The economic argument for the existence of God
I’ve just finished the book Freakonomics, and it was very interesting and thought-provoking. Seeing how an economist approached life’s situations and problems made me wonder if we could construct an economic argument (speaking in broad terms of cost and incentive rather than merely money) against atheism and for God’s existence. By its nature such an argument wouldn’t be conclusive, but then most arguments for God’s existence function that way — encouraging the faithful but not sealing the deal for non-believers. Here’s how I think we could develop such an argument:
Let’s assume for a moment that there is no God. Does this fit the data that we see? Disregarding the conventional wisdom that religion is an “opiate,” I think we can actually argue that if there is no God, religion is economically unsustainable. If there is no God and man has evolved, then belief in God and the practice of religion consist entirely of costs and no incentives (since there is no God responding to your prayers, nor providing any future hope or joy or reward). This creates a powerful incentive not to believe in God — it is a perfect waste of time and energy. From an economic standpoint we would hardly expect religion to have developed in the first place, and from both an economic and evolutionary standpoint we would hardly expect religion to persist. As supporting evidence, monkeys in zoos don’t form cargo cults; instead, it seems quite obvious that if they worship anything, it is simply themselves. But if monkeys are so sensible about how much of an economic and evolutionary waste religion is, why do so many humans practice religion? Our hypothesis (there is no God) simply does not fit the data.
Let’s assume for a moment that there is a God and that man is uniquely created to fellowship with and worship God. The atheist is quick to point out that this hypothesis does not fit the data either; where are all the indications of God’s fellowshipping with man? Why does God allow such confusion among men as to who God is and how to fellowship with him? Putting aside for a moment the fact that we see God’s fingerprints everywhere, let’s agree with the atheist that if our hypothesis were true we would very much expect to fellowship with God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.
But now let’s assume that there is a God, that man is uniquely created to fellowship with and worship him, but that there is some estrangement between man and God. This, then, seems to explain the data! The fingerprints of God can be identified in his careful and thoughtful design of the world. Our being created for the unique purpose of fellowship can be seen in the fact that humans alone are able to reason and communicate. There is now a great economic incentive to believe in God, since there is great joy and blessing to be had as his children; and in fact, it is precisely where Christianity has most flourished that civilization and freedoms have most thrived. Yet this estrangement also creates a great economic incentive to disbelieve in God, or to fabricate one’s own gods and religion, which explains the great confusion man has about God. This estrangement suggests that God might allow himself to be hidden from our sight to a certain degree, but also that he might be working to reconcile us to him — so there is even a suggestion of the gospel!
There are, of course, ways that this argument needs to be further developed. More work needs to be done to demonstrate that religion truly has no economic incentive if God does not exist. And we have assumed one type of God here (a personal and good and gracious God who pursues fellowship with man), but the atheist will be quick to point out that this is a fallacy of limited choice; perhaps there is another type of God who delights in causing chaos — does this explanation fit the data? To the Christian it is certain that it would not, but for apologetic purposes this argument must be developed.
And of course, we should not see God as a mere hypothesis. Stay tuned for Friday’s quote.