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The term “Darwinism” was coined by enemies of Darwin to make him look bad?

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Recently, we noted the continuing claim that the term “Darwinism” is used only among Christians. Now, the claim is so obviously untrue that it exists to fulfil a need: To put off the day of reckoning for Darwinism (or neo-Darwinism, or the modern evolutionary synthesis, or whatever you want to insert [here]).

Darwinians can always find fresh, eager ears, people who want peace with an establishment known for destroying careers otherwise…

But it would be a pity not to record some comments that friends have kindly sent. From one:

All you have to do is go to Google Scholar and search on Darwinian, Darwinist, Darwinism. Any of those terms will yield multiple results.

Exactly. So the characters in our story boil down to 1) People making the claim who know it is untrue. 2) People who need to believe the claim too badly to risk looking it up. 3) People who just want to go along to get along (the vast majority). That’s one way bad data can stay in a system indefinitely.

Another friend offers excerpts from Jonathan Wells’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (2006, pp. 10, 213):

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.” [21]

Yet according to the Oxford English Dictionary, Thomas Henry Huxley (Darwin’s most famous defender in Britain) used “Darwinism” in 1864 to describe Charles Darwin’s theory. In 1876, Harvard botanist Asa Gray (who despite their disagreement over whether evolution was guided was Darwin’s most ardent defender in America) published Darwiniana: Essays and Reviews Pertaining to Darwinism, and in 1889 natural selection’s co-discoverer Alfred Russel Wallace published Darwinism: An Exposition of the Theory of Natural Selection. Two of Wilson’s former Harvard colleagues, evolutionary biologists Ernst Mayr and Stephen Jay Gould, used the word extensively in their scientific writings, and recent science journals carry articles with titles such as “Darwinism and Immunology” and ³The Integration of Darwinism and Evolutionary Morphology.” [22]

[21] Jerry Adler, “Evolution of a Scientist,” Newsweek (November 28, 2005), pp. 50-58, esp. p. 53.

[22] J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner, The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), Vol. IV, p. 257.

Also, some citations:

Asa Gray, Darwiniana: Essays and Reviews Pertaining to Darwinism (New York: D. Appleton, 1876).

Alfred Russel Wallace, Darwinism: An Exposition of the Theory of Natural Selection, With Some of Its Applications (London: Macmillan, 1889).

Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), pp. 116-117, 505.

Stephen Jay Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), pp. 13, 22-23, 33, 163-167, 353, 543,
585-591, among others.

A. M. Silverstein, “Darwinism and Immunology,” Nature Immunology 4 (2003): 3-6.

G. S. Levit, U. Hossfeld, and L. Olsson, “The Integration of Darwinism and Evolutionary Morphology,” Journal of Experimental Zoology B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution 302 (2004): 343-354.

We can benefit from these facts as long as we remember that they have no impact apart from our own correct information. Science today is not about facts or evidence, it is about the spin, narrative, and talking points that comfort and empower In groups and those who wish to join them.

See also: Claim: Evolutionists do not use the term “Darwinism.” Yes they do. This is just another word game.

17 Replies to “The term “Darwinism” was coined by enemies of Darwin to make him look bad?

  1. 1

    Jonathan Wells the Great.

  2. 2
    News says:

    TWSYF at 1, he has certainly suffered for his convictions and for telling the truth.

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    Where does Wells get this from?

    Harvard sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson recently claimed that the word “Darwinism” was coined by enemies of Darwin to make him look bad.

    The quotation seems to be from here, and this is the full paragraph:

    In part, the fascination with the man is being driven by his enemies, who say they’re fighting “Darwinism,” rather than evolution or natural selection. “It’s a rhetorical device to make evolution seem like a kind of faith, like ‘Maoism’,” says Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson, editor of one of the two Darwin anthologies just published. “Scientists,” Wilson adds, “don’t call it ‘Darwinism’.”

  4. 4
    News says:

    Bob O’H at 4, give it up. Darwinism is a term in general use and has been for a very long time. Because some try to sow confusion on the point, we provide line items.

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    I’d say Wilson nails it. Critics use “Darwinism” more or less interchangeably with “evolution”. It’s a pejorative term which implies that the current theory is little more than the natural selection of Darwin’s original. In fact, seeing the word “Darwinism” in a post or article or paper about evolution is a pretty reliable indicator that the author is critical of the theory.

  6. 6
    ET says:


    Critics use “Darwinism” more or less interchangeably with “evolution”.

    So do supporters. Do you have a point?

    It’s a pejorative term …

    Only to the feeble-minded.

    which implies that the current theory is little more than the natural selection of Darwin’s original.

    What current theory? Please link to it

  7. 7
    goodusername says:

    I don’t have a problem with the term “Darwinism” myself (and I often use it), and I think Wilson goes too far when he says that scientists don’t use the term. But it is fair to say that the majority of the time that the term is used it is to attack Darwin’s theory (and probably most of the time scientists use the term it is to defend the theory from attackers using the term). It was probably around the time of the Modern Synthesis that the term started falling out of favor among scientists, as the term was usually too inexact (if someone were to say they see “evidence of Darwinism” in a population, what exactly do they mean? Positive selection? A deleterious trait disappearing? Something else?)

    Wells, of course, is wrong when he says that Wilson claimed that it was “enemies” that coined “Darwinism”. That’s Wells’ own misreading. Wilson is knowledgeable enough of history to know that it was Huxley who coined the term in 1860.

  8. 8
    Bob O'H says:

    News – yes, it has been used for a long time. But that’s not my point. My point is that in the Newsweek piece Wilson doesn’t say that the word “Darwinism” was coined by enemies of Darwin to make him look bad. So Wells either has another source or his claim is wrong. It seems like he’s the one sowing confusion.

  9. 9
    ET says:

    Bob O’H- Then what was Wilson talking about? It seems to everyone else that Wilson is sowing confusion.

  10. 10
    Mung says:

    Critics also made up the terms Neo-Darwinism and The Modern Synthesis. Creationists also made up the work homology.

    It’s utterly pernicious.

  11. 11
    Bob O'H says:

    ET – he wasn’t talking about the origins of the term.

  12. 12
    ET says:

    Bob O’H- that is your opinion. Do you have any evidence to support it?

    Seems to me that Wilson is engaging in equivocation as “evolution” has several meanings, one being Darwin’s intended use. People, who don’t want to equivocate, use “Darwinism” or “Neo-Darwinism” so people understand they are talking about evolution by means of blind, mindless processes.

  13. 13
    Bob O'H says:

    ET – If he was talking about the origins of the term then he would have said something about the origins of the term. Now, it’s possible he did, but then for Wells to make his claims that Wilson “claimed that the word “Darwinism” was coined by enemies of Darwin to make him look bad” he should have some evidence for it. The quote he gives doesn’t say that. So perhaps Wells has some other evidence. But the claim is his, so he should be the one providing the evidence.

  14. 14
    ET says:

    Bob O’H- Thank you, however if he was aware of the origin of the word then what he said doesn’t make any sense. Perhaps it was just the wrong choice of words and he should have said something like- “Creationists took the original intent and twisted it”.

    And the fact that Wilson said: “Scientists,” Wilson adds, “don’t call it ‘Darwinism’.”, seems to support Wells as a scientist coined it.

  15. 15
    Bob O'H says:

    ET – I think the point is that what is termed Darwinism is a historical idea, i.e. it’s what Darwin originally suggested. But some of his ideas were wrong (e.g. on heredity), and there was much that was incomplete. So contemporary evolutionary biology is very different. it has evolved, if you like.

  16. 16
    ET says:

    Yes, yes, yes. The concept of evolution has evolved in that it has changed over time as our knowledge has increased. Just like genetics has changed since Mendel. But Mendel is still considered the father of genetics just as Darwin is considered the father of evolutionary thought. Darwin’s concept of natural selection is still the only game in town for allegedly being capable of producing the appearance of design. Drift has become more prominent but is still restricted to intra-species variation.

    AND it is still all evidence free. No one knows how to test the claim that natural selection can produce the appearance of design. That means it is based more on faith than science. Which means the “-ism” is well deserved, ie “Darwinism” or “evolutionism”.

  17. 17
    Axel says:

    It is entirely down to the reputation of the ‘ism’ concerned. In fact, it seems to reflect an extraordinary, even childlishly unthinking petulance to besmirch the good name of.. well, OK, maybe not..

    But it’s like one of our judges in the UK defining ‘deviancy’ as a ‘hate word’ ! Presumably, believing all deviations to be ‘standard’, or to be held as such by legislative dictat in common law in the future.

    There are certain slang, racist words that are absolutely replete with hatred, but in the case of Jewish people, for instance … see I have difficulty bringing myself to use the word, ‘Jew’ ; and that is because I have heard it used pejoratively so often.

    Yet, the Jews, themselves, have such a strong self-image, that they use no kind of periphrasis, whatsoever, when referring to themselves as a people, as Jews.

    Words, themselves, have no more nor less significance than we than we choose to give them, do they ? Which is why the luminaries of the Academie Francaise tear their hair out at the French people’s disobedience. If they want to talk about ‘le weeked’, they’ll talk about ‘le weekend.

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