Evolution language News

No satisfactory explanation for origin of human language?

Spread the love

Over at Evolution News & Views, Casey Luskin reports on a paper in which leading scientists of evolution admit that there is no satisfactory explanation for the origin of human language.

(No? Not baby chimp arm-waving or monkeys throwing poop? Oh well, another thesis awaits the next download of science PRs.

Here’s the abstract:

Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved. We show that, to date, (1) studies of nonhuman animals provide virtually no relevant parallels to human linguistic communication, and none to the underlying biological capacity; (2) the fossil and archaeological evidence does not inform our understanding of the computations and representations of our earliest ancestors, leaving details of origins and selective pressure unresolved; (3) our understanding of the genetics of language is so impoverished that there is little hope of connecting genes to linguistic processes anytime soon; (4) all modeling attempts have made unfounded assumptions, and have provided no empirical tests, thus leaving any insights into language’s origins unverifiable. Based on the current state of evidence, we submit that the most fundamental questions about the origins and evolution of our linguistic capacity remain as mysterious as ever, with considerable uncertainty about the discovery of either relevant or conclusive evidence that can adjudicate among the many open hypotheses. (Marc Hauser, Charles Yang, Robert Berwick, Ian Tattersall, Michael J. Ryan, Jeffrey Watumull, Noam Chomsky and Richard C. Lewontin, “The mystery of language evolution<http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00401/abstract>,” Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 5:401 (May 7, 2014) Open access here.

Note, however: The first author is disgraced Marc “monkeys talk to me” Hauser, who seems to be climbing back into the good graces of the academic world.

All that said, see also: Can we talk? Language as the business end of consciousness (for a brief outline of the problems). More later.

Follow UD News at Twitter!

6 Replies to “No satisfactory explanation for origin of human language?

  1. 1

    The first author is disgraced Marc “monkeys talk to me” Hauser…

    Not to mention Lewontin! and Noam Chomsky.

    In Chomsky’s case, “admit” is Discovery Institute spin, as Chomsky has long argued that language, while of natural origins, could not have arisen by means of natural selection. And Lewontin has been making arguments similar to those presented in this article for decades (e.g. “Questions we will Never Answer” from the 1998 MIT volume An Invitation to Cognitive Science).

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    On Facebook, an atheist demanded us to,,,

    ‘tell me why ID is a better explanation’,

    ,,,for why, as this paper indicated, man has such a unique ability to do ‘linguistic computations and representations’.
    Yet, Alfred Russel Wallace himself, the co-discoverer of Natural Selection, who had far more field work than Darwin did, certainly thought that man’s unique ability to do ‘linguistic computations and representations’, (i.e. communicate and process information), was a sure sign that man had a ‘soul’.

    “Nothing in evolution can account for the soul of man. The difference between man and the other animals is unbridgeable. Mathematics is alone sufficient to prove in man the possession of a faculty unexistent in other creatures. Then you have music and the artistic faculty. No, the soul was a separate creation.”
    Alfred Russel Wallace – An interview by Harold Begbie printed on page four of The Daily Chronicle (London) issues of 3 November and 4 November 1910.

    And Wallace has some pretty impressive evidence backing up his claim that mathematics is proof that man has a soul. Kurt Godel summed up the implications of his incompleteness theorem this way:

    “Either mathematics is too big for the human mind or the human mind is more than a machine”
    – Kurt Godel

    Kurt Gödel – Incompleteness Theorem

    Kurt Godel and Alan Turing – Incompleteness Theorem and Human Intuition – video

    David Berlinski, in his unique style, gets the ‘soulish’ nature of mathematics across very clearly:

    An Interview with David Berlinski – Jonathan Witt
    Berlinski: There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics. Mathematicians are capable of grasping a world of objects that lies beyond space and time ….
    Interviewer:… Come again(?) …
    Berlinski: No need to come again: I got to where I was going the first time. The number four, after all, did not come into existence at a particular time, and it is not going to go out of existence at another time. It is neither here nor there. Nonetheless we are in some sense able to grasp the number by a faculty of our minds. Mathematical intuition is utterly mysterious. So for that matter is the fact that mathematical objects such as a Lie Group or a differentiable manifold have the power to interact with elementary particles or accelerating forces. But these are precisely the claims that theologians have always made as well – that human beings are capable by an exercise of their devotional abilities to come to some understanding of the deity; and the deity, although beyond space and time, is capable of interacting with material objects.

    Another tantalizing clue that we are made in God’s image is the fact that the three Rs, reading, writing, and arithmetic, i.e. the ability to process information, is the very first thing to be taught to children when they enter elementary school. And yet it is this information processing, i.e. reading, writing, and arithmetic, that is found to be foundational to life:

    Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer – video clip

    “It is important to understand that we are not reasoning by analogy. The sequence hypothesis applies directly to the protein and the genetic text as well as to written language and therefore the treatment is mathematically identical.”
    H.P. Yockey “Self Organization Origin of Life Scenarios and Information Theory,” J. Theoret. Biol.

    As well, information, not material, is found to be foundational to physical reality itself:

    “it from bit” Every “it”— every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. “It from bit” symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has a bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances, an immaterial source and explanation, that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment—evoked responses, in short all matter and all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.”
    – Princeton University physicist John Wheeler (1911–2008) (Wheeler, John A. (1990), “Information, physics, quantum: The search for links”, in W. Zurek, Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information (Redwood City, California: Addison-Wesley))

    Why the Quantum? It from Bit? A Participatory Universe?
    Excerpt: In conclusion, it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Thence the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word.”
    Anton Zeilinger – a leading expert in quantum teleportation:

    Quantum physics just got less complicated – Dec. 19, 2014
    Excerpt: Patrick Coles, Jedrzej Kaniewski, and Stephanie Wehner,,, found that ‘wave-particle duality’ is simply the quantum ‘uncertainty principle’ in disguise, reducing two mysteries to one.,,,
    “The connection between uncertainty and wave-particle duality comes out very naturally when you consider them as questions about what information you can gain about a system. Our result highlights the power of thinking about physics from the perspective of information,”,,,

    Thus, our unique ability to process information is indeed very strong evidence for the Judeo-Christian precept that we were made in God’s image, and is very unexpected under atheistic/materialistic precepts, since life and physical reality itself are both found to be information theoretic in their basis and are not materialistic in their basis.

    Verses and music:

    Genesis 1:26
    Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,

    John 1:1-4
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and that life was the Light of men.

    Manger Throne – Third Day

  3. 3
    News says:

    Reciprocating, can you help us understand why Chomsky and Lewontin would have Hauser as their first author?

  4. 4
    bb says:

    In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved.

    There is no shortage of explanation in materialistic origins research. But alas, there is a shortage of evidence to back the many intuitive claims. The sheer number of stories give the impression that progress is being made when they are getting nowhere.

    “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” – Ecclesiastes 12:12 (ESV)

  5. 5


    Reciprocating, can you help us understand why Chomsky and Lewontin would have Hauser as their first author?

    Hard to escape the impression that they are supporting his rehabilitation.

    Hauser and Chomsky have published together before:

    Hauser, M. D., Chomsky, N., and Fitch, W. T. (2002). The faculty of language: what is it, who has it, and how did it evolve? Science 298, 1569–1570. doi:

  6. 6
    Robert Byers says:

    I do not understand what the confusion is about language prigin EVEN from evolutiondom!
    Why is people memorizing sounds so complicated ??
    Language is just segregated combinations of sounds. Thats it.
    any other ordering is just more memorized agreements on ordering the sounds.
    i guess the issue is they must have the language come before the intelligence pf man relative to primates etc.
    Thats the problem.Creationists have intelligence immediarte and likewise language as a expression of same intelligence.
    Thats the ticket.

Leave a Reply