googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Breaking News: Charles Darwin was an evolutionist!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Breaking News: Charles Darwin was an evolutionist!

In the years I've spent engaged in apologetics, one of the most frustrating things I've had to put up with are the word games employed by unbelievers. “Evolution” doesn't mean humans are descended from apes. An “atheist” doesn't deny there's a God. What most people call a “theory” isn't really a theory. You see, militant unbelievers who might use these words have a different meaning for them than the general public has. As a result, much of any debate between believers and unbelievers is spent haggling over terminology. See red herring.

One of the most contended words is, “evolutionist.” In heated “creation v. evolution” debates, using the terms “creationist” and “evolutionist” helps everyone know who is being discussed. It's a term of convenience because it's easier to say “evolutionist” than to say “a person who subscribes to the theory of evolution.” Though some evolutionists might have contempt for creationists (and vice versa), the terms creationist and evolutionist are rather benign.

Let me give a brief grammar lesson. Words that end in “ism” describe a belief or philosophy (atheism, socialism, fundamentalism, etc). People who subscribe to those beliefs are identified with the suffix, “ist” (atheist, socialist, fundamentalist, etc). Capitalism, for example, is the belief that property (and labor) is owned by individuals. Proponents of capitalism are called capitalists. See? It's easy.

The belief that God created the world as described in Genesis is called, creationism. People who believe God created the world as described in Genesis are called, creationists. By the way, it does make me laugh to see people say things like, “there is no evidence for creationism.” Isn't that funny? They're saying there is no evidence that people believe in creation. //RKBentley chuckles// Creationist and creationism are fine words (when used correctly) and I welcome them. I even use them myself.

The fuss is over the term, evolutionist. For some reason, many evolutionists despise the term. I'm not sure why. I suspect it's because they usually mean “creationist” to be a pejorative term and, so, think creationists are using the term evolutionist the same way. It could be too that they feel “ism/ist” are terms used to describe belief systems and they don't like the “fact” of evolution being described with similar terms.

Just yesterday, for example, a person I was debating on FaceBook (I don't link to FaceBook on my blog because people use their real names and I don't intend to dox anyone) took exception to my use of the term, evolutionist. He said, Evolutionists aren’t a thing any more than gravitationalists or blue skyists.What these people don't seem to understand is that the word “evolutionist” is probably as old as the theory itself.

After having been called, “Mr. Darwin, an Atheist,” Charles Darwin wrote the following to the Grimsby News (bold added):

Dear Sir,

It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist.... What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to anyone except myself. But, as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates.... In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God. I think generally (and more and more as I grow older), but not always, that an Agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.

Dear sir, yours faithfully,
Ch. Darwin

There you have it. The man who literally invented the theory of evolution called proponents of his theory, evolutionists. It's probably older than the term, creationists. I know this is news to many of you but you just need to chill and not go into full defense mode whenever you hear the word.


Steven J. said...

Okay, point taken. Point largely conceded, even. However:

I note that before it was opposed to "evolutionist," the word "creationist" was opposed to "traducianist" and "infusionist," referring to different accounts of how humans acquire souls (creationism is the view that God creates a new soul and implants it into the body somewhere between conception and birth; traducianism is the view that the soul is inherited like other portions of the self and develops along with the body, and infusionism is the view that God has this reservoir of pre-made souls and implants them in bodies as new babies are made). So "creationist" is probably older, albeit not in its present usual sense.

A couple of points about usual senses: words, in their original sense, can become obsolete, or at least widely regarded as obsolete. Jonah Goldberg, one of the original "never Trumpers," has argued that "never Trump," as a movement, and preferably as a term, became obsolete after election day 2016, not because events proved them wrong but because that particular controversy was fated to become irrelevant once the election was decided either way. The statement that "'evolutionist' is not a word" might thus be taken as a statement that the argument over whether common descent by natural mechanisms is true has been settled and there are no more genuinely scientific creationists to argue with.

If that argument doesn't appeal to you, there is this one: the term "evolutionist" has come to mean, among biologists, those biologists who specifically study the mechanisms of evolution. Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True, is an evolutionist, but, e.g. the paleontologist Donald Prothero is not, even though he also wrote a book providing evidence and arguments for evolution.

One more thing: obviously, "there is no evidence for creationism" means, not, "that there is no evidence that creationists exist," but "creationists don't have evidence to support their views." Arguing against word games is not helped by playing them.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

Thanks for your comments. Actually, I wasn't aware of “creationist” being used prior to the rise of evolutionism. Perhaps I just assumed it because, prior to Darwin, creation was the default belief of most westerners. It's like gravity; pretty much everyone believes there is a force that keeps us on the ground so we don't need a word to describe that belief because there's no need to distinguish them from someone of an opposing belief. That is, we don't have “gravitists v. ???” debates.

I agree that evolutionary biologists might be identified by their piers as “evolutionists” in a different sense than I use the word. However, the meaning of any word is governed by its context. In the creation v. evolution debate, “evolutionists” describes anyone holding to the theory of evolution. He doesn't need to be a scientist at all. Actually, in that context, “evolutionist” is often meant to include a belief in the Big Bang. I understand the objection that cosmology isn't a part of biology but I'm not sure of another word that people might use to describe someone who believes in both the Big Bang and evolution. “Secularist” doesn't really work because there are theistic evolutionists. “Big Bang-ist/evolutionist” is rather awkward.

You said, “One more thing: obviously, "there is no evidence for creationism" means, not, "that there is no evidence that creationists exist," but "creationists don't have evidence to support their views." Arguing against word games is not helped by playing them.”

Yes, of course I know that's what they mean to say but there is a word - “creation” - that they could use that is more applicable. Take the word, “atheism,” for example. It usually means a belief there is no God (or lacking a belief in God). But what word would describe a reality where there is no God? Atheos? In that case, I might say, “what is the evidence for atheism” because there is no other word I can use. However, a person could (should) say, “what is the evidence for creation?”

I have no objection to the word, “creationism” when it's used correctly. However, it's annoying to read articles, like many of those on, that use “creationism” almost exclusively. It's like they aren't aware the word “creation” exists. If you were to google, “evolution versus creationism,” you will see that the vast majority of people who use that term are evolutionists. Creationists typically say, “evolution versus creation.” It's not a word game on my part; it's a word game on the part of evolutionists who go out of their way to say "creationism" when the word “creation” is appropriate.

Thanks again for your comments. God bless!!