The “-ism” frame

In response to wonderful fisking by Ed of a really silly Creationist screed, Archy comments on the use of the terms “Darwinist” by Creationists, as a marketing tool to paint biologists as dogmatic, while at the same time avoding the term “creationist” in order to paint themselves as scientific:

Their use of the terms “Darwinism” and “Darwinist” aren’t the result sheer ignorance; it’s a carefully thought out propaganda strategy. An “-ism” implies an ideology or a dogma. It moves evolution out of science and into the land of politics or religion: though which is based on faith or blind adherence and not reason. Americans are trained to be suspicious of ideology and like to believe that their beliefs are practical and nonideological (whether they really are or not is another question). Just getting the word “Darwinism” before the audience gains them a few points in any argument. This is the same reason that some Creationists use the terms “evolutionism” and “evolutionist” to describe our side.

DuaneSmith and Ron Chusid also look at it from a marketing perspective.
Earlier, I argued that the current marketing strategy of using these terms originated in a genuine inability to comprehend a non-dogmatic view of the world:

….But not a “Darwinist” or “evolutionist” – those two words are Creationists’ constructs. They arise from the basic misunderstanding of evolution. Being religious believers they cannot fathom that people can operate outside of the realm of belief, thus they assume that evolution is a belief, akin to and in competition with their belief.
Those two terms (“evolutionist” and “Darwinist”) have lately also been used on purpose, as code-words for their own audience. They understand that using these terms implies (and turns on a frame of mind in the listeners) that evolution is a religious belief. It is similar to the way I think of myself as a member of the Democratic Party, but Republicans prefer to use the Luntzism “Democrat Party”. It’s all about framing the debate.

And the word “democratic” is avoided by the Right because it reminds listeners that the Republican party is un-democratic and anti-democratic. They all went to the same propaganda schools.

3 responses to “The “-ism” frame

  1. One point: “Darwinist” and “evolutionist” are terms that existed long before creationists came up with their skewed definitions. A Darwinist was, in the late nineteenth century, one who accepted a set of ideas that derived from Darwin, in evolutionary biology. And an “evolutionist” is a specialist in evolution, just as a chemist is a specialist in chemistry. This usage was common until the 1970s, when it fell out of favour in the face of creationist misrepresentation.

  2. I don’t think it’s just because “it fell out of favor in the face of creationist misrepresentation,” although that’s a big part of it. It’s rather moot: if you’re a biologist, it’s almost a given that you accept “change over time” and “descent with modification.” Biologist, as a label, is simply more to the point.