Evolution and Alliteration

Browsing through Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth the other day I came across the following sentence: “The slow drifting apart of South America and Africa is now an established fact in the ordinary language sense of `fact’, and so is our common ancestry with porcupines and pomegranates.” Elsewhere, in a discussion of human breeding efforts, Dawkins refers to “cows, cabbages and corn.”

I know I have seen this sort of thing many times before. That is, using alliterative organism names to make some point about universal common descent. Here’s another example, this time from YEC Don Batten: “Do accidental copying mistakes add the complex genetic information needed to transform microbes into mollusks, mites, mangoes, magpies and mandkind?” This is from his contribution to the YEC anthology, In Six Days: Why 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation.

I’d like to collect as many instances of this as I can, both from evolutionists and creationists. If you know of any good (or not so good) examples, no matter how obscure, let me know. Thanks!


  1. #1 Bob Carlson
    February 24, 2010

    I thought I had encountered something of the sort in a book I just finished titled “The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society,” by the primatologist, Frans de Waal. However, I cannot locate the statement. You should really read the entire book anyhow because it is about the evolution of empathy in mammals and is really fascinating stuff. Even if you find that I am wrong about there being such a statement in the book, you will have found so much other intriguing stuff that you won’t mind having been sent on a wild goose chase. 🙂

  2. #2 Charles
    February 24, 2010

    The following are two excerpts from a pro-evolution book that I co-authored called The Top 10 Myths about Evolution (Prometheus 2007).

    “Fitness isn’t any single physical characteristic of an organism, like musculature or tooth size; it’s a measure of an individual’s reproductive potential, whether that individual is bat, buffalo, or bamboo.” (p. 16).

    “Another way to envision fitness is to think of it as a measure of the closeness of fit between you (and ‘you’ may be a sunflower, a slime mold, a rabbit or a wren) and your selective environment.” (p. 18).

  3. #3 MartyM
    February 24, 2010

    I have the book In Six Days. I’ve read part of it, but find it hard to finish. I’ll have to go read Batten’s chapter.

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    February 25, 2010

    MartyM –

    Batten’s chapter is number 50. I got to it because, for no particular reason, I decided to read them in reverse order.

    Charles –

    Thanks for the examples. I’ll have to get a copy of your book!

    Bob –

    Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. #5 ARL
    February 25, 2010

    Um, why do you want these?

    It’s a very ancient means in English of providing rhythm and readability.

    It’s mere poetic panache, literary lace, expository augmentation.

  6. #6 Traffic Demon
    February 25, 2010

    Of Pandas and People comes to mind immediately.

  7. #7 Cody
    February 25, 2010

    I seem to recall the good Dr. Hovind being fond of the phrase “from goo to zoo to you”, but that’s not quite alliteration, is it?

  8. #8 Traffic Demon
    February 25, 2010

    Cody – That’s assonance. Eustace Clarence Scrubb taught me that.

  9. #9 Modusoperandi
    February 25, 2010

    How about “Molecules to Man”, instead?

  10. #10 csrster
    February 25, 2010

    Stephen J. Gould gave us
    “Hen’s Teeth and Horses Toes” of course.

  11. #11 Don Monroe
    February 25, 2010

    Gee, and I thought I invented it, in my blog post:
    “All of the animals we know, from cockroaches to cockatoos, from squirrels to squids, arose by applying those tools in new ways.”

  12. #12 Stan Polanski
    February 25, 2010

    Cabbages and kings would qualify, if universal common descent was what Carroll had in mind. Shoes, ships and sealing wax – not so much.

  13. #13 Paul Nelson
    February 25, 2010

    “We can go on examining natural variation at all levels…as well as hypothesizing about speciation events in bed bugs, bears, and brachiopods until the planet approaches oblivion, but we will only end up with bed bugs, brachiopods, and bears. None of these body plans will transform into rotifers, roundworms and rynchocoels.”

    G.L.G. Miklos, “Emergence of organizational complexities during metazoan evolution: perspectives from molecular biology, palaeontology and neo-Darwinism,” Mem. Ass. Australas. Palaeontols. 15 (1993):7-41; p. 25.

    Team colors: Miklos is an evolutionary biologist (geneticist) skeptical of the explanatory power of neo-Darwinism.

  14. #14 clamboy
    February 25, 2010

    “From goo to you, via the zoo,” is in deed alliteration, at least in spoken form.

  15. #15 llewelly
    February 25, 2010

    Jason Rosenhouse | February 25, 2010 12:19 AM:

    Batten’s chapter is number 50. I got to it because, for no particular reason, I decided to read them in reverse order.

    Something of the geologist has rubbed off on you.

  16. #16 llewelly
    February 25, 2010

    “From goo to you, via the zoo,” is in deed alliteration, at least in spoken form.

    No. It’s rhyming – the ass end of alliteration.

  17. #17 Jonathan Lubin
    February 26, 2010

    I hope you’re not planning on drawing any deep philosophical conclusion from this investigation.

  18. #18 Jason Rosenhouse
    February 26, 2010

    Jonathan –

    No, nothing deep! Just something I found amusing.

    In my Monty Hall book I have a short section describing how many writers insist on presenting the Monty Hall problem in the form of a play. It was intended as a humorous section to help break up some of the heavier discussions that surrounded it. If I could collect enough examples of the use of alliteration in this context I was thinking of doing something similar in my evolution book. I’ll need far more examples than I currently have, however.

  19. #19 Owlmirror
    February 27, 2010

    As depicted in this picture from the Creation Museum, Ken Ham appears to be fixated on a /k/-based cosmotheology (Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, Consummation).

    There’s also something numerological going on there — why skip everything between the Tower of Babel and the New Testament (how about “Commandments”, maybe?), and everything between the crucifixion and the end of the world? Presumably because he wanted 7 ‘C’s, and no more.

  20. #20 Caleb
    February 28, 2010

    Are you looking for such statements because you’re trying to deduce the lineage of X to primate to human?

  21. #21 Bob Carlson
    March 2, 2010

    It may not be the kind of thing you were looking for, but I came across the statement that I alluded to in my Feb 24 comment while searching for a statement relating to the fact that the monotheistic religions of the Middle East evolved in a place where the only primates were Homo sapiens. On page 207 of The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, Frans de Waal says:

    “All of this occurred in the not too distant past, long after Western religion had spread its creed of human exceptionalism to all corners of knowledge. Philosophy inherited the creed when it blended with theology, and the social sciences inherited it when they emerged out of philosophy. After all, psychology was named after Psykhe, the Greek goddess of the soul. These religious roots are reflected in continued resistance to the second message of evolutionary theory. The first is that all plants and animals, including ourselves, are the product of a single process. This is now widely accepted, also outside biology. But the second message is that we are continuous with all other life forms, not only in body but also in mind. This remains hard to swallow. Even those who recognize humans as a product of evolution keep searching for that one divine spark, that one “huge anomaly” that sets us apart. The religious connection has long been pushed to the subconscious, yet science keeps looking for something special that we as a species can be proud of.”

  22. #22 Rod Wilson
    March 2, 2010

    You could fill a bookstore will all the biology books that have a title along these lines. It immediately turns me off to the book.. its seems to me to be lazy writing

  23. #23 Bob Carlson
    March 2, 2010

    “You could fill a bookstore will all the biology books that have a title along these lines…”

    I didn’t buy the book because of the title; I saw an interview with Frans de Waal, but not this one, which is sort of his summation of what the book is about:

  24. #24 Collin Brendemuehl
    March 3, 2010

    I found an *interesting* alliteration while researching Radical Orthodoxy. It referenced the four natural tendencies — the four Fs.
    Fight, Flight, Feed, and Reproduce.

  25. #25 SmartLX
    March 3, 2010

    A companion to “Molecules to Man” is “Particles to People”. The other major variation of this representation of long-term evolution rhymes instead of alliterating: “Goo to You”.

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