Praise Be Unto Darwin?

A couple days ago I was flipping through a creationist book from my shelf, and I couldn’t help but notice that the author rarely ever used the word “evolution” when describing the theory of evolution by natural selection. Instead, he almost always called it Darwinism. Of course, we know what someone means when they say Darwinism, and even evolutionists often call it Darwinian evolution or Darwin’s theory of evolution. But I think that creationists have a very specific reason in using the term “Darwinism” instead of the word “evolution”. That is: they want to equate believing that evolution is true with belonging to a religion that worships Charles Darwin.

To be transparent, I don’t really feel strongly one way or another about Charles Darwin the person. In various books on evolution, I’ve read page-long summaries of Darwin’s life, but I’ve never read a biography and I’m really not an expert on him. I’m just not that interested.

Of course I have an immeasurable appreciation for his scientific “discovery” (if you can call evolution a discovery), but Darwin is one of many great names that come to mind when I think of evolution. There’s also Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently discovered the theory of natural selection (which, by the way, no one calls Wallacism or Wallician evolution, although, granted, it doesn’t have the same ring to it), Donald Johansen, who discovered the bones of Lucy, Francis Collins, who mapped the first human genome, and dozens, if not hundreds, more.

Darwin may have gotten the ball rolling on the study of natural selection, but making his name and the theory itself interchangeable ignores all of the great discoveries and work in the field of biology since Darwin’s time. Surely, there’s so much more evidence of evolution now than Darwin could have dreamed of! He knew nothing of hominid fossils or of the evidence of evolution within the field of genetics.

The science of evolution is so much more than a devotion to Charles Darwin. It’s people from so many fields of study experimenting and investigating, connecting dots and finding clues that continually point to the same conclusion. In a word, it’s dynamic.

You could think of atheists and skeptics in the same way. The freethought community is varied and dynamic, with no clear leader, and we’re doing just fine without one, thank you very much. But with any group, leaders emerge. In this case, predictably, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris are perceived as leaders. I think that this is especially the case with Dawkins, who is known for being the most outspoken.

Picking out the supposed leader of a group and seeing them as a representative of the whole group makes the opposition’s job easy. How many times have you seen apologists responding to the words of Richard Dawkins? It’s as if they think that if you’re an atheist, then you must idolize him and agree with his statements. As evolution is conflated with Darwinism, so is atheism conflated with Dawkinism.

It all comes back to the occasional allegation that atheism is just another religion. But if it were a religion, wouldn’t you be able to point to a person, or even a group of people, whose words are gospel? No one discovered unbelief in a supernatural deity, and no one wrote the holy text of atheism, as much as it may seem. It’s easy to see The God Delusion or The Origin of Species as the atheistic antitheses to the Bible or the Quran, but you can disagree with every other word that Dawkins wrote and still be an atheist. On the other hand, if you disagree with everything in the Bible, then it’s impossible for you to be a Christian.

The atheistic community isn’t run by one person with a book, and as a matter of fact, neither is the evolution community (if one could call it that). I think it can be hard for those of orthodox religions to understand that we can live and operate completely free of a god or even a god substitute. But it’s exactly that: free! We’re free from dogma and creeds, and we’re free to hold our own independent beliefs. You may never find two atheists who believe all of the exact same things, and that’s why it’s amazing to have a community with so many different voices of people who are willing to change, learn, and grow together.

Header image: Science Outreach Office Brussels

13 Replies to “Praise Be Unto Darwin?”

  1. Nicely written but I would disagree that not all Christians believe the Bible to be true. There is enough proof of JESUS being real, that you can stand in that alone. I personally do believe the Bible to be true but I’m not suggesting that every believer does and that we can’t agree to disagree. True Christianity is not a religion that you have to follow the rules or else. It is supposed to be a relationship with a living GOD who can speak to you (in many ways) & you can speak to HIM, in prayer. HE who gave his son to restore that broken relationship…I’m not sure if this post was open to my comments, but I felt led to share. I hope it’s respected, I do respect you all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! I’m glad you bring that up, actually, because it’s something I have been confused about for a while. This year I’m doing a Read the Bible in a Year and I’ve made it to Ezekiel so far. Not surprisingly, I am not a fan of the Old Testament or the majority of what it teaches. I think a lot of Christians have your same response when someone says this about the Old Testament – to turn to the gospels and Jesus (which I’ve heard is better than the OT), but why wouldn’t the Old and New Testaments be equally important? Doesn’t Jesus affirm a lot of the Old Testament?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I want to start by saying thank you for responding. Also, I want to note I’m not a scholar, I’m a student. However, yes, Jesus does say he did not come to abolish or do away with the law (meaning the Old Testament) He cane to fulfill it. I agree with you many people, including Christians say they ignore the Old Testament but I would say it’s just like any other history, and if you don’t know your history, you won’t know where you’re going. In other words, without the Old Testament, we would have no idea what Jesus was taking about because he quotes much of the Old Testament and the Old Testament is how we know Jesus was not just a man; it is the prophecy of Jesus, so without it, He could not fulfill it. I hope that makes sense, if not I can unpack that more.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you completely on this. Calling evolution Darwinism is very short sighted. There was a lot we didn’t know about during Darwin’s time, such as genetics and the theory of plate tectonics (what many people still call continental drift). But by using the term ‘Darwinism’, it allows people to be ignorant and take easy stabbings against science.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I suspect that “Darwinism” is also used to discredit its subject matter because it is associated with the phrase “social Darwinism” related to the concept of eugenics. One of my university professors, Mark Lester, who is one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known, taught me a lot about modern philosophy, and had a funny approach to Nietzsche, admiring his teachings while still seeming troubled by the association between Nietzsche’s name and Nazism (worth noting that Mark was of Jewish descent). Yet he also taught me about Darwin without ever mentioning the twisted uses to which the Nazis and others have utilized mangled interpretations of Darwin’s ideas. People are funny that way sometimes.

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  4. “…making his name and the theory itself interchangeable ignores all of the great discoveries and work in the field of biology since Darwin’s time.”

    This is a very good point. I think you’re right that creationists use “Darwinism” in order to tie the theory explicitly with the man, as if it’s “just one guy thought of it one time” rather than a rigorously tested and widely accepted explanation.

    Another reason, I think, is that they tend to add “ism” to a whole bunch of things, in order to make it seem more fantastical. For example, several creationists I knew in Texas used the term “scientism” to rail against a “baseless worship of science”, any time someone brought up a scientific study or a broad scientific consensus. “That’s just scientism!” they would claim. Mainly it’s an attempt to derail any further conversation. (And it often works, because who wants to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t believe in scientific principles?)

    “Picking out the supposed leader of a group and seeing them as a representative of the whole group makes the opposition’s job easy.”

    Yes. Unfortunately, many atheists fall for it too. “If they’re attacking Dawkins, I must defend Dawkins!” When a much better response would be: “Why are you talking to me about Dawkins’ shortcomings? Address that to him. I’ve never met the man, and I also don’t care for his (alleged) shortcomings.”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I read in a biography once that C.S. Lewis referred to his ‘friend’ Tolkien as a ‘papist.’ The disparaging insult by the Anglican was intended.
    Also, just this morning I saw a new article on a fresh (xx-million years old) discovery that changed some of what scientists believed about evolution. I got a little lost in the details of an old skull, but the find was treated as accepted scientific fact. Science moves on, religion stagnates.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Humans seem to constantly seek leaders or figures that they can look to in the different categories of their life. Whether that be politics, music, art, faith and evolution. It makes attacking or countering things you disagree with easier as well to be honest.

    I wonder what it is about humanity that seems to derive that need for us to form groups and the to set leaders.

    Maybe a social evolutionary thing? 😉😆

    Great blog Rebekah ✌️

    -Sam

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, you are quite right that they usually refer to “Darwinism”.

    They do occasionally mention Wallace, typically as a backhanded way of attacking Darwin.

    They often point to Linnaeus and praise his work. But they don’t seem to recognize that if Darwin is the father of evolutionary theory, then Linnaeus is its grandfather. Darwin could see the evidence for common descent, because he was working with the Linnaeus classification scheme. And other people were beginning to see the same picture. Even without Darwin, we would have come to recognize common descent.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. You might want to consider that Darwin’s theory was a start and it was incomplete. There was no mechanism for the whole thing. But the “discovery” of genetics adn then the mechanisms of genetics, plus a few other bits and dabs made the theory complete. (It is still undergoing revisions but over time the revisions have gotten smaller and smaller.) By attacking Darwin’s theory instead of the Modern Synthesis, you can point up things like Darwin’s concern about how eyes evolved. Of course, it has been determined … since Darwin … that eyes have evolved several times in several different places. And not only that but how eyes evolved has been quite well understood.

    So “Darwin worship” might be one thrust, but attacking the partially formed theory is also, I think, part of their strategy.

    Liked by 3 people

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