godThinking about Evolution & Economics and Some Notes on the Natural Selection of Ideas

Part 10 - Science & Religion - in the Kelsall Pulpit - some notes for a sermon concerning six strange words and six illusions exposed by Universal Darwinism.

We search for God in the wrong place - an all powerful God would never expose the poorest and weakest souls to the horrific consequences of a Christmas tsunami in 2004?

Now God said, and I agree with him, 'beware of false prophets, they come in sheep's clothing yet inwardly they are ravening wolves ...'

1. Adaptation = 'all things bright and beautiful' are constructed 'as if' by purposeful design in a hostile environment but Darwin suggests they are the result of a blind process of copy/vary/select. Driven by energy streams and the 2nd law of thermodynamics, structures emerge, 'tricks' are discovered & accumulated by replication of variants which differentially survive.

The illusion of design is the process of evolution, a process which explains everything we see, hear, taste, smell and feel. Science explains more & more by destroying the plausible illusions of magic, myth and the supernatural.

Evidence comes from observation, mathematical theory, testable hypotheses, experimental validation, peer review.

Understanding comes from the falsification of untruths not from the design of truths. Short necked giraffes died out.

'God' is not a creator. God and science are not alternatives. St. Augustine & Thomas Aquinas debated the faith versus reason question in the 4th & 13th century. Later both Luther's 'Wittenbergh Interpretation' of Copernicus and Calvin's 'Geneva Accommodation' taught that the Bible stories were not the literal truth. The 'miracles' of science and evolution maybe 'the way of God' but they are not supernatural magic. Science and evolution are 'works in progress', today nobody believes in Phlogiston, and soon few will believe in a supernatural 'God of the gaps'.

2. Anthropomorphism = 'man in the image of God' is an arrogance of our fuzzy perception, giraffes & folk are part of nature, part of the tree of life and giraffes & folk are ignorant of what it is they do not know.

The illusion of intelligent design is a process of neural adaptation. Knee jerk hysteria is the process by which large numbers of people become convinced of things that are not scientifically true.

All survival decisions are perceived 'as if' purposefully intentional but the emergence of conscious freewill and giraffes are adaptations.

Biology, behaviour, immune systems, symbolic language and human cultural artefacts are the results of small innovative improvements over time to things that already exist. A continuum, from an instinctive start, we learn by experience, by our own experiments and by learning from others (most of them long dead). We are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants and there is always a better alternative to be discovered.

'God' is not an intelligent designer. Again St. Augustine & Thomas Aquinas debated an interventionist 'God' and free will questions a long time ago, these are age old problems. There are tempting anthropomorphic myths but there is no conflict between evolutionary chemistry and belief. Tsunamis are not supernatural acts of 'God' and neither is the Rev. Paley's watch nor the Boeing 747. Darwin did not challenge the existence of God but he did acknowledge that design by natural selection was an awful stretcher.

3. Immanent & Transcendent = 'deep down in the individual skull' real immanent (within) and transcendent (beyond) universal moral emotions emerge from the evolutionary process mediating all our decisions.

The illusion of selfish individualism ignores the potent survival value of cooperative synergies.

Cooperation tends to beat cheating for survival value because of the potential for positive sum synergies, 2 + 2 = 5.

Cooperation, by definition, cannot be designed and imposed by Bishops, Princes, Generals nor bureaucratic majorities, the process is mediated deep down in individual skulls and order emerges and grows in the population as uncooperative folk tend to die out.

'God' is both immanent & transcendent; a moral sentiment, a conscience, an inner light ... a hard wired emotional propensity for cooperative behaviour. Don't look for God in the wrong place, not 'up there, out there' but 'deep down' in individual skulls. John Robinson (Bishop of Woolwich) Arthur Peacocke (Dean of Clare College, Cambridge), Kenneth Boulding (University of Colorado) and Bishop Spong (Harvard Divinity School), are just three who taught that there is no conflict between science, evolution and their God.

Faith and reason are an evolutionary continuum, deep down in the skull instinctive emotions which we call faith mediate decisions but they are inaccessible to reason. Man became domesticated and moral instincts necessarily coevolved with cooperative group behaviour. Much later in evolutionary time self consciousness and reason emerged. There is an evolutionary explanation for faith and reason – the survival advantages of large group morality – it is not supernatural!

A real moral urgency really exists and is universal, experienced by everybody. Emotions are immanent in the laws of nature, enabling transcendent cooperative behaviour to emerge. There is a transcendent moral logic to evolution, a universal orderliness emerges, look around. Faith is not unreasonable, it is a rational emergent property of moral individuals, stripped of supernatural myth and magic 'mumbo jumbo', it becomes a potent and compelling survival aid – it is not supernatural!

NB An innate moral sense developed over aeons of evolutionary time (long before we were human), an emotion which is necessary for survival in cooperative social groups. 'Do unto others as you would be done by' is a universal behavioural trend necessary for all communal life.

4. Visceral Diversity = 'human sanctity', it is all very very very personal, deep down in individual skulls, but different innovative behaviours, gut responses without plan or forethought feed evolutionary learning through the process of diversity and differential survival, this alone ensures brain models become better and better adapted.

The illusion of society misunderstands Darwin's emergent population thinking, Darwin's 'strange inversion of reason'. Society can't think only individual brains can think. There is no such 'thing' as society, only a tapestry of individual 'behaviours'  interacting and changing in population frequency, from which cohesive cooperative rules of thumb about rights & obligations emerge.

The good news is a VERB; behaving, doing, experimenting - a heuristic approach to ignorance - we're all different enabling cooperative behaviour to grow in communities because of synergies from hard work honesty & thrift.

The bad news is a NOUN; belief, faith, omnipotent - a deliberate rational purposeful intentional planned approach to ignorance - but there is no ideal to believe in, there is just progress from cooperative behaviour which grows by the failure of less viable alternatives and requires trust which provides a niche for parasites & predators. Defence systems must always co-evolve with cooperative systems.

'God's' laws evolve, from differential survival of behavioural differences. There is no consensus. There are no tablets of stone from above. Morality is not imposed, tort law evolves to protect cooperative synergies by enforcing remedies against legal harms as an alternative to violence. Cooperation evolves and grows but must be protected from parasites and predators, evil exists and must be confronted. The 'just war' and forgiveness are part of the 'tit for tat' route to cooperation. Remember usury was outlawed by the Bishops in 1571 but inlawed by The Act of Usury 1624 ... a mere 50 years later.

5. Satisficing = 'the work ethic', fulfill your full potential, confront life's exigencies, contribute by actively building on inherited success, choosing between available options, experimenting to discover, cooperating with others, defending synergies from parasites and predators and learning from outcomes to pass on to future generations.

The illusion of helplessness is a cop out there is work to be done, think of it as speeding up evolution, discovering & accumulating new synergies and confronting parasites & predators.

Generate and test in the certain knowledge that there are better alternatives to discover but nobody knows where the next good idea is coming from. The dilemma is how to choose the better fork in the road when the log normal distribution of 'wealth' is the result of those choices. But poverty cannot be solved by 'money' or 'design' it will just crops up somewhere else like 'the many-headed monster'.

Welfare is found in synergistic activity within the evolved institutions of global Tort Law, specialised Trade and innovative Technology.

Supply & Demand = 'as if' by design economic activity is co-ordinated. Adam Smith's invisible hand demonstrated how supply and demand co-ordinates economic activity.

Comparative advantage = everybody has different opportunity costs and different specialisations. David Ricardo's comparative advantage demonstrated opportunities for everyone by exploiting specialisation and scale.

Total Factor Productivity = output growth not accounted for by the growth in inputs, synergies from trade in technological and institutional 'know how' which define the value of 'resources'. Robert Solow and Paul Romer demonstrated how technological and institutional 'know how' drives economic growth and how real wages are determined by productivity.

'God' is not a comforter, a philanthropist nor a rescuer but a motivator. The 'story' of the incarnation is that it is the here and now in individual brains that matters - 'nobody knows where the next good idea is coming from' - 'excellence comes by toil' - 'use your imagination and try'!

6. Public Choice = 'bribery & corruption' as rent seekers use other folk's money for pork & log rolling favours. Political bureaucracies can't cope with the inevitable unexpected responses and unintended consequence, elites don't possess any infallible 'know how', nobody knows where the next good idea is coming from, and power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The failure of a command & control and tax & spend was finally confirmed with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the abandonment of Clause 4, and the debt crunch of 2008. The 'Welfare State' of the 'Minority Report' from progressive liberals and the socialists proved not to solve the problem of poverty ... leading inexorably to State sponsored moral decay ... 'think the unthinkable' the route out of poverty is a real job ... education ... hard work, honesty & thrift ...

The illusion of state power is buttressed by the idea of 'intelligent design' and the stability of the 'pecking order' but there exists a tendency in modern democracies to pile up debt by making unaffordable spending promises & entitlements to voters. Initially voters are bribed with spending plans & promises for majorities paid for by taxes on the others, the oppressed minorities. Then when tax revenues inevitably decline, future generations, who don't vote, are unethically committed to fund the gap through borrowing. Finally when credit worthiness declines and debt servicing becomes onerous, money is printed and currency debased.

These shenanigans are incompatible with the ideas of evolving liberal democracy where the State is a servant of the people and 'the enabling state' encourages folk to contribute -

Some evidence from English history, Michael Wood -

'Understand more about the whole story of the Iron Age farmers of the Berkshire Downs, their tale is important because the history of this small island off the shore of Europe became World history, its speech became world speech, and, perhaps more important, its social and economic experience also became that of the rest of the world’.

Freedom & democracy = social justice = social cohesion = political success = economic success = synergies from specialisation & scale = real jobs from global trade = speeding up Darwin's natural selection = more survival value for the cost incurred than competing alternatives for everyone in the long term -

Law and Order = rights & obligations, evolved Tort Law, the UDHR, Zero Tolerance & Colonisation -

wealth creation = universal benefits from trade in technological innovation.

private property = defence & protection from parasites & predators.

remedies = contributions from education, hard work, honesty & thrift.

investment = chase profits & cut losses, the magic of compound interest

Welfare = Education = Health = Congestion = Pollution - adaptation requires diversity & choice, discovery & accumulation from differential survival through individual choice in competitive markets ... parent choice, pupil choice, patient choice, purchaser choice, polluter choice -

enabling markets = internalise costs & torts = distortion free rewards

individual contributions = satisficing = diverse jobs & real wages with 'a leg up not a hand out'

private family savings accounts = build a stake in society = self help & Friendly Societies = think the unthinkable

Competitive Business Sector = real jobs (for suppliers, employees, bystanders) and real wealth (for customers, shareholders, lenders) = the most profitable providers of goods & services grow & prosper, unprofitable businesses fail and release resources.

Competitive Public Sector = diversity, choice & competition in public goods (for parents, pupils, patients, purchasers, polluters) again the most productive systems grow & prosper the unproductive close down and release resources.

'God' is continuously active mediating individual decisions, actions. God is our conscious. Think about it and go for it!

Science illuminates but spin is a con-trick … confront the arrogance of power, Gordon Brown (budget speech 2006) - 'I could, of course, afford to cut your taxes, but I say I will invest in ???? ...' ... perhaps others want variety, for certain their imaginations are different!

But in a garden of forking paths do you go left or right? Nobody; Bishops, Princes, Generals nor bureaucratic majorities can see round the corner, it is your decision. But if you learn from outcomes, if you keep trying, the giraffe's long neck or a similar miracle must emerge because it is impossible for short necked giraffes to survive - this is adaptation!

Moral sentiments are not an illusion ...

It seems 'the tablets of stone' were not written from the top of Mount Sinai ... they were written in the genes ...


'The Origins of Virtue' by Matt Ridley, 1996.

'The Evolution of God' by Robert Wright, 2009.

'The Expanding Circle' by Peter Singer, 2011.

'The Better Angels of Our Nature' by Steven Pinker, 2011.

'The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values' by Sam Harris, 2011.

john p birchall

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