Evolutionism describes the belief in the evolution of organisms. Its exact meaning has changed over time as the study of evolution has progressed. In the 19th-century, it was used to describe the belief that organisms deliberately improved themselves through progressive inherited change (orthogenesis).[1][2] The teleological belief went on to include cultural evolution and social evolution.[1] In the 1970s the term Neo-Evolutionism was used to describe the idea "that human beings sought to preserve a familiar style of life unless change was forced on them by factors that were beyond their control".[3]

The term is also sometimes used by the creationist movement to describe adherence to the scientific consensus on evolution as equivalent to a secular religion.[4][5] The term is very seldom used within the scientific community, since the scientific position on evolution is accepted by the overwhelming majority of scientists.[6] Because evolutionary biology is the default scientific position, it is assumed that "scientists" or "biologists" are "evolutionists" unless specifically noted otherwise.[7] In the creationevolution controversy, creationists often call those who accept the validity of the modern evolutionary synthesis "evolutionists" and the theory itself "evolutionism".

19th-century teleological use

Before its use to describe biological evolution, the term "evolution" was originally used to refer to any orderly sequence of events with the outcome somehow contained at the start.[8] The first five editions of Darwin's in Origin of Species used the word "evolved", but the word "evolution" was only used in its sixth edition in 1872.[9] By then, Herbert Spencer had developed the concept theory that organisms strive to evolve due to an internal "driving force" (orthogenesis) in 1862.[8] Edward B. Tylor and Lewis H Morgan brought the term "evolution" to anthropology though they tended toward the older pre-Spencerian definition helping to form the concept of unilineal (social) evolution used during the later part of what Trigger calls the Antiquarianism-Imperial Synthesis period (c1770-c1900).[10] The term evolutionism subsequently came to be used for the now discredited theory that evolution contained a deliberate component, rather than the selection of beneficial traits from random variation by differential survival.

Modern use by creationists

In modern times, the term evolution is widely used, but the terms evolutionism and evolutionist are seldom used in the scientific community to refer to evolutionary biology, since the term is considered both redundant and anachronistic.

However, the term has been used by creationists in discussing the creation-evolution controversy.[7] For example, the Institute for Creation Research, in order to imply placement of evolution in the category of 'religions', including atheism, fascism, humanism and occultism, commonly uses the words evolutionism and evolutionist to describe the consensus of mainstream science and the scientists subscribing to it, thus implying through language that the issue is a matter of religious belief.[4] The BioLogos Foundation, an organization that promotes the idea of theistic evolution, uses the term "evolutionism" to describe "the atheistic worldview that so often accompanies the acceptance of biological evolution in public discourse." It views this as a subset of scientism.[11]

See also


  1. 1 2 Allen, R. T.; Allen, Robert W. (1994). Chambers encyclopedic English dictionary. Edinburgh: Chambers. p. 438. ISBN 0-550-11000-3. a widely held 19c belief that organisms were intrinsically bound to improve themselves, that changes were progressive, and that acquired characters could be transmitted genetically. The belief was also extended to cultures and societies, and to living organisms.
  2. Carneiro, Robert, L. (2003). Evolutionism in cultural anthropology : a critical history. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-0-8133-3766-1.
  3. Trigger, Bruce (1986) A History of Archeological Thought Cambridge University Press pg 290
  4. 1 2 Linke, Steven (August 28, 1992). "A Visit to the ICR Museum". TalkOrigins Archive. Retrieved 2008-12-05. In fact, true science supports the Biblical worldview... However, science does not support false religions (e.g. atheism, evolutionism, pantheism, humanism, etc.)
  5. Ruse, Michael (March 2003). "Perceptions in science: Is Evolution a Secular Religion? -- Ruse". Science. pp. 299 (5612): 1523. Retrieved 2008-12-05. A major complaint of the Creationists, those who are committed to a Genesis-based story of origins, is that evolution--and Darwinism in particular--is more than just a scientific theory. They object that too often evolution operates as a kind of secular religion, pushing norms and proposals for proper (or, in their opinion, improper) action.
  6. "Nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time", Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media Archived 2009-11-08 at the Wayback Machine., Pew Research Center, 9 July 2009
  7. 1 2 Gough, J. B. (1983). "The Supposed Dichotomy between Creationism and Evolution". National Center for Science Education. Retrieved 2009-09-24. "...to say a person is a scientist encompasses the fact that he or she is an evolutionist."
  8. 1 2 Carneiro, Robert L.(Léonard) (2003) Evolutionism in cultural anthropology: a critical history Westview Press pg 1-3
  9. Darwin, Charles (1986). Burrow, JW, ed. The Origin of Species (reprint of 1st ed.). Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Classics. p. 460. ISBN 0-14-043205-1. ...from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved (italics not in original)
  10. Trigger, Bruce (1986) A History of Archaeological Thought Cambridge University Press pg 102
  11. "How is BioLogos different from Evolutionism, Intelligent Design, and Creationism". The BioLogos Foundation. Retrieved 2012-01-19. While BioLogos accepts evolution, it emphatically rejects evolutionism, the atheistic worldview that so often accompanies the acceptance of biological evolution in public discourse. Proponents of evolutionism believe every aspect of life will one day be explained with evolutionary theory. In this way it is a subset of scientism, the broader view that the only real truth is that which can be discovered by science. These positions are commonly held by materialists (also called philosophical naturalists) who deny the existence of the supernatural.


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