Category Archives: Apologetics

The March of Progress – Illustrating the Philosophy of Evolution

We are all familiar with the illustration of the evolution of man. We have seen it a thousand times. It starts with some small monkey like creature and works through a number of stages all the way up to modern man. Now you will see all kinds of comical renditions of it including a man in a business suit with a briefcase or a man hunched over a computer. The original was painted by an illustrator named Rudolph Franz Zallinger. The picture was titled “The March of Progress” and was produced for a Time Life publication in 1965.
The picture and its title tell a story that is much greater than the story of evolution. It reveals something that underpins all of science—Philosophy. That’s right, all science is built on philosophy. I know that, today that sounds hieratical but at the beginning of the scientific revolution it was a common understanding. Philosophy was considered the king of the sciences.
Sir Isaac Newton did his research based on a philosophical understanding that there was a creator God and this God was a God of logic, order reason and laws. Based on this understanding Newton developed a number of Natural Laws. As his research progressed his findings continued to reinforce his philosophical underpinnings.
Evolution is no different. It can be plainly seen in the illustration “The March of Progress”. The philosophy that underpins evolutionary theory is one of progress. It sees the world as continually progressing. It is especially true in biology where the “survival of the fittest” virtually guarantees that all life progresses.
There is another aspect to this philosophy that is also shown in the illustration. With most chart formats time runs left to right and progress runs bottom to top. The height of man should not be any indication of progress or superiority of modern man. Obviously a monkey that is small, lightweight, agile, and can hang from his tail is much better suited to the jungle than modern man. But the illustration helps to recreate a familiar chart curve that rises and progresses over time. The illustration reinforces the philosophical belief that we, modern men, are the most advanced and most important animals in all of nature.
The final aspect of the illustration is the march. Normally you would make an illustration like this by lining up the animals facing the illustrator, like a jailhouse line-up. That is not what is done here because it does not reinforce the philosophical understanding. The philosophy is not just that man is progressing but he is progressing through his own efforts. It is man that is stepping out and moving forward.
I really have to commend Rudolph Zallinger; he did an absolutely brilliant job of using Evolution to illustrate the philosophy of humanism. This is not the only evolution chart used to promote humanism. Nearly every evolution illustration does the same thing, but “The March of Progress” is arguably the best.
Next time you read an article or see an illustration, realize that everyone has a world view, a philosophic base that will affect their work and their reporting. Remember that philosophy and science do together, they always have and always will. Don’t make the mistake of viewing the science and missing the philosophical underpinnings.