Marxism and Science and Punctuated Evolution

QUESTION: Marxism and Science – Punctuated Evolution


As it turns out, Lenin was right. When examined closely, Darwinian evolution—gradual change from species to species—actually works contrary to the dialectical method. According to dialectical materialism, whenever thesis and antithesis clash, the new synthesis created occurs rapidly, in the form of a sudden jump, rather than a long, gradual process.

Thus, according to this view, both evolution and revolution are necessary in the social sphere to move from a capitalist society to a classless, communist society. The change must occur rapidly, as did the overthrow of the Russian government. When thesis (bourgeoisie) and antithesis (proletariat) clash (through revolution), the resulting synthesis is a necessary leap resulting from the nature and flow of the dialectic. Darwin’s theory of slow and gradual natural selection did not match the Marxist requirements of progress—either natural or social.

Darwin’s theory emphasized gradual progress as opposed to sudden “leaps in being.” Early in the twentieth century, Marxists acknowledged this difference and abandoned Darwin’s natural selection theory. But Marxists did not abandon evolution. Plekhanov espoused the new Marxist attitude toward Darwin when he said, “Many people confound dialectic with the theory of evolution. Dialectic is, in fact, a theory of evolution. But it differs profoundly from the vulgar [Darwinian] theory of evolution, which is based substantially upon the principle that neither in nature nor in history do sudden changes occur, and that all changes taking place in the world occur gradually.”1

Marxism and Science – Revolution within Evolution
Marxists expect evolution to work according to the dialectic: when thesis (a species) and antithesis (some aspect of the environment) clash, the synthesis (a new species) occurs rapidly. In 1972, an evolutionary theory that better fit the dialectical process was postulated: punctuated equilibrium, or punctuated evolution. Punctuated evolution allows for jumps, rapid change, and chance. It speaks the language of dialectical materialism. It speaks the language of revolution within evolution.

The evolutionary model of punctuated equilibrium sees biological change “as an episodic process occurring in fits and starts interspaced with long periods of stasis [i.e., lack of change].”2 New species are said to arise rapidly “in small peripherally isolated populations.” Instead of the Darwinian gradualist model of evolution in which new species occur slowly over long periods of time, punctuated equilibrium calls for long periods marked by little change, and then short, isolated periods of rapid change. American scientists most closely associated with this theory are Stephen Jay Gould,3 Richard Levins, Richard Lewontin,4 Niles Eldredge, and Steven Stanley.

Both Gould and Eldredge agree that their theory of punctuated equilibrium coincides with a Marxist interpretation of biology: “Alternative conceptions of change have respectable pedigrees in philosophy. Hegel’s dialectical laws, translated into a materialist context, have become the official ‘state philosophy’ of many socialist nations. These laws of change are explicitly punctuational, as befits a theory of revolutionary transformation in human society. In light of this official philosophy, it is not at all surprising that a punctuational view of speciation, much like our own, but devoid (so far as we can tell) of references to synthetic evolutionary theory and the allopatric model, has long been favored by many Russian paleontologists. It may also not be irrelevant to our personal preferences that one of us [Gould] learned his Marxism, literally, at his daddy’s knee.”5

Marxists are pleased with the theory of punctuated equilibrium and how it affirms their worldview. Volkenshtein uses the fossil record as proof for the veracity of Marxist biology, claiming, “Whereas it was believed earlier that evolution occurs slowly, by way of gradual accumulation of small changes, at present biology takes into account a multitude of facts indicating that macroevolution occurred in a jumpwise manner and was not reduced to microevolution. The absence of transient forms in the paleontological records points, in a number of cases, not to a deficiency but to the absence of such forms. Small changes are often not accumulated at all.”6 Volkenshtein cites other “proofs” for punctuated equilibrium as well, pointing out that “no gradual transition can take place between feathers and hair, etc.”7

Creationists have cited for years these discrepancies in evolutionary theory. They take on new importance when Marxists use them as “proof” for a new theory of evolution that supports their worldview. Gould explains, “Stasis, or nonchange, of most fossil species during their lengthy geological lifespans was tacitly acknowledged by all paleontologists, but almost never studied explicitly because prevailing theory treated stasis as uninteresting nonevidence for nonevolution… The overwhelming prevalence of stasis became an embarrassing feature of the fossil record, best left ignored as a manifestation of nothing (that is, nonevolution).”8


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 G. Plekhanov, Fundamental Problems of Marxism (London, UK: Lawrence, 1929), 145.
2 Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, MD: Adler and Adler, 1985), 192–3.
3 Walter James ReMine, The Biotic Message: Evolution Versus Message Theory (St. Paul, MN: St. Paul Science Publishers, 1993), contains a strong refutation of Gould’s punctuated equilibrium theory of evolution.
4 Lewontin’s textbook is entitled The Dialectical Biologist, published by Harvard University Press.
5 Niles Eldredge and Stephen J. Gould, Paleobiology, vol. 3 (Spring 1977): 145–6. Cited in Luther D. Sunderland, Darwin’s Enigma (Santee, CA: Master Book Publishers, 1988), 108.
6 Volkenshtein, Biophysics, 617.
7 Ibid., 618.
8 S. J. Gould, “Cordelia’s Dilemma,” Natural History (February 1993): 15. Cited in ReMine’s The Biotic Message, 307.

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