Paul Johnson

Science can be just as corrupt as any other activity

Science can be just as corrupt as any other activity

My old tutor, A.J.P. Taylor, used to say, ‘The only lesson of history is that there are no lessons of history.’ Not true. History does not exactly repeat itself, but there are recurrent patterns. And the historian learns to look for certain signs. He asks, What is the prevailing orthodoxy, in any field, at a particular time? And his training teaches him: it is almost certain to be wrong. That is one reason why I am so suspicious of the Darwinian establishment today, and in particular its orthodoxy that natural selection is the sole form of evolution. This establishment still has enormous power. It controls the big university biology faculties, and such leading journals as Nature and Scientific American. It condemns any critics of its dogma as ‘flat-earthers’ or ‘creationists’, and ensures their books are not reviewed in what it calls ‘reputable journals’. Members of the establishment have a rule not to debate on TV or on public platforms with those they dismiss as ‘pseudo-scientists’. All these signs, so characteristic of academic authoritarians through the ages, confirm me in my view that the Darwinian fundamentalists are wrong, know they are wrong, and are scared.

I recall the time when Soviet biology was dominated by the orthodoxy of Trofim Lysenko, who preached his theory of ‘creative Darwinism’, taught in Soviet universities and schools. Stalin approved of him and backed him: that was enough. Easy to say now that it was all nonsense and that Lysenko was a fraud. But during Stalin’s heyday Soviet science was highly esteemed by many Western scientists, not least top Darwinians like J.B.S. Haldane (a lifelong, uncritical communist) and Julian Huxley, author of Evolution: the Modern Synthesis, boss of Unesco and much else. One leading scientist, J.D. Bernal, hotly defended Lysenko.

History is always on the move, slowly eroding today’s orthodoxy and making space for yesterday’s heresy.

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