Darwin 200

In honour of Charles Darwin’s bicentenary, an observation:

How are statists and creationists alike?

Charles DarwinFor one thing, as I’ve observed before, both “distrust invisible-hand processes and cannot conceive of order emerging except through some sort of centralised top-down control.”

For another, both raise the same hackneyed objections to spontaneous order again and again, as if these objections had not been answered in detail over and over. (For a good collection of links on evolution, see the TalkOrigins FAQ.)

For yet another, each loves to characterise its opponents as being religiously rather than scientifically motivated; statists accuse libertarians of having a “religious faith in the free market,” while creationists complain about the “Darwinist religion.” (Note: it is dialectically out of order to accuse one’s opponents’ conclusions of being faith-based until one has addressed and refuted – or at least shown some sign of understanding – their arguments.)

That’s why the spectacle of pro-market creationists and anti-market evolutionists would be amusing if it weren’t so depressing; each employs the same sloppy thinking and yahoo tactics on one issue that it rightly deplores on the other issue.

In fairness, it must be conceded that the opponents of statism and creationism share some vices as well. Many evolutionists write as though the truth of evolution established all sorts of metaphysical theses it does not remotely support (such as reductive materialism and sociobiology); likewise one all too often sees proponents of libertarian economic reasoning attempting to use it to undergird various dubious psychological, ethical, and sociological theses (such as psychological egoism, ethical subjectivism, or some variety of right-libertarianism).

Oh well. Anyway, happy birthday Charles Darwin!

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6 Responses to Darwin 200

  1. Black Bloke February 12, 2009 at 3:58 pm #

    I recently picked up a Scientific American in the CVS near me and what should I find but an op-ed by Michael Shermer. You might remember Kevin Carson taking Shermer to task for some of his failings in his latest tome, The Mind of the Market (but still mostly praising the book).

    In the piece it seems like Michael Shermer disparages Herbert Spencer’s understanding of evolution in favor of Kropotkin’s. I haven’t read enough of either to make a definitive call on this, but I have a feeling that you or some of your readers have.

    Have a read here: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=darwin-misunderstood

    • Roderick February 12, 2009 at 4:48 pm #

      Calling out Spencer by phrase, Kropotkin observed: “If we… ask Nature: ‘who are the fittest: those who are continually at war with each other, or those who support one another?’ we at once see that those animals which acquire habits of mutual aid are undoubtedly the fittest.”

      Um, yeah. That would hardly be news to Spencer, since, y’know, that’s exactly what Spencer said. Kropotkin’s disagreements with Spencer were more of degree than of kind; Kropotkin’s real opponent on this issue was Thomas Huxley.

      • Roderick February 12, 2009 at 4:53 pm #

        A further point: the real disagreement between K. and S. was the rate at which the adaptive superiority of mutual aid manifested itself; Kropotkin thought the degree of mutual aid in early society was much higher than Spencer did. But they both agreed that a) mutual aid always plays a crucial role to some degree, and b) the future of humankind lies with mutual aid.

  2. Black Bloke February 12, 2009 at 5:52 pm #

    He also briefly praises Lincoln in the piece, but that’s probably to be expected. I didn’t think he’d be down with the whole pile-on Spencer bit that’s been popular for so long. Will Spencer ever come out from under this misanthropic caricature that’s been made of him?

  3. Dennis February 13, 2009 at 12:06 am #

    It is happening slowly but surely.

  4. Sergio Méndez February 23, 2009 at 10:26 pm #

    I just found this interesting website, were they ask scientists something in which they believe but can´t prove…certain computer scientists, Jordan Pollack, says:

    “I believe that that systems of self-interested agents can make progress on their own without centralized supervision.

    There is an isomorphism between evolution, economics, and education. In economics, the supervisor is a central government or super rich investor, in evolution, it is the “intelligent designer”, and in education, its the teacher or outside examiners. In economic systems, despite an almost religious belief in Laissez-Faire and incentive-based behavior, economic systems are prone to winner-take-all phenomena and boom-bust cycles. They seem to require benevolent regulation, or “managed competition” to prevent the “rich get richer” dynamic leading to monopoly, which leads inevitably to corruption and kleptocracy. In evolution, scientists reject the intelligent designer as a creationist ruse, but so far our working models for open-ended evolution haven’t worked, and prematurely convergence to mediocrity. In education, evidence of auto-didactic learning in video-games and sports is suppressed in academics by top-down curriculum frameworks and centralized high-stakes testing.

    If we did have a working mechanism design which could achieve continuous progress by decentralized self-interested agents, it would settle the creationist objection as well as apply to the other fields, leading to a new renaissance.”



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