Creation, Evolution and Lysenko

This was actually my first blog article, posted 14 April 2005.

After a hiatus, this past spring I found myself back teaching Civil Engineering at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. This is an activity I find professionally and personally satisfying, if not financially.

During the hiatus, the campus had made some major technological changes. One of them enabled anyone on the UTC staff to spam the entire staff. Being a closed group, this meant that the staff could have a spam dialogue, with people being either participants or spectators in the process.

A bill had been introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly which would give students additional redress in the event they felt they had been downgraded by a professor became same faculty member didn’t care for the student’s views. This is primarily aimed at liberal faculty of the arts.

Needless to say, this piece of legislation got a cool response from the faculty. The surprise came from which part of the faculty; the most vociferous opposition came from evolutionists, who feared that another Scopes trial was in the making. Coming back at them were the new earth creationists, and this led to a long, generally informative but serious debate on the subject of creation and evolution.

I mentioned this to my state representative, who coolly responded that the faculty should have stuck to the subject matter at hand. For me, however, as a Christian, an old earth creationist, an adjunct and someone who deals with geological issues in Soil Mechanics, this was a perilous situation. If the evolutionists win, I get the boot over the origin of the universe and being a theist (the evolutionists are for the most part rabid secular humanists.) If the new earth creationists win, I get the boot over the age of the earth. Real academic freedom these days consists of forcing the administration to find really creative ways to give people the boot!

As the debate drug on, things started to get a little satirical, and one evolutionist mused that the state would endorse Lysenkoism for the teaching of biology. Paul Krugman made a similar statement in an column for the New York Times; evidently this is becoming a liberal talking point. But brining up Lysenko is a perilous business for secular humanists of any stripe.

The story of the Ukrainian agronomist Trofim Denisovich Lysenko, his rise and those of his theories and the liquidation of his opponents, is a complicated one, but it basically involves a combination of genetic theory and Marxist ideology that resulted in science being thwarted by political considerations. The problem in bringing up a controversy from Stalin’s Soviet Union is that creationists are nowhere to be found. The regime that oversaw this purge (along with all of the others) was fuelled by the most important single secular ideology in human history–Marxism.

As was the case with both of the major ideologies that turned the twentieth century into a bloodbath (the other was of course fascism,) Marxism drew a great deal of inspiration from Darwin’s work. Both Marx and Engels (especially the latter) were committed Darwinists. When Marx died in 1883, Engels pronounced at his graveside “just as Darwin discovered the law of the development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history.” Marxism was “scientific” socialism, as opposed to the “utopian” kind popular in Europe at the time. At the same time Lysenko was running like a bull in a china closet through the Soviet biological establishment, Stalin’s regime was attempting to destroy belief in God throughout the country by killing or sending believers to gulags and blowing up churches, a result that many secular humanists probably find satisfying.

After all that, though, we have a situation where a “scientific” regime not only stymies research for ideological reasons; it now gets pilloried by secular humanists with short memories! The whole story of Marxism is a reminder that it’s easy to turn any system of thought–no matter how secular–into a religion when it comes time to force it on humanity. One of the things that bothers me about secular humanists, this debate included, is how they on the one hand tell us that the basis of science is “free inquiry” and then fanatically defend their dogmas when they are attacked.

With such contradictions, it’s hard to know whether one should take an ideology like secular humanism seriously outside of their access to power in our society. Such was the case with Marxism. At one time Marx got into a conversation with the wife of the publisher of Das Kapital in Germany about who would do the chores in Marx’s “new world.” It started light heartedly but turned serious, at which point the woman said, “I cannot picture you in an egalitarian period since your inclinations and habits are thoroughly aristocratic.”

“Neither can I,” Marx replied, “those times must come but we must be gone by then.”

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