Atheist French, Soviet, & Chinese Executions of Scientists

Atheist French, Soviet, & Chinese Executions of Scientists October 22, 2015


Mug shot of the great atheist Soviet botanist and geneticist Nikolai Vavilov (1887-1943), who was arrested and sentenced to death for opposing the quack science of Lysenko. He died of starvation in prison after three years  [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

* * * * *

It just never ends: the never-ending crusade to keep repeating (as all propagandists and brainwashers do) the following four Big Lies:

1. Christianity (especially  Catholicism) was and is profoundly anti-science in a singular way.

2. The history of science was devoid of any significant  Christian influence (which follows from #1, right?).

3. Atheists essentially own science (since Christians, after all, hated it so much).

4. Atheists have never persecuted science or scientists; only Christians have. After all, they told Galileo to shut up and sentenced him to luxurious house arrest, right?


All of this sheer nonsense was remarkably encapsulated in a surreal exchange I got into with a guy [?] (cminca) in the combox for my post, Galileo: The Myths and the Facts. I had written in response to someone else: “The Church did not kill scientists for doing science. That was left to the atheist French in the 1700s, and the Nazi Germans and Communist Soviets and Chinese in the 20th century.” Sure enough (as seemingly always, with atheists) this was deemed to be a controversial and questionable observation.

Now, before we begin with cminca’s foolishness, it may be instructive that he came to the discussion already with an ax to grind against catholics. He wrote on another thread two days ago:

Christ didn’t have doctrine, or creed, or saints, or sacraments, or history to back him up. He taught his disciples to pray to God the Father–the rest of that medieval voodoo is just window dressing to make the gullible believe the CC is necessary to worship.

. . . You’re not worshiping God–you’re worshiping an institution. And that is exactly the behavior that has made and kept the CC the longest running and most successful con in the history of the world.

You may now go back to “pray, pay, and obey.”

Thus, he illustrates (in his exchange with me), a principle I have recently highlighted: a person is unable to rationally discuss things in direct proportion to how prejudiced he is against it.” So with that knowledge of his prior seething bigotry, here is our exchange:

I’d like some examples of the French, the Nazis, and either the Soviets or the Chinese killing “scientists for doing science” please.

Look up Lavoisier.

Lavoisier was killed for being an aristocrat and a traitor to the state (for being a part of the Ferme Generale) not for being a scientist. Try again.

So were, coincidentally, many other great thinkers and scientists:

Philippe-Frédéric de Dietrich, chemist, metallurgist, and associate member of the Academy of Science, was killed in the Terror, on 19 November 1793. The famous French philosopher and mathematician Nicolas de Condorcet died in an “Enlightenment” prison under mysterious circumstances, on 28 March 1794. Jean Baptiste Gaspard Bochart de Saron, an astronomer and mathematician, fell prey to the terror on 20 April 1794. Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, a botanist and statesman, met his end in the usual fashion, on 23 April 1794.

Félix Vicq d’Azyr, a French physician and anatomist, originator of comparative anatomy and discoverer of the theory of homology in biology, died on 20 June 1794. His death may have had some relation to the Terror as well.

I noted non-scientific factors in his murder in my article.

Your problem is that you claimed that the French, during the reign of terror, were killing people ‘for being scientists”.

You haven’t proven that. You’ve proven that they were killed–the problem for your argument is that they were killed for political–not scientific–reasons.

Murat didn’t come along and say “we don’t agree with your finding–therefore we are sentencing you to the guillotine.”

[after I presented some evidence of the Chinese Communists killing scientists he stated:]

so you’ve given up on France and moved to China? OK.

No, but I’ve given up on you being reasonable. China was one of my original examples.

You want more France, huh (so you can say that was all “political” too?). Here ya go:

Vandalism was above all an “organized system” against “men of talent,” as evidenced by the long list of scientists, men of letters, and artists who were persecuted during the Terror. The most distressing example is Lavoisier, the shining light of French science, indeed of all science . . .

The destruction of books and art works and the persecution of artists and scientists were thus seen as so many effects of a more general phenomenon: the encanaillement, the degradation to rabble, of both France and the Revolution.

(A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution, by François Furet & Mona Ozouf, Harvard University Press, Jan 1, 1989, pp. 861-862)

On, the question was asked: “How many scientists were executed as a result of the French Revolution?” Jon Pennington answered:

In 1793, the French Revolutionary government abolished the Royal Academy of Sciences.  According to Dorinda Outram’s study of the Academy of Sciences during the Reign of Terror, six scientists who were members of the Royal Academy of Sciences were executed by guillotine during the French Revolution: Jean Sylvain BaillyJean-Baptiste-Gaspard Bochart de Saron, Philippe-Frédéric De DietrichAntoine LavoisierGuillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, and Didier Mesnard de Chousy.  

Another four scientists weren’t guillotined, but their deaths can also be traced to the French Revolution.  Antoine-Jean Amelot de Chaillou and Jean-Baptiste de Machault d’Arnouville both died in prison. Marquis de Condorcet died in prison as well, although sources disagree about whether it was murder or suicide.  In addition, Louis-Alexandre de La Rochefoucauld was assassinated during the September Massacres of 1792.  

Although several scientists were killed by the French Revolution, the reason they died is not necessarily because they were scientists, but because the Reign of Terror was so indiscriminate.  I can neither prove nor disprove the quote allegedly uttered by Lavoisier’s judge, but historians of both 18th century science and the French Revolution seem to agree that Lavoisier’s execution had more to do with his pre-Revolutionary tenure as a tax collector for the Ancien Régime who carried out an unpopular “tax farming” system (known in French as the ferme générale).

Source: Dorinda Outram, “The Ordeal of Vocation: The Paris Academy of Sciences and the Terror, 1793-95,” History of Science 21 (1983): 251-73.  See especially Table I for deaths of scientists during the Reign of Terror.

The Cambridge History of Science: Volume 4, Eighteenth-Century Science (edited by Roy Porter, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003), stated:

[T]he challenge the scientific enterprise presents to the historian lies in explaining uneven development and resistance. After all,the French Revolution closed down the Academy of Science . . . guillotined two of the nations’s premier men of science — Lavoisier the chemist and Baily the astronomer — and hounded to death science’s leading spokesman, Condorcet. Science, in other words, was not the spirit of the future mounted majestically on an iron horse; rather, it was a resource with multiple uses, and foes no less than friends.

(Introduction by Roy Porter, pp. 12-13)

And neither did Hitler, Mao, or Stalin.

This is the problem with your “secular people killed greater numbers in the 20th century” argument.

. . . which was not my argument at all in this particular exchange.

First–the quantity of peoples killed is a product of technology and transportation. We’ve gotten much better at killing people. It doesn’t follow, however, that the hate is any more vehement.

Second–Hitler killed the Jews not because of their religion–he killed them because he believe the Jewish RACE was a threat to the Aryan race. He killed Jews who had converted. He killed Jews who didn’t practice. He killed them because of their race–not because they didn’t worship the trinity.

Third–Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot? Killers because of threats to the state–not because they disagreed with whether the Host was the actual body of Christ or how many fingers are used for genuflecting. And while religious clerics were killed–it was for threatening the state–not religious matters.

Only the religious kill for religion.

My topic was atheist state murdering and persecution of scientists . . . 

See this article: “The Atheist Persecution of Science.”


Other than being an agricultural disaster, probably contributing to famines other than the intentional ones (such as the one that killed millions in Ukraine) and a disaster for real science under the officially atheist scientific enlightenment, one of the real consequences of the persecution of real biological science was the actual execution of real scientists in countries with atheist governments. The eminent scientist Nikolai Vavilov died in prison, Georgi Karpechenko was one of those actually shot by firing squad and they were hardly the only scientists who were killed by the science worshiping atheists.

Vavilov (b. 1887) was essentially persecuted and eventually killed for opposing the quack science of Lysenko: with which Stalin was enthralled. He was an atheist and prominent Russian and Soviet botanist and geneticist best known for having identified the centres of origin of cultivated plants. His entry in Wikipedia states:

While developing his theory on the centres of origin of cultivated plants, Vavilov organized a series of botanical-agronomic expeditions, and collected seeds from every corner of the globe. In Leningrad, he created the world’s largest collection of plant seeds. Vavilov also formulated the law of homologous series in variation. He was a member of the USSR Central Executive Committee, President of All-Union Geographical Society and a recipient of the Lenin Prize.

Vavilov repeatedly criticised the non-Mendelian concepts of Trofim Lysenko, who won the support of Joseph Stalin. As a result, Vavilov was arrested on August 6, 1940, while on an expedition to Ukraine. He was sentenced to death in July 1941. In 1942 his sentence was commuted to twenty years’ imprisonment; he died in prison in 1943, of starvation.

Also from Wikipedia:

Georgii Dmitrievich Karpechenko (1899, Velsk, Vologda Governorate – July 28, 1941) was a Russian and Soviet biologist. His name has sometimes been transliterated as Karpetschenko.

G. D. Karpechenko specialized in plant cytology and created several hybrids. Among his contributions is his seminal work on allopolyploids, culminating in his creation of afertile offspring of radishes and cabbages, the first instance of a new species obtained through polyploid speciation during experimental crossbreeding.

“He worked at the Institute of Applied Botany near Leningrad, but collaborated with geneticists in other countries, notably Øjvind Winge in Denmark and Erwin Baur in Germany. He also travelled abroad to the John Innes Horticultural Institution in London. He was arrested by the NKVD under the false grounds of belonging to an alleged “anti-Soviet group” centered on the well known Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov who was his colleague at Leningrad. He was sentenced to death and executed on July 28, 1941.

More lurid details can be found in the Wikipedia article on Lysenkoism:

The pseudo-scientific ideas of Lysenkoism were built on Lamarckan heritability of acquired characteristics. Lysenko’s theory rejected Mendelian inheritance, the concept of the “gene” and departed from Darwinian evolutionary theory by rejecting natural selection. . . .

The campaign was supported by Joseph Stalin. More than 3,000 mainstream biologists were sent to prison or fired or executed as a part of this campaign instigated by Lysenko to suppress his scientific opponents. The president of the Agriculture Academy was sent to prison and died there, while the scientific research in the field of genetics was effectively destroyed until the death of Stalin in 1953. Research and teaching in the fields of neurophysiology, cell biology, and many other biological disciplines was also negatively affected or banned. . . .

Many of Lysenkoism’s opponents, such as his former mentor Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov, were imprisoned or even executed because of Lysenko’s and Prezent’s denunciations. . . .

From 1934 to 1940, under Lysenko’s admonitions and with Stalin’s approval, many geneticists were executed (including Isaak Agol, Solomon Levit, Grigorii Levitskii, Georgii Karpechenko and Georgii Nadson) or sent to labor camps. The famous Soviet geneticist and president of the Agriculture Academy, Nikolai Vavilov, was arrested in 1940 and died in prison in 1943. Hermann Joseph Muller (and his teachings about genetics) was criticized as a bourgeois, capitalist, imperialist, and promoting fascism so he left the USSR, to return to the USA via Republican Spain. In 1948, genetics was officially declared “a bourgeois pseudoscience”; all geneticists were fired from their jobs (some were also arrested), and all genetic research was discontinued.

Congrats-you’ve proven my point.

These people weren’t killed for being scientifically wrong, they were killed for the political threat that they posed to the powers that be.

The exact same way the CC was threatened by Galileo.

Bureaucracy will fight to maintain the status quo. Which is why bureaucracy, like the hierarchy of the CC, is deadly to innovation and education.

Also (Wikipedia):

Georgii Adamovich Nadson (June 4 [O.S. May 23] 1867 – April 15, 1939) was a Soviet biologist, “one of the pioneers of radioecology in Russia” In 1930, he founded the Laboratory of Microbiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (which in 1934 was transferred from Leningrad to Moscow and later transformed into the Institute of Microbiology). He was director of the institute until 1937, when he was “falsely accused of participating in so-called anti-Soviet sabotage and terrorism and arrested” The real reason for his execution was his opposition to Lysenkoism.

[citing Wikipedia, “Lysenkoism”] “Lysenkoism (Russian: Лысе́нковщина) was a political campaign against genetics and science-based agriculture conducted by Trofim Lysenko, his followers and Soviet authorities. Lysenko was the director of the Soviet Union’s Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Lysenkoism began in the late 1920s and formally ended in 1964.”

I’ll restate the first phrase in case you missed it–A POLITICAL CAMPAIGN.

Here’s an article about Soviet scientist Isaak Agol on a socialist site:

In 1936, Agol was arrested by the NKVD. According to his son, the arrest was bound up with the Second Moscow Trial, in which Reingold, a long-time friend of Agol, served as the chief “witness” of the prosecution. But Agol’s academic and revolutionary past no doubt played a major role as well. He was shot on March 8, 1937.

Shortly after Agol’s execution, several other Soviet geneticists and followers of Deborin, including Maks L. Levin (1885-1937) and Solomon Levit (1892-1938) were shot. In the coming years, the terror and the struggle against genetics by the followers of Lysenko would cost the lives and scientific careers of dozens of outstanding biologists. The geneticist Nikolai Vavilov, one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, died in a Stalinist prison during the war in 1943.

Sorry–but your own citation clearly indicates that there were revolutionary (ie. political) reasons for Agol’s death. “Death by association” isn’t unknown outside of communist Russia. Consider the McCarthy hearing here.

You want documentation of Mao’s killing of scientists qua scientists? Check this out:

Yet, at many times, Mao showed an outright contempt and hostility toward conventional science, especially during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when virtually every scientific and technical field in China . . . was shut down and subjected to political persecution that led to the deaths of some of the country’s most important scientists.

(Historical Dictionary of Science and Technology in Modern China, Lawrence R. Sullivan & Nancy Y. Liu, Rowman & Littlefield, Mar 19, 2015, p. 265)

The blurb on the Google Books site states: ” In particular, this book pays attention to the scientists who were persecuted to death or tortured during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and whose scientific research was therefore tragically cut short.”


More on Chinese persecution of scientists and other intellectuals:

Xiong Qinglai (simplified Chinese: 熊庆来; traditional Chinese: 熊慶來; pinyin: Xióng Qìnglái; Wade–Giles: Hsiung Ch’ing-lai, October 20, 1893—February 3, 1969), courtesy name Dizhi (迪之), was a Chinese mathematician from Yunnan. He was the first person to introduce modern mathematics into China, and served as an influential president of Yunnan University from 1937 through 1947. A Chinese stamp was issued in his honour.

Xiong studied in Europe for eight years (1913 to 1921) before returning to China to teach. During that time, Chinese university-level mathematics was only comparable to Western secondary-school mathematics level. In 1921, he established the Department of Mathematics of National Southeastern University (Later renamed National Central University and Nanjing University), beginning undertook the task of writing more than ten textbooks on geometry, calculus, differential equations, mechanics, etc. It was the first endeavor in history to introduce modern mathematics in Chinese textbooks. In 1926, Xiong became a professor of mathematics at Tsinghua University, where he influenced the path of Hua Luogeng, who later became another prominent mathematician.

Xiong was persecuted to death in 1969 during the Cultural Revolution. [Wikipedia]

Rao Yutai (Chinese: 饒毓泰; December 1, 1891 – October 16, 1968) was a Chinese physicist, one of the founders of modern physics in China. . . . Rao was severely persecuted in Cultural Revolution. He committed suicide on the University campus on October 16, 1968. He was rehabilitated in 1978. [Wikipedia]

Wu Dingliang (January 1893 – 24 March 1969) (Chinese:吴定良;Woo Ting-Liang), pioneering Chinese anthropologist and educator. He can be rightfully considered the father of Chinese physical anthropology. . . . He suffered from Cultural Revolution and died in 1969. [Wikipedia]

Zhao Jiuzhang (simplified Chinese: 赵九章; traditional Chinese: 趙九章; pinyin: Zhào Jiǔzhāng; 15 October 1907 – 26 October 1968), was a Chinese meteorologist, geophysicist and space physicist and engineer.[1]He is a pioneer of Chinese space technology and is considered as “The Father of Chinese Artificial Satellite”. . . . He was murdered in 1968 by members of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. [Wikipedia]

Wikipedia: “Cultural Revolution”:

The Cultural Revolution brought China’s education system to a virtual halt for some time. In the early months of the Cultural Revolution, schools and universities were closed. Primary and middle schools later gradually reopened, but all colleges and universities were closed until 1970, and most universities did not reopen until 1972. The university entrance exams were cancelled after 1966, to be replaced later by a system whereby students were recommended by factories, villages and military units, and entrance exams were not restored until 1977 under Deng Xiaoping. According to the documents for the prosecution of the Gang of Four, 142,000 cadres and teachers in the education circles were persecuted, and noted academics, scientists, and educators who died included Xiong Qinglai, Jian Bozan, Rao Yutai, Wu Dingliang and Zhao Jiuzhang. Many intellectuals were sent to rural labor camps, and many of those who survived left China shortly after the revolution ended.[citation needed] Many survivors and observers[who?] suggest that almost anyone with skills over that of the average person was made the target of political “struggle” in some way. The entire generation of tormented and inadequately educated individuals is often referred to in the West as well as in China as the ‘lost generation’.

The cultural revolution was about getting rid of Western and traditional thought in order to more forward with Mao’s vision. The killings were political, not because of science.

We may also give “honorable mention” to Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Here are some highlights of this utopian atheist paradise, between 1975 and 1979:

All political and civil rights were abolished. Children were taken from their parents and placed in separate forced labour camps. Factories, schools and universities were shut down; so were hospitals. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists and professional people in any field (including the army) were murdered, together with their extended families. Religion was banned, all leading Buddhist monks were killed and almost all temples destroyed. Music and radio sets were also banned. It was possible for people to be shot simply for knowing a foreign language, wearing glasses, laughing, or crying.

All this, but always remember: the Catholic Church is the big bad wolf and Big Hater of Science because (in one sad exception to the rule of its enthusiastic support of science), one of its tribunals told Galileo to shut up and sent him to the horrible environs of a luxurious palace of a friend, as his punishment. Oh, the unspeakable horrors of Catholic tyranny and suppression of all that is good and right, whether in thought or deed!

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