Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Noam Chomsky — If your taste for iconoclasm extends only so far

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The following conflation of intelligent design and global warming is unworthy of Chomsky the scholar (as opposed to Chomsky the activist). Chomsky uncritically takes as the definition of ID what he has read in the popular press. It might interest readers of this blog to know that I hold in my files a note (dated February 26, 1997) from Chomsky on MIT stationery commeting favorably on one of my early papers on information and ID (namely, “Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information” — which ultimately became chapters 3 and 4 of No Free Lunch). Chomsky in his private moments has in fact been a critic of evolutionary theory, a fact reflected in Daniel Dennett’s criticisms of Chomsky in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.

Evolution, ecology and `malignant design’

Noam Chomsky says the Bush administration’s hostility toward scientific inquiry puts the world at risk of global-warming disaster

NOAM CHOMSKY
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
Nov. 13, 2005

President George W. Bush favours teaching both evolution and “intelligent design” in schools, “so people can know what the debate is about.”

To proponents, intelligent design is the notion that the universe is too complex to have developed without a nudge from a higher power than evolution or natural selection.

To detractors, intelligent design is creationism – the literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis – in a thin guise, or simply vacuous, about as interesting as “I don’t understand” as has always been true in the sciences before understanding is reached.

Accordingly, there cannot be a “debate.”

The teaching of evolution has long been difficult in the United States. Now, a national movement has emerged to promote the teaching of intelligent design in schools.

The issue has famously surfaced in a courtroom in Dover, Pa., where a school board is requiring students to hear a statement about intelligent design in a biology class – and parents mindful of the U.S. Constitution’s church/state separation have sued the board.

In the interest of fairness, perhaps the president’s speechwriters should take him seriously when they have him say that schools should be open-minded and teach all points of view.

So far, however, the curriculum has not encompassed one obvious point of view: malignant design. Unlike intelligent design, for which the evidence is zero, malignant design has tonnes of empirical evidence, much more than Darwinian evolution, by some criteria: the world’s cruelty.

Be that as it may, the background of the current evolution/intelligent design controversy is the widespread rejection of science, a phenomenon with deep roots in American history that has been cynically exploited for narrow political gain during the last 25 years.

Intelligent design raises the question of whether it is intelligent to disregard scientific evidence about matters of supreme importance to the nation and the world – like global warming.

An old-fashioned conservative would believe in the value of Enlightenment ideals – rationality, critical analysis, freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry – and would try to adapt them to a modern society.

America’s Founding Fathers, children of the Enlightenment, championed those ideals and took pains to create a constitution that espoused religious freedom yet separated church and state.

The United States, despite the occasional messianism of its leaders, isn’t a theocracy.

In our time, Bush administration hostility to scientific inquiry puts the world at risk. Environmental catastrophe, whether you think the world has been developing only since Genesis or for eons, is far too serious to ignore.

In preparation for the G8 summit this past summer, the scientific academies of all eight member nations, joined by those of China, India and Brazil, called on the leaders of the rich countries to take urgent action to head off global warming.

“The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify prompt action,” their statement said. “It is vital that all nations identify cost-effective steps that they can take now, to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions.”

A few months earlier, at the 2005 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, leading U.S. climate researchers released “the most compelling evidence yet” that human activities are responsible for global warming, according to The Financial Times.

They predicted major climatic effects, including severe reductions in water supplies in regions that rely on rivers fed by melting snow and glaciers.

Other prominent researchers at the session reported evidence that the melting of Arctic and Greenland ice sheets is causing changes in the sea’s salinity balance that threaten “to shut down the Ocean Conveyor Belt, which transfers heat from the tropics toward the polar regions through currents such as the Gulf Stream.”

Like the statement of the National Academies for the G8 summit, “the most compelling evidence yet” received scant notice in the United States, despite the attention given in the same days to the implementation of the Kyoto protocols, with the most important government refusing to take part.

It is important to stress “government.” The standard report that the United States stands almost alone in rejecting the Kyoto protocols is correct only if the phrase “United States” excludes its population, which strongly favours the Kyoto pact (73 per cent, according to a July poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes).

Perhaps only the word “malignant” could describe a failure to acknowledge, much less address, the all-too-scientific issue of climate change.

Thus, the “moral clarity” of the Bush administration extends to its cavalier attitude toward the fate of our grandchildren.

Author and activist Noam Chomsky is a linguistics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Comments
I liked that article by Chomsky. Some of his over-reasoned stuff kind of gives me a headache. So it was a pleasure to see him sketch out a bit of overview that makes sense to me. I do have a lot of problems with the comments so far, however. mentok is "not surprised for him [Chomsky] to take argument from authority on the matter". I dont quite get that. I guess you mean his general feeling that evolution theory is more or less correct and ID is flawed. And then you are talking about the "authority" of the consensus of most scientists being where his inclination is coming from? OK, yet it still baffles me how you get to: "but to claim that evolution is part of a promotion of science is laughable." I dont exacty see where Chomsky said that -- at least not so awkwardly. I think you are backtracking to what you presume is his premise, where he says: "the background of the current evolution/intelligent design controversy is the widespread rejection of science...." I guess you are saying if Chomsky considers ID the "rejection" of science then he is implying evolution is the "promotion". I hope we are both considering this to be in his more general context of education. The way I grok it, teaching the consensus of what most scientists believe is what elementary courses in science are supposed to be about. And elementary courses in science are definitely part of the promotion of science. Without being too picky I dont see any merely laughable claim in that. "ID simply seeks to put all of the evidence under a microscope and then let the chips fall where they may." I just read a book with a number of chapters on ID ("I Dont Have Enough Faith to be an Athiest"). I was quite impressed. Yet, in the end I get the feeling that that microscope spends a lot of time examining the edges where there are missing pieces of the puzzle, and not enough time at a lower magnification where you can see most of the broader picture that has emerged. To me it would seem awfully hard to rearrange the already fitted puzzle pieces of confirmation of evolutionary theory, enough to get an entirely different picture, even if there are missing pieces and maybe a few jammed in, but out of place. I also see ID as a kind of fallback position for the original creationism theories that keep encountering evidence that strikes blow after blow to its premises. I'm guessing that if the trend continues, ID will eventually be reduced to such a small sphere of differences with mainstream science that it will someday fail to satisfy the hopes of the majority of those who cling to it, namely as being one way of proving supernatural intervention. Now the supernatural may well be out there, but it's pretty clear He has done a lot to cover his tracks so far as material or life sciences are concerned. So I'm betting all the hot prospects for exploiting quirks in evolutionary theory will come to naught for the ID'ers. In fact your best best is to step back all the way from molecular biology, forget the microscope, and just tune in to the wonder of existance. Now the future of evolution is a whole different story. If intelligence did "evolve" by pure natural processes, it's clear that the future of evolution is in for a whole lot of intelligent meddling. Scary even. And that means it is possible that some alien race evolved before us, and we might be able to prove that the process is already recursive. That still wouldn't prove that anything except natural evolution was the original process. So yes, it is still very exciting to keep looking at unexplained steps in evolution. Maybe, given their extreme motivation, the ID'ers will be the first to find an unexpected clue or two for panspermia. However, science probably progresses faster if all the more likely possibilities are explored first. My gut feel is that when and where He wants to make His presence known, He is not at all subtle about it. You dont need that microscope. Now maybe I am being unfair in guessing that ID derives mainly from religious prejudices. After all I dont fault quantum mechanics just because a bunch of hokey new agers embrace it in their quest for exotic enlightenment. But for a really fringe theory I wonder if it's giving all the other equally fringe theories enough equal press time. About social Darwinism. It's sad to see how much it suceeded in corrupting ordinary Darwinism for a while. It's really another form of ID, and much more directly pernicious. It ascribes a moral purpose to evolution. It probably still has as wide an audience as ID, but it is just another example of fringe science and certainly not part of the current majority consensus of scientists, even if it tempted a lot of early evolutionists. I hardly think it merits mention in the elementary science classroom either, no more than high school science textbooks need to waste the print to say that some people dont believe in God, or even that some do, and whether either position has a bearing on whether the laws of physics might change today, tomorrow or next Sunday. Anyway that's my reaction to the first comment on Chomsky's article.jesguessin
November 19, 2005
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Ha! Ha! Dave. I dunno, I guess that it depends on the setting. I suppose if we (Prof. Chomsky and I)were both at one of those high falutin' philosophy parties at the same time, and I happended to be on enough wine (mixed 20 to 1 with water, of course), then, who knows what would happen or what I would say! yours, Sal Monella PS. I am actually glad that you responded here, Dave. I have a side project in the works that you might be interested in and I have been wondering how to get in personal contact with you. If you could please, please, please, e-mail me at simonjwoodstock@yahoo.com I can give you the brief details to see what you think. Thanks in advance!Sal Monella
November 16, 2005
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Sal Monella Does this mean you'd prefer I not call Chomsky a girly man?DaveScot
November 15, 2005
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"So far, however, the curriculum has not encompassed one obvious point of view: malignant design." Malignant design is taught and is the only perspective taught. That is the entire point! If history is any guide, pointing to "bad design" is a poor way to conduct science. It is not uncommon for something that was once thought to have no function (or a harmful function) to be found to be beneficial (and sometimes vital) to the organism.Qualiatative
November 15, 2005
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The Fanatical Gaggle all sing the same hymn; "My mind is made up...don't confuse me with facts. I know I AM the Center, there's no looking back."mmadigan
November 15, 2005
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Hey Guys! Please go easy on professer Chomsky! Recently, I have had the pleasure of having some candid discussion with him and he has been nothing but fair and nice. One thing is for sure, he is anything but stupid-- he posesses a great mind and is probably smarter than most of us here put together....he just happens to be of a different opinion (at this time) on ID. On a relavent note, I can share about an experience that I had with another prof. at a prominent ivory tower school who was conceding more than you could imagine on evo theory. Then, I made the rookie mistake of mining him too hard for quotes and revealing candid things about his concessions on a blog site, which really bummed him out. About 2 solid years of discussion on ID almost went down the drain. I then made a public apology on my blog, and the prof. forgave me, we have become great friends, and we have been continuing our discussion on ID ever since. I have him reading Dr. Dembski's work as of now, he is meeting with prof. Behe early next year, and, he is helping me learn more about quantum mechanics in between all of that. Anyways, I just got the thing going with Prof. Chomsky after 3 years of trying to get a response and we are in it pretty good. I am sure that this blog and thread won't cause any harm (it may just add to the fun), but please be sensitive to the ad hominems an so forth. Remember (a) that it is very costly for these profs (such as Chomsky) to publically support ID, and, (b) that Dr. Chomsky is a person with feelings, even though he holds differnet views. Thanks for hearing me out and and please, don't get me wrong. I love everyone here and would take fire at the stake for ID and prof. Dembski's work (in the name of the Lord, of course) But, please remember to share the truth in love. Yours, Sal MonellaSal Monella
November 15, 2005
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As a Marxist, Chomsky probably opposes ID because of its religious backers (always high on the extermination list). I think he would also reject any secular ID that did not discover evidence for the eventual triumph of labor over capital. I agree with scordova that his linguistic theories seem to support ID. “the widespread rejection of science, a phenomenon with deep roots in American history” Right, Noam. Real good, buddy. America + Judeo-Christianity = unprecedented explosion of science and tech. Chomsky must have stopped his investigations of innovation right where Marx did: early 19th Century weaving shops. Marx, purblind to the relation between invention and wealth, winds up economic prophet to the day-laborers. Darwin, stone deaf to the most obvious composition, scores a paradigm for the ape symphony. Talk about stuck on stupid…pmob1
November 15, 2005
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Chomsky is brilliant. Respected in 3 areas: 1. Computer Science (formal language theory) 2. Linguistics 3. Psychology I recall studying the "Chomsky Hierarchy" in Computer Science classes. I'm disappointed with his reaction. Ironically, he was crticized for acting like a creationist once apon a time. See this article from the (gasp) Institute for Creation Research by a professor of Linguistics, John Oller. http://www.icr.org/index.php?module=articles&action=view&ID=472 "we have "special design," so that cognitive structures of great complexity and interest develop fairly rapidly and with little if any conscious effort " -- Noam Chomsky For this claim he was attacked for supporting the creationists.scordova
November 15, 2005
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"Wouldn’t it be nice if Christians had interpreted their Bibles so as to be known for their kindness toward animals and deep respect for nature? " Some do... (Though you probably won't find many evangelicals aligning themselves with PETA or ELF)dodgingcars
November 15, 2005
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What probably has happened is that Chomsky has conflated ID with political conservatism and the religious right. And both of those are not known for compassion for nature or other beings. So his emotion has got the better of his reason. Wouldn't it be nice if Christians had interpreted their Bibles so as to be known for their kindness toward animals and deep respect for nature?avocationist
November 15, 2005
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And yes, it's no secret that Wikidpedia has an unequivocally leftist / anti-ID agenda.Bombadill
November 15, 2005
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Good points, jboze. And what are we to do with Jefferson and his habit of letting Christian's use government offices and rooms as places of worship?Bombadill
November 15, 2005
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"Unlike intelligent design, for which the evidence is zero..." Tell me, Mr. Chomsky, how did digitally coded information find it's way into the cell? [insert crickets chirping here]Bombadill
November 15, 2005
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Chomsky is, of course, a complete nutjob...and he's proven this too many times to even count. I often wonder why someone who hates America so much just doesn't pack his bags and leave? If we're such an evil, imperialistic, brutal, thuggish, murdering nation he says we are...why not move away? To France maybe!
America’s Founding Fathers, children of the Enlightenment, championed those ideals and took pains to create a constitution that espoused religious freedom yet separated church and state.
Of course, he knows that isn't true. President Washington announced an official day of thanksgiving and prayer for the nation...the government used massive amounts of money to convert the natives to Christianity (buying bibles with federal money to do so)...the only thing the founders wanted to prevent was a national religion of a particular sect. Nearly every state at the time had its own official state church of a particular denomination...the government put Christianity into their daily public lives. Washington's inagural address and farewell address make it clear his intentions, the way he saw religion in public life and government, etc. A trip around DC is basically a trip of a religious mecca of sorts- Newt Gingrich has a nice guide to the scores of religious laden sites all around DC in his most recent book of nonfiction. I could go on, but we all know the founders never intended to separate church and state, only wanted to appease the various denominations by not allowing an established national church. Leave it to fringe liberals like Chomsky to distort the founders' intentions. By the way- I'm all for the Kyoto Treaty. Let's give developing nations a total pass and do all we can to cripple the U.S. economy by signing on! GREAT idea! I wonder how many Americans will support it when it's reported accurately and they become aware that many of their jobs would be in danger?jboze3131
November 15, 2005
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[off topic] proving wikipedia is useless... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_A._Dembski lets play a game called how many lies and distortions can you find on this single page!jboze3131
November 15, 2005
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Chomsky said: "Be that as it may, the background of the current evolution/intelligent design controversy is the widespread rejection of science, a phenomenon with deep roots in American history that has been cynically exploited for narrow political gain during the last 25 years" For a supposed amateur historian Chomsky displays stunning ignorance. I don't expect him to have studied evolution or ID and am not surprised for him to take argument from authority on the matter, but to claim that evolution is part of a promotion of science is laughable. What he claims the promoters of ID are all about is in fact what evolution promoters are all about. ID simply seeks to put all of the evidence under a microscope and then let the chips fall where they may. Evolution promoters have never been like that and they are not like that today as well. Evolution was promoted first and foremost in the 19th century by racist imperialists. Evolution was latched onto by racist imperialists all over the western world in order to justify racist malthusian policies based on "survivalof the fittest". Darwinism was promoted by members of the ruling establishment because they could give a scientific veneer to their colonial ambitions. When slavery was ended in the 19th century the massive fortunes and worker base for the fortunes of the ruling elites was threatened. In Darwinism they found a social philosophy which gave them scientific credibility in their quest to make up for the reverses of abolition. Thus was born Social Darwinism, the ideology of genocide based on Darwinism/Malthus, eugenics based upon Darwinism/Malthus, social engineering through forced schooling based on the idea of creating a permanent compliant underclass to make up for the loss of slavery (see http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/toc1.htm ) Chomsky is glib in the usual manner of the unsophisticated faux sophisticates whose self infatuation is their defining characteristic. The dilettante as prophet, gimme a break. Influence of Malthus and Darwin on the European Elite: http://www.trufax.org/avoid/manifold.html THE SCIENTIFIC BACKGROUND OF THE NAZI"RACE PURIFICATION" PROGRAM, US & German Eugenics, Ethnic Cleansing, Genocide, and Population Control: http://www.trufax.org/avoid/nazi.html The use of the evolutionary paradigm in order to eliminate "inferior" races: http://www.waragainsttheweak.com The true purpose of the original mass promotion of evolution in it's apotheosis: http://www.trueorigin.org/holocaust.aspmentok
November 15, 2005
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