The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Economic Borrowed Capital

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With some variations, those who hold to a biblical economic model share many fundamental principles with advocates of a free market, or, as I hope to demonstrate, free marketers share many fundamental economic principles with advocates of a biblical worldview. John W. Robbins writes, in his critique of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy, “That the structure of knowledge that she erected, in which metaphysics depends on epistemology, ethics on both, and politics on all three . . . eliminated the possibility of both limited government and the laws of logic. She smuggled those ideas in from Christianity, whose structure, whose systematic philosophy, she rejected.”[1] Of course, she was not alone. Today’s moral theorists formulate their idea of a moral worldview from borrowed material.[2] Not only don’t they have any straw to make bricks, they don’t even have the clay! As R. J. Rushdoony shows, there is no way to construct a moral worldview from the operating assumptions of a naturalistic, matter-only worldview.

Thus natural man does have knowledge, but it is borrowed knowledge, stolen from the Christian-theistic pasture or range, yet natural man has no knowledge, because in terms of his principle—the ultimacy of his thinking—he can have none, and the knowledge he possesses is not truly his own. . . . The natural man has valid knowledge only as a thief possesses goods.[3]

Rushdoony contends that these supposed “self-evident truths” presuppose a transcendental starting point. Outside the biblical framework, if a person is consistent with his naturalistic presuppositions, knowledge (certainty) is impossible, not just about economics but about everything. Facts do not speak for themselves. If they did, then there would be no debate over economic philosophies and practice. Like those who hold to a managed economy, proponents of an economic free market “are unaware that their theory rests on certain God-given external conditions. They simply accept these limitations of nature as ‘given,’ and they do not bother to inquire as to the source of them. Such investigations, every secular economist would tell us, are not relevant, are not scientific, cannot be demonstrated by ethically neutral, rationalistic presuppositions.”[4]

How does the naturalist/materialist account for the fixed nature of economic self-evident laws and results and the moral basis for the free market when, as Lester Frank Ward argues, “nature has neither feeling nor will, neither consciousness nor intelligence”[5] or, to use Carl Sagan’s opening line in Cosmos, “the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be”?[6] How can cosmic purposelessness bring about cosmic purpose? Materialists can’t tell us why there is such a thing as morality within the epistemological boundaries of their naturalistic worldview.

The Bible begins with two uncontested presuppositions: First, God exists, and, second, He is the Creator of “the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). A third presupposition logically follows from the first two: “The earth is the LORD’s and all it contains” (Ps. 24:1; see 1 Cor. 10:26). Not only the cosmos, but the stuff of creation also belongs to God: “For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10).

Private (personal) property rights are based on the fact that God is the prior owner. He has delegated a derivative ownership to His creation in what has been described as a “cultural mandate.” The creator/creature-ownership paradigm is the model for how we establish the principle of private property and the laws that go with it. If I own a piece of property and decide to sell it or give it away, the transaction has legitimacy because I had legal title to the property, and I voluntarily decided to part with it. In the same way, God’s original ownership makes subsequent ownership possible and meaningful. Without the reality of prior ownership, the idea of private property and the moral system that defines it are little more than social constructs. If we subscribe to the evolutionary model, then how is private property a defensible right? How can we account for any kind of stable morality about anything?

Footnotes:
[1]
John W. Robbins, Without a Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System (Hobbs, New Mexico: The Trinity Foundation, 1997), 19.
[2] Michael Shermer, The Science of Good and Evil (New York: Times Books, 2004).
[3]
Rousas J. Rushdoony, By What Standard? An Analysis of the Philosophy of Cornelius Van Til (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1958), 24.
[4] Gary North, An Introduction to Christian Economics (Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1973), vii.
[5]
Lester Frank Ward, Dynamic Sociology; or Applied Social Science, as Based Upon Statistical and the Less Complex Sciences, 2 vols. (New York: Appleton, [1883] 1907, 2:12. Quoted in Gary North, The Dominion Covenant: Genesis, rev. ed. (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987), 298.
[6]
Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), 4. Notice his metaphysical assumption that the future will be like the past so he can claim the Universe is all there ever will be. How does he know this?
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