Klinghoffer: Why Can’t Monkeys Speak?

As an intellectual challenge, dear reader, we want you to figure out what was said in a new Discovery Institute blog post. But first we’ll give you some background. PhysOrg recently reported: Monkey speak: Macaques have the anatomy, not the brain, for human speech. That article tells us:

Monkeys known as macaques possess the vocal anatomy to produce “clearly intelligible” human speech but lack the brain circuitry to do so, according to new research.

The findings — which could apply to other African and Asian primates known as Old World monkeys — suggest that human speech stems mainly from the unique evolution and construction of our brains, and is not linked to vocalization-related anatomical differences between humans and primates, the researchers reported Dec. 9 in the journal Science Advances.

This is the published paper they’re talking about: Monkey vocal tracts are speech-ready. You can read it online without a subscription, but we’ll stay with PhysOrg, which says:

Co-corresponding author Asif Ghazanfar, a Princeton University professor of psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, said that scientists across many disciplines have long debated if — and to what extent — differences between the human and primate vocal anatomy allow people to speak but not monkeys and apes.

“Now nobody can say that it’s something about the vocal anatomy that keeps monkeys from being able to speak — it has to be something in the brain. Even if this finding only applies to macaque monkeys, it would still debunk the idea that it’s the anatomy that limits speech in nonhumans,” Ghazanfar said. “Now, the interesting question is, what is it in the human brain that makes it special?”

At this point you’re probably wondering what a creationist could do with that. You’re about to find out at the Discoveroids’ creationist blog, where Klinghoffer just posted Why Do Monkeys Not Speak? Because They’re Not Human. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

A study in Science Advances indicates that monkeys could speak — they have the anatomic wherewithal, an adequate vocal tract — if only they had the brains to go with it. The miracle of the Darwinian mechanism [Hee hee!] is that it gives to creatures, or rather retains on their behalf, what is adaptive, that is to say, useful. So evolving the sophisticated equipment specially required for a skill your species will never develop seems a bit puzzling.

Klinghoffer is puzzled about why the “miracle” of evolution gave monkeys the physical ability to speak but didn’t provide them with the ability to use that ability. He quotes from an interview with the lead author of the published paper, W. Tecumseh Fitch:

… Fitch and his team believe that most mammals possess flexible, speech-ready vocal tracts. He said, “It seems clear that this type of flexibility evolved early on, for reasons other than vocalization, probably initially for food processing — manipulating and swallowing food.”

What can Klinghoffer do with that? He tells us:

Oh, it evolved for “food processing,” they say. To go with every biological mystery, evolution never fails to puts its finger on a speculative story.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Scientists speculate; but of course the Discoveroids never do. Klinghoffer continues:

[T]he new view underlines what Wesley Smith calls human exceptionalism.

Ah yes — “human exceptionalism.” That’s a recent theme of the Discoveroids. The phrase seems to be a thinly disguised claim that humans aren’t related to other animals, and therefore, as creationists always say: “I ain’t no kin to no monkey.” It also seems to be Discoveroid code for “In His Image,” but they avoid specifically saying that because — cough, cough — they’re scientists, not creationists.

Klinghoffer ends his post with this:

Now that anatomy is removed as an explanation for their reticence, the obvious truth is left as the remainder: Monkey don’t speak because they are not human.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Brilliant! Hey, parrots can talk, and they’re not humans either. And humans don’t fly because they’re not birds. One could go on endlessly like that, describing the differences between species. What’s the point? Does Klinghoffer even have a point?

The Discoveroids’ “theory” of intelligent design informs us that every biological feature was brought forth for a purpose. But what was the purpose of the intelligent designer — blessed be he! — in giving monkeys the apparatus for speech? It seems to be an unsolvable problem for the creationists, but Klinghoffer appears to think it’s a point in their favor. We can’t figure it out.

So that’s your challenge, dear reader. Tell us why Klinghoffer even bothered to write his little post.

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21 responses to “Klinghoffer: Why Can’t Monkeys Speak?

  1. Why is the monkey anatomy (other than the brain) designed for speech?

    For the monkey anatomy is as much designed for speech as is the human anatomy, so K is telling us.

    Or is the human anatomy not designed for speech, but is just making do with something which has different functions in monkeys?

    How does one explain all of this on the premise that there is no physical relationship between humans and monkeys?

  2. Ah, but some birds can speak, so they must be related to humans?
    Talking Birds

  3. Klinghoffer’s murky language is just further proof that some of us have evolved faster than others.

  4. You foolish, blind materialists!

    Capuchin monkeys are so dexterous they can untie shoelaces–but not one of them has ever painted a Sistine Chapel.

    If that doesn’t prove that ‘No Darwin, No Hitler’, then nothing does.

  5. Charles Deetz ;)

    Maybe the contrary point would be that many types of animals understand human speech.

  6. I am wondering why the DI doesn’t just claim everything evolved except humans – this seems to be their only concern and their only reason to deny evolution. Then again, they could even say humans evolved and some intelligence endowed humans with an intangible quality that nothing else has.
    It would be easier to keep their story straight if they simplified it – ok, it would help if they learned science too, but that may be asking too much.

  7. I’m quite happy to be kin to a monkey. Discoveroids, not so much!

  8. michaelfugate

    What about Mr. Ed? Can ID explain that?

    Not to mention Balaam. Has Klinghoffer ever considered that humans only speak because each is a puppet controlled by God and God’s angels? If God can make an ass speak, is it any wonder Klinghoffer and the others at the DI can speak?

  9. Linguists have long pointed out that what we often refer to as “speech organs” are actually breathing and eating organs that happened to be adaptable to another use. Considering that all animals breathe and eat, nobody should be surprised that animals with body plans similar to ours should be capable of similar adaptations–in theory, if not in fact.

    Also, considering how important communication is to social species, nobody should be surprised that species with vastly different body plans would evolve complex signaling systems. (Languages with syntax and everything? Who knows?) The syrinx of a bird is not homologous to a mammalian larynx, but no matter; birds vocalize with them just fine. The organs used by whales to coordinate their movements and (apparently) sing about their culture are even less like human speech organs.

    Do these facts imply that the creator also made African gray parrots and humpback whales in his image?

  10. He wrote this article because each discovery we make on this subject demonstrates just how similar humans and primates actually are, so any time they have the opportunity to call out a difference, even if it’s one that’s been observed previously, they HAVE to make it.

  11. michaelfugate

    They can’t be other than similar; humans are primates, primates are mammals, mammals are amniotes, amniotes are vertebrates, etc etc
    Humans actually have no choice in the matter.

  12. One thing is clear to me: penguins don’t fly because they are not birds of prey. This new view underlines what I call eagle exception-owl-ism.

  13. michaelfugate

    In a sense penguins fly it is just in the medium of water instead of air.

  14. Apparently there once was a talking snake. A snake that spoke well enough to seduce Eve into eating a fruit, as documented by God himself. (One assumes the snake spoke an early form of Hebrew)

    Obviously a snake is not a human, but Kling claims only humans can talk – in direct contradiction to God’s own word. Blasphemy!

  15. Ah but AiG will tell you it was a metaphorical snake in a literal creation story….

  16. Since Klinghoffer doesn’t have a Comments section, I will never know the answer to my rather obvious question: if the layout of the monkey’s larynx serves a function, why could it not have evolved? But if it doesn’t serve a function, why did the Designer make it that way? I really want to know how Klinghoffer would answer.

    Incidentally, I do not share the general view here that the Discoveroids are stupid. It requires considerable intellectual effort for them to tie themselves into such knots

  17. I am not interested in whether particular people are stupid or lazy or whatever. The issue for me is whether there is a coherent alternative to evolutionary biology that presents an intellectual challenge, something that would give me some motivation to investigate whether the intuitive picture of the world of life being related by common descent is mistaken. I haven’t heard of any alternative account.

  18. @michaelfugate: Your point that penguins use their wings in a manner different from intelligently designed birds only reinforces my belief system. It is flight that makes a bird a bird, and not any of the other perhaps dozens of characteristics that scientists use to group animals into categories. Penguins are just squawking fish.

    I mean, you might as well tell me there are mammals that fly – or even lay eggs!

  19. I completely agree about the absence of an alternative account worthy of our attention.

    However, just in case you didn’t notice, there is a war on, and we will not defeat the enemies of reason by underestimating them

  20. My hope is that we can win a war of ideas, rather than personalities. That may be naive.
    Obviously, the creationists count among their leaders people who are clever in attracting followers. We should not underestimate that cleverness.