How Does Atheistic Darwinism Explain the Origin of Language?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Not very well, unless you believe that fairy tales from evolution’s past count as evidence.  This excerpt comes from A. N. Wilson in a recent article he wrote for the New Statesman.

The phenomenon of language alone should give us pause. A materialist Darwinian was having dinner with me a few years ago and we laughingly alluded to how, as years go by, one forgets names. Eager, as committed Darwinians often are, to testify on any occasion, my friend asserted: “It is because when we were simply anthropoid apes, there was no need to distinguish between one another by giving names.”

This credal confession struck me as just as superstitious as believing in the historicity of Noah’s Ark. More so, really.

Do materialists really think that language just “evolved”, like finches’ beaks, or have they simply never thought about the matter rationally? Where’s the evidence? How could it come about that human beings all agreed that particular grunts carried particular connotations? How could it have come about that groups of anthropoid apes developed the amazing morphological complexity of a single sentence, let alone the whole grammatical mystery which has engaged Chomsky and others in our lifetime and linguists for time out of mind? No, the existence of language is one of the many phenomena – of which love and music are the two strongest – which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat.

Well put, I think.

  • The evidence is actually pretty clear. A modern example would be the English language, which has drastically changed even from it’s earlier form just a few centuries ago. Languages change all the time, words and terms come and go. That’s basically what evolution is; change over time.

    The second paragraph of the quoted text seems to be nothing more than an argument from incredulity, therefore is not really worth addressing.

    Glottogony is the study of language origins and is really a very fascinating area.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Matt,
    The author was not talking about how languages change over time. That’s obviously true. He was talking about how language originated in the first place. Humans are the only species on the planet that have language. Why is that? Why aren’t other animals writing and speaking sentences? Why is there such a huge gulf? Just explaining how English changed over time doesn’t explain how language originated.


  • I pointed to the field which covers the origin of language and the evidence for it is actually pretty strong (though too complex for a small reply window/text space such as this).

    Other animals do possess capability for language. Whales and Dolphins, for examples, have been shown to be to be able to communicate rather complicated (relatively speaking) ideas across great distances.

    There are two main, inter-related, reasons why Humans have greater language capability than any other species. The first is that humanity is by far the most social reliant species – a single human would find it very difficult to survive while chances vastly increase in a like minded group. For a group to work, ideas need to be communicated. Initially this would have been done in the simplest of ways but be refined as time progress.

    The second is simply our brains are the most developed of any known species. This is fully explained by the Theory of Evolution.

  • Bill Pratt

    We all know animals communicate. We’re not talking about communication, but language. Why is it no other animals evolved the ability to speak and write sentences?

    Your explanation that humans are more socially reliant needs proof. It seems to me that many other animals are just as socially reliant, if not more. Many animals travel in herds or packs or flocks, and rely on each other for protection. Strength in numbers does not just apply to humans. Just turn on any nature channel and watch.

    You claim that our brains are the most developed. Why is that? How did that occur and how did the brain acquire the capability of language. Just stating that evolution explains things is not an explanation. You need to provide detailed accounts of how language evolved that are backed by empirical evidence. That’s what science does.


  • e-dogg

    First, Bill, you are indeed talking about communication. Other animals have indeed evolved the ability to speak! Songbirds and whales “sing” to communicate. Cuttlefish display color patterns. All social animals communicate at one level or another. It might surprise you to know that different species of monkeys in the jungle that are loosely cooperative have been shown to have the ability to understand each others’ “languages.” For example, a monkey of one species sees a predatory snake and starts screaming the “snake!” alarm. Nearby monkeys of a different species hear the call (but can’t see the snake) and raise their own “snake!” alarm in a different language.

    Now, your inclusion of the ability to “write sentences” is a bit odd. The spoken word FAR predates the written word. Humans slowly developed larger brains, greater social structures, and eventually abstract thought. Why do you think pictographs (Egyptian, Chinese) developed first?

    If you still unreasonably demand an example of non-human written language, just look to the social bees. Ever seen one communicate the directions to a batch of tasty flowers by laying down a chemical map in the hive? Would you consider that to be written language?

    Speaking of unreasonable, your request for an explanation of why our brains developed and detailed accounts of how language evolved is laughable in a blog reply. Might I suggest that the information you’re asking for is freely available at your nearest university library? Matt’s suggestion should give you a place to start. I won’t pretend that ALL of the details are known, but I submit that the evidence is still overwhelming in support of the evolutionary explanation. If you want to dispute that, YOU will have to provide detailed accounts of why that evidence has been misinterpreted.

    Lacking any detailed analysis, your original post and subsequent comments display an extremely shalow consideration of the issue.

  • Bill Pratt

    “I submit that the evidence is still overwhelming in support of the evolutionary explanation.”

    I would love to see that evidence but it is never forthcoming. Instead those who fully accept the Darwinian evolutionary account of language origination and the origination of any other complex function or trait of human beings simply say, “Go check out the library” or “the evidence is overwhelming,” but never actually provide any of that overwhelming evidence.

    I have studied Darwinian evolution, and what I find are fairy tale stories about our evolutionary past accompanied by fictional dramatizations on NatGeo. I am an electrical engineer by training, and I know evidence when I see it. I have never seen any compelling evidence that explains the detailed Darwinian origin of language in human beings. If you have it, by all means pass it along.

  • ghgh


  • david

    IT’s amazing how some “atheists” just DON’T understand. WE all now that Evolution is real, and that it exists, however you don’t seem to use common sense. They say ‘someone grunted “rock” and others fallowed” They must themselves be “followers” because me, being a leader, I would have made up my own grunt for a rock, and would not have fallowed the grunt of another ape, which therefore, we would have not agree’d on what to call the rock, and then there would be many different ways to say something about a rock, and also, if there was not language, we would have not had the ability to debate and decide to agree, or disagree.. Now a dominant personality could most likely influence others to fallow in the same path just by being meaner and scarier… however there are many dominant personalities in the world, and there is no way that all of them could have joined together and decided that a ROCK would be called a “ROCK” . There would have been many different terms for ROCK within a five mile radius because each family, pack, or group of apes would have their own interpretation… Unless there was something like “noah’s ark, where everyone but a few individuals were killed, and in that case then there would only be one set of words per object, which would be the words that Noah and his family grunted to describe a rock.

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  • James

    Language isnt the same as grammar or slang. Science cant prove the origins of different languages, everyone on here is simply stating their opinions or beliefs. I believe in the tower of babel.

  • Andrew Ryan

    When do you think Babel originated the different languages then?