In conclusion, it might be enlightening to look at our present world through the eyes of a possible designer, to see the truly astonishing follies we have come up with.

Leaving aside the positive advances in technology, of which the designer itself would certainly be proud, the top priority for insanity has to go to the destruction of the environment. Our conscious intelligence has led us inexorably to sitting on the end of a branch a hundred feet up, and sawing through it. With the destruction of our own world, we shall inflict untold suffering on millions of people – assuming the human race survives at all – and yet the wise leaders of our planet do precious little to stop it.

Not far behind, in this collective madness, is the fact that while the rich prosper by destroying the planet, the poor are the main victims of disease, natural disasters, and wars. In the west, mountains of food are destroyed or discarded, and at precisely the same time, other members of the same species starve to death. This extraordinarily intelligent race, capable now of exploring outer space, is totally unable to devise a system to preserve its own habitat and to protect itself from itself.

We apparently need leaders, and so we set them up - or allow them to set themselves up - as gods to rule over us, even though they may have no ability to do so wisely. We in England put someone in charge of education, and from one day to the next hand them foreign affairs – as if overnight they have become experts in the field. But they must pretend to be experts, and we must pretend that they are. We have a collective suspension of disbelief much akin to the faith of religion and of atheism when it comes to those who govern us, although the faith is usually dispelled in a very short time.

In fairness to our politicians, there is no political system that can cope with the vast complexity of society as it has evolved, but that complexity is the result of our own misguided attempts at “progress”. When humans were confined to small groups, the problems were also confined: humans did not need social welfare, imports and exports, police forces, educational institutions, transport networks, prisons, etc.

This chapter, though, set out to deal not so much with problems as with collective madness. What would the designer make of crowds of people gathering together and going into paroxysms of pleasure or despair when a ball goes into a net or a hole or a basket, while they remain indifferent to other humans dying all around them? A man who can kick a ball into a goal or sing a catchy song will be valued perhaps a hundred times more than a man trying to heal or save the sick. A sunflower will cost you perhaps 50p, but a painting of a sunflower will cost you more than you will earn in a lifetime. A hero may die in poverty, but the actor who portrays him will be paid millions for doing so. It seems that reality is not what we want. The artificial world of made-up values is what we cherish. Perhaps that, in the last analysis, is why religious believers and atheists make their leaps in the dark. They cannot bear reality.

Let me, however, conclude with our starting-point of agnosticism, and offer you two alternative forms of madness: 1) countless numbers of people, sums of money, buildings, institutions, wars, miseries, joys, works of art have been devoted to or have sprung from human worship of something that never existed; 2) the designer’s creations are just beginning to understand, after centuries of conscious endeavour, how life functions, but they are still unable to design an organism like themselves that can spring from inanimate matter into living existence, reproduce itself, adapt to a changing environment, invent new mechanisms, and pass on its adaptations and innovations to the organisms it engenders. They believe, however, that if they ever can consciously and deliberately design such an organism, it will prove that they themselves were not designed.

Take your pick.

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