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Darwinian justification for human speech challenged

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP) — The gift of speech, one of the capabilities that defines humans, appears to defy evolutionary explanations. Even now, a century and a half since Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species,” scientists seem to be no closer to discovering how human language developed.

For the past 20 years, science textbooks have taught students that two small genetic mutations, unique to humans, are responsible for human language. Time magazine reported in 2006 that these FOXP2 gene mutations may account for “the emergence of all aspects of human speech, from a baby’s first words to a Robin Williams monologue.”

But new genome research published this month in the journal Cell debunks that idea. “The situation is a lot more complicated than the very clean story that has been making it into textbooks all this time,” Elizabeth Atkinson, coauthor of the paper, told Nature.

In a 2002 study, researchers theorized the mutations in the FOXP2 gene appeared to offer such a great survival benefit that a “selective sweep” occurred, making the trait common in ancient human populations. Thrilled evolutionists reportedly accepted the theory as fact and scientific literature cited it hundreds of times since, despite the fact that researchers never replicated the study, and it included the genomes of only 20 individuals.

But the study published this month reexamined the genetic history of the FOXP2 mutations using a larger data set and a more diverse population.

Researchers found that what looked like a selective sweep in the 2002 study was just a statistical error caused by the small sample size and lack of diverse genetic data. So, when it comes to human language acquisition, it appears to be back to the drawing board for Darwinists.

Human language poses a conundrum for evolutionists because, for the theory of natural selection to hold true, every genetic adaptation must in some way help the species stay alive long enough to reproduce. But the capacity to compose a symphony, understand advanced mathematics, or discuss abstract ideas would have offered no survival value for early man.

“His needs were shelter and food,” biochemist Michael Denton said in a Discovery Institute documentary. Yet, we know early humans must have possessed language ability because it passed down to every single human being in every part of the world.

Evolution appears to have no explanation for a beyond-adaptive capability like human language. But if one accepts the fact of a designer, the problem disappears. The designer is “free to choose whatever He wants,” Denton said.

    About the Author

  • Julie Borg/WORLD

    Julie Borg writes for WORLD Digital, a division of WORLD Magazine (www.worldmag.com) based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.

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