In person, Noam Chomsky, now 77 years old, is gentle and considerate, much like what he has become – a respected statesman among Western intellectual elites. Last year, he dominated the list of 100 world public intellectuals Prospect / Foreign Policy including Richard Dawkins, Václav Havel and Salman Rushdie. But it's an ironic honor because Chomsky is also, in some ways, anti-intellectual intellectual, quick to argue that most other elites have prostituted themselves through what he describes as a "service to power".
Chomsky was professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., For more than 50 years. At that time, he managed to become doubly famous – first for his pioneering work in linguistics, which challenged behaviorism in psychology, and then for his well publicized criticisms of American foreign policy.
Asked about appropriate role models for intellectuals today, Chomsky shows past talkative classes the ancient Jewish prophecies, including Jesus. This brings to light something less known about Chomsky, who was born in Philadelphia to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Although he is internationally recognized as a critic of America's involvement in Vietnam and Iraq, he does so in the role of a prophet warning the people against the false idol of l & # 39; imperialism. Not surprisingly, the passions of this son of a Hebrew scholar stand up well read pages of the Torah. When Science & Theology News Matt Donnelly spoke with Chomsky in his MIT office, he assumed, with obvious yet discreet taste, the role of cultural critic. Below, in his own words, Chomsky gives a rare glimpse of what he thinks about the proper role of science in the public sphere, how atheism borders on inconsistency and why it is not. evolution can never speak of the existence of God.
On Western Intellectuals
People who are called intellectuals, their record is primarily the service in power. It begins in our first historical documents, in the Bible for example. If you look at what the prophets were doing, they were what we would call dissenting intellectuals. They gave a geopolitical criticism, they warned that the kings [Hebrew] were going to destroy the country. They called for support for those who are suffering, widows and orphans, etc. So they were what we call dissenting intellectuals.
Jesus himself, and most of the message of the Gospels, is a message of service to the poor, a critique of the rich and powerful, and a pacifist doctrine. And it remained like that, that's what Christianity was up to Constantine. Constantine waved it so that the cross, symbol of the persecution of someone who was working for the poor, was placed on the shield of the Roman Empire. It has become the symbol of violence and oppression, and that is about what the church has been up to now. In fact, it is quite striking in recent years, elements of the church – especially the Latin American bishops, but not only them – have tried to return to the Gospels.
The people we call intellectuals are no different from all the others except that they have special privileges. They are mostly well-off, they have training, they have resources. As the privilege increases, the liability increases. And if someone works 50 hours a day to put food on the table and has never finished high school, his chances are lower than those of intellectuals. That's not to say that they are less intellectual. In fact, some of the best educated people I've ever met have never passed the fourth year. But they have fewer opportunities, and the opportunity confers responsibilities.
Science talks about very simple things and asks tough questions about them. As soon as things get too complex, science can not handle them. The reason physics can reach such depth is that it is limited to extremely simple things, abstract from the complexity of the world. As soon as an atom becomes too complicated, perhaps helium, they hand it to chemists. When the problems become too complicated for the chemists, they give them to the biologists. Biologists often refer it to sociologists, and they hand it over to historians, and so on. But it is a complicated question: science studies what is on the borderline of understanding, and what is on the borderline of understanding is usually quite simple. And he seldom reaches human affairs. Human affairs are far too complicated. In fact even understanding insects is an extremely complicated problem in science. So current science tells us virtually nothing about human affairs.
When we talk about religion, we mean a particular form of religion, the form that ends up dominating Western society. But if you look at other societies in the world, their religious beliefs are very different.
People have the right to believe what they want, including irrational beliefs. In fact, we all have irrational beliefs, in a sense. We must. If I pass the door, I have an irrational belief that the word is there. Can I prove it? You know that if I pay attention to that, I see it's there, but I can not prove it. In fact, if you are a scientist, you do not prove anything. The sciences have no proof, what they have are assumptions. There is a lot of nonsense these days about evolution which is only a theory. Everything is just a theory, including classical physics! If you want evidence you go to arithmetic; in arithmetic, you can prove things. But you stipulate the axioms. But in science, you try to discover things, and the perception of the evidence does not exist.
You could be an intellectually respectable atheist in the 17th century, or the 5th century. In fact, I do not even know what an atheist is. When people ask me if I am an atheist, I have to ask them what they mean. What am I supposed to not believe? Until you can answer that question, I can not tell you if I am an atheist and the question does not arise.
I see nothing logical about being agnostic about Greek gods. There is no agnosticism about the ectoplasm [in the non-biological sense]. I do not see how one can be agnostic when one does not know what one is supposed to believe or reject. There are many things that are unknown, but reasonably supposed to exist, even in the most basic sciences. Maybe 90% of the mass-energy in the universe is called "dark" because no one knows what it is.
Science is an exploration of very difficult questions. Do not underestimate the theory of evolution, it is a great intellectual progress, but it does not tell you anything about whether people believe in anything when they talk about God. He does not even talk about this subject. He talks about how organizations evolve.
On "Magisteria non-superimposed"
Steve Gould [was] a friend. But I do not quite agree with him [that science-and-religion are “Non-Overlapping Magisteria”]. Science and religion are simply immeasurable. I mean, religion tells you, & here's what you bought to believe. & # 39; Judaism is a little different, because it is not really a religion of belief, it is a religion of practice. If I asked asked my grandmother, who was an ultra-Orthodox Jew from Eastern Europe. & # 39; Do you believe in God? & # 39; he would have looked at me with a blank stare, would not know what I was talking about. And what you do is to perform the practices. Of course, you say "I believe in this and that," but it is not the heart of religion. The core of religion is just the practices you perform. And yes, there is a belief system behind somewhere, but it's not meant to be a picture of the world. It's just a framework in which you perform practices that are provided to be appropriate.
On a Holistic View of the World
What each of us has is direct experience. Like all other animals, they have some sort of experience. A bee sees the world differently from us because it is a different organism. And other organizations are simply trying to make their way into the world of their experience. Humans, to our knowledge, are unique in the animal world in that they are reflective creatures. In other words, they try to make sense of their experience.
There are all kinds of ways to do this: some are called myth, some are called magic, some are called religion. Science is special – it's a particular form of trying to understand some of our experiences, to organize them. It relies on evidence, consistent arguments, principles that have explanatory depth, if possible. And this mode of investigation, which has been particularly successful in the last two decades, has its scope and its limits. What are the limits we do not really know? In fact, if you look seriously at the history of science, in the seventeenth century, there was a major challenge to the existing scientific approach. I mean, Galileo and Descartes and the classical scientists assumed that the world would be smart for us, that all we had to do was think about it and that it would be smart.
Newton denied them. He showed that the world is not smart for us. Newton has shown that there are no machines, that there is nothing mechanical in the sense that it was supposed that the world was mechanical. He did not believe it – in fact he felt his work was nonsense – but he proved it, and he sent the rest of his life trying to refute it. And other scientists have done later. I mean, it has often been said that Newton got rid of the ghost in the machine, but it's just the opposite. Newton exorcised the machine. He left the ghost.
And by the time he sank, which was quite long, it just changed the conception of science. Instead of trying to show that the world is smart for us, we recognized that it was not smart for us. But we just say, "Well, you know, unfortunately, that's how it works. I can not understand it but that's how it works. & # 39; And then the purpose of science is reduced to trying to show that the world is smart for us, which is not the case, to try to show that there are some theories of the world that are intelligible to us. That's what science is: it's the study of intelligent theories that give an explanation of certain aspects of reality.
Scientists do not usually study the phenomenal world. That's why they do experiments. Our phenomenal world is far too complex. If you filmed what is happening outside your window, physicists, chemists and biologists could not do anything about it. So what you are trying to do is try to find extremely simple cases – what are called experiments – in which you are trying to get rid of a lot of things that, according to you, are probably not relevant to finding the principles. And then you see where you can go from there – the fact is, not very far.
When people talk about what science tells you about human affairs, it's mostly a joke. Incidentally, I do not think religion tells you a lot either. So, it is not that science moves religion, there is nothing to move.