Monday, July 25, 2005


Billy D. sez:
Many Darwinists are now finding that it no longer suits them to be called “Darwinists.”
When did evolutionary biologists ever refer to themselves as "Darwinists"? (Yes, a link from Billy's blog has some examples, but only from the popular and secondary literature.) I know Gould used the term in his essays, but never described himself professionally as such. Did Huxley ever use the term? Galton (Darwin's cousin who invented major statistical techniques)? Mayr?

I doubt it. I doubt that there were ever physicists or mathematicians who referred to themselves as "Newtonists" or "Einsteinists." Science isn't about personalities, it's about ideas, so evolutionary biologists describe themselves in terms of the idea they study (evolution) not the originator of the idea (Darwin).

Why do creationists love the term? By attaching a personal pronoun to the field, the creationists can attack Darwin, rather than the 150 years of research that have taken place since Darwin first published the Origin.

I like Darwin, and I'm constantly amazed at the insights that his writing prefigured, but he made plenty of errors. The rediscovery of genetics lead to something known as "the modern synthesis," replacing Darwin's easily disproven and unworkable model of inheritance with a quantized model that accorded with reality.

What's interesting is that the details of genetics average out over long time periods, so there's no reason that life with a different system of inheritance would have substantially different evolutionary dynamics.

Darwin's importance to modern biology should never be underestimated, but nor should modern science be tied to a researcher from ages ago.

Here's a fun challenge. Name a science which is commonly described by a person's name (a la "Darwinism"). Off-hand, I can't figure one out.