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 (Gen. 1:1; Col. 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 (Gen. 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 (Jer. 33:20-21; Ps. 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 (Is. 55:8-9; Jer. 29:11; Heb. 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, possess 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 future 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.
Editor’s note: Learn more economic principles from a biblical perspective in Be Fruitful and Multiply: Why Economics Is Necessary for Making God-Pleasing Decisions.
On “Flashback Friday” we publish some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was first published on Oct. 18, 2013.
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