Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/10/science/10essa.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

           Credits for the evolution theory is mostly given to Charles Darwin, particularly for writing the book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.” In this book, he introduced his idea of how species have developed on Earth through the process of natural selection. Carl Safina, however, thinks we need to let go of this connection. In his essay published in the New York Times, he explains how the connection between Charles Darwin and the Evolution Theory is strongly done, or perhaps even overdone, and that we must abandon this tie in order to fully understand the evolution theory, and possibly develop it more.

 

            What I found interesting in his article was his way of arguing: Carl Safina’s argumentative essay had a touch of narrative story. He started his writing with a direct quote from Charles Darwin’s father. The historical facts he included, such as the primitiveness of science in Darwin’s day, were done chronologically and contributed to the feeling of narrative story. At the same time, he did not forget to connect the facts to his argument. Effectively intertwining the narrative part with his strong argumentative sentences increased credibility in his argument. However, the same technic made the essay look repetitive. Around half of the essay, his argument was clearly stated with enough backing evidences that the rest of the essay was just additional evidence and repeating the argument.

 

            Overall, I agree with what Carl Safina is saying. Scientific theories are not defined as definitive: they no longer will be theories if they have any form of counter evidence that disputes them. This also means that theories will stay theories as long as they have no counter evidence. If we start to “believe in Darwinism” and make no arguments in whether or not it is true, evolution theory and eventually science itself will stay stagnant and make no more progress. 

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16 Responses to Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live

  1. Sl1017 says:

    Carl Safina makes a strong argument in this New York Times article, however it wasn’t enough to convince me. At first I had myself nodding to his statements about Darwin simply taking the credit and that too much is focused on Darwinism. His comparison of evolution and Darwinism to astronomy and Copernicus was an excellent tool of argument that he used. It wasn’t until this statement that I re considered his article completely- “Almost everything we understand about evolution came after Darwin, not from him. He knew nothing of heredity or genetics, both crucial to evolution. Evolution wasn’t even Darwin’s idea.” While it is certainly true that Darwin gets the most amount of credit, I also learned about Mendel in AP biology and I wrote and entire research essay on Walter and Crick. Darwin gets the credit for a reason. Science is a collaborative field and Darwin’s research, although simple, built the foundation leading to more discoveries in science. It makes sense to associate his name with evolution and also how we coined the term Darwinism.
    Tksekf mentions that if we believe in Darwinism and only build off of this idea “evolution theory and eventually science itself will stay stagnant and make no more progress.” I disagree with this statement. Largely accepted theories and scientific research will always be and continue to be challenged. Creationism and intelligent design are arguments to Darwinism and evolution. For example,global warming. A widely accepted theory that some people including myself still do not accept and it is being challenged every day by scientists around the world. People will continue to challenge Darwinism and evolution until it is proven wrong or proven right and accepted as a fact.

    • lnzgirl says:

      I agree with Sl1017 that evolutionary science will not remain stagnant, even if it is seemingly attached to “Darwinism.” Since Darwin, there have been many scientists who have done research and explored the ideas of evolution and the origins of life. While evolution is still tied to Darwin and Mendel, biological anthropology, genetics, and other fields which explore Earth’s ancient history have continued to grow. The proof of progress is not only supported in the scientific community, where they add new early hominid species to the web of human ancestry all the time, but also culturally. Over the years, Evolution and Darwinism have been increasingly more accepted as scientific in the education committee and have been proven time and time again in court to be incomparable to religious theories. While I concede that “Darwinism” like “Global Warming” has become a highly politicized phrase which no longer holds the scientific merit that “climate change” has, I think that the word “Darwinism” has done little to hinder the advances of evolutionary research and science. Darwinism or evolution science, I think the issue of stagnation lies more in seemingly contradictory information to the bible then the semantics of the phrasing.

  2. ojc31084 says:

    In a nation where we are struggling to remain competitive with others in terms of math and science education, it is important to acknowledge that a majority of our citizens do not understand the difference between scientific theories and scientific laws. It should not come as a surprise that some people do not believe in evolution (or think that it should not be the only explanation of human origins taught in schools) as a result of it’s being labeled as a theory instead of a law. Contrary to popular belief, a scientific theory is, by definition, “an explanation or model based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning, especially one that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena” (from http://www.livescience.com/21491-what-is-a-scientific-theory-definition-of-theory.html). We shouldn’t add to this confusion by labeling evolution as “Darwin’s theory of evolution” or “Darwinian evolution”. As Safina points out, this makes it seems as if there are other scientifically accepted theories of evolution and that it is appropriate for alternative theories to be taught in schools. By disconnecting Darwin from evolution and not referring to it as a “theory”, evolution will be taken more seriously. It is a first step in excluding all other alternative theories of human origin from public school and therefore providing American students with better science education.

    • drc1995 says:

      While at the beginning of the week when I was first introduced to this article I was very much in support of having Darwinism “die” to free evolution from its current plight of being incredibly politicized as a ideology, I think now I will have to disagree. Specifically, I disagree with ojc31084’s comment regarding the need to be done with the term “Darwinism” and all the connotations around it in order to save the face of evolution, as well as what I perceive as the idea that it will be easy to get the public to better understand evolution.

      First off, let me just say that I think it is unrealistic to be able to just let Darwinism “die.” A term like that doesn’t go away easily when it has been around for decades now, and is one of the biggest perceived backbones to evolution itself. I especially doubt that opponents of evolution would let it go considering it is, at least from my perspective, one of the points of evolution they like to attack the most. With all of that in mind, I do think we have to gradually change our attitudes towards Darwinism and better explain it to the public so that it might not be warped by opponents.

      Secondly, I don’t agree with ojc31084’s statement that the tagging of the term “theory” on to Darwinism or evolution completely undermines or impacts either to the degree you seem to state. I mean as you said yourself, the general public probably doesn’t understand the difference between ‘theory” and “law” anyway. Just taking off the word “theory”, I don’t feel, would really change that much about the perception of evolution and Darwinism.Honestly, it is just the politicized meaning behind evolution that hinders it, and really nothing else. It is sad, but I don’t think anything will really make the general public come to understand evolution faster. It will take time, and I think will only come through the setting of legislative and judicial precedent for the dominance of evolution and public campaigns to help the public gradually understand it better. I don’t feel something as as simplistic as just taking away the word “theory” will make that huge of an impact on public perception unless we explain evolution better.

  3. roberly2 says:

    The article’s author suggests that we ought to divorce Darwin’s name from the theory of evolution because he doesn’t deserve all the credit and because it makes it easier to argue that evolution is a scientific truth. In terms of advocating the teaching of evolution in schools, Safina makes a very good point. Ultimately though, his point ought to be moot because we’re arguing over semantics when we should be arguing over substance. What matters is that Darwin, his predecessors and his successors were right. Who cares if it’s called Darwinism or Wallacism or Mendelism? Even if Newton hadn’t been credited with discovering gravity, we would still die if we jumped off the leaning tower of Piza.

    I like that ojc31084 makes a comparison between a scientific law and a scientific theory; I also find that both he as well as Sl1017 bring up in their comments is very valid and applicable. However, I find myself itching to go deeper. It’s not just about discrediting Darwin specifically to further the teaching of evolution in schools, or as a means of having it considered as fact rather than theory; it’s about separating the man from the science. It ultimately doesn’t matter who discovered it; what matters is that we acknowledge that it is true.

    The guy is dead; he doesn’t care anymore (if he ever did) about being credited with the discovery of evolution.

    After Newton finished his experiments with gravity and effectively discovered its existence, he was credited with several laws and equations that are proven to be true, but we do not call gravity Newtonian gravitational theory. We do though credit other scientists with their various discoveries by naming diseases, equations and laws after them just as equally as we integrate new laws and scientific theories that go largely unaccredited.

    It just doesn’t matter. We are still dealing with science.

  4. secondcitytocapitalcity says:

    While sl1017 seems to have a problem with the New York Time’s articles argument that evolution needs to distance itself from Darwin, I agree with what Safina is claiming. Safina’s title “Darwinism Must Die” is a strong statement, but I think his argument is more complex than the title may make it seem. Safina is not denying the contributions of Darwin to biology, but is saying that biologists need to distance themselves from only looking a evolution as Darwin’s idea. I think that by equating Darwin and evolution so closely together, it makes it easier for people to attack evolution as one mans idea. By showing the wide variety of research on evolution done by many different people, it makes it more difficult to attack evolution as a simple “theory” like what ojc31084 explained. I think that evolutionary biologists need to do a better job at showing the public that Darwin may have been important, but many others have provided significant insight into evolution, and this is part of the reason why it is so highly accepted in the scientific community.

  5. jps591 says:

    I agree with the author that the way Safina approached his argument was interesting and unique. Additionally, I found it to be very effective. After reading his article, I completely understood his side of the argument and my understanding of the connotations that surround Darwinism completely changed. The argument that most strongly stood out to me was the idea that Darwinism is a misnomer for the theory of evolution. As Safina mentioned, -isms usually are not a science but rather a collection of thoughts traced from an individual or an ideology (think Marxism, communism, capitalism, etc.) Moreover, etymologically, the -ism root has been reserved for religions and other institutions that rely on the blind belief of the unknown, including Sikhism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Judaism, and Taoism. In my eyes, evolution loses credibility by being associated with Darwinism because referring to it as Darwinism would imply that it requires a blind belief that the research of Darwin (even though Darwin was only a small contributor to the theory of evolution) is fact, akin to religion where one has to have “faith” that there is a supernatural being(s) or spirit because of a lack of physical evidence. In reality, there is strong, solid, and reproducible evidence and studies that uphold evolution as an explanation for life as we know it. By ditching or distancing the term Darwinism, evolution would appear to be more scientifically sound and less controversial in popular culture.

  6. running95 says:

    Carl Safina’s point is extremely valid and I totally agree with him. The term Darwinism has been used to death by both scientists and the general population alike. The amount that the term has been used is obviously not the point, however, the real problem is what a term like ‘Darwinism’ implies.

    First of all, it gives the false impression that Charles Darwin is the sole contributor to the concept of evolution, when in fact there have a multitude of minds that have added to the overall notion that every living organism today has evolved from previous ancestral organisms. These scientists and thinkers include James Watson and Francis Crick, Gregor Mendel, and Darwin’s own grandfather, Erasmus, amongst many others. Moreover, “The Origin of Species,” though his most famous, was not Darwin’s only work. In his lifetime Charles Darwin published “8 books before and 10 books after ‘Origin.'” Therefore, just as the concept of natural selection as expressed in “Origin” is not Charles Darwin’s only contribution to the world of evolution, Charles Darwin is not the only contributor to the world of evolution.

    On a different note, Carl Safina mentions the important idea that the fact that Darwinism is an “ism” which lends to the idea that it is a belief just as capitalism, conservatism, judaism, federalism, and liberalism are all beliefs that may be contested by individuals who hold opposing views. In this regard, “Darwinism” makes the theory of evolution less of a science to respect and more of a belief to follow or contest. Just as Safina points out in his article, no one call gravity “Newtonism” and no one calls astronomy “Copernicism.” However, most people have at least heard the term “Darwinism” to express the theory of evolution even if they have never used it themselves. Referring to a controversial idea as a belief does nothing but weaken the validity of the concept especially to ultra-religious groups who tend to take personal offense to the notion of evolution and instead hold to the belief in Creationism.

    • thomgc says:

      What you’re forgetting and what Safina is also forgetting is that Darwinism is a belief, not just a synonym for evolution. And unlike what you seem to to notice it is a controversial idea, the notion of using natural selection in a societal setting is one that is very unsettling for most people and serves a s the basis for Darwinism the philosophy.

      Some people can be Darwinists others can be Existentialists, Nihilists, Utilitarians etc. The point is that Safina makes the mistake of seeing Darwinism not as an ideology, which it is, but as shorthand for evolution as a whole, which it is not. Darwinism is in a nutshell simply applying natural selection to human society for the believed good of all.

  7. thomgc says:

    I think that Safina misses one key mark about what Darwinism is in modern society, not so much a scientific idea, like evolution and natural selection, but a philosophical one based around the notion of survival of the fittest. Darwin whether he wanted to or not created a notion that gave scientific evidence to the idea of genetic superiority, to strength and fitness in general, and even to economic factors such as comparative advantage and competition. According to merriam-webster dictionary Darwinism is: “a theory that inherent dynamic forces allow only the fittest persons or organizations to prosper in a competitive environment or situation”. This has nothing to do with genetics and much more to do with society, and how said society is structured. It is also related heavily to notions such as eugenics, selective breeding, racial theory and even meritocracy; where people engage in competition and intern the one who emerges victorious is ultimately the one most worthy of high power: societal natural selection.

    When Safina is speaking about the death of Darwinism she only speaks about it as a term synonymous with evolution not as a moral philosophy. What she is asking for is for an idea to die and ideas cannot die, anymore than abstract concepts or fictitious stories can die, because they exist in our minds.

  8. Mykkros says:

    I completely understand what Safina is saying in his article, Darwinism Must Die so Evolution Can Live, when he states that the scientific world must do away with the term “Darwinism”. He makes a good point when he states that the term may give incorrect notion about the science of evolution, though I was not fully convinced about the argument that he was making. While, as Safina had stated, “Darwinism” is a scientifically incorrect term that disregards the findings of scientists after him that furthered evolutionary theory is true, I believe that it is not the main argument in that many people are debating and that it is not as influential a topic and he says it is.

    Personally, I feel that the vast majority of people, including myself to be honest, looked at the terms “Darwinism” and “Evolution” and thought of the same thing without ever envisioning that there was a debate over the naming used. To me, it was like Mendelian genetics, Gregory Mendel was not the sole contributor to genetics; he just discovered it.

    In today’s society, as I mentioned before, I personally feel that most people that deny evolution are not in any way furthered by the fact that Evolution is known as “Darwinism”. Instead, they are debating the theory itself; the idea that humanity was initially decedents of ape like organisms and the religious conflicts it causes that makes people deny it. Some people, including jps591, agree with Safina stating that the term Darwinism makes evolution lose “credibility by being associated with Darwinism” but the point of the matter is that people would continue to deny evolution even if it were called something else. Does a desire to care for the environment –environmentalism- lose any credibility since it has an “-ism” in it? Environmentalism is not a belief, like Catholicism or Marxism, as Safina draws a tangent to but rather something completely different. Maybe if the debate were taken away from the naming of the same theory and instead was drawn to making positive actions, good results could occur.

  9. phishmonkees says:

    Carl Safina describes his contempt for using “Darwinism” as a synonym for the theory of evolution because in doing so, people are ignoring the other scientists that have contributed to the development of evolutionary discoveries. I am in concurrence with Safina; I believe that attributing the entire theory of evolution to Darwinism does not do justice to the scientific theory. I continue to call evolution a theory, and that is because that is precisely what it is. To clarify, theories are scientifically valid; they are supported by scientific evidence. Creationism can not be considered a theory because there is no evidence to support the ideas it purports, there are just improvable statements made by its devotees. .(http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-misconceptions.html0) I believe that evolution is true, however it is not a scientific law, because while evolution is observable, it is not necessarily predictable or consistently repeatable. Several scientific laws deal with physics that can be proven by mathematical formulas; the laws can be tested, repeated and the results will be consistent. Do I think that the theory of evolution will hold for the next hundred years? Yes, but unlike ojc31084 I don’t believe we should start calling evolution a scientific fact. Perhaps instead of calling evolution a fact we should improve on the definition of a scientific theory. I understand Safina’s issue with evolution being labeled as “Darwin’s theory”, because Darwin was not the sole contributor or “discoverer” of evolution. Darwin merely observed and documented many variations of animal and plant characteristics that eventually other scientists concluded were derived from an evolutionary process. Although Darwin promoted the idea of evolution as a result of his observances, many scientific findings such as the discovery of DNA are what further cemented evolution theory’s legitimacy. Furthermore, by calling evolution “Darwinism”, it implies that the science is derived from Darwin alone. To conclude, Safina makes an interesting point that Darwinism, since it is an “–ism” entails a belief system that should not be used as a substitute for the entire theory of evolution, because in doing so it diminishes the broad application and validity of the theory. On this point I agree with safina.

  10. phillykid888 says:

    The most important reason we must stop calling evolutionary theory “Darwinism” is the connotation given by the suffix “-ism.” It makes a legitimate scientific theory sound as if it is nothing more than another belief system, based not on logic but on faith. Worse, it makes it sound as if Darwin’s ideas are equal and opposite to those of creationists. Many observers of the artificial “debate” between the two camps believe that “Darwinism” is just as much of a belief system as creationism or any other religion. They often use the argument that “Evolution is just a theory,”; this argument is ridiculous because gravity is also, technically “just a theory.” Creationists never question gravity as simply another belief system, they simply capitalize on the fact that “Darwinism” sounds like another religion and try to use this to discredit multiple scientific discoveries made by many scientists before, after, and including Charles Darwin.

  11. djrosato says:

    In the debate regarding the usage of the term “Darwinism,” an important aspect that has yet to be discussed is its application towards cultural pressures in the form of Social Darwinism. Despite the myriad of reasons Safina addresses, he skips this vital aspect of the discussion. Social Darwinism is toxic towards the public’s understanding of evolution because it loosely applies overtly simplified aspects of the Theory of Evolution to economic policies. Simply put, the similar nomenclature and loose similarities of the two naturally forces people to associate them together. The saying, ‘survival of the fittest,’ plays an important part in Social Darwinism, despite it not actually holding much weight biologically (nature is actually more along the lines of survival of the best fit to reproduce). Social Darwinism delegitimizes the term ‘Darwinism,’ simply by relation. On top of all of Safini’s reasons, Darwinism should be divorced from The Theory of Evolution simply because the term is now identified with Social Darwinism and has lost all respect in the scientific community.

  12. foldervral says:

    I agree with Sl1017, when he says that science will never stagnate. An example of this is a recently discovered new ligament found in the human knee that is present in 97 percent of humans. After all this time we can still find a new part of our own bodies. Although the theories and science will never stagnate the term Darwinism stagnates our basic perception of the field. Darwin did contribute to the foundation of evolutionary theory, but he should not get the lions share of the credit. We have learned a lot since and that term holds evolution back. It gives religious groups a target due to the perceived “belief” aspect of evolution. It is easy to say that in politics and psychology perception is more important than reality. In this current age the world is run by politicians and the perception of evolution as a belief has been debilitating to acceptance of evolution as scientific fact. Carl makes a good point when he says that this term must die, but it also seems a little to fanatic on erasing Darwin altogether. He should be recognized for what he has done, not as a figurehead of evolution. Carl does mention Darwin’s brilliance in several other fields of evolution besides natural selection. Darwin does deserve credit for these contributions just like other evolutionary scientists. Overall Carl makes a good argument and steps should be taken to remove Darwinism form the dictionary, but Darwin should not be forgot as a contributor to our overall knowledge of evolution.

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