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The Gazebo , 1873:
"The four main representatives of Darwinism": Darwin , Lamarck , Haeckel , St. Hilaire
(clockwise from left)

As Darwinism refers to the theory system to explain the types of transformation ( evolution ) of Charles Darwin , in particular the natural selection d. H. the selection principle is in the foreground. In addition, the term is also used to mean universal Darwinism , a general theory of evolutionary mechanisms, which states that evolution can take place in any framework (i.e. also outside of biology) if there is variability and a selection pressure is present .

In the 19th century, Darwinism was also a common umbrella term for several theories and concepts from biology, philosophy, and the social sciences. The term Darwinism is often disparagingly used by opponents, u. a. Creationists , used. Therefore, but above all because it is not about an “ ism ” in the sense of an ideology, but about a natural principle recognized by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace , this term is rejected by many evolutionary biologists today. The term Darwinism was popularized by Thomas Henry Huxley in April 1860 when he reviewed Darwins On the Origin of Species in the Westminster Journal .

Evolution theories

Evolution was already accepted as a fact in the 19th century. Various theories explain the origin, development and diversity of living things in a natural, i.e. H. physico-chemical way. Basically, the term Darwinism is used to distinguish the content of Darwin's Origin of Species from other theories of evolution, for example from Lamarckism named after Lamarck . Darwin's theory is based on heredity , variability, and natural selection. In this context, the term Darwinism is also sometimes used to emphasize the aspect of natural selection, which was first described by Darwin and Wallace and which forms the decisive difference to other, discredited theories of evolution, such as Lamarckism or mutationism , which only come from historical Meaning are.

Furthermore, the u. a. The term Darwinism , widely used by Wallace, was used to emphasize the role of Charles Darwin as a pioneer and pioneer of evolutionary research, or to make a distinction from evolutionary mechanisms not included by Darwin, such as gene drift and gene flow , which are used in modern synthesis ( synthetic evolution theory ) among others Aspects were newly introduced. In this context , one often speaks of neo-Darwinism , a system of theory that goes back to August Weismann and represents a transition form between Darwin's and synthetic theory: inheritance via chromosomes was already included, but not population genetics . This discipline was founded by Theodosius Dobzhansky and integrated into evolutionary biology . Due to the further developments within biology, Darwinism (in the sense of Darwin-Wallace's selection theory) today has essentially only historical significance.

The term Darwinism is used by creationists and opponents of evolutionary biology as a rather derogatory term for evolutionary sciences in general and naturalistic theories of evolution in particular. You speak of evolution in the role of an -ism - a doctrine or a belief - in order to build on this to demand the equal treatment of beliefs such as creationism or intelligent design . The derogatory term evolutionism is often used in the same context ; but this term has a different meaning in ethnology .

Darwinism in the 19th century

In the decades after the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life (German: About the emergence of species through natural selection or the preservation of the favored races in the struggle for existence) (1859) Darwinism stood for a whole range of evolution-based (and then partly revolutionary) philosophies in both biology and social sciences. One of the more prominent approaches has been summarized by the philosopher Herbert Spencer in the key phrase Survival of the Fittest (Eng .: survival of the best adapted). This was later used as a symbol of Darwinism, although Spencer's own understanding of evolution was more like Lamarck's than Darwin's. What is now called social Darwinism was then included in the term Darwinism - the application of Darwin's principles of struggle for survival to society, usually in favor of anti- philanthropic political currents. Darwin's concept of best fit has often been misunderstood as the superiority of the fittest and the struggle for existence as a violent war for survival. Darwin's cousin Francis Galton in particular represented a different interpretation . He believed in an ostensible danger that natural selection would no longer work in a civilization and that superior human races could therefore be inundated by inferior races (which would otherwise be filtered out). He thought countermeasures were necessary - the basis of eugenics .

During Darwin's lifetime there was no clear definition of the term Darwinism. It was used by supporters and opponents of Darwin's system of theories in any meaning that fit the larger context.

Universal Darwinism

Universal Darwinism (sometimes also called universal selection theory , or Darwinist metaphysics ) describes the generalization of Darwinism to areas outside of biology, especially formulated by Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett . The following scheme is used:

  1. Reproduction / Inheritance : A number of units, so-called replicators, must be able to make copies of themselves or to cause other units to make copies of them. The copies must also be reproducible and must inherit properties. Different variations are recombined.
  2. Variation : There must be a range of different characteristics in the population of the units. There has to be a mechanism that introduces new variations into the population. These variants can arise, for example, from inaccurate replication.
  3. Selection : Inherited traits must (in the long term) influence the reproductive ability of the units, either through survivability (natural selection) or the ability to find partners necessary for reproduction (sexual selection). The survivability can refer to the specific environment, including other corresponding systems. Causes of selection can be, for example, a shortage of resources or the possibility of cooperation .

If a replicant (heir) of the unit or organism survives to the next stage of reproduction, the process begins again. In the other case, he cannot pass his characteristics on to the next generation. In the case of narrower formulations, it is sometimes additionally required that variation and selection act on different units, variation in the genotype and selection in the phenotype .

The concept of universal Darwinism now assumes that evolution will take place in any system with these conditions, regardless of the specific framework. This means that over time, the units develop complex properties that favor their reproduction, while in each generation a part is also displaced (i.e. dies out). In some cases, properties can also lose their complexity if the corresponding selection pressure subsides or if a less complex property becomes more advantageous. Universal Darwinism predicts no direction for development (the achievements of AR Wallace as a co-discoverer of the selection principle are ignored here.)

Obviously, this can relate to biological evolution. However, there are other potential areas of which the meme , which acts as a replicator , is arguably the best known. It is a concept of passing on and changing ideas introduced by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene (1976). However, it is debatable whether this is a Darwinian process, as there is no compelling evidence that the mutations taking place in the memes are random in nature.

Darwinism criticism

Oscar Hertwig took a detailed position in his work On Defense of the Ethical, Social, and Political Darwinism (1918) against these currents which had a massive impact on social developments. In doing so, he was primarily referring to the political ideology known as social Darwinism.

The prerequisite for Darwinian developments is the blindness of evolving individuals to the framework conditions. Only under this condition can one speak of purely accidental processes. Whoever thinks people are capable of knowing, e.g. B. to the knowledge of an evolutionary occurrence in nature, the Darwin-Wallaceian principle of selection will not be able to apply problem-free to human, at least not to intellectual phenomena. Criticism of Darwinism is a. a. also practiced by representatives of creationism and the Frankfurt evolution theory , whereby in the context of these alternative models u. a. the Darwin-Wallace principle of natural selection is rejected as the driving force of species and blueprint transformation.

See also


  • Charles Darwin: On the Origin of Species. Facsimile of the first edition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 1964; 2003, ISBN 0-674-63752-6 (English).
  • Ernst Mayr : One Long Argument. Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 1991, ISBN 0-674-63906-5 (English).
  • Franz Wuketits : Darwin and Darwinism (= Beck'sche series , volume 2381: CH Beck Wissen ). Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-50881-2 .
  • Günter Altner (ed.): The Darwinism, history of a theory (= ways of research , volume 449). WBG Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1981, ISBN 3-534-06738-X (collection of historical, short central excerpts from original works (four essays in English), which can be described broadly as "Darwinist").
  • James Watson : Darwin: The Indelible Stamp, The Evolution of an Idea. Running Press, Philadelphia, PA 2005, ISBN 0-7624-2136-3 (English).
  • Thomas P. Weber: Darwinism (= Fischer , Volume 15367: Fischer compact ). Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 978-3-596-15367-1 .
  • Ulrich Kutschera : Evolutionary Biology. Origin and evolution of the organisms. 4th edition. Eugen Ulmer, Stuttgart 2015, ISBN 978-3-8252-8623-1 .

Web links

Wikisource: Charles Darwin  - Sources and full texts
Wiktionary: Darwinism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Survival of the Fittest  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. EO Wilson spoke of "Scientists don't call it 'Darwinism'." In Jerry Adler (November 28, 2005): Charles Darwin: Evolution of a Scientist . Newsweek.
  2. ^ Huxley, TH (1860): Darwin On The Origin of Species . In: Westminster Review . Volume 17, pp. 541-570.
  3. Kutschera, U .: Fact Evolution. What Darwin couldn't know. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 2009, pp. 291–292.
  4. ^ A b Wallace, AR: Darwinism. An Exposition of the Theory of Natural Selection with some of its Applications. MacMillan & Co., London 1889, p. 8.
  5. While in the Anglo-Saxon world this was seen as the fittest individual, in Germany it was interpreted as the fittest race , cf. Arnd Krüger : A Horse Breeder's Perspective. Scientific Racism in Germany. 1870-1933. In: Norbert Finzsch , Dietmar Schirmer (Ed.): Identity and Intolerance. Nationalism, Racism, and Xenophobia in Germany and the United States. University Press Cambridge, Cambridge 1998, ISBN 0-521-59158-9 , pp. 371-396.
  6. Hodgson, GM (2005): Generalizing Darwinism to social evolution: Some early attempts. Journal of Economic Issues, 39, pp. 899-914.
  7. von Sydow, M. (2012) .: From Darwinian Metaphysics towards Understanding the Evolution of Evolutionary Mechanisms. A Historical and Philosophical Analysis of Gene-Darwinism and Universal Darwinism. Göttingen University Press.
  8. von Sydow, M. (2013): Darwinian Metaphysics. ( Memento of March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) In: A. Runehov & L. Oviedo (Eds.): Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions. Springer Science, Heidelberg and New York 2013, ISBN 978-1-4020-8264-1 , pp. 1306-1314, doi: 10.1007 / 978-1-4020-8265-8 .
  9. M. von Sydow: 'Survival of the Fittest' in Darwinian Metaphysics - Tautology or Testable Theory? ( Memento of March 3, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) In: E. Voigts, B. Schaff & M. Pietrzak-Franger (eds.): Reflecting on Darwin. Ashgate, Farnham and London 2014, pp. 199–222.
  10. Dennett, DC: Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanins of Life: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. Simon & Schuster, New York 1995, p. 343.
  11. Oscar Hertwig: To the defense of the ethical, the social, the political Darwinism. Jena 1921.
  12. Kutschera, U .: Dispute point evolution. Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Lit-Verlag, Berlin 2004, pp. 270-273.
  13. Kutschera, U .: Design flaws in nature. Alfred Russel Wallace and Godless Evolution. Lit-Verlag, Berlin 2013, pp. 289-320.