Tom Wolfe's latest book, The Kingdom of Speech, is going to upset a lot of people.
Wolfe is generally in good standing with the liberal defenders of evolution who are for the most part all for his criticism of investment bankers (The Bonfire of the Vanities) or big business (A Man in Full). When he decided to tear down liberal icons Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky, the reaction has been less than kind.
When I learned about this book, I was eager to read it, although Wolfe's tendency to write massive tomes meant a big time commitment. It was a pleasant surprise to find it was only 169 pages long. Maybe when you are 86 years old, you write shorter books.
Wolfe's conclusions will be applauded by those like myself who advocate for Intelligent Design. The reaction from Darwiniacs is, as can be expected: wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Any Darwin worshipers, be forewarned; Wolfe portrays him as overrated and none-too-bright -- also a borderline plagiarist.
One of the objections to Darwin's theory of evolution raised during his lifetime was the inability for evolution to account for the development of language. Darwin claimed it evolved, but had no persuasive evidence; he spun fables a la Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories. Jump 100 years and Noam Chomsky took up the fight that language evolved due to 'universal grammar' made possible by some unidentified part of the brain. Another 50 years and no such organ has been found. If fact, field research by Daniel Everett in the Amazon jungle leads many to concede that Chomsky was all wrong and Darwin all was wrong.
We don't know how man developed language, but we do know it was not a product of evolution.
To most people this is no big deal. Those who consider man is made in the image of God find it natural that language is God given. To atheists and die-hard Darwiniacs, this is a big deal. They don't like cracks that undermine their faith in their religious-like devotion to Darwin.
Quotes I enjoyed from the book:
Regarding Darwin position when he put forth his theory of evolution: "There was no scientific way to test it. Like every other cosmogony, it was serious and sincere story meant to satisfy man's endless curiosity about where he came from and how he came to be so different from the animals around him. But it was still a story. It was not evidence. It short, it was sincere, but sheer, literature." (27)
In Germany, on the other hand, The Origin of Species was an immediate sensation. By 1874 Nietzsche had paid Darwin and his theory the highest praise with the most famous declaration in modern philosophy: "God is dead." Without mentioning Darwin by name, he said the "doctrine that there is no cardinal distinction between man and animal" will demoralize humanity throughout the West; it will lead to the rise of "barbaric nationalistic brotherhoods" -- he all but called them by name: Nazism, Communism, and Fascism -- and result within one generation in "wars such as never have been fought before." If we take one generation to be thirty years, that would have meant by 1904. In fact, the First Word War broke out in 1914. This latter-day barbarism, he went on to say, will in the twenty-first century lead to something worse than the great wars: the total eclipse of all values. (51)
Max Muller: "The Science of Language will yet enable us to withstand the extreme theories of evolutionists and to draw a hard and fast line between man and brute." (54)
The power of the human brain was so far beyond the boundaries of natural selection that the term became meaningless in explaining the origins of man. (61)
Language in all its forms advanced man far beyond the boundaries of natural selection, allowing him to think abstractly and plan ahead (no animal was capable of it); measure things and record measurements for later (no animal was capable of it); comprehend space and time, God, freedom, and immortality; and remove items from Nature to create artifacts, whether axes or algebra. No animal could even begin to do any such thing. Darwin's doctrine of natural selection couldn't deal with artifacts, which were by definition unnatural, or with the month of all artifacts, which was the Word -- speech, language -- was driving him crazy ... (64)
Kipling's intention from the outset was to entertain children. Darwin's intention, on the other hand, was dead serious and absolutely sincere in the name of science and his cosmogony. Neither had any evidence to back up his tale. Kipling, of course, never pretended to. But Darwin did. (70)
Language was the crux of it all. If language sealed off man from animal, then the Theory of Evolution applied only to animal studies and reached no higher than the hairy apes. (75)
Mendelian genetics overshadowed the Theory of Evolution from the very beginning. This new field had come straight out of purely scientific experiments that agronomists and biologists everywhere were able to replicate. The Theory of Evolution, on the other hand, had come out of cerebrations of two immobile thinkers, ... thinking about things no man had ever seen and couldn't even hope to replicate in much less than a few million years. (80)
Language had not evolved from anything. It was an artifact. Just as man had taken natural materials, namely wood and metal, and combined them to create the ax, he had taken natural sounds and put them together in the form of codes representing objects, actions, and ultimately, thoughts and calculations -- and called the codes words. (141)
"I have no time for Chomskyan theorizing and its associated dogmas of 'universal grammar.' This stuff is so much half-baked twaddle, more akin to a religious movement than to a scholarly enterprise. I am confident that our successors will look back on UG as a huge waste of time. I deeply regret the fact that this sludge attracts so much attention outside linguistics, so much so that many non-linguistics believe that Chomskyan theory simply is linguistics ... and that UG is now an established piece of truth beyond criticism or discussion. The truth is entirely otherwise." Larry Trask, linguist at England's University of Sussex (144)
"The evolution of the faculty of language largely remains an enigma." (Chomsky)
An enigma! A century and a half's worth of certified wise men, if we make Darwin the starting point -- or of bearers of doctoral degrees, in any case -- six generations of them had devoted their careers to explaining exactly what language is. After all that time and cerebration they had arrived at a conclusion: language is ... an enigma? Chomsky all by himself had spent sixty years on the subject. He had convinced not only academia but also an awed public that he had the answer. And now he was a signatory of a declaration that language remains... an enigma? (150)
"In the last 40 years there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved." (Chomsky) (156)
As I have noted before, I recognize that I have higher than normal interest in this subject. As a student of history, I see the rise of acceptance of evolution has coincided with a lowering of cultural standards. After all, if evolution proves that there is no God and no scriptural right and wrong, then you are excused to create your own morals, or lack of them. I wrote my play Inherit the Wind Overturned by Design back in 2009 as a vehicle to contrast the positions of ID and evolution in an entertaining format so people can consider the argument for the ID position. Those interested in the ID subject should enjoy the contrast to the popular 1950's era play it satires.
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