Science, Human Progress, and Marxism
CPS Election Analysis 2008 - Week 4
FOS Editorial Board

In an effort to provide a context for the discussion of global warming with a plea to consider in its entirety what science has to say about the subject, we offer this sketch of a of a great British scientist, J.D. Bernal and some of his views on the role of science in the struggle for peace and human progress.
It is rare to encounter a scientist wholly dedicated to placing science exclusively at the service of peace and the emancipation of all people’s from curse of ignorance and exploitation. Such a person was J.D. Bernal. His philosophy of science is relevant for our day. He died in 1972. He was a Communist.
J.D. Bernal, F.R.S., was Professor of Crystallography and Physics at London University. Among his many publications are The Social Function of Science, The Physical Basis of Life and his monumental work, Life and Science in History. In recognition of his scientific achievements he was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society. For his efforts on behalf of nuclear disarmament and peace he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. Bernal was a contemporary of Albert Einstein with whom he discussed science and Linus Pauling, renowned American Physicist and Peace advocate.
Bernal was an avowed Marxist and materialist thinker. According careful attention to the creationist-based theories of the origin of human life, he insisted its advocates do as he was forced to do, subject their beliefs to the harsh judgement of science.
Bernal observed that science, in the last 300 years had revealed in its essentials, the origins of life on earth some 5,000 million years ago.
In a biosphere devoid of oxygen, chemical processes among the simple molecules containing Hydrogen, Carbon, Nitrogen and Oxygen, produced the precursors to life. By stages over aeons of time, chemical “fermentation” through selection created high energy phosphates, the nucleic acids the process of protein synthesis, lipids and polymerisation leading ultimately to photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis created the ozone layers in the atmosphere, the exclusion of the sun’s ultra-violet rays and the resulting oxygen biosphere we know today. In this life supporting atmosphere, the structured forms of evolution followed. These included bacteria, to mitochondria and to the processes of biological natural selection that led to single and multi-celled organisms. These primitive life forms were already imprinted with the genetic codes leading to their eventual evolution as plant and animal phyla. The emergence of humankind complete with human consciousness was the end result of only one of a myriad of evolutionary processes of natural selection.
Bernal did not live long enough to witness the unravelling of the mysteries of the human genome, which he predicted would confirm conclusively the rational scientific explanations for the emergence of human life and society.
Pointing to the modern discoveries in nuclear science, space exploration and the efforts to reveal the secrets of the human genome, Bernal said, “The field of ultimate relevance has been changed and if it is changed again – as it certainly will be – it will never revert to its former state.”1 Bernal predicted, that providing humankind prevented nuclear war, the growth of consciousness among the masses of the liberating power of science to make known the unknowable, would gradually relegate irrational theories of life and society to the realm of historical curiosities.
Bernal was a researcher compelled by the intellectual energy released by each new scientific discovery of the laws governing the motion of matter in space and time to continue the pursuit of scientific truth wherever it led. Marxism for Bernal was not in conflict with science, nor science in conflict with Marxism. Bernal simply recognized that Marxism was the most advanced form that the scientific study of human society had thus far achieved. He accepted that the scientific study of society was the logical extension of the study of the origin of life and would, upon careful examination be shown to be governed by objective laws not dissimilar to those governing the development of all life. While declaring that dialectics was not required to understand the discoveries of science Bernal suggested it to be indispensable to its research and practice.
Bernal was deeply concerned about the control of science and technology by ruling elites in the leading capitalist countries. He said, “The pursuit of old ends by modern means is already going far to destroy civilization and threatens the complete destruction of humanity.” 2
The fact that a weakly educated self-proclaimed Christian fundamentalist, who in all probability shares the same creationist views as Stockwell Day, was President of the United States for eight years, in command of nuclear forces capable of destroying all life on earth places the debate on what constitutes the overarching threat to humanity in our time in perspective.
We can take some hope and encouragement that by and large scientists are on the side of life, peace and humanity. Given the opportunity they will help us discover the laws that will make it possible for technology to develop energy without destroying the planet.

1. Page 190 The Origin of Life -1967 - Published by William Clowes and Sons Limited, London and Beccles – From the Weidenfeld and Nicolson Natural History.
2.Ibid. page 173.