Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Evolutionist Ignorance Is No Crime

[Note: Oxford University Professor Richard Dawkins (pictured left) has an article in Free Inquiry magazine, Vol. 21, No. 3, entitled "Ignorance Is No Crime" (also published in an online edition in the foregoing link). The following is a parody and a critique -- pace, Professor Dawkins!]

"It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." I first wrote that in a book review in the Metaphysical Times in 1989, and it has been much quoted against me ever since, as evidence of my arrogance and intolerance. Of course it sounds arrogant, but undisguised clarity is easily mistaken for arrogance. Examine the statement carefully and it turns out to be moderate, almost self-evidently true.

By far the largest of the four categories is "ignorant," and ignorance is no crime (nor is it bliss -- I forget who it was said, "If ignorance is bliss, how come there's so much misery about?"). Anybody who thinks the earth is flat has to be ignorant, stupid, or insane (probably ignorant), and you wouldn't think me arrogant for saying so. It is not intolerant to remark that flat-earthers are ignorant, stupid, or (probably) insane. It's just true. It is no less true that anyone who thinks the medievals believed that the earth is flat has to be ignorant, stupid, or insane (probably ignorant), because that myth was invented by the antireligious Frenchman, Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848), and the American storyteller, Washington Irving (1783-1859) [See "The myth that the medievals believed in a flat earth"], and is easily debunked by reading the opening article of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae (ST, I, Q. I, ad 2, or "reply to objection 2"), where he says the earth is round. The difference is that not many well-educated people think that medievals believed the earth was flat, so it isn't worth calling attention to their ignorance. But, if polls are to be believed, thousands of those considered to be well-educated, and many of them professors in the halls of academe, believe that human beings evolved over -- echoing Carl Sagan here -- BILLIONS AND BILLIONS OF YEARS from the primordial ooze of the paleolithic coastlines. This is more serious. People like this have the ear of the press and have national influence, and we have Richard Dawkins (with a little help from his friends at Free Inquiry magazine) to prove it. Their spokesmen dominate school boards in every state. Their views represent a well-entrenched orthodoxy in the great corpus of the sciences, not just biology but physics, geology, astronomy, and many others -- despite the fact that they are based on philosophical (not to mention -- gasp! -- metaphysical) assumptions, which these sciences have no possible way of empirically substantiating. It is, of course, entirely natural to suppose that those ensconced in the ivy covered towers of academe must know what they're talking about. Certainly they often seem to. But our thousands upon thousands of supposedly well-educated Darwinian true believers are another matter. Their heavily influential pontifications, littered with scientific details, turn out to be founded upon metaphysical and epistemological assumptions that science cannot prove scientifically -- assumptions that have, indeed, all the characteristics of an ardent and dogmatically held faith. My "arrogant and intolerant" statement turns out to be nothing but simple truth.

Not only is ignorance no crime, it is also, fortunately, remediable. In the same Metaphysical Times review, I went on to recount my experiences of going on radio phone -- in talk shows around the United States. Opinion polls had led me to expect rigorous, hostile cross-examination from Evolutionist zealots. I encountered little of that kind. I got Evolutionist opinions in plenty, but these were founded on honest metaphysical and epistemological ignorance, as was freely confessed. When I politely and patiently explained to them what Darwinism actually is, they listened not only with equal politeness, but with interest and even amazement. "Gee, that's incredible, I never heard that before! Wow!" These people were not stupid (or insane, or wicked). They believed in Darwinism, but this was because nobody had ever told them what Darwinism is. And because plenty of people had told them (wrongly, according to well-informed theologians) that Darwinism is not ideologically opposed to their cherished religion.

I think it may have been my colleague Dale Burnside (though I could be wrong), who is a professor of biology, who told me the following story. I may have got the details wrong, but it was approximately as follows. He was on an internal flight within the United States, and his neighbor casually asked him what he did for a living. Burnside replied that he was a professor of biology, returning from a summer of paleontological research in sub-Saharan Africa. The man became increasingly interested, so, without ever mentioning Darwin, natural selection, or evolution, Burnside proceeded to eviscerate the dogma. Despite the widespread assumption of trans-species genetic mutations over time, presumably reflected in the fossil record in the sedimentation of the "geological column," Burnside noted that no fossil record of any short-necked giraffes had ever been discovered, and that sometimes the fossil remains of giraffes and large fish could be found extending vertically down through multiple strata representing multiple massive "geological periods" -- mesozoic, paleozoic, precambrian, etc. -- in complete defiance of the prevailing dogma. The man was greatly taken with the brilliant simplicity of his observations, and he asked Burnside the name of the prevailing theory based on these flawed assumptions and where it came from. Only then did Dr. Burnside reveal his hand. "It's called Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection!" The man's whole demeanor instantly changed. He became defensive, asserted abruptly that he was a "well-educated" man who believed the theory of Evolution was well-established, that there was no way in hell he would be caught dead believing anything like "creationism" -- and promptly terminated the conversation.

Ignorant certainly, stupid perhaps, but not wicked. I originally listed "wicked" as one of my possibilities, only for completeness. I have never been sure whether there truly are intelligent, knowledgeable, and sane people who feign belief in Evolution for ulterior motives. Perhaps an academic candidate needs some such dissimulation in order to get hired at most universities. If so, it is sad but possibly not much more reprehensible than the proverbial kissing of babies. Not deeply wicked. There are certainly many Evolutionists who tell lies for propaganda purposes, wantonly and knowingly misconstruing the scientific facts -- from Charles Darwin (1809-1882), and Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) (pictured left), who doctored his embryo drawings to conform to his evolutionist theory of "embryonic recapitulation" in the 19th century, on down to the Piltdown Hoax (1953) in the 20th century. Such dishonesty is documented on several Web sites, and also by Jonathan Wells, a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute with Ph.D.s from both Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley, in his book, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution is Wrong, which recounts his "apostasy" from his earlier indoctrination as an Evolutionist. Coincidentally, the worst occasion when I have been misrepresented in this way involved a liberal theologian, who fraudulently altered my words in an article I had written on the subject, so as to make me appear embecilic. The story is quite amusing in retrospect, though it irritated me at the time. But such minor examples of wickedness can be excused on the grounds that ignorance and stupidity trump wickedness. Are there, then, any examples of Evolutionist poseurs who are not ignorant, stupid, or insane, and who might be genuine candidates for the wicked category? Ernst Haeckel, who certainly cannot be called ignorant, stupid, or insane, nevertheless altered his embryo drawings to conform to his evolutionist theory of "embryonic recapitulation." This is certainly dishonest. Perhaps it is also wicked.

I don't withdraw a word of my initial statement. But I do now think it may have been incomplete. There is perhaps a fifth category, which may belong under "insane" but which can be more sympathetically characterized by a word like tormented, bullied, or brainwashed. Sincere people who are not ignorant, not stupid, and not wicked can be cruelly torn, almost in two, between the massive institutionalized orthodoxy of "science" on the one hand, and their understanding of what the actual facts of science (or their holy book) tells them on the other. I think this is one of the truly bad things that ideological liberal education can do to a human mind. There is wickedness here, but it is the wickedness of the institution and what it does to a believing victim, not wickedness on the part of the victim himself. The clearest example I know is poignant, even sad, and I shall perhaps attempt to do it justice in a later article.

For further reading:
[With a tip of the hat to Edgar Foster]