Variations of the ichthys symbol
The ichthys symbol, or Jesus fish, typically used to proclaim an affiliation with or affinity for Christianity, has many variations. Some of these are made by Christians in order to promote a specific doctrine or theological perspective, such as evolutionary creation. Other variations are sometimes intended for the purpose of satire. Both the traditional ichthys fish as well as its variations, are often seen adorning the bumpers or trunks of automobiles, often in the form of adhesive badges made of chrome-colored plastic. While the ichthys symbol dates back millennia, the satirical images known today first appeared in the 1980s.
Christian ichthys symbols
The traditional Christian ichthys symbol usually contained the Greek word ΙΧΘΥΣ (ichthys or pisces), translating to "fish" in English. Some variations, called the "Jesus fish", contain the English word "Jesus" in the center, or are empty entirely.
The Darwin fish is an ichthys symbol with "evolved" legs and feet attached, and often with the word "Darwin" inside (like the ΙΧΘΥΣ or Jesus found in some Christian versions). It symbolizes the scientific theory of evolution, for which Charles Darwin laid the foundation, in contrast with creationism, which is often associated with some variations of Christianity. The Darwin fish bears a stylized resemblance to Ichthyostega, which is a major example of a transitional fossil.
Closely related to the original Darwin fish symbol is a fish with legs, the word "evolve", and a hand that is holding a wrench. Another variant, the Darwin Awards fish, is a "dead fish" floating belly-up with the words "Darwin Awards" inside, indicating that in natural selection, the less-fit die out.
Rhetorical scholar Thomas Lessl has conducted a questionnaire survey of users of the Darwin fish emblem. Based on their responses, he interprets the symbol as scientific "blackface", a parody that is one part mockery and one part imitation. While users frequently explain the symbol as a rebuke against creationism, Lessl suggests that the emblem represents a metaphor for cultural progress.
In 1983, two friends involved in the southern California atheist and freethought movements, Al Seckel and John Edwards, co-created the Darwin fish design, which was first used on a freethought leaflet entitled "Darwin's Views on Religion" for Atheists United in 1984. It was then sold by Atheists United and other freethought groups, which got free permission from Seckel and Edwards throughout the 1980s, to be used on bumper stickers and T-shirts.
Chris Gilman, a Hollywood prop maker, who later claimed not to have seen Seckel's and Edward's design, joked of the idea as an "advertising" alternative to the Jesus fish in 1983 while working at a prop shop in Hollywood, when the employees' conversation turned to a court case involving teaching evolution versus creationism. He manufactured the first plastic car ornaments in 1988, and started Evolution Design in 1990, moving to Austin, Texas in 1994. Evolution Design's fish faced right, while Seckel and Edwards' design faced left, like the Christian symbol.
When the owners of Evolution Design realized that it was at risk of losing its trademark on the design, they began threatening to sue creators of look-alike Darwin fish emblems and unlicensed products. Recruited by one of the sellers of unlicensed products, Seckel and Edwards in turn sued Evolution Design for copyright infringement. Seckel and Edwards did not seek royalties, but wanted Evolution Design to cease their exclusive claim. This in turn enabled free use of the design by anyone per the original copyright agreement. Seckel and Edwards felt that in the spirit of parody and free speech, their design predated Gilman's claimed origin in 1988.
During the discovery phase, Gilman was not able to offer any proof that he had created the design during the 1980s (the symbol was widely distributed during that period), while Seckel and Edwards were able to supply postmarked and dated material containing their Darwin fish design from as early as 1983. The suit was settled when it became apparent that Seckel and Edwards had not properly legally protected their design. The trademark is now maintained by Evolution Design, Inc.
Christians, as well as the non-religious, have either responded to or made spin-offs of the Darwin fish. A design supporting a version of Old Earth Creationism that rejects biological evolution was made with a larger Jesus fish eating the Darwin fish. Sometimes, the larger fish contains letters that spell the word "Truth". A further development shows two fish, one with legs and labeled "I evolved", the other legless and labeled "You didn't".
Another variant has a Darwin fish with an open mouth, carrying away a smaller, dead Jesus fish by its tail. Other variants depict an "Evolution" or "Darwin" fish swallowing an "ΙΧΘΥΣ", "Jesus" or "Truth" fish; another version has a "Science" fish swallowing a "Myth" fish. Supporters of the theological concept of evolutionary creationism, also known as theistic evolution, have responded with a hybrid variant of the Jesus fish in which the word "Jesus" is written inside an ichthus fish with stylized feet.
One parody of the symbol is a fish with the word "Gefilte" written in letters stylized to resemble Hebrew calligraphy. This refers to gefilte fish, a common dish in Jewish cuisine; used on an automobile, it usually indicates that the driver of the car is culturally Jewish.
Another parody, most commonly seen in areas populated by those of Norwegian descent, is a fish containing the word "Lutefisk".
Yet another parody shows only the lower tail fin, and contains the words "n'Chips", a play on "Fish and Chips".
"Sushi" written inside the ichthys is one more variant.
Over a year ago I came up with the idea of a TREK FISH while noticing all the religious fish symbols on everyone's car. I notice there were a number of variations that preached "Creationism" and others that supported "Darwinism". I felt that the two were in conflict and a happy medium was needed. TREK FISH does not preach or support one over the other. To me, it simply says we can continue to discuss our origins but, as a species, should focus on the future...— Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry Jr.
Advocates of the Pastafarianism parody religion, which was created in 2005 to protest the decision by the Kansas Board of Education to require the teaching of intelligent design, have designed their own version of the Ichthys, with the Flying Spaghetti Monster's characteristic "noodly appendages" and eye stalks. Another more complicated design features the previously-mentioned "Jesus fish eating Darwin fish" with the Flying Spaghetti Monster in turn attacking the Jesus fish.
Cthulhu is a fictional giant creature, one of the Great Old Ones in H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. It is often cited for the extreme descriptions given of its appearance, size, and the abject terror that it invokes. Cthulhu is often referred to in science fiction and fantasy circles as a tongue-in-cheek shorthand for extreme horror or evil. It also has been depicted in a parody of the ichthys.
Parodies have spawned a number of niche markets for fish symbols. A "Viking" fish carrying a shield and wearing a horned helmet, with two ichthys at the end of a spear, (among other variations) is sold on T-shirts and coffee cups. Star Wars fans may choose the "Yoda Fish", which has two top tail sections on either side of the body section,representing Yoda's ears. Buddhist, Hindu, and neopagan examples exist, and a number of non-religious examples have proliferated from political, technical and other fields including the following variations: 666, Alien, Angler, Atheist, Bite-Me, Blow-Me, Budda, Card Shark, Cat, Cthulhu, Cyber Shark, Darwin, Dead Fish, Devil, Dinner, DNA, Dog, Enigma, Evolve, Fish Food, Fishn', Flying Spagehetti Monster, Freud, Geflite, Heathen, Hindu, Hooked Fish, Ixnay, Jeebus, Jesus (w/ feet), Jesus Is Borg, Lawyer, Lutefisk, N'Chips, Pagan, Phish, Pirate, Prozac, Punk, Randi, Rasta, Reality Bites, Robot, Sales, Satan, Sci-Fi, Science, Scuba, Sinner, Ske?tic, Surfer, Sushi, Thor, Trek, Tuna, Vampyre, Veg, Viagra, Wiccan, Xanax, and Yoda.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Parodies of the ichthys symbol.|
- Lessl, Thomas M. (2007). "The Culture of Science and the Rhetoric of Scientism: From Francis Bacon to the Darwin Fish". Quarterly Journal of Speech 93 (2): 123–149. doi:10.1080/00335630701426785. ISSN 0033-5630.
- Sarah Lubman (December 26, 1995). "Fish fight looms over bumper ornament". Albany, NY Times-Union (via Knight-Ridder News Service). Retrieved 2014-10-27.
- US Patent and Trademark Office
- Image of the Roddenberry "Trek Fish" from the Roddenberry website
- A library of fish emblems from evolvefish.com