On Abolishing Darwinism

Olivia Judson has a suggestion about the use of the word Darwinism:

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.
Judson is one of my favorite science writers, and one of the NY Times columnists I read religiously, and her point here is absolutely correct. Problem is that it's just not going to happen, and there's nothing that we can do about it. It's not that the terms Darwinism or Darwinian themselves suggest a false narrowness to the field of evolutionary biology--it's that they are used by dishonest people in an attempt to narrow the field of evolutionary biology.

It's gotten to the point where when those words are used, I immediately look for the reference to the Discovery Institute or some other group trying to get creationism or Intelligent Design into the school system, because they're just about the only people left talking about it. Scientists and science enthusiasts look at Darwin the way Judson does--as a brilliant mind who advanced the science in ways most people can't even imagine, who was a part of the beginning of the study of evolution, but certainly isn't part of the ending. We celebrate him for what he is. Creationists try to turn him into a straw man, and so use his name as a pejorative to describe those people they can't beat in a reasoned argument.

Which is why those words won't disappear--because the people using them aren't interested in honest debate. They're looking for clubs to beat people over the head with, and they've latched onto Darwin's name as just such a club. More's the pity, because Darwin deserved better.

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