Jesus Fish/Darwin Fish
This is the pre-publication version which was subsequently revised to appear in Creation 30(2):21–23.
Christians have embraced many symbols through the centuries. The dove, a peacock, the anchor, the lamb, wine and bread are found on frescoes, fonts, baptismal cups, in catacombs and throughout the early church. The fish, one of Christianity’s oldest, is probably also the best known (see box below). Sometimes ichthus (Greek for fish, ιχθύς) or (today) ‘Jesus’ is inserted inside the fish.
Its popularity has spawned a parody: the ‘Darwin fish’. The Darwin fish redesigns the Christian symbol as a missing link, ‘evolving’ it with legs and feet in mockery of the Christian faith. Some even carry Darwin’s name in the middle, displacing Jesus in adoration of a new deity. Recent Darwinesque fish parade the word ‘evolve’ whilst the fish’s front limb holds a spanner: it has ‘evolved’ to be a tool user!
Retaliation in kind has fuelled the ‘Fish Wars’. A larger Jesus fish is shown eating a Darwin fish, whilst some of the Christian fish have the word ‘Truth’ inside. Not to be outdone the Darwin fish group now sell a T. rex devouring a Jesus fish (with the advertising slogan, ‘Now, if only religion would go the way of the dinosaur …’). Then there is the double fish bind: a Darwin fish with ‘I evolved’, and a Jesus fish labeled ‘You didn’t’. The one-upmanship continues unabated!
It is all rather trite, really, but it does reflect the underlying cultural war that is going on between secularists and Christians. Christianity in general is the real target of the Darwin fish, demonstrated by horned or flaming ‘Satan’ fish, pitchfork wielding ‘Devil’ fish or the ‘Reality bites’ fish where the ‘Darwin fish’ swallows the Christian symbol.
‘In several respects, displaying the Darwin fish is the symbolic equivalent of capturing and desecrating an enemy’s flag, an act of ritual aggression,’ says Dr Thomas M Lessl, an Associate Professor in the Department of Speech Communication at the University of Georgia.1
Lessl did research in several states in the U.S.A. by finding the Darwin fish symbols on cars and leaving questionnaires for the owners. The responses he received illuminated the thinking behind those who put these emblems on their cars. Lessl provided statements of some of the respondents:
- ‘Mainly I did it to annoy the Christian right wing, since they are so fond of putting the fish/Christ symbols on their cars. I also use it to display the symbol of my group, which believes natural processes explain the world around us.’
- ‘I can see how some people might feel hurt by the obvious play on the traditional fish logo. I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t see it as anything but light-hearted.’
- ‘Creationists are [expletive] idiots. Get a [expletive] education. Humans are no better than chickens, redwoods, fireflies, earthworms, goldfish, algae or infectious salmonella, just because we walk upright and have opposable thums [sic].’
Lessl commented, ‘The apparent desire to deride this audience seems to be just as important as any serious message they want to communicate.’ With considerable take-up of these plastic, chrome-coloured emblems it seems that many people wish to make their comment on what they perceive to be something worth deriding. Some Darwin fish owners are openly hostile. There is a purpose, Lessl states, ‘By inserting Darwin’s name in the place on the fish icon usually reserved for Christ, the ichthus symbol is ritually profaned or emptied of its religious meaning.’
Darwin fish symbolise naturalism’s supposed superiority. Other respondents to Lessl’s questionnaire replied along these lines2:
- ‘Evolution is the underlying theme of all biology, yet is largely misunderstood, and very sadly, even rejected by people who are either too afraid or too ignorant or too arrogant. … So this symbol just says “Hi” I accept my natural origin on this planet and recognize that I have many things in common even with bacteria and did not descend from Adam and Eve because the story of creation is ridiculously stupid and an embarrassment to the human species.’
- ‘It reflects my philosophy and goal of trying to evolve as a human being, rather than simply accepting a set a [sic] bizarre and totally unsatisfactory set of beliefs as set down by the Christian (fish). It means—think you idiots! If you can de-program yourself, you can see past the illogical precepts of religion. History didn’t begin 1,998 years ago. Human history began millions of years ago!’
Lessl sums up: ‘Just as the Ichthus symbolizes the universalist claim of Christianity that no one comes to God except through Christ, the new fish denotes the similar universalism of scientific naturalism as the singular path of cultural evolution.’ Darwinism can not provide the gift of heaven, or anything of eternal value, but those who purchase Darwin fish decals nevertheless demonstrate great passion in their ‘crusade’.
The ichthus fish has a proud heritage, one founded on respect, faith and through persecution. With the sometimes emotion-laden ‘battle of the bumpers’ Christians are now seeing hostility and negativity portrayed through derivatives of their own symbol. Some Christians have noted that such symbolism incites hatred and would not be tolerated by certain governments if it were specifically anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim.
Others recognise a lampooning nature of this profitable little fish and how its proponents see it as an edgy, wide-ranging icon for the materialistic worldview. However you respond to the ‘fish with legs’ decal, remember that this plastic image has been intelligently designed, and this ‘fish out of water’ has yet to be found anywhere in a fossilised form. It certainly is a creative, but fictional, ‘missing link’. (See here for articles on stories of fish growing legs.)
The bumper sticker ‘war’ over the fish symbol shows once again how important Darwinism is to those who oppose the Christian faith. It is no accident that so many atheists are dogmatic evolutionary propagandists. And yet many church leaders claim that evolution is not a problem!
The New Testament mentions fish often. All the Gospels refer to fish or fishing, an important aspect in the lives of many of the early followers of Jesus:
Matthew 14:17: ‘And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.”’
Mark 1:17: ‘Come after Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’
Luke 5:6: ‘And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.’
John 21:6: ‘And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.’
The symbol may also have become popular due to the use of an acrostic. The Greek word ichthus [fish] is spelled, ιχθύς or in capitals ΙΧΘΥΣ (Iota-Chi-Theta-Upsilon-Sigma). These letters begin the Greek words of the phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour” (Ἰησοῦς Χριστός Θεοῦ Υἱός Σωτήρ (Iesous CHristos THeou (h)Uios Soter) in an acrostic fashion…
Tertullian compared those who were faithful to Christ as pisciculi (meaning ‘little fish’) and, through baptism, are born in water and remain there. The early church also used the fish symbol where, under constant threat of persecution, Christians would meet in secret and the pictogram of the fish would quietly indicate their faith to other believers. To discover one’s allegiance, a Christian may have drawn an arc on the ground, as such ( in the hope that a fellow believer would complete the arc . The fish symbol was an integral element for the early followers of Christ.
Re-featured on homepage: 1 July 2009
- Williams, Phil, Bumper battle. Speech communication professor: Darwin fish symbols on cars are an act of ‘ritual aggression’ University of Georgia Columns Campus News 25 October, 1999. www.uga.edu/columns/991025/campnews.html; monitor.net/monitor/9910a/darwinfish.html. Return to text.
- Lessl, Thomas M., The Culture of Science and the Rhetoric of Scientism: From Francis Bacon to the Darwin Fish, University of Georgia (yet to be published). Return to text.