Economics 101 & Public Square

Why Economics Is Part of God’s Created Order

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It is not uncommon to hear Christians call for economic policy designed to relieve human suffering. Certainly, as Christians who are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, we should and do have compassion on our suffering neighbor. Yet some approaches, while well-intended, may in fact lead to more economic hardship and less human flourishing.

This is unfortunate, because such fanciful thought only leads to frustration and the furtherance of economic woe. We cannot afford to recommend solutions to suffering that are in conflict with economic principles.

There is such a thing as economic law that cannot be thwarted without consequence. Laws of economics, such as the law of marginal utility, the law of comparative advantage, and the law of demand, are not mere ideological biases, but rather are part of the created order sustained by our Maker.

The only reason we have a world in which we can do any science, including economics, is that God made it that way. As defined by Francis Wayland in his book Elements of Political Economy, a science is “a systematic arrangement of the laws which God established so far as they have been discovered of any department of human knowledge.” As such, there are two necessary conditions that must be true in order for us to undertake science:

  • Scientific laws must exist and we must be able to discover them. If there were no scientific laws to be discovered, then no matter how hard we tried to seek them out, we would never find any. There would be no scientific discovery.
  • On the other hand, if scientific laws existed but we had no way of discovering them, we would also be unable to do science.

There is much evidence from Scripture encouraging us to embrace scientific inquiry. In the first place, Scripture teaches us that God created and sustains the universe (Genesis 1:1; Colossians 1:16-17). The Bible’s account of the creation of the sun, moon, and stars reveals God creating a world with purpose and order (Genesis 1:14-17).

Additionally, the late Stanley L. Jaki documents in his book, The Savior of Science, that God repeatedly uses the stability and natural regularities of nature as evidence that we can trust him to keep his promises (Jeremiah 33:20-21; Psalm 72:5-7, 89:34-37, 119:89-90). From the Scriptures, Christian thinkers developed the understanding that because God created a universe with purpose and stable order, there are scientific laws out there for us to discover.

God also affirms what our own self-reflection indicates—that we have the cognitive ability to discover those laws. In Genesis 1:28, we read that God created us in his image. Our cognitive faculties are part of that image. God thinks and knows everything (Isaiah 55:8-9; Jeremiah 29:11; Hebrews 4:13).

There are, of course, important differences between God and his human creatures. He is infinite in his knowledge while we are finite. We cannot, therefore, know exhaustive knowledge. We also now suffer from consequences of the Fall. We make mistakes and can be led astray by our own biases and selfish desires.

Nevertheless, as we proceed with intellectual caution and diligently seek careful analysis, we can know some truth with certainty. We still bear the image of God, even if marred by the Fall. We still have the ability to use our cognitive faculties to discover scientific laws that are there to be discovered.

As I emphasize to my students, while many are willing to accept the universal nature of biological and physical sciences, the above applies also to the social sciences, especially economics. In a following post, I hope to explain that part of the image of God includes our use of reason in purposeful behavior.

All humans engage in action, and human action implies a number of social regularities we call economic laws. That is one of the reasons economics is so important. When people either individually or as participants in society seek to act in ways that contradict economic law, it can only lead to disaster.

Do you think economic laws are part of God’s created order? Leave your comments here.

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  • Bryan Thomas

    That’s my professor! Dr. Ritenour is great. Come to Grove City College and take his classes!

  • Jonathan Waterman

    The scriptures indeed have much to say about God’s view of economics. Dr. Rittenour is a leading thinker of exposing these truths which today’s church seems to have easily lost in the shadows of the dubious Social Gospel movement. So, thank you, Doc, for this article…I look forward to the next one! [For interested readers, also see various books by Dr. Gary North as an alternative source expositional materials regarding a Christian perspective on economics.]

  • I hear all of this talk about some economists wanting the same respect for the laws they discover in their studies as the laws received in the physical sciences. But there are some problems here. First, economics is a behavioral science and as such has a far more difficult time in isolating variables than the physical sciences. And certain “laws” operate differently in different systems and environments. Second, many who adhere to neoliberalism have not continued and updated their economic studies as those in the physical sciences have. Third, any student of economics has to realize that economics is a part of a wider system and thus must include that wider system in its study. An economics that does not recognize impacts on the environment that human behavior has can unknowingly devastate the future.

    A major part of our approach to economics tries to account for greed. It is said capitalism accommodates greed by utilizing its energy. But there seems to be a denial of the toxic emissions that result from running on this energy. And that is what we have today. And putting God’s name on one’s own society’s or culture’s practices is like claiming to be special; it is normal. And attaching God’s name to one’s form of economics seems to be anti-Scientific in the sense that it is meant to silence questions and criticisms.

    We should realize that the Bible says much more about us than that we are able to discover God’s laws. It also says due to our worship of the creation instead of the creator, we often deny or pervert those laws and this will be more of a problem in the behavioral than the physical sciences though it is there too.

  • Jonathan Waterman

    Curt, I can’t tell if you’re dissenting from Rittenour’s article or not. However, I think I know what you mean. I assume we’d agree that sin/man’s fall/rebellion against God is the root cause of greed. As Christians, we understand that our nature is always juxtaposed between God’s natural created order vs. man’s fallen actions. I believe Rittenour (and other like-thinkers) are exposing (biblically) first the natural order wherein economics finds its synthesis with God’s created order, which then informs about our fallen behaviors. The Austrian School’s application of praxeology is critical to understanding how to observe the effects of economic science. Obviously, sin perverts every aspect of human life and understanding. Our understanding of physical science is full of perversions, as is any behavioral science. Economics would not be a science at all if there was not some inherent, logical order that it must follow regardless of what we do or think. This is how any science proves the existence of God whether it intends to or not. I believe the “toxic emissions” or sin that you refer to come mostly from our not having grabbed any firm grip on what God’s word has to say about economic issues. The more I study and understand what God has to say about economics in his holy word, the more I realize how overlooked economic science is, especially within Christian circles.

    • Jonathan,
      Sorry about the delayed response, I just saw your reply. Yes, I am dissenting from Rittenour’s article. And yes, I agree that all of us, including those of us who are trying to point out the immorality of the status quo, are sinners. And it is so important for those of us who point out the moral failures of others or a system to remember the parable of the two men praying so that we avoid following the example of the pharisee.

      Now for the part I object to. To say that my disagreement with Rittenour is because I have a deficiency in understand what God’s Word has to say about economics is to simply gloss over the issue while discrediting mine. It would be more helpful if you were specific in your disagreements.

  • Kevin Cushing

    This “law of economics” ignores the God of economics and turns it into an idol- like the “invisible hand” of the marketplace. The author ignores the teachings and examples of Jesus, many other prophets ancient and modern, and the early Church on the importance of taking care of the needy. Economics cannot exist apart from ethics and faith in Christ.
    Many evangelicals just concentrate on a “faith” with no ethical element while many socialists just concentrate on ethics. You need both to be a Christian, and both to form a Church.

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