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Human Speech as a Stumbling Block for Darwinism — Distilled to Five Minutes

David Klinghoffer

Darwinian evolution accounts for adaptive features of organisms, or claims to do so. That is, it explains features that advance reproduction. With evolution, reproductive advantage is the name of the game. The theory chokes, however, on what is non-adaptive or “beyond-adaptive.”

We are still savoring Tom Wolfe’s takedown of evolution as an explanation of speech. But what Wolfe does in 169 pages in The Kingdom of Speech, our documentary short The Biology of the Baroque accomplishes even more succinctly. The video highlights the work and ideas of Discovery Institute biologist Michael Denton. Speech is the subject of the final five or six minutes. See it above (starts at 14:05).

Here is the challenge. Current thinking has modern humans arising 200,000 years ago, while the common ancestors of non-Africans exited Africa between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago in one migration. Humans around the globe share the same capacity both for speech and for abstract thought, which are the chief distinguishing features that set humans apart from other animals.

Despite the differences among languages of the world, any human can potentially learn any language. There is no special “gene” for German, Navajo, or Swahili. Similarly while individuals obviously differ in intelligence and creativity, these gifts are shared by every race and ethnicity. Thus it’s inescapable that by 80,000 years ago, humans had already developed these capacities. The potential for every human intellectual achievement was there in full.

The raw capacity for the highest expressions of language, as well as art, philosophy, religion, and science, were already baked in the cake at the time, waiting to come to fruition in diverse cultures long afterward. This is not “adaptive,” or “non-adaptive,” it’s “beyond-adaptive,” as we say in the film.

Dr. Denton notes that a hypothesis of intelligent design well accounts for such an observation. Design doesn’t pursue only the survival of the fittest. It can seed a gift in a population with a view to the future and what will come of it tens of thousands of years later. But confronted with human speech, Darwinian explanations absolutely stumble and fall.

I’m on Twitter. Follow me @d_klinghoffer.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.

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Films and VideoThe Biology of the Baroque