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Darwinism

Darwinism is a set of movements and concepts related to ideas of transmutation of species or of evolution, including some ideas with no connection to the work of Charles Darwin. The meaning of "Darwinism" has changed over time, and varies depending on who is using the term. In the United States, the term "Darwinism" is often used by creationists in reference to beliefs such as atheistic naturalism. In the United Kingdom the term is used as a short hand for the body of theory dealing with evolution, and in particular, evolution by natural selection.

Of particular interest to this web site is the ramifications of evolutionary theory on both individuals and cultures. We will examine how evolutionary theory impacted the various fields of study within the academic world and how the surrounding cultures were then impacted by these ideas.

"Darwinism" soon came to stand for an entire range of evolutionary (and often revolutionary) philosophies about both biology and society. One of the more prominent approaches, summed in the 1864 phrase "survival of the fittest" by the philosopher Herbert Spencer, later became emblematic of Darwinism even though Spencer's own understanding of evolution (as expressed in 1857) was more similar to that of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck than to that of Darwin, and predated the publication of Darwin's theory in 1859. What is now called "Social Darwinism" was, in its day, synonymous with "Darwinism" — the application of Darwinian principles of "struggle" to society, usually in support of anti-philanthropic political agenda. Another interpretation, one notably favoured by Darwin's half-cousin Francis Galton, was that "Darwinism" implied that because natural selection was apparently no longer working on "civilized" people, it was possible for "inferior" strains of people (who would normally be filtered out of the gene pool) to overwhelm the "superior" strains, and voluntary corrective measures would be desirable — thus the foundation of eugenics.



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