Niles Eldredge has a fine essay online on what it means to be a Darwinist (not the term as caricatured by creationists, but merely as someone who respects the work of Darwin while acknowledging the vast increase in understanding evolution since his time). It’s also useful for explaining how creationists distort the concept of punctuated equilibrium.
The creationists of the day got into the act as well. In a clear demonstration of how thoroughly political the creationist movement has always been in the United States, Ronald Reagan told reporters, after addressing a throng of Christian ministers during the 1980 presidential campaign, that evolution “is a theory, a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science and is not yet believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was believed.” The creationist who managed to get to Reagan’s handlers later bragged to me that those scientists in question were none other than Gould and me. The syllogism ran something like this: (1) Darwin said that evolution is slow, steady, and gradual; (2) some scientists say that evolution consists of rapid bursts of change interrupting vastly longer periods of evolutionary stagnation; ergo, (3) some scientists don’t follow Darwin, meaning (4) some scientists oppose evolution. Then, as now, at least in the public domain, “Darwin” is code for “evolution.” The two are virtual synonyms.
Ain’t that the truth. Darwin is not synonymous with evolution, however, which is why I reject the term “Darwinist” myself. But even so, I’m with Eldredge on this matter: Darwin was an excellent writer and scientist, and his work was the foundation for modern biology.
But I never thought the fact that Darwin—from where I stand as a paleontologist—got some of his story wrong somehow made me an anti-Darwinian. For I have admired the man ever since I took my paperback copy of the sixth edition of On the Origin of Species to read while waiting for Louis Leakey to show up and give a lecture on human evolution on the Columbia campus. I had arrived early to get a good seat, and Louis was late—so I got my first real chance to sample Darwin’s prose. I was fearful of the complexity of the great man’s mind, and of the alien nature of his Victorian prose. But I needn’t have worried, for Darwin proved accessible to the readers of his day—even lay readers—and he remains so today.