The Foolish 'Theism' of Government Enthusiasts

The Topeka Capital-Journal, December 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Foolish 'Theism' of Government Enthusiasts


Presidential campaigns inflate expectations that power wielded from government's pinnacle will invigorate the nation. Thus campaigns demonstrate that creationists threaten the creative ferment that produces social improvement. Not religious creationists, who are mistaken but inconsequential. It is secular creationists whose social costs are steep.

"Secular theists" -- economist Don Boudreaux's term -- produce governments gripped by the fatal conceit that they are wiser than society's spontaneous experimental order. Such governments' imposed order suffocates improvisation and innovation. Secular theists assume that social complexity requires an intentional design imposed from on high by wise designers, aka them.

In "The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge," Matt Ridley refutes the secular creationists' fallacious idea that because social complexity is the result of human actions, it must, or should, be the result of human design. In fact, Ridley says, "Far more than we like to admit, the world is to a remarkable extent a self-organizing, self-changing place."

What explains the reluctance to admit this? Perhaps the human mind evolved to seek a Designer behind designs. Or perhaps people feel anxious if no one is in charge. Ridley's point is that everyone is in charge of social change.

Morality evolves: Religious and other moral instructors base their moral codes on the way people who are considered moral behave, people who are deemed moral because they exemplify rules conducive to human flourishing. Legal systems evolve: The common-law basis of the system under which Americans live had no inspired law-giver; it emerged from centuries of the Anglosphere's trial and error.

Describing the way living cells respond to local effects, Ridley, an evolutionary biologist, writes: "It is as if an entire city emerged from chaos just because people responded to local incentives in the way they set up their homes and businesses. …

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