The evolution of languages

There are so many good reasons to reject what the Bible says but today I want to focus on one that doesn’t get aired too often here…

Let’s talk about languages.

Let’s start by hearing what a hirsute horde of Hebrews thought creators of the universe did that caused the phenomenon of diverse human languages; I’m sure you’re all familiar with the story but I’ll include it here so that we can all be clear about what we’re talking about.

Genesis 11 (KJV)
1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Of course, the original wasn’t written in King James’ English… so… let’s take a quick diversion to think about the original version of this story… well… it might surprise Christians to learn but the oldest extant manuscript of Genesis is dated no earlier than about 2222 years ago (200 “bc”). Sure, it’s quite likely that the story itself was written at a much earlier date originally: examples of surviving writing from anywhere but the land of clay tablets is scant (in clay we’ve got a record of cuneiform going back over 5000 years)… I reckon the vast bulk of the text of the Torah (if not all of it) was written during the Babylonian exile or after the return to Israel of the Hebrews under Cyrus (538 BC – or 2550 years ago)… but… even if we were to be as generous as possible paleo-Hebrew didn’t show up until C 1000 BC (3022 years ago)… so… if anybody tries to tell you that they know the Bible stories are older than that then they’re blatantly lying to you.

Now… let’s have a little think about what we know today about languages; they evolve. This is not contentious. Anybody who has studied any history of language (or even studied contemporary languages from an academic perspective) will know this well. I think it might be worth some of the people who would deny geology and biology to at least learn something of languages; it’s a fascinating field in its own right and a decent understanding of it yields a framework of analogy for understanding biological evolution. I’ve noticed people who wish to deny evolution of animals seem to think that a new species couldn’t arise because if a male came about on his own it would go nowhere and similarly for a female… how, they sometimes ask (apparently rhetorically), can evolution proceed when you’d need at least two examples of a new species to get started? Well, it’s a bit of a silly question, really, and it highlights a failure to understand what the theory actual says (which is, at heart, gradualism)… but one of the best ways to help somebody who is genuinely of that opinion (not just pretending to be) to see that is, if you ask me, the analogy of the evolution of languages: how would you, you may ask them, explain to a student who asked how it could be that languages evolve when any changes would require both a speaker and a listener (or a writer and a reader) to understand the new change? Answering that question (following deep consideration) in the case of languages, I feel, rather throws light on what’s going on in the world of animal evolution.

Anyhow… back to the main topic for today: we have strong evidence of languages evolving from before the language evolved in which the silly story was first told… and whilst this won’t affect the faith of most Christians, for the literalist fundamentalist it’s a bit of a problem, don’t you think? Does anybody here wish to argue in defense of the Bible that the story of the Tower of Babel is not just a story but God’s own history and that it happened?

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