Re: [asa] The term Darwinism

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Sun Jun 28 2009 - 09:49:12 EDT

Yes, I was also reading the discussion between West and Barr with some interest. There is some difficulty in finding common ground in the sense that West is a media studies, government (politics) scholar, while Barr is a physicist. I find Barr's position displaying a similar bias to that of Thomas Kuhn, in the sense that he priviledges a 'physics-centric' view of 'science' rather than accepting the less rigorous or more contestable claims of biology in comparison to physics. West is offering an alternative view of 'what science is or can be' and Barr seems to be disallowing it, through appeal to a 'consensus' claimed by 'normal science' around the term 'Darwinism.' Nevertheless, I find the openness of both to discuss this topic healthy and their dialogue to be a fruitful one. Let me add another view by saying that Darwinists do not openly recognize Darwin's errors. That is, they are somehow overly enamoured with the person of Darwin, such that they neglect to forthrightly admit the several or many ways that some of Darwin's ideas are now considered wrong or obsolete. Darwin's ideas and worldview are intertwined with his contribution both to natural-physical and human-social sciences (cf. Robert Young's "Darwinism IS Social", though people often speak about his biology in a kind of vacuum. Again, let me draw ASA's attention to Douglas Allchin's article "Celebrating Darwin's Errors," published in the American Biology Teacher 2009 (, the same journal that carried Dobzhansky's 'nothing in biology makes sense...' now infamous phrase. From the Barr-West discussion: "There needs to be some word to describe the merely biological theory that life evolves and that it does so largely because of natural selection. The only word that exists at present to describe this biological idea is Darwinism. If we are going to use the word Darwinism to describe atheistic or reductionist philosophical views, then we will have to find some other agreed-upon word to describe the mere biological theory. At present, there is no such agreed-upon substitute word, or even any proposal or discussion of finding one. So we HAVE to use the word Darwinism to describe the mere biological theory — there is simply no other word available...The point is that we must use DIFFERENT terms to refer to the mere biology and the philosophical offshoots, if we are to avoid horrible confusion. There are lots of possible ways to refer to the philosophical offshoots. There is only one servicable term to denote the biology: Darwinism. If one is going to
 insist on using “Darwinism”, to refer to atheist and reductionist views, one has the obligation to propose another term for the mere biology, in fairness to the many people who accept the mere biology but reject the atheism and reductionism. " - Stephen Barr ( Why not just say 'evolution by natural selection' instead of Darwinism? A.R. Wallace claimed the same thing, and the biological theory is not called Wallacean evolution or Wallacean. Why not speak of "evolution as influenced (or proposed) by Darwin and many others"?  Barr seems open to adapting and/or adjusting his language (which I find especially encouraging!), but simply is without an appropriate term to do so! I can appreciate Barr's demand from West for an alternative to Darwinism and also that he doesn't think 'intelligent design' is a suitable 'alternative.' On the other hand, I'd rather side with what Cameron has been saying, by mentioning the possibility of a Dentonian evolution, or even a Behean evolution or Margulisian evolution, which is distinguished from 'Darwinism.' What West is arguing that Barr doesn't seem to notice is that saying "there is simply no other word available" than 'Darwinism' ends up justifying or validating the hegemonic view of evolution held mainly by atheists and agnostics in 'mere biology,' which is more diverse and flexible as an academic discipline and 'softer' (for lack of a better term)  than is Barr's physics. West isn't challenging 'gravity' or 'quantum mechanics,' but suggesting that certain features of Darwin's contribution to science have either been proven wrong (i.e. 'errors'), seem to be in a period of
 crisis or that they unfortunately display ideology sometimes instead of science. A significant re-reading of Darwin's position in the history of biology and natural sciences generally, according to West and the DI, is currently long overdue, now in order and already under way. Gregory ________________________________ From: Schwarzwald <> To: Sent: Sunday, June 28, 2009 7:24:19 AM Subject: Re: [asa] The term Darwinism For the record, I think the recent exchanges between Stephen Barr and John West on this subject highlight some of the problem with discussing this. John West's argument with Barr seems to be that he's certain Darwinism means unguided evolution - Barr's reply is that this isn't necessarily true (I think what Barr says he believes is God's relation to evolution rules out any suggestion that the man is being wishy-washy on guidance - he takes a harder view of it than most DI people do, I'd think). So Barr insists that he accepts Darwinism, but takes Darwinism to be neutral on questions of guidance or direction - I think he'd insist science is incapable of ruling on such things. West's reply is that either Barr rejects Darwinism (because he believes in guidance) or he's rejecting guidance (because he believes in Darwinism). Anyway, for those interested in further reading: is the First Things blog where Stephen Barr and others (Francis Beckwith's contribution in particular stands out to me) are discussing this.  John West's posts on this subject are at (both exchanges are multipart, else I'd just link directly). The impression I get from these exchanges (and I'm glad they take place) that ID proponents want those sympathetic with them to reject Darwinism publically, on the grounds that they think Darwinism is essentially tied to a belief that evolution is unguided and undirected. Meanwhile, TEs (or perhaps theistic ID opponents) many times think questions of guidance can be divorced from Darwinism, and what remains is still Darwinism - therefore they can 'believe in Darwinism' while still believing evolution is guided. I'm sure there's also the view that, even if they were to explicitly reject Darwinism solely on the grounds that they believe Darwinism cannot be divorced from a metaphysical claim about evolution being unguided, doing so would merely complicate matters. After all, to this day I see Behe written off as a YEC and evolution-denier, despite his position being vastly more nuanced. On Sat, Jun 27, 2009 at 11:59 PM, Cameron Wybrow <> wrote: Good point, David. I don't think that "Darwinism" would have caused the confusion you are speaking about back in the period Randy was writing about.  However, one could make a case that with the rise of things like "social Darwinism", "Darwinism" might be understood to refer to some philosophy or political or ethical view based loosely on biological evolution, but going much beyond it. For that reason, I agree with you that the term "Darwinian evolution" is more accurate and less ambiguous than "Darwinism".  But it takes longer to type!  So I sometimes type "Darwinism" as a short form, counting on the context to make it clear that I am talking about the evolution of species, not survival-of-the-fittest economics or eugenics programs or anything of the sort. Anyhow, sticking with "Darwinian evolution", it seems to me that not only Coyne and Dawkins, but also Miller and Collins, accept "Darwinian evolution" as an accurate and essentially correct "historical" account of nature.  And that is where I am skeptical.  I am dubious that the Darwinian account can really explain macroevolution, once the discussion moves from big, broad generalities to the examination of the building of particular organs and systems.  It seems to me that when it comes to the particulars, Darwinian evolution is quite sketchy, much sketchier than any major theory that I can think of in any field of science.  Of course, Coyne and Dawkins have a strong religious motive (atheism) to overlook this sketchiness and accept Darwinian evolution anyway; but Miller and Collins, one would think, would have a religious motive, not necessarily to reject Darwinian theory, but at least to give it a very hard look. Cameron. ----- Original Message ----- From: "Dave Wallace" <> To: "Cameron Wybrow" <> Cc: <> Sent: Thursday, June 25, 2009 1:38 PM Subject: Re: [asa] The term Darwinism Cameron Wybrow wrote: This is why I always use "Darwinian evolution" (or "Darwinism") as a term of distinction, and not just as a mere synonym for "evolution". Seems like a reasonable definition except that it is not clear how to easily refer to those like Dawkins and Coyne that not only accept "Darwinian evolution" but also hold to philosophical naturalism.  I have tended to use "Darwinism" for that purpose since the "ism" postfix is often used to refer to world view or religious beliefs. Dave W To unsubscribe, send a message to with "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message. __________________________________________________________________ Be smarter than spam. See how smart SpamGuard is at giving junk email the boot with the All-new Yahoo! Mail. 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Received on Sun Jun 28 09:50:08 2009

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