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Samuel Butler’s Anti-Evolutionist Satire

Samuel Butler.jpgAn email correspondent writes to us here and laments that the contemporary ID movement lacks humor. Where is the Mark Twain or Grouch Marx of intelligent design?
As an example of what he misses, he points to the writing of the 19th-century anti-Darwinian writer Samuel Butler whose famed novel Erewhon satirizes evolutionary thinking, among other things. In the story, the protagonist visits a fictional dystopia called Erewhon which provides an occasion for Butler’s sending up various aspects of Victorian culture, including Victorian science:

I remember one incident which bears upon this part of the treatise. The gentleman who gave it to me had asked to see my tobacco-pipe; he examined it carefully, and when he came to the little protuberance at the bottom of the bowl he seemed much delighted, and exclaimed that it must be rudimentary. I asked him what he meant.
“Sir,” he answered, “this organ is identical with the rim at the bottom of a cup; it is but another form of the same function. Its purposes must have been to keep the heat of the pipe from marking the table upon which it rested. You would find. if you were to look up the history of tobacco-pipes, that in early specimens this protuberance was of a different shape to what it is now. It will have been broad at the bottom, and flat, so that while the pipe was being smoked the bowl might rest upon the table without marking it. Use and disuse must have come into play and reduced the function its present rudimentary condition. I should not be surprised, sir,” he continued, “if, in the course of time, it were to become modified still farther, and to assume the form of an ornamental leaf or scroll, or even a butterfly, while in some cases, it will become extinct.”

Well, it’s funnier than Louis C.K., the comedian that nowadays you’re required to find hilarious if you want your friends to think you’re smart but whose every quoted pronouncement is completely non-humorous.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.