Darwinism is also commonly referred to as Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Charles Darwin's theories were either accepted or not by the world scientific community when he first espoused them just prior to our American Civil War. Today, Darwinism is still heatedly debated as evolutionists continually return to Darwin's theories and his work to prove points, especially after new discoveries, even when these discoveries ultimately provide no absolute, indisputable proof of evolution.
The beginning of evolutionary thinking goes directly back to Charles Darwin. Many who oppose his theories cite vague discrepancies because, of course, he did not have access to the scientific tools and advancements in research that we have today. That left even Darwin with questions that he was unable to answer. Biological knowledge in that time was insufficient to provide many of the answers that would have been necessary to prove his theories.
According to Ernst Mayr, in "One Long Argument," Darwinism is not just one theory - it is a compilation of many theories held by Darwin. Even though he did not have the absolute proof that is essential to conclusion, Darwin supposedly understood things more clearly than his peers, whether they were supporters or opponents. Mayr claims that Darwin also understood more than today's modern scientific community does.
In his writing, Ernst Mayr states that "Darwinism cannot be a single monolithic theory" because despite the term that seems to indicate this, "organic evolution consists of two essentially independent processes... transformation in time, and diversification in ecological and geographical space. The two processes require a minimum of two entirely independent and very different theories."
The best definition of Darwinism comes in the breakdown of Darwin's body of work regarding evolution into "a number of major theories that formed the basis of his evolutionary thinking." The following are just some of Darwin's theories. It would be impossible to list all the major components of his body of work in this limited space.
1. Evolution - the theory that nothing about the world is constant or static, but that it is constantly changing and that organisms, over time, are transformed.
2. Common descent - every group of organisms came originally from a common ancestor, and that all animals, plants, and microorganisms can be traced back "to a single origin of life on earth."
3. Multiplication of species - explains the enormity of organic diversity. Species multiply by "splitting into daughter species" or by budding, which is "establishment of geographically isolated populations that evolve into new species."
4. Gradualism - is easy to understand in that evolution takes place gradually, through gradual changes in populations, and not by the sudden appearance of a new type.
5. Natural selection - a theory well known and often taught since its beginning, that "evolutionary change comes about through the abundant production of genetic variation in every generation." Relatively few specimens survive, but those that do have been particularly suited to living conditions and will pass on inheritable characteristics that "give rise to the next generation."
Darwin's theory of evolution has been distorted and misrepresented over the years as researchers have continued to delve into the possibilities using more modern scientific methods, but the basic premise of evolution remains in connection with the very mention of his name.
What Darwinism is NOT, indicates Mayr, is a singular, simple theory that is "either true or false, but is rather a highly complex research program that is being continuously modified and improved."