California State University, Northridge
The language faculty is, simply put, all of the neural and biological mechanisms involved in the uniquely human ability to do language. Some consider it a biological endowment, that it is a gift from our Creator, and that it is here by design, hard-wired into our brains. Others believe that it evolved purely by chance and the accumulation of accidental mutations that evolved over millions of years. The implications of these two mutually exclusive viewpoints are immense and sweeping. Both basic positions can appear far-fetched and fanciful when followed to their logical conclusions, and both involve comprehensive belief systems in order to account for the amazing complexity and diversity of human language(s). This paper looks at some of the empirical evidence so that we can see what is at stake and what the current state of our knowledge suggests about its origins. Is language there by design, or did it evolve? Is one position more reasonable than the other?
Humankind's fascination with the spoken word is far
from new, probably because it has been fairly obvious since the
dawn of history that human beings are the only ones on this planet
who have this remarkable ability. As a consequence, the study
of language and the language faculty has been around for at least
two thousand years, perhaps much longer. In our early history,
it was simply assumed that it was a gift from the gods (or God)
As far back as the fourth and fifth century BC, Plato (427-327)
pondered the origins of words. He may have been the first or,
at least, among the first to discuss whether the links between
language forms (words) and their referents (meanings) reflect
some sort of natural, objective reality, or are merely the result
of convention, associations created by a particular culture and/or
Some of the issues Plato brought up are still far from settled in the minds of linguists. In fact, many of the generalizations of language made by ancient Greek scholars regarding the nature of language (e.g., word classes such as Noun, Verb, and Adjective) have not been seriously challenged or improved upon until fairly recently, when linguists broadened the scope of investigation away from a strictly European bias and began to grapple with the diversity of indigenous languages of Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Australia. Perhaps, not until the 18th century A.D. did philosophers revisit questions of the origins of language. Since then, speculation has included the "bow-wow" theory (man's attempt to imitate noises), "ding-dong" theory (natural sound producing responses), and "pooh-pooh" or "yo-he-ho" theory (exclamations and aggressive crying out). Sadly, not much has really changed in the discussion of origins, though the terminology has grown considerably more sophisticated.
The topic itself invites a great deal of speculation. If language is indeed unique to humans, it seems a reasonable question to ask:where has it come from? Awards have been given for the best answers. Divine origin, evolutionary development, even language as a human invention have all been proposed. Frustration is the suspected outcome, particularly because of the obvious conflict between actual written evidence and the popular assumptions of humankind's origins in a very remote past. "For these reasons, scholars in the latter part of the nineteenth century, who were only interested in 'hard science,' ridiculed, ignored, and even banned discussions of language origin. In 1886, the Linguistic Society of Paris passed a resolution 'outlawing' any papers concerned with the subject" (Fromkin & Rodman 1998:52). This was because of the pure speculative nature of the arguments.
Spurred on by the recent work of such linguists as Derek Bickerton and Steven Pinker, there seems to be renewed interest, but discussion is typically positioned within a particular context, evolutionary theory. As a consequence, the discussion also finds renewed respect and credibility due to its association with respected members of the scientific community. This may be of some concern to those who hold any sort of alternative view of the origins of the universe and that of humankind. If such an evolutionary account appears weak or fails, divine-origin does not necessarily become convincing by default. "There is no way to 'prove' or 'disprove' the divine origin of language, just as one cannot argue scientifically for or against the existence of God" (Fromkin & Rodman 1998:53). For a claim to be considered a viable hypothesis or theory, there is the scientific issue of falsifiability. Perhaps needless to say, neither creationism nor evolution is falsifiable.
Undaunted by the magnitude of the task, this paper seeks to propose a reasonable alternative by posing a simple question (and giving a reasonable response):Which scenario, evolution or conscious design, offers the most likely or reasonable view of the origins of language and the language faculty? In other words, how likely is the amazing order that we find in language and the language faculty to be the result of random processes of genetic mutations, even given a rational account of natural selection? Given the combination of complexity, power, and order, how likely or probable is such a "language organ?" And, as biologically based (programmed into our DNA) and species specific (with no continuity to any known species), what are the probabilities that something like language and the language faculty have evolved by chance to belong only to human beings?
In the following section, I attempt to provide a brief and very general overview of the two most common ways in our culture to view the world.
Worldviews:seeing the world with a trained eye
One thing that seems certain is that we typically look at the
universe and address the "big questions" with an eye
that is already trained to see certain things, and the origins
of the species and our unique capacities are certainly among those
questions. Ultimately, our assumptions about the origins and nature
of the universe shape how we view that universe and everything
in it. We instinctively put together some organizing principle(s)
to make sense of all the bits of information that surround us,
even if that is just tacitly accepting the view we've inherited
from our parents, teachers, or other community figures. If it
was good enough for them, then it must be good enough for us.
This may be a dangerous assumption:can 50 million Germans be wrong?
The answer is an emphatic, "Yes!" To be fair (and an
"equal-opportunity" critic), we all need to check our
assumptions from time to time in the light of the Truth that we
accept as certain, irrespective of any particular point of view.
The world is immense, and it is amazing. Most of us, I believe, have views of the world, our worldviews, that help us explain to ourselves why things are the way they are. For example, if I believe that God created the heavens and the earth, then the amazing order and systematicity in the universe can easily be attributed to God's skillful design. The order I see is a consequence of the fact that God is rational, and everything He creates, He creates with a purpose and a design. The universe operates according to organized principles and laws, so, when I watch my body heal after an injury or sickness, I marvel at how God designed the human body. We see biological and physical laws such as gravitation, and look to the Lawgiver for the explanation.
Another way to view the world, accepted, it seems, by the majority of the people of Western Culture, excludes the existence of any kind of god, particularly the God of the Bible. As a consequence, all the amazing order that we see is merely an accident, a result of mere chance. Its evolving form is based on mathematical probabilities and a principle known as "the survival of the fittest." All matter and forms of life adapt to their circumstances. Somewhere along an evolutionary path, life leapt into existence with no real cause, no real explanation. Out of chaos, has come order, and out of pure matter has come Mind (consciousness). Taken to its extreme, humankind is ultimately an accident, and we, as human beings, are responsible to nothing or no one higher (or lower) on any kind of scale of Being. There is no design, and there are no laws. Otherwise, we'd have to explain where the design and laws come from.
These two fundamental positions are most certainly mutually exclusive. If one is to be logically consistent, there doesn't seem to be any middle ground. The person who will not believe in a God-Designer is driven to evolution, or by some "leap of faith," dives into a belief system that is at once both speculative and based on myth. Likewise, if a person finds evolutionary theories difficult to accept, then some sort of supreme Being must be faced. Perhaps, the only possible ground between the two positions, irrespective of the question of design, is a general assumption of order, which seems to be obvious and a point that either side can accept without serious self-contradiction. Of course, any conclusions or explanations are typically reconciled with underlying assumptions of causes, origins, and so on. To illustrate the nature of the exclusivity of the positions, Pinker, perhaps the leading expert on language and the mind, rightly makes the following remarks on the "complex design" of such human organs as the eye (emphasis his in each instance):
Natural selection is not just a scientifically respectable alternative to divine creation. It is the only alternative that can explain the evolution of a complex organ like the eye. The reason that the choice is so stark--God or natural selection--is that structures that can do what the eye does are extremely low-probability arrangements of matter. By an unimaginably large margin, most objects thrown together out of generic stuff, even generic animal stuff, cannot bring an image into focus, modulate incoming light, and detect edges and depth boundaries. The animal stuff in an eye seems to have been assembled with the goal of seeing in mind-but in whose mind, if not God's? The very special power of natural selection is to remove the paradox. What causes eyes to see well now is that they descended from a long line of ancestors that saw a bit better than their rivals, which allowed them to out-reproduce those rivals. The small random improvements in seeing were retained and combined and concentrated over the eons, leading to better and better eyes. The ability of many ancestors to see a bit better in the past causes a single organism to see extremely well now. (Pinker 1994:360-361)
If guided by a basic belief in the various theories of evolution,
one likely assumes that the elements, the basic building blocks
of the universe, are merely there and, more or less, always have
been there in one form or another. They have not come from anywhere
specific, and they are not going anywhere either, except along
some sort of evolutionary path. There may have been a beginning,
and it is likely there will be some kind of end-at least to our
universe. However, what came before and what may come after
will be forever a mystery. The order to all that we see is phenomenal,
perhaps epiphenomenal, literally and figuratively. It must be
stated unequivocally that there is no design to it, that is, unless
one takes the rather irrational leap to a belief that evolutionary
processes themselves possess some sort of conscious characteristics
enabling them to act in specific and organized ways (evolution
selects), or that something--some type of impersonal force--or
someone is behind the obvious order (like the Wizard of
What the evolutionary researcher sees will conform to these basic, underlying principles, those that she/he has already accepted beforehand. Consciously or unconsciously, the observed facts must fit into a systematic worldview so that the researcher can interpret what they mean. Otherwise, nothing can be "known," and all data appear to be disconnected. It also follows that one may speak of the "facts of evolution" because certain details are presumed to be true, for instance, that humans and the great apes (e.g., gorillas and chimpanzees) have a common ancestor. Obviously, this must be assumed because it is not provable in a laboratory, and no one claims that it could be proved or disproved, for that matter. Scientists are the "experts," and on their authority, normal, untrained people learn to trust their conclusions. Despite the apparent optimism, the appeal to authority by science, nevertheless, is a logical fallacy. In other words, just because a particular scientist (however that can be defined) says that a particular statement or proposition is a fact that it is unquestionably a fact. The history of science is full of claims that have been proved false. Science must self-correct. We don't have to go very far back to find examples, for instance, regarding "proof" of the spontaneous generation of life, allegedly proved by observing fly larvae emerging from garbage, that is, before it was known how flies actually reproduce.
Of course, we cannot assume that all the conclusions of every modern scientist are false, either (another logical fallacy), but we must, nevertheless, discern between what is knowable and falsifiable and what is not. It should be added immediately and emphatically that no proponent of design refutes the utility or validity of the scientific method. What is open to debate are the conclusions one comes to on the basis of worldview or belief and the presuppositions that each and every one of us brings to the table as we examine the evidence.
To illustrate where evolutionary thinking can lead regarding the origins of our species and the kind of confidence it engenders, the contention is that, by a natural process of selection among randomly occurring mutations, simple forms of life have evolved into those that are increasingly complex, which, presumably, are better suited to their respective environments. Our species has developed as a product of these processes of complexification. As a consequence, our consciousness-our awareness of ourselves and others like us, along with the totality of our cognitive abilities, whether imagined or real-is the complex result of biochemically-based reactions contained in amazingly ordered neural networks. Thus, a vast array of interconnecting neurons in the brain allows us to make "mental" associations, however they may be configured, which somehow effectively create the impression that we are aware, that we possess and organize real knowledge of our surroundings, experience a wonderful panoply of emotions, and so on, all in response to various sensory stimuli emanating from our environment.
In his widely acclaimed book, Consciousness Explained, the philosopher, Daniel Dennett, states, rather optimistically:
Human consciousness is just about the last surviving mystery. A mystery is a phenomenon that people don't know how to think about--yet. There have been other great mysteries:the mystery of the origin of the universe, the mystery of life and reproduction, the mystery of the design to be found in nature, the mysteries of time, space, and gravity. These were not just areas of scientific ignorance, but of utter bafflement and wonder. We do not yet have the final answers to any of the questions of cosmology and particle physics, molecular genetics and evolutionary theory, but we do know how to think about them. The mysteries haven't vanished, but they have been tamed. They no longer overwhelm our efforts to think about the phenomena, because now we know how to tell the misbegotten questions from the right questions, and even if we turn out to be dead wrong about some of the currently accepted answers, we know how to go about looking for better answers. (Dennett 1991:21-22)
It is implicit in such statements that evolutionary thinking
is the right way to frame the right questions, and one is left
to imagine what is meant by "misbegotten." Assuming
the self-correcting nature of science, it is noteworthy that Dennett
does admit to the possibility that "we" could be dead
wrong, but he will not admit to the possibility that the misbegotten
questions could produce fruitful lines of inquiry. And, I wonder
at how "we" have tamed the mysteries of space and time,
and of the "design to be found in nature."
In stark contrast, a worldview based on the existence of God and His revelation of Himself (the Bible) clearly puts the same evidence, or observable facts, into an entirely different perspective. The starting point in a Biblical worldview is that there is a designer, one who has built into the universe basic, fundamental physical and biological laws, certain universals (laws that are uniformly applied and never random) that explain (an important word in all branches of science) how all of the interrelated elements and structures function like "clockwork". If we assume design, we have the intellectual freedom to note cause-and-effect relationships and, as a consequence, to formulate principles and laws within dynamic physical and biological systems, and, perhaps, within certain social and psychological domains, as well. One can reasonably account for the fact that there is a reason behind the order, and that it won't change overnight or over millions of years (trees bearing seed after their own kind, human children born of human parents, etc.). We can conclude that the accumulation of facts and the principles drawn from the representative samples (examples in nature) that we observe in the physical world, for instance, constitute a body of knowledge that is objectively true, that is, when the observed facts are consistent with the principles revealed in scripture (e.g., a design to nature).
Evolutionary theory, therefore, claims to account for the order that we see in the universe, and it applies the concept of natural selection to the evolution of our species. The assumption, of course, is that all life began at a point in time out of some sort of primordial soup of elements, and that complex organisms have evolved out of simple organisms. While this claim is untestable, the available laboratory evidence demonstrates that organisms do not become more complex. Granted, they may evolve or change, but the changes do not involve the creation of additional, novel genetic information. Two parent animals may produce an offspring that is not necessarily identical to either parent, but the genetic information that offspring possess is derived from the parents nonetheless. The work of Gregor Mendel with varieties of peas illustrated the concept of recessive traits, that certain genetic information may be present in the parents but not directly realized in their progeny. His work illustrated that changes are not random (in the mathematical sense); cross fertilization may introduce "new" genetic information into a species, but this information is not necessarily novel.
In the case of mutations in humans, for example, there is a price to pay. Genetic abnormalities typically produce weaker (in the biological sense), not "superior" offspring. With respect to genetic mutations, much of the work in humans and other animal species concerns genetically inherited diseases. To my knowledge, no mutations in DNA have been found to produce positive changes, however they may be defined. Nevertheless, this is a very great gray area intrinsically open to a wide range of interpretation. In plant species, the focus of gene research is the elimination of disease producing mutations, for example, to breed disease-resistant strains of plants (crops) and so on. Mutations in animal genes (e.g., those caused by lesions and so on) do occur. Nevertheless, the outcome of these mutations is an empirical question for researchers in genetics, and, if it can be proved in the laboratory that random mutations produce novel and genetically stronger species or races of animals, then that needs to be made public (to people of all worldviews) and open to scrutiny.
Genetic manipulation, which obviously includes questions of ethics and the current lack of knowledge of long-term consequences of such manipulation, has apparently been successful with respect to plant species. It may be assumed that genetic engineering may accomplish similar results in animal species. Nevertheless, manufactured changes are clearly the result of outside manipulation in controlled, laboratory environments. And, of course, design is explicit. When a researcher tinkers with the DNA of any species, she/he plays a causative role. The long-term results may be accidental (i.e., not fully predicted), but they are certainly not random. Under normal, natural circumstances, mutations do not create entirely new species, just different sorts of the same species. Even regarding races within species, adaptation (the preservation of preferred or advantageous genes) within a specific environment simply means that "selection" has resulted in the elimination of those genes that weaken and not the spontaneous generation ex nihilo of novel DNA. In addition, mutations occur to existing materials, and the consequences appear to be within limits.
Speculation about the origin of our species in Darwinian terms relies on the concept of selection plus the great time depths required to make required changes, say from reptiles to mammals, and from the first mammals to diverse kinds of mammals, including the biological order of primates. The idea of a common ancestor that existed millions of years ago is critical for understanding the wide diversity within this particular order. For example, it is commonly held that gorillas, monkeys, and humans split off from a shared lineage at different times, though there is not universal agreement as to which split occurred first. Based on the analysis of DNA, chimps and humans share about 99% of the same genetic information. But, Seidenberg (1987:fn. 31) points out that the 1% difference involves a minimum of 40 million base-pairs (sets of bonded nucleotides on opposite strands of DNA).
Bickerton (1990:1) states:"Yet if you consider our respective natures, you would never expect the gap between us and the apes to be as vast as it is. We share with the chimpanzee perhaps as much as 99 percent of our genetic material, and our common ancestor may be as little as five million years behind us." Bickerton contrasts the magnificent accomplishments of our species-the airports (and airplanes), buildings, roads, bridges, and other monuments to our engineering prowess-with those of other species, and admits to the unlikelihood that one can logically "prove" evolution. He adds the following comments of the cognitive abilities of humankind contrasted with those of our nearest genetic relatives:
These vast differences, qualitative as well as merely quantitative, between our species and those that are closest to it pose no problem for those who believe, as many still do, that we result from a unique act of creation, a supernatural irruption into the natural scheme of things. For those who do not believe this, and who find overwhelming the evidence that we developed, as all other species did, through the natural processes of evolution, these differences must remain puzzling indeed. That evolution, over all-but-infinite time, could change one physical organ into another, a leg into a wing, a swim bladder into a lung, even a nerve net into a brain with billions of neurons, seems remarkable, indeed, but natural enough. That evolution, over a period of a few million years, should have turned physical matter into what has seemed to many, in the most literal sense of the term, to be some kind of metaphysical entity is altogether another matter. So, on the face of it, both sides seem to be left holding beliefs rather than theories:the one side, belief in a special creation, the other, belief in a no-less-miraculous transmutation of matter into mind. (1990:2)
Situated somewhere in the dialog of origins, this paper looks
specifically at language and the language faculty, to see what
light available empirical evidence can possibly shed on
the question of design. Which proposed theory fits the facts better?
Perhaps, both are equally defensible (or indefensible). If design
is assumed, then all evidence of order is merely the expected
consequence. If it is not, questions arise of the ability of random
mutations to generate order and how evolutionary processes can
be reasonably construed. From the Biblical perspective, the systematic
nature of language and the language faculty have a cause, and
it is not based on probability (which can cause nothing).
Chance is not an entity that can do anything. From the
evolutionary standpoint, there must be some sort of force--a hand
that rolls the dice--that acted to produce an effect (there are
no effects without a cause), even if it merely acted upon existing
elements within the limitations imposed by basic possibilities
Just as particular principles guide a researcher to look for homologies and analogies according to presumed patterns of evolution, the Biblical worldview guides research by pointing out where to look for patterns and correspondences. It motivates efforts to gather more information about such areas as language and the mechanisms behind it, to increase our understanding of who (or what) we are, and where we might stand in relation to an orderly cosmos. The evolutionary viewpoint motivates efforts to demonstrate how order comes out of chaos, and how complex organisms evolve from simple ones. The Biblical viewpoint motivates efforts to show how the amazing order evident in the cosmos is the natural consequence of design.
Among the many fields and sub-fields that make up the study
of language as we know it today, there are a number of commonly
held principles that are consistent with views that assume design.
At their base is another one of those wonderful chicken-and-the-egg
conundrums. What came first, the language faculty (the human capacity
for language), or language? This may not be as obvious as it looks.
First of all, can we say that languages exist apart from their
users? And, what makes any system of communication a language,
and what defines it as human? Are all linguistic systems
known as human languages a consequence of the ways the
speaker's mind/brain is configured, brain architecture, ignoring
for the moment the implied architect?
One scenario, the one we could call the egg, suggests that languages are entities unto themselves, the products of human societies. So-called dead languages are not really dead at all. It is simply that their speakers are no longer living-they died, not their language(s). Latin and Ancient (Biblical) Hebrew are wonderful linguistic systems full of expressive power and beautifully constructed grammars. In fact, Latin is often held up as one of the most elegant and powerful languages ever spoken and/or written in history, the part we know. What is left of it is a family of languages full of irregularities and characteristics that have accrued from outside (non-Latin) sources; the modern varieties pale by comparison. Modern Israeli Hebrew systematically differs from its ancient predecessor. To the purist (who wants to preserve the pristine nature of a language), as soon as those pesky, impertinent, and unpredictable humans started to speak Hebrew again, it began to change, deteriorate, and degenerate.
The other scenario, the chicken one, suggests that human language mirrors brain architecture and provides just about the best possible window into the inner workings and circuitry of the brain. It often constitutes one of the key elements of our attempts to map the brain and identify where certain functions occur or perhaps are located. This view of the mind/brain also fits into evolutionary views, which assume that the brain itself is the product of accumulated changes that have taken place over "all-but-infinite time", changes that have somehow become encoded into our DNA. When humankind's brain reached a certain point in its development, language was possible. From the evidence available so far, Homo sapiens is the only species that has a brain developed in such specific ways. In one worldview, the mind/brain came first, and language somehow gradually developed. But, from the other, the mind/brain and the language faculty were constructed simultaneously (God spoke to Adam in the garden), with purpose and design. Language is a gift, and it appears to be the one characteristic that goes beyond the mere physical. It has given our species the ability to communicate, to create huge bodies of literature of all kinds (from technical to spiritual), and generally to reflect upon itself and questions such as the ones we are asking here.
Four characteristics of the egg
Within linguistics, there are at least four commonly held principles concerning the nature of language:(1) Every language is, in principle, infinite. As Wilson (1975:176) states:
The great dividing line in the evolution of communication lies between man and all the remaining ten million or so species of organisms. The most instructive way to view the less advanced systems is to compare them with human language. With our own unique verbal system as a standard of reference we can define the limits of animal communication in terms of the properties it rarely-or never-displays. Consider the way I address you now. Each word I use has been assigned a specific meaning by a particular culture and transmitted to us down through generations by learning. What is truly unique is the very large number of such words and the potential for creating new ones to denote any number of additional objects and concepts. This potential is quite literally infinite.
To illustrate, there is a finite set of digits-ten, from 0
to 9--yet, there is no largest number. This is due to a principle
known as recursion:each element can recur without limits.
One can simply add another digit to any number, and it increases
exponentially. The same applies to language:there is no longest
sentence in any language because there is no limit to the
number of nouns, verbs, and so on that are allowable in a single
utterance, and no limit to the number of possible sequences (e.g.,
phrases and clauses) constructed by the syntax of an individual
language. This is true of every human language, English included.
All that needs to be done to expand a single sentence in English
is to add the words and or that, for instance, and
then keep right on going:"This is the house that Jack built"
Despite the fact that one might be able to list the individual
words of a language in a dictionary, it would be silly
to even imagine trying to list the possible sentences in any language.
The possibilities are infinite. Every day, we produce and
understand sentences that we have neither heard nor spoken before.
This is possible only because language is systematic.
Second, in addition to being, in principle, infinite, (2) all human languages are equally complex or challenging for any child to learn, and this goes beyond the desire merely to say something politically correct and to defend so-called minority languages. The speech systems of the world exhibit an amazing diversity in the ways they represent words, phrases, and/or human thought. Irrespective of their potential differences, every bilingual has at least the intuition that whatever can be expressed in one language can be expressed in the other, even if it must be put in somewhat different terms. The Inuit (Eskimo) languages, for instance, consist of extremely long and complex words that take entire sentences to translate into English. Nevertheless, no one would say that English is less developed or evolved, or that what can be expressed in an Inuit language cannot be put into English with a little effort. At the other extreme of language types are those such as Vietnamese, Khmer, and the Chinese languages which structure words in ways that make English appear complex. They have no distinctions of Tense on verbs and do not express singular and plural on nouns. Yet, these languages are no easier to learn than Inuit languages. By that it is meant that a child born into an Inuit-speaking family acquires an Inuit language just as quickly, efficiently, and effortlessly as one born into a Vietnamese-speaking family acquires Vietnamese or another in an English-speaking family acquires English. (Learning a second or subsequent language as an adult is another matter.) The moral of the story is that human babies learn human languages at basically the same rate, with the same degrees of success, quite unconsciously (through observation), and without the aid of a private tutor or teacher (no textbooks or exams, either).
Third, along with the concept of complexity, linguists often draw attention to the fact that (3) there are no primitive languages out there, only primitive people and cultures. Calling one society "advanced" and another one "primitive" is a rather subjective judgment anyway, based on perceptions of culture, not intelligence or genetics. The people of the Kalahari Desert or of, say, Borneo, or the remotest of villages in the outback of any continent may be considered primitive by Western technological standards, but they speak languages that are easily as grammatically complex as English, maybe even more so. At no time and in no place has a primitive language been found, one that appears to be less evolved or developed than any language spoken today or throughout recorded history. Despite film fantasies of cavemen and cave women, there are no "ooga-boogas" out there.
Fourth, and shedding light on chicken and egg alike, (4) wherever humans have been found to exist, there is language. In other words, chickens and eggs go together. Nothing has been uncovered to suggest that human language or the capacity for language has evolved in any way from earlier stages, from simple to increasingly complex structures, either with regard to grammatical structures or the neural structures necessary to sustain language. This is interestingly expressed in the so-called Paradox of Continuity, that there is no previously existing genetically-based biological system in any other species out of which language could have evolved (Bickerton 1990:7-8). This observation is continually reinforced by the unconscious ways in which all children acquire languages, a fact that has led many linguists to agree that language or the knowledge of language (how to do it) is part of our (species-specific) biological endowment, an ability that is inherently there and not likely to change. There is something about human language that enables it to be acquired by human children efficiently, with little conscious effort. There is something about the human mind/brain that allows children to acquire human language.
Now for the chicken
Turning, once again, to the chicken, every normal child--i.e.,
one born without some sort of physical abnormality or condition
that can limit the brain's functioning-acquires his/her native
or first language naturally and in a predictable order, beginning
with linguistic sounds (or gestures) in general and progressing
to the specific sounds and sound patterns (or signs) of the language
they are acquiring. After sounds come words. Child acquirers then
pass through grammatical stages from one-word utterances to two-word
combinations, and eventually recreate the grammatical characteristics
of the adult speech in their environments. All of this is accomplished
without the benefit of any kind of special training or instruction,
and without a trainer or instructor. Note, too, that, it is likely
that the majority of the people alive today use more than one
language on a daily basis. Those who learn several languages
typically keep them separate and use each of them skillfully and
in their appropriate social contexts. For instance, some languages
are used in the home, with parents and relatives, while other
languages may be used in business settings or in other more official
(formal) settings (school, government, etc.).
Babies acquiring English or any other human language seem to have a built-in, internal syllabus, an order in which their language(s) are learned. Some proceed faster than others, but all go through similar stages in acquisition and get to basically the same place-complete and total mastery of their native languages. To highlight the unconscious aspects of native-language acquisition, few people recall acquiring their first languages, though we often remember trying to learn one as adults. I probably made all the same boo-boos as every other child acquiring English and said things like feets and pusketti, but I certainly don't recall ever doing them. Then again, I may have been quite precocious. I also grew up with two languages in the home, Spanish and English, and I don't remember acquiring either of them. Nevertheless, taking German courses at a community college is something that I will never forget. It was time-consuming, boring (a "dirty" word to many in language instruction), and I was embarrassed at how my voice sounded on tape (yes, the instructor made us speak into a tape recorder and listen to how we sounded in German-ugh!). Despite the discomfort, I thought I was doing quite well (I got good grades) until the first few minutes I was in Germany and came face to face with native speakers who did not slow their speech down for my benefit, as my German instructor had done.
The capacity for native language acquisition is truly remarkable. Apparently, some sort of developmental program begins to run around the child's first birthday, with or without input, when the first signs of spoken language, or babbling, begins. Children born deaf make oral, babbling sounds just as their hearing counterparts, though their babbling gradually fades away in the absence of the feedback hearing children experience. Deaf children will then spontaneously construct visual utterances (perhaps part of what may develop into what is known as home sign) to communicate if their parents and/or caregivers are hearing and not familiar with a visual language system. Importantly, those who are exposed to visual language, e.g., American Sign Language (ASL), from birth go through the same kinds of developmental steps of language acquisition as those who are acquiring a spoken language.
To illustrate the natural progression, researchers specializing in the native acquisition of sign language describe a phenomenon known as pronoun reversal, when a signing child reverses the direction of a pointing gesture representing the pronoun "you" to refer to "me." Signing children may assume that the linguistic function of a gesture pointing towards them (at "me") and away from the person with whom they are "talking" (e.g., Mommy), refers to them, and obviously not the signer herself. So, the child may use that same sign pointing away from him- or herself (technically "you") to refer back to, namely, "me," the one who is usually pointed at in that way. The child reverses the gesture to mean "me" or first person, despite the fact that the sign (form) means you (second person) in ASL. The confusion seems understandable from the child's viewpoint. What is noteworthy is that this is also reported among some hearing children when mastering the pronoun system of English. For instance, when a young child says, "You want some candy," he or she may very well mean "I want some candy." This may escape the grasp of the parent entirely, who naively answers, "No, thank you. I don't want any candy." Until this stage is passed, there may be some awkward moments and children frustrated with their parents' inability to understand "plain English."
It is interesting to note, too, that signed language systems such as ASL are human languages, too, with the same creative and expressive properties, grammatical complexities, and so on as those that are typically spoken. It may seem remarkable to those unfamiliar with deaf language users that many native or proficient signers subsequently learn spoken languages (perhaps more than one) in addition to their signed language(s). There is no reason to assume that the capacity for language is absent from a person just because a particular perceptual ability (or input device such as hearing or vision) allowing access to particular kinds of linguistic information is impaired (Hoff-Ginsberg 1997:298-306).
The literature on language acquisition abounds with evidence of systematicity and order. Regarding the basic building blocks of language, individual speech sounds are typically learned in a predictable order. For instance, all vowels are generally learned before all consonants, and particular consonants are mastered before others (e.g., stops such as the sounds for the letters p, b, and m are learned before the th-sound of the word three or the r-sound of red. Nouns (names of persons, things, etc.) are learned before prepositions (e.g., in, on, or under). Even with respect to specific word endings (or suffixes) such grammatical (inflectional) forms such as suffixes in English, the -sused to form plural nouns (the -sof toys) is typically acquired long before the verbal suffix -s, for example the -son loves in the following:"Fred loves Cathy." With respect to word order and the sequences in which sentence structures are acquired (syntax), declarative sentences (statements) precede questions, either yes-no types or questions using the so-called wh-words such as who, what, where, when, and why, and so on. Affirmative sentences also precede negatives, e.g., sentences such as "Fred speaks Spanish" are typically acquired before a sentence such as "Fred does not speak Mandarin". All aspects of grammar are acquired in some kind of order or sequence in all the languages of the world, whether these languages are written or not, acquired in the home, or learned at school.
As the work of Eve Clark points out (e.g., Clark 2003), children are active participants in the acquisition processes. It used to be thought that we are all born with brains that were essentially blank slates, with no inherited or innate knowledge. Recent research has definitely spoken to that (e.g., Karmiloff-Smith 1993). It is abundantly clear that children learning English, for instance, develop specific strategies to get new words. They pay attention to specific places in a parent's or care giver's speech to locate new words for new concepts, for instance discovering new words in adult speech at the end of an utterance, "Look at the __________" (Clark 2003:68). It is also clear that it is not always the gaze of the parent that determines where the child's attention goes. In fact, it is typically quite the opposite. Whatever draws the child's attention (e.g., an elephant or clown at a circus), draws the attention of the parent or caregiver. The child often is the one who initiates shared attention or gaze (Clark 2003:32).
Of course, the question that naturally follows is, "Why?" Why do children demonstrate such systematicity in acquisition. Current theory suggests that complexity and learn ability based on the processing demands that each individual language places on the mind/brain of the child acquirer or adult learner play significant roles (see, e.g., Field 2004; Pienemann 1998, 2000). In essence, the elements of language that are simple (e.g., names like nouns) are learned/acquired first, followed by those that are more complex (e.g., inflectional suffixes), aspects of language that require greater and deeper kinds of knowledge of the language. This is also one reason why some words such as nouns and verbs are so easy to learn in a new language, and why more subtle and intricate grammatical characteristics and patterns may take so long to acquire and seem so difficult and complicated.
What language is not
It may be worthwhile to consider what this remarkable cognitive
skill is not. Those in the cognitive sciences note that
language is neither THOUGHT nor INTELLIGENCE per se. Even
though we often talk to ourselves or encode our thoughts
into language, we use our minds (an interesting concept in itself)
for functions that are not linguistic. We can do many things simultaneously
without mentally discussing it with ourselves, as any experienced
automobile driver will confirm. This is significant because implicit
in most conceptions of consciousness is some form of intelligence,
the Sapiens part of the scientific name of our species.
It may be difficult for some of us to think of consciousness without
the presence of language, but it is there nevertheless. The next
time you change stations on your car radio while driving in traffic
on an interstate, you'll notice that you do so with little or
no discussion. In fact, you may be talking to someone else at
the same time. We all engage in multitasking, and
I think it's fairly obvious that we don't lose consciousness when
we do. We all know how to think without language, e.g., when we
are busy doing such skilled behaviors as typing, playing a musical
instrument, or engaging in a sport.
Despite our intuitions, there is no strict equivalence of intelligence, on the one hand, and language, on the other, a point linguists like to make when speaking of the autonomy of language and the language faculty. It is illustrated most clearly by the great apes, who are very clever indeed and, therefore, intelligent. Nevertheless, they cannot attain to human language. It is also true that one cannot equate language with cognition, the totality of our ability to know things-how to see, how to calculate, how to walk upright, how to do language, and so on. It is only one aspect of our inherited abilities as humans. Evidence for the important distinction between cognition and language comes from those with Down Syndrome, who may have significant mental retardation, yet whose language abilities develop relatively normally, and those with Williams syndrome, who have severe cognitive deficits but who appear to have extraordinary linguistic abilities, nonetheless.
We turn now to a more detailed discussion of language and the language faculty. Because language and the language faculty are warp-and-woof, in a sense, the discussion of the nature of language will continue to be relevant.
2:Complexity and power-neural mechanisms of language
One of the advantages that modern linguistics has gained over
the last half century or so is the very rapid development of technology.
For instance, technological advances in brain imaging have allowed
researchers to get close-up views of what seems to be going on
in the mind/brain as it goes about its normal functioning. Computerized
brain-imaging machines can generate graphic displays of entire
brain structures and pinpoint areas within a single millimeter
of a particular slice of brain tissue (Sylwester 1995). Brains
can be monitored for electro-chemical activation through a number
of methods, including CAT scans (computerized axial tomography-making
images of specific slices of tissue used to produce three-dimensional
representations of X-rays), PET scans (positron emission tomography,
using radioactive materials to chart blood flow), and MRIs (magnetic-resonance
imaging that produce images of a cross-section of an object or
bodily organ). The electroencephalogram (EEG), in use for over
half a century, reports patterns of the electrical transmission
of information; rapid advances in this type of technology has
produced such machines as BEAM (brain electrical activity mapping),
which more precisely records brain activity and can generate a
graphic representation of the cerebral cortex.
Recent models of language processing use some of the concepts inferred from actual brain structure. Various connectionist models, for example, describe "spreading activation" along the pathways of the brain. These models have been severely criticized, mostly for the failure of computer models to generate anything close to human language. Nevertheless, they are based on the idea of neurons and neural pathways (dendrites, axons, neurotransmitters, etc.). According to Gee (1992:36-37), the brain contains a total of approximately 1011 (one hundred billion) neurons, each having at least 1,000 connections. The number of possible connections is, therefore, 1014,, or 100,000,000,000,000 (one hundred trillion). On this view, each individual connection receives signals that vary in intensity; they are "weighted" according to the importance, appropriateness, or correctness of the signal. (The relative intensity of different signals along neural connections can be illustrated by tests involved the recognition among words. All likely candidates "light up" in the brain until the so-called recognition point is reached, at which point, the signals of excluded candidates gradually fade. The connection to the correct form is preserved at a maximal intensity.) Gee suggests that a conservative estimate of ten degrees of activation, or weights, multiplies the basic possibilities by a like number, meaning that 1 quadrillion sorts of signals are possible in such a neural environment.
A more traditional account of brain architecture (of linguist Noam Chomsky and others) is that it is modular, consisting of interlocking (interdependent, yet autonomous) regions. Language is, therefore, one of these modules, sub-divided into separate sub-modules for pronunciation, syntax, and so on. Recent work in brain injuries, e.g., into various aphasias such as Wernicke's or Broca's aphasia (a dysfunction resulting from strokes, lesions, and so on), and the split-brain work of researchers such as Roger Sperry (who won the 1981 Nobel Prize) seem to support a position perhaps somewhere between the two extremes, between a strictly connectionist approach, on the one hand, and a strictly modular approach, on the other. It seems clear enough that particular areas of the brain have specialized functions that can be located (more or less) and affected by stimulus, as those illustrated in studies of the role of the corpus callosum in grand mal seizures associated with forms of epilepsy. Particular probes in certain areas trigger mental images (that can be quite realistic) in patients who experience such surgical procedures without any type of anesthetic.
Irrespective of how the debate between modularity and connectionism may turn out (both can be partially correct), it seems clear that the substance of the mind/brain is a vast array of neurons connected in various ways. The fact that it functions with such remarkable precision is a testimony to its structure-and, regardless of one's viewpoint concerning origins, the term "architecture" certainly appears applicable. We think abstract thoughts, perceive and sense the things and people around us, move about, create works of art, feel and express various emotions, compile memories of our thoughts of events and different kinds of sensory information, compose our thoughts into coherent messages, and communicate with others like ourselves, all by means of this amazing organ. It is a complex universe of connections and activity in its own right.
Most linguists and scholars in other branches of the cognitive sciences would agree that language and the language faculty reflect the cognitive abilities that every human being shares--our repertoire of innate abilities (e.g., to walk, see, think, make basic mathematical computations, and talk), however the term innate may be defined. Whether it is autonomous and domain specific (there is a specific aspect of the mind/brain devoted to its operation and function that is independent of our other cognitive abilities) or domain general as part of our overall, general cognitive abilities, humankind is "born" with the capacity for language. We all know how to do it, whether we can discuss it intelligently or not. You may not be a linguist, theoretical psychologist, or an English teacher, but you know how to speak or sign a language.
People are remarkably efficient language users, to be sure. In the normal, everyday use of language, we have to access the correct meanings for the forms (words and so on) we hear and read, and find appropriate forms for the concepts we wish to express. We comprehend and produce thousands of words accurately and efficiently on a daily basis. There are various estimates to the number of words contained in our heads-our vocabularies or mental lexicons. Some have put the number that we can use more-or-less accurately (our production lexicon) at around 30,000. Based on recognition, one study estimated the vocabulary size of the average Oxford undergraduate at 75,000 words. The rate of access and retrieval in normal spoken conversation is around 120-150 words a minute, with spurts that may reach double that rate.
This means that out of the tens of thousands of words in our heads, we are pulling out from two to four or five per second. And, we seldom make mistakes. A study done on a body of 200,000 spoken words in English found 86 word-choice (lexical selection) errors and 105 other slips of the tongue (Garnham, Shillcock, Brown, Mill, and Cutler 1982). Taken together, this amounts to an error rate of about one per thousand, which would be equivalent to making one mistake or slip while speaking non-stop as fast as you can for three minutes, eight to ten minutes if you take your time. This kind of efficiency and speed in processing cannot be the result of blind luck or chance. It has prompted more than one researcher to stand back in awe. Willem Levelt, a well-known researcher and author writes:"Reading this literature may create the misleading impression that felicitous lexical access is a matter of good luck rather than of exquisite design" [emphasis mine] (Levelt 1992:2).
There are numerous theories about how we actually do this, despite the fact that no one yet knows for sure what a word could possibly look like as represented in the brain, or what you actually know when you know a word. Most approaches begin with the idea that particular forms (sequences of sounds in spoken language or gestures in signed language) are associated somehow in the brain with information about their (a) meanings (both in relation to a word's immediate context and at the so-called global level in relation to the individual's knowledge of the world); (b) other forms (e.g., words in English that may have various forms such as foot-feet, go-went-gone, electric-electricity, differ-different-difference, and so on); and (c) positions in which the forms are allowed or required to occur in an utterance (whether a word can be the subject of a sentence, a verb, adjective, and so on). Add to this the physical aspects:the complex and subtle acoustic properties of individual sounds (e.g., the difference between the p-sounds of "pit" and "spit", the aspiration) and the articulatory mechanisms that need to interact to produce them (the brain, lungs, and various muscles in and around the oral cavity).
We can even guess what a word will be before we hear or read it. It could be the sound of the word to complete a rhyme, its meaning to complete a joke, or the simple fact that there is only one correct possibility grammatically (e.g., part of speech) or semantically (according to its meaning). Many of us know the experience of anticipating the next word in a camp song, rhyme, or, joke that we have never heard before. For example, you should be able to complete this ____________. Apparently, there is something about the mind/brain that allows it to locate appropriate word forms for meanings and the reverse, meanings for words, that gives us the ability to fill in the blanks and predict what is coming next.
Considering the speed with which words are encountered in the speech stream and the sheer number of possible meanings they could have, there must be an equally rapid and efficient process that enables us to correctly identify them. In view of the fact that we typically recognize a word at its so-called uniqueness point, the point at which it differs from all other words that start with similar sounds, the recognition process is most likely based on initial sound sequences, scanning from left-to-right, that is, in the order the individual sounds are uttered (Hawkins 1994:4). For example, contrast connect, connecting, and connection, three words that share much of the same phonetic information-to a point. None can occur in the same grammatical context (they all belong to different word classes), so the ability to ANTICIPATE which one is being uttered in the speech stream or written on a page is built into the grammar of English. (Which one of those three words would correctly complete the following:"In order for electricity to flow from this outlet to my computer, a clear __________ must be made.") Additional portions of a word (middles and ends) may be important for full and accurate identification in certain instances. (Parenthetically, reading alphabetic or syllabic writing systems requires matching visual or orthographic representations with meanings, most likely circumventing the need for sound-meaning correspondence in a great number of circumstances. For example, all proficient readers of English know that "right" and "rite" sound the same when spoken, but their different meanings in any kind of context would make sounding the word out unnecessary. Reading specialists are increasingly aware of humankind's ability to read.)
Linking forms and meanings-the perfect fit of language and mind
To give a clearer picture of just how the basic building blocks
of language seem to optimize the ways that the whole system works,
the number of sounds (the amount of phonetic information) needed
for efficient identification and retrieval of word forms will
depend on the number of possible meanings to be retrieved. Therefore,
the larger the number of possible meanings that need to be organized
and cataloged in our mental lexicons (in principle, unlimited
with respect to nouns, for example), the greater the amount of
detailed information we need to have for every word in order to
identify it. In other words, a form or label (i.e., a word)
needs to have enough phonetic information associated with it to
have the uniqueness required to pull up a corresponding and equally
This is very much like the requirements of telephone numbers for individuals and license plates for cars. The mathematical possibilities represented by the symbols themselves stand in direct proportion to the number of items that need to be identified. Seven digits (555-1234) can successfully identify ten million individuals. Add to that, three-digit area codes, and you multiply the possibilities by another thousand (one billion individual telephones). (Add another digit anywhere in the sequence, and you multiple the possibilities by ten.) The more people that own telephones or cars, the more information that needs to go into a telephone number or on a license plate.
This also suggests that an efficient system will use labels that possess optimal amounts of phonetic information for the purpose of economy-not too little and not too much (Field 2002). On the one hand, a system composed of forms with too little phonetic substance (too few symbols) would produce a large number of words that sound the same (homophones), or that sound so similar that the hearer would have trouble distinguishing it to recover the (one and only) intended meaning. (A lot of people would have to share the same phone number.) On the other hand, too much information would make retrieval inefficient, too. Too many unwarranted digits regarding telephone numbers would make the job of remembering someone's number (linking a particular number with the appropriate person) unnecessarily tedious. If I had, say, a telephone number with 35 digits, I would have a tough time remembering it.
Sequences of sounds (amalgams of individual linguistic sounds), sometimes referred to as phonological addresses, possess a number of characteristics typical of telephone numbers, for instance in the form of patterns or sequential constraints (only certain sounds can occur in sequence in a particular language), that act like prefixes or area codes for ease of recognition. (Word-forming affixes such as the prefixes and suffixes of English act in similar ways to enhance the optimal running of the system.) In effect, systematic constraints allow a system to work at peak efficiency--and this certainly smacks of design and not just the results of randomly occurring processes of mutation. If the system was invented by humankind, we are very clever, indeed. But this begs the question:was there a first human who stumbled on this amazing ability, or did it arise as a collective effort, with a purpose, among a society of humans? Regardless, if a human invented this ability, then it is presupposed that the capacity for language was already there in his/her head, and we are once again back at the chicken-and-egg situation.
Looking further into the retrieval process and how organized it is, consider the amount of phonetic information we have to deal with on a moment-by-moment basis with just the language I'm using now. Concerning the amount of detailed phonetic information available for the construction of words, English, has between 6,500 to 7,000 syllables (Levelt 1992:17). (In a very non-technical sense, syllables are rhythmic units or beats in a word that consist of combinations of consonant and vowel sounds peculiar to the specific language. The word syllable, for example, has three syllables.) Taking the lower figure (for the purpose of discussion), as many as 6,500 unique meanings can be linked to individual, unique forms or syllables, with no homonyms and no synonyms (words with the same or similar meanings, e.g., couch, sofa, davenport, divan, and chesterfield).
The number of possible two-syllable words soars well into the millions (6,500 times 6,500, or 42,250,000 to be exact), which can be added to the original number of one-syllable possibilities for a total of 42,256,500. The number of possible three-syllable word forms is a lot (274,667,250,000 + 42,256,500 = 274,709,506,500). The word improbable has four syllables. This amounts to a starting point of over 270 billion possible phonological addresses (three-syllable words) for an ever expanding list of entities that need to be named.
It may not be obvious to the non-specialist, but these bare possibilities are multiplied by three additional characteristics of pronunciation. One (1) is called STRESS, how loudly a particular syllable is pronounced (stress goes on the nucleus of the syllable, typically a vowel). For example, in Spanish, one two-syllable combination, pa-pa, can be pronounced normally with stress on the first vowel "a" to mean either el papa, "the Pope," or la papa, "potato." Putting the stress on the second vowel changes the meaning of the word. That is, papá means "father." Second, vowels can be contrasted also by (2) PITCH (the melody or music that accompanies vowels, how high or low they are on a musical scale), for example in languages like Mandarin. One basic syllable, for example ma, can refer to such concepts as "mother," "hemp", or "horse," depending on the tonal qualities that are given to the vowel. In Vietnamese, ma with additional tones specific to that language can also mean "ghost,", "young rice plant," and "grave," in addition to "mother" and "horse." The word for "mother," má, with a rising tone, can also mean "cheek." So, each form can have more than one meaning, as well. Third, in other languages, e.g., the First Nation (indigenous) language of Mexico called Mexicano (Náhuatl), vowels are contrasted by (3) DURATION (how long a vowel is pronounced). For instance, the contrast of long o:and short o produces two separate words to:ca "to bury" and toca "to follow, pursue," respectively. With respect to stress and duration, the number of possible syllables is doubled, and, with tone, the number of syllables are multiplied by the number of tones a language possesses. In Mandarin there are four distinct tones, Thai has five, and Vietnamese has six.
Needless to say, a language that possesses such raw potential in the formation of words has the capacity to refer to an enormous number of concepts with no resultant combinations (labels) that sound alike to cause any possible confusion. If we add prefixes and suffixes and other word-formation strategies such as compounding (two words joined together to create a third-e.g., hotdog in English) and so on, which are all restricted by language-specific word-formation processes or rules, the potential is clearly inexhaustible in principle. This is the exact requirement that needs to be met. The possibilities are infinite, and the mechanisms for its use are extremely fast and efficient, a far cry from the so-called language of Nim Chimpsky, discussed in the next section. Nevertheless, the language faculty functions at a very fast rate and very efficiently (as far as we can tell). This is all the more amazing when we consider the incredible diversity of the worlds languages and the uniformity of the language faculty, and the basic fact that there seems to be no limit to the number of languages one human being can know-that is, outside the limitations of time and opportunity.
Over the years, attempts to link language and evolution have
encountered a number of challenges. From the historical perspective,
specialists have estimated that one very important language, Proto-Indo-European
(PIE), a theoretical reconstruction of what may have been the
original ancestor or progenitor of the Indo-European family of
languages, was spoken about 4500-6500 years ago-not a terribly
long time into the past. The fact that modern languages seem to
have devolved from their relatively ancient predecessors
has caused considerable consternation among those linguistic pioneers
who earnestly sought to establish a logical progression in their
development, from simple to increasingly complex forms and structures.
Referring to the proposed links between language and species that
are woven into evolutionary theories, Bickerton (1990:260) comments:"the
only aspect of Darwin's ideas on language that interested Darwin's
contemporaries was his comparison of the evolution of species
with the evolution of languages-a connection between 'language
and species' that will emphatically not be pursued in these pages!"
There is the rather obvious problem in linking the two, one that
infers its way into the kinds of social Darwinism that characterized
the racist beliefs of the Nazis in Germany during the early to
middle parts of the twentieth century.
Seemingly ignoring the speculative nature of this line of inquiry, some linguists have proposed, according to the most conservative estimates, that the origin of human language took place approximately 35,000 years before the present (or BP), corresponding to the time that Homo sapiens is believed to have begun its great migrations into various regions of the globe. The consensus, however, appears to be more at 100,000 years before the present, when Homo sapiens allegedly first appeared, with the time frame espoused by some anthropologists reaching from one to five or six million years. These estimates are made despite the fact that the earliest written records, the writings of the Sumerians, date back only to around 3200 B.C.E., obviously very recent history (cf., Hock & Joseph 1996:71). One can't help but wonder what could have occurred between 5,000 and 5,500 years ago that would trigger such a significant development. A number of very tough questions arise as a consequence:Are the languages spoken today which have no writing systems (there are many) less developed? Are the brains of their speakers less evolved? The answer is an obvious and emphatic "No!" If one does assume that all human beings are fundamentally "equal" in development, what can account for the amazing consistency, that one race is or is not more (or less) evolved than any other?
Ape language studies
There have been a number of interesting attempts at establishing
links between the language faculty and evolutionary principles.
Looking for homologues with respect to the structures of basic
articulators (the parts of the human body apart from the brain)
have proved to be somewhat troublesome (e.g., regarding the positioning
of the larynx). Examining communicative behaviors have yielded
similarly meager results; no continuity has been found at all
between ape communication and human language. It is true that
certain parrots can mimic human speech sound, but no one
would call that "language." Looking to our closest genetic
relatives (those with the closest resemblances in DNA), the great
apes became the likely candidates for the investigation of the
potential for language. Once again, the results have not
Various studies have been conducted, and many have even appeared on public television, although their numbers have dropped off significantly in recent years (perhaps to zero). These studies-the most famous of which were done with a gorilla, Koko, and two different chimpanzees, Washoe and Nim Chimpsky-focused on attempts to teach apes some sort of sign language. The reasoning behind these attempts was twofold. (1) Chimp DNA is as close to human DNA as it apparently gets, and if the language capacity is encoded into our DNA, maybe it is there in the chimp's in some form or degree (attempting to resolve the issue of a complete lack of continuity of communicative behaviors from ape to human-or from human to ape, for that matter). (2) The great apes may not be able to vocalize language, but they seem to demonstrate the manual dexterity necessary for signing. So, maybe they have some linguistic ability even though they don't have the ability to speak.
The first attempts were intriguing and caught the eye of the academic community. There is no question that these animals are intelligent, and that they are able to communicate in some ways among themselves in the wild and across species to humans. The disappointment lay in the realization that what they are capable of learning is not language in the human sense. Taking the well-known example of Nim Chimpsky, what was revealed by the chimp's behavior illustrates both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of language. Raised from birth by human caregivers, Nim learned about 125 signs-which is a very real accomplishment for any animal. But, his signing fell short in more than a quantitative measure. Qualitatively, only 12% of his utterances were spontaneous; the rest occurred in response to prompting or when he wanted something (food, drink, or attention). As much as 40% of his utterances were simple imitations of the signs of his trainer, more an indication of conditioned behavior than evidence of a biological endowment. In contrast, all human children initiate conversations and are creative with language almost from the beginning, the onset of language, all characteristics that Nim failed to exhibit.
According to Seidenberg (1986), a harsh critic of past ape language research, "At first glance, studies of ape language seem to be premised on denial of the obvious. Humans acquire and use natural languages, and lower primates do not. This irrefutable fact would seem to constrain a priori what might be learned by training apes to perform 'linguistically'" (30). It was hoped that these projects would provide information about the behavior of other intelligent species, contrasts between humans and other species, the origins and evolution of human language, and relationships between linguistic and nonlinguistic intelligence.
Evolution provides no basis on which to anticipate particular behavioral similarities, in terms of language or otherwise. Evolution is a theory of speciation, not of behavioral continuity As a consequence, comparisons of behavior need to be interpreted in the context of a theory of behavioral similarity, not merely in terms of evolution This point has not been sufficiently appreciated in the ape language literature. The problem is that general evolutionary facts are sometimes used in order to establish behavioral similarities The apes exhibit complex behaviors that are ambiguous at best. The interpretation of these behaviors is assisted by appeals to evolution, leading to the conclusion that an ape's behavior corresponds to that of a human because apes and humans descended from a common ancestor. However, this reasoning is entirely circular. In absence of an explicit theory as to how particular behaviors evolved, evolutionary facts such as common ancestry provide no basis on which to mediate comparisons of behavior (Seidenberg 1986:30-1).
In other words, evolution applies to physical characteristics
and not to behavioral characteristics. And, even though the apes
demonstrated complex behaviors, making an appeal to evolution
to explain apparent similarities is not adequate. Ape behaviors
could be interpreted in a number of different ways, and apparently,
none of the explanations proved conclusively that the apes showed
true linguistic abilities.
Seidenberg (1986) also points out that chimps may be thought to be less highly developed than humans; however, if we take the position that chimpanzees and humans have evolved from a common ancestor, they are equally evolved along the evolutionary continuum, "...they simply evolved in a different manner" (32). All attempts to infer anything from the behavior of chimpanzees to that of a common ancestor that may have existed millions of years ago are speculative at best. Nevertheless, the research was looked at as possibly contributing to the knowledge of our species and to our origins.
The researchers generally had a couple of strategies for finding the information they wanted in their study of apes. The first (which is still taking place in current studies) was to identify the natural communicative behaviors of lower primates that may share important properties with human language. Despite the fact that the natural behaviors of apes showed interesting characteristics, it was not very likely that lower primates would be shown to exhibit a natural system of communication that would resemble human language to any significant degree.
The second strategy was to train apes--and here, the operative word is "train." Chomskyans seem to demonstrate that children do not learn language in any kind of behaviorist sense (i.e., according to the views of B. F. Skinner and others). Therefore, in the complete absence of the apes learning/acquiring linguistic skills/language in the wild, it was clear that the apes needed a little help. Maybe they had LINGUISTIC CAPACITIES (as a result of the similarities of DNA structure, etc.), but they just never had the opportunity to acquire LINGUISTIC SKILLS--it isn't their fault that language isn't in their environment. Maybe their full capacities cannot be developed in a jungle. Also, if it could be proved that apes could learn language, this would have the effect of refuting Chomsky's claims that language is acquired naturally through observation, or that it is species specific and a biological endowment. This would also reinforce the behaviorists views of Skinner and others that prevailed in language teaching before the advent of Chomskyan linguistics. "Construed in this manner, the ape language experiments could only provide a test of how much linguistic behavior could be acquired through application of the precepts of Verbal Behavior [the well-know book by Skinner]," according to strict behaviorist principles and not what an ape is capable of doing in a natural environment (Seidenberg 1986:33).
Consequently, child language acquisition studies and the studies of ape behaviors have very different goals, backgrounds, and contexts. What every human child does naturally, unconsciously, and without prompting was being compared to what primates might be able to accomplish with intensive training. In a kind of wishful thinking, the hope seemed to be that apes might have the capacity to produce or comprehend at least some kind of linguistic communication, but this capacity remains unexpressed in a natural environment. Perhaps laboratory conditions can provide a way of realizing this capacity, and maybe part of the problem is that apes only lack the articulatory mechanisms to produce speech.
This logic is inconsistent, however. Apes lack part of the neuro and motor-physiology that support speech. The sign language researchers proposed to overcome this limitation by exploiting the apes' natural ability to gesture. This effort would only succeed if they were capable of using the alternate modality. But if apes possess this capacity, the explanation for the fact that they fail to naturally express their linguistic capacity is wholly lost (Seidenberg 1986:33).
The ape studies would never be able to explain why apes don't
express any sort of linguistic abilities on their own. And, they
would only show that apes had somehow unexpressed linguistic abilities,
that is, if they succeeded in using a manual system in
ways that approximated human language--which they completely failed
It appears that apes (in fact, all other species) lack the same capacity for computation or grammar that every single human being expresses. For instance, even in imitative behavior, the clever apes simply cannot copy a series of behaviors beyond a very limited set. They don't seem able to store complex patterns of behavior in their ape brains. If specific behaviors are presented A + B, then apes can replicate ABAB patterns. However, if the pattern is AABBAA, then imitation stops. Apes are not capable of AABBAABB (and so on) patterns, which require perceiving, remembering, and then performing more complex sequences (Fitch 2003). They simply lack the cognitive capacity for syntax, something that every child exhibits during the second or third year. Moreover, if they were indeed able to use different modes of linguistic communication (manually instead of vocally), as non-hearing children do, then what can inhibit this expression besides the total absence of linguistic ability? "It is interesting to note in this regard that the natural communication of lower primates is not primarily gestural. On their own, they seem to make little of their opportunity to use their hands for communication" (Seidenberg 1986:33). They may exhibit genetically-based calls and screeches, but they don't show the capacity for human language.
What the apes seemed to learn
It seems simple enough to see what the apes did not learn,
but what did they truly learn? They learned tasks that they could
perform (the instrumental function of signing) in a lab context.
These tasks were in essence non-linguistic in nature because the
behaviors (manual gestures) had consequences; the apes received
rewards for their signing, illustrating the typical results of
operant, conditioned behavior, not language acquisition. Despite
their successes, they did not learn the symbolic function of language.
Based on the empirical evidence, it simply is not possible to
determine if the sign for banana, for example, represented
the linguistic concept of "banana" the way it does for
human children (based on perceptual properties of the class of
objects known as bananas), or if the manual sign was merely a
non-linguistic task that the apes had to perform in order
to get one.
The apes also seemed to learn how to imitate the teacher's input. They could form many signs, but they could not string them together to make contrasts. With Nim, his MLU (mean length of utterance, or the length of his "sentences") was essentially flat, restricted to one sign with a very small number of two-sign combinations. Perhaps most importantly, the ordering of the elements of ape signing (or their syntax) was of no effect and, therefore, meaningless. To illustrate how significant this is, putting words in a different order in English changes the meanings of sentences (e.g., "John hit Larry" versus "Larry hit John"). Nim's utterances qualified only as a kind of word salad. To further confuse the issue, he would sometimes guess what an appropriate response would be to a question by rapidly making clusters of signs (in random order). In place of language-like syntax, there was a great deal of repetition of a very small number of signs, typically, me, you, and names of participants and food objects and actions such as "eat." He apparently succeeded only in learning how to get the things he wanted.
Another important aspect of the apes' gesturing behaviors was their complete lack of creativity and spontaneity, and their passive receptivity to the trainers' prodding. Trainers could mold their hands to approximate an appropriate sign to accomplish a specific task, but this simply cannot be done with children. Remember, deaf children naturally babble with their hands in the absence of aural feedback to their oral babbling.
Perhaps the most serious blow to the entire line of research was that the apes' signs were interpreted by their trainers. The researchers would interpret the meanings of the apes' gestures as correct when they were ambiguous at best, so it seemed that close enough counted. From the academic perspective, this is a very serious charge. It amounts to discrediting the validity of the research. Ape signing, when shown to users of American Sign Language (ASL) was not understood as ASL, despite the claims that the apes were in fact learning ASL. Seidenberg theorizes that the television documentaries of Koko and Washoe gained wide acceptance because the utterances shown were selected in advance for filming and represented the apes' best efforts. Their performances did not reflect what they did on a regular basis. With videos of Washoe, the signing was also accompanied by running commentaries by the researcher of what the ape was "saying," including intonation and emphasis that increased the impression that the chimp was indeed "talking."
4. Implications of evolutionary thinking
Currently, a number of scholars express concern about Darwinian principles applied to language, perhaps not so critical of evolutionary principles, per se, but to what may be termed neo-Darwinian linguistics. In a biting Discussion Note in a recent issue of Language, the official journal of the Linguistics Society of America (LSA), Michel DeGraff, an MIT syntactician, discusses the "traditional" view of creole languages in Darwinian terms, based on a perceived simplicity of structure (DeGraff 2003).
In a nutshell, the literature on pidgin and creole languages has
changed a great deal in recent years. One traditional approach
is based on the theoretical position that creoles develop from
pidgins varieties, and that they are greatly reduced (read inferior)
versions of their parent languages, in many cases, European colonial
languages such as French, English, Portuguese, and so on. Current
research has challenged such claims based on empirical evidence
(e.g., no Caribbean creole has an attested pidgin language in
its ancestry). Most current approaches begin with the idea that
second/subsequent language acquisition (SLA)--under very specific
and unfortunate circumstances--was the key process involved but
only up to a point, after which speakers expanded the linguistic
range of the so-called "creole" with different sorts
of innovations, that is, grammatical and lexical (vocabulary)
expansion by means of the mechanisms of language creation (change
and evolution). Original native languages, of course, played a
large role, as well, via transfer of prior linguistic knowledge,
in particular, through the unconscious application of native pronunciation
patterns, and prior grammatical and semantic knowledge of their
It should be noted, too, that there is no basis whatsoever for the assumption that the Africans who had been forcibly kidnapped and brought to the so-called New World were monolinguals, speakers of only one African language. There is a great likelihood that they were speakers of several languages. Most of the very negative views of the slaves attempts at speaking the so-called master's language were the results of Europeans' (white, native speakers of the European languages) perceptions of the speech of the Africans. To the prejudiced ears of these native speakers, the slaves sounded crude and uneducated, and their speech was highly accented, which is precisely the expected outcome of anyone being forced to learn any language under the horrific conditions placed upon the slave population. In the view of many of the Europeans, Africans did not appear to be capable of learning the more civilized European languages, a view which fit conveniently with current racist beliefs.
According to DeGraff, a native speaker of Haitian (Creole French), there has been an "imperialist construction of political, cultural, and racial hegemony, making it impossible to view Caribbean Creole languages as being on a genealogical or structural par" with their European counterparts. He goes on to argue convincingly that Haitian is as close to European French as French is to Latin and that Jamaican Creole English (the "patwa") is as close to English as English is to Proto-Germanic. He argues that there was no break in transmission, as claimed by several linguists (see, e.g., Thomason & Kaufman 1988, Thomason 2000), that the European languages were learned in some (non-native) fashion. DeGraff also states that any objective view of the syntax of Haitian reveals its inherent complexity, rivaling that of any so-called "normal" language. He does not discount the role of the "mother tongue" in SLA, and that the Africans quite likely transferred aspects of their native languages to the non-native learning of French, but he fiercely resists the idea that the African's native language(s) were somehow inferior and the speakers themselves somehow linguistically or cognitively inferior by implication. In this last point, DeGraff is joined by the vast majority (I would hope, all) of the community of linguists.
Another example of recent criticism of a Darwinian perspective in linguistics comes from Frederick Newmeyer, past president of the LSA. In a review article, Newmeyer (2003) reviews three books, one of which is Language in a Darwinian Perspective (henceforward LDP), by Bernard H. Bichakian. Newmeyer's candid evaluation includes that LDP is "bizarre," and that it attempts to apply "defective argumentation in an attempt to explain non-existent 'facts'." He does refer to other evolutionary thinkers in positive ways, but his criticism of this specific book seems focused on the apparent lack of empirical evidence, the assumption that languages "advance" and become more functional (a term that the Bichakian does not carefully define, according to Newmeyer), and that there is a directionality to change, that is along evolutionary lines (from simple to complex), something that has been argued against for over a century.
Neither DeGraff nor Newmeyer can be accused of arguing from a Biblical perspective, yet both reject specific implications of Darwinism in some way. To DeGraff, it is the implication that Africans and their languages are somehow inferior to their European counterparts, and to Newmeyer, it is the long-abandoned idea of a unidirectional progression to the evolution of particular languages. DeGraff cites the French linguist, Lucien Adam (an ironic twist), who classed languages into "natural" (languages spoken in the wild by savages) and "civilized" languages, those, for example, used in civilized, European cultures. No one has to point out the cultural bias in such statements, but it is worth noting that in the case of Creole languages, we are, in fact, discussing spoken languages. We are not comparing literatures that took centuries to develop with oral traditions that may have emerged within a single generation. In the case of the evolution of European languages, the empirical evidence simply does not sustain any kind of belief in any sort of evolutionary perspective.
To illustrate the inherent dangers in making strict correlations between language change and the hypothetical evolution of species, the following quotation comes from a two-volume set entitled Time Depth in Historical Linguistics, published by the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in Cambridge, England. It was written by a husband and wife team (she a linguist, he a geneticist).
Rates of change of the sort outlined above are typically predicated on known dates of species split, which themselves are calculated with reference to external, fossil evidence. However, once such rates are known they can be used to hypothesize split dates for lineages where no fossil evidence is available, such as human-chimp divergence. If these splits took place in the very distant past, the method is likely to work well, and the dates achieved should be robust and credible. But when we are dealing with relatively recent speciation events, as is probably the case for humans and chimps, errors reflecting the stochastic operation of mutation and substitution may be significant. Nei (1985) shows that measures of alpha hemoglobin differences between humans, chimpanzees and gorillas generate a preferred tree grouping humans most closely with chimps, but that the standard errors involved are greater than the time-depths proposed to the branching points. In consequence, it is not possible to state securely which of the three species separated from the others first. Inevitably, the significance of the standard errors will be even greater when dealing with divergence among human populations, when the time since common ancestry is far less again. It is possible to minimize these errors by combining values for a large range of proteins, rather than focusing on one alone, but the confidence intervals will still be large:Nei (1985, 42) calculates time of separation for Caucasoid and Negroid populations, based on 85 different loci, as 113,000 years plus or minus 34,000 [equaling a range of 146,000-79,000 years]. Alternatively, it may be preferable over shorter time depths to base calculations on a system which mutates at a faster rate, which is true of mitochondrial DNA (Cann et al. 1987), or mini- and micro-satellites (Armour et al. 1996; Bowcock et al. 1994; Jorde et al. 1997). Since mitochondrial DNA mutates at an overall rate of 2-4 per cent per million years, approximately 20 times faster than autosomal DNA (Cann et al. 1987), it follows that standard errors over shorter time depths will be greatly reduced, although they will not be negligible. Even based on over 1000 sequence comparisons, the date of the human-chimp split can only be estimated at 4.7 million years with the confidence limit of 0.5 million (Gagneux et al. 1999). (McMahon & McMahon 2000:66-7)
It must be immediately stressed that neither of these authors
intend to make racist or potentially hateful comments, but the
implications seem quite clear. To state that the one race split
off from another assumes a common ancestor. It is explicit that
chimpanzees and humans had a common ancestor, an issue not questioned
in evolutionary circles. Nevertheless, the point is made that
the two races of human beings sharing a common ancestor with chimps
and gorillas now also differ in evolutionary terms. Could this
be linked to concepts of intellectual and linguistic inferiority
that have been explicitly made by linguists who assume Darwinian,
evolutionary thinking? It is a good and necessary thing that people
like DeGraff and Newmeyer stand up to argue against such commonly
held misconceptions. One is left to wonder, nonetheless, what
is offered in contrast that could effectively and permanently
cure the misconceptions. It still seems reasonable to assume that,
if our species has evolved from a common ancestor, then
it will continue to evolve. And, if we allow for a common
ancestor among the various species of primates, then one can logically
assume that the species called homo sapiens may branch further
into competing species. The implications of this are staggering.
Unless we are prepared to argue that all chimps, gorillas, and
humans are either the same or equal in their development and
in their cognitive abilities, it seems reasonable to conclude
that members of the Negroid and Caucasoid "populations"
will show cognitive differences (dissimilarities), as well. This
certainly seems to imply a hierarchy of some kind.
When it comes to racism, both sides need to be reminded of the prominent role racism and slavery have played in Western Civilization and in the history of the so-called New World. We should all be alarmed by anyone who purportedly holds to any kind of philosophy or worldview that attempts to rationalize this evil. To be honest, both sides of the design-evolution debate appear to be guilty. In addition to racists scientists (and linguists), there are those who have distorted the content and intent of the Bible to legitimize racist beliefs, e.g., in the American South, past and present. Forced conversion to Christianity was even seen as a justification for slavery, that the poor, "childlike" Africans would never have heard the Gospel unless Europeans had snatched them away and made them slaves. It was claimed that, in slavery, the kidnapped millions would possess "true freedom," and that it was the Africans, not the Portuguese and other slave traders who received the greatest benefit of slavery (Raboteau 1978:96).
While the institution of slavery continued for centuries in the Americas, it was (and is) an unquestioned evil. I'm sure that this view is shared by the vast majority of adherents to either side of the evolution-design debate. No amount of zeal in "spreading the Gospel" can possibly justify the kidnapping of some seven million people, as many as one-fourth of whom died in transit as a result of the brutal conditions. No appeal to science can possibly justify the human experimentation (e.g., the twin experiments) of Mengele and his ilk, perpetrated by Nazi Germany. A calloused indifference to human life can in no way be derived from even a cursory reading of the Bible, nor is the belief in the superiority of one race over another. Nevertheless, certain logical conclusions of evolutionary thinking need to be continually evaluated. If one is philosophically opposed to the racist practices of certain religious sects or groups, one must be equally opposed to similar beliefs held by state-sanctioned and supported groups, irrespective of their prestige or legal status.
There is a great gulf between human language and animal communication.
As a result, one must wonder how it is that every member of humankind
has this capacity while none of the other ten million (or so)
species does. If chimps and humans are equally "evolved"
or developed (having a common ancestor, as evolutionary thinking
would have us believe), then why is it that no other primate species
also has it, at least in some form? All things being equal, the
premise for the Planet of the Apes series of films seems
quite reasonable assuming the accepted beliefs of evolutionary
thinking. Furthermore, applying the principle of "equal development"
to a wider sample, one must ask why classes of reptilians, that
have presumably been around longer than their mammal counterparts,
have not also developed some sort of language skills. This is
the stuff of science fiction, not true science. Apparently, we
are to assume that the mathematical probabilities are 1 in 10,000,000
that any species will develop language, and humans are the winners.
We just happen to have the optimal biological makeup, and inhabit
the optimal planet with the optimal environment in the optimal
solar system in the optimal galaxy.
The knowledge of language sets us apart from all other species we know of so far (or that we can all agree to knowing). It is part of our unique heritage, our biological endowment. Its significance may be difficult to appreciate because so many aspects of it are taken for granted. We are simply unaware of what we do when we do language. From a Biblical perspective, it is an aspect of our humanity that links us to the infinite. It allows us to gain and express real knowledge, to learn of our respective environments and ourselves, and ultimately to reach many things and ideas that are beyond our individual capabilities. The obvious coherence of language and the language faculty raises significant questions about how random mutations could possibly account for such profound and effective order.
The predictability of language places its acquisition and use, in perception and performance, well within the realm of design:design is a reasonable assumption. Human language and its users are perfect fits, compatible in every respect, just as the ideal software is systematically compatible with its hardware (wetware, in this case). When a structure functions with such astounding speed and efficiency as that intrinsic to language, the terms intelligent design certainly seem appropriate. From the Biblical viewpoint, design is characteristic of the entire universe, and only in a stable universe can an outcome be completely assured and anticipated. Jet airplanes can fly because certain physical laws exist. If you doubt this, then you are not very likely to accumulate a lot of frequent-flyer miles. We can observe the principles of biology, as well, and marvel at the complex design of the eye, the ways the mind and body heal after injury, and so forth. We can witness the evolution of viruses and other simple life forms as they adapt to specific environments (the most adaptable survive). Their evolution is orderly and gradual, not random and sudden. We can interpret this as evidence of design that encompasses natural change. We may not know enough to be able to predict particular improvements or changes, but the fact of our ignorance does not preclude design. It does not mean that results are random.
From the evolutionary view, the systematic nature of language may be even more amazing, perhaps even startling, simply because the language faculty and all human languages are believed to have somehow evolved through impersonal processes of selection, as a blind watchmaker makes choices with little understanding of possible short- and long-term consequences. In pursuing evolutionary principles, one must conclude that our own consciousness is merely an evanescent phenomenon, illusory and fleeting at its base. If that truly reflects ultimate reality, on what basis do we trust our own logic? Logic presupposes rules, the existence and power of Reason and the orderly arrival at some form of truth, whether it is based on observation (reached through empirical hypotheses a posteriori) or as a mental construct that is simply presupposed and reached by means of an existing consensus a priori-which in the present academic environment, seems to characterize the belief in evolution. The alternative to a rational universe is one that lacks sense. Where does that leave human consciousness, thought, and cognition? My belief cannot alter facts, only my interpretation of them. From the Biblical perspective, God exists whether I, you, or any other human being believes it or not. Ultimately, from the perspective of the evolutionist, all beliefs are in essence illusions-including the belief in evolution.
One thing that is fairly clear about the two opposing viewpoints:there is little common ground upon which the agnostic can stand, little room for straddling fences. The lines are drawn. Judging from past discussions and the history of the debate, each side resists the other, to the point of hurling its fair share of invective. It may not be possible to be completely unbiased, but to take a stand, there is an important caveat:to hold a position, one must be open to its implications. It may not be a matter of choosing the path of least resistance-the most likely, pleasant, or politically correct alternative. Nor should it be the more pragmatic solution, which is to purchase some sort of "fire insurance" and become a religious person or "believer" to avoid the eventual outcome of unbelief set down in Scripture. Much has been said and written about the hope that accompanies belief and the nihilism at the end of atheism. It has done little to settle the seemingly endless controversies.
As far as faith is concerned, both stances require generous amounts. Both may seem hard to believe at times. Authors from the evolutionary side can probably afford to be light-hearted and even entertaining in their presentations. They certainly are not driven to defend the consensus of the scientific community. Its orthodoxy is merely taken for granted within its stated domains. Nevertheless, faith and faithfulness, in and of themselves, should never exclude executing critical judgment, inquiring after evidence (to prove or disprove), asking questions for clarification, or even questioning the validity and authority of conclusions drawn in accordance with particular worldviews. This is extremely important when positions governing how we are to interpret reality are set up as dogma that should not be questioned, whether they are based on Scripture or on the word of scientists. The potential for arrogance and misuse of authority appears to be inherent to either side of the debate. We all need to examine why we do or do not believe one position or the other and use the cognitive abilities we possess to arrive at a satisfactory decision, one that may tip the balance and allow for real explanation. And, we certainly need the individual courage to follow our views to their logical conclusions.
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