And now we connect biology and Michael Behe’s work to the complexity of language, and the theories of its emergence. From physical apparatuses that serve multiple intricate purposes, to the connection between language and mind, we explore some of the questions that remain unanswered. And at the end, you get to hear a fairy tale… about how, according to Darwin, language emerged. It’s up to you to decide which theory seems the most plausible.
– (book) Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Free Press, 2001.
– (article) W. Fitch, David Reby, “The descended larynx is not uniquely human”, 2001: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/do…
– (book) Michael Denton, “Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis”, Discovery Institute, 2016.
– (book) Stephen Mithen, “The Prehistory of the Mind”, Thames & Hudson, 1999.
– (article) T. Fitch, “Musical protolanguage: Darwin’s theory of language evolution revisited”, 2009. (On the occasion of Charles Darwin’s 200th Birthday)
– (video) What does Language Teach Us about Intelligent Design? – Dr. Paul Nelson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DvCc…
Hello, and welcome to Language with Chu. This is part three of this series and now, after having seen Darwin’s theory of evolution and Behe’s arguments against it, I’m going to try and add language to it, so that you can start seeing how complex language is.
So, do you remember the slides from the last video? If not, you can you can watch that one first. I’m going to reuse them but with language added, okay? And you’ll see how complex it is, and how beautiful language actually is.
So, we had five arguments before. The first one was that design is a purposeful arrangement of parts and that we infer it from everything. Everything we see in nature, we say, “Okay, look at that, there’s a design there,” right?
Well, in language, when you look at the vocal apparatus alone, or the auditory apparatus, or the way our brain uses language and how it connects to mind, which is not even tangible… the complexity is insane! Really. Supposedly we boycotted or piggybacked on capacities that we already had for breathing and eating, etc. and started using language for communication purposes. Except, okay, so supposedly just one little mutation or a big mutation, maybe, made this smart ape want to talk, like I said in the first part.
And then, all these parts that were only designed supposedly… (I shouldn’t say “designed”
) that only evolved for the purpose of eating and breathing, suddenly became the perfect mechanism with which to produce vocal sounds, with which to talk. The hands became the perfect tool for writing [and signing], etc. It’s quite a stretch, if you think about it. I think it’s more reasonable to think that it was designed like that from the beginning, with all its complexity.
Then we have, in language itself, the sounds, the phonemes of each language, morphemes (chunks of words that have meaning), we have phrases, and sentences. We have the entire grammar, we have the entire meaning that we convey. The fact that from a finite set of sounds, we can produce an infinite amount of words and of sentences.
So if that wasn’t designed or downloaded from somewhere, I don’t know how it could have come to exist. So you add the physical complexity to the non-physical complexity of languages and language itself…
And then you also have the richness that languages have when it comes to meaning in context, the way our culture alters (quite a bit actually, but not definitely) what we see. We’ll talk about that in another series of videos. And how thought and language marry, combine together. So that is insanely complicated for it to have developed out of grunts and, like we said in the beginning, a random mutation from something that was designed to eat or to breathe, if you ask me.
That’s regarding the first argument. Regarding the second one, “everybody agrees that aspects of biology appear to be designed”. We saw the plane and the eagle. Again the complexity of grammars seems to have been designed by somebody. And remember that the grammarians, especially in the 1600s, put it all in writing. Basically they described the grammars, but the languages already existed. They may have given fancy terms to what declensions were, and each of the cases and things like that, but the complexity was already there.
Who created it? Why? Especially if you think about our ancestors as being primitive. It’s quite difficult to explain that there is no design to begin with in languages. And on top of that, you have the complexity that not only are we the users of this… an extremely complex system, but we also do have a say in what we produce in terms of language. We do have a say, albeit small, in how we change language. So in a sense, we’re kind of like the products of the design, and the designers or users or contributors to the design, if you wish, which adds another layer of complexity to the whole story.
If you look at this… this is just an example from the Indo-European family of languages. Usually they look like this [on the right] and you know there’s a chronology of how they evolved. Now we’re talking about specific languages, not the capacity for language. But if you look at the one on the left, this one is programming languages. And you know how many thousands of programmers need to be involved for something like this to exist, how much intelligence needs to be involved and how much design has to be involved. So why would it apply to programming languages and not human languages? [Text on screen: [And programming languages are MUCH simpler than human language!]
Again, that’s another example of how, what you see in nature is indicative of design, not random… silly ideas like, they started singing and imitating sounds of animals. To get to the complexity of languages that we have today, there’s got to be more than just random mutations and simple purposes, very simple “I want to reproduce”/”I want to survive”. There’s got to be a lot more to language than that, I think.
Then in our brain… you may have seen these trees, or maybe you studied them at school. Usually at school most children say “Oh, what’s the purpose of this? It’s useless!” When you separate the subject from the predicate and blah blah blah. All these components. Well, I happened to like doing that kind of stuff, but you probably don’t. But anyway, that shows you how, in the brain, you’re computing a lot of information just to create a simple sentence. Explain to me how that happens in the brain, because they don’t really know, biologists or linguists alike. They don’t really know. These are just theories of how we compute a single sentence like the one you see on the screen.
And then, we have the problem of defining language even to begin with. Here is the most standard definition. Actually, I think I took it from the Encyclopedia Britannica. And it says: “Language a system of conventional (so, human-made) spoken manual or signed or written symbols by means of which human beings as members of a social group and participants in its culture express themselves. The functions (now we’re onto functions) of language include communication, the expression of identity, imaginative expression, and emotional release”.
Well, the definition doesn’t even describe all that language is, but let’s say this is the most complete one. In blue, we have that the means by which we express ourselves (spoken, manual, etc.) In orange is the fact that it’s a cultural thing. For this definition, language is a cultural thing, even though many linguists would say: “No, it’s actually all innate, culture doesn’t matter much”. And then you have the function: so it serves to express our identity, imaginative expression, etc. Well, the function is a lot bigger than that, I think. It’s to allow us to think. It is to allow us to make new discoveries, to make Youtube videos like I’m doing now… [It serves to love or to hate, to create or destroy…]
It’s soooo many things, that the function of language is not just one, but many. And if it’s already difficult to come up with one function via random mutations, how do you suppose that a complex function such as a language’s function would have arisen without any design being involved?
Not only that, but when you think about language, you have to add all these other factors: how do you create meaning, and with which algorithms in your head? How does thought combine to language? What is the relationship between the input (what you produce) and the output (what the other person gets)? The differences in language between a child and an adult. All these components (physical components) of language (the vocal tract, the auditory tract, the mind, the brain, the hands, etc. etc. etc… the list is long). And how it relates to the senses. Why do we use some senses, and not the sense of smell, for example? So it’s all super complicated when you actually try to just simply define language. And of course, there’s a difference between different languages and language itself. Why don’t we all have the same kind of language? Nobody knows.
This is another way to look at the complexity of language. We saw this diagram on the Sounds and Meaning series. These are all the layers of what one single language has, and to that you have to add not only all these skills, all these components (meaning in context, phrases, sentences, words, phonemes,)… all of that for reading, for writing, for listening, and for speaking. So four different kinds of skills that involve a lot, a lot of other micro skills, if you want. And we also use language when we think, when we feel, for metaphor, when we dream, etc. And on top of that, like I said before, the same organs are used for breathing, smelling, learning, moving, etc.
So again, it’s so complex that I don’t think random mutations would have made it possible. But let’s go back to Behe.
When he talked about irreducible complexity, and how each part… if you remove any part of a symbol simple organism, and it destroys, it stops functioning, it’s irreducibly complex, meaning that each part is essential for its functioning and most likely evolved at the same time, not little by little.
Well, like I said before, the latter is just not possible for language, because if it was that simple to create language even from grunts or onomatopoeia, then why can’t we even program good translators online? Why can we even program language on a computer and make it have the richness and the subtleties and the meaning and context that language has? If it’s as simple as simple mutations, then go ahead and program it on a computer. And you can’t! Human beings are still much, much better than computers at creating it. So there’s something there that speaks of design, again.
Here’s another example of how complex just in the brain language is. I won’t even read you all the technical terms, but that’s just one schematic way of putting it. And that’s not even taking into account brain injuries, for example, where the whole area of the brain gets injured, and the person manages to replace those areas with something else. So the brain is very plastic in that sense. Or cases of hydrocephaly, where the person’s brain is half its normal mass and the rest is full of fluid, and they have perfect skills, they can speak, they can write, they can do math, for example. So, obviously, it’s not just in the brain, even though the brain itself is already quite complicated.
Here are some examples of how complex the auditory system is. Each of these parts… for them to have evolved separately is quite a stretch of the imagination, I think. The subtle sounds that you can hear, the effect it has even on your health, overall, it’s all interconnected. If you have crystals in your ear, you suffer from vertigo. There’s so many, many little details in each of these components that make up for such a network of functions, that I don’t think it could have evolved separately. And language is included in this.
The same with the vocal tract. Just this tiny bone, the hyoid bone… I’m going to talk to about it on another video. It’s super interesting, actually, how it helps you with speech. The micro-movements of the tongue, the teeth, the palate, the nasal cavity…. all that supposedly was originally just to eat and smell and breathe, and look at what we do with it now! We can speak 20 languages with the same vocal apparatus, if we want to. So something is fishy there, in Darwinian evolution, if you ask me.
Some people will say that it is because… “Oh, well, we came from primates (as Darwin would say), and primates have a larynx that is very high up, while in humans it descends during our childhood”. But the thing is that they discovered that even some animals like the koala, and I can’t remember others… the jaguar, I think… Several animals have a low larynx as well and they’re incapable of language. [And some birds have a high larynx and can utter words.] So obviously that’s not the main factor at all. Again, it’s all very complex and very intricate and connected together.
This is another good book, if you want to read it: The Prehistory of the Mind by Stephen Mithen. He talks about the mind as being a cathedral, and he’s a darwinian actually, but his idea of how the mind has compartments, and how they connect (one for social interactions, the other one for survival, for tool making etc.) is very, very interesting. It just gives you an idea of how complex just the mind part is, not even the brain, not even the vocal tract. Just the mind that allows us to speak as well. So, in short, everything is complicated!
And then just a final note: you have to separate between what is the complexity of languageS (the grammar, the phonemes, the writing, blah, blah) which is already super complex, from the complexity of language (singular), the capacity. So you have the language capacity. How did it come to exist? How did it evolve? Etc. Language evolution, which we’ve been talking about until now, and all the language parts as I described them, every physical part that helps us to talk [and write]. Where did all that come from, and when, and how? Gradually? I don’t think so.
Number four was that it was pure imagination, basically fairy stories, how Darwin described evolution. And we’re going to talk about that in a future video, but there are many funny theories of how language evolved, called bow-wow, ta-ta, pooh-pooh, etc., and I’ll leave it for later. But you’ll see that even at the time of Darwin, some people made fun of the simplicity of his theory.
Anyway, final point: when Behe talked about the strong evidence for design, once again we have a complexity of physical and mental traits (mind) when you’re combine them together that is mind-boggling. The complexity of grammars, on top of that, of sound systems, of everything in language, of semantics, the meaning behind each word, and how one word can have like 30 meanings if you want. And that’s not even talking about other languages like Chinese with ideograms, and how the same sound but with different tones could have 50 words attached to it. It’s just that language is a trait of super complex organisms. So I really don’t buy the whole single mutation at all.
But finally, let me tell you a fairy tale, a story. These are Darwin’s words. He said: “The mental powers in some early progenitor of man must have been more highly developed than in any existing ape before even the most imperfect form of speech could have come into use”. So okay, a smart progenitor, right? A smart monkey.
Second, “The attachment of specific and flexible meanings to vocalizations required only that some unusual wise ape-like animal should have thought of imitating the growl of a beast of prey… And this would have been the first step in the formation of language”. So, what we have now was just a person imitating the growl of a beast. Yeah, right.
“As the voice was used more and more, the vocal organs would have been strengthened and perfected”… Yeah, just like by magic, during the person’s life, during several generations, and why is it so complex if it was just that? Anyway… “Additionally, language would have reacted on the mind by enabling and encouraging it to carry on long trains of thought, which can no more be carried on without the aid of words, whether spoken or silent, than a long calculation without the use of figures or algebra. Thus began the interactive evolutionary spiral that led to modern humans.”
So, basically he’s saying that language helped to create long trains of thought, except, you could say the opposite, because thought doesn’t need to be linear. You can be thinking about many things at the same time, while language imposes that linearity on you [Text on the screen: Because we can only produce one sound, one word at a time.] Well, of course, you could say, “But that adds to the complexity of the thought because you can organize it.” It’s just that nothing makes sense in here. You can reread it, pause the video and reread it, and you’ll see that nothing makes sense, or at least it can’t be explained by this.
And there you go, that’s the end of the story. If you want to believe that that’s all there is to it, you’re free to do so. I don’t. But I’ll leave it at this for this one, and we still have a long way to go, combining biology and evolution and language, and trying to see if you’re already curious about it. I look forward to your questions or comments, and please like this video. Thank you for watching!