On "Darwinism" - How a great name was turned into a slander

This Scientific American article was written by Ken Miller, a biology professor at Brown University and a practicing Roman Catholic. He has written a new book, “The Human Instinct: How we evolved to have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will” to explain how we humans, though evolved, are still unique.

Read On “Darwinism” - How a great name was turned into a slander

He writes,

In contemplating the lessons of evolution for our species and our culture, this is how we should overcome the mindless use of “Darwinism” as a slur. Some may feel demeaned by our evolutionary heritage, but I would argue that the more appropriate emotions are joy and delight. Joy that we are approaching a genuine understanding of the world in which we live, and delight at being the very first stirrings of true consciousness in the vastness of the cosmos. Far from diminishing us, knowing the details of Adam’s journey ennobles each of us as a carrier of something truly precious—the genetic, biological, and cultural heritage of life itself. Evolution describes not the death of Adam, but his triumph. That is the great truth of our story.


There does seem a need for some to demonize Darwin, not unlike the way personal attacks in politics have become the norm, when the real issues are policies and power. We try our best to avoid that sort of thing on the forum, and keep the discussion to the issues, but I suppose it is human nature to personify things. However, that kind of attack is lazy and at its core deceitful.

We had to opportunity to visit London a few years back, and happened to look down to see Darwin at my feet in Westminster Abby, just a few feet from Dr. David Livingstone (I presume ). It still amazes me at time how some can look at new information and put it together, though in reading I realize Darwin had the seeds of his ideas planted before he boarded the Beagle.


And he was still a “creationist” even after the famous voyage. It took him a while to connect the dots, and then he waiting a long time to publish his book. And then along came Alfred Russel Wallace…

btw, the Discovery Institute is going to be none too happy with Ken Miller’s book. Ditto for the staunch anti-theists! But reasonable people should enjoy it.

@jpm Phil,

I think it goes both ways. “Fundies” attacked Darwinism because they thought it was atheistic. On the other hand non-believers used Darwin to attack “Fundies” because it was an easy target.

However people like Dawkins wear the badge Darwinist with pride and attack those who they do not think are not as committed to his theory as they. They claim to be the true defenders of his thinking including the atheist aspect of it.

In my book I have chosen to question a basic aspect of Darwin’s Theory, which is his concept of natural selection. I think that it is accurate to say that I am critiquing Darwinian (and Dawkinsian) evolution, because that is what it is. I am not critiquing evolution itself, because I am confident it is a fact, but Darwin got one aspect wrong.

Even so my experience is that most evolutionists do not seem to take any criticism of Darwinian theory very well. Even though I try my best to offer scientific facts as the basis of my critique, there is strong resistance.

The Bible is very good, but when it is made Absolute, it becomes an idol and negative. Darwinian evolution was a step forward in understanding nature, but when it is made Absolute and above criticism, it becomes an idol and negative.

No side is completely right in this discussion. We need to find common ground and reconciliation on the basis of good science and good theology.

1 Like

The theory of evolution is strictly a scientific theory. It explains the diversity of life we see on earth.

No doubt there is a lot he got wrong or at least failed to realize as he was a mid 19th century man at the dawn of modern science as we know it. It is remarkable what he got right with as little hard knowledge as he had.
I doubt serious evolutionary scientists refer to his work these days except as historical footnotes. Certainly, those speaking from podiums are a different matter, on both sides.

Thank you for the link. Calling evolution “Darwinism” makes it sound more like one man’s crazy idea than an established part of biological science. Evolution was not the first science to call the existing interpretation of parts of the Bible into question, but it managed to shake up interpretation of so many prominent parts of the Bible that many people felt evolution needed to come under special attack, to the point of denouncing science itself.

1 Like

In one of his previous books Ken Miller pointed out that an attack on one branch of science often cascades into attacks on other branches as well.


First of all you are overlooking the ideological war which is the basis for need fir BioLogos.

On page one of his masterwork, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins wrote, “The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question (Why people?) before 1859 (that is, The Origin of the Species) are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely.” The adulation of Darwin led to a backlash against him.

Second, Dawkins used Darwin to push his Selfish Gene anti-God ideology. He used “Darwinism” to push his bad science. As far as I can see scientists did not oppose Dawkins, so his bad science has rubbed off on Darwin. Yes, Darwin was not perfect, but instead of improving his theory, other than using genetics, evolutionists defended it.

Third, Neo-Darwinism is concerned basically with genetics or variation as opposed to natural selection, which is the other half of evolution. Scientists as you say are not particularly concerned about how natural selection works, but I am, because like it or not the concept of natural selection as survival of the fittest or the selfish gene affects how people think and act.

Fourth, scientists and people like you and @beaglelady think of Darwinism or evolution developing diversity. Others look at the dark side of survival of the fittest as Darwinism. Both are true, but if you and BioLogos ignore the second aspect, you ignore the impact of this survival of the fittest has on our faith, nation, and world.

Fifth, We don’t need rose-colored glasses. We need to confront real problems with real answers. Darwinian survival of the fittest is not how natural selection works.

The whole point of this thing is that the Theory of Evolution is a scientific theory that explains the diversity of species. Put in simplest terms, it’s a change in allele frequencies in a population. To apply it to everything is usually overreach.

Okay, it explains the diversity of Creation. That leaves the question of continuity. If there is only diversity or the Many, and no One or continuity in life, then then life is without meaning and there is no Creator.

That is the argument that Dawkins makes by implication, that is evolution is by random chance, which means it is without continuity, which he backs by his science which you have endorsed.

Evolution explains the diversity of species. Animals have offspring, so you have continuity. Science is unable to address the meaning of life or the existence of a Creator.

Darwinism explains diversity, but not continuity.

Science is not able to explain the meaning of life, but evolution demonstrates the life has no continuity, then Dawkins & Co. are right, it has no meaning. Also it has no Creator. Science cannot prove that God exists, but it can prove that God does not exist and if Dawkins’ “science” is right, that is the case. Fortunately E. O. Wilson has demonstrated that the Selfish Gene is false.

The theory of evolution shows that each generation arises from a previous generation.

But if each generation of offspring arises from the previous, then why are they not the same. The answer is God arranged things so genes are changed through Variation.

However not all of these variations of genes survive and flourish. That is why Darwin invented Natural Selection. Natural Selection is intended to explain why some variations or alleles are selected in and others are selected out.

But Darwin did not answer that, except to say that the fittest or fitter survive the struggle for survival. This was connected to the predator/prey interaction, even though this is usually not appropriate and natural selection needs to be universal.

The Struggle for Survival or Survival of the Fittest is used to justify the privilege of those who see them themselves as fit, and look down on others who are labelled as unfit.

“In contemplating the lessons of evolution for our species and our culture, this is how we should overcome the mindless use of “Darwinism” as a slur. Some may feel demeaned by our evolutionary heritage,”

We need multiple terms. By all accounts, Charles Darwin was a kindly thoughtful man who did not apply natural selection ideas to the way people should view and treat other people or to metaphysics in general. In this it does not appear that the Darwinists, both self styled and correctly named as such, follow in the mould of Charles Darwin. We need a name for them that does is not a derivative of his name.

“Some may feel demeaned by our evolutionary heritage, but I would argue that the more appropriate emotions are joy and delight. Joy that we are approaching a genuine understanding of the world in which we live, and delight at being the very first stirrings of true consciousness in the vastness of the cosmos.”

Evolution is a rough thing to live with. It involves the death (extinction) of species, and within species, families and individuals. We are part of this. However ,we also love our children and siblings (among others) so to see them die or be disabled in one of a myriad ways before they reach their full potential is a cause for grief. Here, we should look at the heartbreak of genetic disease which is the most obviously , but not the only, negative aspect of evolution. For example Type I diabetes, or hemophilia or the many other diseases which, if not out right fatal, lead to more difficult lives. It is brilliant theory but it has its downsides. When I get to heaven, by Jesus’ grace, I may ask the Lord why


Sure, it’s hard to get our heads around this. But like other aspects of nature, e.g. earthquakes, evolution is necessary for a fruitful universe.

Beaglelady and @Ronald_Myers, “natural evil” as indicated by Darwinians Dawkins, Dennett, & Co. has indeed been used directly or indirectly as evidence against the goodness of God. An important part of my position is that Ecology refutes this Darwinian charge, but BioLogos has failed to note how ecological natural selection gives evolution the scientific integrity it needs, and the theological truth that it requires.

I have read convincing arguments about the need for plate tectonics to maintain a hospitable platform for life. Plate tectonics is the root cause of earthquakes and most volcanoes. It is however is easier to locate and build our houses to significantly reduce this risk from these than I perceive it to be to significantly reduce our risk from evolutionary related risks. Here evolutionary related risks include the genetic disease noted above and being optimized for the wrong hazard, for example having great physical strength when the need is for cooperative skills. There may be other hazards… So yes, Roger Sawtelle is right about the need and Biologos, among others, should inspire the thinkers to consider this issue.

I must admit that in asking the Lord “why evolution?”, I may not get an answer that I would understand being the finite being in the presence of the the infinite One.


Thank you for bringing up plate tectonics, which are of course the foundation for our understanding that the earth once has one super continent that has evolved into the 7 continents we have now, although we could say that Eurasia is still one land mass.

My point is that this process has greatly influenced the evolution since Africa broke off of South America developed New World Monkeys and Old World Monkeys, but no New World Apes or “homos.”