2/11/2009

WHEREFORE DARWINISM?

To celebrate Darwin, should we celebrate 'Darwinism'?

This op-ed from the Times
says, in effect 'no'. PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne, gasp, agree with one another: they don't like the piece's rhetorical sallies. Well, bully for them, but I have to admit I'm more sympathetic to Carl Safina than they are.

Here's an observation to set my claim in stark relief, a list of the top 20 titles from Amazon.com with the word 'Darwinism' in the title whose central focus is closely related to evolution (I've omitted irrelevant titles, like Richard Hofstadter's 'Social Darwinism in American Thought'.

1) Darwinism and Its Discontents (Ruse)

2) Defeating Darwinism By Opening Minds (Johnson)

3) Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (Wells)

4) Exposing Darwinism's Weak Link (Poppe)

5) Darwinism (Wallace)

6) Shattering the Myths of Darwinism (Milton)

7) Reclaiming Science From Darwinism (Poppe)

8) Darwinism and Philosophy (Hosle and Islies)

9) Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (Behe)

10) Moral
Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (Wiker and Dembski)

11) Tornado in a Junkyard: The Relentless Myth of
Darwinism (Perloff)

12) Darwinism Evolving (Pew and Weber)

13) Neural Darwinism (Edelman)

14) Darwinism Comes To America (Numbers)

15) Darwinism and the Divine in America (Roberts)

16) Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (Rachels)

17) Disseminating Darwinism (Numbers and Stenhouse)

18) Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals who find Darwinism Unconvincing (Wilson and Dembski)

19)
Darwinism Under the Microscope (Gills and Woodward)

20) Darwinism Applied to Social Goals (Beckstrom)


Three (1,8, 16) are works in the philosophy of biology. Ruse's work also covers much of the history of the 'evo-creo wars', as does 12, 14, 15, and 17.

Wallace's book (5) is basically of historical interest, a facsimile of an 1889 publication.

So how many books does that leave with 'Darwinism' in the title that are contemporary science books, instead of polemics or treatises motivated by interests in history, religion or philosophy?

Three (12, 13 and 20), and they are not concerned principally with documenting or describing mainstream evolutionary biology, but with applications of evolutionary concepts to (respectively) complex adaptive systems, brain function and the social sciences.

The remaining ten, fully half of the twenty, are creationist screeds, mainly from Discovery Institute stooges, highlighted in red. It is worth noting, as well, that these wastes of ink represent seven of the first ten.

I get similar results from searches for 'evolutionism', 'Darwinist' and 'evolutionist'. Very few titles having anything to do with contemporary science. Much about the history and philosophy of biology, discussions of 'social Darwinism' and (of course), a considerable number of Bible-based batshit.

So I think, really, I've made my point. 'Darwinism' has been hopelessly coopted, primarily by the creationists and secondarily by the various academics who study either the historical or present 'controversies' engendered by the cottage industry of creationism within the churches. It can no longer serve a legitimate scientific usage in North America. Let it go, and let those who use it to attack science be forced to wear it, like Cain's mark.

1 comment:

Kel said...

The word being hijacked and misused by creationist is cause for concern, but I doubt dropping the name will do any good. Firstly, it would need to be established that the creationist use of the word Darwinism is mainly a product of scientists and evolution advocates using the word, and secondly that the word itself is actually a barrier towards acceptance of evolution among theists. Otherwise what is the point of doing it?

Personally I'm sceptical that it will do any good, even without the word Darwinism they'll still throw around the same derogatory intent with evolutionism. Is this exercise anything more than a PR game with a disinterested consumer?