I sent Andrew Sullivan a note regarding his silly blog thread about the word "Darwinist". I copied it to my partner, and the following exchange ensued (I hope the formatting comes out intelligibly):

I wrote this to Andrew (and Cc'd my partner A) about the post here:


Hi Andrew, Love your blog, but you've really gotten up my nose with the "Darwinist" thread.

So let me get this straight:

1) You ask the question, "Is 'Darwinist' a loaded term?"

2) People send you what seem calm and reasonable messages explaining why, in fact, the term has connotations, negative and political, for those people it is used to describe. Those people would never use it to describe themselves. (I wonder if you, as a prominent gay man, have ever been referred to using a term like that?)

3) You accuse these interlocutors of being "touchy".

4) This response prompts further calm and reasonable attempts to explain the matter to you.

5) In response to which, you "rest [your] case". Meaning, I gather: yes look, they really are touchy!

Congratulations on this awesome new form of "logical" argument! When is Fox News going to pick up your contract?

To which A responded (and I responded to her) thus:

A wrote: > OK -- but why wouldn't the people in question use it to describe > themselves? What are those negative political connotations? > Sounds like
> people need to RECLAIM the term. "Marxist" is also often used in that
> negative way, but many people use it to self-identiy anyway.

[My reply to A:] All that was already covered by previous emails to Andrew, so there was no point in going into that in my message. The end of the thread is here:


The only point I was trying to make is that his declaration of victory over the touchy Darwinists was about as sensical as anything out of the mouth of Beck. (Atypically of Andrew.)

To answer your questions -- I think there's a lot we could discuss/argue about here, but this is just what I think at the moment :-) :

Personally, I don't think the term "Darwinist" is worth reclaiming. It connotes a worshipful respect for Charles Darwin the man, rather than a skeptical appreciation for the theory he developed and the confirmatory evidence. We use similar words in a similar way, intending that connotation ("Stalinist", for example). It's hard to see what good it would do to try to change that connotation in this one particular case. It means what it means, but that meaning is not applicable to people who understand the theory of evolution.

Self-identifying as a "Marxist" is an intentional political statement, is it not? If you self-identify as a Marxist, aren't you implicitly claiming some level (maybe not "worshipful") of attachment to the man himself, and to Marxist theory as articulated by Marx? Scientists who are identified by the religious right as "Darwinists" generally aren't trying to stake out any political position, and are usually adherents of a theory that looks rather different than Darwin's in important ways. (Mainly, Darwin didn't understand how inheritance worked, so the aspects of his theory touching on inheritance have pretty much been replaced wholesale with accounts based in modern genetics and molecular biology.)

Now the discussion I want to have here is: to what degree is defense of evidence-based scientific knowledge a "political" issue? Am I off-base in wanting to simply remove the term "Darwinist" from the debate, on the grounds that science isn't political, it's just the truth? Or is there some good reason to try to "reclaim" the term?

I can see that there are political aspects to the whole situation, but the thought of trying to reclaim "Darwinist", to use it as a positive term describing myself, makes me feel icky. I'd be interested in hearing varying opinions.

Have at it!

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Replies to This Discussion

Lets cut out all the middle-men here.
We're "reality-ists".
Yep, we worship at the cult of reality. Our dogma of reality is absolute! Heretics will be... well they'll be mocked unmercifully.

Which I think nicely differentiates us from the woo-woo crowd, the theists and the anarcho-communo-fascists all at once!

Wow, I kinda wish I hadn't totally dropped my AthNexus activity to zero shortly after starting this thread (two freakin' years ago).  Social networking is just... I dunno, a lot of work for me.


Anyway.  I LOVE the term "reality-ist".  I was tempted to suggest contraction to "realist", but that word already has a meaning that seems to connote a pragmatic concern with immediate facts, even if one believes in supernatural ethereal giant squid or whatever at other times.



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