19th Century Evolutionism

Darwin in Pop Culture


darwin book signing

Unlike most academics of times gone by, Darwin is alive and well in Pop Culture today.  He makes himself at home on the internet through memes, demotivational posters, and the absolutely hilarious Darwin Awards.  Even if they never studied the Theory of Evolution in school, most people have a least a passing familiarity with it, and when it is mentioned Darwin is the name that most people associate with it.


survival of the dumbest

Memes are everywhere.  They appear on nearly every social media site.  They can be found taped to office doors and breakroom walls.  Memes are used as a way of sharing an ‘in-joke’ with complete strangers on the internet.  What the “Darwin Facepalm” lacks in popularity he makes up for with sass.


natural selectionI like my memes as much as the next gal, but I find demotivational posters to be much more entertaining.  The best Darwin-themed demotivational posters I’ve found involve the Darwin Awards.  There’s the cliché of ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ and a demotivational poster can tell a short story.


darwin award nose drill

Don’t deny it – we all like to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude from time to time.  One of my favorite ways to do so is by visiting the Darwin Awards website. (http://www.darwinawards.com) The site describes the Awards as “Honoring Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool – by removing themselves from it.”  The awards are bestowed upon men and women whose stupidity got them killed.  There are also ‘Dis-Honorable Mentions’ given to ‘At-Risk Survivors.’  Natural selection isn’t as much “survival of the fittest” as it is “the ability of the fittest to darwin award gunreproduce successfully.”  With that in mind, it is unfortunate that the Darwin Awards don’t always help the process of natural selection because some of the ‘winners’ had children before receiving their Award.





flying spaghetti monsterAnother accidental contribution of Charles Darwin to Pop Culture today was the formation of a new religion.  For a while, in the early 2000’s there was talk about teaching “Intelligent Design” in biology classes instead of evolution.  In response, Bobby Henderson wrote a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education saying that if they were going to teach children about Intelligent Design, then it would only be fair if they were taught about the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  The letter was obviously satirical and meant to discourage the teaching of religious vs scientific theories, but in the way that all things on the internet happen, it went viral.  Members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster refer to themselves as ‘Pastafarians,’ and the religion is recognized in the Netherlands and New Zealand.

{For more information: (www.venganza.org) or (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster#Internet_phenomenon)}

Image Citations (In Order):







Darwin in Pop Culture

19th Century Evolutionism

Spencer: The Unsung Hero of a Modern Conservative

I do not consider myself to be an extremist on many topics. I don’t have strong feelings about the death penalty or how to regulate the economy other than some “common sense” laws to keep corporations from abusing workers or the environment. I believe in an individual’s right to own certain weapons with proper regulations and precautions. I believe people should be allowed to exercise some choice in their own lives without government intervention. I believe in people’s rights to their opinions. I do not believe, however, that oppression is an opinion.

Oppression is not an opinion.

For the past several turbulent years it has become more and more obvious to a growingly disgruntled America that we might not be as “like-minded” as we all thought. Differences in opinion on the economy and how an individual’s income tax worked was once less—charged. Little differences in opinion have far deeper and stronger implications than many people realize. The roots of the modern American conservative trace back much further than anyone might care to admit. We often like to herald ourselves as superior in knowledge and opinion to those who lived in the 1800s, but the very platform of the conservative parties of the United States are based on the work of a sociologist by the name of Herbert Spencer, who (plot twist!) coined the term “survival of the fittest”. It was Spencer that Darwin’s theory of evolution was influenced by.

Spencer’s beliefs are what the modern conservative relies upon to justify their political views. In a country where the conservative side often uses arguments of morality against their political opponents, Spencerism gives them a “moral” excuse for why their policies are often less than kind, loving, and Christianly. Spencer was of the belief that the “weak” (aka the poor) would be eliminated as the more enterprising and astute individuals would continue to thrive. To offer the weak welfare and assistance was to simply extend their misery. Jesus must have just been prolonging the destitute’s miserable lives by giving them bread. It would be kinder to just let them die off sooner, Spencer would argue.

Though Spencer’s beliefs were quite critical of the poor they were not much kinder to the rich, as many conservatives might be surprised to find out. The rich were also idle and unfit. During the time of industrialization, it was the modern entrepreneur that worked hard to build up his business that may have been considered the “fittest”. Now in a system in which the rich often inherit their wealth (much like the noble elitist “idle” rich Spencer criticized) the conservatives have taken only half of Spencer’s “truth” to make their policies and leanings seem somehow less cruel.

Those who champion the term “survival of the fittest” deny those with less means the access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or property, if you’re into John Locke more than Thomas Jefferson). They would argue that those who cannot work themselves up from rags to riches are somehow less fit to be alive, completely ignoring the disadvantages those very people face in a system rigged against them. It is odd how over time meaning gets lost. Ironic, almost. The modern conservative fails to see how the very foundation they base their lives upon would be against them as well, in its original meaning. Those who inherit advantage should not actively oppress the less advantaged on the basis of “survival of the fittest”—they themselves are not demonstrating enterprising and astute qualities any more than the idle rich of Spencer’s time.

19th Century Evolutionism, Durkheim, General Theory

The Organic Analogy and Biology

By Jessica Hebert

The organic analogy is an analogy that compares society to a physical organic being. This analogy is used by the social theorists Spencer and Durkheim to make sense of society, but is used in biology to compare living organisms to societal components.

Within this analogy Spencer, a social theorist, compares the individual parts of a society to certain organs within one organic body. He shows how societies can sometimes continue to function without certain elements, organs. For example, if a human loses an arm they can still continue to function. On the other hand, humans wouldn’t be able to function without other organs like the heart. Spencer also compared societal complexities to organic life. Societies that are more complex can be compared to complex life-like mammals or the human body, while societies that are simple can be compared to single-celled organisms or cute little amoebas. This is important because the idea is the more complex a society becomes the more specialization occurs so you end up with specific organs for certain jobs rather than multi-functioning parts of a creature. I am not sure what organs Spencer felt fit which aspects of society best, but I’m sure this would be enjoyable to draw a picture of especially considering my complete failure to understand biology.

This brings me to my second point. I have seen this analogy used often, but most memorably in when learning biology. In contrast to Spencer, the analogy was using society to understand the functions of the internal parts of a cell. Every year in science class and then for the final time in high school biology, I heard this analogy being used to explain the function of the different parts of cells. I remember most that the Golgi apparatus is the post office, and the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.


The analogy was being used in this way because it is assumed that the students would better be able to understand the function of portions of a cell by comparing it to portions of a city. This is where I feel both the social theorists and biology teachers have made a mistake. Now, to understand a cell there needs to be a simultaneous understanding of how a city functions as a whole. There needs to be a fundamental understanding of biology and how organic beings function for Spencer’s analogy to be of any use. If biology is making assumptions to compare society to biology, and sociologists are making assumptions on top of that to compare biology to society, it becomes even more convoluted as the assumptions falsely reinforce each other.

I argue instead of understanding the functions of a cell in the context of a society or the functions of a society in the context of an organism there should be a strive to avoid analogies like this that create confusion and are incomplete in themselves. To use these analogies you have to criticize connections in two separate worlds and make connections which manage to make understanding more complex and oversimplified at the same time. The analogies of course don’t fit perfectly, but even if they did they just make understanding a cell or society more complex than it needs to be. Instead of comparing one to each other they should be explained without analogy. Instead there should be a focus on understanding what a mitochondria does for the cell itself without pretending a cell is a city just to turn it back into a cell again. I may not have had a simple phrase to throw on  but instead understood really what went on inside the cell without having to also understand what a post office does, (which is a lot more than move and sort packages, but just assume these assumptions are accurate for sake of argument.)  

The same applies for Spencer’s analogy. There is less error if a kinship system stays a kinship system rather than having to debate which system of a larger organic body to which it is most similar. Even if the analogies were to fit perfectly, it creates an extra step that needs to be debated and assessed in an attempt to simplify, it only makes the understanding more complex since there would have to be an equally complete of biology as well as society. Analogies don’t help anyone in these cases when there is desire to truly deeply understand a concept and should be avoided. At least I know the mitochondria is the powerhouse of cell, whatever that means. 

19th Century Evolutionism

Unilineal Evolution





This Lego structure represents unilateral evolution. The first light blue portion is a maze of dead ends with one path leading to the next stage of human culture. This earliest culture represents so-called simple hunter gatherer societies.  In the next section there is one large door with a smaller door leading out. This represents feudalism or societies with city states, that have a well-defined religious and upper class. Only a few societies manage to pass through the small door. Where they advance into semi-modern thinking societies, as the car crash represents many societies get stuck at this point and then revert to an earlier stage. The white plank represents cultures that have successfully made it to industrialization. However if a civilization becomes industrialized it may still not reached the peak of civilization. This peak of civilization is represented by steering wheel, a fully industrialized society. Usually whichever society the theorist belongs to.