Discovery Institute Has a New Guru

The Discovery Institute is so desperate to find some validation for their “theory” of intelligent design that they will eagerly seize any crumb tossed their way, no matter how insubstantial it may be. That accounts for their latest infatuation with a journalist-novelist named Tom Wolfe, whose work has never interested us, but suddenly it thrills the Discoveroids. That’s a reliable indicator of Wolfe’s relevance in the world of ideas.

The latest post at the Discoveroids’ creationist blog is Language Is a Rock Against Which Evolutionary Theory Wrecks Itself. It was written by Michael Egnor — that’s his writeup at the Encyclopedia of American Loons. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

As I’ve noted already, Tom Wolfe has a new book, [title and link omitted], and it’s superb. Wolfe’s theme is that human language is unique and is not shared in any way with other animals. He argues forcefully that evolutionary stories about the origin of human language are not credible.

[*Curmudgeon shrugs with indifference*] After quoting the Discoveroids’ new guru, Egnor says:

[A]s Wolfe points out, Darwinists are at an utter loss to explain how language — the salient characteristic of man — “evolved.” None of the deep drawer of evolutionary just-so stories come anywhere close to explaining how man might have acquired the astonishing ability to craft unlimited propositions and concepts and subtleties within subtleties using a system of grammar and abstract designators (i.e. words) that are utterly lacking anywhere else in the animal kingdom.

After that he tells us:

Darwin and his progeny have had no dearth of fanciful guesses — birdsongs (Darwin’s favorite theory) and grunts and grimaces that mutate (survivors survive!) into Cicero and Shakespeare. Evolutionary theorizing about language has been a colossal waste of time.

If only a small fraction of that wasted effort had been devoted to glorifying the explanatory wonders of Oogity Boogity! Egnor continues:

I have argued before that the human mind is qualitatively different from the animal mind. The human mind has immaterial abilities — the intellect’s ability to grasp abstract universal concepts divorced from any particular thing — and that this ability makes us more different from apes than apes are from viruses.

We’ve written about those insightful arguments before — see Egnor: Humans Have Souls, and also Egnor Ain’t No Kin To No Monkey. Let’s read on:

We are a different kind of being from animals. We are not just animals who talk. Although we share much in our bodies with animals, our language — a simulacrum of our abstract minds — has no root in the animal world. Language is the tool by which we think abstractly. It is sui generis. It is a gift, a window into the human soul, something we are made with, and it did not evolve.

[*Begin Drool Mode*] Ooooooooooooh! [*End Drool Mode*] Verily, we are created in the image of the intelligent designer! And now we come to the end:

Language is a rock against which evolutionary theory wrecks, one of the many rocks — the uncooperative fossil record, the jumbled molecular evolutionary tree, irreducible complexity, intricate intracellular design, the genetic code, the collapsing myth of junk DNA, the immaterial human mind — that comprise the shoal that is sinking Darwin’s Victorian fable.

You know René Descartes’ declaration Cogito ergo sum — which means “I think, therefore I am.” Now we have Egnor’s Dico ergo divinus — “I speak, therefore I am divine.”

When confronted with a powerful argument like that, there’s nothing your Curmudgeon can say. Language fails us, which suggests that the divine gift of the designer — blessed be he! — has been withdrawn because we are unworthy. We are inconsolable.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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16 responses to “Discovery Institute Has a New Guru

  1. Well, yes, of course, it makes perfect sense. If everything that makes us up is predefined in our DNA, thanks to the great designer’s insight, then language too must also be likewise preprogrammed therein. But why stop with the simple thought of a root language, or languages that arose around the world, where the designer gave each group their on language encoded DNA, then perhaps things like the play Hamlet were always present in our minds, and Shakespeare just happened to think about it and so wrote it down (writing, too, was all pre-programmed). Everything we can imagine, even all those nasty cusswords people use, were all encoded in our brains! Imagine that!

  2. Wolfe has become a senile old git in addition to knowing absolutely nothing about science much less about evolution. Sure the Tooters are all over Wolfe because he’s a fellow know-nothing churning out Klinkerstinker-esque dreck. It’s difficult to call Wolfe wrong because the level of his ignorance about evolution doesn’t even rise to the level of wrongness.

    There are textbooks on the evolution of language and speech. There are graduate courses at universities that describe and discuss the evolution of language and speech, not only in humans but in many species throughout the animal kingdom. There are entire research groups devoted to understanding how speech and language evolved.

    But, no, some creepy, old, washed up novelist wakes up one morning and has a brain toot trumps all this. Typical Tooters. That’s why we call them IDiots.

    (Don’t forget that his High Egnorance, Egnor, believes that your brain is a cell phone and god is ATT.)

    p.s. He may be right about ATT, however.

  3. Whew! This offering from the DI may be even sillier than their one about how the moon has been cunningly designed to cause eclipses–all for our benefit!

    Won’t even try to count the unsubstantiated claims Egnor spews out in this drivel.

  4. Tom Wolfe isn’t even wrong. Like, he has such a fractally incorrect view of language in his piece that I’m astounded that he actually writes coherent sentences I’m able to enjoy.

    The path from expression to language is a pretty clear one, provided one understands that the first and foremost innovations happened to the individual. We developed a brain that was capable of understanding hypotheticals and forward planning first, and then our modes of expression tracked from there. And not in any sort of mysterious way, but in paths and patterns that we can track back quite accurately.

  5. “…I have argued before that the human mind is qualitatively different from the animal mind….”He is right I have never seen a dog or cat being fouled by imaginary crap like optical illusions! Where the humans are easily fouled by the simplest illusion and believe the silliest dimwitted stories!

  6. at an utter loss to explain how
    Which is the perfect description of creation/intelligent design. At an utter loss to explain how anything turns out.

  7. Charles Deetz ;)

    When I call my dog in from the yard, isn’t she at least using 50% of the system of language, by understanding my call?

  8. @L. Long
    Dogs and cats are fooled by laser pointers. Many animals mistake their reflection in a mirror as another. Have there been experiments on what kind of reactions animals have on optical illusions?

  9. L. Long: fouled = fooled? dweller42: rights = writes?

  10. Egnor. Cogito ergo doleo.

  11. When you get your “science” from English majors….

  12. docbill reminds us “There are textbooks on the evolution of language and speech.” Right you are, doc, though most of them decline to speculate on the ultimate origin of language–whether it is unique to Homo sapiens or began to develop in our ancestral species.

    My favorite book that goes that extra distance is Steven Pinker’s *The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language*. Pinker is intimately conversant with linguistics and paleoanthropology as well as his own field of psychology, but his style is accessible to readers outside those fields. I highly recommend it.

  13. dweller42 notes:

    We developed a brain that was capable of understanding hypotheticals and forward planning first, and then our modes of expression tracked from there.

    I understand what you mean here, but I think you’ve oversimplified to a degree that can give rise to the sort of misunderstandings that give comfort to the Creationists, and which also implies our firm knowledge here is greater than it actually is at present.

    First off, the phenomenon of human natural language is at least as much an issue about development (acquisition) by the individual as it is about our evolutionary history; the latter equips us with a programmable neural network that makes language acquisition possible, but only through a process of individual learning–and we cannot understand the role of language in our cognition without understanding that process.

    Recall (though one can scarcely bear to do so) the conditions of the Romanian orphans under the Ceaușescu regime. Almost entirely deprived from birth of any significant social interaction, they not only did not acquire language (as one would expect they would not), they also remained profoundly intellectually impaired, even after their rescue from those appalling conditions. So I think it misleading to imply that language is simply a ‘mode of expression’ for a pre-existing ability for ‘understanding hypotheticals’ and capacity to engage in ‘forward planning;’ rather, our ability to develop abstract thought is deeply contingent on our acquisition of language.

    One might say that the two (language acquisition and abstract thinking) develop in tandem as a critical stage in an individual’s early years, but even that formulation may be somewhat misleading. The watch-point here is the term “abstract thinking”, which is pretty woolly, or at least by no means (Egnor’s claims not withstanding) demonstrably unique to Homo sapiens. We do not know (and quite possibly never can) precisely the cognitive ability of other animals, though we can detect with absolute certainty an enormous range of such ability—and, as evolutionary theory predicts, measure many close similarities between our abilities and those of our closest primate cousins. Creationists like Egnor deny this, of course, and continue to insist that all non-human animals are automatons, and that no distinction can be made between the hard-wired behaviour of a Sphex wasp and the simple sign language learned by the chimpanzee Washoe.

    The Creationists have a huge investment in maintaining this falsehood. Egnor, of course, still thinks nothing significant has been discovered since Aquinas—but I think the real roots of Creationists’ intellectual onanising are in Plato’s dressed-up oogity-boogity about the ‘Forms.’ You know all the wordy ‘philosophical’ stuff I mean, e.g., we think we know what a ‘table’ is, at least until we try to specifically define it. ‘A table is a piece of wooden furniture with four legs and a flat surface on which dining implements are placed’—except, says Plato (using Socrates as his sock puppet), tables can have three legs, or be made out of other materials, or be used for other purposes than dining, etc. etc. From which it is argued, all of these material tables are imperfect manifestations of some great cosmic and immaterial Idea of a Table, which arises from the mind of God. And then, working this concept like a wedge, the Platonists (and from them, the early Church theologians) quickly race on from concrete examples to ‘abstract’ concepts: ‘justice’, ‘the good’ &c. are all Ideas emanating from the mind of God. You know the whole schtick. It gave us the long centuries of The Dark Ages.

    But of course, we call something a ‘table’—whether it is made of wood or plastic, has three legs or eight, is used for dining or pasting wallpaper—because we have learned to do so from the human convention that has evolved within our particular culture; the matter is wholly empirical, throwing in Platonic oogity-boogity adds nothing to the discussion. And the case is no different with ‘justice’ or any other ‘abstract’ concept.

    All of which was a rather long-winded way of suggesting caution in supposing that ‘understanding hypotheticals’ either pre-exists, or exists independently from, our ‘modes of expression.’

  14. Washoe was a female common chimpanzee who learned to communicate using ASL (American Sign Language).

    From Wikipedia:

    One of Washoe’s caretakers was pregnant and missed work for many weeks after she miscarried. Roger Fouts recounts the following situation:

    People who should be there for her and aren’t are often given the cold shoulder–her way of informing them that she’s miffed at them. Washoe greeted Kat [the caretaker] in just this way when she finally returned to work with the chimps. Kat made her apologies to Washoe, then decided to tell her the truth, signing “MY BABY DIED”. Washoe stared at her, then looked down. She finally peered into Kat’s eyes again and carefully signed “CRY”, touching her cheek and drawing her finger down the path a tear would make on a human (Chimpanzees don’t shed tears). Kat later remarked that one sign told her more about Washoe and her mental capabilities than all her longer, grammatically perfect sentences.

    I’m sorry to say I don’t know any ASL, but I know one easily understood hand gesture that expresses my feelings for the “Ain’t no kin to no monkey” crowd.

  15. o, great one, please fix whatever went wrong with my html… (and me a web designer, gack!)

    [*Voice from above*] I heard your cry and stretched forth my mighty hand. Behold!