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These Fish Wars Aren’t About Food

These Fish Wars Aren’t About Food


Symbols are powerful tools for communication. Is there anyone who does not know what the golden arches stand for, or the Nike “swoosh”? The Canadian maple leaf for example, and the Olympic five intertwined circles convey images in our minds of completely different institutions – the one a country situated just north of the United States, and the other an international body regulating competitions in amateur sport. In Canada the “crown” refers in symbolic terms to the authority of federal or provincial governments. In the 1960s a circle with an inverted Y inside conjured in everyone’s minds anti-nuclear messages typified by the “Ban-the-Bomb” slogan. In science, a circle with an arrow attached, borrows from Greek mythology. It is supposed to depict Mars (the war god’s) shield and by inference, the male gender. Similarly a circle with a handle was chosen to represent Minerva’s mirror, and by inference, the female gender. Most people recognize these symbols for male and female.

Some symbols are very old. The rainbow was the first one. It was a token established by God that He would never again devastate the whole earth with a terrible flood. The rainbow was to be a reminder both to man and to God, of His promise to Noah (Genesis 9:13-17). Of course the most powerful symbol of the gospel is the cross. The New Testament Church had no doubt about the significance of the cross as a symbol for the good news of salvation. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (I Cor. 1:18).

Fish and fishing have a prominent place in the gospels. However the use of a fish as a symbol of the Christian believer, is a little more indirect. We are much given to acronyms today, like NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) but the Greek word “ichthys” (meaning fish) is an acronym for the names of Christ – namely Iesous Christos Theou Hysios Soter or Jesus Christ, of God the Son, Saviour. Some authorities attribute the first use of the fish as a symbol of faith to Tertullian, a prominent author and apologist of the late second century. Whatever the source, the “fish” has, through the centuries, been understood to identify Christian believers. Until recent years, the symbol was not widely displayed outside of religious institutions. However as society has become more secular, some Christians have taken to decorating their cars, or other property, with the fish symbol. This is considered to be a low-key method of testifying to one’s faith and possibly also of making contact with other believers.

It appears that some Christian symbols are tempting bait for secular philosophies. The rainbow, for example, has now largely been claimed by the New Age Movement. Similarly, about 1984, a man called Chris Gilman of Evolution Design, cast covetous eyes on the fish symbol and he decided to expropriate it for an evolutionary message. He modified the fish symbol by adding two legs and filling the body cavity with Darwin’s name. The implication was that some ancestral fish had developed legs long ago and emerged onto the land, thereby bringing about a critical step in the process of evolution.

Within the past five or six years the public has gradually become aware of this corrupted version of the Christian symbol. In several issues of Earth magazine, for example, in 1995 and 1996, a company called Ring of Fire Enterprises advertised the “Darwin fish car plaque”. In the 1996 December issue of Earth magazine, an even more insidious modification was offered for sale. It was the “dead fish” plaque. This variation has been characterized as the “anti-religious fish.” Of course all these symbols are a put down of Christian faith, but the dead fish is probably the most blatant of all. One wonders why a magazine devoted to earth science would print a symbol which is disparaging to a large sector of the general population. Do they not expect some Christians to be among their readers or do they not care what Christians think?

The usurping of an ancient Christian symbol by Darwinists begs the question why they feel so threatened by Christians? Theistic evolutionists claim to be both Christian and Darwinist. Many scientists however deny that the positions can be blended. These latter scientists point to the Genesis account of creation and they take their understanding of the Christian position from these pages. Secular scientists do not like Genesis, but they know what the Bible says about origins. These scientists therefore equate Christians with belief in a relatively recent six day creation week. In rejecting this view of origins, many scientists also reject the gospel. It seems extremely simplistic but that appears to be the basis of the “war of the fish symbols”. An article on the topic in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (August 2, 1997 p. 3) proclaimed that an age-old battle over the origin of man was being waged on car bumpers. “On the one side are the die-hard believers that the Bible story of creation must be taken literally. They call themselves Creationists.” On the other side are the Darwinists. The article points out that there are people in the Christian camp who also support Darwinist theory. So why is there this contest for a symbol which claims only to identify Christians in general? An article in the Fresno Bee, December 7, 1996 p. B7 suggests the answer “The co-opting of a religious symbol by the Darwinists also helps emphasize the point that every discerning student of the issue already knows, namely that the evolutionist mind-set is essentially a metaphysical or religious one.”

There seems little doubt that prejudice against Christians is rampant in professional scientific circles. An article in the journal Science (August 15, 1997) had some interesting things to say about this issue. According to author Gregg Easterbrook, since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 “relations between science and religion have been seen by many as a hostile exercise in which one side’s gain is the other’s loss.” According to this article, many scientists attribute young earth creation attitudes to all Christians. Geneticist Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health, refers to the standard assumption of many scientists that anyone with faith has “gone soft in the head” and that no such individual is worthy of tenure (job security in academic institutions). Dr. Collins, who co-directed the team that identified the gene for cystic fibrosis, claims to be a Christian and rational. He believes that young earth supporters do serious damage to the credibility of other scientists who are theistic evolutionists and thus rational like him. But the creationists can’t win. James F. Mahaffy, Associate Professor of Biology at Dordt College, claims that creationists are too rational! Referring to Phillip E Johnson’s book Reason in the Balance Dr. Mahaffy remarks “I also see him using too rationalistic an approach in the book. Even though he is good at criticizing some of the young earth folks for being too rational, it is almost as if reason has not been affected by the Fall.” (Pro Rege 24 #1 p. 28) The amusing thing is that the views of Drs. Mahaffy and Collins may well be close except for their characterization of young earth creationists.

Thus in general, in a society that claims to promote tolerance and the banishing of discrimination based on race, religion and creed – we nevertheless perceive an astonishing degree of prejudice against Christians on the part of many influential scientists. The mid-August article in Science also quotes a scientist who maintains that “In the postmodern academic culture, the majority of scientists think that to be taken seriously they must scoff at faith.” And of course many among the public have been exposed to the views of Sir Richard Dawkins who believes, according to the Science article, that anyone who believes in a creator God is “scientifically illiterate.”

We have become so used to scientific put-downs of Christian faith that these pass almost without notice. An Associated Press story published in the Edmonton Journal (August 18, 1997) featured a photograph of the archeologist involved. There was a controversy over human remains washed out of the Columbia River in Washington State. The story had nothing to do with ultimate origins, but the scientist wore a white T-shirt with a prominent “Darwin fish” across the chest. Without a single mention of this man’s views, we nevertheless learned that he supports Darwinism and rejects the Bible’s account of how we came to be. In Canada we have seen few Darwinian corruptions of the fish symbol. In more populated parts of the continent however, the situation is apparently different. According to one on-line commentary on the topic, “Americans are joining the fray and choosing sides at unprecedented rates.”

Symbols are certainly a superficial level on which to conduct any kind of philosophical exchange of views. However it is important for us to be aware of the implications of the symbols and to keep an eye on the situation. Who would have imagined the family car could be a vehicle for propaganda!

Margaret Helder
August 1997

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