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Prewired language processing

An evolutionary ‘Catch 22’


Joseph Heller, Catch 22

“Humans are born with brains ‘prewired’ to see words.”1 So said a news item on a science website. But this would hardly be news to any mother reading a book to a child sitting on her knee. She sees that her child quickly develops the ability to recognize the shape of letters and to associate names with the shapes. Her child can soon recognize whole words at a glance.

The study concluded that a part of the human brain from infancy “is more connected functionally to the language network of the brain than it is to other areas”. One of the researchers speculated, “It’s interesting to think about how and why our brains develop functional modules that are sensitive to specific things like faces, objects, and words.”

This speculation presents a key dilemma for the evolutionary paradigm—how could the brain be prewired and yet have developed through chance-based processes? It is an example of a paradoxical circumstance which appears in various forms, such as when a young person asks, “How can I get work experience if I cannot get a job that provides the experience?” or that in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22.2 When we accept the historical accuracy of the Bible’s account, we are not confronted with the inconsistency of such a dilemma. Rather, we know that God created Adam and Eve with a fully formed ability to process language (Genesis 1:28–30, 2:16–20, 3:1–3).

Supposed talking ape

For Adam to have named the animals (Genesis 2:19-20) he needed tools with which to work. For example, Adam needed intelligence and understanding to discern the characteristics of the animals, and a logical reasoning capability to extrapolate from the animals’ attributes to a symbolic representation as expressed in a name. He also required a language with which to provide the names, and organs of communication (i.e., eyes, ears, mouth) with which to examine the animals and to verbalize the names he assigned to them.

Therefore, the act of naming the animals implies that fully complete and complex operational systems were in place. Adam had these operational systems—his Creator endowed him with a functioning body with sensory organs, rationality and intelligence, creativity, and the ability to process language and communicate with God. Adam was not the product of a long and gradual process of evolution; he arrived fully formed and fully functional on the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1:26–27). All of Adam’s posterity since then have been born with a prewired ability to process language—visual and oral processing of words and the ability to use grammars and construct sentences.

Evolutionists, on the other hand, claim that human language processing developed from the use of grunts and other noises made by early Hominidae creatures.3 However, careful analysis of this explanation for the origin of language processing indicates that it is faced with challenges. For example:

Artificial intelligence
  • Humans could not process an emerging language if they did not know how to process one. A theory that assumes a tabula rasa (blank slate) for the emergence of a language runs into the classic ‘boot-up’ problem—i.e., we need the ability to parse language in order to learn or to use a language.
  • Our supposed ancestors would have had to agree on the meaning of sounds. It might be possible to argue that the word ‘Run!’ would be interpreted over time by survivors as “Make a hasty exit before the lion gets you.” However, it is more difficult to explain how the meaning of words such as ‘life’, ‘love’ and ‘God’ can be communicated from one person to another without a pre-existing ability to process language.
  • Language grammars are complex. Languages require a complete syntax of verbs, nouns, prepositions, and so on, before they can be useful. A language cannot be formed of nouns only or verbs only. As one resource states, “language mastery can be no simple matter. Modern linguistic theories have shown that human languages are vastly complex objects … Clearly, there is something very special about the brains of human beings that enables them to master a natural language.”4
  • Over a dozen language families exist, with fundamentally different structures. In theory, it might appear that the ability to process one type of language could have evolved from our supposed ancestors’ grunts and squeals. But to suggest that evolution produced the ability to process all of the many independently structured language groups appears suspect.
  • Creating AI language processors is a challenge. For the past 50 years, computer scientists and linguists have been trying to create artificial intelligence (AI) systems that can process languages. But this has required the application of considerable research, experimentation, and design effort.

Therefore, it is difficult to believe that the capability to process language evolved through natural selection acting upon accidental mutations, rather than being the product of an intelligent designer. However, evolutionists reject this explanation a priori. Instead, they claim that the emergence of language processing occurred in human prehistory. But this means there can be no historical evidence for its emergence.

Or course, no comparable emergence of language processing (as distinct from new languages) is observed today—it is therefore claimed to have been a one-time event in prehuman evolution. This is a way of espousing evolution without having to demonstrate that it occurs. However, contrary to this claim, the Bible provides the only historical record of how man came into existence, where the ability to process languages came from (Genesis 1–2), and then how the multiplicity of unrelated language families arose (Gen 11:7–9).

Because human beings are created in the image of God, we think God’s thoughts after Him. Christians know and believe this. Non-Christians deny it, and yet affirm Christian presuppositions each time they think and communicate. As God’s image-bearers, they cannot avoid using their innate, prewired ability to process language.

Published: 8 April 2021

References and notes

  1. Ohio State University, Humans are born with brains ‘prewired’ to see words: Study finds connections to language areas of the brain. ScienceDaily, 22 Oct 2020. Return to text.
  2. The example there was that if one is crazy, he does not have to fly a bombing mission; but he must be crazy to fly a mission. He must make an application to be excused from flying a mission, but the act of applying demonstrates that he is not crazy. Return to text.
  3. For an example of this hypothesis: In Will Durant’s Our Oriental Heritage (The Story of Civilization series), chapter 5 (‘The Mental Elements of Civilization’), he speculates about how an early human ancestor formulated the first word to define a group of entities and admits that ‘all origins are guesses’. Return to text.
  4. Innateness and Language (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Return to text.