Marxism and Science and Lysenko and Mendel

QUESTION: Marxism and Science – Lysenko and Mendel


Because it more closely aligns with dialectics, Marxists are delighted that punctuated equilibrium is now considered a viable scientific explanation for the origin of the species. Marxists, however, seem willing to embrace virtually any evolutionary idea as long as it fits their worldview and disallows the existence of the supernatural. This pattern can be demonstrated by examining an episode from the era after Marxists became disappointed with the gradualism of Darwin and before punctuated equilibrium theory was postulated.

During World War II, Darwin’s notions about struggle for existence and survival of the fittest were unpopular with Marxists, so Marxists attempted to “customize” evolutionary theory so that it would better fit the dialectic. T.D. Lysenko, the leading Soviet biologist from the early 1930s into the 1950s and President of the Academy of Sciences, spearheaded this effort during the height of its prestige (1936–45). Lysenko claimed that Gregor Mendel’s discoveries about genetics were inconclusive, declaring, “It is time to eliminate Mendelism in all its varieties from all courses and textbooks.”1

Marxism and Science – A Progressive View of Evolution
With full support from the Marxist government (indeed, most Soviet biologists who disagreed with Lysenko either repented or met untimely deaths), Lysenko began to preach a biology strictly denying Mendel’s genetics: “[A]ny little particle, figuratively speaking, any granule, any droplet of a living body, once it is alive, necessarily possesses the property of heredity...”2

Lysenko’s notions about heredity eventually led him to embrace Lamarckism, a theory that states that acquired characteristics can be passed from one generation to the next through heredity. He did not publicly admit his Lamarckian views, however, until it came to light that Stalin, years earlier, had supported neo-Lamarckism. Once it became clear that both Stalin and Lysenko supported some form of Lamarckism, Marxist biology had no choice but to embrace this theory of acquired characteristics. On the surface, Lamarckism did seem to complement Marxist dialectics better because it called for a more consistently progressive view of evolution than Darwin’s theory.

Unfortunately for Lysenko and the Marxists, they eventually had to face two facts the rest of the world had accepted long before—Mendel’s ideas about genetics were correct, and Lamarck’s idea of acquired characteristics was unscientific.


Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Cited in David Joravsky, The Lysenko Affair (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 211.
2 Ibid., 210.

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