Evolutionism was a common 19th century belief that organisms inherently improve themselves through progressive inherited change over time, and increase in complexity through evolution. The belief went on to include cultural evolution and social evolution. In the 1970s the term Neo-Evolutionism was used to describe the idea "that human beings sought to preserve a familiar style of life unless change was forced on them by factors that were beyond their control".
The term is sometimes also colloquially used to refer to acceptance of the modern evolutionary synthesis, a scientific theory that describes how biological evolution occurs. In addition, the term is used in a broader sense to cover a world-view on a wide variety of topics, including chemical evolution as an alternative term for abiogenesis or for nucleosynthesis of chemical elements, galaxy formation and evolution, stellar evolution, spiritual evolution, technological evolution and universal evolution, which seeks to explain every aspect of the world in which we live.
Since the overwhelming majority of scientists accept the modern evolutionary synthesis as the best explanation of current data, the term is seldom used in the scientific community; to say someone is a scientist implies acceptance of evolutionary views, unless specifically noted otherwise. In the creation-evolution controversy, creationists often call those who accept the validity of the modern evolutionary synthesis "evolutionists" and the theory itself as "evolutionism." Some creationists and creationist organizations, such as the Institute of Creation Research, use these terms in an effort to make it appear that evolutionary biology is a form of secular religion.
Evolution originally was used to refer to an orderly sequence of events with the outcome somehow contained at the start. Darwin did not use the term in Origin of Species until its sixth edition in 1872, (though earlier editions did use the word "evolved") by which time Herbert Spencer had given it scientific currency with a broad definition of progression in complexity in 1862. Edward B. Tylor and Lewis H Morgan brought the term "evolution" to anthropology though they tended toward the older pre-Spencerian definition helping to form the concept of unilineal evolution used during the later part of what Trigger calls the Antiquarianism-Imperial Synthesis period (c1770-c1900).
In modern times, the term evolution is widely used, but the terms evolutionism and evolutionist are seldom used in the scientific community to refer to the biological discipline as the term is considered both redundant and anachronistic, though it has been used by creationists in discussing the creation-evolution controversy. Apart from the use of the word by creationists, it is also often used by theists to imply a worldview that is essentially naturalistic.
The Institute for Creation Research, in order to treat evolution as a category of religions, including atheism, fascism, humanism and occultism, commonly uses the words evolutionism and evolutionist to describe the consensus of mainstream science and the scientists subscribing to it, thus implying through language that the issue is a matter of religious belief. The goal of this argument is to equate the validity of the theory of evolution with the pseudoscientific concept of Intelligent Design.
The BioLogos Foundation, an organization that promotes the idea of theistic evolution, uses the term "evolutionism" to describe "the atheistic worldview that so often accompanies the acceptance of biological evolution in public discourse." It views this as a subset of scientism.
- Allen, R. T.; Allen, Robert W. (1994). Chambers encyclopedic English dictionary. Edinburgh: Chambers. p. 438. ISBN 0-550-11000-3.
a widely held 19c belief that organisms were intrinsically bound to improve themselves, that changes were progressive, and that acquired characters could be transmitted genetically. The belief was also extended to cultures and societies, and to living organisms.
- Carneiro, Robert (2003). Evolutionism in cultural anthropology : a critical history. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-0-8133-3766-1.
- Trigger, Bruce (1986) A History of Archeological Thought Cambridge University Press pg 290
- "Evolutionism". AllAboutGOD.com, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80949. 2002–2008. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
- Bitbol, Olivier; Darrigol (1992). Erwin Schrödinger—Philosophie et Naissance de la Méchanique Quantique [Erwin Schrödinger—Philosophy and the Birth of Quantum Mechanics]. Atlantica Séguier Frontières. p. 134. ISBN 978-2-86332-116-4.
- "Nearly all scientists (97%) say humans and other living things have evolved over time", Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media, Pew Research Center, 9 July 2009
- J. B. Gough (1983). "The Supposed Dichotomy between Creationism and Evolution". National Center for Science Education. Retrieved 2009-09-24. "...to say a person is a scientist encompasses the fact that he or she is an evolutionist."
- Michael Ruse (March 2003). "Perceptions in science: Is Evolution a Secular Religion? -- Ruse". Science. pp. 299 (5612): 1523. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
A major complaint of the Creationists, those who are committed to a Genesis-based story of origins, is that evolution--and Darwinism in particular--is more than just a scientific theory. They object that too often evolution operates as a kind of secular religion, pushing norms and proposals for proper (or, in their opinion, improper) action.
- Steven Linke (August 28, 1992). "A Visit to the ICR Museum". TalkOrigins Archive. Retrieved 2008-12-05.
In fact, true science supports the Biblical worldview... However, science does not support false religions (e.g. atheism, evolutionism, pantheism, humanism, etc.)
- Carneiro, Robert Léonard (2003) Evolutionism in cultural anthropology: a critical history Westview Press pg 1-3
- Darwin, Charles (1986). Burrow, JW, ed. The Origin of Species (reprint of 1st ed.). Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Classics. p. 460. ISBN 0-14-043205-1.
...from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved (italics not in original)
- Trigger, Bruce (1986) A History of Archaeological Thought Cambridge University Press pg 102
- "How is BioLogos different from Evolutionism, Intelligent Design, and Creationism". The BioLogos Foundation. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
While BioLogos accepts evolution, it emphatically rejects evolutionism, the atheistic worldview that so often accompanies the acceptance of biological evolution in public discourse. Proponents of evolutionism believe every aspect of life will one day be explained with evolutionary theory. In this way it is a subset of scientism, the broader view that the only real truth is that which can be discovered by science. These positions are commonly held by materialists (also called philosophical naturalists) who deny the existence of the supernatural.
- Carneiro, Robert, Evolutionism in Cultural Anthropology: A Critical History ISBN 0-8133-3766-6
- Korotayev, Andrey (2004). World Religions and Social Evolution of the Old World Oikumene Civilizations: A Cross-cultural Perspective (First ed.). Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0-7734-6310-0. (on the applicability of this notion to the study of social evolution)
- Review of Buckland's Bridgewater Treatise, The Times Tuesday, November 15, 1836; pg. 3; Issue 16261; col E. ("annihilates the doctrine of spontaneous and progressive evolution of life, and its impious corollary, chance")
- Review of Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals The Times Friday, December 13, 1872; pg. 4; Issue 27559; col A. ("His [Darwin's] thorough-going 'evolutionism' tends to eliminate...")
- Ruse, Michael. 2003. Is Evolution a Secular Religion? Science 299:1523-1524 (concluding that evolutionary biology is not a religion in any sense but noting that several evolutionary biologists, such as Edward O. Wilson, in their roles as citizens concerned about getting the public to deal with reality, have made statements like "evolution is a myth that is now ready to take over Christianity").
- Singh, Manvir (2011). The Evolutionist's Doodlebook. New Jersey: Fuss Klas Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9832930-0-2.
- Trigger, Bruce (2006). A History of Archaeological Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-84076-7.