Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Saying goodbye to "Darwinism"

Absolutely fantastic blog-post from Olivia Judson, Lets Get Rid of Darwinism. If you have time, please read the full article.

Talking about Darwin's contributions she writes:
In short, Darwin did more in one lifetime than most of us could hope to accomplish in two. But his giantism has had an odd and problematic consequence. It’s a tendency for everyone to refer back to him. “Why Darwin was wrong about X”; “Was Darwin wrong about Y?”; “What Darwin didn’t know about Z” — these are common headlines in newspapers and magazines, in both the biological and the general literature. Then there are the words: Darwinism (sometimes used with the prefix “neo”), Darwinist (ditto), Darwinian.

Why is this a problem? Because it’s all grossly misleading. It suggests that Darwin was the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, of evolutionary biology, and that the subject hasn’t changed much in the 149 years since the publication of the “Origin.”

He wasn’t, and it has. Although several of his ideas — natural and sexual selection among them — remain cornerstones of modern evolutionary biology, the field as a whole has been transformed. If we were to go back in a time machine and fetch him to the present day, he’d find much of evolutionary biology unintelligible — at least until he’d had time to study genetics, statistics and computer science.
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.

It does not. In the years ahead, I predict we will continue to refine our understanding of natural selection, and continue to discover new ways in which it can shape genes and genomes. Indeed, as genetic data continues to flood into the databanks, we will be able to ask questions about the detailed workings of evolution that it has not been possible to ask before.

This is also important as the term Darwinism sometimes gets associated with things that are completely unrelated to evolutionary biology, yet the connection is used in popular debates over creationism/evolution. In fact, a favorite strategy of creationists like Harun Yahya, is to link Darwinism with atheism, secularism, and even with terrorism and racism (and some other isms that I'm forgetting right now) to argue for the rejection of the biological theory.

Lets say goodbye to Darwinism. Read the full article here.


Don said...

The one that leaves me wondering is still when people use "Darwinian evolution". I guess it could be accurate in an historical sense, but it shouldn't be used to distinguish biological evolution from, say, conceptual evolution. The modern synthesis, DNA, and ecology are pretty important, and focusing on the Origin kind of leaves them out. I wish "Darwinism" was left to the fools at the DI, rather than remaining in general discourse.

Salman Hameed said...

Apart from harping on Darwinism, the Discovery Institute/UD has started using another term for people who accept evolution: "chance worshipers". I actually find it oddly amusing (though I like chance-huggers even better).

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