ATHENS, Ga. -- The Scopes Trial on evolution never really ended. It just wound on up the bumpers of cars.
Symbols can unite towns, armies--even nations. A new battle of symbols is now being fought across America these days--a stylized version of "capture the flag." One of the symbols is a fish. The other is a fish with small walking feet. Inside the symbols are a variety of words, the most common being "Jesus" in the legless fish and "Darwin" in the other.
A new survey of the attitudes of those who stick Darwin fish symbols on their cars shows that while some are merely making fun of religion in general, many want to appropriate a sacred symbol--and wreck it.
"In several respects, displaying the Darwin fish is the symbolic equivalent of capturing and desecrating and enemy's flag, an act of ritual aggression," said Dr. Tom Lessl, an associate professor of speech communication at the University of Georgia who studies the rhetoric of science. "The Darwin symbol's obvious emulation of a religious symbol gives it unique power to express ridicule in a vivid and symbolically pointed fashion."
The entire brouhaha began with the Christian fish symbol. In the early days of Christianity when the faith was considered dangerous, it is thought that believers often drew the outlines of a fish to quietly proclaim their faith. The idea was simple and elegant: the fish was a symbol for Christ because the initial letters of Greek word icthus ("fish") form an acrostic interpreted as "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior."
For those who believe in the Biblical story of Creation, the fish symbol became a powerful statement of public belief. But for those who accept evolution by natural selection, the fish symbol was a golden opportunity for parody, and soon Darwin fish, with their flat feet heading presumably toward land and further natural selection, showed up on car bumpers, too.