Evolution is an established scientific idea, the unifying theme of biology, and an important field of study. “Darwinism”, on the other hand, is a term used misleadingly by creationists to attack ideas they can’t counter on fact alone and misguidedly by journalists unwittingly assisting this process. With that in mind, the recent essay by Carl Safina in The New York Times entitled “Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live” seems a bit irrelevant:
By propounding “Darwinism,” even scientists and science writers perpetuate an impression that evolution is about one man, one book, one “theory.” The ninth-century Buddhist master Lin Chi said, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” The point is that making a master teacher into a sacred fetish misses the essence of his teaching. So let us now kill Darwin.
But our understanding of how life works since Darwin won’t swim in the public pool of ideas until we kill the cult of Darwinism. Only when we fully acknowledge the subsequent century and a half of value added can we really appreciate both Darwin’s genius and the fact that evolution is life’s driving force, with or without Darwin.
I’m not sure where one finds this “Cult of Darwinism”, but if such a thing does exist, I doubt you’ll find it populated by scientists. Safina might be reacting to all of the fanfare surrounding the upcoming Darwin Day on February 12th. As 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, this year’s festivities have been getting more attention than usual. And fair enough: it would be quite insane to argue that Darwin wasn’t an incredibly influential scientist.
Maybe this “Cult of Darwinism” is made up of science historians. If so, they would only be doing their job, as Darwin could only be ignored in some sort of horribly revisionist history of biological science. That’s really what it comes down to: Charles Darwin–the man, his journeys and studies, his ideas–are primarily of interest in terms of the history of science. The idea that modern scientists practice–or even talk about–“Darwinism” is totally preposterous.
In a sense, Safina is correct: Darwinism should be killed. And, to that end, scientists have already done their part. Unfortunately, though, it’s being kept on life support by creationists as one of their favorite red herrings.
Check out Pharyngula for a more detailed criticism of Safina’s essay.