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What is evolutionism?

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The term evolutionism is an example of how discussions of science, religion, and faith are often corrupted by misunderstanding and bias. According to common popular opinion, topics such as evolution are inherently scientific, neutral, and objective. This same opinion would describe topics such as the Bible, religion, or faith as inherently irrational, biased, and subjective. In reality, it is entirely possible for a person to take a quasi-religious approach to any topic, and evolutionism represents this exact situation.

Evolutionism, as a worldview, is distinguished from related terms such as evolve, evolution, or what is known as evolutionary theory. Obviously, there are overlaps among these terms. And yet, evolutionism represents something that is not itself scientific. This has not stopped it from being assumed de facto when people speak on scientific matters.

In brief, evolutionism is a belief in the concept of evolution as an explanation for most—if not all—details of the universe. In other words, while biological evolution might be a scientific theory, evolutionism is a philosophical and spiritual worldview. As such, evolutionism has been used as an explanation of ethics and ultimate origins and even as a basis for morality.

It is important to realize that evolution—in the sense of gradual, directional change over time—was a belief held long before men like Charles Darwin. Darwin’s innovation was not the idea of evolution. This had been held—devoid of scientific support—for millennia. Rather, Darwin provided a plausible mechanism for evolution in biology. Evolutionism, therefore, is an approach independent of, and long predating, any discussions of scientific concepts of evolution.

Evolutionism holds that reality allows for change, and this change progresses in a certain direction. Therefore, any specific action or event or occurrence either aids or impedes this change. “Evolving,” then, becomes the highest goal or the greatest good. This becomes the benchmark for biology, morality, ethics, and everything else. According to evolutionism, there is some inherent drive to “evolve” built into reality, and this drive is the ultimate measure of all other things.

In practice, then, evolutionism is strongly relativistic; when change is discussed, one has to know whether the changes are good or bad. Evolutionism provides no particular means to say whether a change is positive or negative. Thus, evolutionism reduces all moral judgments to statements of emotion: the evolutionist can never say that any particular act is actually wrong; all he can do is say that he does not personally like it. The implication that there is no particular value or meaning to anything also leads strongly to nihilism and despair.

Interestingly, this forced reliance on emotion makes evolutionism particularly attractive to those who reject objective worldviews such as Christianity. When there is, supposedly, no actual right and wrong, merely human opinion, then there is no particular reason not to choose a worldview that implies the freedom to accept or dismiss certain truths on the basis of emotions.

It is for this reason that some approaches to science, particularly related to origins, can be classified as evolutionism. This is not merely because those views incorporate biological evolution or Darwinian ideas. Adherence to evolutionism is not required to accept certain theories of evolution. Rather, certain philosophies are considered forms of evolutionism because they are grounded in a worldview that assumes some form of evolution to be inherent in the universe—regardless of scientific concerns.

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This page last updated: April 12, 2024