Why is there "Darwinism" and why are there "Darwinists" ?

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Why is there "Darwinism" and why are there "Darwinists" ?

Unread postby Ranbir » Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:22 am

Perhaps I just have greater love for the real deals, like Godel or THE JAMES CLERK MAXWELL but I've always wondered how is it that Darwin manages to get an 'ism' after his name and how people can solely see themselves as (darwin)'-ists'?

Was his findings really that revolutionary to the field of science? It seems to me all he did was exactly what science expects: he observed and recorded the results. The method hasn't changed under his foot at all, we're not doing it any differently.

There are no, Maxwellians, there is no Einsteinism, or Cantorists or Faradayians. No-one is walking around calling themselves a Newtonian*? What gives?!

*Actually there were these but they were described as those with limited scientific view as they clashed with Faraday's field theories. It was Maxwell that squashed it and really helped push the school of thought onto the right path.
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Re: Why is there "Darwinism" and why are there "Darwinists" ?

Unread postby agga » Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:24 pm

i think it has to do with the historical process through which darwin's ideas got accepted. darwin got the basic evolutionary mechanism (natural selection) right from the start, and the broader idea (slow, adaptive change over time) caught on quickly. but, darwin's material theories weren't really, truly widely accepted until the past 70 years or so (when the 'modern synthesis' of natural selection and genetics was formed). until that time, there was a good 75 years for alternative theories of evolution to persist and compete; those who followed the natural selection camp, for whatever reason, weren't called 'natural selectionists', but darwinists (often as a pejorative), since they traced the correctness of their ideas back to their originator. today, evolution by natural selection is the standard theory of evolution, but it still carries his name. the "theory of evolution" and "darwinism" are not synonymous (darwin's mechanisms were originally one of several competing theories), although it happens that darwin's theories were basically correct, and there are no longer competing theories. an 'evolutionist' could, by definition, be a lamarckian, or a galtian, or some other -ian, as long as they espoused that 'evolution occurs, or has occurred'. there were ideas that acquired traits could be passed to offspring, or that evolution had a teleological 'purpose', developing species towards some sort of platonic 'final form'.

but really, you *do* ordinarily hear talk of 'einsteinian' or 'newtonian' physics, don't you? you hear of 'maxwellian' theories in basic physics courses, right? the name of a great scientist often gets used in place of the theory's title, often as an intentional honor. also, it is possible that 'darwinian' as a label for certain scientists originates as a pejorative, which was adopted with some degree of pride? depending on who you talk to, calling someone a 'darwinist' can be an insult, and that sort of usage might have been the original usage of the term, at least in applying it to individuals rather than to a class of evolutionary theory. i would take it as a highest compliment, but i happen to be one that explicitly identifies as one. so...
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Re: Why is there "Darwinism" and why are there "Darwinists" ?

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Sat Mar 07, 2009 1:58 am

agga wrote:also, it is possible that 'darwinian' as a label for certain scientists originates as a pejorative, which was adopted with some degree of pride? depending on who you talk to, calling someone a 'darwinist' can be an insult, and that sort of usage might have been the original usage of the term, at least in applying it to individuals rather than to a class of evolutionary theory. i would take it as a highest compliment, but i happen to be one that explicitly identifies as one. so...


Or sociologists, though this is definitely now meant as an insult: 'social Darwinism'. Actually, it is a complete misnomer - Charles Darwin, who himself was a devout Anglican (and believed in the value of charity and education for the poor), was actually horrified by the adaptation of his ideas in the crudest possible manner to the realm of human beings and human societies. Such a view should more accurately be called 'Spencerite' (after Herbert Spencer). But, I agree, agga - I would be flattered to be called a 'Darwinist', because I think he was right about a great many things, and the people who think he was wrong are generally people who are afraid of his ideas (often for religious or aesthetic reasons).
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Re: Why is there "Darwinism" and why are there "Darwinists" ?

Unread postby Tigger of Kai » Mon Mar 09, 2009 12:54 am

Ranbir wrote:Perhaps I just have greater love for the real deals, like Godel or THE JAMES CLERK MAXWELL but I've always wondered how is it that Darwin manages to get an 'ism' after his name and how people can solely see themselves as (darwin)'-ists'?

Was his findings really that revolutionary to the field of science? It seems to me all he did was exactly what science expects: he observed and recorded the results. The method hasn't changed under his foot at all, we're not doing it any differently.

There are no, Maxwellians, there is no Einsteinism, or Cantorists or Faradayians. No-one is walking around calling themselves a Newtonian*? What gives?!

Like agga, I think "Darwinist" got its start as a pejorative, especially during the famous Scopes Monkey Trial. I can totally understand how a scientist like yourself would tend to cock an eyebrow at people who call themselves Darwinists today, since even in 1925 Darwin's work seemed a bit musty. He never learned the means by which traits were passed on, being ignorant not only of DNA but even of Gregor Mendel and his magic peas.

And yet Darwin changed the world, by knocking the regnant nonsense of his day off its perch. Thanks to him, we know that even the loftiest king, or judge, or bishop, or president, "still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin".

In addition to being a Darwinist I also consider myself an Einsteinian (especially since reading Walter Isaacson's excellent biography of the man). So I'm not solely a Darwinist and I doubt that these designations are mutually exclusive!
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Re: Why is there "Darwinism" and why are there "Darwinists" ?

Unread postby Duncan » Mon Mar 09, 2009 5:06 pm

Tigger of Kai wrote: [He never learned the means by which traits were passed on, being ignorant not only of DNA but even of Gregor Mendel and his magic peas.

Knowledge of DNA might be a bit of a tall order for Darwin given virtually no-one had a clue what it was or how it worked before 1953. Since the principals behind Origin of Species was formulated in the 1840s, it is hard to see how Mendel's work on peas (1856-63) could have influenced Darwin that much either.

One of the reasons Darwin has such a powerrful honorific is the scope of the scientific work he put in and the complexity of the output. It laid solid foundations in terms of repeatedable experimentation for so much of what we now take for granted in botany, biology and soil mechanics (to name but three). It actually doesn't matter whether you believe the mechanics of his theory of evolution are correct - the groundwork of observable building blocks he used to put the theory together are still sound science and the man is due respect for that, if nothing else.
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Re: Why is there "Darwinism" and why are there "Darwinists" ?

Unread postby Ranbir » Tue Jul 21, 2009 9:57 am

That is all well and good, but I think it is highly bizarre to attempt an entire social movement around him.
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