ARTICLE: Liberal Evolutionism and the Satirical Ape

A new article in the Journal of Victorian Culture:

Liberal Evolutionism and the Satirical Ape

Kate Holterhoff

Abstract This article considers intersections between the doctrines of mid-Victorian liberalism and biological evolution using 1860s caricatures and satires from Punch. In the years following the 1859 publication of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, caricatures featuring satirical apes illustrated mutually supportive cultural attitudes about politics and science. Ideas of character united the discourses of mid-Victorian evolutionism with liberalism, and the confluence of these ideas, or what I term liberal evolutionism, dramatized this overlap for Victorian culture. My project shows that the apes depicted in Punch were often intended as not only whimsical responses to the theories put forward by Darwin and Mill, they also point to the formation of the British subject.

‘Tis the season for evolving…

Here’s a collection of holiday items relating to Darwin and evolution that I’ve posted over the last 5 years or so…

Two holiday card options from Blag Hag:

Paleontologist Thomas Holtz penned “The Twelve Days of Darwin” for Darwin Day in 2009, but it seems appropriate for this time of year, too.

Colin Purrington has a Darwin ornament you can print out and fold then hang on your holiday tree:

Make a Charles Darwin Christmas ornament!

Tree from xkcd (a reader has pointed out that this cartoon is not about Darwin/evolution – I thought it was a phylogenetic Christmas tree – but rather a reference to mathematics – binary heap):


Some Darwin Santas:

Santa Darwin

Darwin Claus


Happy Holidays from gf Newland

Snowman evolution, from John Kerschbaum (via Jay Hosler):


Evolving tree:


chanukiah to christmas tree

Evolution of Santa:

The Heroes of Science ornament collection includes Darwin:

Heroes of Science: Set of 10 ornaments of your choice

Atheist Christmas Cards has a few of Darwin:

Darwin Atheist Christmas Cards Evolution of Tradition Secular Cards Humorous Atheist Snowman Christmas Cards

And finally, you could always just take a Darwin fish and place it on your tree:



I’ve had a Darwin fish or two removed from cars in the past. My mom once was questioned by a Bible-wielding Christian at her door, when I lived at home, why she would allow someone who accepts evolution to live in her house. I’ve been de-friended on Facebook by longtime friends and acquaintaneces because of my views, both pro-evolution and anti-creationism.

Maybe this image sums me up well:

It’s drawn by Ainsley Seago (blog), a beetle biologist who has done other wonderful illustrations for past Darwin Days:

Darwin and Evolution in Cartoons and Caricatures

Visual representation in science is the study of how images can inform an understanding of scientific practice and the production and dissemination of knowledge. There will be at least two worskshops on this topic in the next year (here and here). The description of one describes images as “occupy[ing] a special place… for their power to encapsulate scientific knowledge, their capacity to communicate to various publics, and their flexibility in the production of meanings by the interaction of producers and users.” For this month’s edition of the history of science blog carnival, The Giant’s Shoulders and it’s theme of visuals and representations in science,  I thought I’d share some information about Darwin and evolution in cartoons and caricatures.

Jonathan Smith looked at visual representation within Darwin’s various books in his 2006 book Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture (Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture) (you can read the first chapter as a pdf). One could look at Darwin portraiture and photography, maybe Janet Browne has, and how specific images have been used to push a particular way of looking at Darwin. The Darwin year saw many books looking at Darwin and his impact on art. Constance Clark’s 2001 article in The Journal of American History, “Evolution for John Doe: Pictures, the Public, and the Scopes Trial Debate,” is about the “role of visual images of evolutionary ideas published during the [Scopes]debate.” And Heather Brink-Roby’s article “Natural Representation: Diagram and Text in Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species,” in Victorian Studies, looks at how Darwin used diagram and text “not simply to argue for, but also as evidence of, his theory.” Also, analyses of the March of Progress imagery of evolution and other representations (like trees of life) would fit into visual representations (see here and here, and of course Gould’s Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, specifically chapter 1, “Iconography of an Expectation”).

Where do political cartoons and caricatures fit into this? Surely, such images were avenues of knowledge for the public, and how a cartoon represented Darwin or evolution (anti-evolution, pro-evolution, etc.) had an impact on the viewer, and evolution was used as a means to comment on society and culture or whatever was in the news. I know of at least two historians of science who have published on the topic:

Browne, Janet. “Darwin in Caricature: A Study in the Popularisation and Dissemination of Evolution.”Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 145:4 (December 2001): 496-509. (also, see my post 19th-Century Caricature Prints with Tyndall, Darwin caricatures at The Primate Diaries, and Darwin caricatures at Genomicron)

Davis, Edward B. “Fundamentalist Cartoons, Modern Pamphlets, and the Religious Image of Science in the Scopes Era.” In Religion and the Culture of Print in Modern America, edited by Charles Lloyd Cohen and Paul S. Boyer, 175-98. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008.

Davis presented at the History of Science Society meeting in 2009 on “Demonizing Evolution,” sharing some of the fundamentalist cartoons. Since Google Books won’t let me see the cartoons in the article, I’m not sure if those in his talk are the same as those in his article, but I will share a few from his talk:

Sunday School Times, June 1922

Why be an ape--? (London, 1936)

Sunday School Times, January 1929

no source given for this one

These cartoons in the era of the Scopes trial present evolution as: dangerous to one’s faith (learning about and accepting evolution will creep into one’s religious life), “modern” education is cheating on God and the Bible; evolution is anti-religion; evolution is sacred and religious itself; the theory of evolution is collapsing, full of speculation and not fact-based. Much of these claims are still used today, by many creationists and intelligent design proponents who spend more time trying to discredit evolution than convincing us that their view is scientific. Such cartoons and anti-evolution pamphlets, according to Davis, “provide new insights into the intense debate about the meaning of science and the nature of religion that took place among American Protestants in the 1920s. From popular publications such as these, we see just how the fundamentalists and the modernists both attempted to influence public opnion about the religious image of science in the decade of the Scopes trial” (193).

There is a wonderful resource for political cartoons that do the opposite of demonizing evolution. Historian of science Joe Cain has brought to our attention the ephemeral journal Evolution: A Journal of Nature, which ran from 1927 through 1938, 21 issue in all, and he provides a publication history for it in a 2003 article for Archives of Natural History. Evolution was “a monthly platform for pro-evolutionist perspectives and as a device for rebutting anti-evolutionists. It also aimed to bolster the resolve of teachers caught in the centre of curriculum debates.” Its purpose was laid out in the first issue:  “This magazine will help bridge that gap by furnishing a forum in which science itself can speak in popular language without fear of the restraints with which fundamentalists are seeking to shackle them.” Among the articles within Evolution were scores of political cartoons. Cain has made all the issues available (also available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library) and a page with some of the cartoons. Here are a few:

Unfortunately, Evolution was not a great success (hence, only 21 issues). By its 12th issue, the journal touted its 5,000 subscribers, and provided a list of how many by state. Interestingly, it had the most subscribers in New York City (675), California (551), New York State (494),  Illinois (486), and Ohio (299). A few others in the 100-200 range (including Pennsylvania), and the rest under 100, including all states in the South.

I will also point out another website, put togteher by Mark Aldrich, called Cartooning Evolution, 1861-1925, broken up into Darwin and EvolutionEvolution as Social CommentVictorian ScienceFundamentalist PublicationsThe Scopes Trial: Northern NewspapersThe Scopes Trial: National Magazines, and The Scopes Trial: Southern Newspapers. Here’s a sampling, but be sure to check out the website itself, there are many more. Enjoy:





puck 1885









Creationism conference a money-making event

Forget the truth, creationists are in it for the money. In “Beautiful in Bozeman, Montana,” cellular and molecular biologist and Answers in Genesis lecturer Georgia Purdom (“She seeks to understand the original, created, “very good” roles of bacteria in the pre-Fall world and genetic mechanisms that have led to their adaptations and pathogenicity in a post-Fall world”) recaps her experience in Bozeman participating in the “Fact Over Fiction: Countering Myths in Biology” conference earlier this month (I was unable to attend, so I set up this Facebook event). From her post:

One young man (probably eight or nine years old) impressed me with his question of how to deal with the teaching of evolution in the public school which he attended. Since I have a daughter in public school, this question was very relevant to me. I told him to learn as much as he possibly could about evolution and to be the creationist in the class that gets 100% on the test about evolution! One can only defend their own position well if he or she knows the counter position well. I also told him to learn the counter arguments from a biblical creation perspective concerning what he was being taught (our Evolution Exposed series is a great tool for this—even for elementary age children with a parent’s assistance).

People were hungry for resources, and we sold out on many items. Two ladies told me that they wished they could take me home so I could answer questions when they had them. I told them the better idea (because I like my own home!) was to get equipped through our resources like books and DVDs and our website. Probably one of my favorite resources is the New Answer Book series. I told them that’s where I look when I have questions about geology, paleontology, and astronomy which are not in my area of expertise.

Boom – two plugs for money into the pockets of Answers in Genesis! At $21.95 per head at the Creation Museum, surely AIG is pulling it in (but, to get in, you must leave your head at the door).

Non Sequitur, October 8, 2005

Non Sequitur, October 8, 2005

Should we be concerned about such places? Yes, says Michael Zimmerman, founder of The Clergy Letter Project, in “The Dangers of Ignoring Creationism”:

… as amazing as it might seem, Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute have the ability to shape public policy in frightening ways. Unless many of us keep pointing out what they’re all about, they may well succeed in reshaping America and redefining science in a manner that will do irreparable damage.

That said, there are some FREE resources for science & evolution education listed in my sidebar, under Evolution & Science Education.

Also, the student paper of Montana State University (The Exponent) addressed the conference in its latest issue, here.

Film about Jack Chick publications to show in Bozeman on January 20th

From the Chick tract "Moving On Up!"

A new documentary about Jack Chick, publisher of those familiar Christian fundamentalist tracts – including the anti-evolution Big Daddy – will be showing at the Bozeman Public Library on Wednesday, January 20th at 7:00 pm. The showing of God’s Cartoonist: The Comic Crusade of Jack Chick (website) is hosted by the newly revived Bozeman Freethinkers group (Facebook). Here is a description of the film:

For nearly forty years, Chick Publications under the leadership of Jack T. Chick has published nearly one billion religious tracts (palm sized comics) that are now distributed in over 100 languages around the world. In the process, Jack Chick’s name has become revered in the world of fundamentalist teachings, reviled among dozens of major religions and banned as hate literature in several countries including Canada. Outside the world of religion the tracts have become highly valued pop culture collectibles with presentations in galleries from NY to LA and a permanent collection in the Smithsonian. Notoriously reclusive, Chick Publications for the first time let camera crews in to meet the creators of the infamous works as well as noted authors, artists, critics and collectors who have covered the history of all things Chick.

And the trailer:

I will be going since Wednesdays are the one day I am in Bozeman during the spring semester.

If you plan to go, RSVP at the film’s website here.

I personally own a handful of the Big Daddy tracts that I picked up at a Kent Hovind talk in Temecula, CA before moving to Montana. There are other tracts dealing with evolution, however: In The Beginning and Moving On Up.

Hat-tip to The Sensuous Curmudgeon for posting about Chick, which made me look up the website for the film and discover the Bozeman showing!