Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Note About The Word "Darwinism"

Sometime in the last decade a piece of folk etymology has become current on the blogs that "Darwinism" is a word that is used almost exclusively by creationists.   I've been told that it began in the ScienceBlogs, Orac of the quite ironically entitled "Respectful Insolence" blog, specifically.

Wherever it started, it is a piece of nonsense that serves mostly to show that the person asserting that has never read much, if anything about the subject.  Darwinism was given its modern meaning by Thomas Huxley, Charles Darwin's foremost champion, famously called "Darwin's Bulldog" from the first years after Darwin became famous for On the Origin of Species.   Before he used it in one of his several reviews of On the Origin of Species,  "Darwinist" meant someone who believed in Erasmus Darwin's theory of evolution, something which, I believe, both Huxley and Charles Darwin noted at some time or other.

Darwinists from the first years of Darwin's fame have used the word, in English, in German and in other languages.   In no place I've come across did Charles Darwin ever object to the word.  He is on record as having read and fulsomely appreciated books about Darwinism, in both English and German (Darwinismus).

As I said, the thing you learn from the folk wisdom of the online Darwin Fan Club is that most of them have never read anything about it.  If they had, they would find it being used from Huxley and Haeckel right down to Richard Dawkins.

From what I observe and understand, that bit of pseudo-linguistic erudition is not current in Britain.  I'm not sure if it is confined to places where the ScienceBlogs are most read or if it's mostly North American nonsense.

The point that a decided minority of the Defenders of Darwin online have read so much as one of his books will figure marginally in this series.  It remains a major irritation to anyone who discusses these issues who has gone to that bother.   After wading through comments from those "Darwinists" for the past two weeks, not to mention for the past four years,  I'm done being nice about it and I won't pretend to be respectful about it.

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