Evolution v. Creation Metaphor Watch: Is Evolution a Frog-to-Prince Fairytale Fit Only for Nursery Children?

Given that most people do not have advanced degrees in mathematics or the sciences, debates and discussions surrounding evolution and creationism appear in the public square in the form of competing metaphors, similes, and extended analogies.

In other words, we use metaphors, similes, and extended analogies to simplify and grasp issues that might be otherwise inaccessible to us.

Hence we can keep a look-out for the ways in which our use of language, especially metaphorical language, frames and structures discussions of evolution and creationism.

Today’s metaphor comes from a young earth creationist book—perhaps the most famous of these types of books ever made—Duane Gish’s Evolution: The Fossils Say No!—in which evolution is likened to a nursery story.

In Evolution: The Fossils Say No!, which was first published in 1972, Gish equates evolution belief to a child’s naive belief in the fairy tale of the “Frog Prince” (p. 17):

While evolutionists deny the miraculous in the origin of living things, the evolutionary process, given enough time, supposedly produces miracles.

Thus,

FROG + t=instantaneous———-PRINCE = NURSERY TALE

but

FROG + t=300 million years———–PRINCE = SCIENCE

The analogy functions as a kind of retort to the embarrassment and shame that young earth creationists surely must feel when explaining to a credulous outsider that, yes, in fact, they do take the first chapter of Genesis literally, as well as the story of Adam naming the animals in the Garden of Eden, and also believe that a snake held forth in conversation with history’s first woman.

Equating evolution with the “Frog Prince” story is thus a way for a young earth creationist to deflect attention away from what it might entail to take Genesis literally, and to say, “See, evolutionary scientists believe in things that sound like fairy tales also! Aren’t they childish and silly to do so!”

Gish’s analogy also exploits the general difficulty (for most people) of imaginitively tracing causes and effects very far or efficiently back into the past, especially over vast periods of time.

If we had “world enough and time” we could certainly follow all the small, contingent steps that have led from the first amphibians, many millions of years ago, to human beings today, so that a “frog” becoming a “prince” would at least not be perceived as a supernatural miracle (though a “wond’rous strange” phenomenon to have happened in the universe).

In other words, most of the contingent steps, in and of themselves, would seem unremarkable, and some, in retrospect, would look extraordinarily lucky, but if we could, as it were, play this movie out again, frame by frame, it would not be incomprehensible to us—though certainly breathtaking.

Thus a competing analogy in retort to Gish’s might be to think of your own life.

How many small steps that might have gone in different directions, but didn’t, have resulted in where you are today, at this moment?

Who could have predicted it all in advance?

If you were born, for example, in Memphis in 1968, to a single mother, on the day of Martin Luther King’s assassination, how on earth did you wind up, in 2008, as a Barack Obama delegate from Florida, at the Democratic Convention in Denver, with a wife who was born in Poland under communism?

It seems like an odd, even miraculous route, over just forty years, to go from where you were to where you’ve landed, but if you could play the movie back, it might all look like it made sense—and was even inevitable—and yet, at any point the “movie” might have veered in a completely different direction.

How much more so, to play the movie of life on earth, beginning with amphibians, and see all the contingencies of natural selection play out, for 300 million years?

That things would have stayed static would have been the truly miraculous occurance.

Something wild—and completely unpredictable—would seem bound to happen over such a time, in a world suffused with swirling energies and in reproductive competition—and it did—inumerable times, again and again. 

Two of those wild things was Barack Obama—and you.

How “wond’rous strange” is that?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Evolution v. Creation Metaphor Watch: Is Evolution a Frog-to-Prince Fairytale Fit Only for Nursery Children?

  1. Ken says:

    Even though Darwin used metaphors in his writing, it is hard to make the case that what he wrote is a “fairy tale,” even if one uses that expression metaphorically. The case that science is based on a fairy tale is not convincing.

    Nevertheless, I have seen in nature writing, in the writing of Loren Eiseley, for example, doubts about whether chance and necessity are sufficient to explain life, or even to explain natural selection, and the observation that some scientists may have unfounded faith in their epistemology and metaphysics.

    In addition, in nature writing, in the writing of Aldo Leopold, for example, I have seen the use of mythical imagery and apocalyptic visions to describe life.

    As a writer, I don’t know how we can avoid metaphor and myth, nor how we can live without them, nor how we can avoid counting on some things to be true, even if we see that they are expressed in myth and metaphor.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Ken:

    I certainly agree with you that the contingencies of existence that brought us to this point in history—frogs to princes—are difficult to fathom—and might bring a reasonable person to a divine explanation of some sort.

    Even when we think of our own individual lives, they often seem utterly improbable as to how they arrived at the places that they have (as in the Talking Heads song, where the guy thinks about his wife, his house, and utterly perplexed says, “Well, how did I get here!”).

    All of us, whether religious believers or not, should not lose our sense of wonder—the sheer contingent ubsurdity of all that is going on around us and in us.

    How groovy strange it all is. Who needs LSD?

    As a guru once said, rejecting an offer to try LSD: “If you’re already in Detroit, you don’t need a bus to Detroit!”

    We’re all already in Detroit—if we would just open our eyes.

    That’s why Gish’s analogy works—however faulty as a serious critique of evolution as a science. It plays on our perception that existence is, indeeed, mind-boggling and “wond’rous strange.”

    But we could connect any starting point with any other and ask the same question: “How did x-state in the past turn into this current y-state?” For example, we could ask, “How did the Holocaust lead, by a gazillion contingencies and improbabilities, to life as it currently is in California in 2008?”

    Or “How did the fact that you turned left at a stop sign 10 years ago—when you might have turned right—lead you today to living in Alaska—as opposed to France?”

    We are in the territory of Ovid’s Metamorphosis—why everything is always changing into something else.

    And we are also in the realm of James Burke’s wonderful video series, “Connections.” If you’ve never heard of these, check them out at amazon.com.

    —s

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