Mike the Mad Biologist

I Don’t Like the Word Darwinism Either

Since I’ve ripped into Olivia Judson before, it’s only fair that I note Judson’s good suggestion–eliminate the term Darwinism (although we definitely need to keep TEH DARWINSIMZ!!; italics mine):

I’d like to abolish the insidious terms Darwinism, Darwinist and Darwinian. They suggest a false narrowness to the field of modern evolutionary biology, as though it was the brainchild of a single person 150 years ago, rather than a vast, complex and evolving subject to which many other great figures have contributed. (The science would be in a sorry state if one man 150 years ago had, in fact, discovered everything there was to say.) Obsessively focusing on Darwin, perpetually asking whether he was right about this or that, implies that the discovery of something he didn’t think of or know about somehow undermines or threatens the whole enterprise of evolutionary biology today….

Darwin was an amazing man, and the principal founder of evolutionary biology. But his was the first major statement on the subject, not the last. Calling evolutionary biology “Darwinism,” and evolution by natural selection “Darwinian” evolution, is like calling aeronautical engineering “Wrightism,” and fixed-wing aircraft “Wrightian” planes, after those pioneers of fixed-wing flight, the Wright brothers. The best tribute we could give Darwin is to call him the founder — and leave it at that. Plenty of people in history have had an -ism named after them. Only a handful can claim truly to have given birth to an entire field of modern science.

Of course, creationists will always call evolutionary biology Darwinism. One reason is that they don’t know what they’re talking about, and so, party like it’s 1859. The other reason is that they can’t afford to acknowledge that evolutionary biology is a dynamic growing field that successfully and continuously meets the challenge of new data.

Comments

  1. #1 TheNerd
    July 17, 2008

    I have just been having this very conversation with some friends, and it’s got me thinking. Perhaps every time someone uses the word “Darwinism”, we should interupt them to say “what’s that?” Make them explain the word “Darwinism”, as if it’s a foreign concept. Then after you get sick of listening to them babble on, say “Oh, I get it, you’re referring to Natural Selection! Why didn’t you just say so, that way people will know what the heck you’re talking about?” (You can modify it to be more or less rude at will.)

  2. #2 Qwerty
    July 17, 2008

    Wow, you really can’t say much more to Olivia Judson’s argument than DITTO!

    But we all know the creationists will keep using Darwinism for the simple reason is it murky enough and sounds like other bad isms like communism or nazism.

  3. #3 imr90
    July 17, 2008

    I already refrain from using “Darwinism”, as it sounds too much like an ideology. However, the term “Darwinian” is useful shorthand for a process that follows the principles of evolution by natural selection, even when it refers to culture, web phenomena, business, as well as biological evolution. So what term could we use instead of saying “it’s Darwinian”? It’s evolution-by-natural-selection-oid?

  4. #4 Steven
    July 17, 2008

    I agree Mike. I do cringe a bit with Dawkins says stuff like “As a Darwinian I…”. If anything he should say “As an evolutionary biologist I…”

    I’m not a fan of hero worship.

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