- This article is about Darwinism as a philosophical concept; see evolution for the page on biological evolution; modern evolutionary synthesis for neo-Darwinism; evolutionism for the advocacy of such, and also evolution (disambiguation).
To say that Darwinism is often used by biologists is an understatement that verges on bathos; Darwinian random variation and subsequent selection is occasionally used by mathematicians to describe evolutionary processes that resemble the evolution of life, such as the development of software with genetic algorithms. The 19th century term "survival of the fittest" coined by Herbert Spencer was a distortion of Darwin's views. Spencer and others developed "evolutionary" views of society, termed "Social Darwinism," which eventually discredited many of the extensions of Darwin's ideas in inappropriate contexts, in philosophy and the social sciences. When used in this way, the concept of Darwinism was divorced from the details of biological evolution, which have become clear starting almost a century after the publication of Origin of Species, 1859.
A Darwinian process requires the following conditions:
- Self-replication: Some number of entities must be capable of producing copies of themselves, and those copies must also be capable of reproduction.
- Inheritance: The copies must resemble the originals, or be more likely to share traits of their originals than those of unrelated entities.
- Variation: The copies must occasionally be imperfect, so that the population of objects exhibits a variety of traits.
- Selection: Inherited traits must somehow affect the ability of the entities to reproduce themselves.
In any system given these four conditions, by whatever means, evolution is likely to occur. That is, over time, the entities will accumulate complex traits that favor their reproduction.
See for example meme.
Daniel Dennett (1995) in Darwin's Dangeous Idea argues for universal Darwinism.