2. The Evolution Controversy

Critique of Evolutionary Economy 



Section 2.3.3

World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon






2. The Evolution Controversy  
      2.1 The Legacy of Darwinism  
         2.1.1 Debates and Darwin Trials 
         2.1.2 Evolution and Ethics
         2.1.3 The Metaphysics of Evolution
         2.1.4 Is There A Science Of History? 
      2.2 Beyond Natural Selection 
         2.2.1 The Limits of Observation  
         2.2.2 Random Evolution: Climbing Mt. Improbable?
         2.2.3 Punctuated Equilibrium
         2.2.4 Natural Selection and The Oedipus Paradox  
      2.3 Visions of A Ghostseer  
         2.3.1 Wallace's Second Opinion  
         2.3.2 Theism/Atheism: The 'God' Debates  
         2.3.3 Critique of Evolutionary Economy  
         2.3.4 The Evolution of Evolution  
         2.3.5 The Science of Freedom  

 3. Descent Of Man Revisited 



    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

   2.3.3 The God Debates


Darwinism  is often charged with ideology . Our design critics of Darwin are well-placed conservatives with a sudden silence on the queer cohabitation of theory and economic  thinking. We should wonder if their interest is in evolution at all if their culture wars are so closely associated with market ideology. If you can get away with calling Darwinism science, then you have a solid basis (it seems) for defining ‘human nature’ and legitimating class divisions. But where was the classic left in all of this? One reason the Darwin debate endures lies in the tendency of progressive, liberal, or leftist thinkers to embrace scientism to promote secularism , thus making them Darwinians, where they might have exposed Darwinism. The debates of these groups with the promoters of sociobiology always exempt the basic theory of Darwin from their criticism. It is altogether appropriate to embrace the facts of evolution, but the problem lies in the failure to see that it is natural selection that is the core of the ideology. Marx, to his credit, spotted the problem at a glance, as a matter of first impressions, but ended caught up in the tide of Marxist confusion here.

For Darwin the Whig to be reissuing a one-factor version of the original two-factor theory of Lamarck  the Radical (see note below) should alert a Martian in outer space ideology is at play. Sure enough, a close look shows the confusions of revolution and evolution in the generation of young Darwin . The legacy of Marx and Engels as critics of ideology is clear, but the critique of social ideology turned instead into an embrace of Darwin . The botched materialism of Marx  and Engels became a defining obsession in the critique of Hegel, who, ironically, uses an early and altogether clever version of something like the Intelligent Design tactics in a different context.[i]

As to ideology, we have already noted the way Darwin ’s theory delivers a constant unconscious suggestion that selection in the past, theoretically established, must surely endorse, so unconscious thinking often goes, the same cunning behavior in the present in a confusion of domains of theory. If natural selection produced bigger brains in the past, then competition is at a premium, and a second helping of theory for future bigger brains is a new silly ‘should’, and not bad for the economy also. Since the best defense is a good offense, let’s strike first, to the greater glory of evolution.

In practice, Darwinists forever confuse evolution with economic analogs and then seem, by a twist on historical materialism, to see economic explanation thus Darwinized as fundamental, and made into a universal history. This can hardly be called science. There is a further irony here, in the concealed use of a ‘design’ argument. An economy, apart from anything else, is a field rich in ‘designers’, economic agents. Since Darwinism is so often compared to economics, shall we assume as a tool of explanation all the designs of economic agents? As with the proofs of the circle-squarer, we are assuming that which is to be proven.

We are so used to the conventional picture of Darwinian explanation that, even when pointed out, it doesn’t sink in that Darwinism is simply an economic ideology in disguise. In fact, the tenacity of Darwin ’s theory is such that this is often pointed out without anyone realizing that it is an indication the theory is wrong. The attempt is made to critique Social Darwinism, leaving the core theory alone. Consider how little we actually observe about things that evolve in deep time. The attempts to produce a theory are unwittingly revealing of the worldview of those attempting this, casting about for some analog to get their bearings.

S. J. Gould  in the recent The Structure of Evolutionary  Theory states the unwitting confusion with especial clarity, “I would advance the even stronger claim that the theory of natural selection is, in essence, Adam Smith ’s economics transferred to nature”. Is Gould, a stalwart critic of ideology , disagreeing with this, or is he, in fact, stating his own agreement with this, as a stalwart defender of Darwin ? The point is clear in the echoes of Smith, but how do we know this is the process that produced ‘evolution’ as a whole, the descent of man? Was anyone there? This contradictory behavior in the supposed critics of ideology is a curious inversion of the process of legitimation, and has proven more effective in keeping Darwin safe than anything from conservatives.

As the author himself points out in a passage worth reading for its dogmatic assertions and self-enforced stiff upper lip about nature’s amorality in pursuit of its self-optimizing ‘hecatomb’ (more dethronement rhetoric), the factor of laws and regulation is built into the evolution of complex economies, which only arise in their modern form under very special conditions, and which are set up by the deliberate tactics of ‘free market’ policy makers. To take this artificial example as an exemplar of nature is a gross confusion, the more especially if it is taken as a refutation of Paley. Free markets are enforced, and quite carefully designed, usually to favor a select few! Nor does the mechanics of markets constitute a set of ‘laws of nature’ taken as grounds for the abrogation of ethical interactions. We should consider the moralist Adam Smith near the ‘initial conditions’ of a particular type of economy . Where did we get this designer from? And the suspicion this is ideological ulterior motive as theory drove the left to attempt a change of rules![ii]

This breakthrough in modern economy was a cultural as much as an economic ‘evolution’, and quite apart from anything else, needed help from Adam Smith, the Scottish Enlightenment , and much else. The economic agents needed a philosophy to design and direct their action. What about the evolution of such philosophy itself? Did all this also happen at random? This is one of the most difficult of questions and requires a complete change in our methods. In fact, the answer is no! Unfortunately, Marxist thinking on base and superstructure confused the issue here. Certainly in the case of Darwinism we see this concordance. The superstructure of Darwin ’s theory in the social context of new rising means of production, the base, is clearly an ideological reflection. But is it generally true? Consider carefully the nonrandom distribution of social thought emerging in world history, and the fallacy of standard sociological thinking will come as a shock. It shows an evolution of quite another kind. Culture and economy are not evolving in the same way. That should falsify Darwinian economics at once.

Economies are subsets of social wholes, and we have no grounds for assuming that the cultures that include these ‘self-optimize’ via the same economic or other factors. Quite the contrary, the evidence points against it. Unlimited social competition can produce mayhem and degrade culture. And these ‘designed’ market economies have often failed to function properly, produce a constant dialectic over the methods of tinkering redesign, what to say of revolutionary action. The absurdity of this kind of muddle is chronic. What real grounds do we have to apply this to earlier evolution in a grossly speculative conclusion that nature left ‘unregulated’ will produce the man we find in history? Who is the ‘Unregulator’, heretofore our grand Designer?

Again, one might note that questions about economy and questions about the evolution of economy might be quite different if that evolution shows different ‘economies’ created by the ‘initial conditions’ of policy makers. Free market economies are constructs from a universe of economies. The rules change as the agents change their demands on economic function. Economies could evolve from one type to another by one law, and evolve as themselves by another, in between transitions to different types. At what period of history is the analog ‘economy’ referred to, there being quite a list of such, pressed into Darwinian service? And what caused the sudden crystallization of the modern style economy near the close of the eighteenth century? Was this chance ‘evolution’? And what then of the clear factor of design, ‘designed laissez-faire ’?

As one author notes, “Classical political economy presents an imposing façade. For more than two centuries, its professed adherents have been grinding out texts to demonstrate how a market generates forces that provide the most efficient method for organizing production. The concept of primitive accumulation—that is, the process of depriving people of their means of producing for themselves—seems far removed from the literature of classical political economy.” Are we to suppose that Darwin mistakenly borrowed an ideological cover story, yet succeeded in producing a science? The author also cites the often-quoted comment of a Francis Horner, a Captain of Industry if there ever was one, from 1803, declining to review a reissue of Smith’s text,

I should be reluctant to expose S’s errors before his work had operated its full effect. We owe much at present to the superstitious worship of S’s name; and we must not impair that feeling, till the victory is more complete….[U]ntil we can give a correct and precise theory of the origin of wealth, his popular and plausible and loose hypothesis is as good for the vulgar as any others.[iii]

I think we should do well to suspect the equally complete cynicism in some quarters in the social promotion of Darwin ’s theory. Perhaps we have cut and paste ‘S.’s errors’ for D’s. Is the whole game a hack? How utterly convenient. Economic agents with legitimate selfishness in theory are blessed as the breaking front of evolution and the champions of economy both.

This theoretical stupidity is a rife in a field where its adherents show strong resistance to insight because they consider all this brilliant science. It is odd that the left was unable to debrief this confusion, in a spectacle of guard dogs that didn’t bark. Marx’s initial skepticism was entirely on target, yet the radical left was soon taken in. We end with the Darwinized left of the Marxist Bourgeoisie, enforcers of last resort of the capitalist-Darwinist dynamical fantasy. None of this gainsays the possibility that Smithian economic arrangements might constitute an efficient tactic of economic management. Subjective impressions suggest this is the case. But it still leaves the question of ethical interaction in a field now routinely justifying its operations with innuendoes about survival of the fittest as scientific law.



   Web:  chap2_3_3.htm


[i] Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin , Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (New York: Warner, 1991). For Marx on Darwinism, cf. John Bellamy, Marx’s Ecology ( New York : Monthly Review Press, 2000).

[ii] Stephen J. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory ( Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 2002).

[iii] Michael Perelman, Classical Political Economy (London: Rowman and Allanheld, 1983), p. vii, and p. 171.





Last modified: 09/21/2010