There’s a new Google doodle out that’s illustrating evolution and I wanted to briefly mention it to y’all because it’s very cool.
Google doodles are little cute drawings or animations that people see on the search engine’s main page in place of the big Google logo. They commemorate, honor, and celebrate all kinds of stuff–from the Olympics to the beginning of the school year, from holidays all over the world to natural disasters. Sometimes they’re just images, sometimes they’re animated, and sometimes they’re even interactive (here, let me book your day solid with this one. Consider it payback for the TVTropes links). Occasionally they target a specific country with the doodle–as they did on November 24th, with one specifically set to run on computers in Turkey to commemorates this country’s Teacher’s Day.
If you’re seeing this blog post a bit late, here’s the writeup about the wide-release November 24th doodle from the folks at Google themselves. You see, November 24’s doodle celebrates the 41st anniversary of the discovery of that world-famous Australopithecus afarensis skeleton quickly nicknamed “Lucy.”
As the Google explanation piece explains, this skeleton’s discovery completely changed our understanding of our earliest origins. The BBC–you know, the news outfit run by the British, those masters of wild and wacky effusiveness–puts it simply like this: “The ‘Lucy’ fossil rewrote the story of humanity.” Thanks to Lucy’s skeletal remains, we know a lot more about how our earliest ancestors walked, lived, and ate. And we began to learn about our complicated journey to modern humanity–namely that Lucy’s species might or might not be one of our direct ancestors, but certainly they’re twined up in the family tree somewhere. We’re still studying Lucy–and learning from her–so maybe one day we’ll find out exactly where she fits.
Certainly Google could have chosen something else to illustrate for November 24th than Lucy’s discovery. Here’s a whole list of stuff that happened that day, and here’s a partial selection of those events for your perusal:
1655: Oliver Cromwell bans Anglicans as part of that period of English history called the Interregnum.
1759: Mt. Vesuvius erupts, which isn’t that weird though.
1954: Air Force One is christened.
But Google went with Lucy. She was central to our very understanding of our entire species–and I’ve heard folks in science say that her discovery got quite a few of them interested in studying and researching the subject of our ancient origins. Out of everything on that one site’s list, out of all the epochal and minor events listed, out of all the incredible and small-scale events Google’s people could have picked, I would agree that Lucy’s discovery is probably the most central to the entire human experience.
As you can imagine, though, a particular group of people got very, very upset about this doodle. And you can imagine which group that was.
Angry Creationists Are Angry.
I wouldn’t call Creationists a particularly tolerant or genially benevolent bunch of people even on their best days, but something about this doodle got them downright riled. I guess there’s nothing like public repudiation on one of the world’s biggest websites to make someone feel a bit, well, stung.
Ken Ham railed about the doodle on his blog, linking the embracing of scientific discoveries to “man centered religion” and “moral relativism.” He got in a few digs at the President and tried to claim–without basis, of course, since he doesn’t actually understand the science he’s discussing–that Lucy was “just an extinct variety of ape” with “nothing about her to suggest that she’s a transitional form between ape-like and human-like.” (Oh well, Ken, you can’t win ’em all. Or much of any of ’em at all, for that matter.)
Meanwhile, Tech Times outlined a few of Ken Ham’s fellow Creationists’ (erroneous-)catchphrase-laden comments on Twitter, complete with their misspellings and caps-lock raging. I’ll spare you the really racist jackasses though:
“Its a THEORY people, not proven science!!!” — @4696_MamaEll
“@google fuck off google preaching we went from a monkey to a man. People need to hear the truth not lies!!!!” — @charliegillno1
“END THE MONKEY WORSHIP NOW, @google OR ELSE” — @kbkinderparty
And one must say to that last rather threatening-sounding one, “… or else what?”*
Of course, people who understand the Theory of Evolution were quick to respond on Twitter:
Ironically, if Christians used Google often and properly, they wouldn’t be offended by #GoogleDoodle
— Joshua Kelly (@JoshuaKelly116) November 24, 2015
I had a couple of observations to make about this tempest in a teapot.
First, Google’s doodle people knew without a doubt that this was going to be the reaction they were going to get. I refuse to believe that the people who run what is arguably the world’s biggest search engine didn’t have any idea that Christian Creationists would be upset with them.
And they ran the doodle anyway.
Christians have shown time and again that they’re perfectly willing to use any tactic necessary to silence dissenters and critics–including and especially fear. They, like other religious extremists, will target children. They’ll murder people. They’ll prey on trusting folks in other countries. If they can’t persuade, then they’ll terrorize to get their way. Fear is one of the two elements of Christianity (the other being greed, though one might well make the case that greed is based in fear as well). Without fear, I haven’t the foggiest notion what modern Christianity would even look like–and I don’t think the Christians who are most attached to fear as a marketing tactic would know either.
But this time, Google didn’t care what a bunch of fear-addled, barely-restrained, violence-advocating extremists thought. They saw a really important date in human history and decided to make that their doodle of the day.
Second, one only wonders what these Creationists would have done if Google had featured another event that occurred on November 24, in this case something that happened in 1859.
You see, that’s the date that Charles Darwin first published On the Origin of Species.
The mind just boggles, doesn’t it?
Evangelical Christians who buy into Creationism went into overdrive a few years ago to push their pseudoscience on the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday on February 12th, an informal celebration called Darwin Day, but such Christians don’t generally know much at all about specific discoveries like Lucy. The whole reason that Christians like Ray Comfort tend to focus on Charles Darwin is that they think his groundbreaking book is some kind of Bible for non-believers, which is why Mr. Comfort had to publish his bizarre and twisted distortion of the book–to knock Charles Darwin’s work down enough pegs that maybe his pseudoscience might start sounding more credible as an explanation for life’s origins (because nothing screams integrity like creating strawmen to knock down and failing at it anyway). But aside from sniping like Ken Ham did in his blog post, I don’t really hear a lot out of Christians regarding Lucy.
So had Google done something so blatantly science-affirming as to celebrate a work that NPR tells us “has been called the most important book ever written,” a book that led to the scientific discoveries that actually helped us frame the entire discovery of Lucy and which continue to frame how we see the very appearance of life on our entire planet, I really wonder what Creationists would have done.
I’m betting it wouldn’t have been pretty. But it sure would have been amusing. Now, understand please that Google featured Charles Darwin once already back in 2009, on what would have been his 200th birthday, but I don’t remember any Christians freaking out over it. Maybe they still weren’t so sure how to use Twitter or weren’t as bold on comment forums on blogs as they are now–or maybe they weren’t feeling quite so stung and defensive over what has been a solid string of catastrophic defeats in every single arena they’ve dared to enter. This freakout over the past day or so definitely has the rancid whiff of flop-sweat behind it. They may be posturing and thumping their chests with both fists, but they know. They know. And they’re on an all-out offensive to claw back as much of their onetime power as they can before it’s gone forever.
The rest of us, though, are starting to lose our nervousness about offending extremist Christians. It’s about time. Just like Nancy Pelosi famously dismissed right-wing Christian Michele Bachmann’s furor over the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), we’re starting to say, “Who cares?” Indeed, who cares what a bunch of religious zealots think about the journey forward? What are they giving us that we need so desperately that we must keep deferring to them and humoring them?
The Broken Clock.
Ironically, Ken Ham was right about one thing on his blog post: the doodle is an indication of where our culture is headed, all right. Oddly, Jesus sure doesn’t seem to be answering Creationists’ prayers to magically change everyone’s minds, so they’ve got to work this out on their own. Either these science-denying fundagelicals** figure their asses out before we leave them behind in the dust, or, well, they get left behind in the dust, but either way this doodle is a very visible sign that they’re quickly running out of wiggle room to make up their minds about just how they want to proceed from here on out.
I’m feeling good today. This is another thing I’m very thankful about–that folks are less scared of fundagelicals’ increasingly-impotent wrath. The costs of dissent are growing more bearable for more people. Yet another huge company has shown that it doesn’t care about alienating zealots.
And I’m even more thankful to have another wonderful opportunity to reflect on how stunning it is that we’re starting to understand the story of life on Earth. Far from thinking that life is meaningless if a god didn’t create the whole thing from magic, I think the sheer mind-boggling improbability of humanity makes life even more precious because it is and always has been ours to make and move forward.
Cowards and heroes, saints and sinners, beggars and nobles, humanity’s story is written in our very genetic code. Consider your family tree and tell me that you feel nothing at the thought of all those nameless faces, of all their sacrifices and struggles. Because I sure as hell feel something. What we have, we made ourselves with no gods mucking around with us either to help or hinder. What we are, millions of generations fought and clawed and bled and fucked to make with no supernatural forces to blame or thank for it.
I may not be able to personally thank all those many ancestors in my family tree, but I can still feel gratitude for what they did to get me here–because make no mistake, it was all their efforts and not any gods’ actions that did it.
And that’s probably a good way to sign off just before Thanksgiving.
So much for a short post, eh?
* It’s pretty par for the course for Creationists to grow belligerent and pugnacious when challenged. When those teachers and parents rose up against the Dover, Pennsylvania school board to protest the board’s attempt to sneak Creationism into public school science classes, a protest that eventually became Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in 2005, the good, loving, wonderful Christians in that area were very quick to show them their very best Jesus imitation by ostracizing them, insulting them, harassing them, vandalizing their stuff, and physically threatening them–and those plaintiffs were hardly alone; the Freedom from Religion Foundation has documented a truly alarming number of similar cases where the same thing happened. I can feel that Christian love from here.
** It’s important to note that Creationism, as a belief, might be pervasive among fundagelicals–as in fundamentalists and evangelicals–but it’s not unique to them, nor is it completely endemic. Not all fundagelicals are Creationists, and not all Creationists are fundagelicals. Creationism isn’t about Christianity vs. atheism or secularism. It’s about “a shrinking number of religious extremists with a childishly simplistic view of theology” vs. “all of established science and those who understand and accept that science.”