Creationist Linguistics

According to the most recent DpSU from the Institute for Creation Research’s Brian Thomas claims that Human Languages Fit a Young Earth Model. What ‘Young Earth Model’?

Historical map of the Yeniseian languagesHistorical map of the Na-Dene languages

The subject article of B.T.’s piece is Linguistics: Deep relationships between languages from Nature (subscription required). There is apparently more evidence that the Siberian Yeniseian and the North American Na-Dene languages, the historical ranges of which are shown above. The problem for the creationists, of course, is that the languages are supposed to have diverged around twelve thousand years ago – eight thousand before Babel, the creationist origin story for languages.

Indeed, the feild of ‘creationist linguistics’ is the evolution/creationist conflict in microcosm. We can observe languages evolving and splitting today, we can trace them back thousands of years…but as soon as we go past a certain point (~4000 years ago, in this case) the creationists all take offence. According to the Babel myth, all the languages were created at once by God, last-Thursday style. That is the basis of any ‘model’ they might produce, that and any wild speculation they can make up based on the rather scanty source material.

And, of course, the real scientists carry on with their work regardless.

So what’s Mr Thomas’ point?

If the creation model of recent migration is true, one might expect to find regional languages that obviously came from the same language families initiated at Babel. And there should be less than 4,000 years’ worth of differences between them—differences that inevitably happen as things such as words or pronunciation change between generations. A new study concludes that two language families from central Siberia and North America come from the same ancestral language, implying that they share a common and recent origin—just as the Bible relates.

See what I mean by them making it up as they go along? Certainly Brian Thomas is here – he is by no means backing himself up with sources on this, having only two bible references, another to the Nature paper, and one more to a non-linguistically related creationist article. And again, ‘recent’ is not recent enough for the YECs.

It is clear that all the languages within these two families were once one language. But one of the “questions that most trouble linguists,” wrote Diamond, is “why do Yeniseian and Na-Dene languages still show such a strong relationship if they diverged 12,000 years ago, when other languages diverge beyond recognition after 5,000–10,000 years ago?”

An important question, yes – but an anomaly that is hardly damaging to Everything We Know About Reality (EWKAR), considering that we also evidently know about other languages that split more than 4,000 years ago.ages of europe and beyond are

That question should actually be separated into several questions: Why do these languages appear so similar if they diverged 12,000 years ago?

‘So similar’ is still pretty different, mind – all the languages in Europe and beyond are in the same family. The Coelacanth does not disprove evolution, and neither does this disprove linguistics.

Did they actually diverge 12,000 years ago?

The evidence does suggest this. However, there is a hypothesis that they may have diverged more like six-to-eight thousand years ago, which might explain this but really needs more evidence. We do know that they did diverge too far back for the creationists, which is good enough for our purposes.

Did all languages begin from one language that diverged over eons of evolution, or were they created as distinct languages from their very beginnings?

That’s not actually part of Diamond’s question. This is a bit like how evolution does not explain the origins of life from non-life, but can be used as part of the explanation. In the circumstances, they probably all had their origins in grunts and so-forth. Does that count? Evolution of languages happen – we need some evidence that they started part way through this process before we can accept the Babel account. The story as it stands is a good candidate for being one of those metaphors, like the ‘immovable earth.’

First, “other languages” never did “diverge beyond recognition.” Instead, they were created so that they were “beyond recognition” right from the start at Babel. It was probably this inability to communicate between the various family groups that led to their dispersal.

I thought the whole point was that they hadn’t diverged beyond all recognition. Doesn’t this falsify the entire Babel story that Mr Thomas wants to push? It at very least makes this relationship between the groups entirely irrelevant to the article.

More significantly, the reason these languages “still show such a strong relationship” could be that the ancestors of its modern speakers were part of the same family group only 4,000 or fewer years ago. Where are all the differences that should have arisen over the course of 12,000 years of supposed Na-Dene and Yeniseian linguistic evolution? Changes have occurred, but apparently not 12,000 years’ worth.

I think the idea with the changes that have and haven’t been found is that while there are plenty of your normal differences that you find between any language, perhaps even 12,000 years worth (I don’t know if they can even measure that kind of thing). However, what they didn’t find, perhaps, are underlying differences, such as in the sounds that are used to make up the words etc. Mr Thomas certainly lacks the evidence needed to show that the divergence must have taken place four thousand years ago rather than, say, eight or twelve.

These two languages are separated by a distance that was certainly traversable by foot within one or two generations during the post-Flood Ice Age, when sea level was 100 meters lower and a land bridge spanned today’s Bering Strait.

Look, a post flood ice-age is not doable. It really isn’t. (I’d give you some links but wordpress is playing up this morning).

However, the languages within the two language families under consideration could not be separated by as much time as evolution insists, because they are still so similar. The evidence from the languages points to a recent, common origin, a scenario that perfectly fits the biblical model of a young earth.

The point that I am trying to make here is that there really isn’t a creationist model here. They’ll take as evidence in favour of their opinion both when it says that languages have a common origin and if it said that they don’t (which, I should think, is more in line with the Babel story).

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One thought on “Creationist Linguistics

  1. Pingback: Stop Arguing, Start Believing « Eye on the ICR

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