Stephen Colbert, A Fool for Darwin

By Jeremy Manier

Neil Shubin is far more than a renowned evolutionary biologist – he’s actually been on the Colbert Report. That gives him a special kind of authority that’s hard to get merely from uncovering an historic missing link between fish and land animals. Neil said Colbert tells his guests to think of him in simple terms. “I play an idiot,” Colbert tells them. “I will be willfully ignorant of everything you say. Just ignore me, let me make the jokes, and you be as smart as you can be.”

At least I think Neil told me that story. Maybe it was Kenneth Miller, another evolutionary biologist I know who’s been on Colbert’s show. Colbert’s character seems inexorably drawn toward talented evolutionary scholars. Is no articulate biologist safe from this man? Someone warn Richard Dawkins – oh, wait. Better watch your backs, Sean Carroll and Jerry Coyne.

[UPDATE]: Apparently Colbert just recently had on Denis Dutton, who tries to explain art via evolution. I think that counts, too.

While we ponder why Colbert has such a jones for evolution, here’s Neil talking about what Darwin got wrong – and the big picture that he got profoundly right.

And here’s Colbert’s interview with Neil from last year. Granted, my video looks a bit low-end by comparison. But then I didn’t ask the question, “What is it about evolutionary biologists that they just can’t let people think what they want about themselves?’

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