The other day I noticed one of those charming little signs one sees on the rear of cars that depicts a Darwin fish swallowing a Jesus fish. I know some people — including me before I saw the light — see such a thing and think it quite clever and oh-so-bold in its gentle poking of Christians and their silly fish signs.
But if one thinks a bit more about it, there is a quite a lot more to the story, and that story isn’t much to laugh about.
First, let us recount the origin of the fish symbol itself. It was used as a secret sign by early Christians in the first 300 years of the faith’s existence in Rome, when it was illegal and often fatal to be a believer.
The Greek word for “fish” is “ichthys,” which was made into an abbreviation for “Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter,” or “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Because the fish symbol was common in pre-Christian Rome and Greece, it aroused no suspicion and so was used as a secret marker for church services and on tombs. It was used in place of the cross, which would attract immediate and very often deadly attention.
The fish symbol thus represents the persecution that Christians underwent as the norm until the faith was legalized by Emperor Constantine in 321 A.D. It was definitely not a sign of victory or power. It shows that the first several generations of Christians had to carefully hide their faith and always lived in fear of discovery and martyrdom.
The Darwin fish eating the ichthys fish is quite a different story.
Although Darwinism did face (and still does in some circles) resistance from society and some Christians, it gained rapid acceptance both for its scientific and religious implications.
Many incipient agnostics and atheists wholeheartedly embraced Darwinism because they believed it provided a secular, scientific explanation for the origin of humankind, if not the universe itself. It seemed to eliminate the need for God or religion and free humanity from the shackles of superstition and dogma.
Some philosophers, like Nietsche, took the Darwinian concept of the “survival of the fittest” and applied it to humans and to races in particular, spawning the very evil and ultimately murderous ideology of eugenics.
Eugenicists believed that humans, like animals, could improve over time with selective breeding, and that to improve humanity in general, certain undesirable (or deplorable?) people, races, and ethnic groups should be decreased if not eliminated.
The most evil manifestation of this ideology emerged in Germany with the growth of Fascism and Nazism, and resulted in the Holocaust and World War II. Variants of eugenicist thought permeated wide swaths of both Western and Eastern civilizations and in all cases fueled racist policies and practices in many supposedly “civilized” nations.
This destructive and hateful movement was thus inspired by Darwin and the mis-application of his theories. It also coincided with and helped foster a decline in religious belief and adherence in the West, a thing which many people cheer. However, it’s hard to be cheerful when one considers the hundreds of millions who died in the wars of the 20th century, and the especially tragic case of the 6 million Jews killed in Nazi death camps.
The vacuum left by the abandonment of Christianity was filled by an evil, human-destroying ideology at least partially inspired by Darwinist concepts.
The Darwin fish with feet devouring a Christian ichthys is indeed a potent symbol because it shows the triumph of Darwinism over Christianity in the West, but pause a moment to think of what this triumph has wrought in our collective experience: death, murder, violence, oppression, abortion, discrimination.
The scientific gains achieved and inspired by Charles Darwin are real and good in many ways, but, as with many good ideas, they were taken too far and used to justify evils that still plague our society, and greatly diminished the gentle and loving influence of true Christianity in our culture. It might not be a bad idea for the ichthys to swallow Darwin, for a change.
Peachtree City, Ga.