An Analysis of Homer Simpson and Stephen Jay Gould
by William A. Dembski
Note: The Simpson's,
television's popular prime-time cartoon known for its satirical
commentary on various social issues, recently took a shot at the
creation-evolution debate by featuring Stephen Jay Gould prominently
in one of its episodes. Here is Bill Dembski's review and observations
of that episode.
For those of you who regularly watch the Simpsons, you'll know
that to have one's voice and character appear on a Simpsons episode
is a mark of accomplishment and fame. Over the years George Harrison,
Bette Midler, Magic Johnson, Danny DeVito, and a host of other
entertainers and notables have appeared on the program. I was
therefore particularly impressed when S. J. Gould appeared on
tonight's episode. Gould was playing himself, a scientist at the
local natural history museum.
This episode was really a very clever cultural commentary. Lisa
Simpson wants to stop a huge mall development from proceeding
at "Sabertooth Ravine" because the ravine is a fossil
site. As a compromise, the mall developers decide to let Lisa
dig for fossils while they continue to build the mall. While digging,
Lisa finds an almost human fossil. Almost, but not quite: in place
of arms the fossil has wings. "It's an angel" declare
the naive and religiously motivated townfolk. Lisa, who plays
the scientific naturalist, will have none of it. She therefore
enlists Gould to prove that the fossil is nothing of the sort.
Gould claims that the DNA tests he performed proved inconclusive.
Meanwhile, Lisa's father, Homer, takes the angel fossil, and charges
admission to his house for people to view it. Homer sets the angel
fossil under some fuzzy dice, and surrounds it with cheesy Christmas
lights. He also sells various angel paraphernalia (e.g., angel
ashtrays). Lisa meanwhile is getting exasperated that the entire
town is believing in a supernatural origin of the angel. She therefore
sets out to destroy the angel, but on entering the garage where
Homer stores the angel finds it missing.
Upon discovering the angel missing and Lisa with a crowbar, the
angry townspeople accuse Lisa of destroying it (and that for the
sake of science), arrest Lisa, and put her on trial (a clear allusion
to the Scopes trial). With the angel missing and the "scientific
naturalist" Lisa under arrest, the religious fanatic Ned
Flanders inveighs against science likening it to a guy who tells
you the end of a movie before you've finished seeing it. At this,
the townspeople run amock and destroy Gould's natural history
museum and all other symbols of science (as they destroy a robotics
lab, a robot exits the burning lab and screams "Why was I
programmed to experience pain?").
Finally, Lisa is brought to trial. The judge says that the trial
will decide two things, Lisa's fate and the relation between science
and religion. As for the relation between science and religion,
the judge decides to put a "restraining order on religion"
keeping it "500 yards away from science" (note that
it is religion that is expected to stay away from science and
not vice versa). Just as the trial gets under way, however, the
angel fossil is spotted on the top of a hill, though now it is
inscribed with the words "The End Will Be At Sundown."
The mood in the town now becomes that of a Jehovah's Witness gathering
waiting for the Second Coming.
Finally, sundown arrives. At first nothing happens. Then suddenly
the angel fossil levitates, and a voice booms claiming the end
has arrived. The end of what? Why, the end of "high prices"!
It turns out the angel fossil was a fraud perpetrated by the mall
developers who used the fossil as a publicity stunt. Are the townspeople
upset about the way this stunt flouted their religious sensibilities?
Not at all. For the publicity stunt marks the grand opening of
the mall, together with 20% savings on all items sold. Thus we
see the townspeople, who just moments ago were awaiting the end
of the world, rushing madly to a shopping frenzy.
In the closing scene, Lisa asks Gould why his test failed to detect
that the angel fossil was a fraud. Gould (and mind you, this was
Gould's actual voice--he is listed explicitly in the credits)
admits that in fact he never did perform the test--even though
he claimed he did earlier. Gould comes off quite badly in the
episode. Indeed, I'm surprised he let himself be used this way.
To be sure, the religious fanatics and the simpleton townfolk
come off worse. But neither science nor religion triumph. Rather,
it's CONSUMERISM writ large that emerges as the clear winner.
All in all, a very clever episode.
Copyright © 1997 William Dembski. All
rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 11.29.97