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“Darwinism”

I am not satisfied with our definition of “Darwinism” in the glossary over to the right of our home page. The definition is, I think, accurate as far as it goes, but it is incomplete and somewhat vague. In this thread I invite friend and foe alike to provide a brief definition of “Darwinism.” The best entry or a synthesis of the best entries will obtain pride of place as permanent fixture in the UD glossary. Thank you.

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60 Responses to “Darwinism”

  1. Barry,

    Thanks for this. I’m very curious to see what the resulting definition is – and I’ll throw in two prominent descriptions of Darwinism I’ve come come across.

    * An evolutionary theory claiming that species and traits in nature have developed principally via natural selection and in a strictly gradual way. Also includes the positive claim that there exists no guidance by an intelligent agent, purpose, teleology or direction in evolution in an ultimate sense.

    * An evolutionary theory claiming that species and traits in nature have developed principally via natural selection and in a strictly gradual way. Neither requires nor rules out guidance by an intelligent agent, purpose, teleology or direction in evolution in an ultimate sense.

  2. A good start would be to use the correct term: Evolution.

  3. I guess it depends on what you are trying to do. The theory of evolution has changed a lot since Darwin. Do you try to capture what all these theories have in common, what Darwin orginally thought, or how the theory stands nowadays?

  4. The problem with using “Darwinism” is that it might be confused with “social Darwinism” or other views engendered by Darwin’s theory.

    I think that “Darwinian evolution” is the best term, because it distinguishes Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is resolutely anti-teleological, from other theories of evolution which are teleological in one way or another (e.g., Lamarck, Teilhard, Conway Morris, Denton).

    However, one could argue that even “Darwinian evolution” is ambiguous, because it might mean Darwin’s original view, or the view of later scientists who adopted and corrected his ideas, i.e., the proponents of “The Modern Synthesis,” also popularly called “neo-Darwinism” (Mayr, Dobzhansky, Gaylord Simpson, etc.). Such a person would argue that we would be more precise to say “neo-Darwinian evolution.”

    However, I find it cumbersome to keep saying “neo-Darwinian evolution,” so for short I like to just say “Darwinian evolution.” No one holds to the pure original Darwinian form of evolution, anyway; Darwinians since about the 1930s have essentially all been neo-Darwinians, so there is little chance that anyone will be confused by the shorter form.

    So my proposed term and definition would be:

    “Darwinian evolution:

    “The theory that all species have been derived from a small number of original forms, or perhaps only one, via a purely naturalistic mechanism in which random mutations and natural selection in combination are the primary engine of change.”

    And I’d add:

    “Footnote:

    “UD writers often use “Darwinism” as a convenient short form for “Darwinian evolution,” and in this usage, no reference to social or political doctrines of any kind, or to any philosophical notion of inevitable progress, is implied.”

    T.

  5. T,

    I think that “Darwinian evolution” is the best term, because it distinguishes Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is resolutely anti-teleological, from other theories of evolution which are teleological in one way or another (e.g., Lamarck, Teilhard, Conway Morris, Denton).

    This is the exact point I hope gets straightened out here. That ‘anti-teleological’ aspect seems to be a key problem ID proponents have with Darwinism, while at the same time it seems to be a component some self-described Darwinists TEs reject as well.

    It seems that to accept teleology – particularly, guidance by God, even if it’s scientifically undetectable – is to reject Darwinism as it is often spoke of around here, even if common descent, natural selection, etc are accepted.

  6. First of all, I share many of the considerations made by Timaeus, especially that we should talk of “neo-darwinian” rather than darwinian. I will do so, even if it is implicit that, for brevity, it is admissable to shorten it to “darwinian”.

    My second point is that we should use the word “theory”, and not “evolution”, in the name, because that is what it is: a scientific theory. The concept of evolution is part of the theory.

    So, I would go with something like:

    “Neo-darwinian theory is a scientific theory which explains the origin of diversity and complexity we observe in the living world according to a model based on the (gradual and) sequential action of two factors:

    a) random variation at the genetic level (RV)

    b) natural selection (NS), an effect due to different survival of the variants in their specific environment.

    These two explanatory mechanisms are dependent only on physical laws and on the laws of probability (necessity and chance), and in no way they require an intelligent guide or are teleological.”

    The last paragraph is in reality redundant, because it is simply a consequence of the definition, but I have added it for clarity.

    We could simply drop the “gradual” (which is not in itself essential, though it is a characteristic of most standard forms of neo-darwinian theory), to include also Gould and similar variants.

  7. Hi Barry,

    What do you think of this definition?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M....._synthesis

    My only quibble with it is that it fails to address the question of whether genetic variation is random or not.

    Here’s a quote from Mark Ridley’s 2004 book, Evolution (section 4.8, page 88):

    A basic property of Darwinism is that the direction of evolution, particularly adaptive evolution, is uncoupled from the direction of variation. When a new recombinant genotype arises, there is no tendency for it to arise in the direction of improved adaptation. Natural selection imposes direction on evolution, using undirected variation.

    http://books.google.com/books?.....38;f=false

  8. Well, I realize that I have not even used the word “evolution” in the definition. That’s maybe too much.

    So, I suggest to change it as follows:

    “Neo-darwinian theory is a scientific theory which explains the origin of diversity and complexity we observe in the living world according to a model of evolution (descent with modification) from a common ancestor, based on the (gradual and) sequential action of two factors:”

  9. Mr Arrington:

    An interesting issue.

    I have always thought the history is important, so that we understand that we are dealing with an evolving concept across 150 years. (And BTW, a read of Darwin’s Descent of Man — esp Chs 5 – 7 — will show that application to man in modern cultured society, and social darwinism, were for decades deeply embedded; and that, from the pen of Darwin himself. That history must not be distorted, for unpleasant through it is, it is the truth. Similarly, the contribution of Mr Wallace should not be suppressed. [This has a side-light on the current design theory as Wallace went on to propose a theory of Intelligent Evolution.])

    As the definition currently stands in the glossary:

    Darwinism – theories of evolution deriving from the work of Charles Darwin and Richard Wallace, as published from 1858 – 9 on. Subsequently, in the 1920?s – 40?s, in light of developments in genetics and related studies of evolutionary population dynamics a neo-darwinian synthesis led to the classical form of the modern evolutionary theory. Currently, this is undergoing changes in light of various observed and proposed mechanisms such as horizontal gene transfer and the like.

    I suggest modification in light of the above, on the lines of key insertions rooted in GP’s suggestions as influenced by Nullasalus, and taking on board a key cautionary point by Timaeus:

    ________________________

    Darwinism – theories of evolution deriving from the work of Charles Darwin and Richard Wallace, as published from 1858 – 9 on. Subsequently, in the 1920?s – 40?s, in light of developments in genetics and related studies of evolutionary population dynamics a neo-darwinian synthesis led to the classical form of the modern evolutionary theory.

    In the closing summary in Ch 15 of Origin of Species (6th Edn.), Darwin summarised the original theory as the implication and application of certain laws of nature acting on one or a few original biological forms, namely:

    . . . Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life and from use and disuse: a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.

    In the more modern form, the currently dominant [Neo-]Darwinian theory of evolution is a scientific theory which explains the origin of diversity and complexity we observe in the living world according to a model of evolution (descent with modification, acting at micro-level and/or macro/body plan-scale) from a common ancestor. This process of descent with modification is in the main based on the (gradual and) sequential action of two factors:

    a) random or chance variation at the genetic level (RV)

    b) natural selection (NS), an effect due to differential survival of the variant sub-populations in their specific environment.

    These two explanatory mechanisms are said to be dependent only on genetic laws of mutation and inheritance, then on the effect of environmental conditions and the dynamics of competing populations, with physical-chemical laws and probability in the background.

    (These forces and factors have been summed up by Jaques Monod — echoing Plato in his The Laws, Bk. X and also Democritus’ dictum: “[e]verything existing in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity” — in the title of a famous 1971 book: “Chance and Necessity.”)

    According to the dominant view, there exists no guidance by an intelligent agent, purpose, teleology or direction in evolution in an ultimate sense. (Theistic adherents to Darwinist views typically suggest that God so set up the laws of the cosmos, that life originated and diversified by the automatic unfolding of the above and similar mechanisms, with no “smoking guns” pointing to a direct “God of the gaps” interventions to supernaturally create new varieties of life.)

    Currently, the theory of evolution is undergoing changes in light of various observed and proposed mechanisms of variation such as horizontal gene transfer and the like.

    It is also being challenged by the design theory movement, which argues that certain features in the cell, such as the functionally specific, coded, complex digital information in DNA cannot be credibly explained without intelligent direction.

    Posters and commenters at Uncommon Descent often use “Darwinism” as a convenient short form for “[Neo-]Darwinian evolution,” and in this usage, unless it is specified in the context in light of the history of Darwinism as a broad cultural movement, there is no necessary reference to social or political doctrines of any kind, or to any philosophical notion of inevitable progress.

    _________________________

    Does that help us in the work of elaboration?

    Does it give a fair summary [including of theistic evolution], with enough history of ideas context to navigate the issues, and yet without being overly complex, nor implying that the theory is “fact” or else that it is outright falsified?

    Have I missed any key points? [And BTW, does the above bring out the reason why a short, history of ideas type summary instead of a mini essay was used to begin with?]

    All this reminds me of the hidden complexities of legal drafting or making mathematical definitions or physical ones!

    The balance of clarity, relative brevity and avoiding lurking shoals is always a difficult exercise.

    Hope the above helps.

    GEM of TKI

  10. Footnote:

    It is worth the pause to excerpt the glossary’s definition of evolution:

    Evolution – “descent with modification”; envisioned as ranging from empirically observed minor population variations [e.g. finch beak lengths] to the proposed and widely believed (but, necessarily, not observed) origin of the major body plans of lifeforms over the ages through processes of chance variation and environmental selection pressures leading to differential reproductive success.

    Micro-evolution — a term of the art used to describe relatively minor population changes as has been empirically observed, often based on single-point mutations of DNA. For example, malarial resistance to chloroquine, and relative immunity tot he effects of malaria caused by sickle-cell anaemia

    Macro-evolution — generally used in the literature to address the theory of body-plan level changes and associated or claimed evidence.

  11. kairosfocus,

    Short on time here, but I wanted to give one quick bit of input. You say, in part of your description…

    According to the dominant view, there exists no guidance by an intelligent agent, purpose, teleology or direction in evolution in an ultimate sense.

    I know you’re taking this portion from my quote. But there’s an important difference: I didn’t call this theory scientific. You are. In fact, I’ve argued repeatedly that the claim that “there exists no guidance by an intelligent agent, purpose, teleology or direction in evolution in any ultimate sense” is a metaphysical, not scientific, claim.

    I agree that Darwinism (certainly under one reading) demands that position – and I argue that insofar is it demands that, the theory is not scientific. And of course I’m aware that some people insist that Darwinism demands this position and that it IS scientific – I disagree with them.

    Maybe you’ll disagree on this point, but I just wanted to give that quick comment.

  12. F/N 2: NWE has a very useful article on neo-Darwinism.

    Introduction:

    Neo-Darwinism, also called the modern evolutionary synthesis, generally denotes the integration of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, Gregor Mendel’s theory of genetics as the basis for biological inheritance, and mathematical population genetics. Although this was not the historical meaning of the term neo-Darwinism, it has been the popular and scientific use of the expression since the synthesis of the 1930s. (See Origin of the term neo-Darwinism.) Other terminology used synonymously with neo-Darwinism are modern synthesis, evolutionary synthesis, and neo-Darwinian synthesis.

    Neo-Darwinism has been one of the most significant, overall developments in evolutionary biology since the time of Darwin. Bowler (1988) stated that there is “a sense in which the emergence of the modern synthetic theory can be seen as the first real triumph of Darwinism.”

    Essentially, neo-Darwinism introduced the connection between two important discoveries: the units of evolution (genes) with the mechanism of evolution (natural selection). By melding classical Darwinism with the rediscovered Mendelian genetics, Darwin’s ideas were recast in terms of changes in allele frequencies. Neo-Darwinism thus fused two very different and formerly divided research traditions, the Darwinian naturalists and the experimental geneticists. This fusion took place roughly between 1936 and 1947.

    While the modern synthesis remains the prevailing paradigm of evolutionary biology, in recent years it has both been expanded and challenged as a result of new developments in evolutionary theory. In particular, concepts related to gradualism, speciation, natural selection, and extrapolating macroevolutionary trends from microevolutionary trends have been challenged.

    Major figures in the development of the modern synthesis include Thomas Hunt Morgan, Ronald Fisher, Theodosius Dobzhansky, J. B. S. Haldane, Sewall Wright, William D. Hamilton, Cyril Darlington, Sergei Chetverikov, E. B. Ford, Julian Huxley, Ernst Mayr, George Gaylord Simpson, and G. Ledyard Stebbins.

  13. Null:

    You will see that I use the term, “view” at that point. that reflects my understanding — a sort of rough adaptation of Lakatos — that at the core of research paradigms/programmes, there lies a worldview-embedded cluster of concepts.

    Science, when we come to this sort of core area, cannot neatly be separated from philosophy and even ideology.

    It is no secret that I object strongly to the embedding of evolutionary materialism as a controlling a priori in origins science.

    However, there is no one generally acknowledged definition of “science” and/or its methods and/or for warrant of its knowledge claims, that neatly accepts all credible cases and neatly rejects all non-credible ones.

    Consequently, when we speak of “science” we must recognise the general usage and then address the implicit philosophical and ideology/agenda issues.

    In this case, there is no question that the institutionally dominant view is evolutionary materialistic, or that the Neo_Darwinian view expresses that in the form that is similarly institutionally dominant.

    Just, that science is in desperate need of reform, similar to the Christian Church circa 1500.

    GEM of TKI

  14. F/N 3: I would replace the Wiki link on the ND synthesis with the NWE one, which is much better.

  15. kairosfocus,

    You will see that I use the term, “view” at that point. that reflects my understanding — a sort of rough adaptation of Lakatos — that at the core of research paradigms/programmes, there lies a worldview-embedded cluster of concepts.

    Fair enough – I wasn’t sure. I just happen to think that murkiness, that identification of metaphysical views with science itself, is tremendously common and a serious problem. The NCSE doesn’t care about it, but someone has to.

  16. What about this one:

    Darwinism:

    The claim that information in biological systems was generated without the intervention of any intelligent agent at any stage of natural history.

    My reasons for this definition is that this is what Darwin has attempted to show. The particular mechanisms behind this process (i.e. natural selection, sexual selection, luck, etc, you name it) are all secondary and freely debated in the scientific journals.

  17. Null:

    NCSE et al are hoping to implicitly embed evolutionary materialism as a worldview into the foundation of science.

    Though they will hotly deny having such an agenda, that is the practical import of the a priori imposition of so-called methodological naturalism on the d3efiniiton of science they advocate, and as the US NAS and NSTA support.

    GEM of TKI

  18. Darwinism: “the idea that all life on Earth shares a common ancestry and that different species have arisen as a result of evolution: the process of natural selection acting upon mutations within populations competing for limited resources.”

    I feel that this is a relatively neutral definition based heavily on Charles Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” and reflecting popular evolutionist beliefs (which have not really been revised since Darwin!)

    I say ‘mutations’ instead of ‘random muations’ because of Darwin’s lamarckist beliefs. I exclude explicit reference to intelligent design because of the inherently materialist phrase ‘natural selection’.

  19. Darwinism: “The application of improbability theory to extrapolate hypothetical data for the advancement of change in societal hierachy.”

  20. Darwinism: “The application of improbability theory to extrapolate hypothetical data for the advancement of science in societal hierachy.”

    (much better)

  21. Darwinism: “The application of improbability theory to extrapolate hypothetical data for the advancement of lepidopterology in societal hierachy.”

    (best)

  22. Darwinism: “The application of improbability theory to extrapolate hypothetical data for the advancement of deceased lepidopterists in societal hierachy.”

    (ok, I’ll stop now… but haven’t I demonstrated Darwinian motion?)

  23. Darwinism: “The application of improbability theory to extrapolate hypothetical data for the advancement of extinct lepidopterists in societal hierachy.”

    (sorry… my selfish gene is hijacking this thread)

  24. Here is how the word Darwinism will be used in the not to distant future:

    Darwinism – for a cult-like group of people to deny the obvious to the point of intellectual suicide and/or insanity, to be deluded by superfluous obfuscation, the practice of denying reality by constructing a elaborate imaginations,,, etc.. etc…

  25. Darwinism is a philosophical presupposition posing as a scientific theory. Grounded in materialistic ideology, it holds that purposeless, mindless, physical mechanisms, manifested as small genetic changes, can drive the evolutionary process to produce all observed biodiversity on earth. As such, it interprets all evidence in light of its own materialistic ideology and rules out, in principle, any possibility that the evolutionary process may have been designed. Like the mythical bandit Procrustes, who reshaped the bodies of his unfortunate visitors to fit his iron beds, Darwinism reshapes biological evidence to fit its iron clad world view, saying in effect, “fit, damn you, fit.”

  26. Oops, that should be iron bed, not iron [beds].

  27. 27

    Darwinism is the view that the evolution of all biological features on Earth, except those generated by human intervention, can be completely explained as a function of chance (unguided) variation acted on by natural (unguided) selection.

  28. Straight face:
    Darwinism seeks to describe the origin of the species and the descent of man in naturalistic terms.

    Balloon version:
    Darwinism is a wicked clever way to get God out of nature and our [unkempt] hair.

  29. 29

    I like GEM of TKI’s idea of incorporating the New World entry. Why should we re-invent this particular wheel. I also like StephenB’s caveat. Here is what I propose:

    When ID proponents on this site use the term “Darwinism,” they are referring to Neo-Darwinism, also called the modern evolutionary synthesis, or Neo-Darwinian evolution (“NDE”), as described more completely in this entry from the New World Encyclopedia:

    http://www.newworldencyclopedi.....-Darwinism

    Of course, ID proponents do not agree with Darwinism. They believe that Darwinism is a metaphysical presupposition posing as a scientific theory. Grounded in materialistic ideology, it holds that purposeless, mindless, physical mechanisms, manifested as small genetic changes, can drive the evolutionary process to produce all observed complexity and biodiversity on earth. As such, it interprets all evidence in light of its own materialistic ideology and rules out, in principle, any possibility that any part of the evolutionary process could have been designed. Like the mythical bandit Procrustes, who reshaped the bodies of his unfortunate visitors to fit his iron bed, Darwinism reshapes biological evidence to fit its iron clad world view, saying in effect, “fit, damn you, fit.”

  30. Mr Arrington:

    That’s a 3,000 ft/s 0.50 cal hard-hitting attack definition if I have ever seen one! (If you see SB pointing a Ma Deuce like that your way, surrender. Lot less painful and messy than the alternative.)

    My concern is that the definition and discussion at NWE are not under control of UD, and in principle can vary at any moment.

    Here is a suggestion B, which slightly expands the existing definition and then incorporates the NWE discussion as a link for details:

    _______________

    >>Darwinism – theories of evolution deriving from the work of Charles Darwin and Richard Wallace, as published from 1858 – 9 on. Subsequently, in the 1920′s – 40′s, in light of developments in genetics and related studies of evolutionary population dynamics a neo-darwinian synthesis led to the classical form of the modern evolutionary theory. The modern theory is based on the principle that evolution is in the main the result of chance variation and natural selection leading to descent with modification, from minor population variations (micro-evolution) up to origin of main body plans (macro-evolution).

    (The New World Encyclopedia provides more details here.)

    Currently, this theory is undergoing changes in light of various observed and proposed mechanisms such as horizontal gene transfer and the like.

    Posters and commenters at Uncommon Descent often use “Darwinism” as a convenient short form for “[Neo-]Darwinian evolution,” but, unless it is specified in the context in light of the history of Darwinism as a broad cultural movement, there is no necessary reference to social or political doctrines, or philosophies of inevitable progress. >>
    _______________

    I hope that captures the clarification that answers to the usual rhetoric.

    GEM of TKI

  31. Barry,

    The New World Encyclopedia page does not offer a definition, but an explanation. It is too long. You need something succinct, and it is best to have a definition on your own page since you never know when New World may update their page, and change the definition in a way you would not agree with.

    I also agree that the entry should be called “neo-Darwinism.” Perhaps you could have it as “Darwinism (neo-Darwinism)”.

    Here is the definition I propose: “A naturalistic theory regarding the origin of species according to which all living organisms diversified from a common ancestor in the distant past via natural selection acting on random genetic variation over long periods of time.”

  32. F/N: A caution from Mrs O’Leary, over in the Al Mohler thread:

    Definition of Darwinism: Not strictly possible because every Darwinist has his own, and for political reasons, Darwinists tack swiftly between one and another.

    But the key characteristic is the belief in the awesome powers of natural selection acting on random mutation to produce all forms of life – and, for most Darwinists, mind and for some, even universes. Darwinism undergirds and explains everything.

    That gets at a key point in all of this, I think.

    GEM of TKI

  33. 33

    OK, how about this:
    When ID proponents on this site use the term “Darwinism,” they are referring to Neo-Darwinism, also called the modern evolutionary synthesis or Neo-Darwinian evolution (“NDE”), the basic tenants of which are described in the New World Encyclopedia as follows:

    BEGIN QUOTE:
    At the heart of the modern synthesis is the view that evolution is gradual and can be explained by small genetic changes in populations over time, due to the impact of natural selection on the phenotypic variation among individuals in the populations (Mayr 1982; Futuyama 1986). According to the modern synthesis as originally established, genetic variation in populations arises by chance through mutation (it is now known to be caused sometimes by mistakes in DNA replication and via genetic recombination—the crossing over of homologous chromosomes during meiosis). This genetic variation leads to phenotypic changes among members of a population. Evolution consists primarily of changes in the frequencies of alleles between one generation and another as a result of natural selection. Speciation, the creation of new species, is a gradual process that generally occurs when populations become more and more diversified as a result of having been isolated, such as via geographic barriers, and eventually the populations develop mechanisms of reproductive isolation. Over time, these small changes will lead to major changes in design or the creation of new taxa.

    A major conclusion of the modern synthesis is that the concept of populations can explain evolutionary changes in a way that is consistent with the observations of naturalists and the known genetic mechanisms (Mayr 1982).

    Though agreement is not universal on the parameters of the modern synthesis, many descriptions hold as basic (1) the primacy of natural selection as the creative agent of evolutionary change; (2) gradualism (accumulation of small genetic changes); and (3) the extrapolation of microevolutionary processes (changes within species) to macroevolutionary trends (changes about the species level, such as the origin of new designs and broad patterns in history). Evolutionary change is a shift of the frequency of genes in a population, and macroevolutionary trends come from gradual accumulation of small genetic changes.

    Note, for example, the words of two of the leading figures in evolutionary theory, Ernst Mayr and Stephen Jay Gould.

    “The proponents of the synthetic theory maintain that all evolution is due to the accumulation of small genetic changes, guided by natural selection, and that transspecific evolution is nothing but an extrapolation and magnification of the events that take place within populations and species.” (Mayr 1963)

    “The core of this synthetic theory restates the two most characteristic assertions of Darwin himself: first, that evolution is a two-stage process (random variation as raw material, natural selection as a directing force); secondly, that evolutionary change is generally slow, steady, gradual, and continuous. . . Orthodox neo-Darwinians extrapolate these even and continuous changes to the most profound structural transitions in life.” (Gould 1980)
    END QUOTE

    ID proponents acknowledge that Darwinian mechanisms operate within a limited scope (changes in beak sizes among finches as a result of environmental pressures; development of resistance to antibiotics by certain bacteria). But they dispute that the mechanism responsible for these micro-evolutionary changes is also responsible for macro-evolutionary changes. In other words, ID proponents agree that Darwinian processes can change the size of finch beaks across generations, but they dispute that those processes are solely responsible for the existence of finches in the first place.

    At the macro-evolutionary level, ID proponents Darwinism is a metaphysical presupposition posing as a scientific theory. Grounded in materialistic ideology, it holds that purposeless, mindless, physical mechanisms, manifested as small genetic changes, can drive the evolutionary process to produce all observed complexity and biodiversity on earth. As such, it interprets all evidence in light of its own materialistic ideology and rules out, in principle, any possibility that any part of the evolutionary process could have been designed. Like the mythical bandit Procrustes, who reshaped the bodies of his unfortunate visitors to fit his iron bed, Darwinism reshapes biological evidence to fit its iron clad world view, saying in effect, “fit, damn you, fit.”

  34. Mr Arrington

    Perhaps you could help us by clarifying what you want the updated definition to do.

    Is it to help newbies? Answer to objectors? A response to critics?

    I think that a fairly brief dictionary style definition with links to where you can get more will be enough for those looking for information. But, my thought here is that we need to give a bit of history of ideas context, so the reason for the definition and usage will be clear.

    If the dictionary type stuff out there is really bad, maybe something that is a bit more elaborate will help, as has already been suggested.

    If this is really a rebuttal to critics, maybe we need to summarise their question and give an new Weak Argument Corrective?

    Actually, correctives 14 and 15 are on darwinism.

    Do we need to update these?

    GEM of TKI

  35. F/ N: WACs 14, 15:

    ______________

    >> 14] Real Scientists Do Not Use Terms Like “Darwinism”

    IDists sometimes use the term “Darwinism” for the sake of brevity, but we are obviously aware that it is not the original nineteenth century historical version of Darwin’s thought which is at stake here.

    The main object of ID criticism is usually classical neo-darwinism, aka “the modern synthesis,” which tries to explain biological information in the main in terms of RV + NS (Random Variation plus Natural Selection). We are also perfectly aware that many new forms of evolutionary thought exist . It is important to understand that, while ID arguments are often targeted to classical neo-darwinism, they are perfectly valid for all forms of explanatory theories of biological information which do not admit the intervention of a design process.

    In other words, according to ID theory, no unintelligent causal mechanism ever proposed for the generation of information — whether based on chance, necessity, a combination of the two, or any other mechanical form of “cause” — is credibly capable of generating the CSI in biological information on the scope of our observed universe; which is often estimated to comprise about 10^80 atoms and to have existed for some 13.7 billions of years.

    15] Nothing is Wrong with the Modern Synthesis! (And, by the way, what kind of “Darwinism” is ID dealing with? Why?)

    The “Modern Synthesis” is the classical form of Neo-Darwinism, which assigns to random variation (RV) of genes and natural selection (NS) of the varied competing sub-populations the main role in driving biological evolution at micro- and macro- (body-plan origination) levels. While many modern biologists, like Dawkins, still more or less adhere to such a paradigm, others would be ready to declare that the modern synthesis is “history.”

    Some of the most serious alternatives to the classical Neo-Darwinian paradigm have been: the theory of neutral evolution, due mainly to Kimura, which focuses on the role of neutral mutations and genetic drift; and the theory of punctuated equilibrium by Eldredge and Gould, which favors a scenario of stasis and relatively rapid change in evolution, in contrast to the traditional gradualism. These points of view, even if they have been in some way “integrated” into classical Neo-Darwinism, represent really alternative interpretations; sometimes, radically different from the tradition. More recently, classical Neo-Darwinism has faced even more radical attempts at review, focusing mainly on the search for new sources of variation, and often re-dimensioning the role of natural selection: we can cite here the contributions of Lynn Margulis (endosymbiontic theory), of Sean Carroll (Evolutionary developmental biology or evo-devo), and many others, while Allen MacNeill (a sometime, and often helpful, contributor at UD) has compiled a famous and very long list of “engines of variation” which includes possible phenotype-genotype interactions and many other classes of supposed alternative mechanisms. In general great attention has been given recently to adaptational mechanisms (even in the form of neo-Lamarckism) and to epigenetic inheritance.

    One of the results of such heterogeneity of contemporary evolutionary thought has been that ID is often accused of dealing with one form and not with another, be it classical Neo-Darwinism or the most recent examples of what we may call: Neo-Neo-Darwinism.

    The truth is much simpler: as a causal theory about the origin of biological information, ID is both a criticism and an alternative to all theories which try to explain biological information by purelyunguided mechanisms.

    In the final sense, any list of “engines of variation” that “permits” only unguided mechanisms exclude design, and is thus based, at the basic causal level, on necessity or chance or some mixture of the two. This is bias, not proper science, as, before the facts can speak, it excludes another known “engine of variation” for contingent objects: design. So, we may directly see that, the counter-arguments and alternatives provided by the ID approach apply equally to classical Neo-Darwinian theory and all of these alternatives.

    The reason why ID criticism is usually more specifically directed to classical Neo-Darwinism is that, in the end, RV + NS remains the most widely used, most detailed causal model of unguided evolution. It is difficult to analyze in detail alternative models which have never been detailed to the point that they can be really critically evaluated, and so the design theory commentary on these newer models often remains at a very generic level. But, we must underscore: ID arguments are equally valid for all cases: all forms of “random variation” are just that: random, and so must obey the laws of statistics, and all forms of “necessity” – including Natural Selection (as it is usually presented) – must be expressed in a credible and consistent logico-mathematical model.

    Unless and until new causal principles are discovered, it has been immemorial since the days of Plato in his The Laws, Book X, that design is the only known alternative/complement to chance and necessity. And so, the only truly valid scientific approach is one that accepts at the outset the possibility of design as well as chance and necessity, and then seeks reliable signs that can differentiate the role played by each for the key aspects of life-forms. >>

    ____________

    Maybe we want to put some of the fresh stuff under these, and do a bit of expansion of eh current definition then point to NWE and the WACs, making a disclaimer that the use commonly seen at UD is innocent and reasonable?

  36. PS: My thought is that a glossary should be as neutral balanced and objective as possible, using a “dictionary tone,” or it undermines its own credibility.

  37. Personally I like the more creative definitions arising from the natural selection of random variations in the negative teleological implications undeniably inherent in the obviously purely materialistic uni/multiverse.

    So – Darwinism: Poof – you have a Rabbit. (Of course you silly)

    (In one or more of the other universes it’s literally a Wabbit. It it what it it over there.

  38. Darwinism: The belief that GOD is absurd, but blind, random chance has GOD-like abilities.

    OR

    Darwinism: MAGIC!

    OR

    Darwinism: The condition by which the afflicted is totally oblivious to the blatantly obvious.

  39. Barry,

    Your second proposal is not a definition, but an essay! Short and sweet is what people want. After all, it’s a “definitions” page, not an encyclopedic reference page.

  40. Heya all,

    I’m glad to see the attempts to pin down a definition of Darwinism continue – as I said, I consider this of great importance. It also looks like there’s a lot of differing views on how to best sum up Darwinism! Instead of giving more possible definitions, I’ll throw in my two cents on what should go into this.

    * I don’t think ‘essay versus definition’ is important. Maybe it’s not possible to concisely sum up Darwinism in a way that’s helpful here. It’s not like you run risk of running out of paper to print on here. And it’s not like you want a mere accurate definition, but the definition as seen by ID proponents who oppose Darwinism.

    * It looks like one of the biggest problems here is that ‘Darwinism’ is so elastic. There’s the theory of evolution as Darwin envisioned it, then the modern synthesis, then evo-devo, then… etc. But what seems most important is this: What are the key claims of Darwinism that every ID proponent in the Big Tent must reject by virtue of their being in that tent?

    * I’d say you should also consider adding various common claims associated with ‘Darwinism’ that ID proponents do NOT need to reject. Though this is already covered somewhat in the FAQ (Common descent, etc.)

    I’ll add, my personal hope is that people can see exactly what ID proponents say Darwinism says that’s objectionable. I think that if this is made clear, a number of TEs, and even other onlookers, may say “Oh! Well, I disagree with that claim too. If that’s what you mean by Darwinism, I’m no Darwinist.” Even if they don’t accept the case for ID, they may realize that accepting Darwinism as stated is also plagued with problems.

  41. 41

    OK, GEM of TKI, you convinced me to take out the inflamatory stuff. Darn.

  42. It seems to me that StephenB has already successfully done this exercise on this website – quite masterful as I remember it. There were two distinct versions of the term; one as a descriptor and the other as a practical matter. Something along the lines of a strong and weak version. Perhaps someone remembers it and can locate it.

  43. Sorry to come in to this discussion so late (again, grading papers, going to faculty meetings, spending time with my wife and kids, etc.) Personally, I don’t use the term “Darwinism” at all, any more than I would use the term “Newtonism” when referring to classical physical mechanics, “Einsteinism” to refer to relativity theory, “Bohr/Feinman/Heisenberg/Schroedingerism” to refer to quantum mechanics, or “Mendeleevianism” to refer to chemistry. What I and my colleagues at Cornell do is probably best described as “evolutionary biology”, and includes (at a bare minimum) the following:

    1) the formulation and testing of a set of interconnected theories explaining the origin of biological diversity, consisting of descent with modification from common ancestors over deep geological time, describable via cladistic analysis, and supported by inference from multiple sources of empirical evidence, including comparative anatomy, biogeography, developmental biology, genomics, historical geology, and paleontology; and

    2) the formulation and testing of a separate but related set of interconnected theories explaining the origin and modification of the phenotypic characteristics of living organisms, consisting (at a bare minumum) of the mechanisms of natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift, and neutral molecular evolution in deep geological time, grounded (at least in part) in theoretical mathematical models of population genetics, depending on multiple sources of heritable phenotypic variation, and supported by inference from multiple sources of empirical evidence, including field and laboratory research in the fields of biochemistry, cell biology, comparative physiology, developmental biology, ecology, ethology, genetics, neurobiology, and physiological ecology.

    Note that these two definitions of the principle domains of evolutionary biology correspond roughly to what is commonly referred to as “macroevolutionary theory” and “microevolutionary theory” (in that order) and do not explicitly mention:

    • theories of the origin of life from non-living materials, which are properly the purview of astrophysics, chemistry, and geology, not biology;

    • the concept of “adaptation”, which has had a checkered past in evolutionary biology and is facing increasing challenges within the field; and

    • teleology, which is generally never mentioned, except for those evolutionary biologists who have thought about it (which, in my experience, is relatively few), who generally assume that resort to teleological explanations in evolutionary biology are unnecessary. Not wrong, just unnecessary (not to mention unproductive as an empirical research hypothesis).

    As philosophical concepts, both adaptation and teleology have a very long history, stretching back at least to Plato and Aristotle. However, recent developments in evolutionary theory, including (but not limited to) theories of epigenetics, exaptation, genetic drift/draft, neutral and nearly neutral molecular “drift” in deep evolutionary time, and punctuated equilibrium, have increasingly rendered the concept of “adaptation” as a marginal diversion rather than a central topic in evolutionary biology.

    And teleology, rather than being considered “wrong” (when it is considered at all, which is seldom) is now increasingly being incorporated into new theories of “evolved agency”, especially in evolutionary psychology (my own field). I am currently working on a treatise on this latter subject, which I hope to finish before departing this veil of tears and laughter for that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns.

  44. –KF: “PS: My thought is that a glossary should be as neutral balanced and objective as possible, using a “dictionary tone,” or it undermines its own credibility.”

    Good point. Perhaps that is the best argument for taking it out of the glossary and converting it into another frequently raised question, as in:

    …ID proponents purposely use “Darwinism” as a derogatory term because they know it has no real meaning except as a rhetorical device to discredit evolutionary biologists…

    —Barry Arrington; “OK, GEM of TKI, you convinced me to take out the inflamatory stuff. Darn.”

    It’s all in how you set it up. As long as we are doing dictionary definitions, we are bound to keep things on the cerebral side. There is, however, another way:

    Let the question constitute a slow fat pitch over the middle of the plate and let the answer knock it out of the park.

  45. –Upright Biped: “It seems to me that StephenB has already successfully done this exercise on this website..

    I do remember stretching out on this subject a bit, but I don’t remember where or when.

  46. Who the heck is Richard Wallace? Was he related to Alfred Russel Wallace?

  47. According to Wikipedia, Richard Wallace (August 26, 1894 – November 3, 1951) was an American film director.

    In 1926, Wallace began directing feature-length films. He began working in the editing department at Mack Sennett Studios in the early 1930s. He later moved on to rival Hal Roach Studios where he began directing two-reel films, some of which he collaborated with Stan Laurel.

    Several of Wallace’s memorable films include three Shirley Temple films, “A Night to Remember” (1943) with Loretta Young, and “The Little Minister” (1934) with Katharine Hepburn. He was a founding member of the Directors Guild of America.

    [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R.....irector%29 ]

  48. PS: My thought is that a glossary should be as neutral balanced and objective as possible, using a “dictionary tone,” or it undermines its own credibility.

    Agreed. A little fact checking, such as who co-presented the theory, would not go amiss either.

  49. StephenB has it just about right:

    “Darwinism” is a derogatory term used by creationists, intelligent design supporters, and other opponents of evolutionary theory that has no real meaning except as a rhetorical device to discredit evolutionary biologists.

  50. for more on the relationship between evolutionary biology and teleology, see:

    http://evolutionlist.blogspot......gy-in.html

    which first appeared here (in somewhat modified form) as a comment, lo these many moons ago…

  51. Allen,

    Come on.

    Just go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Here’s the Darwinism entry. It also covers some of the debate about teleology in ‘Darwinism’.

    I agree there’s confusion about what various people mean by the term, but “Darwinism” is not some term cooked up by creationists and the like.

  52. —Allen: “StephenB has it just about right.” [referring to my proposed new entry for the FAQ]

    …“Darwinism” is a derogatory term used by creationists, intelligent design supporters, and other opponents of evolutionary theory that has no real meaning except as a rhetorical device to discredit evolutionary biologists…”

    I am glad that you agree that these are the kinds of charges that are leveled against us. That is why we need to put them in the form of a question and then answer them.

  53. Aha, the underlying issue surfaces!

    Mr MacNeill, FYKI (as in ” . . . kind . . .” [and yes, I am deliberately coining the abbreviation to make the point that even an invented term can be quite legitimate]), while the term “Newtonism” is not used in physics ["Newtonian Dynamics" most assuredly is . . . ], over the years — and fairly recently — Darwinism has been used without any hint of negative name-calling at popular and semi-popular levels by proponents of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis aka Neo-Darwinian Theory.

    NWE’s article has an interesting little section:

    Darwinism and other -isms

    It is felt by some that the term “Darwinism” is sometimes used by creationists as a somewhat derogatory term for “evolutionary biology,” in that casting of evolution as an “ism”—a doctrine or belief—strengthens calls for “equal time” for other beliefs, such as creationism or intelligent design. However, top evolutionary scientists, such as Gould and Mayr, have used the term repeatedly, without any derogatory connotations.

    This is all beginning to sound like 1984′s newspeak.

    Any time critics of the theory use terms that have moved from the journal pages to the popular domain, there is an objection that “real” scientists — a la “No true Scotsman” — don’t use that term.

    That was not so for Macro-evolution, and it is not so for Darwinism. Similarly,neither the basic wording nor concepts now commonly used by design thinkers, Complex Specified Information nor Functionally Specific, Complex Information originated among those despised Design thinkers.

    Similarly, it is a matter of well-warranted historical fact that Darwininian evolutionary mechanisms were held to apply to human populations described as “races,” with no less a figure than Mr Darwin himself in the first rank of the charge, as may be seen form not only his correspondence but also from various editions of his Descent of Man published in his lifetime; cf. Chs 5 – 7. That has to be faced on its merits of fact, not distracted from by using no true scotsman tactics.

    Language, is an in-common good, if it is at all to be useful.

    In the glossary, it is therefore clear that we need:

    1: a concise definition that sets the matter objectively and with reasonable clarity: (i) roots in Darwin and Russell, (ii) dynamics as developed, (iii) trends of an evolving definition.

    2: Some history of ideas reference that allows us to see roots, current state and trends.

    3: A brief implicitly corrective remark on the usage in this blog, in the teeth of the no true scotsman tactic.

    4: Point to the NWE article as a source for more details, using a link.

    I suspect, the broader debate should best be tackled by updating the WACs 14 and/or 15. It may even be useful to also link these in the glossary item. If the Darwinistas — and this is most definitely a fighting term to describe the more radical advocates, and for that an excellent coinage by Mrs O’Leary — want to fight on no true scotsman, they need to meet some Ma Deuce 50-cal cross-fire from the flanks.

    Out there, the ghost of John Moses Browning is grinning!

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Mr MacNeill, you have my sympathy on the grading challenge. my own thought on it is that I will grade as a necessary part of the job, but you cannot pay me to grade alone.

    PPS: It is indeed A R Wallace! Pardon a slip of memory.

  54. Darwinian . . .

  55. F/N: SB GP [and others],

    I suggest adjusting WAC 14 as follows:

    ________________

    >> 14] Real Scientists Do Not Use Terms Like “Darwinism.” “Darwinism” is a derogatory term used by creationists, intelligent design supporters, and other opponents of evolutionary theory that has no real meaning except as a rhetorical device to discredit evolutionary biologists.

    ANS: Design thinkers sometimes use the term “Darwinism” for the sake of brevity, but we are obviously aware that it is not the original nineteenth century historical version of Darwin’s thought which is at stake here.

    Nor is the suggested appeal to “no true scientist” appropriate. As the New World Encyclopedia article on “Darwinism” remarks:

    Darwinism and other -isms

    It is felt by some that the term “Darwinism” is sometimes used by creationists as a somewhat derogatory term for “evolutionary biology,” in that casting of evolution as an “ism”—a doctrine or belief—strengthens calls for “equal time” for other beliefs, such as creationism or intelligent design. However, top evolutionary scientists, such as Gould and Mayr, have used the term repeatedly, without any derogatory connotations. [NWE, art. "Darwinism," Oct. 23, 2005, acc. Nov. 11, 2010.]

    We see here a now very familiar, unfortunate rhetorical tactic. Whenever a term wanders out of the world of journals and textbooks into popular usage, and is picked up by critics of evolutionary materialism, proponents of Darwinism tend to deride those who use it, on the claim that such terms are not used by “true scientists.”

    If “no true scotsman” is a fallacy, so too is “no true scientist.” And, all the moreso because any number of Design thinkers, old and young earth creationists, as well as other critics of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis (aka “[Neo-]Darwinism”) more generally, do have relevant, earned academic qualifications and credentials. The real issue is the balance of the case on the merits, not who uses what terms.

    The main object of ID criticism of “Darwinism” is usually classical neo-darwinism, aka “the modern synthesis,” which tries to explain biological information in the main in terms of the dynamic:

    RV + NS –> DWM

    (Random [or, "chance"] genetic Variation plus Natural Selection acting together yield descent with modification. this has been observed at micro-level, and has been extrapolated — without direct observational support — to the macro-level of body-plans. Unfortunately, on the strength of the former, the latter is too often presented as an empirical “fact,” often using the comparison that it is as certain as gravity and the orbiting of planets around the sun. The proper comparison, though, is not the observed orbiting of planets or falling of unsupported apples, but he far more speculative and tentative models of Solar System origins.)

    ID proponents acknowledge that Darwinian mechanisms operate within a limited scope (changes in beak sizes among finches as a result of environmental pressures; development of resistance to antibiotics by certain bacteria). But they dispute that the mechanism responsible for these micro-evolutionary changes is also responsible for macro-evolutionary changes. In other words, ID proponents agree that Darwinian processes can change the size of finch beaks across generations, but they dispute that those processes are solely responsible for the existence of finches, birds or dinosaurs, or land-animals in the first place.

    At the macro-evolutionary level, ID proponents point out that Darwinism is too often often rooted in an evolutionary materialist metaphysical presupposition imposed on science and posing as a scientific theory; as Richard Lewontin notoriously admitted in his infamous 1997 NYRB article, “Billions and Billions of Demons”:

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

    Grounded in materialistic ideology, such Darwinism holds that purposeless, mindless, physical mechanisms, manifested as small genetic changes, can drive the evolutionary process to produce all observed complexity and biodiversity on earth. As such, it interprets all evidence in light of its own materialistic ideology and rules out, in principle — indeed “a priori,” any possibility that any part of the evolutionary process could have been designed.

    Like the mythical bandit Procrustes, who reshaped the bodies of his unfortunate visitors to fit his iron bed, Darwinism reshapes biological evidence to fit its iron clad world view.

    Design thinkers are also perfectly aware that many new forms of evolutionary thought exist, but unfortunately they are typically warped by the same a prioris.

    The same NWE article on Darwinism is therefore correct to further observe:

    There are some scientists who feel that the importance accorded to genes in natural selection may be overstated. According to Jonathan Wells [NB: a design thinker and critic of Darwinism], genetic expression in developing embryos is impacted by morphology as well, such as membranes and cytoskeletal structure. DNA is seen as providing the means for coding of the proteins, but not necessarily the development of the embryo, the instructions of which must reside elsewhere. It is possible that the importance of sexual reproduction and genetic recombination in introducing variability also may be understated.

    UD’s resident Darwinist and critic, the respected Allen MacNeill, adds:

    separate but related set of interconnected theories explaining the origin and modification of the phenotypic characteristics of living organisms, consisting (at a bare minumum) of the mechanisms of natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift, and neutral molecular evolution in deep geological time, grounded (at least in part) in theoretical mathematical models of population genetics, depending on multiple sources of heritable phenotypic variation, and supported by inference from multiple sources of empirical evidence, including field and laboratory research in the fields of biochemistry, cell biology, comparative physiology, developmental biology, ecology, ethology, genetics, neurobiology, and physiological ecology. [Comment,"Darwinism" UD discussion thread, 11/10/2010, 10:51 pm.]

    It is important to understand, however, that while ID arguments are often targeted to classical neo-darwinism, they are perfectly valid for all forms of explanatory theories of biological information which “a priori” do not admit the possible intervention of a design process.

    In other words, according to ID theory, no observed unintelligent causal mechanism ever proposed for the generation of information — whether based on chance, necessity, a combination of the two, or any other blindly mechanical form of “cause” — is credibly capable of generating the CSI in biological information on the scope of our observed universe; which is often estimated to comprise about 10^80 atoms and to have existed for some 13.7 billions of years.

    (This, of course, can in principle be easily empirically falsified by simply producing a case where on reliable observation, such forces of undirected chance plus necessity have credibly generated CSI. But, while there are literally billions of cases of intelligent causation of such CSI [think: Internet], there are notoriously, no credible cases of chance and necessity alone generating CSI. Thus, the confident stance by design thinkers on the matter.)>>
    _________________

    Ma Deucey enough?

    GEM of TKI

  56. The non-negotiable core — in fact, the *only* non-negotiable point — of ‘modern evolutionary theory’ (aka “Darwinism” or evolutionism) is “God didn’t do it!” Or, if one insists upon putting it less “theologically,” it is: “There is no design in the world.

    That is both its “conclusion” and its (generally unspoken) assumption from which all its other content follows.

    “Darwinism” is UIND (un-intelligent non-design), and like the wind, it blows hither and thither without regard for anything but its one driving force.

  57. kairosfocus, OK. You have convinced me. Let your revisions define the UD response.

    I will have plenty of other occasions to say that Darwinists’ attitude about the relationship of evidence to their model can be fairly characterized as, “Fit, damn you, fit.”

  58. 58

    kairosfocus cited the New World Encyclopedia (NWE) entry on “Darwinism.” The NWE also has helpful entries on “Intelligent Design” and “Creationism.”

  59. Ah, Steve

    In many cases they don’t believe they have souls potentially subject to such a fate.

    GEM of TKI

  60. Doesn’t anyone in this thread have the ability to correct glossary entries?

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