Cute, but grossly inaccurate


Oh, man, this gets so much wrong. Sentient life did not evolve 600 million years ago; that was roughly the time that true multicellularity arose. Unless you consider something spongelike to be sentient, it doesn’t work.

Intelligent life did not first evolve 2.5 million years ago. Animal intelligence is something that has to be measured on a continuum. Molluscs are intelligent. It’s just not the same kind or degree of intelligence that tool-using humans have.

Intelligent life hasn’t evolved in Texas yet.


  1. Andyo says

    Wow, hard to imagine dinosaurs came about just about 2/3 the way between the first multicellular organisms and us. It’s a freaking long time ago!

  2. Nerd of Redhead says

    Well, some Texans appear to be trying to evolve intelligent life. But it’s an uphill fight that makes the Alamo look like a fistfight.

  3. Andyo says

    By the way, I’ve been asking people I know the simple question “how old do you think the earth and the universe are?”. I have never, gotten answers even close enough to a factor of 1000 of what is known. Is this normal, for people who don’t obsess with popular cosmology and science? (Can’t say I obsess with non-popular science, I can’t read a paper to save my life.)

  4. E.V. says

    Many of my fellow Texans (okay, a few of my fellow Texans) are aware that the anti-evolution forces have made the subject simply a means to an end for most students; a few factoids to be regurgitated at test time and quickly dismissed as another pointless academic exercise mainly because the instructor doesn’t elaborate for fear of riling the creationist activists or, in a more insidious manner, that the instructor doesn’t support evolution as a viable explanation. There are YEC science teachers in middle schools and high schools here in the Lone Star State, and until we can supplant them with less dogmatic teachers we have an uphill battle.

    Side note: Recently a local kid was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. Guess what he is going to study? Theology. *headdesk*

  5. says

    Many would say (and check the dictionary) that “sentient” can just be, able to have sensations – which perhaps Cambrian life could have, hard to say. “Intelligent” is iffy, but usually when we talk of “finding intelligent beings” in the universe etc., we mean up to tool making, language, etc, so 2.5 million is close. Texas? Heh, debatable.

  6. rob says

    I agree with Neil, I don’t see such problems in the use of sentient and intelligent and the associated dates…yes they are on a continuum, but I think its a decent estimate of what we generally mean by both terms…..for instance a sponge might be about as primitive an animal as we could imagine feeling pain in any meaningful sense of the word.

  7. says

    Well, it’s an editorial cartoon, not meant to be an actual science lesson. It’s just making a humorous point about how far behind Texas and the dolts who govern it have been lagging, in comprehending science in the 21st century and how to teach it to students. I can allow a little artistic license if the theocrats take one on the chin.

    And as for intelligent life down here, hey, come on…cheap shot! Don’t let the marching morons make you forget about the Texas Freedom Network, Texas Citizens for Science, or the Atheist Community of Austin! (plug plug)

    PS: Since when does one have to sign in to TypePad to comment here? MAJOR rectum pain, I don’t mind saying. Is this another attempt to minimize theotrolls?

  8. Nerd of Redhead says

    Is this another attempt to minimize theotrolls?

    PZ is running a short term experiment while he is in the great white north. Feel free to ready your reply when he returns to the sunny warm climes of Minnesota.

  9. Bob of Quantum-Faith says

    Well, seeing as how the only thing separating us from a state of total ignorance is the Red River, it would be nice if Texas evolved some intelligence.

    Then, perhaps, some would filter up into Oklahoma…. (which has the ignominious distinction to be the only idiot state who’s every county voted for McSame…)

  10. recovering catholic says

    #5 It’s nice to see that PZ isn’t infallible. As for the rule internalization, well, it is his blog, after all…

  11. E.V. says

    Bob of Quantum-Faith:
    Well obviously you never heard about the Texas moron who moved to Oklahoma and raised the mean I.Q. of both States. Say hello to Sally K. for me (on second thought , just kick her in the nads, she’s got balls).

  12. says

    Actually, imo, it is both funny and accurate. I think it is referring to this week’s 8-7 vote in the Texas State Board of Education which successfully (but just barely) blocked creationism from entering into the science curriculum, at least for now. Texas Freedom network was live-blogging the proceedings, which can be read here:

  13. says

    Obviously the cartoonist is a hard-core vegan/animal rights person who doesn’t believe in a “species barrier”. You can call sponges sentient – they have their own experience, right? ;)

    My sister knew someone who got a bat in her office, refused to call the proper authorities because she thought they would kill it, and put it in her fridge hoping it would hibernate. Then she forgot about it and went to Australia. The bat died.

  14. Andyo says

    Ha! I gotta show that cartoon to my friends, it was pretty funny and right to the point. From Godtube, who’d have thought.

    By the way, those church signs are an internet meme. There are websites where you can type stuff and it’ll generate an image with what you typed on the sign. Most of those pics you see on the internet might be fake, though who knows with these crazy people. There’s also a Stephen Colbert “on notice” sign.

  15. Alan Fox says

    That old kook JAD and his talking hemmorhoid have been boasting about spamming Pharyngula, as Martin has recently discovered proxy servers. I’ve noticed quite a few inane posts with their fingerprints over them lately.

  16. Dawn says

    OK. Trying this old typekey signon I had. Unfortunately, it uses my old commenter name. Anyone figured out yet how to change it? Dawn

  17. Dawn says

    Ooops. It did use my name (I really don’t remember how I set up the typekey account…it was very long ago). But, it would be nice to know how you can change it if possible.

  18. TFK says

    I think the cartoonist should be commended for celebrating the TSBE’s decision, not derided for scientific inaccuracy. The cartoon references the appearance in the fossil record of three of the biggest events in the evolution of our species–the earliest life, the Cambrian explosion, and the earliest hominids.

    Although the descriptions could be more accurate, the dates are in the appropriate orders of magnitude (remember, the creationists’ dating of the earth’s age is off by five orders of magnitude). Just as the orbital model of the atom gives students a base for learning quantum mechanics, a general model like the cartoon (and as Raytheist points out, it is only an editorial cartoon) helps give the general public an introduction to earth history.

  19. says

    Agree with Neil and Bob above that “sentient” is best used to mean capable of feeling sensations. “Intelligent” is a vague term, but to be more precise I think “sapience” is better for indicating the higher end of the intelligence scale occupied by us, great apes, and possibly whales.

  20. faux mulder says

    it’s a cartoon…let it go. by the way, is that a caricature of mohammad behind that one bush?

  21. Josh says

    Organisms in the Cambrian certainly had sensations. Trilobites, as one example, had sense organs.

    And if we’re going to throw “having sensations” on a continuum toward being “sentient” in the sense that we normally use the word, then it might be interesting to note that trilobites (which first show up in the Early Cambrian, ~520Ma) were not at an end of that continuum. They had fully formed eyes. The end of the “sense continuum” is much earlier even than the base of the Cambrian (currently placed at about 542Ma).

  22. Arnosium Upinarum says

    I’d have to go along with Josh (#28) on his BROADER definition of ‘sentience’.

    And if ‘sentience’ – by Josh’s definition – has any correlation with the notion of ‘self-awareness’ or ‘consciousness’, then these must obviously be referring to the same continuum: a level of organized complexity in a given system that achieves some measure of “adaptively” responding to stimuli from its environment.

    The notion of “adaptation” is itself loaded with the distinction associated with “survivability”, but in the end, we have to admit that even a pebble in a gravel pit “responds” to real physical “stimulus” from its environment: it just can’t do a whole lot about resisting forces (like erosion) that act to disintegrate it as a “system”, as defined at any given point in time.

    The conclusion we can’t escape is that the processing of ‘sensory information’ represents a continuum of intelligence, and that – once again – humans really AREN’T as specially distinct from the rest of the biological world or the ‘inanimate’ universe has they so often keep imagining.

    We aren’t at the center of ANY kind of universe…EXCEPT as individual observers with particular points of view, who can only gauge all they can survey from their viewpoint (a “center”). But those come at a dime per dozen quadrillions upon quadrillions: EVERYTHING is the “center” of its own particular observable universe: the idea of SPECIAL centrality is rendered completely trivial by the great gobs of system viewpoints that exist. With virtual particle-antiparticle pairs pooping into and out of existence in the false vacuum, one can reasonably claim that this state of affairs exists (virtually at least) everywhere.

    A single quantum interaction between particles is an information-processing system. THAT’S the true low end of the continuum. It all boils down to the entropy – the amount of order – in a system. If a hydrogen atom so much as absorbs a photon its electron is shoved into a higher-energy orbital. That is verily a “system” which has “responded” (through “sensory mechanisms”, one can be sure!) to a “stimulus” and has thereby been altered.

    There’s nothing in the slightest anything about this basic process which is fundamentally “different” from that which extraordinarily complex information processors like human brains do when employing sophisticated sensory organs to acquire information to process. The interactions involved leading to the processing already constitutes “response”. The output of complex processing leads to a behavioral response which is hopefully appropriate to the continued survival of the really really complex system…

    That’s why I can’t get jazzed up over any mention of “sentience”, “self-awareness” or “consciousness” as meaningful qualifiers: these are utterly MEANINGLESS concepts UNLESS one adopts the kind of definition Josh suggests: but then of course one risks flirting with New Age idiots who will nod knowingly RIGHT IN YOUR FACE while not understanding a damned friggin’ thing you’ve just told them.

  23. Andyo says

    “Dawn” #22,

    You’ll just need to create a new TypeKey account (now TypePad), because the old accounts use your account name for your profile. The new ones use a code (see mine).

  24. Dave2 says

    And if we’re going to throw “having sensations” on a continuum toward being “sentient” in the sense that we normally use the word

    Um, I’m sorry, but how do we normally use the word? It means “having sensations” or “capable of having sensations”, especially pleasure and pain.

  25. says


    I wasn’t trying to suggest PZ was doing anything. My blog views had become desparately low and I had nothing especially on topic to which I could link. I figured a post of a cartoon was a good place to put up an unrelatable link since it isn’t like this is a hot topic in the way of comments.

  26. Liberal Atheist says

    Andyo @4:

    I have the impression that most people at least know it’s got something to do with “billions of years” so they’re somewhere in the right ballpark at least. But it’s true that unless they are actually interested in science or happen to remember those things from school, they’re not really sure about things like that.

    As a something of a space [nerd|advocate|fanatic], I’m always surprised that people don’t know the basic stuff about that… but I have to remember that I don’t know as much about other fields of science. I see it as a great opportunity to teach them a little about such things if they want to.

  27. Josh says

    Um, I’m sorry, but how do we normally use the word?

    Sorry, I was trying to be brief. “Normally” was probably a poor choice of word. I was thinking of “normally” the way that I interpret how it’s commonly used (i.e., how I’ve heard it used in casual conversation: to refer to human-esque consciousness). I should have actually written that.

  28. Andyo says

    Liberal Atheist #34,

    The closest answer I’ve gotten was like $1000000 (one million). I often get an answer in the thousands, and these people are not fundamentalists. Most aren’t even very religious. They always say they don’t know though, so they phrase their answer as a question (“I don’t know… a million?”).

  29. Andyo says

    Yikes, I don’t know why I put the dollar sign there. Guess too much impersonating Nigerian princes will do that to you.

  30. says

    Intelligent life hasn’t evolved in Texas yet.

    Hey! As an intelligent Texan who has been fighting these reactionary blowhards since 1994, I resemble resent that remark!

    And incidentally, that cartoon was done by Ben Sargent; he’s one of the good guys here in Texas.

  31. Dr. Robert says

    Howdy! Another person living in Texas (moved here, didn’t evolve here) who isn’t happy with the SBOE’s failure to adopt their science curriculum team’s recommendations – which was worded as:

    Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking, scientific reasoning and problem solving skills to make informed decisions within and outside the classroom. The student is expected to:

    [deleted wording: (A) analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information;]
    [recommended wording:]
    (A) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing.

    [ Comment from recommendation: Current (3)( A) has been changed by removing the terms “strengths and weaknesses” and by adding more specific scientific language. ]

    I have yet to find anything written other than in the newspapers and on the internet about this “sufficient or insufficient” language.
    You can find audio files of the January public hearings and committee meetings here:

    As a person with a PhD. in Curriculum and Instruction, I am finding it unacceptable that the SBOE appears to be composed of people with BAs and MSs, some with little expertise in curriculum, although at least most have some experience in instruction, the main problem is that this is an elected board, which means they are primarily politicians and not professional educators.

    Dr. Myers, given the publicity raised over the way Texas determines its Science curriculum and the blatant disregard and disrespect the SBOE (or at least half of the SBOE) shows to the professional Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and curriculum professionals who provide their recommendations, what would be the chances that a high school graduate from Texas would gain entrance to a quality University as a Biology Major in competition with a matched student from each of the other states in the USA? One in 50? Or less?

    And what do you think of the “sufficiency or insufficiency” of the language in the proposed standards?

    I think anyone who reads the standards, completes the curriculum, and is able to use logical reasoning will laugh at the creationists all the way to church, if he or she chooses to join in some form of social activity that includes an imaginary friend called “God”.

    I would like to see Cynthia Noland Dunbar apply the “sufficiency or insufficiency” of Darwin’s theory of evolution to explain the immaculate conception. And the resurrection. I guess those mutations didn’t help those folks survive and pass their genes on to the greater gene pool. Good thing. With over 6 billion on the planet, we don’t need virgins giving birth, too.

  32. says

    Somewhat, but not completely, O/T,

    Attenborough reveals creationist hate mail for not crediting God, Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent …

    Sir David Attenborough has revealed that he receives hate mail from viewers for failing to credit God in his documentaries. In an interview … about his latest documentary, on Charles Darwin and natural selection, the broadcaster said: “They tell me to burn in hell and good riddance.”

    … [Saying] he was asked why he did not give “credit” to God, Attenborough added: “They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator.”

    Attenborough went further in his opposition to creationism, saying it was “terrible” when it was taught alongside evolution as an alternative perspective. “It’s like saying that two and two equals four, but if you wish to believe it, it could also be five … Evolution is not a theory; it is a fact, every bit as much as the historical fact that William the Conqueror landed in 1066.”