March 9, 2017

Evolution’s irony: The Kingdom of Speech

by Jesse Johnson

The Kingdom of Speech, by Tom Wolfe, is a fun tour of the folly of evolution. While Wolf himself is an atheist, he is a vocal critic of the atheistic materialism that grips the Western world. He traces much of this materialistic swagger to the arrogance of modern evolutionary science, which he critiques in The Kingdom of Speech.

The problem with evolution, Wolfe notes, is that it overplays its hand. It tries to be too much. It tries to explain everything, and in so doing it ends up explaining nothing. Wolfe writes, “Darwin had fallen into the trap of cosmogonism, the compulsion to find the ever-elusive Theory of Everything, an idea or narrative that reveals everything in the world to be part of a single and suddenly clear pattern.”

Because no evidence for such a theory exists, evolutionists grasp at straws for the faintest semblance of corroborative affirmation, as seen by Darwin often employing his dog as a stand-in for actual research (as in, “If my dog were left on an island…” or “even my dog has figured out how to…”). All of evolutionary theory is ripe for the mocking, and Wolfe is up to the task.

There are five standard tests for a scientific hypothesis, and evolution can hardly meet the easiest (observation) much less any of the others, such as recording or replicating. Despite this, evolutionary theory bred Nazism, and soon led to something Wolfe calls “worse than the great wars: the total eclipse of all values.”  

But the most obvious example of evolutionary failure concerns what Wolfe calls the kingdom of speech. Evolution cannot even begin to find any evidence whatsoever of how/why people speak. The evolutionist can “explain man’s opposable thumb, upright stature, and huge cranium” but can’t find “one shred of solid evidence that human speech has evolved.”

Darwin himself was aware of this problem—one of the many he set his dog to solving (Wolfe calls this the “bow-wow” theory of speech). Darwin’s failure is the most obvious hole in evolution, and one that evolutionary researchers have tried to plug ever since.

This is why Wolfe saves his sharpest words for Noam Chomsky.  Chomsky had risen to prominence in just about every area of liberal arts—psychology, biology, anthropology; I was a sociology major, a world where Chomsky was practically deified. But Chomsky is most well-known for his supposed theories about how speech developed.

Wolfe won’t stand for it. He pokes holes up and down Chomsky’s findings, mocks his “research,” and compares most of his theories to Darwin’s use of his dog.

Wolfe uses an S.I.L. (Summer Institute of Linguistics) missionary and Moody Bible Institute graduate named Daniel Everett to demolish Chomsky. This is a particular irony because Wolfe notes that by the early twenty-first century “the vast majority of people who thought themselves as intellectuals were atheists,” while “believers were regarded as something slightly worse than hapless fools.”

Everett does what Chomsky would never dare to do—namely leave the classroom, go to a remote and unreached tribe, and actually do field research (Wolfe suggests that Chomsky liked air-conditioning and honorariums more than mosquitoes and research). What Everett finds is that Chomsky’s theories don’t hold up. In fact, despite being embraced as facts by the entire evolutionary community, they are easily disproven.

As a result almost a century of work in evolutionary sciences has been wasted. The problem is that if you have a theory that is not supported by evidence or research, then others can advance it without evidence or research. Eventually someone will actually do the leg work and see that the evolutionary emperor has no clothes–or in this case, no speech. That this was done by a Moody grad is just salt in the wounds of the scientific world which was, Wolfe notes, “so deep-steeped in the Theory that anyone casting doubt upon it obviously had the mentality of a Flat Earther or a Methodist.”

The bottom line for Wolfe: while evolution might explain some things, it certainly can’t explain language:

“Speech, language, is something that existed quite apart from Evolution. It has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Man, man unaided, created language. It’s an artifact, every bit as much as a light-bulb or a Buick.”

In other words, man was made with language. How he got there, Wolfe doesn’t know—and the evolutionist most certainly doesn’t either—but the Christian does. It is no mere turn of phrase that God spoke the universe into existence. We were made by speech, with speech, and for speech, so it is a delicious irony that speech remains the most glaring hole in evolutionary theory.

If you are looking for a fun book to read, one that mocks evolution, Darwin, Chomsky and those who follow in their footsteps, then read The Kingdom of Speech. It is light-hearted, but a good reminder to Christians that there are even atheists out there who remain unconvinced by evolutionary theory.

Reader’s warnings: the book contains two F-bombs, one Mexican prostitute, and a handful of Methodists.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
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  • Good read Jesse! And thanks for the “Readers warning”, my chuckle for the morning. On a serious note however, I love the obvious answer “God SPOKE the world into existence.” No more research needed.

    • Reading this book made me long for a Christian version of it that connects it to John 1:1.

      • Get writing then!!!

        • Ira Pistos

          Don’t task the pastor 😉
          Great idea though.

          • Lol…..I guess he does have more than enough on his plate but as my son says “mom, there will be plenty of time to sleep in heaven”…and he has 6 children!!

  • I read his book “From Bauhaus to Our House” where he takes apart modern architecture. It was excellent. I’ll definitely get this one.

    • I loved Bonfire of the Vanities, which is why I read this one. Maybe next I’ll hit Bauhaus.
      I remember when President Bush said he had read everything Wolfe had written…I should have taken the hint!

  • bs

    Jesse, by all means read the book, even enjoy it. But please don’t think that by rubbishing Chomsky’s view of language in talking with people you have said anything about evolution. A couple of points:
    1. Isn’t Chomsky’s view of language actually more compatible with “man was made with language” than the prior behaviourist view?
    2. Isn’t there a certain irony in using Dan Everett: (‘Wolfe notes that by the early twenty-first century “the vast majority of
    people who thought themselves as intellectuals were atheists,” while
    “believers were regarded as something slightly worse than hapless
    fools.”’ ) when at that stage Dan himself was an atheist?

    • Hey BS. Wolfe’s point is that Chomsky’s theory that there is an organ (or whatever) that transcends ethnicity/race helps evolution in that it is easier to stomach (ha!) an organ evolving, more than you can the concept of language.

      I’m not sure what stage Dan became an atheist. Its not really covered in the book (as far as I recall). I do know that his wife and children continue to serve Christ in the mission field to this very day though. Everett’s apostasy is a sad story, but also a story that God turns for good through the legacy of his children. But neither story is in this book.

      • Kaspars Ozolins

        I have a linguistics background (though I attend the Master’s Seminary now), and I have to say, although Chomsky is as hardened an atheist as anyone, his particular theories have even caused him to be accused of being a “crypto-creationist” if anything. Generative linguistics pushed back against the behaviorism of its day to claim that the language faculty is innate and is most certainly not an evolutionary “adaptation,” or societal invention. While I don’t agree with all the particulars, I think the concept of generative grammar is consistent with what we know of both the incredible complexity of language, and the many universal commonalities among world languages.

        • bs

          Exactly, Kaspars.

          Jesse, so was Wolfe talking about Dan or about his wife and children when he made the comment you referred to? The relevant dates are readily available on Wikipedia.

          • I’m pretty sure that Wiki article was written by Dan himself, btw 🙂

            Which comment are you asking about?

          • bs

            In your paragraph starting “Wolfe uses an S.I.L. (sic.) ,,, missionary…” beside the man in the hat’s picture.

          • Kaspars Ozolins

            I went to UCLA in the field of Indo-European (historical linguistics), though I also had the opportunity to teach and TA in the Linguistics department for two years before I came to TMS.

        • Wolfe’s point in the book–which I’d obviously encourage anyone to read :)–is that the big, glaring, grand-canyon sized whole in evolutionary theory is speech. The point of the whole book is that theories meant to plug that whole have come and gone, all without actual research/evidence, but evolutionary scientists are so eager to plug the whole with something that they believe anything. Chomsky’s research is pinnacle example of this. Wolfe very much juxtaposes the “faith” of the scientists without research vs. the research of Moody Bible grad converted in a Southern California brothel. I’d say that drives the last three chapters or so of the book.

          • Kaspars Ozolins

            I’d definitely love to read the book. But generally the complaint among detractors of Chomsky’s theories has been that his hypotheses truly have left this truly canyon-sized hole evolutionary theory. The famous atheist Daniel Dennett, for example, has a chapter in his book titled “Chomsky Contra Darwin,” even though he ultimately admits that Chomsky is not exactly anti-evolution. What Chomsky’s ideas have done, to my mind, is blow an irreparable hole in the theory of evolution. Concepts like the innate nature of language (children, for example are not “taught” to speak), the infinite capacity of speech (human beings can create and understand an infinitive number of sentences), the incredible complexity of language (entire fields are devoted to the study of phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and we have barely scratched the surface)…all these are a testament to the wonder of God’s creation, whether Chomsky and his followers admit it or not.

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  • 4Commencefiring4

    I don’t know about speech itself, but language evolves–if by “evolve” we mean it changes over time with usage. We don’t speak or write “middle English” anymore, or write like Milton. The KJV uses words we don’t employ any longer–or we attach different meanings.

    I suppose evolutionists would say speech evolved the same way fingernails or eyes did: we needed it, and so those whose mutations favored that ability persisted, while those who didn’t died off. Or something.

    One thing man certainly has that is unique is singing. What other creature uses “speech”, yet also can employ an alternative form of communication for non-essential purposes? Birds “sing”, but that’s their sole way of communicating.

  • m.flanegan

    Think i’m missing something in the argument. I wish you’d explain a bit about what this big hole in evolution actually consists of (i.e. why do they even claim language as a part of evolution?) I would’ve just thought they’d say that once man evolved – smarter than everything else – he developed language because he’d evolved to be smart enough to do so. So why would the evolutionists want to disagree that language is an invention – and why does that discredit evolution? I started reading the article thinking “oh good another way to disprove evolution”, but ended it without really seeing the point.

    • What separates you from a polar bear? or a grizzly? Why does man rule the earth but not bears? Speech. That’s it. But how/why did speech “evolve”? It is the key to evolution, yet evolution has exactly zero theories on how/why. The most essential differentiation between humans and apes, literally the key-word to the whole theory, and there is a big zero there. That’s…well, its book worthy.

      • bs

        Jesse, yes that question is worth asking (I don’t know about zero theories). But my (and Kaspars’) point above is that debunking Chomsky’s views using Dan Everett’s argument might not be the best strategy. As Kaspars outlines Chomsky might be your friend here.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        I sure hope speech isn’t the reason we rule, and not bears. I’d like to think the ability to form complex thoughts and solve complex problems counts for more. Bears know how to catch fish and tear them apart, but they will never understand–or care–how the organs of a fish are arranged, what principles allow it to swim, or how their eyes work.

        Even the highest apes fall way behind man’s ability to use, build, and design tools to help us survive. And we can do it all without speaking.

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