Update on the D-Word

Dwight Read is another academic who uses the word Darwinism to refer to evolution by natural selection. During his plenary talk this morning, Read spoke of “Universal Darwinism,” Dawkins’ term for the idea that natural selection is not substrate-specific and can in principle be applied to non-biological things, like cultural memes.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s folklore among the science-blogging community that British academics are more likely to use “Darwinism” in this sense than Americans are. (Over here, hearing the D-word is a pretty sure sign you’re dealing with a creationist, or at least somebody whose knowledge derives too much from creationist sources. I wonder if there’s also a bit of national pride at work.) Read is currently at UCLA, but in 1999 was a visiting professor at the University of Kent, Canterbury.

4 thoughts on “Update on the D-Word”

  1. Was the talk insightful? Because, really, I gleaned absolutely nothing from the abstract that isn’t implied in, say, ‘The Extended Phenotype’. Surely there was more to the thing than the obvious point that cultural evolution isn’t bound by the same constraints as biological evolution?

  2. I only caught the very beginning, because I had to go around taking pictures (that being, oddly enough, what they’re paying me to do). However, I never underestimate the ability for philosophical talk to drag the obvious out at great length.

  3. On this topic, I just finished reading Mind Wide Open by Steven Johnson. He talks about “Darwinism” throughout the book. The word evolution hardly even gets a look in. Now, he isn’t an academic but he is an american reporter writing about an academic field and he doesn’t seem to attach any negative meaning to Darwinism. In fact he seems very enthusiastic about it.

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