Evolution in Reverse




Originally published on Medium, 2014



Brueghel’s famous painting The Parable of the Blind seems a fitting depiction of our time.

Almost half of the folks who populate the culture that has developed the ability to see 13.8 billion years back in time to the origin of the universe — virtually to within a millisecond of its birth — still believe that it was created 10,000 years ago by an old white man with a cosmic chemistry set.

In the Bible story depicted in the painting above, Jesus says “It’s not what comes into the mouth that defiles, but what comes out.” This is commonly interpreted as a criticism of false and hypocritical teachings, and a warning against literally accepting what comes out of the mouths of false ‘teachers’, without considering what’s really in their hearts.

The ‘false teachers’ in this case were the usual suspects — the Pharisees, who, when they heard Jesus’ comments, were offended by his sharp critique. So the rebel prophet responded with “Leave them. They are blind guides, and if the blind follow the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Hence the downward diagonal of stumbling figures in Brueghel’s painting.

What’s interesting to note about Brueghel is that he was not a particularly religious man, and was more likely to have considered the clergy to be the ‘false teachers’ referred to in the parable. While unequivocally illustrating the essence of the parable, his work was never deemed ‘proper’ enough (from an iconological perspective) to adorn the walls of any Catholic church. Not enough adoration going on, one guesses. No Christ. No angels.

In the same way, we’re not likely to see a painting of the ‘Big Bang’ adorning the walls of any church in our own era. No, rather than accept the evidence of a 13.8 billion year-old universe, 42% of Americans would rather ignore it and literally cling to the 10,000 year-old Adam & Eve version of creation.

It is a disturbing — if not shocking — sign of the backwardness that plagues our time. Here we are, almost 250 years after the Age of Enlightenment, being dragged backwards to the Dark Ages by fear and fundamentalism. It is evidence of what scholar Karen Armstrong calls a “shift from faith in logos, (or) reason, with its future-oriented spirit, always seeking to know more and extend areas of competence, to mythos, meaning conservatism that looks backward to fundamentalist beliefs for guidance and a worldview.”

Everywhere you look today you can see the retreat in force. If logos is evolution, mythos is creationism. If logos is the science of climate change, mythos is climate change denial. If logos is acknowledgment of income inequality, mythos is the delusion of free market ideology. If logos is shared public infrastructure, mythos is suspicion of government intervention. If logosis an open, integrated community, mythos is a homogeneous gated community. If logos is gender equality, mythos is paternalistic oppression. If logos is us and them, mythos is us versus them.

In her brief but gravely salient book Dark Age Ahead, the late great urban sage Jane Jacobs reminds us of how easily even the greatest of civilizations can crumble into dust. From Mesopotamian to ancient Chinese to Pre-Columbian, powerful cultures have collapsed under the weight of their own rigid adherence to conservative values and beliefs and their inability to accept change and embrace innovation.

Our time is no different. The signs are everywhere. Mythos is the blind leading the blind. Logos is the light about to be extinguished, and the hope that we see it before we blow it out and fall into the pit. wn

will novosedlik