The terms “Darwinist,” “Darwinism,” and other variations on the same theme get thrown around a lot these days, both by accusatory creationists and some evolutionists, but I have to say that I am certainly not a Darwinist. How can I say this? Well, yesterday a 2nd edition (1874, Rand, McNally & Company) copy of The Descent of Man And Selection in Relation to Sex arrived at more doorstep and I spent most of the evening going through the first two chapters of the book. Charles Darwin did revolutionize science and have some great ideas, but he was not the scientific equivalent of a saint or got everything right, especially when it came to inheritance of characters through use & disuse. While some, like Dr. Egnor, continue to make the mistake of claiming Darwin believed natural selection to be the sole “means of modification,” Darwin addressed such misunderstandings in the preface to the second edition of The Descent of Man;
I may take this opportunity of remarking that my critics frequently assume that I attribute all changes of corporeal structure and mental power exclusively to the natural selection of such variations as are often called spontaneous; whereas, even in the first edition of the ‘Origin of Species,’ I distinctly stated that great weight must be attributed to the inherited effects of use and disuse, with respect both to the body and mind. I also attributed some amount of modification to the direct and prolonged action of changed conditions of life. Some allowance, too, must be made for occasional reversions of structure; nor must we forget what I have called “correlated” growth, meaning, thereby, that various parts of the organization are in some unknown manner so connected, that when one part varies, so do others; and if variations in the one are accumulated by selection, other parts will be modified. Again, it has been said by several critics, that when I found that many details of structure in man could not be explained through natural selection, I invented sexual selection; I gave, however, a tolerably clear sketch of this principle in the first edition of the ‘Origin of Species,’ and I there stated that it was applicable to man.
While Darwin is of course correct that natural selection on variations is the be-all and end-all of evolution, some of the other ideas have fallen by the wayside. Does his inclusion of use and disuse in these matters take away from the importance of his contributions to evolutionary science? I don’t believe so; we can’t all be right 100% of the time and I don’t think Darwin expected to be. Even so, if I were to call myself a “Darwinist” I would have to accept what Darwin stated dogmatically (the term does have a pseudo-religious tone to it, at least in my opinion), which I do not. Still, in oversimplification Darwin’s ideas and writings have seemingly been generalized to the point where many make the same mistakes as many creationists, and perhaps a return to some detail in discussing Darwin and his ideas would help illuminate (rather than obscure) the facts.