Analogies to Intelligent Design

WE HAVE sometimes mentioned that the comparison of free-market economies to controlled economies is analogous to the difference between evolution and intelligent design. We especially like that analogy because Adam Smith, the intellectual godfather of free enterprise, was a product of the Scottish Enlightenment, as (arguably) was Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Another, more commonly used analogy to evolution, is the unplanned growth and variety of human languages. From time to time we search for additional analogies, but good examples aren’t easy to find. Which brings us to a fortuitous discovery in this morning’s news.

In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette we read Word Watch: Leave the new words to Shakespeare, subtitled “Yes, new words crop up all the time. But you gotta be Shakespeare to make them up.” It’s a delightful column written in response to some reader’s suggestion for a new form of unisex pronoun to resolve that reader’s “he” or “she” problems.

As a Curmudgeon, we’ve always been repelled by politically-driven linguistic constructions, and when we encounter such infelicitous contrivances we regard them as a declaration of the author’s idiocy. Our preference is for the traditional usage of “he” to include both genders when context requires it, but such matters are best left to the writer — whatever he prefers, so to speak.

Would you believe it? Wikipedia even has an article on this: Gender-neutral pronoun, e.g., “All men are created equal.”

So what has this to do with the evolution-creationism conflict? We already know that the variety and evolution of human languages is (in some ways) analogous to the evolution of species. But the author of the above-linked article goes one step farther, at least in our experience. He says, with bold added by us:

Language legislation doesn’t mesh well with the natural evolution of language. Our existing pronouns evolved gradually from earlier Anglo-Saxon forms. Esperanto is an example of intelligent design, linguistically speaking, and look at how widely spoken that is.

That’s good! We wish we had thought of it. One more excerpt:

I wish Mr. Meyer [the would-be inventor of unisex pronouns] luck in his quest. His idea would solve the problem, but it would require conscious tinkering, and a living, breathing language doesn’t take kindly to that.

That’s also true for a living, breathing biosphere.

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11 responses to “Analogies to Intelligent Design

  1. mightyfrijoles

    H.L. Mencken in his series on the American Language (a pretty good read for the subject) argued that American, as opposed to the Queen’s English, is a younger and more vibrant language, because it constantly introduces new words. He even gives an exhaustive list of words we have borrowed from other languages. His point was that colonists came here and found things for which there was no King’s English word. They were forced to adapt and they haven’t stopped since. Forcibly introducing new words that are unvetted by individuals and groups has as much chance of success as I do of becoming president.

    Academics don’t count, as usual.

  2. retiredsciguy

    Evolution needs no analogy. It is easier to understand on its own than anything it may be compared to.

  3. People obsessed with “unisex” language need to have a personhole cover dropped on their heads.

    😉

    More to the point, as the Sensuous Curmudgeon™ correctly points out, we DID have a unisex langauge (masculine form for the general case) until the PC police arrived on the scene and started mucking around, and jammed contrivances like “Ms.” down our throats.

    Death to all estrogen-charged gyno-American claptrap!

  4. retiredsciguy says:

    Evolution needs no analogy. It is easier to understand on its own than anything it may be compared to.

    Maybe. But it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like for a student who is being introduced to the idea the first time. It wouldn’t hurt to begin by discussing how several of the languages of Europe are variations of Latin, which could be discovered even if we didn’t have a written record of the history. I donno, really. Sometimes analogies are useful. Not always.

  5. longshadow says:

    People obsessed with “unisex” language need to have a personhole cover dropped on their heads.

    Your comment is a welcome addition to this blog, regardless of the configuration of your genitalia.

  6. Longshadow, would you prefer we go back to the archaic Miss for the unmarried and Mrs. for the married women?

    Not all changes to language from the PC world are equal, some make sense and others are bullshit. In my opinion, Ms, which was never shoved down my throat but accepted and used because I agreed with the idea, is an example of something that can streamline the language as soon as the old fuddy-duddies stop using Mrs., where personhole cover is utter bullshit. Don’t ask me how I feel about herstory.

  7. bsharp55 says:

    … as soon as the old fuddy-duddies stop using Mrs …

    The intelligent designer will be scientifically proved before that happens, Tundra Boy.

  8. The language argument is perhaps not the most convincing.

    First, the analogy with creationism is weak. While successful total engineering of a natural language may be beyond human reach, creationism posits intervention by an omniscient, omnipotent being, not subject to the limitations of humans.

    Second, some degree of conscious planning is actually fairly common in natural languages. For example, French and Spanish both have active language academies, and Bahasa Indonesia and Nynorsk Norwegian are both the result of significant linguistic engineering efforts.

    Third, Esperanto is not a very relevant example. It may have started out in vitro, but it was released to the community shortly thereafter to grow and evolve just like any other language. Used in all facets of human life, it has become a living natural language in every sense of the term, with, after just 120 years of existence, around 2,000,000 speakers worldwide and growing.

  9. For what it’s worth, Anglo-Saxon did have masculine, feminine, AND neuter nouns and personal pronouns.

    However, the neuter singular personal pronouns were sometimes (not always) identical to the masculine singular. *shrug*

  10. Chiapet says:

    For what it’s worth, Anglo-Saxon did have masculine, feminine, AND neuter nouns and personal pronouns.

    We still do, don’t we? But for some, the “problem” is that we don’t have a pronoun for “he or she.”

  11. The problem with Esperanto is that most people do not know that it is an up-and-running, living language. Can I suggest therefore http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8837438938991452670