Darwinist or Darwinian, They’re One and the Same

From Jonathan Wells and evolutionnews.org.

“The Seattle Weekly is one of those free newsprint advertisers that you find in bins on street corners in most major U. S. cities. Their editorial boards usually consist of people too far to the left even for the establishment media, and as sources of news they’re probably about as reliable as Minju Choson, the official organ of the Democratic People’s Republic of [North] Korea. But homeless people make good use of them.

The August 29, 2007 issue of The Seattle Weekly features an article quoting Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). Despite its name, the NCSE is not about teaching science but indoctrinating students at public expense in Darwinism, the creation myth of modern secularism. Whenever critics of Darwinism raise their heads, the NCSE rushes in to bop ‘em, kind of like a carnival game. Except that when the NCSE bops someone on the head it usually means the end of that person’s career in science teaching.

Scott is quoted in The Seattle Weekly as saying that “a real follower of modern science would never call himself a ‘Darwinist’,” because “evolutionary biology has advanced way beyond Darwin’s 19th-century tracts.” [1]

It’s true that the word “Darwinist” is seldom used by defenders of Darwin’s theory, though “never” is too strong a description. In 2005, the NCSE’s own blog praised biologist Lynn Margulis for being “definitely a Darwinist.” [2] In 2006 Niles Eldredge, curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History and an ardent defender of evolutionary theory, called himself “a true Darwinist” in The Virginia Quarterly Review. [3]

“Darwinian” is the name preferred by modern evolutionary biologists, who use it widely in the scientific and popular literature. Yet this is a distinction without a difference. Whether such people call themselves Darwinists or Darwinians, they apparently haven’t heard the news that “evolutionary biology has advanced way beyond Darwin’s 19th-century tracts.”

Could Scott be following the lead of Harvard sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, who claims that the word “Darwinism” was coined by creationists to make Darwin 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,” he added, “don’t call it Darwinism.” [4]

Nice try, but Wilson’s revisionist approach to the history of biology doesn’t fit the facts. 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 was Darwin’s most ardent scientific 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 “The Integration of Darwinism and Evolutionary Morphology.” [5]

The reason that “Darwinism” and “Darwinian” – even “Darwinist” – are used by modern evolutionary biologists is that they are more precise than “evolution” and “evolutionist.” The latter have many meanings, most of them uncontroversial. For example, “evolution” can refer simply to change over time, something no sane person would deny. Or it can refer to minor changes within existing species, which breeders have known about for centuries.”

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