Visible Evolution, or Visual Puns & the Logic of Concession
Lindsay Beyerstein at the Washington Monthly registers her annoyance with the History Channel's ad campaign for Ape to Man, a new documentary series on the history of hominid evolution, evolutionary theory, and the evidence substantiating it. Beneath "a parody of a famous detail from the Sistine Chapel ceiling [in which] the hand of God has been replaced by a monkey's arm," the ad confronts the reader with the following question: "Has evolution made a monkey out of you?" Beyerstein responds:
I was irritated to see such the conjunction of two misleading and
inflammatory memes: evolution is usurping religion, and humans
descended from monkeys.
She nails two of my initial responses, but there's one implication of the visual pun she missed: the monkey's hand doesn't replace God's, it replaces Adam's. While that difference may not seem so significant, and while I know that I'm reading far too much into a single ad--especially given what will no doubt be a series larded with pro-evolutionary bias--I can't help but consider this ad in light of Intelligent Design. My annoyance extends from Spielberg's concessionary adaptation of Wells' decidedly anti-design novel War of the Worlds. (I detailed Wells' position elsewhere.)
The problem with the visual pun isn't that it references Christianity, but that it (visually) concedes territory to the Intelligent Design community. Even if the concession is merely symbolic, that's damaging enough when the Intelligent Designers have close ties to the White House and the Young Earthers have clout and money enough to host the CreationMegaConference. To put it another way: When the Reverend Jerry Falwell can triumphantly declare "The creation debate is being won!" without being laughed out of the room, even unintentional symbolic concessions worry me.