My friend Richard believes in human evolution, meaning that all of us, including the chaps who wrote St Matthew Passion and built Chartres Cathedral, evolved from primitive organisms.
I’ve been known to remark unkindly that in his case this assertion springs from frank self-assessment. My friend Richard is indeed not a particularly complex creature, and he’s fairly easy to understand.
Understanding some of his critics and all of his admirers is more difficult, and I find this task baffling.
What gives me a particular problem is that on those rare occasions when poor Richard says something sensible he’s attacked mercilessly. Yet his same detractors, millions of them, then buy and extol the books in which he writes utter drivel.
Last year Richard was widely attacked for making this statement: “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge.”
The only way to contest this statement is to show it’s untrue. Since I cherish every instance of Richard getting something wrong, I did the requisite research. To my disappointment, Richard was proved right.
He didn’t stoop to citing the exact numbers, which are 32 Nobels won by Trinity scientists versus 10 by the Muslims. But had he been more specific, he’d have had to add that only two of those 10 Islamic overachievers were scientists, two others writers, while six were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which has little to do with science, or indeed peace.
Richard’s statement was thus factual and therefore unassailable. His motives for citing those facts may be a different matter.
Facts have little significance unless they’re used to prove a point. And some points are less worth making than others. For instance, it’s a fact that blacks have a lower median IQ than whites. Yet those who insist on citing it ad infinitum may be confidently assumed not to be great champions of the Negroid race.
Likewise, Jews are more lavishly represented in banks, academic institutions and symphony orchestras than their mere proportion in the population would warrant. This fact is demonstrable calculator in hand, but those who whip out the calculator for that purpose not always do so out of admiration for Jews.
One way or the other, Richard was savaged by the very people who see nothing wrong about the aggressively stupid things for which he gets paid his millions.
Here are two examples of his inanities, which faithfully represent the general intellectual quality of his output.
Example 1: “Darwin told us why we exist and that’s not an easy question to answer. It’s not just us, it’s all living things.”
Example 2: “Life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing, is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice.”
Now some savants have rightly held poor Richard to account for his ignorance of philosophy, theology, history, rhetoric and, well, just about everything. For example, his critique of Aquinas’s Five Ways displays a command of the problem for which many a pupil has been expelled from Sunday school.
Yet I’m prepared to overlook Richard’s ignorance – we’re all ignorant of something, though not all of us pontificate on issues about which we know next to nothing. Alas, the two examples I cited point at Richard’s inability to think logically, and that is a more serious problem.
The question mentioned in Example 1 is indeed not easy to answer. That’s why Darwin never attempted to do so. He merely tried to explain how all living things that already were got to be as they are.
Simple logic that escapes my friend Richard should have told him that, before things evolve, they have to exist. Think what you will about the evolution theory, but its very name suggests that a) it deals with the development of something already in existence and b) even then, it’s merely a hypothesis, not a fact.
The words Richard thinks he’d ‘be mad to attempt’ in Example 2 were actually uttered 2,500 years ago by Parmenides: ex nihilo nihil fit or whatever it was in Greek. Nothing comes out of nothing, an idea Newton later expressed as his First Law of Thermodynamics.
A casual statement to the contrary, when not accompanied by a coherent refutation of both the philosopher and the scientist, may indeed be ‘staggering’ but it’s far from being a ‘fact’. Insisting on it betokens a certain deficit of intellectual rigour, which is a polite euphemism for stupidity.
Suddenly, out of the blue, Richard at last said something that adds up: “X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.”
In other words, gradations of evil exist. Richard’s logic is incontestable, if a tad simplistic.
If I wanted to substitute real things for the algebraic symbols, I could take issue with some of my good friends whose mind’s eye is blinded by their distaste for the European Union. They thus find good things to say about Putin, whom they see as a St George slaying the EU dragon over the Ukraine.
Using Richard’s newly found logic, I’d object that X (the EU) is bad but Y (Putin) is worse. It implies no endorsement of X to say that I’d rather live under the unquestionably hideous EU autocracy than under Putin’s kleptofascism – and so would my friends if they knew more about the latter.
In fact, had my friend Richard fleshed out his statement in this way, he wouldn’t have been criticised by anyone other than Peter Hitchens and his friends, of whom Peter can’t possibly have many.
Alas, he chose other substitutes for his X and Y: “Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.” And: “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”
Personally, I find nothing objectionable about this, other than the fact that Richard doesn’t know how to spell paedophilia. But then he’s a scientist, so that’s understandable.
But others have been much less kind to poor Richard. For example, the human rights activist Shami Chakrabarti screamed bloody murder: “There is no mild rape, there is no mild paedophilia. These are terrible, terrible crimes.”
No doubt. But in Western law some terrible crimes are more terrible than others. For example, both accidental killing and premeditated murder involve the terrible crime of taking a life. Yet the second is regarded as more terrible than the first.
Having sex with a nubile 15-year-old girl is paedophilia, as is having sex with a babe in arms. Surely Miss Chakrabati doesn’t think they’re equally terrible crimes?
A woman who gets into bed with her boyfriend and, after prolonged foreplay, says no at the last moment, which the man ignores, may be the victim of a crime (I’m referring to an actual case). The same woman raped at knifepoint in Hyde Park definitely is. Are they equally ‘terrible, terrible crimes’?
Miss Chakrabati and many others who’ve attacked Richard with similar venom are definitely guilty of the crime of which he accuses them: inability to think logically.
But both they and Richard are guilty of a more ‘terrible, terrible’ crime: adherence to a pernicious ideology. The ideologies may be different, but their cause is the same: hatred for every founding tenet of our civilisation.