On Evolutionism

One should not confuse evolution and evolutionism because they are different. Whereas evolution is about nature (previously explained), evolutionism attempts to use evolution to express progress and value of society. Some even link biological and cultural progress back to God because humans are worth more to God as a result of this progress.

We can trace the concept of evolutionism back to Aristotle’s hierarchical Great Chain of Being. Numerous societal shifts during the 1800s as agricultural to industrial and rural to urban marked the growth in evolutionism. With these shifts in mind and the thought that the church was not addressing society’s latest needs, evolutionism became an ideology challenging the religious trends at the time of literalism, fire, and brimstone.

Hebert Spencer (1820-1903), a Darwin contemporary, used psychology, sociology, philosophy, and biology to embrace human struggles and evolutionism to justify social policies. Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” (yes, Hebert Spencer, not Charles Darwin) because he saw evolution as a mechanism to explain social development. Because he influenced so many sociologists, some say that Hebert Spencer’s work has been more influential than Charles Darwin.

Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), another Darwin contemporary and Darwin confidant and supporter, also used Darwin’s theory to promote a social agenda in his challenge to the Church of England – deeming it as an obstructionist to human and culture progress.

It is the work of Spencer, Huxley, Francis Galton, Ernest Haeckel, and others morphed into “social Darwinism”, which some use to embrace selective breeding for humans. Interestingly, Galton (1822-1911), Charles Darwin’s cousin known as the founding father of eugenics – a socio-biological movement advocating methods for improving the human population through genetics.

Haeckel (1834-1919), a German biologist and philosopher, embraced Spencer and evolution, but not Darwin’s natural selection. Adolph Hitler mistakenly used Hackael’s “politics is applied biology” as one reason for justifying Arian dominance. It is this on this point that anti-evolutionists today inaccurately point to Charles Darwin’s evolution leading to a life of homosexuality, promiscuity, abortion, dysfunctional families, and other societal issues.

Today, evolutionism referred to as Social Darwinism, lies in the social sciences than in the natural sciences. One should not confuse this field with sociobiology, which studies social behaviors by animals. (Many recognize E.O Wilson for his work in this area.)

Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is not about culture and values or a vehicle for exposing desired values – nor does it attempt to answer questions as why are we here, what is the role of humans, what is the role of God, or what would Jesus do. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is not tied to Nazism, Fascism, communism, and socialism. Darwinism is about genetics, adaptation, diversity, and the natural world.

Science is supposed to yield objective knowledge that is free from cultural values. Social Darwinism/evolutionism was not good science in the time of Hebert Spencer nor is it good science today because good science involves observation, measurement, experimentation, predictions, and conclusions that are free from societal norms and philosophy.

35 thoughts on “On Evolutionism

  1. Does evolution-ism mean that with time society gets better? I fuss with that one a lot, and am not so sure. We live in a postmodern society now where everything is subjective and relative, nothing is absolute, and truth to one person is not truth to others. I really think this postmodern thought leads to depression and anxiety. And as I read your post I started to think does evolutionism mean that post modern thought is actually better. That is a scary thought. So I conclude evolutionism does not necessarily lead to a better society, just a changed one.

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    • Randel,
      Great question, but not being a philosopher nor a sociologist, I will struggle answering this. Interestingly, examining human societies through the evolutionary lens provides some divergent thought. Spencer’s “survival of the fittest” is self-explanatory. On the other hand, decreeing one race superior for survival is a different application. And even different yet, elevating humans above other organisms as a justification of taking care of the needy, thus raising society as a whole. In the reading I did for this post, I didn’t see any references to postmodernism. Thanks for commenting and hopefully my answer helped a little.

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      • So under evolutionism it can really go any way, better or worse. I pray for better. I am hung up on this postmodernism thought because abtwixt has used it, my minister uses it, I see it in different places and need to learn more myself.

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  2. Thanks! Your entry, bolstered by a couple cups of Starbucks coffee, this morning sent me on a wild ride through online references to Social Darwinism and Evolutionism.

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  3. Good morning Frank. I’m really not all that familiar with the term ‘evolutionism’ other than it’s use in attempts to equate evolution to some sort of secular religion and as such a matter of belief rather than fact. From my understanding the term is rarely used in the scientific community.

    As always Frank…another thought provoking post to consider along with my morning coffee.

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    • Alex,
      Today we hear “social Darwinism” more than evolutionism. I used evolutionism because I think that word has been around longer. Then again, maybe I should have used social Darwinism. OK – now you know I’m second guessing myself.

      Either way, you are correct that the term is rarely used in the scientific community, which is one of my points. Thanks for the help … and for commenting.

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    • TBM,
      I find it how some use evolutionism/social Darwinism thoughts to direct criticism to Charles Darwin. Just another example of misuse of information for the gain of a point of view. Thanks for commenting.

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  4. Great post Frank, as always. Your thoughtful clarifications often make me think “why didn’t I write that?” or even “how did he know what I was thinking?”. You have a knack for putting words in a logical order.
    Thanks!

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    • John,
      Sequencing information into a logical order is a personal strength … but I do not have clairvoyant powers into your mind. 😉 … Glad you enjoyed this post. Hope you followed the link to the evolution post here. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Hope all is well in Seattle.

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  5. This is an interesting topic Frank. I think it is hard to paint all humans with the same brush. Some are evolving better than others. Some I believe are closer to the Neanderthal era. I believe it is a miracle that humans and animals etc. have evolved to adapt to the changing environment, could we really live with dinosaurs tromping around? I think that anyone that tries to harness this with a political agenda in mind will only have half the story. Evolution will continue with or without our input. Survival of the fittest will continue to rule as it does in the animal kingdom. I expect to see a turn around with regard to longevity due to our current diet, fat kids, toxic foods and medicines. But we will continue to evolve just by default.

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    • Artblab,
      Great comments. I’ve done many posts about the interchange between science and religion – especially pertaining to evolution. This post aims at some aspects critics incorrectly direct to Darwin. I hope you saw the evolution post linked here with the wonderful video at the end.

      FYI: The Creation Museum and there 10,000 year old Earth with images of man and dinosaurs coexisting is less than an hour from me. Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

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      • Thank you Frank! Sometimes I don’t read things and process them as I should. I bet that is a very interesting museum near you.

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        • Blab,
          Oh, that’s ok. I was just filling you in. In terms of the museum, I’m sure interesting – although I refuse to give them a dime. Although I do owe them some gratitude because their presence helped spark my interest. 🙂

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        • BTW, it’s bla, bla, bla, or you can call me Christina. Not a dime for the museum? I am sure you have a good reason. I’m that way too.

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        • Oh ha ha … now that’s too funny – that is the way I turned blablabla into blab.I’m sure I can remember that … (or hope to) … then again, there is always Christina. 🙂 …. thanks for the clarification!

          I am not on the same wavelength as the Creation Museum. It professes a (young) 10,000 year old, Earth through a literal interpretation of Genesis, while being willing to distort and ignore science-findings. They have the right to exist, and get a good number of visitors but it’s just not me – it’s neither my science nor my theology.

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  6. I really enjoy your explorations of the distinctions within this broad topic, as well your reminders that science is about observation, measurement, experimentation…you’ve given this thought and consideration, and I find it very stimulating. So few people want to get into this discussion, and I know why! Conversations seem to get so unnecessarily heated. So I just look forward to yours! Debra

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    • Debra,
      Regarding conversations. Well, many have their mind made up based on misconceptions. Therefore, they are unwilling to discuss and unwilling to learn. Thanks for commenting.

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    • Elyse,
      “Evolutionism” is more of a historical term – but today, we hear “social Darwinism.” Either way, it’s not Darwin’s evolution. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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