It’s time to divorce Darwin. At least that’s what Carl Safina thinks. The MacArthur fellow believes that the theory of evolution has evolved beyond Darwin, and our inability to separate the man from the concept is hindering its legitimacy.
Using the terms “Darwinism” and “evolution” interchangeably is dangerous for two reasons. First, it diminishes the gains made by every scientist since Darwin towards the advancement of the theory of evolution. Darwin came up with the foundational theories behind natural selection but had no means of understanding the mechanics. As Safina points out, “Almost everything we understand about evolution came after Darwin, not from him”. Not until Gregor Mendel’s heredity experiments and Watson and Crick’s double helix discovery could the theory be truly explained. Myriad biologists, anthropologists, and paleontologists have made significant contributions to the theory of evolution, but Darwin gets all the credit. Essentially this disregards all the progress that has been made since his piece de resistance was published in 1859.
Not only is that ignoring 155 years of development, but it makes the theory of evolution sound less like a scientific consensus and more like a cult theory. Dare I say that naming the theory after the person who first proselytized it implies religious connotations? Calling it Darwinism rather than evolution transforms Charles Darwin from an accomplished scientist into a cult leader, and makes the nearly universally accepted scientific theory seem like the beliefs of one individual. Safina also makes the point that linguistics-wise, using the term “Darwinism” in opposition to the term “creationism” subconsciously puts the two concepts on equal footing and creates a false equivalency.
We also must take into consideration the fact that the Darwin name has unfortunately been tainted. Creationists rarely fail to point out the links between the concept of natural selection and the racist theories that stemmed from it, in particular eugenics and Social Darwinism, which was used as justification for Western imperialism during much of the 19th century.
So is Darwin holding back the theory of evolution?