Self-organizing complexity and intelligent design

The Intelligent Design argument holds that that the universe, and in particular living organisms within it, are too complicated to have arise spontaneously, and therefore must have been created. (Forget for the moment Hume’s obvious question about who created the creator.) That’s all based on the idea that something that works must have been designed to work.

But of course if that were true, then individuals interacting in their own self-interest couldn’t create the spontaneous order of a market. If we wanted to make sure that everyone had bread, we’d need to have a Ministry of Bread to plan the bread supply.

Adam Smith pointed out the advantages of relying for bread on the self-interest of bakers, and Frederich Hayek (among others) worked out some of the logic of sponanteously self-organizing human systems.

And yet the wingnut Intelligent Designers are also mostly wingnut free-marketeers. (Via John Cole, I notice that the Eagle Forum is pushing to have ID taught in the Utah public schools.)

Has anyone pointed out to them that the logic of Intelligent Design is the logic of socialism?

This feels like such an obvious comment that someone must have made it before, but I can’t recall seeing it. (I’d be grateful — well, let’s be honest and just say that I’d try to control my narcissistic rage — if someone could point me to an earlier source.)


Quoting Hayek in liberal circles leads to raised eyebrows, just as quoting Keynes does in right-wing circles. The mechanisms are similar; in each case, the political opinions and affiliations of a thinker are taken to taint his intellectual contribution.

Of course Keynes’s actual political opinions weren’t what the wingnuts take them to have been (he’s hated largely as a proxy for Roosevelt) while Hayek did indeed write the absurd Road to Serfdom — which predicted that the Labour Party would entrench itself in power through dictatorial means — as well as the brilliant Constitution of Liberty.

But the main point is that a thinker’s actual or perceived political affiliations have very little to do with the merits of his abstract thought, and it’s absurd to be reluctant to quote the “wrong” sort of thinker. The value of Plato doesn’t rest on the virtues of Dionysus II as a ruler.

Update As a reader points out, Jim Lindgren beat me to this idea.

Another reader thinks (though neither of us has the text handy) that Hayek’s point in The Road to Serfdom was that dictatorship would be necessary to accomplish the Labour Party’s stated aims and that “democratic socialism” was therefore an internally incoherent idea, not that the Labour Party would in fact be willing to impose dictatorship. My memory (from high school days) is that the book was more apocalyptic than that, but I’d be happy to discover I was wrong. If so, the Hayek/Keynes comparison would be that much stronger.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: