What is Darwinism? | Definition of Darwinism | Darwinism Explained

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What is Darwinism? | Definition of Darwinism | Darwinism Explained: Darwinism is a theory of biological evolution developed by the English naturalist Charles ...

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Darwinism is a theory of biological evolution
developed by the English naturalist Charles
Darwin (1809–1882) and others, stating that
all species of organisms arise and develop
through the natural selection of small, inherited
variations that increase the individual's
ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.
Also called Darwinian theory, it originally
included the broad concepts of transmutation
of species or of evolution which gained general
scientific acceptance after Darwin published
On the Origin of Species in 1859, including
concepts which predated Darwin's theories.
It subsequently referred to the specific concepts
of natural selection, the Weismann barrier,
or the central dogma of molecular biology.
Though the term usually refers strictly to
biological evolution, creationists have appropriated
it to refer to the origin of life, and it
has even been applied to concepts of cosmic
evolution, both of which have no connection
to Darwin's work. It is therefore considered
the belief and acceptance of Darwin's and
of his predecessors' work—in place of other
theories, including divine design and extraterrestrial
English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley coined
the term Darwinism in April 1860. It was used
to describe evolutionary concepts in general,
including earlier concepts published by English
philosopher Herbert Spencer. Many of the proponents
of Darwinism at that time, including Huxley,
had reservations about the significance of
natural selection, and Darwin himself gave
credence to what was later called Lamarckism.
The strict neo-Darwinism of German evolutionary
biologist August Weismann gained few supporters
in the late 19th century. During the approximate
period of the 1880s to about 1920, sometimes
called "the eclipse of Darwinism," scientists
proposed various alternative evolutionary
mechanisms which eventually proved untenable.
The development of the modern synthesis in
the early 20th century, incorporating natural
selection with population genetics and Mendelian
genetics, revived Darwinism in an updated
While the term Darwinism has remained in use
amongst the public when referring to modern
evolutionary theory, it has increasingly been
argued by science writers such as Olivia Judson
and Eugenie Scott that it is an inappropriate
term for modern evolutionary theory. For example,
Darwin was unfamiliar with the work of the
Moravian scientist and Augustinian friar Gregor
Mendel, and as a result had only a vague and
inaccurate understanding of heredity. He naturally
had no inkling of later theoretical developments
and, like Mendel himself, knew nothing of
genetic drift, for example. In the United
States, creationists often use the term "Darwinism"
as a pejorative term in reference to beliefs
such as scientific materialism, but in the
United Kingdom the term has no negative connotations,
being freely used as a shorthand for the body
of theory dealing with evolution, and in particular,
with evolution by natural selection.
Conceptions of Darwinism:
While the term Darwinism had been used previously
to refer to the work of Erasmus Darwin in
the late 18th century, the term as understood
today was introduced when Charles Darwin's
1859 book On the Origin of Species was reviewed
by Thomas Henry Huxley in the April 1860 issue
of the Westminster Review. Having hailed the
book as "a veritable Whitworth gun in the
armoury of liberalism" promoting scientific
naturalism over theology, and praising the
usefulness of Darwin's ideas while expressing
professional reservations about Darwin's gradualism
and doubting if it could be proved that natural
selection could form new species, Huxley compared
Darwin's achievement to that of Nicolaus Copernicus
in explaining planetary motion:
What if the orbit of Darwinism should be a
little too circular? What if species should
offer residual phenomena, here and there,
not explicable by natural selection? Twenty
years hence naturalists may be in a position
to say whether this is, or is not, the case;
but in either event they will owe the author
of "The Origin of Species" an immense debt
of gratitude.... And viewed as a whole, we
do not believe that, since the publication
of Von Baer's "Researches on Development,"
thirty years ago, any work has appeared calculated
to exert so large an influence, not only on
the future of Biology, but in extending the
domination of Science over regions of thought
into which she has, as yet, hardly penetrated.
1. More individuals are produced each generation
that can survive.
2. Phenotypic variation exists among individuals
and the variation is heritable.
3. Those individuals with heritable traits
better suited to the environment will survive.
4. When reproductive isolation occurs new
species will form.
These are the basic tenets of evolution by
natural selection as defined by Darwin.
Another important evolutionary theorist of
the same period was the Russian geographer
and prominent anarchist Peter Kropotkin who,
in his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution
(1902), advocated a conception of Darwinism
counter to that of Huxley. His conception
was centred around what he saw as the widespread
use of co-operation as a survival mechanism
in human societies and animals. He used biological
and sociological arguments in an attempt to
show that the main factor in facilitating
evolution is cooperation between individuals
in free-associated societies and groups. This
was in order to counteract the conception
of fierce competition as the core of evolution,
which provided a rationalization for the dominant
political, economic and social theories of
the time; and the prevalent interpretations
of Darwinism, such as those by Huxley, who
is targeted as an opponent by Kropotkin. Kropotkin's
conception of Darwinism could be summed up
by the following quote:
In the animal world we have seen that the
vast majority of species live in societies,
and that they find in association the best
arms for the struggle for life: understood,
of course, in its wide Darwinian sense—not
as a struggle for the sheer means of existence,
but as a struggle against all natural conditions
unfavourable to the species. The animal species,
in which individual struggle has been reduced
to its narrowest limits, and the practice
of mutual aid has attained the greatest development,
are invariably the most numerous, the most
prosperous, and the most open to further progress.
The mutual protection which is obtained in
this case, the possibility of attaining old
age and of accumulating experience, the higher
intellectual development, and the further
growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance
of the species, its extension, and its further
progressive evolution. The unsociable species,
on the contrary, are doomed to decay.
— Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor
of Evolution (1902), Conclusion
19th-century usage:
"Darwinism" soon came to stand for an entire
range of evolutionary (and often revolutionary)
philosophies about both biology and society.
One of the more prominent approaches, summed
in the 1864 phrase "survival of the fittest"
by Herbert Spencer, later became emblematic
of Darwinism even though Spencer's own understanding
of evolution (as expressed in 1857) was more
similar to that of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck than
to that of Darwin, and predated the publication
of Darwin's theory in 1859. What is now called
"Social Darwinism" was, in its day, synonymous
with "Darwinism"—the application of Darwinian
principles of "struggle" to society, usually
in support of anti-philanthropic political
agenda. Another interpretation, one notably
favoured by Darwin's half-cousin Francis Galton,
was that "Darwinism" implied that because
natural selection was apparently no longer
working on "civilized" people, it was possible
for "inferior" strains of people (who would
normally be filtered out of the gene pool)
to overwhelm the "superior" strains, and voluntary
corrective measures would be desirable—the
foundation of eugenics.
In Darwin's day there was no rigid definition
of the term "Darwinism," and it was used by
opponents and proponents of Darwin's biological
theory alike to mean whatever they wanted
it to in a larger context. The ideas had international
influence, and Ernst Haeckel developed what
was known as Darwinismus in Germany, although,
like Spencer's "evolution," Haeckel's "Darwinism"
had only a rough resemblance to the theory
of Charles Darwin, and was not centered on
natural selection. In 1886, Alfred Russel
Wallace went on a lecture tour across the
United States, starting in New York and going
via Boston, Washington, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska
to California, lecturing on what he called
"Darwinism" without any problems.
In his book Darwinism (1889), Wallace had
used the term pure-Darwinism which proposed
a "greater efficacy" for natural selection.
George Romanes dubbed this view as "Wallaceism",
noting that in contrast to Darwin, this position
was advocating a "pure theory of natural selection
to the exclusion of any supplementary theory."
Taking influence from Darwin, Romanes was
a proponent of both natural selection and
the inheritance of acquired characteristics.
The latter was denied by Wallace who was a
strict selectionist. Romanes' definition of
Darwinism conformed directly with Darwin's
views and was contrasted with Wallace's definition
of the term.
Other uses:
The term Darwinism is often used in the United
States by promoters of creationism, notably
by leading members of the intelligent design
movement, as an epithet to attack evolution
as though it were an ideology (an "ism") of
philosophical naturalism, or atheism. For
example, UC Berkeley law professor and author
Phillip E. Johnson makes this accusation of
atheism with reference to Charles Hodge's
book What Is Darwinism? (1874). However, unlike
Johnson, Hodge confined the term to exclude
those like American botanist Asa Gray who
combined Christian faith with support for
Darwin's natural selection theory, before
answering the question posed in the book's
title by concluding: "It is Atheism." Creationists
use the term Darwinism, often pejoratively,
to imply that the theory has been held as
true only by Darwin and a core group of his
followers, whom they cast as dogmatic and
inflexible in their belief. In the 2008 documentary
film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which
promotes intelligent design (ID), American
writer and actor Ben Stein refers to scientists
as Darwinists. Reviewing the film for Scientific
American, John Rennie says "The term is a
curious throwback, because in modern biology
almost no one relies solely on Darwin's original
ideas... Yet the choice of terminology isn't
random: Ben Stein wants you to stop thinking
of evolution as an actual science supported
by verifiable facts and logical arguments
and to start thinking of it as a dogmatic,
atheistic ideology akin to Marxism."
However, Darwinism is also used neutrally
within the scientific community to distinguish
the modern evolutionary synthesis, sometimes
called "neo-Darwinism," from those first proposed
by Darwin. Darwinism also is used neutrally
by historians to differentiate his theory
from other evolutionary theories current around
the same period. For example, Darwinism may
be used to refer to Darwin's proposed mechanism
of natural selection, in comparison to more
recent mechanisms such as genetic drift and
gene flow. It may also refer specifically
to the role of Charles Darwin as opposed to
others in the history of evolutionary thought—particularly
contrasting Darwin's results with those of
earlier theories such as Lamarckism or later
ones such as the modern evolutionary synthesis.
In political discussions in the United States,
the term is mostly used by its enemies. "It's
a rhetorical device to make evolution seem
like a kind of faith, like 'Maoism,'" says
Harvard University biologist E. O. Wilson.
He adds, "Scientists don't call it 'Darwinism'."
In the United Kingdom the term often retains
its positive sense as a reference to natural
selection, and for example British ethologist
and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins
wrote in his collection of essays A Devil's
Chaplain, published in 2003, that as a scientist
he is a Darwinist.
In his 1995 book Darwinian Fairytales, Australian
philosopher David Stove used the term "Darwinism"
in a different sense than the above examples.
Describing himself as non-religious and as
accepting the concept of natural selection
as a well-established fact, Stove nonetheless
attacked what he described as flawed concepts
proposed by some "Ultra-Darwinists." Stove
alleged that by using weak or false ad hocreasoning,
these Ultra-Darwinists used evolutionary concepts
to offer explanations that were not valid
(e.g., Stove suggested that sociobiological
explanation of altruism as an evolutionary
feature was presented in such a way that the
argument was effectively immune to any criticism).
Philosopher Simon Blackburn wrote a rejoinder
to Stove, though a subsequent essay by Stove's
protegee James Franklin'ssuggested that Blackburn's
response actually "confirms Stove's central
thesis that Darwinism can 'explain' anything."
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