My friend Greg posted the above picture on Facebook today. It’s a funny picture with a funny caption, right? I laughed. You have one of those little cat doll-like things that you find in Chinese restaurants. Next in the sequence of the “evolution of the cat” is another Chinese-restaurant cat, this one larger. The sequence of three then culminates in a large (relative to the dolls) long-haired house cat.
The evolution of cat picture is intended to be funny. But after I laughed, I remembered that a lot of people still seriously view human evolution as depicted in a similar illustration, the iconic “march of progress.”
As with the cat in the previous picture, man seems to improve along the sequence. A big, soft, fluffy cat is better than a small, hard Chinese buffet cat, right? The march of human progress starts with a little gibbon-like ape, which becomes larger, more erect, and brainier as the sequence continues.
In both the cat and human evolution pictures, a nice, smooth progression is seen. You don’t see the fits and starts of bushy evolutionary trees; you see what has been called a ladder of progress. I’m not saying that evolution works with erratic saltationism, but it is funny to see the ancient ideas that equate evolution with absolute improvement at least implied in these images.