Free Speech Icon Free Speech

“Live Not by Lies”: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Intelligent Design

Michael Egnor
Photo: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, by Verhoeff, Bert / Anefo / CC0.

I got involved in the intelligent design movement before I became a Christian, although the insight that ID offered became important in my conversion. I had been an atheist, or at least an agnostic. I took a Randian (as in Ayn Rand) perspective on religion: religion was just another form of rent-seeking for priests, a way of making a living by plying a lie. 

I thought God didn’t exist, not because I had worked out the arguments and came to that conclusion (like most atheists I understood virtually nothing about the real arguments), but because, as Laplace reportedly said to Napoleon about God, “I have no need of that hypothesis.” Life was in need of explanation, and Darwin provided it. Man, and all living things, evolved by variation and selection, from some primordial accident of chemicals. Science had proven this, I thought, so why waste my time in a church pew?

How Good Science Behaves?

Two things drew me into ID. First, I was aghast at the treatment of ID theorists and other skeptics by Darwinists. I believed in Darwinism, but goodness gracious Darwinists were nasty. It didn’t seem to me like good science: my beloved mentor, biologist Bob Pollack with whom I did research in college, said: “A good scientist is always his own most exacting critic.” Darwinists spent their time excoriating IDers, and seemed to care little for genuine critiques of their own science. I thought: if Darwinism is good science (as I thought it was), Darwinists should welcome public debate and engage honest discussion. After all, if they had the facts, what is there to fear? But instead, they Expelled anyone who questioned Darwinism. They insulted people, intimidated them, used the courts to silence them, and callously ruined their careers. This was Lysenkoism, not science. 

Second, I had the good fortune to read ID pioneers: Phillip Johnson, Michael Denton, Richard Sternberg, Jonathan Wells, Michael Behe, William Dembski, among others. They made sense. A lot of sense. So, over time, I embraced ID. I even used ID in my own research, applying engineering principles to understand blood flow in the brain. It is good science, honest science. Real science. 

In my own career, my embrace of ID has had little negative effect. I got promoted and got tenure and I advanced in my career without Darwinist hinderance. They tried — there have been many calls to my university demanding that I be fired, and I’ve had death threats. But I have done fine, due to the integrity and good nature of my bosses and the fact that I have a day job that doesn’t depend on Darwinists’ opinions of me. Not so for many of my colleagues in the ID community, who depend on grants and on academic decisions made by Darwinists, and who have suffered greatly. The ID folks who have sacrificed careers and withstood public excoriation and even judicial attack to tell the truth about design in nature are heroes, plain and simple. 

Cancel Culture

I’ve watched current events, especially “cancel culture,” with interest and with an unsettling sense of familiarity. The film Expelled is, after all, a documentary about professional “cancellation,” a decade or so before cancellation in America went viral. It is as if the Darwinist assault on ID was a run-up to the contemporary massive assault on intellectual freedom. Dissenters are denigrated, slandered, excluded, and fired for expressing opinions that just a few years ago were widely expressed and often still represent majority opinion. The Darwinist trope that criticism of Darwinist theory is “anti-science” is the prologue to the woke mob’s trope that free speech is a kind of “violence.” It’s the same segue — the Darwinist/cancel culture mob’s response to reasoned discourse is “Nice career you’ve got there — shame if something happened to it.”

There is, obviously, a totalitarian flavor to all of this, and (remarkably) it is imposed on us by us. We’re doing this to ourselves. No Bolshevik faction has stormed Washington and occupied the White House and commandeered the army. We have chosen to expel/cancel ourselves.   

So how do those of us who cherish scientific integrity and the human rights endowed by the Lord and enumerated in our Constitution stand up for academic freedom and freedom of speech in these times?

“Live Not by Lies”

Recently, on reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s short essay “Live Not by Lies,” I was struck by the analogy between the totalitarian system Solzhenitsyn faced, the Lysenkoism of the Darwinist suppression of ID, and the “woke” assault on freedom of speech and freedom of thought spreading like fire though our nation. Solzhenitsyn writes:

At one time we dared not even to whisper. Now we write and read samizdat, and sometimes when we gather… we complain frankly to one another: What kind of tricks are they playing on us, and where are they dragging us? Is there any way out? And they put on trial anybody they want and they put sane people in asylums — always they, and we are powerless… what can we do to stop it?

The parallels are obvious. If you doubted the Soviet system, or doubt Darwinism, or if you doubt any of the tropes currently on tap in the woke-sphere, you do well to keep silent, if you value your reputation and your career, and, increasingly, if you value your personal safety. 

… for today’s modest ration of food we are willing to abandon all our principles, our souls, and all the efforts of our predecessors and all opportunities for our descendants — but just don’t disturb our fragile existence. We lack staunchness, pride and enthusiasm… We have already taken refuge in the crevices. We just fear acts of civil courage. We fear only to lag behind the herd and to take a step alone — and suddenly find ourselves without white bread, without heating gas and without a Moscow registration.

The Wrong Side of the Mob

And so we fear to speak out for scientific integrity or freedom of speech lest we find ourselves on the wrong side of the mob or as pariahs without a career or a business. 

Survival in the scientific profession, and (increasingly) survival in the social, economic, and political realm depends on accepting a very specific kind of dogma. Solhenitsyn:

We have been indoctrinated in political courses, and in just the same way was fostered the idea to live comfortably, and all will be well for the rest of our lives…

If we take a knee — if we pay homage to Darwinian stories or accede to the mob — we can get on with our lives, even prosper. But at the price of our minds and our souls. 

The circle — is it closed? And is there really no way out? And is there only one thing left for us to do, to wait without taking action? Maybe something will happen by itself? It will never happen as long as we daily acknowledge, extol, and strengthen — and do not sever ourselves from the most perceptible of its aspects: Lies.

Our Lives, Our Lies

Solzhenitsyn explains the essential role that our lies play in enforcing conformity:

When violence intrudes into peaceful life, its face glows with self-confidence, as if it were carrying a banner and shouting: “I am violence. Run away, make way for me — I will crush you.” But violence quickly grows old. And it has lost confidence in itself, and in order to maintain a respectable face it summons falsehood as its ally — since violence lays its ponderous paw not every day and not on every shoulder. It demands from us only obedience to lies and daily participation in lies — all loyalty lies in that.

The use of force to enforce conformity is limited: it cannot be sustained. Darwinists can’t spend all their time destroying colleagues’ careers. Mobs can’t fill the streets day and night. Cancellers depend on your complicity. They depend on you to lie. With this insight — the fundamental insight by which we can fight cancel culture in the lab and the classroom and in the world — Solzhenitsyn sees how each of us can fight the censors. 

And the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me. This opens a breach in the imaginary encirclement caused by our inaction. It is the easiest thing to do for us, but the most devastating for the lies. Because when people renounce lies it simply cuts short their existence. Like an infection, they can exist only in a living organism.

Our Personal Participation

Darwinist (and other) censors depend on our personal participation in lies to silence us, and this provides us with a weapon they cannot counter: personal non-participation in lies, a kind of civil disobedience. 

[L]et us refuse to say that which we do not think… we [will] be astonished how quickly the lies would be rendered helpless and subside.

Solzhenitsyn recommends a series of acts of non-participation: we refuse to write or endorse or speak any statement in science or ethics or politics that is untrue. We refuse to be compelled to attend meetings or activities if they are contrary to truth. We will walk out of meetings in which lies are promulgated. We will only read and endorse literature that advances truth. 

Solzhenitsyn has no illusions about the difficulty and potential consequences of non-participation in lies.

Some, at first, will lose their jobs. For young people who want to live with truth, this will, in the beginning, complicate their young lives very much, because the required recitations are stuffed with lies, and it is necessary to make a choice. But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude… It will not be an easy choice for a body, but it is the only one for a soul.

Even this non-participation in lies will be very difficult, but it is a powerful kind of resistance. 

So you will not be the first to take this path, but will join those who have already taken it. This path will be easier and shorter for all of us if we take it by mutual efforts and in close rank. If there are thousands of us, they will not be able to do anything with us. If there are tens of thousands of us, then we would not even recognize our country.

If you can, fight scientific censorship and cancel culture actively — by speaking out, by writing, by activism. Do ID research. Support Discovery Institute. But if you are in a position in which you cannot actively resist — if because of your family or your circumstances you cannot risk your livelihood — you can quietly resolve not to participate in lies. 

They’re Terrified of Ridicule

The censors depend on active personal destruction not to silence us, but to get us (out of fear) to lie and thus silence ourselves. Their power is not in their violence but in our complicity. 

Don’t be complicit. Don’t participate. Don’t give assent to Darwinist or atheist or Marxist lies. If you’re a teacher, let your students know (implicitly if you cannot do so explicitly) that the Darwinism you are forced to teach is not, as the censors insist, a perfect doctrine with strengths only and no weaknesses. If you are a scientist, don’t include nonsensical Darwinist tropes in your publications or even in your conversations. When others tell Darwinian fairytales, if you are not in a position to openly reply, a quip or a joke (they’re terrified of ridicule) or just a smirk or rolled eyes is resistance. You can always just walk away. 

Censors of all sorts depend on the cooperation of their victims. Don’t cooperate. Don’t participate. Serve only the truth. Live not by lies.