Writing by Lilli Steffens. Writing by Berenika Murray.
“Question Evolution”. These two words, accompanied by a cross, have recently appeared on Edinburgh’s North Bridge, sprayed multiple times in black paint on the makeshift wall erected for construction purposes. Nothing more is provided. There is no hint, except for the suggestion of a religious - Christian connection - as to where the questioning might lead, only the request to critically examine the scientific principle of evolution. The graffiti, although quite plain, is getting attention, even generating several responses, which range from scribbling over it to adding a decisive “fuck off” beneath the solemn cross.
Although a very rough sketch, the graffiti on North Bridge can be considered an artistic rejection of evolution. Even though it does not offer an alternative to evolution such as creationism (the belief that humans and all other species were created by divine will), it falls in line with art doubting or rejecting evolution. This form of artwork is as old as the Theory of Evolution itself. When Charles Darwin first published his “On the Origin of Species” in 1859 and theorised the development of the human species through random, natural processes, cartoons were published questioning his credibility. Examples include caricatures of Darwin as a monkey, amongst worms and several other appropriations of his theory of natural selection.
The introduction of Darwin’s theories may have caused some confusion at its time, but why do people continue to question evolution today? Common among the reasons for questioning evolution is the complex-design or “watchmaker analogy”. Critics of evolution express disbelief in our environment and its complex structures and mechanisms largely developing coincidentally, as theorised in Darwinism, instead theorising that these structures must have been designed intentionally.
North Bridge’s anonymous graffiti artist seems to imply that this rejection is connected to religion, specifically Christianity. Evolution does not coincide well with the creation of man as described in Genesis (if one takes the bible literally). And, even though leaders of the major Protestant and the Catholic churches have made statements that endorse evolutionary theories, such as the Catholic Church’s acceptance of evolution under Pope Benedict XVI in 2002, more conservative and fundamental believers continue to embrace creationism. “Concerned by the propaganda that is promoting the theory of evolution as if scientifically proven”, groups such as the Creation Science Movement based in Portsmouth express their beliefs through several outlets, one of them being the Genesis Expo, a creationist museum. In a literal interpretation of the creation as described in the bible, the Expo puts modern humans alongside dinosaurs and fossils, to locate the origin of all life in the creation around 5000 years ago.
This model of a creationist museum originates from the United States, where fundamental religious beliefs are more common, and 38% of the population support creationist beliefs according to a 2017 survey. Perhaps the most prominent example is the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, showing the Garden of Eden populated by dinosaurs, amongst others. Creationist museums such as these are more extreme examples of the rejection of evolution, building specifically on biblical texts and their literal reading as well as pseudoscience in order to justify their standpoint.
But what about non-religious motivations behind rejecting, or at least questioning, evolution? In an “Evolution and Outreach” study from 2011, Warren Allmon argues that non-acceptance of evolution is only partially due to religious beliefs. In actual fact, Allmon points to insufficient knowledge regarding topics such as genealogy, as well as a general false perception of sciences. Corresponding to this, around 13% of British people did not know if they believed in any explanation for the origin of human species in polls conducted between 2006 and 2012, despite evolution being widely accepted by scientists across all fields, as well as being backed up by continuously developing data and studies. According to the Pew Research Centre, 97% of scientists worldwide support the idea of evolution over a long time. Between evolution and creationism, between acceptance and rejection, we find the North Bridge graffiti: “Question”, or disbelief, or confusion.
“Question Evolution”. Not deny, or reject, simply “Question”. After a survey of Darwin as a chimpanzee and Eve and Adam amongst dinosaurs, this seems a rather moderate view. Questioning something implies a discussion before outright rejection, but it also means the installation of doubt and, above all, the notion that there might be an alternative answer. “Question.” A simple enough task, seemingly small and individual, and yet a driving force behind some of the social developments seen in recent years. Question the validity of the election, question scientific researchers, question the vaccine. Cultural expression of rejection and doubt, while almost comically illustrated through Neanderthals tending to dinosaurs, is also found in anti-mask rallies and protests outside polling stations, or inconspicuous graffities.
Evolution takes humanity down from its place on the throne of divine creation. Instead, it suggests that we were the result of chance, maybe some trial and error, and are by far not the finished result. But it is a scientifically proven theory, examined and developed by several generations of scientists. Questioning evolution, whether by preferring creationism or by searching for alternatives, by presenting these ideas with wax figures or scribbling them on walls, does not seem the right way out of this mess. Because without belief, or acceptance, or understanding of scientifically proven fact, the confusion will only grow.