Intelligent Design

Biologist finds term “Darwinian evolutionist” offensive: O’Leary tries to sort it out

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An evolutionary biologist in the audience at the University of Toronto ID meet last Saturday wrote a most interesting post to the Post-Darwinist, saying, among other  things,

I was the person who objected to your use of the term “Darwinist.” The word is loaded with all kinds of implications. To those of us who work on evolution it means a person who believes in natural selection as the most important thing in evolutionary biology. This would include people like Richard Dawkins and others who are often referred to as Ultra-Darwinians.

Many of us are not Darwinists in that sense and we would never refer to ourselves as “Darwinists” unless we were specificially referring to our acceptance of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. The term “Darwinian evolutionist” is even more objectionable because it labels someone as an evolutionst who tends to side with the Ultra-Darwinian camp.

And to think I had thought I was being polite by carefully referring to him and his colleagues as “Darwinian evolutionists”!

Now, after offering to investigate the complaint, I also explained that busloads of cranks prophesy Darwin’s name these days (examples are offered), so

I am sympathetic to your wish to reserve for evolutionary biology a level of respect due to a serious academic endeavor, and I would be happy to help. I do think, however, that you and others in your field might want to consider clearly distancing yourselves from the Darwin circus. If you don’t, no one can do it for you.

For the rest, go here.

Here  is a link for my U of T talk.

19 Replies to “Biologist finds term “Darwinian evolutionist” offensive: O’Leary tries to sort it out

  1. 1
    jerry says:

    Denyse,

    See if your respondent would join those that want Darwin or neo Darwinism taken out of the biology discussion or just limited to those things which natural selection may have a reasonable chance of affecting.

    When he does that then he deserves to be rid of the term Darwinist or Darwinian evolutionist.

  2. 2
    great_ape says:

    don’t know where I stand on this one. I generally try not to get offended by labels of any kind; people are just too darn sensitive these days. I agree that “darwinist,” at least, implies one places almost total emphasis on selection and this can lead to confusion as to the position of most modern biologists. Outside of perhaps England, there are few evolutionary biologists who remain in that ultra-selectionist camp and they’re slowly dying off. At the same time, Jerry, I’m not sure where I would necessarily draw the line at what natural selection can and can not do. I am of the opinion that historical accidents, biophysical laws, emergent ecological properties, and a whole host of other things contribute–along with natural selection–to the course that life takes. That’s more difficult to convey in a highschool or introductory bio course than is a more simple-minded selectionist scenario. No doubt a better job can be done though.

  3. 3
    jerry says:

    Great_Ape,

    Thanks for the “great” comment on the junk DNA thread. I have learned more from you than anyone else on this site.

  4. 4
    great_ape says:

    thanks jerry, reading and commenting here has helped me organize my thoughts on several issues, as well as pointing out areas in which I have a lot more reading and thinking to do. I’m happy to know others benefit as well.

  5. 5
    tribune7 says:

    Nice job, Denyse. When academics start distancing themselves from Dawkins rather than Dembski, progress is demonstrated.

  6. 6
    Jehu says:

    Fascinating bit of sociology there. We have an evolutionist distancing himself from the label “Darwinist.” I may be pointing out the obvious but this means, at least in the opinion of some, the Darwinists are losing credibility.

  7. 7
    Apoptosis says:

    I can see where he would want to separate himself from Dawkins, he’s made that clear on several occasions because he believes Dawkins is useless to the debate.
    Although, Denyse, it is very ironic and almost satirical, if you ask me. He wants you to not label him in a certain way, but I’m sure Intelligent Design proponents don’t like to be insulted or labelled either. Though Moran, in one class, labelled ID people as IDiots (or so he says is what ‘they’ label them as). Yet he doesn’t want to be labelled a Darwinian evolutionist. Oh boo hoo, hehe :P.

  8. 8
    Bob OH says:

    Jehu – You’re right. Darwinists lost credibility in the 1920s. They were replaced by neoi-Darwinists, who in turn were replaced in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to developments like Kimura’s ideas about neutral evolution (I’m not sure what this group would be called: “us?”).

    The point is that science, and in particular evolutionary biology, moves on. Darwin was wrong about a lot of things (e.g. the mechanism of heredity), so anyone claiming to striclty follow his teachings is a fool. What we do instead in science is to acknowledge that Darwin made a seminal contribution: he advanced understanding, and allowed science to progress.

    Bob

  9. 9
    Jehu says:

    Bob you said

    The point is that science, and in particular evolutionary biology, moves on.

    Ideally that is true but it is not completely true in application. What actually happens is that so-called “science” becomes a religion of its own with people putting little symbols on the backs of their cars so that others can understand their world view because they believe in the partiuclar “science” theory. “Science” becomes more about under girding a metaphysical philosophy than an objective search for truth. Anybody who has doubts or disagreements about the “science” is attacked, censored, and treated like a true heretic. The “science” is required to be taught in public schools, not because of the evidence supporting it but because of the metaphysical philosophy it supports. Any teaching of controversey or disagreement with the “science” is disallowed, even the mention of a book in the library that disagrees with the “science” is outlawed.

  10. 10
    jerry says:

    Bob OH,

    When anyone around here uses the term Darwinist, we are referring to those who support neo Darwinism as the main way for macro evolution. From what the text books say and the homage paid to people like Dawkins, I would have to say NDE is still pretty much in vogue.

    Look at the reaction to those who support the criticism of Darwinism in any of the education curriculums. This has not been an attempt to install ID ideas but just have a critical review of Darwin. Until these people support such a criticism they deserve to be called Darwinists or Darwinian evolutionist.

    Let the gentleman in Toronto get up and support such a criticism. See how soon he will be silenced by his colleagues.

  11. 11
    Mats says:

    The point is that science, and in particular evolutionary biology, moves on.

    I agree. Evolutionary biology has moved away from science and entered into the realm of the metaphysics.

    Darwin was wrong about a lot of things (e.g. the mechanism of heredity)

    I agree. Darwin was wrong in most things, actually.
    http://www.ridgecrest.ca.us/~d...../v6i4f.htm

    so anyone claiming to striclty follow his teachings is a fool. What we do instead in science is to acknowledge that Darwin made a seminal contribution: he advanced understanding, and allowed science to progress.

    I beg to differ, respectfully. What Darwinists have done with their creation account it to keep it moving (hard to hit a moving target), and keep absorbing everything into their theory, EVEN when the facts clearly are against it (the fossil record).

  12. 12
    SteveB says:

    Denyse,
    It’s interesting that the person you corresponded with defined what he’s not (“Darwinist,” “Darwinian evolutionist”), but not what he is. He also said he doesn’t side with the Ultra-Darwinian camp, which makes me curious: broadly speaking, how many such camps are there within “the field” (don’t want to use a label here… ;-), and what camp would he affiliate himself with—what ideological label would he prefer?

  13. 13
    DharmaBum says:

    Not long back, I visited ARN and wrote of ID and evolution as mutually exclusive. You can imagine the response I got. So I would say here that you need to give the consideration you expect to receive. You insist that evolution be interpreted in the most general of senses, and that people qualify their references to evolution. Well, I say that you had best be prepared for others to demand that you get their nomenclature correct.

    For the purposes of the present debate, however, I propose referring to “mainstream evolutionary theories” in distinction to your own. A term like “conventional evolution theories” does not work, because some unconventional theories other than ID are entertained by the mainstream scientific community.

  14. 14
    O'Leary says:

    I have just heard again from Larry Moran, and it seems that he is not at all serious in engaging in any kind of dialogue.

    He has decided to question my competence and good will, and to refuse to take seriously the effect that busloads of Darwin cranks have on his discipline.

    I can understand that. He may owe big around town, intellectually or ideologically. (shrug) It happens.

    I’ll comment more later at the Post-Darwinist, because that is where I get his posts.

    (Note: I am generally reluctant to swatch whole posts from one blog site to another, as that may impact searchability issues and otherwise interfere with using the ‘Net for research. I think we have recently dealt with a problem like that here.)

  15. 15
    Bob OH says:

    When anyone around here uses the term Darwinist, we are referring to those who support neo Darwinism as the main way for macro evolution. From what the text books say and the homage paid to people like Dawkins, I would have to say NDE is still pretty much in vogue.

    I see. So, when you use the term, you use it incorrectly (thanks to some convoluted linguistic gymnastics, we call supporters of neo-Darwininsm “neo-Darwininsts”), to refer to a group who existed over half a century ago, and who have have all died, and use that as a label for a different group of people, some of whom are still living.

    Yes, a lot of neo-Darwininsm is still taught, and used. But we have built a lot more on top of that, e.g. a greater appreciation of neutral evolution, and a deeper understanding of how selection can act at different levels, so that evolutionary theory looks quite different to how it looked in the 30s and 40s. There is common descent visible in the theories, but they themselves have evolved, as we have learned and understood more.

    Evolutionary biology has moved away from science and entered into the realm of the metaphysics.

    Ah, that would explain why journals like Journal of Evolutionary Biology and Evolution are full of long boring essays on metaphysics, and report any actual experiments, or analyses of field data, or theoretical models, then. I always wondered about that. Thanks for clearing it up.

    Bob

  16. 16
    DaveScot says:

    Bob

    Lynn Margulis, in the keynote speech at the 2005 Woodstock of Evolution, calls herself a Darwinist and others neo-Darwinists.

    While I agree with you that the so-called theory of evolution has been modified by ad hoc explanations so much that it bears little resemblance anymore to Darwinian theory or neo-Darwinian theory there exists no new name to wrap it all up in even if you could possibly come to some semblance of consensus over which particular group of ad hoc explanations is the official story.

    If you find Darwinist and neo-Darwinist offensive (I would be offended too) then how about suggesting an alternative?

    And be sure to send a memo to Lynn Margulis notifying her of the change in terminology.

  17. 17
    DaveScot says:

    great ape

    I think “chance worshippers” sums it up rather nicely. “Unintelligent evolution theorists” might be even better. Somehow I think you’ll find those disagreeable too. There has to be some kind of term used to describe all those who reject any involvement by intelligent agency in the course of prehistoric evolution. I’m open to suggestions. There are times rare times when I don’t wish to offend the chance worshipping members of the Church of Darwin so I would appreciate it if you could provide a descriptive yet non-offensive term. Given that a skunk by any other name smells as badly I may have set you to an impossible task. Church Burnin’ Ebola Boys has been well received. How about that? 😉

  18. 18
    jerry says:

    Bob OH,

    As soon as you and other so called “evolutionary biologists” publically reject Darwin and neo Darwinism as part of the textbooks and curriculum, the label can be removed.

    Are you ready to support removing Darwin or neo Darwinism from the science curriculum? If not then the label applies to you.

  19. 19
    Bob OH says:

    If you find Darwinist and neo-Darwinist offensive (I would be offended too) then how about suggesting an alternative?

    Evolutionary biologist will do fine. When talking about contemporary evolutionary biology, there is a consensus, and the arguments are about the details. Hence, there’s no need to split the field into different camps.

    If one’s looking at it historically, then there have been different views at different times, so there is a need to create different labels for the (temporally) different groups. Hence the need for the terms Darwinist and neo-Darwinist.

    Bob

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