“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

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Over at Daily Kos, DarkSyde continues his series on Know Your Creationists. This episode is about the Discovery Institute’s Jonathan Witt, and while Witt may be a bit player, Darksyde finds plenty to hammer on. In particular, he makes an excellent point about the ID advocates’ use (or rather abuse) of the term “Darwinist”:

Exhibit B: Darwinism. Judging by frequency of usage, DR Witt, along with every other IDCists on the planet, seems enamored with that word. I asked him recently what he meant by Darwinism, and he replied in part “I use the term to refer to a person who believes that natural selection working on random variation produced all the diversity of organic life we see around us.” DR Witt is entitled to speak for himself, but I work with biologists every day as part of my ongoing battle with creationisim, and I haven’t met one yet who refers to himself as a Darwinist, or his field of research as Darwinism. At best it’s a quaint older term which is no longer used among biologists and hasn’t been for decades. At worst, it’s intentionally chosen to present evolutionary biology as a rival ideology to theism by hired guns marketing Intelligent Design Creationism to the Christian laypublic, and Darwin’s name is used specifically to nurture latent resentment, and to conjure up the ever present book-burners and witch-burners who still lurk among the lucid, among that grass roots demographic.

Worse still, DR Witt’s straightforward answer does little to reassure me of his probity: In the very same venue where I asked that question, DR Witt had used the term Darwinism to clearly refer to a school of thought in philosophy, as for example when he said “Thus, in practice the materialist/Darwinists’ fourth … “ and this is just one of many such statements threatening the consistency of his self professed definition.

As best I can tell, Darwinism as used by IDCists can mean pretty much anything the IDCist wants it to mean. They can and do use it to refer to common descent and all modes of speciation/diversification, abiogenesis, cosmology or most any field of science. But it’s by no means limited to science. It’s bandied about in contexts of abstract philosophical claptrap; metaphysical naturalism, materialism, secular humanism, all of which are often nothing more than covert references to atheism. If it served the IDCist purpose in discrediting science, Darwinism could probably mean Killers of Small Furry Animals.

That’s pretty spot on. Let me emphasize that the term “Darwinism” is only rarely, if ever used in the scientific literature. There’s a good reason for this: It has no fixed meaning. It has at times been used to describe the mere process of natural selection causing adaptations (something almost every biologist agrees with) and at other times used to describe the notion that natural selection alone is responsible for evolutionary change (something almost no biologist agrees with). Hence it is usually either redundant or it doesn’t apply. Yet ID advocates use the term almost exclusively to describe anyone and everyone who accepts mainstream evolutionary biology. I don’t know why they expect scientists to take them seriously when they lack the professional courtesy to use accurate terms when describing those with whom they disagree.

To illustrate the fact that biologists almost never use the term “Darwinist” when talking about evolution, I did some literature searches for relevant terms in PubMed. This is an experiment the kids can try at home. The results are below the fold.

Below I list each term with the number of hits it generates displayed to its right. Terms in quotation marks indicate that the results are limited to the term as it appears, not the individual words found separately.

Evolution: 171,174

“Natural Selection”: 3303

Selection: 170,342

Mutation: 420,303

“Genetic Drift”: 1484

Darwinism: 198

Darwinist: 14

Darwinian: 862

The results couldn’t be clearer. First of all, it should be noted that when a suffix is added after Darwin’s name, the preferred term is Darwinian, not Darwinist. But of course “Darwinian” has a nice smooth sound, whereas “Darwinist” sounds harsh and guttural, and you can count on the ID advocates to use the one that’s easiest to associate with evil, not the one that’s the most accurate. But more importantly, neither term is the least bit common.

Here’s something else that’s funny. If you search for “Darwinism”, you’ll see that most of the articles on the first page that happen to be from top journals are simply news items, and not research papers. But a full 4 of the 20 hits on the first page are from the crank journal Rivista di Biologia run by Giuseppe Sermonti . These include articles by our good friend Jonathan Wells, the young-Earth creationist Jerry Bergman, and Sermonti himself. At least someone is getting mileage out of the term.

122 Comments

Darwinian has a pretty specific meaning to denote a person who studies Charles Darwin from a historical perspective, as in “Darwinian scholar”. Thus Desmond and Moore, Janet Browne, Ospovat, Bowler, etc. are Darwinians. Evolutionary biologists doing research are not.

Darwinian has a pretty specific meaning in the evolution literature. Darwinian selection is synonymous with positive selection (as opposed to purifying selection and balancing selection).

People keep describing all the clever IDiotic political strategies, analyzing them, and criticizing them… but in the end I’ve got to wonder what you’ve really accomplished. It’s like the Democrats reacting to the use of the word ‘liberal’ or John Kerry explaining his position on Iraq. Cerebral… intellectual even, but hardly effective in what essentially is a political battle.

I’ll put money on Witt knowingly abusing the term ‘Darwinist’ or ‘evolutionist’ to mean everything that he sees wrong with the world, even if somebody explains to him his mistake. I’m sure you realize… regardless of what this post explains, or the hundreds more coming from our side that I am sure are in the pipeline… Witt will keep on using it. The simple reason is that, for the masses, a one-word political label works on the masses so much more effectively than the nuanced explanations.

Honestly, who the hell (besides the scientist) cares what the scientific usage of ‘Darwinist’ is? It’s about time those of you who are knee-deep in this political shit to start trying something new. Maybe, you should trying embracing the label, and redefining it as something positive, instead of this weak attempt to distance yourselves from the label, or complaining about its misuse. If being a ‘Darwinist’ doesn’t stand for something evil or wrong, why won’t scientists use the word to describe themselves? Makes the ignoramus wonder, doesn’t it? The next thing you know, you’ll have the absolutists mislabeling scientists ‘Einsteinians’ for promoting the notion of relativity. And when is this going to end?

RPM Wrote:

Darwinian has a pretty specific meaning in the evolution literature. Darwinian selection is synonymous with positive selection (as opposed to purifying selection and balancing selection).

Since the advent of widespread sequencing, this has been true, but the term “Darwinian” goes back much further than that.

Even still, a search for “darwinian selection” gives just over 200 hits, whereas “positive selection” gives over 3000 hits.

An eye for an eye and an -ist for and -ist. Don’t forget to use “Paleyist” in any exchange where “Darwinist” is raised.

Russell wrote

An eye for an eye and an -ist for and -ist. Don’t forget to use “Paleyist” in any exchange where “Darwinist” is raised.

And don’t forget those Huttonist geologists.

RBH

wad of id Wrote:

If being a ‘Darwinist’ doesn’t stand for something evil or wrong, why won’t scientists use the word to describe themselves?

Questions like this are best answered by, um, reading the original post:

Steve Reuland Wrote:

Let me emphasize that the term “Darwinism” is only rarely, if ever used in the scientific literature. There’s a good reason for this: It has no fixed meaning. It has at times been used to describe the mere process of natural selection causing adaptations (something almost every biologist agrees with) and at other times used to describe the notion that natural selection alone is responsible for evolutionary change (something almost no biologist agrees with). Hence it is usually either redundant or it doesn’t apply.

Scientists tend shy away from terms with multiple meanings, since you could mislead people as to what your position is or what it is that you’re talking about. IDists love such terms for the exact same reason.

Harsh, maybe, but surely not guttural.

Scirus search:

Evolution:

3,913,739 total | 653,615 journal results | 96,107 preferred web results | 3,164,017 other web results

“Natural Selection”:

156,612 total | 15,084 journal results | 2,989 preferred web results | 138,539 other web results

selection:

7,852,945 total | 661,758 journal results | 405,729 preferred web results | 6,785,458 other web results

Mutation:

1,273,943 total | 456,425 journal results | 57,695 preferred web results | 759,823 other web results

“genetic drift”:

27,708 total | 3,974 journal results | 801 preferred web results | 22,933 other web results

Darwinist:

6,070 total | 156 journal results | 131 preferred web results | 5,783 other web results

Darwinian:

66,042 total | 5,218 journal results | 947 preferred web results | 59,877 other web results

Darwinism:

48,915 total | 1,654 journal results | 550 preferred web results | 46,711 other web results

Now just plain Darwin:

533,726 total | 18,068 journal results | 4,392 preferred web results | 511,266 other web results

Obviously the “journal results” are most important. Secondarily look at the “preferred web results.” “Other web results” does not filter out quacks and other bad sources. To show this:

“Answers in Genesis”:

1,960 total | 1 journal results | 1 preferred web results | 1,958 other web results

Another contrast is “intelligent design”:

54,677 total | 553 journal results | 157 preferred web results | 53,967 other web results

Scanning the “journal” and “preferred web” it is clear that the hits are dominated by 1) opposition to or new about “intelligent design”. And 2) use of the phrase in a way unrelated to the ID discussed here such as a patent that says “The invention relates to the clinically intelligent design of diagnostic devices”

Splitting hairs? As you point out, Mr. Hopkins, that many biologists don’t use “Darwinist”, and this may or may not be true since I’m not privy to how you’re validating your poll, you still have the some that do. What do you do with them?

On a similar note, the Catholic Apologetics International site, which argues for geocentrism, actually uses the word, “Copernicanism”. http://www.catholicintl.com/qa/2005/qa-jul-05.htm

he replied in part “I use the term to refer to a person who believes that natural selection working on random variation produced all the diversity of organic life we see around us.”

Which is the same error found in the “Scientific Dissent from Darwin” list: natural selection is not the only mechanism accepted by modern biology.

If it served the IDCist purpose in discrediting science, Darwinism could probably mean Killers of Small Furry Animals.

I think that’s “Cheneyism”, if you also throw in feathered animals and lawyers.

First of all, it should be noted that when a suffix is added after Darwin’s name, the preferred term is Darwinian, not Darwinist.

That would depend on whether you expect the suffixated word to be a noun or an adjective.

I’m a Darwinist. I’m also a Mendelist, and a Watson-and-Crickist, and a Perutzista, and so much more.

It’s like the Democrats reacting to the use of the word ‘liberal’ … Maybe, you should trying embracing the label, and redefining it as something positive, instead of this weak attempt to distance yourselves from the label, or complaining about its misuse…

I certainly wish Dukakis had had the presence to do that with the word “liberal”. He could have pulled out a dictionary, found a definition like this: “ Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.” and said, “Liberal? Yes and I’m @#$%@$% proud to be one!”.

Steve Reuland Wrote:

Let me emphasize that the term “Darwinism” is only rarely, if ever used in the scientific literature. There’s a good reason for this: It has no fixed meaning.

That’s true, but somewhat disingenuous. Because the same term is used quite a bit by self-described Darwinism advocates such as Daniel Dennett et al.

We also have A.R Wallace’s book of the same name, not to mention social Darwinism, literary Darwinism, etc.

So to imply that the term is some sort of creationist artifice does not give the whole picture. It has a cultural meaning even if scientists avoid using it.

Now if all you want to say is that Darwinism as used today has little to do with science, you ought to be more even-handed in your criticism and excoriate everybody who uses the term, because in all these uses there is a purported connection with Darwin’s scientific ideas.

Now if all you want to say is that Darwinism as used today has little to do with science, you ought to be more even-handed in your criticism and excoriate everybody who uses the term

Um, I think he just did.

because in all these uses there is a purported connection with Darwin’s scientific ideas.

Darwin’s been dead for over a century, and science had moved lightyears beyond him since then. Which makes his “scientific ideas” of only historical interest.

“Darwinism”, of course, is simply the latest of the ID code words for “atheism” – along with “materialist”, and “philosophical naturalist”.

Naturally, IDers are very careful not to SAY so, though, since this would make it uncomfortably apparent that (1) ID is just religious apologetics, (2) IDers are just lying to us when they claim it’s not, and (3) Judge Jones was entirely correct when he ruled that it was.

I certainly wish Dukakis had had the presence to do that with the word “liberal”. He could have pulled out a dictionary, found a definition like this: “ Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.” and said, “Liberal? Yes and I’m @#$%@$% proud to be one!”.

I always tell people I’m NOT a “liberal” – I’m a RADICAL, thank you very much.

:>

Not to be hyper-critical, but what on earth do you mean by “guttural?” Do you mean it is a velar (it isn’t)? Or “harsh?” In linguistics, we do not talk in those terms. For a website concerning science, you should be far more respectful of other sciences. We have, in linguistics, a systematic way to describe the sounds produced in a language. You have a linguistic ideology. Tell a Salish that their words sound “harsh.” A more logical reason for the use of “Darwinist.” Is the suffix -ist which can also be used with “fascist,” “sexist,” or “racist.” It tends to be affixed to beliefs that are reviled (at least in the popular vernacular). The use of that suffix, then indexes a negative attitude (kind of like the use of the suffix -gate). Darwinian sounds no less “harsh” or “guttural” than Darwinist. I believe it is the choice of suffix, not their sounds, that is the driving force here.

I believe the key message here is to demand definitions. Let’s make it clear what the subject of discussion REALLY is. Just as DarkSyde did, we should keep asking, “What do you mean when you say ‘Darwinist’?” “What do you mean when you say ‘evolutionist’?” And then point out where they are making up their own reality. The strategy is not likely to change the minds of any IDers, but the repetition might have an impact on some bystanders.

I’m still waiting for someone to ask some politicians for the definition of “frivolous lawsuit” and then to ask them for data about such lawsuits based on that definition.

Googler Wrote:

Now if all you want to say is that Darwinism as used today has little to do with science, you ought to be more even-handed in your criticism and excoriate everybody who uses the term, because in all these uses there is a purported connection with Darwin’s scientific ideas.

I have no problem with anyone using the term as long as they are concise, consistent, and avoid the utterly false impression that this is what biologists who accept evolution refer to themselves as. The sin committed by Witt et al isn’t the mere fact that they use the term “Darwinist”, but they use it in a througly misleading way.

The sin committed by Witt et al isn’t the mere fact that they use the term “Darwinist”, but they use it in a througly misleading way.

Conflation of terms is one of the few ways ID can make ‘its case’. Since ID is based on our ignorance to make its case, I’d say that ID is doomed to continue what many may see as scientifically vacuous and perhaps even misleading.

Steve Reuland posted Entry 2066 on February 26, 2006 11:14 AM. – opening comment in thread.

Let me emphasize that the term “Darwinism” is only rarely, if ever used in the scientific literature.

A big reason for that, as suggested in the opening comment of this thread, is that the suffix “-ism” implies a philosophical belief or even a cult, whereas “Darwinism” is supposed to be science.

It has at times been used to describe the mere process of natural selection causing adaptations (something almost every biologist agrees with) and at other times used to describe the notion that natural selection alone is responsible for evolutionary change (something almost no biologist agrees with).

Why is it that random mutations are so often left out of definitions of Darwinism ? Random mutations are as fundamental to Darwinism as natural selection is.

I think that the term “Darwinism” is used by some people to show that they accept some parts of evolution theory, e.g., “changes through time” and common descent, but reject or question the notion that evolution was driven solely by random mutations and natural selection.

Yet ID advocates use the term almost exclusively to describe anyone and everyone who accepts mainstream evolutionary biology. I don’t know why they expect scientists to take them seriously when they lack the professional courtesy to use accurate terms when describing those with whom they disagree.

No term has been more misused than ID. It has become a catch-all term for virtually all scientific (or pseudoscientific, to some) criticisms of Darwinism. The term ID is applied to scientific criticisms of Darwinism that have little or nothing to do with design, intelligent or otherwise. The term ID has been used to describe the Ohio evolution lesson plan, which was not ID at all.

slothrop Wrote:

Not to be hyper-critical, but what on earth do you mean by “guttural?” Do you mean it is a velar (it isn’t)? Or “harsh?” In linguistics, we do not talk in those terms.

I mean one of the common defintions that can be found in the dictionary:

http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/guttural

3 : being or marked by utterance that is strange, unpleasant, or disagreeable.

For a website concerning science, you should be far more respectful of other sciences.

Linguistics is a science? Oh man, now I’ve heard everything

Just kidding. I didn’t intend to make any claims concerning linguistics, I was just using what I thought was a common word with a well-understood connotation. If it’s wrong, I apologize.

Hey, LARRY, why are you posting under the name Andy? Why do you have so many names?

For what it’s worth, the term ‘guttural’ is very seldom used in linguistics anymore, primarily because it doesn’t really mean anything.

Is that a picture of Witt..?

Not very flattering.

Steve Reuland Wrote:

Let me emphasize that the term “Darwinism” is only rarely, if ever used in the scientific literature. There’s a good reason for this: It has no fixed meaning. It has at times been used to describe the mere process of natural selection causing adaptations (something almost every biologist agrees with) and at other times used to describe the notion that natural selection alone is responsible for evolutionary change (something almost no biologist agrees with). Hence it is usually either redundant or it doesn’t apply.

Steve, I think you make point for me. In the time you take to give this explanation to someone, the (political) point has already been lost. “Redundant” and “doesn’t apply”… uh ok. So it’s either true or false… depending on the context… as only applied to scientists…

Well, ok. Maybe you could pull off an explanation like that. But I don’t think I am smart enough as you to remember all the nuances next time I have to explain to someone what a Darwinist really is, and whether or not I really am one. And the pickle of it is that while the rest of us are trying to figure out what a Darwinist (or Darwinian) is, the morons are sliming us with a label that they know the meaning with crystal clarity.

It’s amazing and, like the need for similar “yeah-we-know” public service warnings (“Don’t drive and drink,” “Smoking results in various nasty health conditions,” etc.), disheartening that this type of article has to distributed over and over and over again to prove so meting that is both a well-documented fact - the creationist public is ignorant, and the leadership is not often simply ignorant, but lies and a testable theory - revivals of creationism are never changes in essence, but changes in promotional forms.

One newer modification of the basic theory, suggested by many long-time watchers of this tribute to the exploitation of human cowardice and vanity called creationism, by whatever label, is that newer strains of creationism always, in public, pretend to creep a little closer to accepting the real science. Theoretically, this would extrapolate to the bizarre situation of Creationists fully accepting all of the Theory of Evolution, and yet opposing its being taught in schools.

Andy H Wrote:

A big reason for that, as suggested in the opening comment of this thread, is that the suffix “-ism” implies a philosophical belief or even a cult, whereas “Darwinism” is supposed to be science.

That’s not why scientists don’t use the term. They don’t use it because it’s not concise, and scientific communication needs to be concise. The term “Darwinian” lacks the -ism ending, but scientists hardly ever use that either.

I’m sure however that implications of a philosophical belief system are precisely why ID advocates love the term.

Why is it that random mutations are so often left out of definitions of Darwinism ? Random mutations are as fundamental to Darwinism as natural selection is.

The real schism in the meaning of the term “Darwinian” (or its variations) in modern times came when it was used in the 1970s, often in a pejorative sense, to describe strict adaptationism or strict gradualism. People like Stephen J. Gould, Richard Lewontin, or Niles Eldredge would attack “Darwinians” as those people who were strict adaptationists or had a particular archaic understanding of evolution. Later, when creationists began quote-mining them, they found themselves having to backtrack and explain that they weren’t referring to “Darwinism” in the broad sense, but only to those specific schools of thought (some would call them strawmen) that they were criticizing. See for example this recent piece by Niles Eldredge where the poor guy has to go into a lengthy explanation for all the confusion he helped cause.

Hence the term comes down to us pretty much useless since it has been given too many contradictory meanings.

By the way, you are using the term in the same problematic way that I’ve been going on about – i.e., as a undefined blanket description for what we “evolutionists” apparently believe.

I think that the term “Darwinism” is used by some people to show that they accept some parts of evolution theory, e.g., “changes through time” and common descent, but reject or question the notion that evolution was driven solely by random mutations and natural selection.

The ID advocates use it to mean that, but they also use it to mean common descent, and they also use it to mean some nefarious philosophy. They change the meaning as it suits them.

No term has been more misused than ID. It has become a catch-all term for virtually all scientific (or pseudoscientific, to some) criticisms of Darwinism. The term ID is applied to scientific criticisms of Darwinism that have little or nothing to do with design, intelligent or otherwise. The term ID has been used to describe the Ohio evolution lesson plan, which was not ID at all.

Oh please. The Ohio lesson plan was nothing but ID arguments without the name. If anyone is to blame for this apparent confabulation, it would be the ID advocates themselves.

Stuart Weinstein Wrote:

Is that a picture of Witt…?

LOL! No, that’s the character Vizzini from the movie The Princess Bride. After he keeps shouting “inconceivable!” to things that actually happen (and are thus quite clearly conceivable), Inigo Montoya remarks, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Sorry, I thought everyone would get that reference.

“Another aspect of the new philosophy of biology concerns the role of laws. Laws give way to concepts in Darwinism”.

Darwinism rejects all supernatural phenomena and causations.”

Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought”, SciAm July 2000.

Thursday, Feb. 9, 2006 – “Where Do We Go From Here? The Future of Darwinism in American Society,” at the Museum of the Earth, 10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

This panel discussion, moderated by Cornell Provost Biddy Martin, will examine the impact of the recent Dover decision on the future of Darwinism.

Panelists include Cornell faculty members Barbara Crawford, Sheila Ann Dean, Bruce Lewenstein, and Steven Shiffrin; and Janet Shortall, associate director of Cornell United Religious Works.

Seating is limited, call (607) 273-6623, extension 33 for tickets.

“What is Darwinism?” By Joel Hanes, Talk Origins

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/darwinism.html

******

So, we see the real deal here, no?

As long as you folks continue to freely and publicly use the term “Darwinism”, (and it’s clear now that you do), there’s honestly no use whatsoever trying to complain about any non-Darwinists freely and publicly using the same term also.

You may want to go clear up some things with your own evolutionary homies first, it would seem.

FL

Re “The movie (The Princess Bride) is on cable this afternoon.”

Cancel that post - apparently the monthly cable Channel Guide was wrong.

178,000,000 for god 232,000,000 for sex 510,000,000 for love 38,600,000 for cult 3,900,000 for Stupid christians

Some other google results.

If, as my wife claims, god is love, then god beats sex hands down.

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on February 26, 2006 11:14 AM.

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