Field of Science

Should Darwin be an 'ism'?

On Tuesday evening I'm leading a Cafe Scientifique discussion on the topic Should Darwin be an 'ism'? I chose this topic as something that a broad range of people would be interested in and have ideas about, but I need to do some reading and thinking first.  Luckily the discussions take place in a local pub (The Railway Club, 579 Dunsmuir, 7:30pm, in case you're interested), and the atmosphere is very informal.
What will I read?  Carl Safina had a very relevant article in the New York Times last month (Darwinism must die so that evolution may live, Feb. 9), which I need to read carefully.  When it came out I didn't take the time to read it properly because I expected to agree with everything it said.  But I also need to read a bit more history of the use of the term Darwinism, maybe in Ernst Mayr's The Growth of Biological Thought
What do I think?  Maybe biologists started referring to evolutionary theory as Darwinism as a way to give credit to a truly exemplary scientist.  But now the creationists are turning this against us, claiming that we 'worship Darwin like a god', and that any evidence that Darwin made any error is evidence that evolutionary theory is wrong.  Using the term Darwinism also lets people put evolutionary biology in with a pile of what are now largely discredited ideologies and belief systems (Marxism, Raelism, Freudian psychology, etc.).
Unfortunately the cat is out of the bag.  Getting evolutionary biologists to forego using Darwinism will be easy, but re-educating the general public will be much harder.  The real problem is still that the creationists are much better publicists than we are, and they are determined to keep the public believing that evolutionary biology is synonymous with Darwinism.


  1. May I also recommend "Don't call it 'Darwinism'" (from Evolution: Education and Outreach 2009; 2 (1))?

  2. It does always strike me as slightly absurd when a news piece refers a scientist as a "Darwinist". Why aren't they also identified as a "Copernican" for their "belief" in the heliocentric galaxy? What I took away from this week's shocking controversy with the Minister of Science is that there needs to be more emphasis on the fact that evolution has nothing to do with "belief", but is merely the logical conclusion in the face of the overwhelming scientific evidence. Perhaps using terms like "Darwinism" serve to obscure this.

    On the other hand, we don't see this problem with using terms like "Mendelian inheritance" or "Newtonian mechanics".

  3. Yes, I too would never have considered calling myself a a Darwinist. I've not read much of the philosophical literature on this, but I suspect that the pressing of the term Darwinsim comes from the religious, who seek to conflate religion and science in order that the former can be allowed to debase the latter.


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