OT: language origin and creationism

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 31 23:01:30 UTC 2010

This could turn into a wonderful learning experience for everyone concerned.

And you know what that means.

Perhaps the student is not especially wedded to creationism. Perhaps she
selected the source because, after all, it does claim to be "true."  Maybe
she thinks there's nothing  controversial involved.  (A long shot, but I've
had similar experiences with students - though not, admittedly, involving

I followed up on Jerry's question on what fields the authors hold doctorates
in (see foot of the website).  One is a microbiologist (surprised?), one is
a neurobiologist (surprised?) and one holds degrees in "speech and Bible."
Their degrees were all awarded by well-known and reputable universities
None is a linguist, but linguists galore have written on the topic. Thus the
source is obviously not a very good one, regardless of the authors'

The issue of creationism need not come up. If, however, your student is
consciously trying to score points for biblical fundamentalism there's not
much you can do in a half-hour conference to get her thinking about other
possibilities.  I'd emphasize the incontestable inadequacy of the source,
and explain how conjectural the whole question of linguistic origin really
is anyway. For the authors to claim that creationism is "the true"
explanation for the origin of language advertises a sad readiness to ignore
the very real limits of the evidence. (That would be the case no matter what
their position might be.)

I'd be reluctant to get into a general debate about creationism in the
context of  a freshman language class. If you encourage the class to
criticize your student's position, you may well be amazed to find that she's
not alone in it, and the only result is likely to be seriously hurt feelings
or a sense of utter futility. The alternative, an epistemological
discussion of science and religion, belongs in another campus despartment.

Creationist and other faith-based hypotheses make their appeal
through selected evidence that appears to be congruent with
literalist religious teachings. Simply because that evidence is congruent
with those teachings, creationists assert that it must and does prove the
truth of those teachings. Logically that's absurd. Real science tests
evidence against facts that have been established repeatedly by independent
professionals all over the world, professionals whose reputations are often
made by disproving, with new and better evidence, the theories of their
predecessors. At bottom, science is based on experience, not on authority.
This can be a subtle point that your student may or may not ever come to

There are plenty of liberal-arts Ph.D's who still haven't figured it out.
They claim that "science" is just a hot new form of "religion" and both
are merely synonyms for "authoritarian power." They're wrong, but you don't
have to take my word for it.


On Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 5:50 PM, Stone, William <w-stone at neiu.edu> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Stone, William" <w-stone at NEIU.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: OT: language origin and creationism
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> One point to be clear on in the argument below is the sense of the words =
> "change" and "evolve". I think you may find that many students and =
> academics do not regard them as synonymous. You may open yourself to a =
> larger debate.
> =20
> Dr. William J. Stone=20
> Associate Professor=20
> TESL Program=20
> Northeastern Illinois University
> ________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Cohen, Gerald Leonard
> Sent: Wed 3/31/2010 4:32 PM
> Subject: Re: OT: language origin and creationism
> I believe students were created to keep professors on their toes with =
> ever new challenges. I see one has come through again. :)
> If this were my student I would first focus on the concept of "best =
> source."  Have the creationist ideas in the article of the three authors =
> been evaluated in any reputable scholarly linguistic journal?  If all =
> linguists in reputable linguistic programs regard creationism in =
> language as belonging to religious belief rather than scholarship, how =
> can the article be advanced as "the best source"?=20
> I would then ask the student as to whether the English language she uses =
> is the product of creationism or evolution? Isn't modern English =
> different from the English of Beowulf or Shakespeare?  Have not changes =
> occurrred?  Have not changes occurred in other languages?  I.e., is not =
> change an integral part of the nature of language?
> Btw, what fields do the three authors have their doctorates in?=20
> Gerald Cohen
> P.S. If the student is insistent on presenting her ideas in class, I =
> would permit her to do so and then engage in a discussion as to why =
> they're not convincing.  I assume she considers that the language of =
> Adam and Eve was Hebrew, and she'd be hard pressed to find any =
> historical linguists agreeing with her.=20
> *    *    *   *
> Original message from Amy West, Wed 3/31/2010 2:54 PM
> I have to say that I was utterly gobsmacked/stunned by this one. I'm
> used to dealing with students coming up with white supremacist
> sources in my Vikings class now. But we're using "language" as our
> theme in my Academic Writing class, so I wasn't expecting creationist
> material to be showing up.
> As a preliminary step to their research papers, I have students
> presenting their "best" source in class. One student -- and I didn't
> catch this problem soon enough because she didn't submit a proposal
> -- wants to write about the origin of language in her 5-7 page paper,
> and wants to present this as her "best source":
> The True.Origin Archive
> Exposing the Myth of Evolution
> http://www.trueorigin.org/language01.asp
>  From the abstract:
> "The following paper examines the true origin of speech and language,
> and the anatomical and physiological requirements.  The evidence
> conclusively implies that humans were created with the unique ability
> to employ speech for communication."
> I was just stunned. This thing has the "look" of scholarship: 3
> authors with PhDs, has an abstract, notes and sources, etc. But it
> wasn't published in a scholarly journal or by a scholarly press.
> She wrote about this source in her annotated bibliography and all she
> said was that it quotes from the Bible a lot. Nothing, nothing about
> the obvious bias and agenda. She said "it has valid biological
> information." (The annotated bib. was just turned in Monday; she just
> sent me this link yesterday.)
> I'd like to hear from more experienced teachers either off-list (or
> on if it's deemed relevant) how you'd handle this. Tell her "no"
> because it's not scholarly/not appropriate for the topic? Let her
> present it and discuss the problems in front of the class?
> ---Amy West
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org =
> <http://www.americandialect.org/>=20
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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