February 21, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Evolutionary Theory Can’t Handle Language

Did a gene turn on speech?  Five years ago, evolutionary geneticists were claiming that mutations in a gene called Foxp2 were the key to human language (see 08/15/2002, 05/26/2004).  This was based on two observations: chimps do not have these mutations, and people with alterations to Foxp2 have language impediments.  This idea is very unlikely to be right, claims a professor of computational linguistics at MIT, Robert Berwick.  An article in Science Daily discusses his ideas:

“This kind of straightforward connection is just not the way organisms are put together,” he says.  When it comes to something as complex as language, “one would be hard-pressed to come up with an example less amenable to evolutionary study.” And the specific Foxp2 connection is based on a whole chain of events, each of which is speculative, so there’s little chance of the whole story being right.
    “It’s so chaotic, it’s like weather forecasting,” he says.  “The noise overwhelms the signal.
    Rather, language is almost certainly the result of a far more complex and subtle interplay among a variety of factors, Berwick says, and it may never be possible to connect it to specific genetic changes.  “There are some things in science that are very interesting, but that we’re never going to be able to find out about,” he says.  “It’s a sort of romantic view some people have, that anything interesting can be understood.

Even defining language is hard, he said.  Is bird song a kind of language?  Whale song?  “If you can’t define what it is,” he said, “why study it from an evolutionary point of view?”  If anything, Berwick said, Foxp2 is peripheral to the capacity for language – just like a printer is peripheral to a computer system.
    Where does this leave research on the evolution of language?  For himself, Berwick is looking for deeper, internal mechanisms.  He sees some similarity to the rhythm in poetry and the song patterns in birds, for instance.  This is unlikely, however, to do more than show some similarities without revealing causal mechanisms.  The article ends by describing language as essentially a non-verbal function of the mind:

Ultimately, the important thing is to understand that language is, at bottom, something that takes place inside the human mind and is independent of any particular sound, sight or motion.  The same internal mental construction could be expressed through verbal speech, through writing or through sign language without changing its basic nature, Berwick says.  “It’s not about this external thing you hear,” he says.  “It’s about the representation inside your head.

A picture of Berwick in his lab is posted on the original press release at MIT.

Intelligent design theorists and cognitive neuroscientists can have a field day with this!  If language at its core is not a physical representation but a concept in the mind, then it has no basis in evolution.
    ID scientists have been demonstrating for years the common-sense idea that information, a product of intelligence, can be represented in a variety of ways independent of the substrate that conveys it.  The sentence “John loves Mary” can be represented by sand writing, sky writing, electrons (email, TV), sound waves, paper and ink, sign language, knots in rope, and a host of other ways – yet the message is unchanged.
    The “evolution of language,” therefore, would have to be a theory about the evolution of meaningful information.  You cannot get meaning out of meaninglessness, or purpose out of purposelessness.  Did you see Berwick make an irrational leap?  He just said it is unlikely that an evolutionary approach will ever figure out language, but then he went back to studying bird song and poetry for insight.  He isn’t going to figure it out till he adds in the fundamental term missing from all materialistic world views: information.
    Notice how evolutionists deceived the public (again).  They sent the Foxp2 gene up the flagpole for people to salute and sing “Darwin wins again” (example).  Now, five years later, comes the admission that their explanation cannot possibly be right.  Typical.  John may love Mary, but Charlie despises tRuth.

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Categories: Early Man, Genetics

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