Thursday, October 2, 2008

Darwinian blasphemy

I'm a little confused by the term Darwinism. I suppose I could just look it up on Wikipedia and take the definition from there, and in truth I'm not really that confused about what the word means. But what confuses me is why it exists. It seems to be a kind of framing issue, a way to take science and turn it into an ism so that it can be more easily ignored.

Nobody - no person who wants to be taken seriously, at least - says that they don't subscribe to science, but it's a common comment - when dealing with Christian apologists or anti-evolutionists - to hear that someone is proud to be skeptical about Darwinism. And I think that it's because of this term (which Dawkins makes repeated use of, by the way, and I cringe every time I hear it even though he is clearly the expert in the matter) that it isn't more universally accepted.

To me, Darwinism does not exist, just as calculus is not called Newtonianism. I know that this is an imperfect analogy, but I think it makes my point. By calling an established, accepted theory of science by an ism label, it devalues it, it makes it sound more transient and less authoritative. But more importantly, it turns science into a philosophy, free to be ignored or accepted on the whim or personal beliefs of the general public. Darwinism is easily linked to pseudoscience and immoral eugenics programs of the late 1800s and early 1900s. In truth, of course, the theory of evolution (should that be capitalized?) has nothing at all to do with the superiority of species - in fact, if it is followed out to its logical conclusion, it is clear that all species are equally well adapted for their particular environment, equally evolved.

But maybe Darwinism is something else. Maybe I truly misunderstand the term and it is supposed to apply only to the idea of gradual change over time. This can, of course, apply to many things other than science: philosophy and social phenomena can be explained through the lens of what may be termed Darwinism. Although if this is the case, some clarification and definition of terms is in order. For my part, I hate to hear anti-evolutionists (Christians in my experience) refer to Darwinism as though it were belief in the Easter Bunny.

And as a small postscript: If you are reading this and do not think that evolution is real, then please go and learn some basic science. Religion may not be compatible with this element of science, but since religion is inherently incompatible with reality in general, it shouldn't be too difficult to fit this very basic scientific concept into your worldview.

1 comment:

Heather McIntosh said...

It's nice to hear I'm not the only one with these thoughts. I love your example of Newtonianism!! We should call mathematicians Newtonianists, ha ha.