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Russian Darwinism

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-E074-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2002
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

The Russian scientific community welcomed Darwin’s evolutionary theory and made it a basis of research in a wide range of biological sciences. Russian evolutionary studies in embryology, paleontology, microbiology and pathology attracted international attention. The vast scope of Darwin’s popularity in Russia was dramatically manifested in 1909, on the occasion of the national celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great English scientist and the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. All universities, naturalist societies, and many newspapers and popular journals took part in the celebration, which produced a hundred praiseful publications on Darwinian themes.

University philosophers, steeped in metaphysical idealism and spiritualism, linked Darwinism to what they called ‘modern scientific materialism’ and rejected it wholly. They were strongly predisposed to welcome modern revivals of metaphysical vitalism. Freelance philosophers, usually associated with heterodox ideological movements and influenced by Auguste Comte’s positivism or various modern neopositivist and Neo-Kantian currents, credited Darwinism with making science a major topic of modern philosophy. A new discipline, known as ‘scientific philosophy’, rapidly developing in the West, made its first appearance in Russia.

In the Soviet Union, Darwin’s evolutionary theory followed a course of cataclysmic ruptures. During the 1920s, Soviet scientists made significant contributions to the study of the role of the genetic environment in biological evolution and helped set the stage for an evolutionary synthesis of Darwinism and genetics. The Stalinist era (1929–53) marked a drastic departure from the prevalent currents in evolutionary biology. It was dominated by the rise of Lysenkoism, a pseudo-science identified as ‘creative Darwinism’, and was guided by a diluted version of the Lamarckian idea of evolution as a product of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Lysenkoism rejected the Darwinian conception of natural selection, downgraded the role of physico-chemical analysis in biology, and paid no attention to molecular biology. In 1948 Lysenkoism was officially recognized as the Marxist theory of evolution. Under Lysenko’s influence, genetics was proclaimed a ‘bourgeois science’ and was made illegal. The downfall of Lysenkoism in 1964 brought the re-establishment of genetics, a full-scale return to true Darwinism, and a re-intensified interest in ‘evolutionary synthesis’.

Citing this article:
Vucinich, Alexander. Russian Darwinism, 2002, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E074-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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