"Dogmatic Darwinists" - An Instance of the Misleading Rhetoric of the Anti-Evolutionists

An essay by Wesley R. Elsberry and Dave E. Thomas

The phrase "dogmatic Darwinists" has become a commonplace in antievolutionary writings. We are going to examine what is meant by the use of this phrase and why it is simply a dismissive rhetorical tactic employed by the antievolutionists, who otherwise would actually have to address the substantive arguments and persuasive evidence presented by biologists.

The following examples show the actual use of the charge of "dogmatic Darwinism" being made by various anti-evolutionists.

So, what does it take for someone to be labeled a "dogmatic Darwinist"? By examination of its deployment, it is clear that there is no particular standard applied. In many cases, there is no effort made to even specify who might - or might not - be meant to be covered by the label. Essentially, the simple fact that a scientist rejects the arguments of the antievolutionists or actively opposes antievolutionary politics is sufficient to lead to the application of the phrase. In the examples above, there is no evidence that any extensive argument is made that the phrase is correctly applied to a particular person. Instead, the accusation is taken as its own proof. In the last example given above, the accusation is deployed as a pre-emptive measure - any argument from the accused that they are simply defending well-supported findings and well-tested theories is taken as confirmation of the correctness of the accusation.

If the use of "dogmatic Darwinist" were to be justified, one would see evidence presented that the person so labeled is both dogmatic and a "Darwinist" as Darwinist is used in the biological context. This is where it becomes clear that use of the phrase is simply rhetoric, for no such case is ever forthcoming.

The deployment of "dogmatic Darwinists" is easily seen to be an ad hominem argument: an assertion concerning the person is given instead of a rebuttal of the argument. It is noteworthy that many antievolutionary activists are hyper-sensitive to ad hominem when they suspect it is being used against them. Often, they will claim that an opponent has engaged in ad hominem argumentation when they actually haven't. In "Defeating Darwinism", Phillip E. Johnson explores the utility of examining possible bias on the part of an opponent:

In this imperfect world an ad hominem argument sometimes performs the legitimate function of showing that a person has a bias and hence that his or her arguments should be examined carefully. The argument is misused if it does more than that, causing us to ignore worthwhile arguments because of what we think of the person making them. The point is to recognize and acknowledge bias, and then get beyond it to evaluate the evidence fairly.

- Phillip E. Johnson, "Defeating Darwinism", p. 41

Given Johnson's stance, the question to be answered is whether the antievolutionists deploying the "dogmatic Darwinist" phrase show any inclination to get beyond "recognizing bias" to fairly deal with the evidence and arguments presented by the so-called "dogmatic Darwinists". It seems clear to us that the answer is, "No." This applies even to Johnson himself.

As a rhetorical weapon, the antievolutionists rely upon the negative associations of the adjective "dogmatic". Additionally, the use of a term with an "-ism" suffix tends to evoke associations with terms used in politics, social studies, or religion rather than science. When one considers the broader context of scientific knowledge, though, this can easily be seen to be inaccurate and misleading:

Because to revile evolutionary science, 140 years after the Darwin-Wallace insight, as 'Darwinism' is ignorance or rabble-rousing. It is as silly as would be sneering at NASA's space engineering as 'Newtonism' (which in the same trivial sense it is).

- Paul R. Gross, "Politicizing Science Education", a Thomas B. Fordham Foundation report, http://www.edexcellence.net/library/gross.html

Calling evolutionary scientists "Darwinists" is simply a way of marginalizing mainstream science and scientists. The same could be said about the term "evolutionists," as it carries the connotation of someone fighting for belief in evolution (religious-style) instead of scientists working on evolution, whether it be biologists, geologists, paleontologists, biochemists, etc.

Making something an "ism" is a way of making it "religious" - in the sense that it, being labelled a religious belief itself, can be opposed on the grounds of other religious beliefs, and not hard scientific facts. "Isms" take the debate out of science and into religo-politics.

Evolutionary scientists are not just "Darwinists," or "evolutionists," but rather biologists, chemists, paleontologists, geologists, geochemists, biochemists, physical geologists, physical chemists, and so forth. The debate is not between creationism and evolutionism. The debate is between antievolutionism and science -- all of science.