The Evolution of Ignorance


By Warwick McFadyen

The point which you raise on intelligent Design has perplexed me beyond measure … I am in a complete jumble on the point. One cannot look at this Universe with all living productions and man without believing that all has been intelligently designed; yet when I look to each individual organism, I can see no evidence of this.

Charles Darwin in a letter to astronomer John Herschel, 1861.

One of the difficulties in raising public concern over the very severe threats of global warming is that 40 percent of the US population does not see why it is a problem, since Christ is returning in a few decades. About the same percentage believe that the world was created a few thousand years ago. If science conflicts with the Bible, so much the worse for science.

Noam Chomsky, 2016


It is the grand delusion, this faith in progress. Yes we live longer; yes, we’ve eradicated diseases that once used to ravage millions; yes, we’ve brought instant communication around the world and back again in the blink of an eye; yes, we have created virtual reality when the real thing isn’t enough for us.

Yes, we can. As a slogan it was inspirational. It helped deliver an African-American to the White House in a country with a history in many regions of slavery, segregation, murder and bigotry. It was historic moment. It may have opened the doors to what was possible in life – a concept that would have been impossible only decades earlier. But in its success resided also the delusion. There is no royal we. The centre cannot hold when it is fragmented.

George Monbiot in The Guardian wrote recently of the ghost in the global machine. It is not known by name. It started as neoliberalism but now has conquered the workings and mindsets of economies, corporations and politicians by its invisibility, in effect its rhythm of the one and only true normality. To go up against it is to be a dissenter of the good and great.

It is the markets’ equivalent of Intelligent Design.

The election of Donald Trump, and his bringing forth of like-minded assistants to his cause is the manifestation of an ideology that on the surface is appealing (patriotism, no foreigners, protection of jobs) but which at core has been hollowed out by an ignorance that would do the Dark Ages proud.

Even taking Trump out of the equation America now has in  vice-president Mike Pence, a man who does not believe in evolution, who is in essence a de facto creationist, and  Myron Ebell, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency transition team,  one of the world’s foremost climate deniers.

In 2012, Trump tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

In 2015, Trump thought the warming  might be all a hoax.

This week the Chinese have come out and said, well no, we didn’t.

So, this is going forward? Two of the most powerful men in the US, nudging shoulders with the commander in chief of the most powerful country on the planet, and one denies evolution and one denies climate change.

In 2002, Pence spoke to the House of Representatives on Charles Darwin. Pence thought that Darwin “offered a theory of the origin of species which we’ve come to know as evolution. Charles Darwin never thought of evolution as anything other than a theory. He hoped that someday it would be proven by the fossil record but did not live to see that, nor have we.”

Pence, an arch conservative in other areas such as abortion, also believes creationism should be taught in schools alongside evolution. There is no earthly reason to do so. One is science. One is nonsense. There are no parallel lines of argument. One is true, the other is not. Pence can, of course, believe in God, he can believe the universe was built in six days and that God, outside that universe, then had a rest. He is not alone. Many polls in the US show his views are not uncommon. But what takes this to another level is the position he now occupies. He now has influence. How much personal belief seeps into public duty? Indeed, can there be separation?

It would be funny if it were not so serious and depressing, but there is a dark paradox at play now in the corridors of Washington. It is this: this administration trumpets a fossil-fuel energy future. But what a minute, fossil fuels? Fossils? From millions and millions of years ago? Surely not. God, and Republicans, work in mysterious ways.

In Scientific American, Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging team leader, wrote: “My deepest worry is that this transition really could signal the end of the American Republic and the light it tried for 240 years, at least on paper, to shine on all the world.

“What it means for the practice of science in this country, the rights of women and minorities, the future of our planet’s health, the survival of all creatures with whom we share the Earth and for our relationships with other nations, I have no stomach to predict.

“But it does very much seem right now that the winning faction of the US populace has decided that the Earth really is flat, and that will be the guiding principle for governance from this moment on.”

And what did sailors fear when they sailed too near the horizon? They would fall into the abyss. We are too modern for that now. We know the world is a globe. It just seems the light has gone out.

Warwick McFadyen is a freelance writer and editor

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