Willful Ignorance

One of my favorite websites  —  aldaily.com  —  has just published an article by Lee McIntyre called “The Attack on Truth.” His thesis is that one of the indicators of serious trouble in our current cultural situation is that ignorance is becoming for an increasing number of people a preferred state of mind. He has in mind primarily the loud protests against science among people like the deniers of climate change.

He first bases his thesis on the idea that “the enterprise of basing our beliefs on fact rather than intuition is truly in peril.” If we were to stop reading at this early point in the article, we might have grounds for arguing against McIntyre because his statement is overly inclusive. We have no choice but to base many of our beliefs on intuition. For example: “Yes, what she said was hurtful to me but despite that I believe she loves me.” Such a belief is loaded with intuition which — we hope — is built in part on facts. But, when we are wounded by another, we do not sit down and write a list of “facts” to convince ourselves we are loved. Sometimes such a list would actually convince us otherwise and might thereby cause us to withdraw from a relationship which in the long run might prove to be filled with joy.

Objective facts and intuition are each of diminished value when severed from the other. Mere objectivity doesn’t even recognize love or dignity or freedom. And intuition without any sort of factual foundation is mere wishful thinking or mere guessing. People of wisdom know when to rely more heavily on one rather than the other.

As we read further in the article, however, it becomes clear that McIntyre is actually thinking not of the really important things in life, such as love or joy, but only of science. So we must agree with him that, for instance, deniers of climate change or of human contributions to climate change are willfully ignorant. That is, they have the facts but choose to ignore them.

And McIntyre is right to assert that such ignorance “occurs when someone has a firm commitment to an ideology that proclaims it has all the answers — even if it counters empirical matters that have been well covered by scientific investigation.”

Much of such ignorance comes from my fellow Evangelicals, whose commitment to one specific way of reading Genesis trumps all facts. Genesis chapters 1-3 are literary masterpieces, revealing with amazing insight and brevity both the character of God and of the human heart. I am convinced that no literary, theological, or psychological writing has ever matched them.

Chapter One even includes the mandate for science:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.'”

How can we have dominion? Science is our most effective tool. We cannot be a truly biblical people, therefore, and reject science. Yes, we — and the scientists themselves — must always maintain a certain skepticism toward science, just as we do toward theology, so that we do not lose the invaluable gift of critical thinking. But a healthy skepticism is not the same at outright rejection.

Others reject science for political/economic reasons. When political conservatives chant “Drill, baby, drill,” they are willfully ignoring the indisputable fact that our dependence on fossil fuel is wreaking havoc with the planet. They do so in part to please their voters but — I am convinced — mostly because they have simply been bought by the corporations who are greedy for short-term profit at the enormous expense of earth-repair in the future.

The symbol of such greed, in my mind, is Ronald Reagan removing from atop the White House the solar panels installed by Jimmy Carter. For that reason alone, I must list Reagan as one of the most harmful leaders of the 20th century. (I have other reasons for that belief as well but they’re not germane to this discussion.)

McIntyre concludes with a simple sentence: “Respecting truth is a choice.” And, as he has effectively argued, so is much of today’s ignorance.


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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