How have people come to be taken in by The Phenomenon of Man? We must not underestimate the size of the market for works of this kind, for philosophy-fiction. Just as compulsory primary education created a market catered for by cheap dailies and weeklies, so the spread of secondary and latterly tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.
- Sir Peter Medawar
Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, mentions Peter Medawar’s legendary review of The Phenomenon of Man with alacrity in detailing how otherwise fairly educated people use farcical logic like, “If chimps evolved into us, how come there are chimps still around?”
Alas, Medawar’s hypothesis seems to be as true today as then, and it’s getting worse (and is pervasive in politics, as well). To paraphrase a statement Dawkins made during his last Houston stop with the Progressive Forum a few weeks ago, “It’s truly astounding how otherwise intelligent, rational people who go about their daily life, balancing their checkbook and the like, cease to exercise any critical thinking about the greatest questions . . . it’s a tragedy, really . . . it seems, particularly in the U.S., that about 40% of the population is carrying along the other 60% in moving humanity forward.” Or in light of the current political season, perhaps it’s just shy of 47%.
Sir Peter Medawar (February 28, 1915 – October 2, 1987) was a British zoologist received the Nobel Price in Physiology for his work on the human immune system and graft rejection. His discovery of acquired immune tolerance helped make organ transplants possible.