Cowardly hypocrisy of "Darwin fish" displays

April 7, 2008 | By | 15 Replies More

Car Fish AssortmentMy friend Russ sent me this link to an article in our local paper entitled, “Cowardly hypocrisy of Darwin fish displays”. The title does a good job of strongly framing a weak argument. After I read it, I decided to post my response here:

The article begins by framing anything interpretable as anti-Christian as equivalent to Muslim extremism; Jihadism. It illustrates the modern use of the ancient bi-stroke alpha as a covert Christian identity symbol in a repressive Islamic region.

Because of this still extant use in remote locations, the article advocates eschewing these tongue-in-cheek parody icons in the name of political correctness. It equates mockery with intolerance. The article never explains what makes it “cowardly” to openly display a Darwin fish. In the face of such hostility from the majority faith, “brave” seems a more apt term.

I do grant that Christians are a persecuted minority in a few places. In those places, Evolution is generally accepted as a Christian plot to weaken faith in Allah. In those places, a Darwin fish car would be bombed more quickly than a Jesus fish car.

Darwin fish aren’t generally mocking Christianity as a whole, but rather the Flat Earthers, Young Earthers, and Geocentric Universe sects. Most Christians actually believe in the (thoroughly proven) naturalistic explanations of nature, while firmly believing it to be God’s work. But there is a high correlation between the anti-scientific congregants and car fish.

We live in a country in which Christianity is by-far the dominant religion, one in which polls show that faith in virgin birth is more important to general health than the roots of modern medicine. With rationalists comprising a slim minority, and those openly admitting to it in public a small part of those, I don’t see how these icons can do any harm. A slim minority of Christians may well take offense. But they have the power, and therefore have nothing to fear.

I also give fish cars more room, as I do with cars driven by old men in felt hats. Call it profiling, if you must. But I trust drivers who believe there is everything to live for here, rather than those who openly proclaim that the point of life is to reach an idyllic eternity.


Category: American Culture, Bigotry, Communication, Culture, Education, Religion, Science, The Middle East

About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

Comments (15)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    "We live in a country in which Christianity is by-far the dominant religion…."

    I would phrase it differently, given that no significant portion of the U.S. population has ever given all they had to the poor, donned sack cloths and followed Jesus. While a significant portion of the U.S. might *claim* to be Christian, because it is self-flattering to do so, I don't see a significant portion of this SUV-driving, shopping-mall-loving country practicing that religion.

  2. Vicki Baker says:

    Good point, Grumpy.

    I'd like to add that the gospels give us no indication that Jesus ever formulated a coherent branding strategy, or even thought of himself as the originator of a new religious brand. But, as a friend of mine likes to point out, "Jesus never really reached his full earning potential."

    The epistles of the early Church do outline the beginnings of a brand strategy for the new movement, but there's no reference to symbols, logos, jingles, or other commonly accepted components of brand identity. Strangely enough, these early christians believed that showing love, mercy, patience, gentleness, and other "fruits of the spirit" was enough to establish their brand in the marketplace.

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    Russ sent me an angry response in private, but I feel like sharing.

    Dan, you are as wrong as you can possibly be, on each and every point you made. I won't even dignify your post with a response on the site. Your "clever" Darwin fish, and all the other ones you posted, are along the lines of having a swastika shown eating a star of David.

    You say that I'm as wrong as possible on every point, yet you didn't include one correction. How can you cure my total ignorance without showing me some evidence of it?

    First of all, it isn't "my" Darwin fish. I'd be more likely to use the FSM, if I were to use such. Did you even notice the Christian rebuttal icon, third down? The pro-Christian icon is the one shown eating Darwin.

    The swastika was (and still is) a Tibetan (and Nepalese, Chinese and Indian) symbol for self-realization and well-being, dating to millennia before the German Nationalist Party started using it. It is part of the Chinese character set in unicode.

    As usual, you have chosen to pontificate about something that you know nothing about. This time though, it was bordering on hateful. This symbol has been used since the beginning of the church as way for Christians to identify each other without being killed.

    Where in the 21st century United States is that fish symbol used "to identify each other without being killed"? That is the location, culture and context in question.

    A symbol is an image, is a representation, imbued with whatever meaning the viewer chooses to cast upon it. The letter alpha was long used for other things before its use to represent one who said, "I am the alpha…". It has been used for other things since. Symbols, words, images change their meanings depending on cultural context.

    Anyway, how many months after it was first used do you suppose it took for enemies of the church to generally know the symbol for what it was? My guess would be 6, given the slow communications along the Roman roads. You might argue as much as dozens. Certainly it was known by those who forsook Zoroaster for Mohammad several centuries later. It is now easily over 23,000 months after that secret got out.

    It is not a weak argument, by the way. In Muslim countries all over the world, converting to Christianity is a crime punishable by death.

    I must be stupid. I couldn't find any point in that column that explains either "cowardly" or "hypocrisy". There is no support or explanation of the contention in question; very weak.

    Anyone converting from the state religion to an unauthorized brand has always been at risk. In the 1600's, England exiled them to the New World. Many millions died by the sword (or other military means) for the crime of not being Christian, or even the right flavor of Christian. Ireland. Crusades. The Holocaust. Read about how Christianity flowed North from Rome in its first millennium. Learn about the ravages of the Knights of the Cross in northern Europe around the millennium.

    It is indeed cowardly to ridicule and parody such a symbol, when you know that no harm will come to you from doing so. Try sticking some anti-Islam stickers on your car. I dare you.

    I still don't get "cowardly".

    Posting a bold statement that "I'm not with them" is, at worst, not particularly courageous in this country. I don't have such things on my cars. I don't proclaim to every stranger that I do or don't believe in any particular god. I am more cowardly by not having such labels than I would be to display one.

    How about you and your friends being genuinely clever enough to create your own symbol instead of just making fun of ours.

    Why don't we un-affiliated non-believers use our own symbol rather than many parodies of others?

    I dunno. It's hard to get free thinkers to line up in lockstep under a single logo.

    The Brights have their logo: <img src="; alt="Brights Icon/Logo">

    American Atheists have theirs: <img src="; height="50" alt="American Atheists">

    Here's an assortment of 120 other suggestions

    Other religions don't seem to make so much of a individual graven image as do Christians. Just don't make an image that is supposed to represent Mohamed. Muslims are religious about avoiding certain graven images.

    Religions generally don't have separate public and private signs as do the Masons and the Christians. If the alpha is such an important private sign, the public display of such seems anathema to its own intent.

    By the way, have you ever stopped to wonder why you and those of like mind have no "parodies" of any symbols of any other religion? Probably not.

    If followers of other worldwide religions that openly deny the discoveries of science were to start making mass produced, shiny, peel-and-stick icons for the backs of their cars, I'd bet you would see parodies of those, as well.

    I'd be more concerned by the simple Jesus alphas that I see put backwards on cars that (by their other stickers) are obviously Fundamentalist Christians. Is that not a worse violation than mild parody by non-believers? Or is an upside down cross just as acceptable as right side up?

    Among the Christians whom you consider to be irrational idiots (i.e. Those who actually believe that the Bible is true and that Jesus is God) you would find these names;

    C. S. Lewis, George Washington Carver, Louis Pasteur (, Galileo Galilee ("God is known by nature in his works, and by doctrine in his revealed word.") Which one of these would you put yourself above, intellectually?

    Firstly, Pasteur is only noted as a believer in publications by the likes of Ken Ham (as you cited) and other websites by Creationists. Impartial biographies show him to be a Deist, at most. Read his own words in context. I grant that he did initially disagree very publicly with Darwin, the one who had a degree in Divinity.

    When did I ever call Christians "irrational idiots"? Galileo and later Newton did go by "God is known by nature in his works". Studying purely his works is what led to our modern understanding of nature, the extreme age of things, and the processes by which everything evolved to be as we now see it. Science could be loosely defined as the craft of studying God strictly through his works, rather than via his revealed word.

    As to "putting myself above, intellectually", I simply have a higher vantage point than they do. Wasn't it Newton who himself acknowledged the contributions of his precursors by saying that he stood on the shoulders of giants? I may be a mere gnat, but I have the advantage of standing on the shoulders of more giants than did those guys.

    Since you see so clearly that I know nothing about this subject, please tell me some detail about it that I don't already know.

    Keep in mind that my ignorance is reinforced by a couple of dense college courses on the growth and collapse of cities and civilizations in the middle east and Mediterranean basins from about 10,000 B.C. through the rise of the early Egyptian Dynasties. And courses in both high school and college on comparative religions, how they evolved and how they interact, philosophically and sociologically. Plus a degree in psychology that gives me some insight into thought, perception, and belief. Oh, and a degree in Electrical Engineering that primarily teaches mathematically how to model very complex things and their interactions. And my upbringing by an astrophysicist and a horticulturist, both teachers. I've also done some independent reading over the last four decades. And not just works of relatively open atheists like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Douglas Adams, and such.

  4. grumpypilgrim says:

    Indeed, Vicki, one of the objections to Christianity that Jews raised in the first century c.e., and apparently one of the reasons why Christianity failed to attract a significant following among the Jews, was that Jesus could not possibly be their messiah, because their *real* messiah would have been far more successful at attracting followers; i.e., would have had a far more convincing marketing campaign. The Jews of the time apparently believed that their messiah's appearance would be so utterly unambiguous that every Jew would recognize the event.

    This objection clearly persists to this day: if Jesus really was the son of god, then why isn't his message more compelling than it is? Inquiring minds want to know.

  5. Russ Anderson says:

    This silly little symbol is dear to Christians because of its history and its meaning. Obviously "The secret" hasn't gotten out everywhere, because it is still used by secret believers in many countries today. No, it isn't used in the "21st century United States" for that purpose. By the grace of God, we are still able to proclaim Jesus in this country without the fear of being killed. We can only be fired, suspended, arrested and or fined if we do it in the wrong place. But that doesn't give you license to mock it. Not unless you are finally ready to admit that you are not only atheist, but anti-Christian as well.

    You dare intimate that it was Christians who caused the Holocaust?! It was millions of Christians who risked, and oft times gave their lives to hide Jews! The Holocaust was caused by atheists, who firmly believed in "Natural Selection" and the "survival of the fittest". They believed that the Jews were an inferior race that must be exterminated to make way for the "Master Race". The Nazis (and most certainly Hitler) were NOT Christians.


    "National Socialism and religion cannot exist together…. The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity's illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity…. Let it not be said that Christianity brought man the life of the soul, for that evolution was in the natural order of things."

    This one, also by Hitler, could be a quote from someone on this website.

    "The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity."

    So don't spew that filth that Christians caused the Holocaust!

    Actually, atheists have been responsible for more killings than anyone in the 20th century. Here are just a few etsimates.

    Hitler – 20,946,000

    Stalin – 20,000,000

    Mao – 77,000,000

    In all the estimate of murders by communist regimes (and atheism is at the very heart of communism) is 148,000,000. That's four times the number of those killed in combat in the 2oth century.

    But then, this kind of killing is the natural outworking of atheism / evolutionism / naturalism. Natural selection, the survival of the fittest. Get rid of those who are inferior. If they can't keep up, then they must be pushed under to make more room for those who can. Right? Now, I can hear you saying, "What about all those killed in the name of Jesus?" Yes, that has happened (not in nearly so great numbers. eg. 1,500,000 estimate for the crusades., but it is NOT the natural outworking of Christianity. It is in fact the antithesis of it. You can not judge a movement or religion by the actions of those who only hold its name, but do not keep its doctrines. And if you truly knew the doctrines of Jesus, you would know that He NEVER said to kill someone because they don't believe in Him (and before you go there; yes Mohamed DID say to kill unbelievers, eg. Surah 4:89). But of course, you studied all of this in your comparative religions class.

    I could go on, but what's the point? You aren't going to listen. I doubt very much that you have even been giving any of this any thought as you read it. Instead, you have been trying to think of your rebuttal, like you've done so many times when we have had discussions. So I will close with the following….

    Some quotes from two of your "atheists":

    John Adams:

    We Recognize No Sovereign but God, and no King but Jesus! (April 18, 1775)

    “ The general principles upon which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principals of Christianity… I will avow that I believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

    “July 4th ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”

    "The Christian religion is, above all the Religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern Times, the Religion of Wisdom, Virtue, Equity, and humanity, let the Blackguard Thomas Paine say what he will; it is Resignation to God, it is Goodness itself to Man."July 26, 1796

    Thomas Jefferson:

    “The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend to all the happiness of man.”

    “Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern which have come under my observation, none appears to me so pure as that of Jesus.”(Letter to Benjamin Rush April 21, 1803)

    “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever.” (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781)

    "It (the Bible) is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus." (Jan 9, 1816 Letter to Charles Thomson)

    Do any of these quotes sound like they came from an atheist?

    If these are details that you "already know", then you must be knowingly telling lies.

    You may not think much of my education (most of which is self procured), but at least I do my research and tell the truth. It's sad that I can't say the same for someone with two undergraduate degrees.

  6. Dan Klarmann says:

    Wholesale killing and dense populations made mass murder a 20th century phenomenon. It wasn't possible to rack up such numbers earlier except in cases like the Pyrrhic Mongol invasion of the 13th century. Your number for the Crusades may be right, but consider that this was the death toll in fighting over which church rules an area now contained well within the small state of Israel.

    Atheism doesn't cause communism, communism required anti-theism. Communism is a state religion, and (as I mentioned in the blog and any historian can tell you) going against the state religion is very hazardous.

    The population of Germany was as atheistic in the 1930's as was the U.S. Maybe 1% (w.a.g). The non-Jew, non-Muslim population is responsible for what happened. Atheism was not the cause. If Christianity was such a blight to Hitler, why didn't he do something about those Christians besides supporting their churches? Many Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran churches were built under his rule. My mother was in Berlin to see it.

    Here's one quote by Adolf H, a self-proclaimed Catholic to the end:

    "The folkish-minded man, in particular, has the sacred duty, each in his own denomination, of making people stop just talking superficially of God's will, and actually fulfill God's will, and not let God's word be desecrated."

    Does that sound like it came from an atheist?

    One could argue (as I do for Adams and Jefferson) that politicians can always be quoted as crediting the popular gods for all good things. In the cases of those two, one can also find essays arguing that no higher power does any good for man.

  7. Erika Price says:

    A symbol, unless copyrighted, belongs to all people with the capacity to use it. Symbols have the great utility that they do only because of their wide range of possible uses, and the possibility that a symbols meaning might change. Words, of course, consist only of symbols, but the meanings and uses of words change in great amount over time. This happens because everyone gets to make use of the symbols, not just those who approve of its current meaning or the "message" behind what it symbolizes.

    But if anything, Russ, I would have to say you probably have consistency. I would guess you also disapprove of atheists blaspheming, or of even throwing around the name of your God at all, since we don't believe in the idea the word symbolizes. Do you consider it "cowardly" for an atheist to misuse/misrepresent the word "God" or "Jesus"? What implications does this opinion have, if any?

  8. Russ Anderson says:

    For me to take the time to fully respond to you, Erika, would be as pointless as this website. You just don't get it. Or worse, you do get it and just don't care.

  9. grumpypilgrim says:

    Russ wrote: "You dare intimate that it was Christians who caused the Holocaust?! It was millions of Christians who risked, and oft times gave their lives to hide Jews!"

    Russ, the two groups of Christians that you refer to in the above two sentences are obviously different groups of people, so your reasoning is nonsensical. Whether or not some Christians sheltered Jews, that issue is completely independent of the question of whether or not other Christians caused the Holocaust. Furthermore, although we can debate Hitler's religious beliefs (he was raised Catholic and his book, Mein Kampf, makes numerous reference to God), the fact is that most of the people in Germany and elsewhere who implemented his terrible policies were Christians. Likewise, the Ku Klux Klan declares itself to be a Christian organization, as does the neo-Nazi group, Aryan Nation. George Bush also considers himself a Christian (as do many of his supporters) and that hasn't stopped him from killing tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children in Iraq.

    Moreover, if you read the Old Testament within your own holy book, you'll find that the god you worship was no stranger to genocide….or infanticide, torture, incest, slavery…the list goes on and on.

    My point is not to disparage Christianity, merely to point out that your indignation is misplaced.

  10. Erika Price says:

    Russ, I do want to hear your response if you'll willingly give it to me. I honestly can't wrap my head around the criticism of the Darwin fish. The only possible interpretation I've come up with is that a nonbeliever doesn't get to use the symbol because it doesn't belong to them. I get the feeling from your response that I've got it all wrong.

    In another direction entirely, I must confess that I don't like Darwin fish. I think, if anything, they just further the fundamentalist belief that evolution/darwinism is a "religion" to those that accept it. But I don't really dig on bumper stickers much at all. Empty rhetorical conclusions without premises and all that.

  11. Erich Vieth says:

    Re the Jesus fish: Displays of pride in one’s own group are often façades for displaying social and moral superiority towards others. This is especially the case where the group is a religious group that claims to have a direct line of communication to the Creator of the Universe and where they claim that the Creator is going to treat members of their group better than He treats outsiders.

    In fact, no matter how hard the in-group spins it, displays of group pride ALWAYS have a troubling flip-side: Pride in one's in-group always involve some disparagement of those who are not members. Sometimes it's subtle and sometimes it's a raw slap on the face, but it's always there. What do yo think parents of struggling students think when they see those bumper stickers that read: "My child is an honors student at X school"?

    When I see those plastic Jesus fish on cars, I often interpret them as a way of thumbing noses at non-Christians. “We’re going to heaven and you’re not.” Or “We figured it out and you didn’t.” or “By putting this fish on my car I’m serving Jesus.” Or “I’m putting a plastic fish on my car in lieu of giving serious thought to pressing issues.” “Because I don’t have the patience to actually read the Bible—because it is rife with confusing statements and outright contradictions—I’d rather put just stick a plastic fish on my car.”

    Mostly, I think that the plastic fish displayer is trying to say: “I’m displaying this symbol of my in-group because I’m so damned insecure in those religious beliefs I publicly profess.”

    We don’t go around publicly professing things that are clearly based on evidence. People quickly start believing things that are truly believable. They don’t need to see the plastic fish to be convinced. They don’t need to be reminded to believe believable things every Sunday. From the pulpit, the preacher doesn't need to repeatedly say really true things like this: "The lights in this church operate through electricity. Next week, we'll again be discussing the fact that electricity is necessary for turning on the church lights. In fact, next month we'll have a big festival dedicated to this joyous fact where we will sing songs about the need for electricity to make the church lights work."

    If there is a heaven (and by all accounts, I won’t be admitted), I’d like to at least watch the special awards being handed out at the Pearly Gates to those people who bought their little plastic fishes instead of donating that money to desperately poor children. I can just hear St. Peter saying: “Great job driving around with that plastic fish. Come on in!”

    On the fungibility of dollars, see

  12. Russ Anderson says:

    I sent Dan an article about the use and misuse of the Christian fish symbol. I was hoping he would read it and begin to understand why (as I have expressed to him in past conversations) I find the Darwin fish (and other parodies of it) to be hateful and offensive. It may not mean anything to you, but it means something to us. And no, Christians do not, as some here have suggested, put the fish on their cars to thumb their noses at anyone. They do it simply to identify themselves as Christians. Why? Why do you care? Why does it upset you to the point that you feel a need to publicly ridicule and mock Christians by displaying a “parody” of this symbol? If you want to put a sticker on your car that says, “I am an Atheist”, go ahead. But leave the fish alone. No, we don’t hold a copyright on it. But there are some things that good taste and manners dictate that we just don’t mock or abuse. Do you think Koran toilet paper would be hilarious? I don’t believe in the Koran, but I wouldn’t think this was funny or appropriate. How about a big yellow Star of David with the word “Achtung” written across it as a new fashion statement? I don’t mind the sticker that says “COEXIST”, written out in the symbols of different religions. There is a difference. This sticker is using these symbols to make a valid statement, without being hateful. The “parodies” of the Christian fish are meant simply to mock. And they are mean spirited. The ironic thing is, on a lot of these same cars I often see stickers about “tolerance”. So, is it tolerance for everyone but Christians? I think that is very much what we are seeing today. In California, grade school children have been made to dress in Arab style clothing, take Islamic names, and learn and recite passages from the Koran, as a “learning experience”. Try that with a Christian theme and see how quickly the ACLU gets involved. But I digress. If you, as Atheists, or Pagans, or whatever, want to place a statement of your beliefs on your car, go right ahead. Just have some plain, common manners and leave our Christian symbols alone. As I said at the top, I sent this article to my friend, Dan, with hopes that he (and, maybe some of you) would finally get it. That you apparently don’t, is both irritating and saddening to me. That my “friend” used it to make yet another slam against Christians, has not only irritated and saddened me, but angered me, tremendously, as well. It has put a great strain on our friendship. Whether or not it is one that can be weathered is yet to be seen. I will say that, whereas I have come to expect it from strangers who just don’t want to understand, I am getting very, very tired of such attacks from a “friend”.

  13. grumpypilgrim says:

    Russ writes: "…They do it simply to identify themselves as Christians. Why? Why do you care? Why does it upset you to the point that you feel a need to publicly ridicule and mock Christians by displaying a “parody” of this symbol?"

    My answer: because the Christian religion, according to its own holy book, is about having a personal relationship with God, making the outward display of that relationship vain and vulgar and, thus, deserving of ridicule and mockery. It's the same as when a rich person flaunts his wealth, a brilliant person flaunts his intelligence, a beautiful person flaunts her beauty, a victor in a sporting event flaunts his win, etc.: it's simply bad taste. When Christians flaunt what they believe to be their salvation, it is both bad taste and hypocrisy.

    Russ continues: "If you want to put a sticker on your car that says, “I am an Atheist”, go ahead…."

    It seems to me the Darwin fish is very effectively sending the desired message, "I believe in evolution, not creationism." Accordingly, I would ask Russ the same thing he asked in his previous comment: they are doing it "simply to identify themselves as [evolutionists]. Why? Why do you care? Why does it upset you to the point that you feel a need to publicly [attack people for] displaying a “parody” of this symbol?" Russ, YOU are the one who is torqued about this issue, so it seems to me YOU are the one who needs to justify why being as torqued as you are is reasonable and justified.

  14. I think the existence of the Darwin fish as mockery of the flat earthers, as Dan claimed, is only justified if the majority of Christians who put up these fish on their car are indeed evolution-denying fundamentalists. Otherwise I would also find it offensive.

    The temptation to mock a group of people who pose the dominating majority, but nevertheless feel the need to use a symbol that in old times was used as a secret sign of recognition among persecuted members of an ostracized religion is great though.

  15. Dan Klarmann says:

    I found the following relevant informative response to this discussion in this one of the "Expelled" reviews response trees.

    Hitler wasn't an atheist. He sure wasn't a traditional Christian, of course, but he was sort of a neo-Pagan crypto-Christian who explicitly rejected evolution and based his racism on the idea that the 'races' had been created separately. The Holocaust owed far more to the virulent strain of anti-Semitism that Martin Luther embraced and fostered. That was certainly the motivation for the majority who actually carried out the crimes in person.

    As to the Communist states under Stalin and Mao – they also explicitly rejected neo-Darwinian evolution and embraced (and enforced) Lysenkoism instead. The resulting crop failures when reality failed to match up to "worker's science" killed millions, accounting for a substantial chunk – possibly a majority – of the death toll from those regimes.

    Ironically, the people under Hitler, Stalin, and Mao would have been better off if those 'leaders' had accepted neo-Darwinian evolution.

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