February 27, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Evolution of Language Debated

The Feb. 27 issue of Science features the topic of the evolution of language.1  The thousands of words in 10 articles might be summarized by the title of a book review by Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy: “Many Perspectives, No Consensus.”2

Since there are many perspectives and no consensus, language evolution is one of the subjects Darwinists love.  They can brag about how much they don’t know and weave tall tales with reckless abandon, like the one in Nature yesterday (see 02/25/2004 entry).
    These articles are a treasure chest of embarrassing quotes.  Some examples:

  • “Whatever the traits that separate humans from our ape ancestors, complex language is clearly among them.”  Thank you, Culotta and Hanson,1 for pointing this out.  The gist of their article is that Darwinists don’t understand the evolution of language, and all the old theories are obsolete.
  • Elizabeth Pennisi explores the new Just-So Story that language evolved from click-speech, like that performed by some modern African hunters: “Although the idea is far from proven, ‘it seems plausible that the population that was ancestral to all living humans lived in the savanna and used clicks,’ says vertebrate systematist Alec Knight of Stanford University.”
        Tsk, tsk.  Here is the plausibility criterion at work (see 12/23/2003 entry), trumping empirical proof.
  • Pennisi also explores the research of Joseph Greenberg (Stanford, d. 2003) who tried to build a Darwinian tree of languages.  “But all these analyses continue to draw fire from researchers who say the data simply can’t support peering so far back in time.  ‘Languages have been evolving for so long that too much has been lost,’ says [Donald] Ringe [U. of Pennsylvania].  Many of the similarities Greenberg noted, such as similar first letters, are so subtle that they may be circumstantial, says Ringe.”
        Circumstantial evidence can be misleading, especially when too much of the sought-for data have been lost, so far back in time.
  • Michael Balter goes on a “Search for the Indo-Europeans” and describes researchers who try to apply Darwin tree-building methods to language evolution: “Although the contribution of genetics to the debate has so far been disappointing, that has not stopped evolutionary biologists from jumping into the fray.”  Later, “However, many linguists remain unconvinced by such analyses, questioning the relevance of evolutionary biology techniques to linguistic problems (Science, 28 November 2003, p. 1490).  ‘There is no reason whatsoever to assume that vocabulary would behave the same way that organisms do,’ says Alexander Lehrman, a linguist at the University of Delaware in Newark.”
        How can language, a faculty of intelligence, evolve by Darwinian naturalism?
  • Carstairs-McCarthy2 states the confusion of tongues in an interesting way: “The evolutionary origins of language should intrigue anyone interested in the relationship of humans to other species.  For them, Language Evolution will provide a useful starting point.  But the volume is not a summary of mainstream views, because no such mainstream exists.”
        He lists 20 questions researchers into the evolution of language are asking, but the answers are all futureware: “Contradictory answers to all of these questions can be found in the volume.  But do not let that put you off.  This may well be, as the editors put it, ‘the hardest problem in science.’  Nonetheless, with so many diverse specialists now talking to one another, a good start has been made.”  It’s not really all that hard when you believe the documentation.

It’s interesting that two of the authors employ Biblical metaphors.  The metaphors, however, turn around and bite their Darwinian assumptions:

  • Pennisi entitles one of her articles “Speaking in Tongues”.  The metaphor points back to a miraculous event (see Acts 2) that teaches intelligent design.  God supernaturally endowed the minds of the early church to speak languages they had not known.  Can Pennisi prove that early humans evolved the ability to speak in tongues?  Bdbdbdbdbdb (rub finger rapidly up and down over lips).
  • Scott Montgomery refers back to the Tower of Babel in his article, “Of Towers, Walls, and Fields: Perspectives on Language in Science.”  He thinks science has nearly realized Nimrod’s dream, but waves two hands:

    Science, it appears, has come to a historical crossroads.  On the one hand, it would seem to have completed the Tower of Babel, its knowledge now reaching far beyond the heavens and, through the global spread of English, recovering the ancient dream of a single language for the wisdom of the nations.  Yet, from another vantage, the very opposite is suggested: this great tower of unanimity broken and rebuilt into a thousand walls by the power of jargon, dividing the disciplines by the arcanity of specialist speech.

    Is scientific language diverging or converging, creating unity or a new diaspora?  Yes, he says: “many [barriers] have become increasingly porous, allowing flow in both directions. Such will undoubtedly continue—science is today the most active area of language creation.”  Well, that is certainly creation by intelligent design, not evolution.

From earliest times, human beings have communicated with language.  It is much more than the animal communication of birdsong or the howling of monkeys: human language has syntax, grammar and semantics.  It requires specialized organs for transmission and reception.  It implies the ability to understand abstract concepts.  The earliest evidences of written language in the Fertile Crescent describe commercial transactions and legal matters, presupposing an already-developed culture involving complex verbal skills and capacity for abstract reasoning.
    According to the creation account in Genesis 1-2, God endowed the first man and woman, but not the animals, with the gift of language from the very beginning, because only humans were created in His image.  After the Flood, according to the Tower of Babel account in Genesis 11, God supernaturally created language groups on one day by intelligent design.
    Languages have diversified significantly (and become amalgamated and corrupted) since then, but did not evolve from grunts (in fact, some so-called primitive languages have more complex grammar and more expressiveness than Greek).  The ongoing “evolution” of language is not by mutation and natural selection, but by the applied effort of human intelligence (i.e., creating new terms to express scientific concepts).  In the early church, God provided the ability to speak languages not previously learned.  All these Biblical accounts present an approach to understanding language by intelligent design instead of evolution.  Which approach better fits the facts of science and history?  Which has more documentation?  Speak now, or forever hold your tongue.
    Recommended reading:  C.S. Lewis applied the Tower of Babel imagery to modernism in his novel, That Hideous Strength (see review by Phillip E. Johnson).


1Elizabeth Culotta and Brooks Hanson, “First Words,” Science Volume 303, Number 5662, Issue of 27 Feb 2004, p. 1315.
2Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy, “Language: Many Perspectives, No Consensus” (a review of Language Evolution, ed. Christiansen and Kirby, ed., Oxford, 2003), Science.

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