Stranger Fruit

Some fundamental definitions

Someone in all this brouhaha (I can’t remember whom and can’t find the comment online) claimed that only creationists use the phrase “Darwinian Fundamentalist”. The phrase actually originated with Stephen Jay Gould (New York Review of Books, June 12 1997) for the “conviction that natural selection regulates everything of any importance in evolution, and that adaptation emerges as a universal result and ultimate test of selection’s ubiquity.” He cites Maynard-Smith, Dawkins and Dennett as being “ultra-Darwinists” and thus Darwinian fundamentalists. In fact, Dennett (speaking in March 2006) agreed with Gould:

The late Steve Gould was really right when he called Richard [Lewontin Dawkins] and me Darwinian fundamentalists. And I want to say what a Darwinian fundamentalist is. A Darwinian fundamentalist is one who recognizes that either you shun Darwinian evolution altogether, or you turn the traditional universe upside down and you accept that mind, meaning, and purpose are not the cause but the fairly recent effects of the mechanistic mill of Darwinian algorithms. It is the unexceptioned view that mind, meaning, and purpose are not the original driving engines, but recent effects that marks, I think, the true Darwinian fundamentalist”

If a Darwinist can be a fundamentalist, can they be evangelical?


Marked by militant or crusading zeal [Webster]

Eager to share one’s enthusiasm with others; hortatory, proselytizing. [OED]

Yes, of course. Dawkins, for example, is definitely an evangelical Darwinian.

Is there such a thing as an evangelical atheist? Obviously. Again, Dawkins is one. As are PZ and many of his commentators.


  1. #1 Rob Knop
    November 24, 2006


    You just stepped in it.

    Call folks like that anything other than “freethinkers” or “utterly rational people whose opinions and views are influenced by nothing than 100% correct reason,” and they tell you that you don’t understand vocabulary.

    Good luck.


  2. #2 chet snicker
    November 24, 2006

    i think ‘richard’ would be dawkins, not lewontin. at least if you are talking of ‘darwinian fundamentalists.’

  3. #3 PZ Myers
    November 24, 2006

    Yes, that’s definitely referring to Dawkins, not Lewontin, especially since Lewontin and Gould found common cause in most matters in this debate. I’d add, though, that:

    1. Since I tend to fall much, much closer to the Gould/Lewontin side of the evolutionist spectrum than the Dawkins/Dennett side, it’s awfully silly to call me a Darwinian fundamentalist.

    2. Dennett’s definition is pretty darn bogus. It makes EVERYONE in biology out to be a Darwinian fundamentalist, and ignores the Gould/Lewontin distinction between the idea that natural selection was the only force of interest in evolution, and the pluralist view that there are multiple important mechanisms.

  4. #4 John Lynch
    November 24, 2006

    i think ‘richard’ would be dawkins, not lewontin. at least if you are talking of ‘darwinian fundamentalists.’

    My bad. Fixed, thanks.

  5. #5 JohnnieCanuck
    November 25, 2006

    Hmm. Evangelical. ευαγγελιον

    The word has a lot of religious baggage riding with it. The early Christians were very pleased to spread their good news meme. These days of course it mostly implies Baptists and their ilk.

    On the other hand Apple Computers has no difficulty in appropriating the word as a part of their culture.

    Given that I see religion as harmful overall to science and humanity, I would like to see all atheists, agnostics and other free thinkers accept the concept if not the term evangelical and try to make their voices heard at every opportunity.

    I am becoming optimistic that Dawkins et al are beginning to get some traction in their efforts. Time will tell if I am just using wishful thinking.

  6. #6 RPM
    November 25, 2006

    Culture wars and anti-evolution bullshit aside, a Darwinian fundamentalist would be very different than an evangelical atheist. A Darwinian fundamentalist would take a strident adaptationalist viewpoint on the evolution of pretty much everything (maybe even to the point of discounting neutral evolution or stochastic processes). Darwinian evolution, in the actualy scientific meaning of the term, refers to evolution by positive natural selection (adaptation).

    Using terminology in a way that mimics anti-science talking points (ie, using the term Darwinian or Darwinist to refer to evolution itself, not positive natural selection) is not productive for anyone on the pro-science side.