Intelligent Design

Darwinist: Now a term of reproach?

Spread the love

If Darwinism is not failing, why would Darwinists now want to evade the name they accepted for nearly 150 years? Yes! Despite a clear history of a century and a half of acceptance, a key Darwinist actually did his best to make it sound like an insult. Read on!

Some wonder why I, a mere journalist, sense that Darwinism is doomed.

Well, I observe and interview people and study how they behave.

One curious fact is that the venerable term Darwinist now makes Darwinists uncomfortable.

This problem hit the top of my intray last year a Canadian church bureaucrat took me to task  because, she insisted that  in By Design or by Chance?, I was “following the ID lead” when I used the term “Darwinism.”

Now, in the early stages of research, I had made a careful study of the terminology used in the debate. I knew that “Darwinism” was commonly used among Darwinian evolutionists – probably only because Darwinism (and Darwinist) is easier and briefer.

So at the time, I dismissed the churchcrat summarily by pointing out the following:

– 0 –

See, for example, the following examples, where – for your convenience – I have highlighted the relevant words:

Here, for example, is Richard Dawkins:

I’m a Darwinist because I believe the only alternatives are Lamarckism or God … ,

Richard Dawkins

and

The theory of punctuated equilibrium is a minor gloss on Darwinism, one which Darwin himself might well have approved if the issue had been discussed in his time. As a minor gloss, it does not deserve a particularly large measure of publicity. (Dawkins R., “The Blind Watchmaker,” [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, p.250)

The famous evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr said,

The real core of Darwinism is the theory of natural selection. This theory is so important for the Darwinian because it permits the explanation of adaptation, the ‘design’ of the natural theologian, by natural means, instead of by divine intervention. (p. 138 Ernst Mayr (Foreword to M. Ruse, Darwinism Defended, Reading, Mass. Addison-Wesley, 1982, pp. xi-xii))

H. Allen Orr, a committed Darwinian biologist and opponent of ID, trashing one of Dawkins’s notions (the “meme”), says:

… , it is simply not true that Darwinism works with any substrate, no matter what. Indeed Darwinism can’t even explain old-fashioned *biological* evolution if the hereditary substrate doesn’t behave just right. Evolution would quickly grind to a halt, for instance, if inheritance were blending, not particulate. With blending inheritance, the genetic material from two parents seamlessly blends together like different colored paints. With particulate Mendelian inheritance, genes from Mom and Dad remain forever distinct in Junior. This substrate problem was so acute that turn-ofthe-century biologists — all fans of blending inheritance — concluded that Darwinism just can’t work. ….” (Orr H.A., “Dennett’s Strange Idea: Natural Selection: Science of Everything, Universal Acid, Cure for the Common Cold … . Review of “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,” by Daniel C. Dennett, Simon and Schuster. Boston Review, Vol. 21., No. 3., Summer 1996.)

And here is Lynn Margulis, Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts. Margulis is, I take it, a naturalistic evolutionist, but a fan of the Gaia hypothesis rather than of neo-Darwinism. She calls the latter ‘a minor twentieth-century religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon biology,’ and has said of proponents of the theory, that they,

wallow in their zoological, capitalistic, competitive, cost-benefit interpretation of Darwin—having mistaken him…. Neo-Darwinism, which insists on (the slow accrual of mutations), is in a complete funk. (Mann, C. (1991) “Lynn Margulis: Science’s Unruly Earth Mother,” Science, 252, 378-381), Behe, Darwin’s Black Box 1, p. 26)

Harold, Franklin, writing about the complexity of cell, says,

We should reject, as a matter of principle, the substitution of intelligent design for the dialogue of chance and necessity (16); but we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations. There is room for discovery here, and for reflection too; nowhere is the appeal of Gould’s “pluralistic Darwinism ” more keenly felt than in the study of cell evolution. (The Way of the Cell, p. 204.)

All of these people are/have been pretty mainstream within the naturalistic movement in science over the last hundred years (unless you count Lyn Margulis out because she is a woman and an unruly Earth mother). In fact, for some (perhaps many) prominent Darwinian biologists, the terms Darwinism/Darwinist cover both the specific process of natural selection acting on random mutation and the philosophical view of naturalism that so many of them apparently believe:

I toyed with atheism from the age of about nine, originally because I worked out that, of all the hundreds of religions in the world, it was the sheerest accident that I was brought up Christian. They couldn’t all be right, so maybe none of them was. I later reverted to a kind of pantheism when I realised the shattering complexity and beauty of the living world. Then, around the age of 16, I first understood that Darwinism provides an explanation big enough and elegant enough to replace gods. I have been an atheist ever since. (Dawkins R., “You Ask The Questions,” Independent, 23 February 2003)

– 0 –

However, I now think I may have been too hard on that churchcrat (or churchadmin? – I don’t mind advancing her pay grade).

You see, I have just discovered a most interesting fact from Jonathan Wells’ The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design . The churchcrat might have been misled by Darwinists themselves on this point. Wells writes,

Harvard sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson recently claimed that the word “Darwinism” was coined by enemies of Darwin to make him look bad. “It’s a rhetorical device to make evolution seem like a kind of faith, like ‘Maoism’,” said Wilson in Newsweek in November 2005. “Scientists,” Wilson added, “don’t call it Darwinism.” (P. 10)

But, as I have shown above, they do.

And, as Wells notes, they have done so since 1864, when Darwin’s bulldog, T.E. Huxley was first recorded using the term, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (Wells, p. 10).

Wells notes that Ernst Mayr and Stephen Jay Gould used the term “extensively” in their writings and a host of biology hopefuls have also applied Darwinism’s sacred name in the titles of their articles.

But come to think of it, while I was researching By Design or by Chance? “Christian evolutionists” used to fret when I used the term casually, in the very way that the Darwinists themselves use it.

Christian evolutionists, so far as I can tell, live in a sort of unreal world where one espouses Darwinism while pretending not to know what it means. So Ms. Churchcrat may have been honestly misled after all. She would be foolish to be more angry with me than with those who misled her, but you never know.

But if Darwinism is not failing, why would Darwinists now want to evade the name they accepted for nearly 150 years?

14 Replies to “Darwinist: Now a term of reproach?

  1. 1
    PeterZ says:

    I try to answer your closing question here. As you point out not all evolutionists have an aversion for the term. OE Wilson does and I can understand him. I personally have no problem using it – when appropriate…

  2. 2
    sophophile says:

    Denyse asks:

    But if Darwinism is not failing, why would Darwinists now want to evade the name they accepted for nearly 150 years?

    Like every element of language, meaning shifts over time. Anti-evolutionists have recently managed to saddle the word “Darwinist” with pejorative connotations, so now evolutionists are shying away from it.

    The infamous “n-word” was originally non-pejorative as well. Blacks rejected it after it became derogatory. When I was growing up in the Midwest in the 60’s, I was carefully taught to avoid the n-word in favor of the neutral “Negro”. Now “Negro” is unacceptable, and “black” may follow at some point.

    Applying your logic:

    If blacks are not failing, why would they now want to evade the name(s) they accepted for so many years?

    The simple fact is that all groups reject labels they consider pejorative, regardless of whether they are failing or succeeding. Even at the height of its power, America rejected the term “imperialist”. Chinese-Americans reject the term “chink”. Governments the world over reject the term “fascist”, though it also was not always a pejorative. Many churches that formerly identified themselves as “fundamentalist” now prefer “evangelical”, as “fundamentalist” has acquired negative connotations. Are we to infer that those churches are failing?

  3. 3
    dodgingcars says:

    sophophile,

    I agree that people tend to shy away from labels when they become pejorative, but I don’t understand how a person who accept Darwin’s theory of evolution would ever take “Darwinist” to be pejorative. I don’t care how dirty a word someone wants to make Christian — I am a Christian, because I follow (or try) Christ’s teachings. No matter how dirty a word conservatives try to make “liberal”, I still call myself a liberal — and will continue to until either my views change or the definition of liberal does.

    I simply don’t understand how Darwinian, Darwinist, or any variation of that label is considered pejorative… even if it’s used in a negative light (like conservatives use “liberal”)

  4. 4
    scordova says:

    Darwinist: Now a term of reproach?

    Absolutely. Evolutoinary biology is getting a bad rap too:

    Darwin v. Intelligent Design (Again)

    Behe and others may feel obliged to sling mud Darwin’s way because they suspect evolutionary biologists won’t do so. Evolutionists are widely perceived as uncritical ideologues, devoted to suppressing all doubt about evolution. It’s easy to see how this impression arose: evolutionists, after all, spend most of their public lives defending Darwin…So of course we appear [like] hide-bound reactionaries.

    Allen Orr

    I think the term Darwinist distills and concentrates the essence of what Orr describes: “uncritical ideologues, devoted to suppressing all doubt about evolution”.

    “Darwinist: Now a term of reproach?” I think so.

  5. 5
    russ says:

    “Like every element of language, meaning shifts over time. Anti-evolutionists have recently managed to saddle the word “Darwinist” with pejorative connotations, so now evolutionists are shying away from it.” – Sophophile

    I agree with this assessment. But the question then is, was the term “Darwinist” unfairly saddled with negative connotations, or were actual negatives simply exposed? Is this a case of Philip Morris Tobacco changing it’s name to “Altria” to escape its unsavory past?

  6. 6
    sophophile says:

    dodgingcars wrote:

    I simply don’t understand how Darwinian, Darwinist, or any variation of that label is considered pejorative… even if it’s used in a negative light (like conservatives use “liberal”).

    Hi dodgingcars,

    “Used in a negative light” is part of the very definition of “pejorative”. You could equally well say, “I simply don’t understand how the n-word is considered pejorative, even if it’s used in a negative light, since it is simply a derivative of the Latin niger, for black.” Words take on meanings based on how they are used at a given time, not on what they meant when they originated.

    The word “Christian” still has mostly positive or neutral connotations in modern usage, so there is no real motivation for Christians to change it. Also the word “Christian”, like “Marxist” and “Maoist”, implies devotion to a particular person’s set of teachings. Rejecting the term “Christian” would strongly imply a rejection of Christ’s authority as a teacher. Contrast that to the rejection of the term Darwinist, when evolutionists do not accept Darwin’s “teachings” as a package, and the ones they do accept are accepted based on their explanatory value, not on the fact that they came from Darwin. Science is not, and should never be, a cult of personality.

  7. 7
    Jon Jackson says:

    Sophophile wrote: “The word “Christian” still has mostly positive or neutral connotations in modern usage, so there is no real motivation for Christians to change it.”

    Actually, for the first three hundred or so years the term Christian had a very negative connotation with most people yet the Christians continued to use the word. Personally I have problems with kind of grammatical relativism you are displaying in that it dilutes the precision of language. Darwinism is a precise term and has, in the past, been defined by both those who would apply it to themselves and their opponents and those two groups have a high degree of correlation between their definitions. So in terms of what it describes the term cannot be in dispute. So the only reason anyone would have for trying to evade the term is to change the perception of others in regards to themselves. Yet this tactic never works because the behaviour of the group in question doesn’t change.

    It continues to surprise me how many people don’t want to change themselves one iota but insist that everyone else has to change and accept them. Darwinist can call themselves whatever they want, it won’t change the fact that most of us aren’t willing to look at ourselves as a highly unlikely crap shoot in a blind, purposeless universe. And if Darwinism can overcome that they won’t have to change their name.

  8. 8
    John A. Davison says:

    I would like to refer everyone to a comment I just transmitted to our sister organization, USCID’s “brainstorms” forum on August 21, 16:31. It bears on the whole business of the survival of the Darwinian hoax. I would transfer it here if I knew how. Perhaps Scordova or someone else would consider introducing it as a thread.

    A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  9. 9
    johnnyb says:

    Denyse — what’s interesting is that Darwinism is even used and defended in the technical literature. This idea that the Creationists made it up is just the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

  10. 10
    Chris Hyland says:

    The problem I find is that everyone uses the term to mean something slightly different, and any ‘official’ meaning has definately cahnged since it was first coined. People who call themselves Darwinists generally take it to mean their particular notion of evolution, others either use it to mean generally naturalistic evolution or in extreme cases only what Dawkins and Dennet think. So depending on what a particular definition is it often isn’t synonymous with modern evolutionary theory.

  11. 11
    scordova says:

    John,

    Was it Davison responds to Martin?

    The reason Darwinim is becoming a term of reproach is because of incidents like you describe:

    These scandalous treatments of course took place after both authors were long dead and represent a perfect demonstration of the cowardly conquest of blind ideology over reasoned facts presented by two of the greatest scholars of all time.

    Salvador

  12. 12
    Zachriel says:

    “Darwinism” has multiple meanings depending on historical epoch and context. In most modernday scientific parlance, “darwinism” refers to the theory that natural selection is the primary mechanism of evolutionary change; as opposed to e.g. neutral theory. No significant debate exists within the scientific community as to whether natural selection is a factor in evolutionary adaptation.

    Evolution Defined

  13. 13
    Tom English says:

    Jon Jackson: “Personally I have problems with kind of grammatical relativism you are displaying in that it dilutes the precision of language.”

    Speaking of precise use of language, there is no issue of grammar (syntax) here. The issues are semantics and pragmatics. Consider that the word “girl” originally denoted a child of either gender. If you use the word that way nowadays, your noble effort to combat “semantic relativism” will get you a harsh lesson in pragmatics. You also might want to think twice before callling a lively person “gay.”

    “Darwinism is a precise term and has, in the past, been defined by both those who would apply it to themselves and their opponents and those two groups have a high degree of correlation between their definitions.”

    Okay, so give me the definition. But think carefully. Is “Darwinism” an abbreviation of “neo-Darwinism”? Do you want to define it as a single coherent theory, as a collection of competing theories, or as a research paradigm? Do you suppose the term is used in all three ways, and needs to be defined in at least three ways?

  14. 14
    Tom English says:

    Until ID came along, I always referred to neo-Darwinian theory simply as evolutionary theory. If “Darwinian” is turning into a political liability, then we need a new way to distinguish the two concepts. Here’s a modest proposal. 🙂

    The strong theory of evolution vs. the weak theory of evolution. Strong evolutionists believe that undirected evolutionary processes account for all biological diversity. Weak evolutionists believe that undirected evolutionary processes account only for microevolution, and that macroevolution requires the intervention of some “unembodied” intelligence.

Leave a Reply