A very excellent quote and sentiment!
Methdological naturalism is a very old Christian tradition. It was one of Christianity’s greatest contributions to the modern Western scientific continuum.
Hope you’re well today.
The problem, frankly, is that as long as all we’re looking at is Chomsky, Hauser, Pinker, et al., we’re not going to get very far. They will always say that “material explanations have failed.” Always.
Here’s the thing: Chomsky is committed to a deeply modular view of the linguistic faculty. He believes in a sort of linguistic “black box” in the brain where language acquisition and processing is done, and that language is a completely separate faculty from everything else the brain does.
This is no longer accepted by a growing number of linguists, who see the principles that govern the linguistic faculty as being pervasive throughout human cognition, not limited to language. It would take me some time to do justice to this train of thought, so I won’t really elaborate further here, but will just humbly recommend you do some reading of cognitive linguists who are among Chomsky’s detractors.
The reason I encourage you in this vein is that Chomsky’s entire research program is very cozy with Intelligent Design. It says, essentially, the black box is the way it is because that’s how it’s designed! This style of explanation is utterly circular, and because Chomskian linguistics is doggedly committed to continuing to use this circular reasoning, it is blinded from seeing the way that language is largely governed by factors external to it: considerations of cognitive processing and communicative efficiency and categorization, functional and pragmatic factors of the situational context, etc. etc.
So as long as you’re reading Chomskian folks, you’re reading stuff that will reinforce your presuppositions. If you want to challenge your presuppositions, read his detractors. And don’t mistake “Chomskian linguists believe material explanations have failed” for “material explanations have failed.” There is a world of difference here.
Have a great day —
Thanks for the thoughtful response. I’ll take it on board.
…and if I come across a good pithy article on this from a non-Chomskian linguist, I’ll be sure to share it. It’s not something I’m currently reading about, but if I stumble across something, I’ll send it your way!
Incidentally, while we’re on the topic, I find it curious that the premiere organization of Christian field linguists, SIL International, leans largely non-Chomskian (with some exceptions). One might expect an organization with an American Evangelical base to lean toward the theoretical framework that resonates with ID… yet it doesn’t. And, ironically, it takes a fair amount of flak for that by Chomskian linguists in the secular academy. Quite a bit of irony there!
5 posts were merged into an existing topic: What about embodied cognition?
I’d like to see it as well. I’ve not noticed that (though it is a big field, so not surprising that I haven’t).
Could you please clarify what point you are making that you believe this article supports? Do you think it supports the idea that language could plausibly have emerged discontinuously in a single mating pair?
Okay, that was my summary of your response to Dennis when you said:
and again when you said:
There is a difference between saying we cannot disprove that two individuals invented language de novo because the origin of language is a mystery and saying we cannot discriminate between plausible models of how language emerged in human communities and implausible models.
Fine, we can’t disprove the idea that two people invented language de novo and consequently geographically isolated themselves because they felt so different/superior with their new abilities that they didn’t want their children associating with the rest of their social group anymore. In my humble opinion, it’s still laughably implausible, and it doesn’t make sense to assert it as a real possibility under consideration by anyone who theorizes about these things. If you never meant to make it sound like that was what you were arguing, then sorry for misunderstanding your argument.
I was not trying to somehow insult you by pointing out it sounded like a creationist argument to me. I was just trying to get you to clarify what you were actually claiming, because “the evidence is not going to tell us one way or another” sure sounded to me like a pretty lame defense of your contention that maybe there was a two person bottleneck because of geographic isolation caused by two people inventing language and not wanting their kids to interbreed with anyone around them. The challenge wasn’t meant to be hostile in any way, just an invitation to make your presentation of options better. It seems like you don’t really appreciate that kind of feedback though and are just going to double down on how it really does make lots of sense, so I’m happy to drop the subject. I’m on vacation and I’m not trying to pick fights with anyone.
I don’t understand what significance this piece of information has in your mind. So what? The issue is when has human language ever been transmitted non-socially?
To me that is like saying that what we know about how genes work in the here and now has no bearing on studying the origin of our species. Yes, what we know about how languages are acquired and evolve in the here and now have bearing on what we theorize about how language worked at it’s origin. For language to qualify as language it has to function in certain predictable ways that we understand based on our study of contemporary languages and historical linguistics.
It’s not heated rhetoric. It’s a conversation with someone who doesn’t think you have a good argument on one minor point. That’s what we do on this forum, we discuss stuff and occasionally disagree. Please relax a little.
There was an error i made there, I misremembered the figure. THe paper to which I was referring:
t suggests a trajectory of continuous, long-term Wyoming-Colorado hunter–gatherer population growth of 0.041% from 13,000–6,000 cal BP, doubling roughly every 1,700 y, within which there were short-term fluctuations during which growth rates were sometimes more than an order of magnitude larger (i.e., r > 0.4%), doubling in less than 200 y.
A couple points I would make:
Hunter gatherer growth rates can be about the same as agriculturalists. Counterintuitively, the main difference might be in carrying capacity, not growth rate.
Rate is going to be inversely related with distance from carrying capacity. Smaller populations can grow percentagewise much faster than larger populations.
Doubling every generation for a few generations (when very far below carrying capacity) does not seem implausible. So, going from 2 -> 4 -> 8 -> 16 -> 32 -> 64 etc. over a 150 to 200 year period (4 children for each couple) does not seem implausible, even if the long term rate moves lower once there are, say, over 100 or 1000 individuals.
Though I do agree that is faster than what was observed in North American hunter gatherers. What I said earlier was in error.
So thanks for pressing me on that reference. It was important to get that straight, especially for some of the simulations we have been doing.
Chomsky famously has refused to acknowledge any value in probabilistic language models. Meanwhile, Google Translate and Bing Translate use them to great effect.
EDIT: iirc, Alexa is more accurate in listening to and transcribing language on the fly than the average adult. And probabilistic models are behind that capability, of course.
It seems to me you are searching for a feature capable of sharply distinguishing between human Image Bearers, and non-human animals.
But then why do you not refer to writing?
Notice that writing is motivated by the need of registering marriages, arranging contracts, and enacting laws. Therefore it reveals awareness of personal identity, moral responsibility and accountability.
For what purpose are you suggesting referring to writing, may I ask?
Writing is a very recent phenomenon in the history of H. sapiens, and does not extend to many human contexts and languages even today. Are you suggesting (perish the thought) that these peoples are somehow less human??
I’m not sure I get where you’re going with this.
Writing is motivated by the need to record the verbal agreements that resulted in marriage, contracts, and laws. Social behavior predates writing. Antoine what you should be looking for are indications of group behavior that would lead to language that would lead to cities that would lead to writing.
True. I’ve never met anyone personally who uses transformational grammar to describe minority languages. One critique I commonly hear is that it tends to see all languages through an “English as normal,” indo-european-centric lens, which introduces all sorts of complications when you are doing descriptive linguistics of languages that function very differently than English. Everyone I know uses Role and Reference Grammar or Lexical-Functional Grammar.
To be clear, what you’re postulating is very much what I would call explosive growth. So back to my question: what kind of natural disaster are you postulating that would leave the environment intact enough for explosive growth to occur immediately afterwards?
Again, what are you actually proposing? What kind of genetic interference creates a bottleneck of two in mammals? What examples are there?
No. Just no. Sure, there are an infinite number of possible hypotheses that can explain any set of data. No, science does not treat all hypotheses equally – it has heuristics that let scientists drastically restrict the set of hypotheses that they actually consider.
Remember, my claim was that “abrupt bottleneck of size two” and “slowly varying population size” should not be treated as equally valid scientific hypotheses. You haven’t given me any reason to change my view.
In order to single out a criterion allowing us to sharply establishing when God makes Humanity to a community of people in the Image of God.
I have the impression is what Ann Gauger is looking for after all, isn’t she?
The beginnings of Homo sapiens as an evolving biological taxon is a matter of arbitrary definition and are therefore necessarily fuzzy.
So what matters here is not “the history of evolving Homo sapiens” but establishing the beginning of the history of Humanity as community of Image Bearers.
Not at all!
Consider those in this thread who propose language as the criterion for distinguishing humans from animals:
Are they suggesting that new-born babies or hydranencephalic childs “are somehow less human”?
No. Their argument amounts to establish the time T when language appears, and then infer: all creatures exhibiting a human body after time T cannot be considered animals.
Similarly I argue:
The time when writing appears at about 3500 BC marks the moment when God makes the first humans in His Image: It is the moment referred to in Genesis 1:27. After the Flood all the extant human-like animals are made to Image Bearers: It is the moment referred to in Genesis 9:6; in the wording of @Bill_II one could say: at this moment the percentage of Image Bearers among human-like animals becomes 100%. In the time between this percentage increased both, by children generation and by further direct creation by God of “sons of God”, according to Genesis 6:1-4.
Since the moment referred to in Genesis 9:6 the percentage of Image Bearers among humans is 100% forever, independently of they write or not.
This thread is showing that “language” is highly controversial as a cut-off criterion. So it may be worth to try with writing.
I hope it is now clearer. If not, I will be pleased answering further comments.
Thousands of languages/cultures today do not have writing systems. Are they less image bearers, or less moral? Isn’t it problematic that writing was specific to relatively few societies until modern times?
To me this is an utterly bizarre interpretation of Genesis 9:6, but I am willing to be shown wrong. By chance are you aware of any scholarly commentaries that take this approach to that verse, namely that this moment of bestowing God’s image in this verse refers to a separate moment in time from humanity’s initial creation?
Forgive me if you’ve covered this in the other long thread with your name in the title. I have not been following that conversation at all.
@glipsnort we are going far afield from the original goal into speculative territory.
The question, as I see it, is if a brief bottleneck is ruled out in the distant past by evidence.
As for the likelihood this, it will be strongly shaped by our prior beliefs, because there is not evidence to tell us one way or another.
Some people come to the table already believing that there was single couple origin. Some of us will dispute whether that is warranted (I certainly do), but that is their starting point based on their reading of Scripture. I do not think there is good reason to think there as a single couple origin from the scientific data alone. It seems like that is what you are asking for, but that data does not be possible to find.
“Explosive” growth is a highly biased term in this context. We are merely talking about the difference between 3 (observed in hunter gatherer societies) vs. 4 (what I initially said) children per couple, for just a couple centuries. This is hardly an absurd amount of growth, clearly in the realm of plausibility. We can look for the sensitivity of coalescence methods (PSMC and MSMC) to detecting tight bottlenecks with different growth rates afterwards. TMR4A is at about 500 kya, but I expect that number to move upward to about 600 to 700 kya with a growth rate you would find acceptable (e.g. 0.4% vs. 1%, or 3 children per couple instead of 4).
As for what could cause this?
That is irrelevant to the point. We are talking about what the data shows us. I can speculate totally untested natural mechanisms for a single couple origin, and have. However that is just speculative and not supported by data. I never claimed it was. There is not data here to discriminate.
People who think this is important for theological reasons, I am sure, are not making a scientific point. They would see that the data does not rule out a single couple origin during this time. Perhaps God made a couple and isolated them from their neighbors. We are not really talking science here. Once trust in that position will be entirely determined by theology (and not contradicted by evidence), but it is not my personal view, so do not ask me to justify it theologically.
I think large part of the confusion here is understanding how theological questions should negotiated the line between science and not-science.
From a purely scientific view, I think we can say:
There does not appear to be evidence against a brief single couple bottleneck before about 500 kya, but that might be pushed back to about 700 kya or so.
There does not appear to be evidence for such a bottleneck either.
We cannot find good reason to think from a purely scientific point of view why precisely a single couple bottleneck would be expected, but there may be some reasons a small bottleneck might have taken place (e.g. natural disaster, etc.)
However, now thinking from a theological point of view, engaged with this science, we can take this further, beyond the science.
- Perhaps God created the first humans as a single couple, sole-genetic progenitors of us all, perhaps 2 mya.
Is that ad-hoc? Well, I’m not convinced by it, but I also cannot argue from evidence that it is wrong. If other’s feel it is not ad hoc, they can take that position. It really is not for science to say one way or another where the evidence is silent.
That is all I’m saying.
I should add that the whole analysis is very tightly dependent most sharply on how many children Adam and Eve have. If they have, say, 8 kids, and then it goes down to just 0.4% growth from 2 centuries, then down to 0.04% long term, it would be very hard to detect.
Having 8 kids in one family is not at all implausible.