Darwinism: The creationist straw man

If you visit the ironically entitled creationist website Evolution News and Views, try finding a single post that doesn't mention the word “Darwinist” or “Darwinism”. You’ll have to dig deep… very deep. If you were completely ignorant of biology you might even be fooled into thinking that these were terms cheerfully embraced by the scientific community. After all, an evolution news outlet is hardly in the business of obfuscation, now is it?

Outside of intelligent design (i.e., creationism warmed-over), Darwinism is used primarily to refer to the theory of the evolution of species by natural selection, as formulated by Darwin, not to the modern and more complete understanding of evolution. As things tend to be in science, evolutionary theory hasn’t stood still since 1859, when Darwin communicated his ideas to the world in On the origins of species. While natural selection is indeed a principle driving force in evolution, it is not the whole story. Charles Darwin would no doubt be astonished by the such discoveries of genes and DNA, the reworking of evolutionary theory to accommodate evo-devo and the neutral theory of molecular evolution, as well as the plethora of evidence that has confirmed the basic tenets of his original ideas. To use the term Darwinism is an insult to the hard work of the thousands of scientists who have helped refine evolutionary theory. It implies that the wheels of scientific research ground to a halt some 150 years ago and serves to confuse the public’s already poor understanding of evolution.

A more menacing motivation for using the term Darwinism is to portray evolution as just another ideology, consisting of its own set of monolithic doctrines and beliefs. However, science is not based on static beliefs but is rather a ceaselessly self-correcting discipline that evolves in light of new evidence.

By misrepresenting evolution as the archaic, dogmatic ideas of one old man, creationists set up a straw man argument. It always strikes me as curious that they don’t refer to adherents of gravity as Newtonists! Judging from the overwhelming and ever-increasing evidence for evolution, creationists are given little choice but to resort to fallacious arguments.

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Above photo modified from original by Colin Purrington under creative commons license.

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