A bone to pick on Darwinism

I’ve been busy converting everything I’m doing into an online format, but I had no idea this was happening!

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There is definitely some cognitive dissonance and double standards involved. I will agree with that.

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At the same time, there are creationists who take a stance curiously close to that of postmodernism: That one’s interpretation of evidence is necessarily and unavoidably determined by one’s ideological preconceptions and it is not possible to know something even as concrete and straightforward as whether the earth is older than 6000 years.


Well I guess if you care what people who think the universe is 6,000 years old think about you then I can see how that may be a problem.

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And I would say that’s a trivial point that everyone is fully aware of.

I agree with you Art 100%.

Darwinism is just referring to the mechanism of adaptive evolution - natural selection. The broad strokes of that mechanism Darwin got right and those ideas have had lasting value in fundamental ways that Newtonian mechanics have not. Sure of course Darwin didn’t get everything right. No one gets everything right so that’s a pretty trivial criticism. And of course we’ve found out a lot more about evolution since Darwin. Again a trivial observation. We always find out more over time. But no one has really replaced natural selection as an explanation for adaptive evolution.

Now that said Darwin had antiquated views on race so attaching your name to any person whether it’s Darwin or Newton or Einstein or EO Wilson or Mayr or whoever always carries baggage but in as far as Darwin was the first to firmly establish common ancestry and natural selection as an explanation for adaptive diversity then I’m a Darwinist in that respect.

So very often I see people try to make trivial observations into something profound. It’s not really a big deal to say you’re a Darwinist in the scientific sense in my opinion.

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No. That’s DarwinIAN evolution. The “-ism” is the attempt to paint it as a political stance.


I am not a scientist, let alone a biologist. I am just a long-time armchair observer of Creationism.

However the word “Darwinism” is just a naming convention, rather than some erudite scientific hypothesis. It is therefore a rhetorical convention that should be judged on whether it aids or impedes understanding and so, I think, a matter on which a layman can offer an opinion.

“Darwinism” would seem to be a bit of an anomaly within scientific naming conventions. The normal practice seems to be to apply the scientist’s name as an adjective to the field in which they are working. Thus we have Newtonian Mechanics and Mendelian Genetics, rather than Newtonism and Mendelism. This convention even applies to work that has drifted to the fringes of science, such as Freudian Psychoanalysis or Jungian Psychology. This convention, I think, is useful in that it positions the scientist’s work as part of their field, rather than rhetorically divorcing it from that field. Using the term “Darwinian Evolution” (particularly when one is emphasising Natural Selection, or distinguishing from earlier conceptions of evolution, such as Lamarckian evolution) would fit with this convention. The use of “isms” on the other hand tends to be more conventional within the field of philosophy: Monism, Dualism, Marxism, and (coming perhaps closest to Darwin) Vitalism. I’m not sure that “Darwinian Evolution”/“Darwinism” is a good fit amongst this company.

I also think that terming this “Darwinism” tends to obscure the contribution of all the evolutionary biologists who have worked since Darwin’s time. Darwin’s work may be the substantial root system of the tree (figuratively speaking), but it is not the entire tree. Using the convention “Darwinian Evolution” implicitly acknowledges that there is more to evolution than Darwin.

This conflation between Darwin and the full corpus of evolutionary work can serve a darker rhetorical purpose. It could be said, without much in the way of exaggeration, that Creationism is simply apologetics justifying a restrictive (YEC) or slightly looser (OEC) reading of the Book of Genesis. Calling Evolution “Darwinism” makes it easier to make a false equivalence – that “Darwinism” is just apologetics justifying On the Origin of Species/the ‘Book of Darwin’, rather than the reality that it is a fecund and ever-increasing body of research. Along similar lines, the ‘just a theory’ canard can be taken a step further, to ‘just Darwin’s theory’ – that “Darwinism” is simply an archaic 19th century holdover, with little relevance to the 21st century. None of this might be said explicitly, but I often feel I detect an implicit undertone of this in creationist rhetoric.

As I said in the beginning, I am not a scientist, so do not have the hubris to tell scientists, who have worked for decades in fields, how they must label them. But words have power: used wisely, to illuminate; used unwisely, to confuse; and used maliciously, to deceive. They should therefore be used with consideration and care.


It’s so not a big deal. I don’t know why anyone cares about this either way.

It doesn’t matter to you because you know the reality of science. The targets of such rhetoric don’t have a clue, as can be seen right here every day.

Framing matters a lot in politics.