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July 20, 2012 2:43 am

Intelligent Design in Language

avatar by Adam Jacobs

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"A Venerable Orang-outang", a caricature of Charles Darwin as an ape published in The Hornet, a satirical magazine, 1871.

“I cannot doubt that language owes its origin to the imitation and modification, aided by signs and gestures, of various natural sounds, the voices of other animals, and man’s own instinctive cries.”

— Charles Darwin, 1871

Like their colleagues in the biological sciences, when challenged to explain their field’s origin, linguists hit a brick wall.  That is to say that linguistics currently has no conclusive theory to explain what one of them called “the hardest problem in science,” where does language come from?  The putative explanations they work with can be divided into two main categories “continuity theories” which assume that our language evolved step by step from our primate ancestors, and “discontinuity theories” which note that our linguistic faculties find no parallel in non-humans and so must have evolved suddenly.  However you slice it, the common denominator is the belief that blind chance endowed human beings with the sense and physiology to devise a highly complex system of expression where sounds represent objects and ideas.

How were these sounds presumed to have been selected?  Writing 12 years after his magnum opus “The Origin of Species”, Charles Darwin assumed that mimicry of the natural world, mixed with selection and variation, would give rise to the tens of thousands of words of the modern language.  That would make a lot of sense if more words were like “Mao”, the Chinese word for cat.  But what of the English word cat?  Where did we get that from?  MyEtymology.com tells me that it’s from the Proto-Germanic root “kattuz,” but that doesn’t much seem like a sound we would expect – a cat-like sound.  According to no theory of linguistics should we expect the random word sounds (onomatopoeic or agreed upon convention) to explain the character of the referenced object – grunting apes did not embed descriptives into their screeches.  What then would we conclude if it could be shown that there is a linguistic system that seems to do just that?

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Isaac Mozeson, a Ph.D. in linguistics from NYU, has explored this possibility in a fascinating work called “the Origin of Speeches.”  In it, he hypothesizes a primal, universal language that he calls Edenic (and others might call proto-Semitic or ancient Hebrew).  He sees this Ur-tongue as the progenitor of all of our 6000 or so languages and believes that it thwarts the current linguistic ape-sound notions to reveal a communication system where accurate descriptive sounds and concepts came simultaneously – factory installed.  So for instance, the word cat would be a derivative of the word “khatool,” which means to be  swaddled, wrapped up, as the cat uniquely is in repose.  Ever wonder where the name gopher came from?  No one seems to know, but we do know the quality of the creature – he’s a digger, and as it happens, the Edenic word for digging is “khofer.”  How about the word horse?  Which sounds more compelling, the Proto-Germanic root “khursa” which has no meaning, or the Edenic word “horesh” which means a plougher?

Dr. Mozeson and a team of researchers have compiled tens of thousands of similar examples in a surprising number of languages.   Take for example the word lad.  Linguists hypothesize a language called Proto-Indo-European which they invoke to explain the origins of quite a lot of words, yet they have no idea if the language ever existed.  In PIE, lad is thought to have come from “leit” whose meaning is unknown.  In Edenic (and Modern Hebrew) the word for a young man is “yeled” which in turn comes from the word “layda” which means to give birth.

The D,R root in Edenic means path or way as reflected in the word “derekh.”  It is interesting to note the preponderance of that root in so many forms of communication (keep in mind that D and T are interchangeable according to the rules of linguistics).  For example: “DRoga” Russian, “DaRa” Malay, “TRek” Dutch, “DoRo” Japanese, “Dt RoHng” Thai, “TaRiq” Arabic and of course “RoaD.”  Lucky coincidence?  Perhaps, but what if it’s not?  What if, as the book of Genesis describes, it really was the case that “the whole (‘kol’) Earth (‘eretz’) was of one speech (‘saphah’), and that that speech did not evolve from primate banter?  We would be forced to conclude that far from being a collection of random and meaningless sound conventions, language was designed.  Perhaps that is the reason why its origin is such a black box to linguists.

Seen from this light, it would make more sense why Adam (whose name is derived from “Adama” which means earth – rendering him an “earthling”) was tasked with naming all of the animals.  On the surface of the matter it would appear odd that it was the first activity that God had him perform – to what end?  Far from being a stroll through the primeval petting-zoo, it was a lesson to show him the obviousness of the name given the nature of the creature.  In Edenic/Hebrew, names represent the essence of a thing, so that when he named the dog, he called it a “Kelev” a designation which indicates a creature that is “all heart,” in accordance with its well-known emotional demeanor.

For obvious reasons, there had been a great deal of resistance to the general notion of Intelligent Design – it has its implications.  Classical Judaism has always concurred that the universe had a designing intelligence and is therefore unfazed by the attempts of a small but active group of scientists to demonstrate its veracity.  They are making progress, as is evidenced by the recent publication of their 50th peer-reviewed article on the topic.  Perhaps in time, the idea that the world as we know it – whether biologically or linguistically – was not an extremely  fortuitous set of accidents but rather a well-orchestrated, meaning-imbued, conscious act of creation.  For those that are interested in learning more, the threads are there – waiting to be explored.

“For then I will change the nations to speak a pure language…” (Zepahnia 3:9)

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  • [] That is to say that linguistics currently has no conclusive theory to explain what one of them called “the hardest problem in science,” where does language come from?[]

    Okay. But the answer is not an “Edenic” language of the gap. The answer is simply as yet unknown, as are the specifics of the origin of life.

  • G-d is an intelligent designer par excellence. He has a plan for Planet Earth. G-d is not aphasic. He does intervene in the affairs of humankind. The Mitzvot described in the Pentateuch, i.e. “Five tools” in ancient Greek, are all commandments given to Moses from a higher force. (There is a hierarchy of importance to the Mitzvot BTW, but that is another question.) Language is so important as it is through language that human beings communicate and give and receive orders. One of the meanings of the word “media” (the etymology is from the ancient Persian civilization of the Medes) is “to intervene”.

    Is the future a set of footprints in the sand we blindly follow or is time both linear and expansive ? Are we both the puppets and puppeteers of the universe ? Who should write the future ?

    Believe it or not a certain script is unfolding right now on the world stage. The World Peace 2050 production is an interesting one indeed…

  • [][][]

    CRW
    July 22, 2012
    3:56 pm

    “The support for the rejection of ID is empirical and not logical.”
    [][][]

    Clearly it is logical to reject the notion of “Supernatural Intelligent Design” because there is no empirical support (not even a hint of it) for such a belief.

    But you don’t need to know anything about modern science to understand that. It would have been quite reasonable, even thousands of years ago, to respond to the first person claiming a miraculous supernatural cause for something, “Hey, you’re just letting your imagination run away with you.”

    It is not logical to consider that there could be an unreal/unnatural/not-of-this-world cause for anything, period, because it is a blatant self-contradiction, viz., that the real is subservient to the unreal (that empirical observation is fundamentally useless for understand things).

  • Barry Carlson

    I, for one, would be happy to see Steve Stoddard banned from the site as he is clearly sabotaging any honest debate or discussion. I know there is always the danger he could just change his name, but his style would be instantly recognizable.

    • CRW

      Unfortunately he is turning into a classic troll. I might agree with his perspective, but his style is not evidenced based debate. Rather it is browbeating and false logic.

      • So a “classic troll” is “somebody who doesn’t always agree with everybody else”? Seems like a job that often needs doing.

      • You feel that it’s “false logic” to state that the supernatural is impossible? Do you think that it is possible?

        If so, based on what evidence and logic?

      • \\\“… browbeating …”///

        ???

        What alternative universe are you living in, CRW?

    • Since you are so confident in your position, Barry, why don’t you ban yourself from the site? That way you could avoid encountering stuff so nasty as dissenting ideas.

    • Why not take a vote? Perhaps the majority could vote dissent off the site, if that is your vision of how to conduct an honest discussion.

    • Samuel Johnson

      To my shame, I must admit that I allowed myself to be baited by Mr. Stoddard’s derogatory remarks, which I found to be insulting and degrading. For that, I must apologize to the forum.

      As a result, I hereby pledge to voluntarily abstain from any further contributions to the comment pages of the Algemeiner. I am sure that most would agree that it would be well for all if Mr. Stoddard would do the same.

      I will continue to follow the articles provided here with great interest for their praise worthy, and be thankful for the lessons in online etiquette that I learned here.

      • It is always a losing proposition to try to argue in favor of the supernatural. You have no realistic arguments. There is no need to sully your faith by paying attention to different viewpoints.

      • And, Samuel, your tactic of “attacking the messenger” wasn’t working — so you really aren’t giving up much in that area. Quiet faith, undisturbed (and “unbrowbeaten”) by consideration of different viewpoints might be the best you can do. Hopefully, more of the faithful will follow your example (and avoid making comments in places where non-like-minded comments — what you consider to be “insulting and degrading” comments — are allowed).

  • [][]“However you slice it, the common denominator is the belief that blind chance endowed human beings with the sense and physiology to devise a highly complex system of expression where sounds represent objects and ideas.”[][]

    If it comes down to the “endowments of blind chance” vs. the “Intelligent Designer” of blind faith, then blind faith is the more illogical choice.

  • [][][]

    Samuel Johnson
    July 21, 2012
    3:00 pm

    “… my religious beliefs as fantasy garbage,…”
    [][][]

    My term was “fantasy fiction.” “Fantasy garbage” is your interpretation, Samuel.

    • Update:

      Fiction is not, per se, garbage. Fiction, in fact, is a wonder human creation.

      The Bible, in particular, is famous and rather impressive literature.

    • Update:

      Fiction is not, per se, garbage. Fiction, in fact, is a wonderful human creation.

      The Bible, in particular, is famous and rather impressive literature.

  • Samuel Johnson

    Why the feigned self-righteous indignation, Steve?

    You are the one who insists upon continually insulting my religious beliefs as fantasy garbage, and you are the one who first brought the Bible into this discussion, not me.

    As usual, you have contributed practically nothing which in any manner relevantly relates to the article, but rather you jumped immediately into a tirade deriding any belief in a higher consciousness and the Bible.

    No offense, Steve, but you don’t have the even slightest clue as to what the Bible is about, nor do you have the least understanding of its essential message.

    And although your attempts to leave the impression that you know the Bible are laughable, they are nonetheless understandable, given the spiritual bankruptcy that rules our institutional hierarchies (politics, economics, religion, etc).

    Be that as it may, what God does expect from all of us is that we acknowledge Him as Creator, based on the complex majesty of His creation, and his revelations of our Divine origins which are available to us on so many levels.

    This is the authentication which He provides us, and which places the alternatives for our existence outside any other reasonable computation of probability.

    Romans 1:18-23:

    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

    For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

    For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

    For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

    Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
    Romans 1:18-23, King James 2000

    Have I missed the point enough for you now, Steve?

    • Not exactly. But you shouldn’t worry about it.

      • Samuel Johnson

        OK. Du bist blöd, Steve, aber ich habe dich trotzdem Lieb.

        Die Furcht des Herrn ist der Anfang der Erkenntnis; nur Toren verachten Weisheit und Zucht!
        Sprüche 1:7

        • You have finally proved I don’t know what you are talking about.

          • Samuel Johnson

            Don’t you speak German?

          • You’ve demonstrated that I don’t know everything. Might make a bunch of people happy.

          • Anyhow, why not get back to the issue of why you think Adam Jabobs article has nothing to do with the Bible.

        • Are you trying to say the the notion of “Edenic” has nothing to do with the Bible?

    • [][]“… you are the one who first brought the Bible into this discussion,…”[][]

      So your story is that “Edenic” language has nothing to do with the “Garden of Eden”/”Garden of God”? (Or is it that the “Garden of Eden” has nothing to do with the Bible?)

    • []{}[]“Seen from this light, it would make more sense why Adam (whose name is derived from “Adama” which means earth – rendering him an “earthling”) was tasked with naming all of the animals. On the surface of the matter it would appear odd that it was the first activity that God had him perform …”[]{}[]

      Where is that supposed to come from if not the Bible?

    • And the Bible is a work of fiction, God being an uber fictional character.

    • [][]“… but you don’t have the even slightest clue as to what the Bible is about,…”[][]

      Insofar as it is about a Supernatural Creator, it is about essentially nothing.

    • [][]“… deriding any belief in a higher consciousness and the Bible.”[][]

      Since the Bible is fiction, it is a cognitive error to take it literally.

      And the notion of “higher consciousness” — meaning “non-living consciousness” or “supernatural consciousness” — is not cognitively/logically meaningful (since it isn’t physically possible).

    • []“… and His revelations of our Divine origins which are available to us on so many levels.”[]

      Those “so many levels” and “revelations” are all imaginary, though.

      “Divine origins” is a notion that can only be reached through blind faith; there is no sense to it at all.

    • []“Why the feigned self-righteous indignation,…”[]

      It has to be feigned because I’m not really self-righteous.

  • I judge the quality of someone’s thinking partly by how well they can handle the simple facts they use to build their argument. The minor features, rather than being trivial, reflect the care and grounding of an argument. Adam Jacobs stumbles at the starting line.

    My BS detector was in high from the start. When Jacobs wrote, “Isaac Mozeson, a Ph.D. in linguistics from NYU,” my first thought was, “If he was From NYY, Where did he go?” A simple Google check revealed that Dr. Mozeson A) never received a doctorate in linguistics, B) he never held an academic appointment in linguistics, C) he never published in a professional linguistics journal. He is a promoter of biblical literalism, and claims to have “discovered” that all human languages derive from what he has variously termed Hebrew, biblical Hebrew, proto-Hebrew, pre-Hebrew, and most recently “Edenic.” For a direct example of his thinking see, “COULD PRE-HEBREW BE THE SAFA AHAT OF GENESIS 11:1 ?”

    In that essay, the core failure of Mozeson’s reasoning is exposed- he assumes from biblical arguments that all languages, and all humanity originated as presented in Genesis. Any counter evidence is to be disregarded as the result of magical intervention given in Gen. 11:6, 9.

    But, lets return to Rabbi Jacobs. He wrote, “Ever wonder where the name gopher came from? No one seems to know, but we do know the quality of the creature – he’s a digger, and as it happens, the Edenic word for digging is “khofer.” This raised some serious issues about Jacobs’ education. I should have thought a Rabbi should know that “khofer” does not mean “to dig.” I had supposed that a Rabbi would know the Hebrew verb pronounced “ko fer” כפר in the Bible, eg the Leningrad Codex, meant “to cover” (see Gen. 6:14). But, let’s leave Hebrew for the moment. The third gross error by Jacobs is that “No seems to know (the origin of the name gopher given in North America to small burrowing rodents, gh). This showed that Rabbi Jacobs was at best very lazy; too lazy to use the Oxford English Dictionary, or the Webster’s Unabridged. (The origin of this particular use of the phoneme “go fer” comes from the French word for “honeycomb” first used in English for a fried bread now popularly called a “waffle.” Early Francophone settlers called the intricate shallow burrows made by Geomys sp., and Thomomys sp. “gophers.”

    I don’t see the need to break this down further.

    • Aharon Ben David

      I might suggest that you judge the quality of an argument, by the argument (and not by the relatively extraneous points you take issue with). Whatever Mozeson assumes and whatever his degree do not have any direct impact on the quality of the argument presented here.

      You have, therefore, only offered one potentially valuable critique re: the word Gopher. “Khofer” does however mean dig (chet, pey, reish)as I just checked in the Reuben Alcalay dictionary. The French waffle connection seems like a stretch to me. Khofer/digger seems much more direct and accurate.

  • [][]“… the world as we know it – whether biologically or linguistically – was … a well-orchestrated, meaning-imbued, conscious act of creation.”[][]

    While it is possible to believe that notion through religious (i.e., blind) faith, it is not a process that is actually a possibility in the real world. The fact is that intelligence is a product of evolution, so that intelligence could not have preceded life in any actual (i.e., non-fictional) process or chain of events.

    Objecting that such a restriction cannot be applied to “Supernatural Intelligence” ignores the fact that the supernatural is a fictional device, not anything actual.

  • CRW

    Since children are not born with language and must be taught, it is obvious that a language is a cultural phenomenon. Children are born with the ability to learn language, and if they have not acquired one by the end of their critical period (somewhere between 6 and 9), they lose the ability to properly learn a language well. In fact, they remain functionally impaired. This is something from an intro linguistics course.

    Whales and dolphins have complex communications as rudimentary language, but even they have dialects and vocabulary differences within the same species between different groups. Moreover, the sounds whales and dolphins utter have absolutely nothing to do with mimicking nature. Consequently, even in primitive languages deviations are common as well as a disconnection from mimicking nature.

    Look at language today. It is under constant revision. New words, new grammatical structures arise every year. Consider the use of the word “fail,” which is now being used as a noun in place of the word “failure.”

    An intelligent design argument would only be plausible if language itself was a static thing. Given that it changes continuously and that it is NOT innate when a child is born, this argument is one big “fail.”

    • aleband

      If CRW had children, he/she would have noticed many great fact of linguistic past that infants “resurrect” and “regularize”. Chomsky’s “innate ability”, as I heard him explain it, never implied simplistic “tabula rasa” arguments. There is a period of “imprinting” and attested cases of real-life Tarzans suggest that after a period of no human exposure these individuals are incapable of verbal communication much as certain birds that can duplicate human souunds must be isolated from their kind at a very early age. One should, perhaps, bear in mind “there-is-more-to- heaven-and-earth” advice when dealing with language and linguistic hypotheses.

      • CRW

        I have several children, and language learning is a constant feedback and repeat cycle. I really don’t get the point you’re trying to make. No one “remembers” language?? Please elaborate.

        If you read my post carefully, I spoke of the innate ability to learn a language. However, the content, structure, and grammar of language must be acquired. The system is primed, but it needs input to complete.

        If you have studied linguistics, you would realize that grammar and phonomes between languages are very different. In fact, people have trouble even hearing the phonomes of other languages.

    • Samuel Johnson

      If computer programmers are able to design non-static programs which are able to learn and adapt, then how can you conclude that non-stasis, with the ability to learn and adapt, exclude the possibility of design?

      The observation that human language seems to have a common origin is not new. Neither are the many problems that our current understanding of linguistics hold for the Darwinistic view.

      Not surprisingly, the Biblical understanding of its origins continues to remain as a plausible explanation.

      • The attempt to explain anything — language, life, water, absolutely anything whatsoever — by calling on something supernatural is cognitively empty. The supernatural is imaginary, not real.

        Obviously, it is true that there are many stories about God, and there is a long tradition of people sharing and comparing such stories. Still, those stories remain as they have always been: fiction.

        The Garden of Eden is fiction. God’s murder of children is fiction, as is everything else told about God. Life after death is fiction. Supernatural Intelligent Design is fiction. Etc.

        If you find facts disruptive of your beliefs, then you either need to learn to deal with facts — or ignore them better.

    • [][]An intelligent design argument would only be plausible if language itself was a static thing.”[][]

      How could anything about language make the supernatural “plausible”?

      Regardless of whether language is “static” or “non-static,” the supernatural would still be the contradictory of nature, and therefore not only implausible, but literally impossible.

      • CRW

        I don’t support ID at all. My point was that language would have to an attribute of a creature to be considered part of the “design.” The fact that content and structure must be completely taught and may not be inherited means that a “language” is purely a cultural construct.

        Please don’t confuse my small concession which I immediately disregarded with support of ID.

        • []‘… would have to be an attribute of a creature to be considered part of the “design.”’[]

          Everything has attributes. Attributes per se do not imply design.

          Watches, for instance, have both attributes and designers. Life has attributes, but no designer. An “Intelligent Designer Of Life” is a literal impossibility (since a designer needs to be conscious, and therefore living, before being able to design anything).

          • CRW

            It sounds as if you feel the need to further correct me… I don’t understand why you are being so contrary to the point of absurdity.

            I said I don’t support or believe in ID. Please move on and stop belaboring points already conceded.

          • It’s only a matter of trying to clear up loose ends.

            I may be wrong, and if so I hope you will correct me, but it sounds like you “don’t support or believe in ID” at this time, but that you consider it possible that evidence for it might still someday be found.

            I don’t think that is a possibility.

            I think “Supernatural Intelligent Design” (whether of language or anything else) is out-and-out fantasy (that it always has been impossible and always will be impossible). the “Supernatural” is the contradictory of real life.

  • Johannes

    The words “pseudoscience” and “linguistics” often go together.
    Maybe it’s a coincidence, but what if it’s not?

    This is pure coincidental work; I suppose I could establish a more believable connection between Wakashan and Chinese if I tried.

    • Samuel Johnson

      But you are not going to bother to try, right? And if you did, that would prove what?

  • It’s disappointing to see that this kind of nonsense-peddling has now spread to linguistics.

    Obviously, the supposed “evidence” here– that two of the most commonly occurring types of sound across languages happen to occur in the same order in various words in various languages out of all the billions of combinations available– is hardly worth wasting keyboard strokes on.

    But remember that in general, the resistance to Intelligent Design– in linguistics or other fields– has nothing to do with its “implications”. Scientists don’t choose their explanations of phenomena according to which have better or worse “implications” for them– they choose the explanation that best accounts for the available evidence. Intelligent Design has met a lot of resistance from the scientific community because it is an extremely poor explanation of the available evidence and has poor testability and predictive power compared to other competing theories. (It has also received resistance simply because it is largely considered to be religion in disguise rather than actual science.)

    • Neil,

      “Scientists don’t choose their explanations of phenomena according to which have better or worse “implications” for them- they choose the explanation that best accounts for the available evidence.”

      If only what you wrote here was actually true. Of course it is not. Scientists are human beings just like the rest of us. They are not better or worse. They are susceptible to every human failing and temptation that afflicts all humans. They are influenced by jealousy, lust, envy, desire for honor and job security as much as anyone else. As Dr. Niles Eldredge writes: “”…in the competitive fray that is science, data forging, plagiarism, and all manner of base but utterly human failings make a mockery of the counter image of detached objectivity.”

      Those who choose to stand in awe of every utterance of scientists on issues pertaining to spirituality, philosophy, and the existence of a non-material reality, have simply made them into the new “infallible” shamans and witch doctors which skeptics so delight (justifiably) in criticizing. It’s time to realize that scientists will say absurd things when it advances their agenda, just like everyone else. The cold blade of reason must be applied to their conclusions just as it must be applied to all.

      Are these examples of “scientific objectivity?”

      Dr. George Wald: “When it comes to the origin of life, we have only two possibilities as to how life arose. One is spontaneous generation arising to evolution; the other is a supernatural creative act of God…I will not accept that philosophically because I do not want to believe in God.” – (Scientific American, August, 1954)

      Dr. Richard Lewontin: “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between Science and the Supernatural. We take the side of Science despite the patent absurdity of some of its constructs…because we have a prior commitment to naturalism…we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanation not matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door.”

      Unfortunately, as I have discovered in several years of research, remarks like this are not isolated, they are routine. If only what you said was true…..

      • CRW

        You are pointing out the problems with confirmation bias in research, which is widespread and often difficult to confirm, which is why independent corroboration of results is always required before a scientific claim is considered “true.”

        People who look at one study and take it as fact without understanding that a single study is not the foundation of a theory are the problem. The media exacerbates this by publishing new scientific results without waiting for the results to be vetted or qualifying results as corroborated.

        However, you are stepping into completely uncharted and unsupportable statements when you cite remarks such as:

        “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between Science and the Supernatural”

        The problem is that “common sense” actually prevents things from being seen correctly. For example, the wave particle duality of quantum mechanics flies in the face of “common sense.” Similarly, statistics is frequently counter-intuitive, which is why people fall prey to things like the gambler’s fallacy. What must be done is that any new scientific claim should be looked at with a jaundiced eye until it has been confirmed by others. The implications of what you have posted is that science can be just plain wrong if it conflicts with spiritual knowledge. The methodology of science prevents any crossover. How do you test, verify, or discover new spiritual information using empirical methods?

        Science is the realm of empirical knowledge. The flaws of individual scientists are well known and this is why we must always be wary of some new discovery. However, to say that his is justification to question the validity of theories like evolution or the big bang is to ignore the mountains of evidence that can be examined and verified by anyone so inclined.

        • [][]“… justification to question the validity of theories like evolution or the big bang is to ignore the mountains of evidence that can be examined and verified …”[][]

          The belief in “Supernatural Intelligent Design” has nothing to do with evidence. It is purely a religious fantasy, not arising from evidence, and quite impervious to it.

          Evolution, on the other hand, is a good scientific theory.

          And then there’s the “Big Bang,” which seems less like a scientific theory than an attempt to secularize the fantasy of “Creation, by God!” Insofar as the “Big Bang” is taken as “the origin of the universe,” then it makes no more sense (viz., zero) than Supernatural Creation.

          • CRW

            Ummm… rather than repeat the decades of physics that went into the development of the Big Bang theory, I would suggest you read a good book.

            Singh’s book on the Big Bang is one of the clearest summaries I have ever read. It starts with Greek astronomy up to current day QED and its role within the Big Bang.

            There is nothing religious or deferential in the Big Bang. It is the theory that best explains the evidence.

            I find your condescending remarks ignorant and uninformed.

          • [][]“There is nothing religious … in the Big Bang.”[][]

            I disagree. I think “creation of the universe” stories are necessarily religious — since they have to be based on something supernatural, i.e., not of physical reality, which is the only source of evidence there is.

      • I largely agree with the points @CRW has raised– I’ll just add one or two more things.

        The issues you mention are indeed problems among certain individuals. Indeed, there can also be a problem of institutional bias– certain issues or lines of enquiry considered to be the ‘topic du jour’ by governments and institutions can be the ones that more easily get funding while others are left by the wayside.

        However, the overall goal of the scientific community of objectivism and constructing theory based on evidence still emerges by and large from the community as a whole. Sometimes precisely for the reasons you mention: the competitive nature of some academic circles is an incentive for competing researchers to publicly denounce flaws in one another’s work. If (as @CRW mentions) one wingnut group of researchers produces some whacky results which cannot be verified by any other researchers in the field, this will usually come to light sooner or later. (There is indeed a problem among how science is *reported* by the media which means that unconfirmed results can be given premature credibility.)

        Now, I should say that in the specific case of the origin of human language, I think you’re over-egging things. There really isn’t some agenda among the linguistic community to cover up or deny particular evidence for the origin of language. As the article hints at, there isn’t at present a consensus on how exactly language first came about. It isn’t true that linguists have “drawn a blank” exactly: there are a few hypotheses (of which Darwin’s idea is possibly the weakest). But at present we don’t a means of gathering strong evidence one way or the other and we don’t have *strong* grounds for totally ruling out various of the hypotheses. (Conversely, the “evidence” put forward in the article above can probably be discounted with a small amount of knowledge about linguistics combined with a bit of high school statistics…)

        If in the future we find a way, say, of reliably interpreting 50K-200K year old DNA fragments, it’s plausible that we may have a means to refine our theories of how knowledge first came about. At the moment we don’t really have such a means. So it’s probably fair to say that linguistics isn’t presently devoting many resources to that question when there are other issues for which we do have evidence and means of investigation. That’s not quite the same as “drawing a blank” and it certainly doesn’t imply “we don’t presently know, so let’s automatically assume intelligent design based on the weakest possible iota of evidence that we first stumble across”.

        • P.S. sorry I of course meant “theories about how *language* first came about”.

          I should also say, far from the “implications” necessarily being bad: if you do believe that science has “drawn a blank” then you could argue that it would actually be rather convenient if strong, compelling evidence ever did come to light because it would provide an answer to that question.

          But no such evidence has so far come to light. There’s no need to pretend that we know things that we don’t know.

    • {}{}“Intelligent Design has met a lot of resistance from the scientific community because it is an extremely poor explanation of the available evidence and has poor testability and predictive power compared to other competing theories.”{}{}

      What marvelous understatement.

      In fact, “Supernatural Intelligent Design” has absolutely NO explanation for any evidence of any kind, it has ZERO testability, and ZERO predictive power. Cognitively speaking, “Supernatural Intelligent Design” is null and void. There is literally nothing to it.

  • Gulliver MC

    Mr Mozenson’s doctoral work was in literature, according to his site; his work in linguistics is as credible as a master carpenter writing about paleobotany.

    This is just bizarre.

    • CRW

      Unfortunately, when it comes to anything related to intelligent design, evolution, and the origins of life, many people feel they have valid and verifiable opinions even when they haven’t had more than a high school biology class.

      Claiming that language is too complex and subtle to have arisen from nature is just a variation of the same ID argument around irreducible complexity. It is tired and easily discredited, yet it is often repeated by people who will not be confused by the facts.

      • Aharon Ben David

        I’d like to lean how irreducible complexity is easily discredited. Please explain.

        • Aharon – there are some links on the Wikipedia page as to why the examples of Irreducible Complexity commonly put forward aren’t really irreducible. But extrapolating, the overall fallacy of the “irreducible complexity” argument is that it assumes that systems that are irreducible in carrying out their *current* function are irreducible in terms of their ability to carry out other functions historically as they evolved (and also relies on a particular view of what is “complex”, assuming that evolutionary processes must be incapable of producing that complexity).

          • Aharon Ben David

            Seems to me that they only highlight the theoretical possibility that these systems could have had other functions – they have yet to offer anything that would demonstrate such a pathway.

            Furthermore, if it was so cut and dried, why would scientists continue to argue such a discredited point 16 years after publication as this article highlights? http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/03/michael_behes_critics_make_dar044511.html

          • Aharon – I’m not an evolutionary biologist and couldn’t tell you to what extent actual examples/demonstrations in relation to these specific examples have or have not been found. But the argument *is* by and large a theoretical one of axiomatic possibility: I don’t see it as being crucial to the argument what precise examples may or may not have been found. Again, it’s a case of weighing up the available evidence overall for and against the theory of evolution. It isn’t the case that Intelligent Design wins ‘by default’ if it manages to find one tiny (so far) unexplained detail in the overall theory.

            That said, for what it’s worth, I think the actual examples cited by the IC protagonists do actually have specific counterexamples or counter-evidence, e.g. removing proteins from the flagellum still apparently allows it to function to a lesser extent. As I say, this is really beyond my specialisation– perhaps any biologist here could elaborate– but I don’t even think these specific pieces of evidence are really that crucial overall– it is more the overwhelming evidence for evolution generally that sways how credible we find these examples as evidence for design or irreducibility.

            Re why “scientists continue to argue” about this: it’s far from clear that they really actually do or ever have done. Creationists attempt to engage such a debate and jump on the occasional isolated maverick to try to give the impression that there is somehow a frenzied, active debate going on within the biology community as a whole and that the veracity of evolution is somehow a hot issue that biologists are losing thousands of man hours of sleep over. But if you take a look at the list of articles in an average biology journal, I don’t think you’ll find this to be the case. The alluded to “debate” is by and large the invention of the religious lobbyists, not actual scientists who are simply trying to get on with their work (which has nothing to do with “debating” things which for them are simply fundamental axiomatic building blocks of what they do, not hot issues for debate).

          • Aharon ben David

            I’m not a biologist either and as such both of us are forced to play out this disagreement by citing experts. Obviously, there are very many professionals who are fully sold on Darwinism as it is traditionally understood. What erks some of us is that there are also a lot who are not. Have you seen this list before http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org/?

            Are you familiar with the writing of David Stove (Darwinian Fairytales) or David Berlinski (The Deniable Darwin)? They are both agnostics who critique the theory with a heavy hand. I have trouble understanding why so little of the dissent seems to filter through.

          • Aharon — I’m aware of the list you mention, but I’m not sure that it really demonstrates anything useful. So a mathematician signs a list saying that they agree with a single sentence saying they have some vague “dissent” with a biological theory. Well… Where is the corresponding list of all the mathematicians in the world that don’t dissent with the theory, or the list of all the professional biologists that don’t dissent, or the list of all the professional biologists who have signed a one-sentence statement saying that they vaguely “dissent” with (say) chaos theory or set theory… I’m not sure that it proves anything very useful.

            As I understand– correct me if I’m wrong because I haven’t read it– “Darwinian Fairytales”, and indeed various other criticisms of “Darwinism”, is primarily concerned with attacking the specific flavour of evolution advocated by Dawkins and others that evolution as it occurs in biology is non-altruistic. On this *specific* issue (but not the veracity of evolution per se), I’m sure there *is* quite a lively debate among evolutionary biologists. (But so what… there are details of the theory of gravity that are still being worked out by cosmologists and physicists, but there isn’t AFAIK a special petition to register one’s “dissent” at the theory of gravity…)

            I should say, though: in terms of this actual article that sparked the present debate, the *linguistic* theory under discussion essentially has nothing to do with Darwin.

        • The “irreducible complexity” notion is not a sound biological concept. It is entirely a religious rationalization to try make room for blind (i.e., religious) faith to substitute fantasy for knowledge.

          No matter what level of complexity anything in nature has, it is still perfectly natural. Nothing supernatural is actually possible in any way, shape, or form, simple or complex.

          • Aharon Ben David

            It’s hard to see how it is “entirely a religious rationalization” when it is presented by a professor of biochemistry at a major university in a peer reviewed publication.

          • Hard, perhaps, but obviously not impossible.

        • CRW

          The claims of irreducible complexity have been trying to hold an ever shrinking line of defense. Biochemists such as Behe originally pointed to things like the eye, but eventually had to focus on complex proteins such as clotting factors. However, even these few have collapsed when the role of things like gene doubling has emerged in lengthening protein structures. The last line in the sand appears to be DNA.

          Irreducible complexity is an absence of explanation by other means, and not an explanation until itself. To prove it would require evidence or a “proof” that could be accepted and independently proven by others. Think of the “halting” problem in computer science – the diagnolization proof demonstrates why the halting problem cannot be solved by a Turing complete model of computing. A similar proof for irreducible complexity does not exist, nor is there an empirical test to show that something is in fact irreducibly complex.

          Arguments for ID have always been by analogy and never derived directly from those things that are “irreducibly complex.”

          • @CRW – In principle, I wonder if something that we would take for evidence of “irreducible complexity” that pointed to an intelligent designer on the molecular/fundamental particle level could theoretically exist. For instance, and giving a really simplistic example, if we had found that water consisted of something that was chemically inseparable and fundamentally different from any other chemical in the universe (rather than in fact being a couple of boring old hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom just like any other boring old hydrogen or oxygen atom in the entire universe), I wonder to what extent this would have swayed the debate in favour of “intelligent design”?

            Or, say, we had found an actual fundamental particle that was crucial to blood clotting but not to any other observable process?

            Obviously no such evidence exists, but I wonder if in *principle* it could?

          • CRW

            @Neil:

            Given the development of heavy elements through stellar processes and the construction of heavier particles from smaller particles such as quarks, I think that QED has pretty much made a molecular argument for ID impossible. If DNA were irreducibly complex, it would have to appear in its completed form. However, this is impossible given that at some point in the universe, substances heavier than hydrogen did not exist.

            According to evolution, what we should see is varying lengths of DNA and “garbage DNA” as the detritus of evolutionary process, and this is exactly what we see even in the human genome. For example, human chromosome 2 is a merged version of great ape chromosomes 2a and 2b. Mutations such as gene doubling show spontaneous lengthening of some chromosomes. Moreover, humans carry the inactive gene sequences (genotypes) of phenotypes we do not display because the supporting genotypes have been suppressed. The same is true of most complex creatures – chickens have the genes for teeth, whales have the genes for legs, etc.

            I think that building blocks of matter and how heavier substances developed from hydrogen over time makes any argument for molecular ID completely impossible. The only way ID survives is a god of the gaps argument. Since the development of DNA cannot be explained, it must be god or intelligence or design.

            The premise of this article is very similar. In the absence of any other explanation, the structure of language implies ID, which is the philosophy 101 fallacy of begging the question.

            The correct answer remains “we don’t know.”

          • [][]‘In principle, I wonder if something that we would take for evidence of “irreducible complexity” that pointed to an intelligent designer on the molecular/fundamental particle level could theoretically exist.’[][]

            Such “evidence” could not physically or logically exist — because the intelligence necessary for designing is irreducibly dependent on the pre-existing biological complexity from which it evolved.

            The idea of a “non-living designer” or “non-living intelligence” is not logically supportable. It’s imaginable, if you don’t mind fantasizing about impossibilities, but it is not logically, empirically supportable.

      • []“… even when they haven’t had more than a high school biology class.”[]

        No biology classes are necessary to understanding that “Supernatural Intelligent Design of Life” — the “Super IDOL” — is an impossibility. Since intelligence is an attribute of certain living entities, it could not have preceded life.

        • CRW

          I agree in principle with what you say. However, it is precisely these “logical assumptions” that have led to ID arguments themselves. We must focus on what can be empirically tested or derivable and observable. ID is certainly a god of the gaps argument and not a proof of anything.

          There are many things that were once thought to be impossible that are now possible. The simple fact is that an external intelligence guiding living process has no support in the data – this is the scientific argument.

          • [][]“The simple fact is that an external intelligence guiding living process has no support in the data …”[][]

            Naturally not, since it is literally impossible, like a square circle.

            It is not going to happen that one day we will suddenly start finding square circles or non-living intelligence.

          • CRW

            @Steve Stoddard:

            Your militant naivety is no longer interesting nor is it correct. I will give you a perfect example. Euclidean geometry starts with a fundamental assumption: given a line and a point not on the line there is exactly one line parallel to the given line that passes through the given point. However, if this assumption is removed a very valid mathematical model can be developed for non-Euclidean geometry, such as the Poincare model and what is known as the angle of parallelism. This might seem like just a theoretical game, but it turns out the Euclidean model does break down in real space. What we have learned from relativity and QED is that our traditional models of Euclidean geometry do not work in extremes.

            In QED the wave particle duality of quanta is a contradiction in traditional physics, yet it is very easily demonstrated using photons which under some circumstances display quantized behavior like particles, but under others display wave behavior like interference.

            Your assumption that ID is a logical contradiction is as false a statement as ID itself. There is no evidence for ID. Moreover, those things identified as irreducibly complex have been debunked. However, these arguments are empirical and not based on logical contradictions.

            The support for the rejection of ID is empirical and not logical.

          • [][]“The support for the rejection of ID is empirical and not logical.”[][]

            Why can’t it be both? Do you think there has to be an incompatibility between empirical evidence and logic?

        • Barry Carlson

          Your argumentation here, as elsewhere, is circular. Your “facts” are just arrogant assertions. This should be apparent to any honest debater, even those that agree with your standpoint.

    • That isn’t really the problem, though.

      If he demonstrated sound knowledge and argumentation in linguistics, it wouldn’t in principle matter if his PhD was in Jam Sandwich Making.

  • Julie Steinberg

    intelligent design? oy.

    • Julie,

      Intelligent comment? Oy.

      • Supernatural Intelligent Design?? No way.

      • Intelligent design of watches? Now that actually happens.

        The difference? People actually exist; God is a fictional character.

        • Samuel Johnson

          Once again, militant atheism has sounded the alarm in panic and descended upon the Algemeiner with all of its absurd obstructionism.

          Mr. Jacobs has presented a rational theory suggesting that human language could have originated from the Edenic (proto-Semitic or ancient Hebrew). His analysis of the problems involved in the Darwinian assumptions were also clearly stated and well founded.

          His conclusions are based on established facts and solid research, yet he is being attacked here solely because his premise does not agree with atheistic philosophical preferences.

          Let’s recap the atheist argument here. Research based on established facts is derided as irrational, because it doesn’t fit into the atheist world view. On the other hand, even the wildest speculation, completely lacking credible evidence, other than “that is how it must have been”, is regarded as high science.

          Mr. Jacobs has been unfairly portrayed as unqualified and incompetent by the usual band of suspects that seem to patrol this site.

          Are you guys given special assignments as to which sites you should disrupt?

          Why is it that the militant atheist seems so frightened of any alternative view, and why are they so obsessed with the need to squelch others freedom of speech and belief?

          • Samuel: I can’t speak for others, but just to be clear, my objection has nothing to do with atheism. My objection is simply that the *linguistic* basis of the argument put forward in the article is extremely weak.

            There’s no problem with alternative theories and presenting challenges to established theories. But they need to be based on at least equally strong evidence as the established theories they are opposing.

            Incidentally, mentioning Darwin here is simply setting up a Straw Man argument. Linguists will readily acknowledge that Darwin’s throwaway comment about how language may have started has little supporting evidence and is NOT widely believed to be the most plausible or satisfactory explanation for how language started.

          • Samuel Johnson

            Neil,

            Fair enough.

            Discussing the merits of the article through honest discourse is presumably the reason the comment section exists.

            It is another thing altogether when radical activists flock to a site merely to disrupt the discourse with narrow mindedness and prejudice.

            I did not mean to imply that you are in that group, but perhaps you can understand that the arrogance with believers are insulted by the radical atheists who seem to have no other point to make, is degrading and insulting.

          • Just what is it about disagreement that you consider to be unjustly “disruptive”?

          • CRW

            Any argument of ID requires that the existence of an external guiding intelligence be established. Please explain how the author has met this basic requirement? The complexity of language does not lend itself to this leap of logic.

          • [][]“Any argument of ID requires that the existence of an external guiding intelligence be established.”[][]

            Not exactly. More precisely, there are no possible arguments for the existence of non-living intelligence (i.e., a so-called “IDOL” — “Intelligent Designer Of Life”).

            It would just as useful to claim that any argument for the existence of square circles requires that the existence of square circles be established.

    • Is there any other kind of design than intelligent design? What would be an example of non-intelligent design?

      • Samuel Johnson

        Your posts.

        • Incorrect.

          All the posts, articles, etc., on this site (and everywhere else on the internet, just to keep to a restricted sample) are examples of intelligent design. (Mine are better designed than yours, but that is not relevant to the point at hand.)

          Everything people write and design is possible only because humans have evolved as an intelligent species. My point is that it is only intelligence that makes design possible. “Non-intelligent design” would be a logical impossibility, like a “square circle.”

          Further, “non-living intelligence” is also an impossibility. Thus, there was no design possible in the origin of life.

          Now, you might object, “But God is SUPERNATURAL, so He can be an ‘INTELLIGENT DESIGNER’ without the natural necessity of being alive! God is not subject to real world logic or causal processes.”

          And, of course, that’s true — since God is only a fictional character.

          • Samuel Johnson

            Steve,

            I realize that this your attempt at satire, but how can it be true if God is a fictional character?

            Congratulations on one point, though. You demonstrate a remarkable talent for talking in circles.

          • It’s true in precisely the same way it’s true that Boo saved Scout, and that Superman can fly: that’s how the stories go.

          • Naturally it is not literally true, in the non-fiction sense, that God exists. But the stories are well-known, and somewhat popular.

          • For instance, is it true that God had all the first-born killed in Egypt? Or not?

          • Is it true that Superman was born on Krypton?

          • That should be enough to give you the idea of what I was talking about.

            If not, why not?

          • Sorry to be so verbose about it, Samuel, but it’s just so hard to believe that you couldn’t get the point.

          • Samuel Johnson

            Of course. And that is why you find it necessary to post up to six messages per response. A response nevertheless relatively lacking of relevant content.

            Isn’t so that your real purpose here is simply to overwhelm the comment page with your repititious rants, thereby obscuring any meaningful discussion on content that might be posted here?

          • Try posting something meaningful for discussion, Samuel, and see what happens. Try for something logical about the real world.

            If you wish to stick to religious fantasies, can you explain how you think those are meaningful rather than “disruptive”?

            Also: how is it you keep missing the point — and keep “attacking the messenger” instead of trying to discuss the message?

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