Evolution Icon Evolution
Free Speech Icon Free Speech

Busting Another Darwinist Myth: Do Scientists “Never” Use the Term “Evolutionist”?

Casey Luskin

Evolutionists sometimes try to re-frame the debate over evolution such that it appears that there is no debate. They fear that merely using the term “evolutionist” could lead people to the belief that not all scientists are Neo-Darwinian “evolutionists.” (A belief that would be correct.) Some Darwinists have even spun urban legends claiming that “evolutionist” is a term invented by Darwin’s critics in order to make it appear as if there is a debate over evolution. For example, a biology graduate student posting on Mike Dunford’s blog scolded another poster for using the word “evolutionist,” stating: “please refrain from using the term ‘evolutionist’. It’s a made-up term from the creationists, who refuse to acknowledge that this is BIOLOGY, and people who study evolution are BIOLOGISTS.” Similarly, an old article in NCSE’s journal “Creation/Evolution” states, “There are no more ‘evolutionists’ among biologists than there are ’round-earthers’ or ‘heliocentrists’ among astronomers, ‘Einsteinians’ among physicists, or ‘antiphlogistonists’ among chemists. … to say a person is a scientist encompasses the fact that he or she is an evolutionist. In scientific circles the term is redundant and is, therefore, never used.” Again, we see people trying to stifle the view that some scientists dissent from evolution by erasing the term “evolutionist” from discourse. As I will show below, the urban legend that scientists don’t use the term “evolutionist” is blatantly false. Indeed, this “Creation/Evolution” article itself used the term “evolutionist” multiple times!

In fact there are innumerable examples of evolutionists and leading scientists using the term “evolutionist” within their regular scientific discourse. For one, Darwin himself wrote in The Descent of Man, “Every evolutionist will admit that the five great vertebrate classes, namely, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes, are descended from some one prototype; for they have much in common, especially during their embryonic state.” (Of course, we now have good reasons to question Darwin’s view.) Similarly, Jerry Coyne wrote in Nature, “From time to time, evolutionists re-examine a classic experimental study and find, to their horror, that it is flawed or downright wrong. … in evolutionary biology there is little payoff in repeating other people’s experiments, and, unlike molecular biology, our field is not self-correcting because few studies depend on the accuracy of earlier ones.” (Jerry Coyne, “Not Black and White,” Nature, Vol. 396:35-36 (Nov. 5, 1998).) Eric Davidson writes in Science that, “the sea urchin’s evolutionary relation to ourselves, its genome provides what evolutionists consider an extremely useful outgroup for the understanding of our own genomes.”(“The Sea Urchin Genome: Where Will It Lead Us?,”Science, Vol. 314:939-940 (Nov. 10, 2006).) Also last year, Nick Matzke and Mark Pallen wrote in Nature Reviews Microbiology that “the great evolutionist Ernst Mayr noted, one of Darwin’s greatest achievements was to abolish typological or essentialist thinking.” (Nature Reviews Microbiology, Vol. 4:784 — 790 (Sept. 5, 2006).)

In fact, a search of Nature reveals that the world’s top scientific journal has printed dozens of articles using the word “evolutionist,” and a search for the same in Science reveals hundreds of hits.

It is a blatantly false Darwinist urban legend to claim that the term “evolutionist” is “a made-up term from the creationists” or “[i]n scientific circles the term [evolutionist] is redundant and is, therefore, never used.” If anything here is “made-up,” it’s the notion that “scientific circles” never use the word “evolutionist.” Perhaps the old NCSE article raises a point, for it’s true that there are no, “’round-earthers’ or ‘heliocentrists’ among astronomers, ‘Einsteinians’ among physicists, or ‘antiphlogistonists’ among chemists.” That’s probably because there are no debates among scientists over the scientific issues involved with those ideas. So why do we observe the undeniable fact that there are “evolutionists” among scientists? It’s simple: there are many scientists and members of the public who are skeptical of Darwinian evolution. But some Darwinists are willing to spin blatantly false urban legends and use Orwellian tactics to have the term “evolutionist” declared politically incorrect, so they can cover up the fact of that scientific disagreement about Darwinism.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.