Last month, the Dr Pepper company posted an ad, “Evolution of Flavor,” on its Facebook page. That may be a new way to promote a beverage, but the ad harked back to a time-honored image: the “monkey-to-man” illustration that has become an iconic and instantly recognizable visual shorthand for evolution. In response, anti-evolutionists flooded the company’s website, protesting what they claimed was the soda company’s endorsement of Darwinism.
That a 150-year-old scientific illustration could trigger a political attack today speaks volumes about the contentious state of the American debate over evolution. But it also opens a window onto the extraordinary history of the image itself—one of the most intriguing, and most misleading, drawings in the modern history of science.