George Will Discusses “Secular Creationists”

Two of the most respected conservatives in the US aren’t creationists, nor are they “social conservatives.” We’re talking about George Will and Charles Krauthammer.

They’re regular contributors and panelists on Fox News, and they both regard the Discovery Institute’s “theory” of intelligent to be junk science. We wrote about that several years ago — see Conservatives and Intelligent Design. Their prominence drives the Discoveroids crazy. We discussed that a year ago — see Klinghoffer Attacks Tyson, Will, & Krauthammer.

Today we found a splendid new column by George Will: Creationists of the secular kind, which appears in the Herald-Tribune of Sarasota, Florida.

If that’s unavailable, the same column is in the Washington Post: The foolish ‘theism’ of government enthusiasts. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

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.

Your Curmudgeon is delighted with that opening paragraph. Not only does Will describe religious creationists as “mistaken but inconsequential,” he also refers to “secular creationists.” This is the same thing we wrote about a month ago in The Folly of Economic Creationism. In fact, you’ll soon see that Will mentions the same book we did in our post — The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge (Amazon listing), by Matt Ridley, a longtime editor for The Economist. Our post made a lot of you unhappy — we’re used to that — but now you’ll have to contend with George Will. He says:

“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. Like religious creationists gazing upon biological complexity, secular theists assume that social complexity requires an intentional design imposed from on high by wise designers, aka them.

Excellent! Let’s read on:

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.”

Will continues:

What explains the reluctance to admit this? Perhaps the human mind evolved to seek a Designer behind designs. (“On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel,” Ridley says, “Adam and God touch fingers. To the uneducated eye it is not clear who is creating whom.”) Or perhaps people feel anxious if no one is in charge. Ridley’s point is that EVERYONE is in charge of social change. It is propelled by what Friedrich Hayek, echoing Darwin, called “selection by imitation of successful institutions and habits.” This is a broad-based, bottom-up process by which society, like Darwinian nature, is constantly experimenting.

Your humble Curmudgeon totally agrees. Will’s column is great, but we can’t copy it all Here’s the last paragraph:

No one, writes Ridley, anticipated that when Gutenberg made printed books affordable, increased literacy would create a market for spectacles, which would lead to improved lenses and the invention of telescopes, which would produce the discovery that the Earth orbits the sun. No one planned that one particular book’s argument for the fecundity of freedom would bolster the case for limited government the way Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” did when published in 1776.

That was a great Christmas gift from George Will. He’s our kind of conservative!

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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18 responses to “George Will Discusses “Secular Creationists”

  1. Again it reminds me of James Burke’s writings, e.g., “Connections,” etc.

  2. There are two problems with this “analysis” that come immediately to mind; Social Darwinism and cancer.

  3. “On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel,” Ridley says, “Adam and God touch fingers. To the uneducated eye it is not clear who is creating whom.”

    A great line! To the well-educated eye, the answer should be obvious.

    On this day, it is fitting that we should say, “Peace on Earth, and George Will to Men.”

  4. “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.

    Unfortunately, what Will appears to mean by “society’s spontaneous experimental order” is Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of the marketplace. He may object to “secular theists” or “secular creationists” who happen to be in government, but he doesn’t seem to have a problem with an unseen entity which (or Who?) magically guides society toward the best of all possible worlds if only Big Government stays out of the way.

  5. Ceteris Paribus

    That Herald-Tribune link given to George Will’s post now only turns up an “Article no longer available” place-holder for a missing page. But this being a holiday and all, I will take the lofty advice of George Will to be exactly as described, and not trouble to go chasing after a “Will-o’-the-wisp”.

    (Or, as is mentioned in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

    The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.


    But when it comes to pointing out the dangers of “Creationists of the secular kind”, even the great intellect of George Will might take a back seat to the plain spoken wit and wisdom Will Rogers.

    Or of the late Steve Allen, who, as an unabashed liberal, also took his wisdom to the common class with his book “Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking With 101 Ways to Reason Better & Improve Your Mind” .

  6. Eric Lipps says: ” but he doesn’t seem to have a problem with an unseen entity which (or Who?) magically guides society toward the best of all possible worlds if only Big Government stays out of the way.”

    I don’t think George Will is religious.

  7. Ceteris Paribus says: “Article no longer available.”

    Here it is in another newspaper: Creationists of the secular kind.

  8. Talking of habitual science-denier and conspiracy theorist George Will, here’s a video that might be of interest.

  9. Charles Deetz ;)

    It seems Will has set this up in a ‘libertarian’ versus ‘communist’ philosophy, where neither side is actually as he paints them. Straw man argument, moving the goal posts, whatever. That liberals, aka social thiests, feel that the government is the true intelligence and desire its supremacy is wrong. He assumes way too much. Not worth arguing about someone who has already decided how I think. Are we going to debate the finer points of Trump’s platform next? Sheesh.

  10. robert van bakel

    Again my problem with this, “leave it to the market and all will be well”, is that it so obviously fails when we look at states that have no government. (This would be the African continent as a whole, the Middle East, and pretty much all human inhabited lands that don’t have strong government.) These places actively cry out for some form of control; democratically selected of course. That these largely failed democracies fail, is of course not an indictment of democracy, but of poor leadership. States with small weak government, are small weak states: Saudi Arabia awaits implosion.

    My other problem with small government is the lack of imagination in the commercial world. Which of the great private space companies would have given us Hubble? Which self invested genius entrepreneur would have set up SETI? Which private genius would have given us the Inter State Highways?

    S[***] government and greed are poor replacements for universal health care and a welfare state that cares for its citizens.

    On an evolutionary level, the state which best looks after its citizens is the state that will prosper; sorry Curmudgeon, much as I enjoy most of your speels, your uncritical embrace of the market makes you somewhat less than a member of my tribe.

  11. SC:I don’t think George Will is religious.”

    First, I’m writing in Will in president. That plus his recent put-down of Scott Walker who evaded the question about evolution. it was the usual stupid “do you believe in” question, but even that’s better than giving them a free pass.

    Will is in fact not religious. He surprised me on Medved’s radio show a few years ago calling himself an atheist. But the way he described nature his views were little different than mine, and I call myself a theist. Since the topic was not about evolution, Medved – a Discoveroid – was very supportive of Will.

    I don’t agree with anyone on all issues, so one on which I disagree with Will is that religious creationists are “inconsequential.” Will is probably thinking of Biblical literalists like Ken Ham, who have a loyal following of ~30% that would be committed to evolution-denial with or without his influence. But he underestimates the “under the radar” meme-spreading success of the Discoveroids. They (and their predecessors) have changed the “debate” to keep the focus on alleged (and long-refuted) “weaknesses” of “Darwinism” and away from the fatal flaws and embarrassing contradictions within creationism, which would make even most nonscientists recognize creationism as even more pathetic than a child’s fairy tale. So instead of a large minority of committed Biblical literalists there is a majority – 60-70% by best estimates – that have at least “some problems” with evolution.

    I can’t wait to read more about it. but the “secular creationists” idea has fascinated me for years. The vocal left and right both hate to admit it, but whether the issue social or economic, authoritarian “solutions” are much like the ID scam – exploiting people who don’t trust “nature” to create complex systems.

  12. Matt Ridley (who’s now, among other things, a Conservative member of the UK’s House of Lordmetaphors) has long argued that self-regulation and market forces will invariably do a better job than governments. It is worth remembering that he was chairman of Northern Rock Building Society (in US terms, a Savings and Loan) that went bankrupt as a result of its reckless lending policies. He is also a distinguished science journalist.

    The analogy between creationists and those who think they can build a society from first principles is an interesting one. But perhaps the correct metaphor for government action is not creationism, but artificial selection, without which we would not have modern agriculture

  13. No matter how big the delirious joy of our dear SC and no matter how much PB is interested in the analogy, it remains a logical fallacy.

    But that’s to be expected from people who believe in an Invisible Hand like IDiots believe in an Intelligent Agent.

  14. One of the accomplishments of the Enlightenment surely is the recognition that what occurs in nature is no guide to values. We no longer think of the lion as the exemplar of courage, “blue blood” is not what distinguishes “noble” people, and “random variation and natural selection” does not strive to the good.

  15. I have an idea for an invention that would be of great use to the Taliban, al Qaeda, the DPRK and ISIS. I wonder what George Will would say is the US Government’s role in allowing me, a US citizen, to pursue this business opportunity: limited, or creationist?

  16. Quite so. But please note that I am explicitly drawing attention to a dramatic failure of “natural” self-regulation in the hands of one of the noted exponents whom SC cites in its support, and stepping back from the appeal to nature by contrasting natural with artificial selection.

  17. Will has some good points, but the problem is (a) figuring out what government he’s talking about (it’s clearly not the U.S.), and (b) convincing the populace of that country that they would be better off with less government than they have chosen to have.

    The U.S. is clearly nowhere near the all-controlling government that Will speaks of. In fact, the U.S. probably imposes less restrictions on its citizens than any other developed country, and provides fewer benefits. Like it or not, we have the government that we choose to have when we elect the people who run it. The government is not some sort of independent entity – it may not meet anyone’s ideal of a government, but it best compromise we have.

    For example, if this country were a socialist democracy, much like Will fears, we would have universal single-payer health care, more of a social safety net for homeless and other disadvantaged people, a more controlled financial system, a universal education system with possibly free or low-cost college, more firearms restrictions, and probably more bureaucracy and regulations in general. I doubt we would have much in the way of multi-million dollar college sports programs, if colleges were free. That would be a loss.

    The point is that we don’t have any of that. Will needs to travel a bit, so he can write about real socialism, not the imagined socialism of our highly capitalist society.

  18. George Will is a must read for me. Enjoyed the column in the Washington Post. I live about 5 miles from Mr. Will. Of course economically I live a million miles from Mr. Will..