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Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live - Comments

Lev-CapeTown's Avatar Comment 1 by Lev-CapeTown

I totally agree. Great article. Darwin deserves a great amount of credit for a an even greater theory, but the overall theory we have today has been a collaborative effort. By pinning it all on one man, you give the religious nut cases a great straw man to attack.

Its a lot easier to say:"Darwin was wrong." Than to say "All the distinguished scientists that have collaborated and contributed to probably the most important theory ever are wrong."

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 12:13:00 UTC | #325125

Jay Cee's Avatar Comment 2 by Jay Cee

Generally I like the article except this part:

Into the breach: intelligent design. I am not quite saying Darwinism gave rise to creationism, though the “isms” imply equivalence. But the term “Darwinian” built a stage upon which “intelligent” could share the spotlight.

The author makes out that Darwinism has been deliberately been turned into a belief system by scientists. His reasoning is upside down. It is due to the controversy of Darwins idea that it has become "Darwinism". It is a religious society which turned "Darwinism" into a belief system not the scientists. Pinning everything on Darwin is what people who attack evolution do not what scientists do. Yes Darwinism must die, but ID and religion must die first.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 12:17:00 UTC | #325126

Opisthokont's Avatar Comment 3 by Opisthokont

I could only get through the first page before I gave up on this. Nobody refers to evolution as "Darwinism" except creationists, and evolutionary biologists are the first to admit that Darwin was the beginning and is not the end.

Yes, I said "the beginning": others had the concept of evolution before Darwin, and others even had the notion of natural selection before him too. Darwin acknowledges this himself in the introduction to the later editions of the Origin of Species. But Darwin was the man who made the theory scientific: only vague and untestable theorising preceded him. Similarly, the ancient Greeks came up with atomic theory, but modern chemistry begins with Dalton, who put it on a scientific basis.

Introductory courses in evolution generally mention Darwin in the first couple of weeks, and then get on with where the theory has gone since. Immense progress has been made since him, and no serious scientist claims otherwise. Furthermore, there are many things about which Darwin was utterly and famously wrong. His work is littered with confessions of his lack of knowledge about how things work. But at the same time, he was a genuinely great mind, capable of synthesising and distilling an incredibly powerful theory in spite of being handicapped with a lack of basic information that has later been found indispensible to its implementation. This is not easy.

Darwin is, without question, worthy of celebration. The recent anniversary is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrance, and it saddens me that people are so ill-informed as to insist that it should not be given its due regard.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 12:25:00 UTC | #325129

jamhum's Avatar Comment 4 by jamhum

I couldn't agree more. We respect Darwin but we really need to move on. The debate is placed too much on him but not the tonnes of scientists who have taken his theory from infancy to adulthood.

I always reject the use of the terms darwinism and darwininan and darwinist. It carries too much negative connotations by often times stupid people, who might have a point but don't even realise it.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 12:31:00 UTC | #325133

Lev-CapeTown's Avatar Comment 5 by Lev-CapeTown

Good point. It most certainly is the religious who push the word "Darwinism" as if scientists worship him and treat evolution as a religion.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 12:31:00 UTC | #325134

shaunfletcher's Avatar Comment 7 by shaunfletcher

There are so many errors in the piece it is shocking that he had the arrogance to write it without doing any background or even thinking it through properly. I suspect a headline looking for a supporting article rather than the reverse.

Opisthokont makes several of the major points.

Darwins achievement is very much more substantial than he gives credit for.

Scientists and educationalists invariably refer to it as Evolutionary Theory, and if Darwin is mentioned it is in terms such as 'Darwins theory of Evolution' almost never Darwinism.

Other scientists are very very frequently referred to during reference to the fields based on their work. Newton, Einstein, Galileo and countless others are mentioned constantly. Does the author think their work is also not the subect of constant refinement?

While Darwin indeed did not know, or have any way of knowing, what the mechanism was, he was able, through the rigour of his work, to see what he didnt know, to clarify the problem, and to create the framework for the answer to fit into. He would have immediately understood the answer when it came.

The nonsensical idea of 'disprove anything by Darwin, and thus disprove evolution' exists only in the mind of those intent on dishonest tactics to prop up their religion.

I strongly suggest not demeaning the name of the man who did in fact figure out and prove the basic method by which we all came into existence in order to try to defeat by sinking to the level of those who want that to happen.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 12:39:00 UTC | #325138

Bueller_007's Avatar Comment 6 by Bueller_007

I don't really mind "Darwinism". Actually, I kind of like having his name in there out of respect for the guy who started it all (a la "Newtonian Mechanics"). Anyone with half a brain knows that science has moved on in the last 150 years and we don't think of "Darwinism" as he proposed it.

If you think shunning the name will have any effect on converting creationists, I think you're sorely out of touch.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 12:39:00 UTC | #325137

Peribolos's Avatar Comment 9 by Peribolos

Both Lev and Jamcam are right. I think the point this misses is that it's largely those who don't understand evolution that focus on Darwin. Even the most science fluent ID proponents barely grasp anything developed since the 19th century, and many common criticisms of 'Darwinianism' are rendered irrelevant by later work. In fact 'Darwinism' itself is a phrase largely confined to creationists.

On the other hand perhaps this does mean the onus is on us to draw attention to the way our understanding of evolution is changing and continues to develop.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 12:42:00 UTC | #325141

Quine's Avatar Comment 8 by Quine

Charles Darwin didn’t invent a belief system. He had an idea, not an ideology. The idea spawned a discipline, not disciples. He spent 20-plus years amassing and assessing the evidence and implications of similar, yet differing, creatures separated in time (fossils) or in space (islands). That’s science.

I like this very much, and have been against the "ism" in Darwinism for some time. Charles Darwin is not to blame for this (he did not set himself up as any kind of cult leader) and I don't think any one or group of scientists is, either. This trend for making "isms" out of ideas can cause them (as memes) to spring up easily, and without looking, we can each get caught up in the flow.

We see the truth of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, and I greatly admire the work and person of Charles Darwin; at the same time, I am not a "Darwinist" or ever claim to support "Darwinism." I agree with the author and, without any disrespect to one of the greatest scientists, ever, I also advise all to simply drop this label.

P.S. Here is a link to the background of the author (Carl Safina).

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 12:42:00 UTC | #325139

Jay Cee's Avatar Comment 10 by Jay Cee

Comment #340929 by shaunfletcher

There are so many errors in the piece it is shocking that he had the arrogance to write it without doing any background or even thinking it through properly. I suspect a headline looking for a supporting article rather than the reverse.

Can you point out the errors' I admit I can't see any.

Edit - the author is a scientist and conservationist, I doubt that he failed to do his background reading.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 12:48:00 UTC | #325143

Fizzle's Avatar Comment 11 by Fizzle

I agree with dropping the whole ism thing.

I'm alright with celebrating pioneers for a bit but evolution, atomic theory and science in general have moved on since the aforementioned fields took proper shape.

On that note, why do we have a Darwin Day? I haven't heard of Newton day or Einstein day.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:05:00 UTC | #325144

shaunfletcher's Avatar Comment 12 by shaunfletcher

Science does not routinely refer to Evolutionary Theory as 'Darwinism', so doesnt have the capacity to stop doing so.

Darwin did not 'take the tiniest step beyond common knowledge.' . Thats just minimising his work.

Other scientists are in fact often more associated with the fields they developed, most notably Newton (Newtonian Mechanics is the term even scientists regularl use) and Einstein, but others also.

There is no 'cult of Darwinism' to kill. Its to be expected that those working in this field would hold him in high esteem, and celebrate his achievements. Just as is done with all those who advanced human knowledge or other aspects of civilisation in major ways.

Asking us to stop operating a cult of Darwinism is, to use a very old analogy, like me asking someone to stop beating their wife, when they never started doing so. Its offensive.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:06:00 UTC | #325145

Nastika's Avatar Comment 14 by Nastika

Comment #340936 by Fizzle

On that note, why do we have a Darwin Day? I haven't heard of Newton day or Einstein day.

Google searches for:

"Celebrate Newton's birthday"220 hits
"Celebrate Einstein's birthday"339 hits
"Celebrate Darwin's birthday" 1,280 hits

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:13:00 UTC | #325152

Fizzle's Avatar Comment 13 by Fizzle

Although what he's claiming seems dishonest. I've never seen a scientist "park evolution" with Charles Darwin.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:13:00 UTC | #325150

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 15 by Richard Dawkins

I've never understood the hostility to 'Darwinism'.
What is the alternative? 'Evolution' won't do because that includes non-Darwinian ideas of evolution (e.g. Lamarckian evolution, cultural evolution, evolution of language, evolution as opposed to development, evolution where the mechanism is unspecified). 'Natural selection' won't do, because there is more to what Darwin did than natural selection. 'Evolution by natural selection' does the job accurately, but that is four words instead of one. And then, what are we going to do about the historical improvement that we call 'Neo-Darwinism'? Where shall we find a word for that.

Unless anyone can think of a better solution, I'm sticking with 'Darwinism'.

I'm glad to see that PZ Myers agrees with me:

So does Jerry Coyne:


Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:18:00 UTC | #325153

Prince of Gonzo's Avatar Comment 16 by Prince of Gonzo

Some of the things in the article seemed rather sloppy, especially when he was talking about Erasmus Darwin's legacy. In my opinion, finding out the mechanism is what science is all about. Is the author seriously suggesting that the credit for Newton's gravitation be given to the first muzhik to notice that things tend to fall to the ground if you drop them?

I also find it odd that the author chose to talk about the state of science in Darwin's day and age without mentioning Lyell. "Science was primitive in Darwin's day," his paragraph starts, but then he goes into a list of things that, to me, illustrate how truly impressive the idea of descent with modification is. Think of it: Darwin didn't know why people got sick but he figured out the driving mechanism for life.

That said, Darwinism seems to be to be nearly pejorative, at least in the mode of its usage. If someone asks me what I think about Biology I don't say "I'm a Darwinist" and I wouldn't assume that anyone would. To riff on shaunfletcher's point a little, it's like being grilled on your wife-beating proclivities when you're not even married.

edit: I realize that there are actual answers to that question about Biology like Neo-Darwinism, I was just pointing out that "Darwinism" seems to be a straw man in general; no one doing research at the moment goes only off of Darwin's books and nothing else, as far as I know. Science is cumulative, what really needs to die is the misunderstanding of science.

edit: grammar

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:26:00 UTC | #325159

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 17 by Richard Dawkins

I don't say "I'm a Darwinist" and I wouldn't assume that anyone would. To riff on shaunfletcher's point a little, it's like being grilled on your wife-beating proclivities when you're not even married.
WHAT? What are you talking about?

I'm a Darwinist and proud of it. When have you ever met anyone who thinks the word is pejorative? Apart from creationists, whom one doesn't meet anyway if one can help it?


Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:30:00 UTC | #325164

mrgoodjob's Avatar Comment 18 by mrgoodjob

I am taking a 'Dariwnism and Philosophy' course at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and one of the first things I addressed in class was the inappropriateness of the term "Darwinism". The professor didn't seem to get it at all!! I even paraphrased Eugenie Scott's brilliant account of Methodological Materialism Vs. Philosophical Materialism but the teacher still didn't get it. I witnessed first hand how utterly confused the religious/spiritual minded students were regarding the term 'Darwinism'. It sounds like there is some mystery or controversy to evolution, as if it is a philosophy. Needless to same, I'm pissed. I can't believe there is such negligence in academia were a curriculum is pretty much built upon yakkity yak, rather than understanding.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:32:00 UTC | #325166

Prince of Gonzo's Avatar Comment 19 by Prince of Gonzo

Um, this is awkward. I hope my edit cleared up what I was intending to say a little. As for when I've met people that think the word is pejorative, I live in Arkansas, sadly.

edit: I admire Darwin very much, I just don't know why one would call oneself Darwinist (when being specific) when so many other people have added to the completeness of the Theory. Neo-Darwinist is a word that I like.

OT: it's not every day that the person who wrote a book that got you to ditch theism slams you for incoherence. I'm going to crawl into a cave.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:33:00 UTC | #325170

mrgoodjob's Avatar Comment 20 by mrgoodjob

I'm willing to bet that Dawkins doesn't mind the term 'Darwinism' because he's awaiting the day that someone with credentials uses the term 'Dawkinsism'. Hell, that's probably been said.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:37:00 UTC | #325171

nowoo's Avatar Comment 21 by nowoo

I like University of Toronto biochemistry professor Larry Moran's article, "Why I'm Not a Darwinist":

He writes:

"Richard Dawkins is a Darwinist and Daniel Dennett is a Darwinist. I am not a Darwinist. I prefer a modern pluralist view of evolution as I explain in Evolution by Accident.

I am not a Darwinist, just as most of my colleagues in the Department of Physics are not Newtonists, and most of my friends who study genetics are not Mendelists. All three of these terms refer to the ideas of famous men (Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel) who made enormous contributions to science. But in all three cases, the modern sciences have advanced well beyond anything envisaged by their founders.

Call me an evolutionary biologist."

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:42:00 UTC | #325173

jamhum's Avatar Comment 22 by jamhum

You know what would get creationists pissed. If people started referring to selfish gene analogies or memetics as dawkinsians. LOL

I'd be proud to be a Dawkinsian. LOL

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:44:00 UTC | #325175

Jay Cee's Avatar Comment 23 by Jay Cee

It's good to see that I disagree with something Richard, Coyne and PZ have said for once. I don't think you should have to refer to yourself as a Darwinist because evolution by natural selection is true and it is not a belief system. A physicist doesn't ever have to refer to himself as a "quantum mechanist" or a "newtonist" simply because there is no controversy surrounding those fields. Once something has been established as a fact you should no longer have to advertise yourself as a proponent of that theory because you would assume that everyone is a Darwinist and Newtonist.

String theorists are called such because their field is not yet established fact. When it is, scientists will no longer have to refer to themselves as "string theorists". What do you think.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:58:00 UTC | #325183

shaunfletcher's Avatar Comment 24 by shaunfletcher

I have to admit to feeling a little foolish on that.. I had literally failed to notice the common enough use of the word 'Darwinism' (not that I think its an important word at all, my objection is reserved for the idea of a cult of Darwin) I had got it into my head that mostly the term 'Neo-Darwinian Evolution' was used by Richard and others.

My bad.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 13:59:00 UTC | #325184

Quine's Avatar Comment 26 by Quine

P.Z. from the link Richard gave above:

As for equating evolution and Darwin, I deny that, too. I reject the label of "Darwinist" because my interests in the field are so remote and alien from what Darwin did that we really don't have much in common — I care about evo-devo and molecular phylogenies and gene regulation and signal transduction, none of which invalidate Darwin's ideas about selection and change and common descent, but which are such distant derivations of 19th century science that if Darwin were handed one of the papers in the field, he would find it incomprehensible. Again, this is a common experience among my colleagues: we respect Darwin as the discoverer of a set of general core principles, principles that have stood the test of time and are still incredibly useful, but we've moved on.

I think Darwinian Evolution works just as well as Newtonian Mechanics. Neither are "isms." As for "Neo-Darwinism" I think it is unfortunate and has the intrinsic problem that all labels have that include some kind of "new" or "modern" in that they go stale when time moves on and what was "new" becomes old. At some point in the future "Neo-Darwinism" will become a double problem.

Jerry Coyne from the link Richard gave above:

Even if Darwinism had outgrown Darwin, it would be impossible to rechristen it.

Oh come on, memes mutate. Just say "Darwinian Evolution." We see "isms" fade out when people stop using them. At present, the terminology is not important when people who understand each other use it. The important part comes when people do not already understand each other. This is the case out in the culture war currently going on over the acceptance of these scientific ideas.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 14:07:00 UTC | #325191

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 25 by Stafford Gordon

I think that perhaps Darwin himself would disapprove of his becoming some kind of cult figure; I imagine that he would instead relish the developments which have resulted from his initial work.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 14:07:00 UTC | #325190

Hellene's Avatar Comment 27 by Hellene

What an extremely interesting time we live in. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 14:13:00 UTC | #325194

Chris_The_Positivist's Avatar Comment 28 by Chris_The_Positivist

I totally disagree! There is really nothing in using the term 'darwinism' to refer to evolution (in at the very least a general sense.) Darwinism and darwinian thinking must die? Is this simply to appease supposed religious objections to the word? This sounds like a disguised form of an attempt to 'water down' the theory, perhaps in line with current relativist leanings of many journalists."We must not offend people by evoking horrid images of a man's godless explanation of life being scientifically verified by mountains of evidence. No rather we should tread carefully, for reference to such a man's work and the blinding illuminating, brilliant light it shines over the truth is too confusing to comprehend...."
I'm sorry but Darwinism surely refers to the fundamentals of evolutionary thinking. Nit picking over lexical choice is arbitrary frankly. Darwinism/Evolution/Darwinian evolution is FACT. Showing people who are at odds with facts/wording etc, the vast evidence for Darwinian evolution will be infinatley more effective than trying to 're-arrange the furniture'.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 14:14:00 UTC | #325195

Jay Cee's Avatar Comment 29 by Jay Cee


The word Darwinist gives the impression that there are alternative explanations to evolution by natural selection. You don't need to refer to yourself as a "Quantum Mechanist" because there are no alternative theories that give values for the energy level of a hydrogen atom to 0.00000001dp.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 14:20:00 UTC | #325198

batsbatsbats's Avatar Comment 30 by batsbatsbats

Darwinism is the only word, describing a fact about the world, that also ends with "-ism". Is that right? It seems to be to my mind. Can someone think of others?

I believe that was the authors point. The term Darwinism is a fact, but it sounds like a political ideology (like Marxism, Socialism, Feminism, Anarchism, etc etc).

On the whole, a word is just a word. But I thought this article was important and thought provoking.

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 14:24:00 UTC | #325199