But analyzing it takes all the funny out of the joke!

Lots of you have been mailing me this comic today, 9 Chickweed Lane, because it contains a bizarre proof of god. I know, it’s supposed to be funny, but let’s take it seriously just for a moment.


To summarize the argument: Darwin’s theory predicts a progressive increase in human intelligence, refuting the Christian account; people are stupid; therefore, Darwin is refuted; therefore, god exists.

I assume the humor in the comic lies in the blatant illogic of the silly rationale the pompous ass in the blue overalls is bloviating (I hope…I don’t read this one very often, so I don’t know if the artist is one of those pontificating nitwits who really believes his captions [see Dilbert; see Poe’s Law]). But anyway, every step of his reasoning is wrong. Evolution does not predict a progressive pattern to our intelligence. The Christian account is an unsupported assertion instead of a description of the natural world, and many people interpret it in many different ways which do not necessarily preclude the observed natural distribution of intelligence. People are actually smarter than most, if not all, other species — compare us to cockroaches, for instance. Therefore, neither Darwin nor his strawman Darwin are refuted. Even if it were, though, disproving evolution does not mean one among many possible other alternative theories are proven.

OK, I’m done. Stop taking it seriously. You may now resume laughing at the arrogant fool in the comic strip.


  1. says

    All the things he describes are what you’d expect, if we were dragging millions of years’ worth of genetic baggage.

  2. says

    I guess it’s reflective of a population which for the most part doesn’t understand what evolution actually is.

    Marge Simpson: “I can’t wait to see what evolution will make next. Maybe a bird with a people face. Or a bear with pants on.”

  3. Tobi says

    You left out the obvious:
    Blue overalls basically makes the claim that humans are the most vile creatures that exist on the earth. The Bible claims that humans are the only creatures on earth to have been created in the image and likeness of God. Thus God must be either as vile as or more vile than humans.

  4. Raynfala says

    The gentleman in the blue overalls — named Thorax — is a regular to the strip. His character is noted for speeches that combine equal parts nonsense, highly esoteric thinking, and cynicism.

    Just to put it in perspective, the guy claims to be from another planet, and also claims to have a quantum singularity in his toolshed.

    That should put things in perspective — sort of…

  5. Holbach says

    Evolution is as uncaring as the Universe. They both evolved through the laws of physics and chemistry and do not know or are concerned with our development for good or bad. We are, after evolution, what we make of ourselves, whether we make up imaginary gods or travel through space. This so so obvious and realistically the realm of atheism.

  6. Jyotsana says

    I’ve read this comic off and on for a while. Thorax (the man in the blue overalls) is a rather curious and amusing character. There’s always been a question (for me, at least) as to whether he really believes the nonsense he’s spouting, if he’s just bullshitting, or, since it is a comic, if he’s genuinely telling the truth. He claims to be from another planet, and I seem to recall at one point he claimed to have trapped a singularity out in the barn. He claims to know god on a first name basis (Monty). As to the author believing his own stuff, I would be very surprised if that were the case. I don’t know him, nor have I ever met him, but Mr. McEldowney seems very intelligent and normal on his blog ( http://officialpibgorn.livejournal.com/ ). But as with any conjecture, I could be wrong.

  7. Brian D says

    9 Chickweed Lane is usually rather smart, but their methods of displaying this lies in the depth of ignorance a few of their characters sometimes display. Thorax (the ‘arrogant fool’ here) is perhaps the greatest example: in the past, he’s lampooned politics by talking about how folks use it as a means of self-gratification, about religion by referring to god as ‘Monty’ (apparently, his personal relationship with him extends to first-name basis) and so forth.

    Think of the character as sort of like the comics page’s Wonko the Sane — a characterized example of Poe’s Law applied to inanity and absurdity. If Thorax goes into a long speech, chances are each and every step of logic is absolutely wrong, but the final conclusion is usually disturbingly close to what we observe in society. (In one particularly epic segment, over a long period of time, he managed to do this using almost nothing but Republican talking points rephrased to emphasize their absurdity.)

    Oh, and I wouldn’t worry about 9 Chickweed Lane being pro-religion or anything. For the longest time, a prime target for its comedy was the Catholic church (several main characters were students in Catholic schools under bizarre, byzantine teachers). It wasn’t exactly anti-religion either (it probably wouldn’t have been published if that were the case)… it’d be more accurate to say that it endures religion for the comic potential.

  8. Jyotsana says

    D’oh! I didn’t refresh before posting. Raynfala (#5) said it much more succinctly than I did :)

  9. Torbjörn Larsson, OM says

    I’ve just recently started to read 9 Chickweed Lane. But I doubt the rationale of the comic is that evolution is wrong. The “pompous ass”, Thorax, is a dimension (and comic, see the author’s Pibgorn) shifting alien whose often perplexing diatribes and affectations of pompousness shows the errors of politics and religion by pushing the examples into absurdity.

    But I think Brooke McEldowney may be laboring under a common strawman of evolution. Which is mysterious, since he majored in biology.

    Ah, well.

  10. Torbjörn Larsson, OM says

    Yeah, I too should have refreshed, both Jyotsana and Brian D are characterizing this splendidly.

  11. xebecs says

    Is that a new strip? I tried looking it up on Comics Curmudgeon, which frequently lampoons 9 Chickweed Lane (and many other lame comics), but could find no references to that particular item using the Search feature with Darwin or Evolution as keywords.

  12. JoJo says

    McEldowney is neither a creationist nor a bible thumper. He writes and draws an intelligent cartoon which is often social satire. As others have noted, the character Thorax is a pompous, arrogant twit who may be insane (or may actually be a space alien). Thorax’s flights of logical are not to be taken seriously.

    Incidentally his Pibgorn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an excellent adaptation of Shakespeare’s play set in 1930s New York.

  13. Rob Helmerichs says

    For what it’s worth, the guy Thorax is pontificating to is Monty…i.e., God. Who doesn’t seem entirely impressed by the argument.

  14. cicely says

    xebecs @ 12:

    Is that a new strip? I tried looking it up on Comics Curmudgeon, which frequently lampoons 9 Chickweed Lane (and many other lame comics), but could find no references to that particular item using the Search feature with Darwin or Evolution as keywords.

    Check here: http://www.comics.com/comics/chickweed/

    I think it only allows you to check out a month’s-worth of back strips (at least, that used to be the case), presumably because he wants to sell the previously posted material in dead-tree format.

  15. says

    Not much to add, except another vote for McEldowney and his two web strips 9 Chickweed Lane and Pibgorn. Thorax is a frequent vehicle for outrageous social satire. I don’t know if the misconceptions of evolution are actually McEldowney’s but I definitely wouldn’t assume so.

  16. Miko says

    While we’re overanalyzing things, let’s look at the logical structure of the argument.

    We define the following propositions:

    p: There is a (Christian) god.
    q: The theory of evolution is essentially accurate.
    r: People are essentially intelligent.

    Then, the argument presented is:
    1. If q, then r.
    2. If q, then not p.
    3. Not r.
    4. Thus we conclude not q
    5. Thus we conclude p.

    4 follows logically if we accept 1 and 3 (denying the consequent). However, 5 doesn’t follow logically even if one accepts 1-4 (as it’s an implied denial of the antecedent).

  17. says

    9 Chickweed Lane is one of my favorite comics. It is elegantly drawn satire. It has academia, religion, politics, ballet, music, regular gay characters, pretty much everything. As a dimension-shifting alien, Thorax is a real screwball, by Earth standards, and also a black-belt cynic who writes an advice column on an old typewriter. God is the little guy in the suit.

  18. Andy James says

    Even if it is serious, is assumes God is a maker of faulty things. Whereas the process of Evolution is assumed to lead to superior organisms. An interesting distinction if its from a creationist.

  19. Hairy Doctor Professor says

    #17: I think he ended Pibgorn; shot and killed the title character, as I recall.

    In Pibgorn, which is in the middle of a story right now, death is (most of the time) a nuisance at best, and is hardly ever completely permanent. I’ve been reading both Chickweed and Pibgorn for about 4 years now, and find that on average it is well worth the effort (although I didn’t care for the Midsummer Night’s Dream story arc very much). Thorax is either a crazy New Hampshire dairy farmer with delusions of cootdom, or he really is a being from another galaxy with god-level powers, or both. The frames of reference do get a little slippery when he’s around.

  20. fusilier says

    Cicely, #17
    Pib is alive and…erm…uhhh…maybe “well” isn’t the appropriate word…over at
    It is a tad racier than the editors at coomicsDOTcom were willing to deal with, and McEldowney got tired of the censorship.

    James 2:24

  21. says

    I know this is OT but I need an opinion if you wouldn’t mind. I received this in as a e mail the other day and it is referring to today’s happenings.

    Bev Slough is my school board representative.

    Here’s the e mail text:


    Bev Slough asked me to forward this to interested Liberty Pines Academy Parents — hope you can attend!

    Group 1 Durbin Creek Elementary Pat Falany 2:00-2:30 Chuck McArthur Bob Gauger Kim Cott?
    Group 1 Landrum Middle School (PV) Wayne King 3:00-3:45 Chuck McArthur Bob Gauger Kim Cott?

    Group 2 Liberty Pines K-8 Randy Kelly 2:00-2:30 Wes Slough Wayne Bauer Mike Oliver?
    Group 2 CreekSide High School (unconfirmed) Paul Appatinozzi 3:00-3:45 Wes Slough Wayne Bauer Mike Oliver?

    Dear Pastor,

    Here is the Prayer Schedule for this Coming Sunday. We look forward to praying in your schools. Our custom is to meet in the school office area and proceed through the school praying God’s blessing and providence over each classroom and student. Parents, Teachers and Students are encouraged to join us. Many pastors joined us last week while others could not make it, For those who are available we are praying again this week in four more schools.

    Bob Gauger
    Associate Pastor
    Switzerland Community Church”


    So … is this legal?????


  22. Nightcap says

    I’ve been a fan for quite a while now. It takes a bit of time to get into, but it’s exquisitely drawn and beautifully worded. You missed a bit of the humor: the balding fellow with the black mustache *IS* God. See the August 17th strip, in which Monty explains that this planet is a beta version, which Thorax would know if he’d bothered to read Monty’s memos.

  23. says

    As Andy @ #20 hinted, the joke is that only God could have created something like horrible creatures that are humanity that Thorax sees. And this of course speaks to the nature of this god: it can’t even create the beauty and elegance that one one might expect from purported evolutionary processes.

    That is to say, if one is a Creationist and denies evolution, and uses arguments such as Thorax’s, it necessarily implies God < Evolution. Well, that's my take on it the comic is saying.

  24. gjbivin says

    The real explanation is that intelligence is an evolutionary dead end and is in the process of being selected against. If you need proof, just watch the presidential campaigns for a while.

  25. says

    Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say that there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.

    Frank Zappa

  26. chuko says

    One of the main characters of 9 Chickweed Lane, Juliette, is an (apparently) atheist biology professor (and a single mother). She’s always depicted as a sympathetic character. The character is smart, acerbic, and a loving parent who values scientific thinking – probably the most positive portrayal of a scientist on the comic pages.

  27. Tim says

    May have to start reading that strip, but life isn’t “IMPROVED!” so much as better matched to it’s environment. (But you knew that.) Western civilization is a, uh, unique environment, of late and might encourage a quality of character best expressed in song… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXTN3h-b9nU

  28. Susan says

    probably the most positive portrayal of a scientist on the comic pages.

    Yes. Plus it is beautifully drawn.

  29. says

    intelligence is an evolutionary dead end and is in the process of being selected against.

    It does seem that way. There’s no evidence that oversized brains are somehow an advantage for survival.

    peak oil, over population, endless warfare.

    Compared to successful species like crocodiles or sharks, humans don’t seem all that viable in the long run.

    But who knows?

  30. articulett says

    Genes and memes evolve to make better copiers of themselves– not “superior creatures”.

    If mendacity, stupidity, poor impulse control, ruthlessness, horniness, and religiosity cause creatures to preferentially survive and reproduce– then those are the the traits widely distributed in the descendant populations.

    We “uppity” atheists and educated rationalists don’t pass on our genes in quite the number as our less stellar peerage. And thus our genes are under represented in the population– Just as evolution would predict!

  31. cicely says

    fusilier up at 25:

    Thanks for the info and the link. I had just gotten into Pibgorn when it seemed to end abruptly; since there weren’t any new strips posted there, I assumed that it was all over. Now I can put it back into my favorites!

  32. justawriter says

    chuko, you forgot to add that Juliette has discovered that jungle print underwear (tiger, leopard, zebra) has the ability to cloud the mind of University administrators, even though she is otherwise very conservatively dressed. Maybe PZ will find that useful someday.

  33. JohnB says

    PZ, actually I’m reading it entirely different. He seems to be setting the reader up by voicing the evangelical’s position in the first frame–with all its misconceptions intact, then articulating the problems with that position in the second: “mendacious” “ignorant”, “repugnant”, “ideologies over ideas”, “loud self-righteousness over quiet integrity”…

  34. says

    It’s interesting that almost every single qualification he names as a refutation of evolution is something that would actually cause someone in our society to reproduce more, validating evolution.

    Let’s not forget, the people who do the most breeding the ones too dumb to use birth control, too irresponsible to consider consequences, and too inexperienced to know better.

  35. says

    Let’s not forget, the people who do the most breeding the ones too dumb to use birth control, too irresponsible to consider consequences, and too inexperienced to know better.

    So am I correct in taking that what you are saying is that the progress that society has made to reach this point has allowed the less intelligent much more likely to breed in the future?

    The Idiocracy is nigh…

  36. Matt Silb says

    The point of the comic is not is there a god or is there evolution but, rather, boy humans are a horrid lot.

  37. Tex says

    Stacy@ 26

    So … is this legal?????

    I am not a lawyer, but even I can tell that this isn’t anywhere close to legal. It violates the bejezus out of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

  38. Liberal Atheist says

    I only heard of 9 Chickweed Lane after they included Hilary Hahn in it, so I don’t know much about it.

    But reading this one about Darwin and evolution and God, it seems to me they’re not making a case for God. I could be wrong.

  39. Rob Bos says

    Please to be noting that he is speaking with Monty. Thorax is on a first-name basis with God.

  40. tim Rowledge says

    Thorax frequently makes ludicrous statements to devastatingly good satirical effect.
    Chickweed is best, however, when utilising cute ballet dancers in skimpy leotards.

  41. Owlmirror says

    As noted above, this Sunday’s comic is a sequel to this one from a few weeks ago.

    Note that the point is that Monty — “God” — on the one hand states “That runs counter to all my precepts regarding natural law, evolution, and the universal struggle for perfection” (basically espousing theistic evolution of a sort), then undercuts his own point by claiming this planet is a beta release, which of course supports Thorax’s argument that the world is one of “shabby workmanship, poor quality, and imminent obsolescence”.


    Both the previous comic and this weeks’ get in subtle digs at God.

    By the way, Thorax bloviates and malapropriates through a wedding ceremony in an amusing manner, as seen here:


  42. Owlmirror says

    Incidentally, addressing the previous comic, I wonder if the ozone hole is necessarily the best example of shoddy workmanship on earth. What might be a better one?

    Hernias? The mismatch between the infant human skull and the human pelvis?

    Or on a more global scale, the eruptions of the Deccan Traps and/or the Yellowstone Caldera? How about the Chicxulub impact?

  43. Christophe Thill says

    My refutation in a few words :
    It takes intelligence (in the technical sense) to be really stupid.

  44. Frederik Rosenkjær says

    What’s the blue guys point? People are really stupid and bad, so they must have been made by God?

  45. Ferin says

    The artist actually seems to think rather poorly of relgious institutions and fundies, though she has used god in the strip a few times, and I don’t know what her stance is on atheism. I think this is more of a jab at the way people act than at science or Darwin itself.

    For reference, the pompous ass cahracter is a named Thorax, and is a crazy old coot who happens to believe/is(there are many ggags that rely on the idea that he mgiht be) an alien from a highly advaned society that has been sent (through a qunatum anomaly in a shed) to earth to observe us. He refers to god as Monty.

  46. Sarcastro says

    That’s, basically, the theory of devolution.

    We’re pinheads now, we are not whole.
    We’re pinheads all, Jocko Homo.

  47. rarusvir says

    Reminds me of a line out of the 2001 movie Waking Life. While contemplatiing the slow change (evolutionary) of mankind, the character says; “What is the most universal human characteristic, fear, or laziness?”

  48. LightningRose says

    PZ, with all due respect, I think you’ve spent far too much time in academia.

    As someone who has spent a full 12% of her life in corporate cubicles implementing the technology that has made things like this blog possible, I can assure you that Dilbert is dead on.

  49. Torbjörn Larsson, OM says

    this Sunday’s comic is a sequel to this one from a few weeks ago.

    Okay, then it makes more humoristic (and satiric) sense to use the strawman. (Which works as a primary gag in any case, just wasn’t especially funny in social context.)

    Dilbert is dead on.

    Dilbert’s creator has proven himself a scientific deadbeat, especially regards biology. So he doesn’t get much leverage on the science blogs I have read.

  50. Robert Morane says

    The problem with the cartoon is that it shoots itself in the foot:

    If people are stupid and most people believe in God, then belief in God is stupid, since stupid people believe stupid things.

    But belief in God can be stupid only if God doesn’t exist, for believing in something true cannot, by logic, be stupid.

    But if God exists, then belief in God cannot be stupid, and therefore most people – who believe in God – wouldn’t be stupid.

    So if the claim “people are stupid” is true, then there is no god, and therefore evolution is true.