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This time, Jerry Coyne is mad at NPR

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Kingdom of Speech.jpgWeren’t hard enough on Tom Wolfe, author of The Kingdom of Speech

From Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution Is True:

This weekend, National Public Radio (NPR) host Scott Simon interviewed renowned author Tom Wolfe about Wolfe’s new book The Kingdom of Speech. You can hear the five-minute interview here. I just now listened to it, but several exercised readers emailed me yesterday complaining about Wolfe’s criticisms of evolution—criticisms that weren’t called out by Simon.

Oh dear. “Anti-science” strikes again.

Jerry treats us to a long rant about the facts of “evolution” (as he understands them). But if interviewers like Simon derailed the discussion by stopping for demands for fidelity to same we would never get to hear what Wolfe has to say on the subject of The Kingdom of Speech, language.

Wolfe briefly describes his thesis, that “language had “nothing to do with the theory of evolution”. Yet we have plenty of evidence that language in humans does have some evolutionary basis, and I’ll talk about that in a few days. Clearly language is heavily influenced by culture as well: if it wasn’t, everybody would speak the same language. But there is substantial morphological, behavioral, and neurological evidence that the ability to use semantic language, which is something unique to humans, is based on our genes, and probably evolved by natural selection.

Wolfe’s alternative “mnemonic” theory has its own problems, for the claim that language is a way to help us remember the names of things leaves no space for its primary function: communication with others.

It’s shameful that NPR is, in effect, promoting creationism and a shoddy theory of language. More.

Coyne has offered to be interviewed by NPR, which might be interesting if he can stick to the subject of language.

Wolfe’s theory would make sense for Wolfe because he probably coined all those terms, like “radical chic” and the Me Decade, to help himself think, which he would need to do first in order to communicate with others. He would first need something to communicate with.

See also: NPR’s interview with Tom Wolfe on his new book: It’s hardly surprising that Wolfe was attracted to this topic because his specialty is debunking pretensions, and Darwinism is ripe for debunking. Efforts to pretend that orangutans sort of speak are ridiculous but people are forced to take them seriously, or anyway, pretend to.

and

Can we talk? Language as the business end of consciousness

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24 Replies to “This time, Jerry Coyne is mad at NPR

  1. 1
    ppolish says:

    From the first comment on Coyne piece:

    “POINT TO REMEMBER: Just because someone labels themselves an “Atheist” doesn’t mean that they’re not an idiot, as well”

    Thanks for the reminder?

  2. 2

    Excellent post. I especially enjoyed the following:

    “Efforts to pretend that orangutans sort of speak are ridiculous but people are forced to take them seriously, or anyway, pretend to.”

    Priceless!

  3. 3
    Axel says:

    Darkly wry, as ever, ppolish. Viscerally witty, even ! You make me laugh from the pit of my stomach.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    As to these ‘non-free-will’ claims made by the neuronal illusion named Coyne:

    we have plenty of evidence that language in humans does have some evolutionary basis,

    Actually, no we don’t:

    Leading Evolutionary Scientists Admit We Have No Evolutionary Explanation of Human Language – December 19, 2014
    Excerpt: 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.,,,
    (Marc Hauser, Charles Yang, Robert Berwick, Ian Tattersall, Michael J. Ryan, Jeffrey Watumull, Noam Chomsky and Richard C. Lewontin, “The mystery of language evolution,” Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 5:401 (May 7, 2014).)
    Casey Luskin added: “It’s difficult to imagine much stronger words from a more prestigious collection of experts.”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....92141.html

    as to this claim:

    Clearly language is heavily influenced by culture as well: if it wasn’t, everybody would speak the same language.

    So? That still does not even begin to explain the unique ability of humans to understand and create information:

    New paper suggests speech developed in a now-familiar form – March 31, 2015
    Excerpt: “The hierarchical complexity found in present-day language is likely to have been present in human language since its emergence,” says Shigeru Miyagawa, Professor of Linguistics,,,
    “Since we can find syntax within words, there is no reason to consider them as ‘linguistic fossils’ of a prior, presyntax stage,” Miyagawa adds.,,,
    Nobrega and Miyagawa write that a single word can be “internally complex, often as complex as an entire phrase,” making it less likely that words we use today are descended from a presyntax mode of speech.,,,
    “Hierarchical structure is present not only in single words, but also in compounds, which, contrary to the claims of some, are not the structureless fossilized form of a prior stage,” Miyagawa says.
    In their paper, Nobrega and Miyagawa hold that the same analysis applies to words in Romance languages that have been described elsewhere as remnants of formless proto-languages.,,,
    Miyagawa’s integration hypothesis is connected intellectually to the work of other MIT scholars, such as Noam Chomsky, who have contended that human languages are universally connected and derive from our capacity for using syntax.,,,
    http://phys.org/news/2015-03-p.....iliar.html

    as to this claim

    But there is substantial morphological, behavioral, and neurological evidence that the ability to use semantic language, which is something unique to humans, is based on our genes, and probably evolved by natural selection.

    Actually, Darwinian evolution can’t even explain where the information for a single gene and/or protein came from, much less can Darwinian evolution explain how genes could possibly give us the unique ability to understand and create information.

    Information Enigma (Where did the information in life come from?) – – Stephen Meyer – Doug Axe – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aA-FcnLsF1g

    Complex grammar of the genomic language – November 9, 2015
    Excerpt: The ‘grammar’ of the human genetic code is more complex than that of even the most intricately constructed spoken languages in the world. The findings explain why the human genome is so difficult to decipher –,,,
    ,,, in their recent study in Nature, the Taipale team examines the binding preferences of pairs of transcription factors, and systematically maps the compound DNA words they bind to.
    Their analysis reveals that the grammar of the genetic code is much more complex than that of even the most complex human languages. Instead of simply joining two words together by deleting a space, the individual words that are joined together in compound DNA words are altered, leading to a large number of completely new words.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....140252.htm

    Of related supplemental note:

    “The mechanical brain does not secrete thought “as the liver does bile,” as the earlier materialists claimed, nor does it put it out in the form of energy, as the muscle puts out its activity. Information is information, not matter or energy. No materialism which does not admit this can survive at the present day. “
    Norbert Weiner – MIT Mathematician – (Cybernetics, 2nd edition, p.132)

    The Fundamental Difference Between Humans and Nonhuman Animals – Michael Egnor – November 5, 2015
    Excerpt: Human beings have mental powers that include the material mental powers of animals but in addition entail a profoundly different kind of thinking. Human beings think abstractly, and nonhuman animals do not. Human beings have the power to contemplate universals, which are concepts that have no material instantiation. Human beings think about mathematics, literature, art, language, justice, mercy, and an endless library of abstract concepts. Human beings are rational animals.
    Human rationality is not merely a highly evolved kind of animal perception. Human rationality is qualitatively different — ontologically different — from animal perception. Human rationality is different because it is immaterial. Contemplation of universals cannot have material instantiation, because universals themselves are not material and cannot be instantiated in matter.,,,
    It is a radical difference — an immeasurable qualitative difference, not a quantitative difference.
    We are more different from apes than apes are from viruses.,,,
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....00661.html

    “Either mathematics is too big for the human mind, or the human mind is more than a machine.”
    Kurt Gödel As quoted in Topoi : The Categorial Analysis of Logic (1979) by Robert Goldblatt, p. 13

    “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.

  5. 5
    J-Mac says:

    Does anybody even care what Coyne or his cat think?
    I believe that this discussion should end when Coyne is trying to make his point, which is more, and more beyond reason. He is entitled to his opinion, but others need to reevaluate it as well. If they agree with Jerry’s whatever sh.. they need to take responsibility for it…

  6. 6
    ppolish says:

    It just bugs me, Axel, that the comment guy is implying that atheist Mr Wolfe is an idiot. Just some Darwinian “Master of the Universe” showing Mr Wolfe who’s boss grrrr:) Anyway, looking forward to reading “Kingdom of Speech”.

    Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities;
    all is vanity.

    Ecclesiastes 1:2

  7. 7
    ppolish says:

    Thomas Wolfe isn’t an idiot duh – but maybe an IDiot? In audience at about the 2:45 mark:
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=aFPhTDfcbrA

  8. 8
    Robert Byers says:

    Oh yeah. some folks would oppose someone on NPR questioning evolution. iN fact it seems the host has a duty to defend evolution. Its not neutral.
    There is no evidence for any neuro, bio, evo origin foe language.
    Its just sounds memorized by very intelligent beings.
    Animals all have language. They just are really, really, dumb.
    Call me anti-animalitic if you must!

  9. 9
    rvb8 says:

    J-Mac, yes! Many people care what Coyne thinks because he is a noted public intellectual. His writing is clear and well argued, although he can be somewhat autocratic. He is elderly and makes no apology for this authoritarianism, and his writing is of such quality he doesn’t need to.
    He is also a scholar and has published, and I believe still publishes peer reviewed articles, something somewhat lacking from the ID crew.

  10. 10
    ppolish says:

    I’m betting Wolfe’s “Kingdom of Speech” outsells Coyne’s “Evolution is True” by orders of magnitude. Insight vs Dogma, woof.

  11. 11
    bornagain77 says:

    “Many people care what Coyne thinks because he is a noted public intellectual.”

    Should not Coyne actually exist as a person, instead of a neuronal illusion, before people can possibly care about what he thinks?

    Eagleton on Baggini on free will
    Excerpt: “What you’re doing is simply instantiating a self: the program run by your neurons which you feel is “you.””
    Jerry Coyne
    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/eagleton-on-baggini-on-free-will/

    The Confidence of Jerry Coyne – Ross Douthat – January 6, 2014
    Excerpt: But then halfway through this peroration, we have as an aside the confession (by Coyne) that yes, okay, it’s quite possible given materialist premises that “our sense of self is a neuronal illusion.” At which point the entire edifice suddenly looks terribly wobbly — because who, exactly, is doing all of this forging and shaping and purpose-creating if Jerry Coyne, as I understand him (and I assume he understands himself) quite possibly does not actually exist at all? The theme of his argument is the crucial importance of human agency under eliminative materialism, but if under materialist premises the actual agent is quite possibly a fiction, then who exactly is this I who “reads” and “learns” and “teaches,” and why in the universe’s name should my illusory self believe Coyne’s bold proclamation that his illusory self’s purposes are somehow “real” and worthy of devotion and pursuit? (Let alone that they’re morally significant: But more on that below.) Prometheus cannot be at once unbound and unreal; the human will cannot be simultaneously triumphant and imaginary.
    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.c.....oyne/?_r=0

    Darwin’s Robots: When Evolutionary Materialists Admit that Their Own Worldview Fails – Nancy Pearcey – April 23, 2015
    Excerpt: When I teach these concepts in the classroom, an example my students find especially poignant is Flesh and Machines by Rodney Brooks, professor emeritus at MIT. Brooks writes that a human being is nothing but a machine — a “big bag of skin full of biomolecules” interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry. In ordinary life, of course, it is difficult to actually see people that way. But, he says, “When I look at my children, I can, when I force myself, … see that they are machines.”
    Is that how he treats them, though? Of course not: “That is not how I treat them…. I interact with them on an entirely different level. They have my unconditional love, the furthest one might be able to get from rational analysis.” Certainly if what counts as “rational” is a materialist worldview in which humans are machines, then loving your children is irrational. It has no basis
    within Brooks’s worldview. It sticks out of his box.
    How does he reconcile such a heart-wrenching cognitive dissonance? He doesn’t. Brooks ends by saying, “I maintain two sets of inconsistent beliefs.” He has given up on any attempt to reconcile his theory with his experience. He has abandoned all hope for a unified, logically consistent worldview.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....95451.html

  12. 12
    soundburger says:

    I think of Coyne less as an ‘intellectual’ than as a child-man. He refers to food as ‘noms’ and can’t stop posting pictures of his meals, shows off his collection of cowboy boots, imagining that anyone else is interested, posts the same picture of Chicago every couple of weeks, writes dogs as d*gs and pretends to dislike them (who doesn’t like dogs?) and in nearly all ways appears, on his site, like someone full into the Peter Pan Syndrome.

    He is an excellent writer, when he wants to be. I’ll give him that.

    As for ‘autocratic’ and ‘authoritarian’, if those words are meant to stand in for thin-skinned and vindictive, then I guess I could agree.

  13. 13
    bornagain77 says:

    The most distinctive thing about man is of course his gift for language. On that, the great Tom Wolfe masterfully explains in a new book out today, Darwinism takes an epic tumble. Evolution cannot explain the very thing that preeminently makes us human. “To say that animals evolved into man,” writes Wolfe on the last page of The Kingdom of Speech, “is like saying that Carrara marble evolved into Michelangelo’s David.”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....03098.html

  14. 14
    bornagain77 says:

    OT:

    The abject failure of Natural Selection on two levels of physical reality – video (2016)
    https://youtu.be/ISu-09yq2Gc

  15. 15
    bornagain77 says:

    OT:

    Undeniable (Part 1 – Chapters 1 and 2) 8-20-2016 by Paul Giem
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaisXMwUF_Y&list=PLHDSWJBW3DNUx3ngrgTIQyl-B2TaQBoq8&index=1

    Conversations with Douglas Axe: How is Materialism Holding Back Science?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWcdLynqAXs

  16. 16
    Axel says:

    ppolish, BA77 has taken up the cudgels now – and everything he says sounds highly comical, simply because it is so obviously true. I think only the intrinsic humour prevents our apologists from despairing at the madness.

    Having to state the obvious in the context of a quite cerebral blog, like this, cannot but plunge the rational apologist into a weird sense of surreal – of somehow having taken a wrong turning and ended up in Bedlam.

  17. 17
    J-Mac says:

    rvb8 wrote:

    J-Mac, yes! Many people care what Coyne thinks because he is a noted public intellectual. His writing is clear and well argued, although he can be somewhat autocratic. He is elderly and makes no apology for this authoritarianism, and his writing is of such quality he doesn’t need to.
    He is also a scholar and has published, and I believe still publishes peer reviewed articles, something somewhat lacking from the ID crew.

    Well, to put things simple, what kind of intellectual, scientist and atheists goes on public television and when asked about what convinced him to biogenesis he says that? “…just because scientist have not resolved this problem, it doesn’t mean they will not…” without providing one piece of evidence that convinced him toward biogenesis. Who in the right frame of mind would listen to Coyne? Can you give me few good reasons?I just can’t comprehend it…

  18. 18
    bornagain77 says:

    OT:

    How Curiosity Overcomes the Yuck Factor: A Positive Take on Negative Reviews – Douglas Axe – August 31, 2016
    Excerpt: Don’t miss the significance of this. Two highly regarded experts at the very center of today’s evolutionary thinking have completely opposite opinions about how evolution is supposed to work! What this really means, of course, is that the community of evolutionary biologists has no clue how evolution would work! Again, add just a pinch of curiosity to that startling realization and you start to wonder whether evolution really can work.
    That’s what drove me to test Darwin’s idea in the lab for the last twenty years. As I explain in Undeniable, his theory has failed this testing consistently and spectacularly.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....03104.html

  19. 19
    ppolish says:

    Yes Axel, BA77 is a wonderful cudgelist:)

    Just ordered “Kingdom of Speech”. #1 Amazon bestseller (Evolution) and #22 (Science Overall).

  20. 20
    ppolish says:

    Unguided purposeless NeoDarwinistic Evolution does NOT apply to humans, right. That is obvious, right? Humans a thousand years from now will have been guided by mind – not by a blind watchmaker right?

    How about future dogs & cats? Mind or blind watchmaker? Rhetorical question lol;)

    Dominion requires/demands love and respect btw. Love mainly.

  21. 21
    soundburger says:

    Coyne is continuing his crusade, this time targeting the New York Times.
    One of the features of Coyne, and his site which he has ensured through his ‘roolz’ (another cutesy, child-man, word of his, like ‘noms’ and d*gs’) remains an echo chamber of dittoheads, is the complete lack of self awareness leading to a continual flow of unintended irony.
    He begins his newest gripe with, ‘What would a major newspaper do if they were discussing the views of a famous scientist who went off the rails about something unrelated to their profession? ‘

    Yes, Jerry Coyne, who wrote ‘Facts vs Faith’ despite having only a one-sided, completely inept understanding of religious faith, actually wrote that.

  22. 22
    soundburger says:

    …the unintended irony continues:
    a comment below his newest tirade, against the NYT

    “It’s unfortunate that people are deemed experts in all fields based upon past work in some fields. When opinion is wrapped in the cloak of scholarship, we all suffer. It happens too often and Wolfe is no exception.”

    Yes, it DOES happen too often….. 🙂

  23. 23
    rvb8 says:

    Actually soundberger, the biggest abusers of the ‘I’m an expert in this field’, syndrome are the religious when they can get away with it. I visit ‘answersingenesis’ regularly to keep up with the ‘latest’ scientific advances in the furtile ground of Barminology(forgive the spelling). The amount of ‘experts’, ‘Phds’, and other assorted professionals wheeled out by Ken is quite amazing.
    Also, they have a tendency to not like criticism from atheists whom they regularly accuse of Biblical Illiteracism. (Is that a word?)
    Coyne annoys me too, with his nonsense words, but his clear stance on the stupidity of the politically correct brigade, and Leftist Islamic apologists is strong.

  24. 24
    soundburger says:

    #23 rvb8 writes, “Coyne annoys me too, with his nonsense words, but his clear stance on the stupidity of the politically correct brigade…”

    Yet, Coyne’s biased and unabashed antipathy toward all things religious has rendered him a hypocrite on even this, one of his pet issues. He strives to present himself as a champion of free expression on campuses, defending universities as essential bastions of free speech even if such might offend certain students whom he derides as ‘snowflakes’.
    And yet. In the case of Ball State instructor Eric Hedin, Coyne behaved as the exact opposite of a champion of free speech. Hedin was a – apparently well liked and popular – teacher there who taught an ELECTIVE course on astronomy in which his own views as a Christian were freely shared with his students. Some students were, understandably annoyed, while others didn’t mind, and, again, nobody was required to take the course. But Coyne contacted the Freedom From Religion association, and together they drafted a very intimidating and angry letter that tacitly called for Hedin’s resignation. Ball State took a much more sensible stance of simply warning Hedin not to do anything that could be considered advocacy for a particular religion when teaching. I don’t think they even responded to Coyne’s and the FFR’s threats.

    So much for free speech in the mind of Jerry Coyne.

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