Like totally the 10 Most Influential People Ever

Flipping through TV stations tonight, I happened upon a show that displayed a list of the top 10 most influential people in the world, according to the website Ranker.com. Having been exposed to Ranker.com by my favorite morning radio show, I knew that they specialized in unscientific surveys of self-selecting morons, so I didn’t initially give it much thought. But then the #10 name came up as Charles Darwin. And the #7 name was Muhammed.

Prior to that moment, it never would have occurred to me that the general public would ever put the names Darwin and Muhammed on the same list of anything. Especially when the top name turned out to be Jesus Christ. I don’t mean to argue the merits of any of these figures, but it’s striking to me that people who would separate Jesus Christ and Muhammed by six places would mention Charles Darwin at all. (In case you were wondering, there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world, 1.6 billion Muslims. Number of people affected by natural selection: all.)

Nevertheless, there were a total of 4 scientists on the list: Darwin, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein. I’m not even going to consider the merits of this survey by detailing their individual ranks, much less discuss whether one was more influential than the other. In fact, it’s likely that the people responding to the survey are only naming “important” historical figures without really considering their influence on society. But I still thought it was an interesting indication of what people thought “influential” people were, even if they were unlikely to be influenced by them.

In the end, the list read like a cheat sheet from a history class, including 4 scientists, 2 philosophers, 2 religious figures, 1 artist (Leonardo Da Vinci) and 1 military leader (Alexander the Great). No kings, no presidents, no authors, no civil rights leaders.

Again, I don’t think the specific contents of this list are particularly meaningful. The inclusion of Alexander the Great, but the exclusion of Genghis Khan, shows a western bias that ignores square footage and number of progeny. The generous serving of theoretical physicists and complete lack of inventors shows a disregard for real world application outside of the high school lecture hall. The designation of Leonardo as the most influential artist shows a complete ignorance of what Leonardo actually contributed to the world of art.

But still, we like to think that we are a people who are influenced by a balance of science, religion, and philosophy. And that’s nice, right? I would never expect these respondents to speak about these concepts with much depth, but isn’t it something that they’re willing to acknowledge that the subjects are important?

Even if our culture struggles to acknowledge its secular tendencies, shouldn’t we be encouraged that the top 10 list wasn’t just Jesus and 9 of his favorite disciples? After all, this is a culture that puts a microwave oven in every kitchen and a DVD player in every car yet doesn’t like to think that the scientists behind these advances also believe in evolution and climate change. Science is fun, but don’t make me think, you coastal elite.

We live in a complex society, one that suggests a diverse stew of ideas and philosophies, yet is governed by an overwhelming desire to shut out curiosity and ignore nuance. Yet somehow, part of us still wants to believe that Plato and Aristotle play a role in our lives. Even if it’s just for a online poll that won’t let me vote ten times for L. Ron Hubbard or Ayn Rand.