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Why Animals Don’t Speak


Responding to evolutionist Jerry Coyne’s review of Darwin Devolves, Michael Behe notes the real reason he sees the gap between human and apes as too great to be spanned by unguided material processes alone. It comes from the “personal awareness that we can reason, speak, think abstractly, and so on — in other words, that we have minds.” This is contrary to Professor Coyne’s snide assumption that Behe’s thinking “stem(s) from the Christian belief that Homo sapiens is a special creation of God.”

Why does it seem implausible that a material process can account for the human mind with its powers of speech and all the rest? If what separates us from other animals were material in nature, material alone, then perhaps we could look to a material process for an explanation.

The Right Stuff

But read neuroscientist Michael Egnor’s comments at Mind Matters, “The Real Reason Why Only Human Beings Speak.” The fact that animals don’t speak is not because they lack the “physiological apparatus”:

[M]any non-human animals have the physiological apparatus needed to form words. Yet they have no language. They can make and respond to signs — gestures, grunts and the like. A dog, for example, can respond appropriately to simple words directed at him (“Sit!” “Fetch!”). But all animal communication is symbols, that is, signals that point directly to an object. In this case, the object is a simple expected action the animal is to perform immediately.

What animals cannot do is communicate using abstractions. They cannot use designators — words employed abstractly as language….

The difference between human language and animal symbols or signals is the difference between abstract thought and concrete thought….

It isn’t brain circuitry that renders humans capable of language and animals incapable. As Aristotle pointed out two millennia ago, abstract thought is inherently an immaterial power — it is the immaterial aspect of the human soul. Animals have material souls, without an immaterial aspect. It is the nature of, and the differences between, animal and human souls that provide animals with symbolic communication and grace man with language.

An “immaterial power” is just the sort of power that seems highly unlikely to be the gift of a purely material, unguided, unintelligent process like Darwinian evolution. In abstraction, human communication attains a wholly different order from that of animals. We cannot seek an explanation for it simply in evolving “brain circuitry.”

As Dr. Egnor observes, Aristotle would have recognized as much. This is not just a matter of “Christian belief.” Read the rest at Mind Matters.

Photo credit: Marcus Wallis on Unsplash.