Friday, May 9, 2008

The Word is God

In discussions concerning man, we have both a purely scientific outlook which shows man as being a relative to the Great Apes, and a theological one which shows man as being created by a supreme being. There is ample evidence of man's relation to apes, and an extensive fossil record shows the steps along the way. The idea that a "missing link" needed to be found to show a definitive connection is ridiculous, for the simple fact that we have so much in common with the Great Apes which survive should be proof enough. However, there are certain things which science has yet to provide an answer for. Morality seems to be key in this matter, but that can be discussed later. What concerns me most has to do with language, that one gift that man has which the rest of the living world does not. Before anyone counters with the supposed language of bees and dolphins, there has yet been a single form of animal communication which parallels human language. They are all limited, and convey a small set of messages, which can never change. This is hardly the open and infinitely variable system which we possess.

How did we acquire this? This has been a great mystery for both anthropologists and linguists, and neither have come up with a satisfactory answer. The emergence of language is always described as some "happy accident" which occurred shortly after we learned to walk upright, and all of the organs we use for speech have other purposes. Language comes about as some deus ex machina which explains away how suddenly all this culture came about, seemingly out of nowhere. But even if spoken language can be explained, how about sign language? Our brains are capable of making language happen even if the basics required for it, such as proper hearing and possessing complete vocal organs, are absent. How is this so? What is it in our character which forces us to use a complex communication system even when the circumstances make it difficult to do so?

Interestingly enough, it may be the one thing which connects religion and science. Without speech, in spoken, written, or signed form, we have no culture, no religion, no science. All of the things which enrich our lives spring solely from language and nothing else. Would God exist if we were unable to talk about Him, or give Him a name? How would his laws be understood if not explicitly explained to us in language? Without speaking to one another, how do we deliver advice, or order, or pass down information to the ages which guarantees a longer and happier life? And think of the power of the word. Entire relationships are built, maintained, and often destroyed purely by language. Language can create love and hatred, can get two people to fuck or kill each other. All of the great religions have great texts, which must be read and understood by followers. Language, therefore, is not something to be taken lightly.

Human nature has always been the same, ever since we broke off from whatever our ancestors may be. The reason why we do not see any intermediaries between humans and other apes living today more than likely has to do with our competitiveness and the fact that we are excellent at killing other creatures. Exterminations of other species are easy to pull off with proper organization, and I doubt it took much convincing for our earliest ancestors to decide that they would rather not have weaker versions of themselves as competition for food and shelter. Language is an excellent tool for such organization. Non-human animals cannot convince or persuade others to act in the same way that we can.

Whatever our purpose is, I do not think that we will see much change on a grand scale in our lives. We run in circles, repeating patterns set down centuries ago. The Greek and Roman stories remain relevant because human nature does not change. What we see is a refinement, and though we do not watch gladiators being torn to shreds in a coliseum, we do see other acts of degradation in our popular culture. This is how we as humans are, and through language we have refined ourselves and our morality to be less obviously cruel. A continuing refinement may eventually lead to what our purpose is, but as I stated earlier, we will not personally see it, nor will our children or their children see it.

My belief is that language is the only thing that matters in our lives. Eating, sleeping, fucking and shitting are all important, but without language we are only an offshoot of the Great Apes, and nothing more. With language we have our culture, which is something legitimately important. God may be all powerful, but without language, He is nothing. His great gift, free will, to an extent does not exist without language to exercise it with. We are the only creatures with a God, or Gods, and this is due to language. One does not see "religious caterpillars." Of course, as a linguist-in-training, I tend to put a certain importance on what I've decided to spend the rest of my life studying.

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