Thursday, December 17, 2009

Misconceptions about evolutionary terms

I recently saw an article in Evolution:Education and Outreach (doi:10.1007/s12052-009-0187-3) where the authors utilized the word "evolutionism" in the abstract. "Evolutionism", as well as "Darwinism", are not words I usually encounter on scientific publications, given their ideological/rhetoric connotation. But it happens that the authors are Brazilian (like myself), and I must admit that the usage of terms is more loose in terra Brasilis. Nonetheless I still wish we become more careful about the usage of words...

Yes, I know the definition from the dictionary, and that "evolutionism" was popularized by Herbert Spencer to promote social Darwinism (whose only connection to Darwin's work was a misappropriation of what he interpreted as "survival of the fittest"), and that the term "Darwinism" was coined by A.R. Wallace to refer to the principle of natural selection in Darwin's work. But continuing on my newest tradition of aggregating other material from the net, here are some links to comments about these loaded words.

Evolutionism @
Creationists tend to use the term evolutionism in order to suggest that evolution and creationism are equal in a philosophical debate. (...) Most scientists object to the terms "evolutionism" and "evolutionist" because the -ism and -ist suffixes accentuate belief rather than scientific study. Conversely, creationists use those same two terms partly because the terms accentuate belief, and partly perhaps because they provide a way to package their opposition into one group, seemingly atheist and materialist, designations which are considered to be irrelevant to natural science.
Wikipedia entry for Evolutionism:
In the modern scientific community the term is an anachronism and is considered redundant as the overwhelming majority of scientists accept evolution, and so it is not used. To say someone is a scientist implies evolutionary views. In the creation-evolution controversy, creationists often call those who accept the validity of the modern evolutionary synthesis "evolutionists" and the theory itself as "evolutionism." Some creationists and creationist organizations, such as the Institute of Creation Research, use these terms in an effort to make it appear that evolutionary biology is a form of secular religion.
The Evolution-Creation Struggle @ Living the Scientific Life [February 20, 2006]:
Let me make this clear: evolutionism is not evolutionary science and evolutionary biologists are not necessarily evolutionists. Evolutionary biology comprises a set of interrelated facts that support a testable theory describing the mechanisms that result in evolutionary change in living organisms throughout time. (...) By contrast, evolutionism provides spiritual and ideological philosophies built on or around a scientific narrative (namely, evolution) and proposes a progressive worldview based on directed mechanisms of organic change.
"Dogmatic Darwinists" - An Instance of the Misleading Rhetoric of the Anti-Evolutionists @ The Panda's Thumb [March 31, 2004]:
Calling evolutionary scientists "Darwinists" is simply a way of marginalizing mainstream science and scientists. The same could be said about the term "evolutionists," as it carries the connotation of someone fighting for belief in evolution (religious-style) instead of scientists working on evolution, whether it be biologists, geologists, paleontologists, biochemists, etc.
Let’s Get Rid of Darwinism @ Opinionator Blog - [July 15, 2008]:
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.”
Good riddance, Darwinism @ Laelaps [July 16, 2008]:
never liked the term "Darwinism." To me it has always been more of a watchword that might indicate that I was talking to a creationist, a term I generally do not encounter unless I'm  reading or hearing an argument against a straw-man version of evolution. (I'm not a big fan of "evolutionist," either.) It may have been useful in the past, when evolution by natural  selection (as popularized by Darwin) was competing with other systems like Neo-Lamarckism and orthogenesis, but today it doesn't have any relevance.
Darwinism @ The Frontal Cortex [July 16, 2008]:
If "Darwinism" should be a synonym for anything it should be the ideology of unrepentant materialism (theory of everything that didn't depend on any unknowable and intangible   forces), which is the underlying philosophy of modern science.
Down with Darwinism! @ Gene Expression [July 17, 2008]:
Do we talk about Newtonism? Einsteinism? We do talk about Epicureanism, Platonism, Neo-Platonism, Aristotelianism, etc. I think that says it all....
I Don't Like the Word Darwinism Either @ Mike the Mad Biologist [July 17, 2008]:
Of course, creationists will always call evolutionary biology Darwinism. One reason is that they don't know what they're talking about, and so, party like it's 1859. The other reason is that they can't afford to acknowledge that evolutionary biology is a dynamic growing field that successfully and continuously meets the challenge of new data.
Darwinism is Dead @ evolgen [July 17, 2008]:
Anyone who talks about "Darwinism" or "evolutionists" gets my attention. That's not to say that any use of those terms is incorrect. But they are often used as framing devices by creationists, and those frames get carried over into the lay discussion of biology.
Darwinism now affects intelligent design film! @ Evolving Thoughts (comment by Bob O'Hara) [April 13, 2008]:
Darwinism has never been about science, it's been about politics and being generally unpleasant to anyone who's inferior to us.
The Supposed Dichotomy between Creationism and Evolution @ National Center for Science Education [Spring, 1983]:
Among scientists the term [evolutionism] is an anachronism. There are no more "evolutionists" among biologists than there are "round-earthers" or "heliocentrists" among    astronomers, "Einsteinians" among physicists, or "antiphlogistonists" among chemists. We may say of a person that he or she is right-handed because there are many who are  left-handed, but we would never say of someone that he or she is "one-headed" simply because to say he or she is a person implies as much. So too, to say a person is a scientist encompasses the fact that he or she is an evolutionist. In scientific circles the term is redundant and is, therefore, never used.
Darwin as a False Idol @ evolgen [November 1, 2006]:
'Darwinism' is a meaningless term in biology. Yes, Darwinian selection has meaning (as a synonym for positive selection), but what the hell is Darwinism? Aside from a term creationists  use instead of saying 'evolution', Darwinism is as vacuous a word as creationism is a science. Stop referring to evolution as Darwinism if you respect science.
On the incoherence of "Darwinism" @ Evolving Thoughts [April 15, 2007]:
For a long time now, I have had troubles with the use of the word "Darwinism". Not just by creationists and antiscience advocates like IDevotees, but by scientists themselves. (...) Basically, when a term has no definition, or has too many definitions, it cannot be a term capable of being defined. But there is another way the term might have some reference - as a name. That is, as the name of a historical sequence of events. (...) So given these caveats, "Darwinian" can only mean "natural selection", which is historically problematic because Darwin's real originality lay not in that notion, but in the recognition that life diversified in a historical tree, which we call Common Descent" or "Phylogeny".
Ummm...what? @ From the Quantum to the Cosmic [March 26, 2008]:
During the Q&A session one young man stood up and asked Dawkins why he used the term Darwinism when referring to the theory of evolution. While noting that it is still common to do so in England, most American scientists eschew the term because of the manner in which it plays into the hands of creationists. We don't speak of Newtonism or Einsteinism, the young man pointed out, and referring to the theory of evolution as "Darwinism" might give some the mistaken view that evolution is nothing more than a religion or cult of personality.

Now here's the really amazing thing: despite being about 30 years the young man's senior, Dawkins thoughtfully assented. He agreed that the young questioner had a point, one which he hadn't fully considered before. Perhaps "Darwinian" has it's place, but maybe "Darwinism" should be retired as too likely to be misconstrued. We in the audience saw a respected writer and science advocate who was willing to reevaluate himself and his choice of expression, and we all loudly applauded Dawkins' open-mindedness and willingness to change. It was a great moment.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Before writing, please read carefully my policy for comments. Some comments may be deleted.

Please do not include links to commercial or unrelated sites in your comment or signature, or I'll flag it as SPAM.


Related Posts with Thumbnails