‘It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Or course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well…Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.’
— Syme, the Newspeak editor, in George Orwell’s 1984
Biologists should no longer use the word “design,” urges evolutionary biologist Walter Bock of Columbia University, in a newly-published article, as this word and its related concepts bring with them “connotations that are undesirable or unwanted” (p. 8). Biologists should “drop all usages of design from evolutionary biology” (p. 9) and find some other term to express — well, that idea, for which we will no longer be using that word.
Bock contends that the original error of usage stems from Charles Darwin, who should not have expressed that idea “in the form he used” (p. 9):
In spite of the nice contrast between ‘accident versus design’, the term design carries with it too many undesirable connotations, such as the existence of a creator, and should not be used in evolutionary theory. Design could be replaced with non-accidental or non-stochastic, but these substitute terms are awkward and not really informative. Darwin developed his theory of organic evolution in part as an explanation of the appearance and perfection of adaptations to counter the idea of design as advocated by Paley and accepted then by almost everyone in the western world, including biologists… Unfortunately in this respect there is no solution to the paradox posed by Darwin which should not have been expressed in the form he used; his query was expressed in a letter to a colleague and not in a manuscript intended for publication. Actually the living world as we see it is the result of chance because all of the attributes of these organisms evolved and the process of evolution is stochastic.
Darwin set up an illegitimate contrast, because that idea actually refers to nothing, and thus cannot be expressed in ordinary language. The word ‘chance’ has no proper antonym.
As Syme puts it,
‘After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other words? A word contains its opposite in itself.’