June 7, 2024 | David F. Coppedge

Archive: Language Evolution, Tooth Evolution, Flood Myths, More

These articles from June 2002 still hold interest for CEH readers. What issues from 22 years ago remain the same today?

Note: Some links may no longer work.


Human Language Evolves by Natural Selection   06/06/2002
A trio of scientists writing in the June 6 Nature believes language should be included in evolutionary theory:

Language is our legacy. It is the main evolutionary contribution of humans, and perhaps the most interesting trait that has emerged in the past 500 million years. Understanding how darwinian evolution gives rise to human language requires the integration of formal language theory, learning theory and evolutionary dynamics. Formal language theory provides a mathematical description of language and grammar. Learning theory formalizes the task of language acquisition-it can be shown that no procedure can learn an unrestricted set of languages. Universal grammar specifies the restricted set of languages learnable by the human brain. Evolutionary dynamics can be formulated to describe the cultural evolution of language and the biological evolution of universal grammar.

They feel the same evolutionary rules can be applied to language as to biology, because DNA is also a language:

Biology uses generative systems. Genomes consist of an alphabet of four nucleotides, which, together with certain rules for how to produce proteins and organize cells, generates an unlimited variety of living organisms. For more than 3 billion years, evolution of life on Earth was restricted to using this generative system. Only very recently another generative system emerged, which led to a new mode of evolution. This other system is human language. It enables us to transfer unlimited non-genetic information among individuals, and it gives rise to cultural evolution.

They propose a multidisciplinary approach to human language “to study language as a biological phenomenon, as a product of evolution.” After discussing things like Noam Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar (UG), and exploring aspects of language from these various approaches, they list several unanswered questions about human language, and to answer them, propose combining all approaches under the aegis of evolution: “The study of language as a biological phenomenon will bring together people from many disciplines including linguistics, cognitive science, psychology, genetics, animal behaviour, evolutionary biology, neurobiology and computer science. Fortunately we have language to talk to each other.”

This is evolutionism run amok. Applying mutation and natural selection to abstract concepts like language is out of line, in spite of their impressive-looking differential equations and bluffing terminology. Words and semantics of human speech are not carried in the germ line, nor are they going to by mutated by cosmic rays. But these authors stretch mutation and natural selection of universal grammar into abstractions that take on a life of their own. This is crazy; it’s like applying quantum theory to a Lakers game and explaining missed shots by the uncertainty principle (worse, because natural selection is a vacuous concept, unlike quantum theory). You can’t do this to language. Where are the Darwinist umpires calling foul? Why does Nature publish illegal procedures?

This kind of thinking comes from reductionist materialism that cannot handle ideas as being fundamentally different from matter. Language is conveyed by means of matter, via physical organs like vocal cords and brains, but it is non-material, and as such, cannot be expressed in terms of genetic mutations and natural selection. They don’t seem to realize, also, that their premise shoots itself in the foot; if language is a product of undirected natural forces, then meaning has no ultimate validity, therefore this paper is meaningless as well. “Fortunately we have language to talk to each other,” they say, but from an evolutionary point of view, talk is not only cheap, it’s worthless.

Look at two examples of these authors becoming intoxicated on Dar-wine:

  1. “The basic approach is similar to evolutionary game theory.  [We have dealt with the fallacy of game theory elsewhere.]  There is a population of individuals.  [Agreed.]  Each individual uses a particular language.  [OK so far.]  Individuals talk to each other.  [We’re learning a lot here.]  Successful communication results in a pay-off that contributes to fitness.”  [Come again?  Who pays whom with words that are worthless, and who decides what is fit?]  Remember, they are seeing these concepts in biological terms; the minds and personalities and ideas of the speakers are illusions. They view humanness, with all its richness of relationship and communication, as just a product of materialistic selection. Think about that the next time you talk to someone.
  2. “Creolization is the formation of a new language by children receiving mixed input.” So instead of seeing bad grammar as a symptom of bad education, they see speaking Creole as the fodder for evolutionary progress. Maybe in the cave Dad said “Grog!” but Mom said “Ugh!”, so Junior says “Grugh!” and in a few hundred thousand years we have the Iliad. So don’t correct your kid; she’s evolving. Are these the same people who gave us Ebonics? Do you want your high school grad going to college to study under professors who are so evolution-minded they teach that mutated speech is a good thing, and teach the humanities as games being played by selfish memes? (Meme: an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture, evolving by natural selection.) Try this science project: translate their paper into pig latin, jive, redneck* or moron and see if it evolves into improved communication.

In spite of their bluffing that evolution will provide the ultimate theory of language, look at the unanswered questions in their conclusion: “Some theoretical questions are: what is the interplay between the biological evolution of UG and the cultural evolution of language? What is the mechanism for adaptation among the various languages generated by a given UG?  … Some empirical questions are: what is the actual language learning algorithm used by humans? What are the restrictions imposed by UG? Can we identify genes that are crucial for linguistic or other cognitive functions? What can we say about the evolution of those genes? These questions reveal that their evolutionary approach is nothing but vaporware.

Reality check time. What do the observations show? A vast gap between ape and human communication. Human language that is highly developed from the start; the cultures considered primitive sometimes have the most complex verbs and grammars. Civilizations that are already using language, bookkeeping, and contracts from earliest times (look at this June 1 story from Syria for instance). This is the real world, folks. Don’t blame your bad grammar on beneficial mutations, or excuse your thoughts as artifacts of evolving memes. We are personally responsible for our thoughts, and words mean things. Communication did not evolve; in the beginning was the Word.

* Here’s the results of our in silico science project.  We translated the first paragraph of their paper into redneck. See if the communication is evolving….

Redneck Version

Langage is our leg, uh see. It is th’ main evolushunry corntribushun of hoomins, an’ perhaps the dawgoned-est interestin’ trait thet has emerged in th’ past 500 millon yars. Unnerstan’in’ how darwinian evolushun gives raz t’hoomin langage requires the integrashun of fo’mal langage theo’y, larnin’ theo’y an’ evolushun-airy dahnamics. Fo’mal langage theo’y provahds a madematical dexcripshun of langage an’ grammah. Larnin’ theo’y fo’malizes th’ tax of langage acquisishun–it kin be shown thet no procedure kin larn an unrestricked set o’ langages. Unyversal grammar specifaz th’ restricked set of langages larnable by th’ hoomin brain, as enny fool kin plainly see. Evolushunry dahnamics kin be fo’mulated t’dexcribe th’ culchul evolushun o’ langage an’ th’ biological evolushun o’ unyversal grammah, ah reckon.

For our second input, we translate it into Cockney:

Cockney Version

Am sandwich is us legacy. It is the bloody main evolutionary contribution of ’umans, right, and peraps the most interestin’ trait that ’as emerged in the past 500 million years. Understandin’ ’ow darwinian evolution gives rise ter human ’am sandwich requires the integration of formal ’am sandwich theory, learnin’ theory and evolutionary dynamics. Formal ’am sandwich theory provides a maffematical description of ’am sandwich and grammar. Learnin’ theory formalizes the chuffin’ task of ’am sandwich acquisition-it can be shown that no procedure can learn an unrestricted set of ’am sandwichs. Universal grammar specifies the chuffin’ restricted set of ’am sandwichs learnable by the human Michael Caine.Evolutionary dynamics can be formulated ter describe the bleedin’ cultural evolution of ’am sandwich and the biological evolution of universal grammar. 

Finally, we Creolize the two, to see if these mixed inputs yield an improvement in communication:

Combined (Creolized) Version

Am san’wich is us legacy. It is th’ bloody main evolushunary corntribushun of ’umans, right, an’ peraps the most interestin’ trait thet ’as emerged in th’ past 500 million years. Unnerstan’in’ ’ow darwinian evolushun gives rise ter hoomin ’am san’wich requires th’ integrashun of fo’mal ’am san’wich theo’y, larnin’ theo’y an’ evolushunary dynamics. Fo’mal ’am san’wich theo’y provides a maffematical dexcripshun of ’am san’wich an’ grammar. Larnin’ theo’y fo’malizes th’ chuffin’ tax of ’am san’wich acquisishun-it kin be shown thet no procedure kin larn an unrestricked set of ’am san’wichs. Unyversal grammar specifies the chuffin’ restricked set of ’am san’wichs larnable by th’ hoomin Ichabod Caine. Evolushunary dynamics kin be fo’mulated ter dexcribe th’ bleedin’ cultura evolushun of ’am san’wich an’ th’ biological evolushun of unyversal grammar.

Conclusion: communication subjected to mutation appears to obey the Second Law of Thermodynamics.


Fossil Diversity Tied to CO2 Levels   06/05/2002
Three American biologists claim to have found a statistically significant correlation between the diversification of marine organisms and levels of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. The more CO2, the more new species arose, they say. The paper is in the June 4 online preprints of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, titled, “Documenting a significant relationship between macroevolutionary origination rates and Phanerozoic pCO2 levels.”

Both data sources are dated on the assumption of evolution, so they are correlating two circular arguments together, and they pretty much admit it: “Conceivably there are similar systematic biases in the two databases. We propose, however, hypotheses linking macroevolution and paleoenvironment.” Thus, they choose the category of explanation that fits their evolutionary bias. This is the same kind of reasoning that correlates sunspots to the stock market.

But their theory generates more questions than answers. Why would more species originate because of more carbon dioxide? They fail to support any plausible theory, other than to speculate out of thin air, why more carbon dioxide would lead to more macroevolution. And since “Global warming is often associated with high CO2 levels, and the two most extensive and long-lasting glaciations during the Phanerozoic occurred at times of low CO2 levels,” maybe global warming is a good thing, because it increases biodiversity. So down with the Kyoto treaty! And stop blaming humans for global warming, because it happened naturally in cycles over millions of years. Are these the conclusions the authors want drawn from their paper? Doubt it.


Model of Tooth Evolution Lacks Bite   06/04/2002
A pair of biologists publishing in the June 4 online preprints of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proposes a model for the evolution of mammal teeth, focusing on teeth because they are good subjects for comparative anatomy in living animals and fossils. They produced a mathematical formula that incorporates known gene families, including activators and inhibitors of cell growth, that could predict, by tweaking the parameters slightly, the known cusp patterns on molars of a mouse and a vole. Calling their model “morphodynamic,” they feel that the actual shape of the developing tooth has “a causal role in patterning,” and that “Large morphological effects frequently can be achieved by small changes.” They admit, however, that modeling the phenotype (outward appearance) from the genotype (DNA) is challenging. Nevertheless, they feel they have shown a potentially fruitful approach to modeling other things like the face, brain, feathers, limbs and various branching organs, where large effects may not require extensive genetic changes. As they succinctly summarize their view, “shape during development matters.”

We struggled hard to give these scientists the benefit of the doubt that this is not a Lamarckian model based on circular reasoning, as it first appeared. You have to respect anyone who gets into the nitty gritty details and really tries to come up with a rigorous model of how evolution works, and tries to check it against both genetics, embryology and the fossil record. However, this paper fails to support evolutionary theory at all, we feel, for the following reasons:

  1. Initial Conditions.  They started with a fully-operational gene network of the 50 known genes involved in tooth development, and with fully-operational activator and inhibitor enzymes, epithelial and mesenchymal cells, and the works. How could such a complex, interacting system ever evolve?
  2. Oversimplification.  Their model was tested only against one molar tooth on just two rodents. They only explored the developmental stages before mineralization occurs. They focused on one tiny part to the exclusion of more serious evolutionary challenges, like the root, dentine, enamel, and organization of all the teeth in the jaw, the brains to operate the teeth, and a host of other interconnected phenomena that need explaining. They excluded many other factors, genetic and environmental, that might influence the outcome. They admit that “the large number of expressed genes in developing teeth may be needed to mediate the basic gene network interactions in individual molecular cascades … or affect the basic parameters of the network to fine-tune and buffer development. We therefore propose that although gene networks regulating development seem highly complex, the underlying principles of the network organization may be relatively simple. Thus they sweep immensely complex challenges under the rug.
  3. Microevolution.  Their model only deals with cusp patterns on a molar. A mouse could have a slightly different cusp pattern and still be a mouse. Therefore, this model has little to do with speciation or evolution in the Darwinian sense.
  4. Adaptation.  They fail to explain how teeth become adapted to provide the animal a benefit large enough to aid survival and be propagated. Their model says nothing about the adaptive value of pattern differences. It could be argued that this is a paper about reverse engineering, not evolution.
  5. Lamarckism.  They fail to show how patterns, once established, would be propagated in the germ line. This makes it another theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics, long discredited in evolutionary circles.
  6. Teleology.  They claim that the shape of the developing tooth has a causal role in its patterning, yet the pattern is important for function. If it were a purposeless cause, why would it produce function? Why would it produce the observed variety of teeth: incisors, molars, bicuspids, walrus tusks, beaver gnawing teeth, and thousands more specialized teeth, all perfectly adapted?
  7. Circular Reasoning.  They assume evolution rather than prove it. Evolution is spoken of as an already given fact, even though details are “challenging” and their own model lacks an actual mechanism for producing adaptive function from undirected natural forces.
  8. Bluffing.  In their abstract, they say “our model predicts the course of tooth-shape development in different mammalian species and also reproduces key transitions in evolution.” It does no such thing.
  9. Extrapolation.  In spite of all the above weaknesses, they feel they have hit on an idea that could explain feathers, brains, limbs, and the whole of animal diversity – a belief unjustified by the data they present.
  10. Narrow Mindedness.  They fail to consider alternatives, like design.

Here at Creation-Evolution Headlines, we hunt for the nuts and bolts of evolutionary theory as written in the scientific journals, not just the popularizations. The peer review process should be catching these weaknesses; instead, unsupportable theorizing passes review, simply because it is mechanistic. Evolutionists feel that evolution is such an established fact, and that naturalism equals science, that any explanation that invokes only natural causes is permissible, even if it has severe weaknesses (the Best-In-Field Fallacy). And they feel it is perfectly all right to theorize about one tiny aspect of evolution, like the shape of cusps on a molar tooth, even if the model is oversimplified and has problems, as long as it could plausibly fit into the big picture of evolution somehow. But every step has problems! The whole evolutionary edifice is a house of cards like this paper – follow our “Darwin” chain links and see for yourself if anything they claim is solid, observable, testable science.  It doesn’t have to be, you see, because they already know in their heart that it is true. The question-begging in the evolutionary mindset is so entrenched, it seems hopeless to ever get rational scientists to see their own illogic.


National Geographic Considers Flood Myths Worth Investigating   06/04/2002
“New finds worldwide support flood myths,” says a news report on the National Geographic website. The article talks about widely-separated instances of sunken cities, one off the coast of Cuba, and one in India, apparently tied to local legends of large floods sent by angry gods. “Scientists, historians, and archaeologists view many of these enduring tales as myth, legend, or allegoric tales meant to illustrate moral principles. Recent findings indicate that at least a few of them could be based on real floods that caused destruction on an enormous scale,” writes Brian Handwerk for NG News. The Cuban structures are underwater as deep as 2500 feet. The Indian site covers several square miles off the coast. Explorer Graham Handcock’s initial reaction was disbelief: “I have argued for many years that the world’s flood myths deserve to be taken seriously–a view that most Western academics reject. But here in Mahabalipuram we have proved the myths right and the academics wrong.”

These two finds are more recent than Noah’s flood, but Handcock’s last comment deserves reflection.


Cosmic “Law of Everything” Far From Consensus   06/04/2002
The July Astronomy Magazine is on newsstands (they come out early, you know), and editor Bonnie Bilyeu Gordon laments the fact that every time they feature a story on cosmology or theoretical astrophysics, they get a lot of mail, some of which “question the evidence for such things as string theory, membrane theory, supersymmetry, inflation, even the Big Bang. We don’t blame you for being confused or challenged by such ideas; the evidence for many of these subjects is not always easy to understand. And all of the theories change as they develop.” She describes her attendance at a recent conference on “Science and the Ultimate Reality” at Princeton (March 15-18), in which “Every accepted point of view was represented, and many of the speakers contradicted one another. At times these astrophysicists got cranky with one another.” She explains that even the editors of Astronomy “sometimes squabble over the validity of a cosmology story (and other things)” so it’s no surprise that readers have lots of questions.

The cover story on dark energy, “Moving Right Along: The accelerating universe holds secrets to dark energy, the Big Bang, and the ultimate beauty of nature” by Mario Livio, lives up to the confusion, presenting several highly speculative and contradictory theories, and asking “Are we facing a breakdown of some of our most cherished theories of the universe?” But the article contains a sidebar “Is There Beauty in Nature?” on p. 38 with this quote by Kepler: “Geometry, which before the origin of things was coeternal with the divine mind, supplied God with patterns for the creation of the world.”

Notice that secular cosmologists are not converging on a theory of everything. The observations that led to a theory of dark energy a few years ago were totally unexpected, for instance, and simplistic explanations of the Big Bang have to face nasty details that get in the way like the lumpiness and flatness and entropy problems, to say nothing of philosophical criticisms about imagining multiple universes or creating everything out of a quantum fluctuation. If the worlds’ brainiest cosmologists contradict one another and get cranky with each other, should we mere mortals just meekly accept their stories? Maybe their whole approach is wrong, forcing the Copernican principle far beyond Copernicus, degrading the place of man in the scheme of things, and assuming that beautiful architecture is capable of building itself out of nothing. The Greek word cosmos, remember, means beautiful, orderly design. Made perfect sense to Kepler that there was a Designer behind it.

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