibility of giant purple space spiders on the dark side of the moon existing. It would be curious. Yet there remains no reason to entertain the notion that either is the case.

Disgusting religious idiots? Yes, I find the implication that I am as illogical and irrational as religious zealots highly offensive. It leaves me prone to outbursts of insult.

9/29/2005 11:41:00 pm  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

you disgusting religious idiots

You're making a fool of yourself Alex. Why don't you read our back archives before saying things like that.

9/30/2005 12:03:00 am  
Blogger Chefen said...

Bernard, I think that depends on if said Designer does measurements at the quantum level... something I don't think ID goes into. But even if Mr D does that, we are pretty hot soupy blobs so the whole thing would rethermalise rather quick so you probably wouldn't feel it. Anyway, what would it actually mean for us? Probably not much since not all quantum variables are measurable simultaneously to a perfect degree (Heisenberg), unless God can, which I don't really know about. But then it also depends on your interpretation of QM (Copenhagen, hidden variables, many universes,... ), which is a complete other bun fight.

9/30/2005 12:04:00 am  
Anonymous Alex said...

"You're making a fool of yourself Alex. Why don't you read our back archives before saying things like that."

I don't care to. My comments regarding faith were largely directed at Andrei, who did directly accuse me of it. You deserve some too, religious or not, for implying the anti-religious were left-wing and/or ignorant.

9/30/2005 12:20:00 am  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

I dislike having my opinions misrepresented.

For example when I write something like:
I've noticed the most hardened opponents of Intelligent Design/Creator or whatever you want to call it are often people with zip-to-little understanding of the scientific evidence underlying theories of evolution and therefore have no ability to persuade others to consider evolution.
I mean what I say.

I don't expect someone to come along and manufacture my opinion by saying something like this:
You deserve some too, religious or not, for implying the anti-religious were left-wing and/or ignorant.

Come back when you have developed some manners and don't feel the urge to lie about what others have said.

9/30/2005 12:57:00 am  
Anonymous Alex said...

So you say the most hardened anti-creationists are "often" ignorant, coupled with a confrontational stance towards my arguments, whatever. Like I said, my comments were largely directed at andrei.

9/30/2005 01:35:00 am  
Anonymous george said...


What sort of God dont you beleive in?

Genuine question.

9/30/2005 08:32:00 am  
Anonymous dim said...

AL wrote: 'I've noticed the most hardened opponents of Intelligent Design/Creator or whatever you want to call it are often people with zip-to-little understanding of the scientific evidence underlying theories of evolution and therefore have no ability to persuade others to consider evolution.'

Gould and Dawkins spring to mind as exceptions to your clumsy little rule. With degrees in engineering and genetics, I like to think I do too.

AL also wrote: 'Are you actually aware of evidence supporting the theory of evolution . . .'

Well, there's the fossil record. That's pretty hard to dismiss. There's also something called the 'natural world' which contains billions of rather baffling facts (examples: transpositional elements in our DNA; vestigal organs or limbs observed in numerous species) that can be explained by evolutionary theory.

Evolutionary theory also has the advantage of being a scientific theory on the grounds that it can be disproved. (The discovery of fossils of bunny rabbits dating back to the pre-cambrian, for example, would instantly undermine current evolutionary theory.)

The hypothesis of intelligent design, however, is not provable or disprovable. Moreover, while geneticists and molecular biologists have made countless contributions to scientific discovery, intelligent design has contributed nothing.

So this seems like a good time to turn your question on it's head - is there ANY evidence supporting the theory of intelligent design?

9/30/2005 09:06:00 am  
Blogger Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Dim, you really are a dag, degrees and all. I smile when I read of quantum physisists who go round in never decreasing but useful highly technical circles, explaining every little nuance of all sorts of concepts which I struggle to understand. When they get to the end of their intellectual capacity to find 'logical' explanations for 'things' do you know what they do? They use a quaint term to describe the raison detre for things even they and you don't understand. Yes, they call it GOD, even the athiests among them. Sounds very much to me like evidence to support the theory of 'intelligent design.' Bloody funny, don't you think? Anyway, don't worry about it. You'll find out who's right or wrong when you die and turn up or not turn up, as the case may be, at the Pearly Gates.

Personally I don't have any trouble reconsiling the theory of evolution with God's creation. Fact is, I've got more important issues with which to concern myself.

9/30/2005 10:07:00 am  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

Dim, nothing you've stated is primary evidence. You're simply throwing around terms.

I should mention here that I'm a geologist with a long-time interest in paleontology, including foraminifera (plankton) which certainly are good evidence for evolution. And I'm not 'religious' either, whatever that one word is meant to describe.

My original point is not that evidence for evolution exists, as it does, but that the people who leap in to attack "ID" often have no or little understanding of the real evidence supporting evolution. Thus I find it hard to explain their 'belief' in such a theory other than as the result of indoctrination.

So you are not 'turning my question around on me' - like Alex you are ignoring or missing my point.

9/30/2005 10:29:00 am  
Anonymous dim said...

Adolf - your point is rather effortlessly dealt with by referring you to any of Brian Greenes excellent books on physics. Greene refuses to proscribe any natural phenomenon to God. I'd also be amused to see you cite some of these quantum physics papers you claim to spend your spare time devouring.

AL - you seem to have ignored my initial point. The two most prominant critics of ID in the last few decades have been Richard Dawkins and SJ Gould (dec). It's hard to find anyone less scathing of ID's pathetic attempts at science, and - Gould in particular - it's almost impossible to know more about 'the real evidence supporting evolution' than either of those two individuals. The main and most vocal critics of ID are scientists, not left-wing economists, as is rather laughably argued above.

For what it's worth, scientists - and I know and work with hundreds - tend to be rather apolitical. It's their irritating tendency to point out the absurdities of various religious beliefs or the fact that our ice-caps are melting that make them the rights ideological enemies - not their political persusions.

And I'm confused as to why fossils aren't primary evidence. How about the p-element transposon in Drosophila?

9/30/2005 12:22:00 pm  

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