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“”["Darwinism" and "Darwinist"] suggest a false narrowness to the field of modern evolutionary biology, as though it was the brainchild of a single person 150 years ago, rather than a vast, complex and evolving subject to which many other great figures have contributed
|—Olivia Judson, evolutionary biologist|
The word Darwinism is shorthand for evolution by natural selection, named after Charles Darwin, the scientist who first developed, popularised and gathered evidence for the theory. The nuances of its use, however, are dependent on who is using the term. Within biology it is synonymous with natural selection, but within creationism it is more of a snarl word.
To creationists and intelligent design proponents, Darwinism is a derogatory phrase used to describe evolution. By retitling natural selection as "Darwinism", creationists seek to reduce the theory to the level of any other "ism", and thus no more worthy of teaching than creationism. See the evolutionism article for more.
To most biologists, notably Richard Dawkins for example, Darwinism is simply a synonym for evolution by natural selection. This contrasts it against Lamarckism, which is a competing (but completely discredited) mechanism for evolution - and Dawkins often refers to natural selection as "Darwinian". Various other permutations of the term bump around the Internet and blogs. Darwinist is used to describe a vocal proponent of evolution, while Neo-Darwinism differentiates currently accepted theories about evolution with some of Darwin's original ideas that have turned out to be incorrect. Neo-Darwinism is generally used to refer to the "Modern Evolutionary Synthesis" of Darwinian evolution and Mendelian genetics. Neo-Darwinism is sometimes contrasted with newer schools of thought such as "evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo)," which seeks to incorporate more findings from molecular genetics and developmental biology into the evolutionary paradigm.
Problems with the term
The main problem with this term is that science is about evidence and not personality cults, so naming a branch of science directly after its inventor or discoverer is a dubious practice at best. While great contributors to a field of study are respected, they are not worshipped and revered like gurus.
It is interesting to note how this mentality of describing Darwin as the supposed "worshiped father of evolution" reflects the creationists' need for a worshiped father figure to be the head of everything. It is like calling any one who accepts gravity exists "Newtonists" or those who accept relativity "Einsteinians" or "Galileans" as if the way that the universe works is a world view, passed down and declared from on high. Although Charles Darwin is a seminal figure in the modern theory of evolution, and his contribution is certainly recognized, there have been over 150 years of advancements since his initial publication of The Origin of Species - the study of evolution has expanded well beyond Darwin's original works and the ideas he outlined, namely that evolution can now be described in terms of DNA, something that Darwin was unaware of.
While it is certainly true that the "isms" which are based on people's names (such as Thatcherism, Marxism, and Confucianism) obviously base their thoughts largely or entirely on the writings or thoughts of those individuals, the same cannot be said of "Darwinism". Therefore to think that a modern evolutionary biologist would hang on every word Darwin said as unchangeable gospel is certainly a parody of science that has no basis in reality.