The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Nobody Knows Anything

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William Goldman, author and screen writer,[1] sums up the problem of attempting to be certain about the success of a film—“Nobody knows anything.”[2] Goldman was not saying that Hollywood types are stupid. He was pointing out that they are not omniscient. They don’t have enough knowledge about people and their tastes to know whether a film will be a success. For example, Disney executives sold off much of the investment rights to The Sixth Sense because they believed it would bomb. After finishing the filming of Jaws, Richard Dreyfus commented on a talk show that it was going to be a flop. The worldwide gross of The Sixth Sense is more than $670 million. Jaws has brought in $470 million worldwide since its release.

We can apply Goldman’s film thesis to economics. On the one hand, nobody knows whether a new entry into the market place will be successful. Pet rocks made somebody a ton of money, while the Beta tape format sank almost without a trace. Even so, it’s the billions of unknown economic decisions made every day by individuals in a free market that bring prosperity to everyone who is willing to work and take risks, not the micro- and macro-management of the economy by government-appointed officials and their career bureaucrats. “We live in an imperfect universe. We are not perfect creatures, possessing omniscience, omnipotence, and perfect moral natures.”[3] What’s true of individuals is also true of groups of individuals called economic planners. So while “nobody knows anything,” there are certain fundamental things we do know that tell us how economies function.

With some variations, those who hold to a biblical economic model share many fundamental principles with advocates of an unregulated 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 a 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.”[4] Rousas J. Rushdoony makes a similar point in his critique of naturalistic philosophies in general:

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.[5]

Certain basic presuppositions make knowledge possible within a biblical framework. Outside that framework, knowledge is impossible. Facts do not speak for themselves. If they did, then there would be no debate over economic philosophies. 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.”[6]

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”[7] or, to use Carl Sagan’s opening line in Cosmos, “the universe is all that is or ever was or ever will be”?[8] How can cosmic purposelessness bring about cosmic purpose? The materialists can’t tell us, but the Bible does.

Endnotes:

[1] Goldsman’s filmography is long and impressive: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969); The Stepford Wives (1975); Marathon Man (1976); The Princess Bride (1987).
[2] William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade (New York: Warner Books, [1983] 1989), 39.
[3] Gary North, “Gold’s Dust,” in An Introduction to Christian Economics (Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1973), 46.
[4] John W. Robbins, Without a Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System (Hobbs, New Mexico: The Trinity Foundation, 1997), 19.
[5] Rousas J. Rushdoony, By What Standard? An Analysis of the Philosophy of Cornelius Van Til (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1958), 24.
[6] North, An Introduction to Christian Economics, vii.
[7] 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.
[8] 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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