Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Silly Bible - Even Language Refutes Creationism

European and Asian languages traced back to single mother tongue | Science | The Guardian

I've written a couple of time about how the Bible story of the Tower of Babel is, probably next to Noah's Ark, the least plausible story in the Bible. The problem was probably that even the Bible's authors didn't really understand or believe it but felt compelled to include it because it had gained the status of a sacred and holy text.

Later apologists such as Flavius Josephus even claimed that Yahweh dictated it to Moses, though that claim is never made in the Bible and a moments thought should tell you that the scribe doesn't normally write about his own death and burial in a secret place. Josephus was obviously reporting widely-believed myths rather than what he had actual evidence for.

Anyway, just to recap: according to this myth, Yahweh got spooked when it looked like his creation were going to get up to Heaven (which was directly over the Middle East and just above the sky, apparently). He hadn't seen that one coming and even had to go down to Earth to take a look. He then made everyone speak different languages so they couldn't work together any more, and that's how all the world's languages arose.

Don't laugh! These were simple people with no science to speak of and they lived in a world which they thought ran on magic.

Mind you, whoever wrote that version, where it claims all the world spoke one language Genesis 11:1), obviously hadn't read the preceding chapter where it says all the descendants of Noah's sons spoke different languages (Genesis 10:20, Genesis 10:32), but I doubt they ever expected their stories to appear together in a single book, let alone in adjacent chapters. The Babel tale appears to have just been stuck in there for no particular reason and without reference to anything either side of it.

Everybody in Eurasia can trace their linguistic ancestry back to a group, or groups, of people living around 15,000 years ago, probably in southern Europe, as the ice sheets were retreating.

Mark Pagel, evolutionary biologist,
Reading University, UK
So, as I've pointed out before, if the Tower of Babel story was true, there should be no relationship between adjacent language groups so their speakers couldn't understand or cooperate with their neighbours. The problem is, the prediction doesn't equate to the observable evidence.

A paper published a couple of years ago in PNAS by a UK-based group gives compelling evidence that most Eurasian languages, from Portuguese to Japanese and including Urdu and Itelmen (spoken on the northern coast of Siberia) probably share a common ancestor from southern Europe about 15,000 years ago, which appears to have spread north and east as the ice retreated at the end of the last ice age. Over the next few thousand years, this split into seven major divisions to give a Eurasian superfamily and finally into the main languages by about 5,000 years ago.

The team arrived at this conclusion by identifying a list of 'superconserved' words that would be expected to remain stable because of their importance and then checked this against a database of early words. Sure enough, the words predicted to be similar were found to be similar. A strong indication of their common linguistic origins. The team produced a list of 23 words found in at least four Euroasiatic languages: words such as 'bark' (from trees), 'I', 'we', 'man', 'woman', 'give', but the list contained a few surprises the survival of which over such a long period is puzzling, such as 'to spit'. Normally, words have a 50% probability of being replaced completely within 2-4,000 years.

The search for ever deeper relationships among the World’s languages is bedeviled by the fact that most words evolve too rapidly to preserve evidence of their ancestry beyond 5,000 to 9,000 y. On the other hand, quantitative modeling indicates that some “ultraconserved” words exist that might be used to find evidence for deep linguistic relationships beyond that time barrier. Here we use a statistical model, which takes into account the frequency with which words are used in common everyday speech, to predict the existence of a set of such highly conserved words among seven language families of Eurasia postulated to form a linguistic superfamily that evolved from a common ancestor around 15,000 y ago. We derive a dated phylogenetic tree of this proposed superfamily with a time-depth of ∼14,450 y, implying that some frequently used words have been retained in related forms since the end of the last ice age. Words used more than once per 1,000 in everyday speech were 7- to 10-times more likely to show deep ancestry on this tree. Our results suggest a remarkable fidelity in the transmission of some words and give theoretical justification to the search for features of language that might be preserved across wide spans of time and geography.

The very fact that we can identify these words that retain traces of their deep ancestry tells us something fundamental about our language faculties. It tells us we have this ability to transmit highly complicated and precise information from mouth to ear over tens of thousands of years.

Mark Pagel
This diversification and relatedness is, of course, as we would expect of something which is replicated in each generation and subject to variation, crossover and hybridization, an example of cultural evolution closely mimicking neo-Darwinian genetic evolution.

So much for the Bible, it's origin myths which don't equate to observable reality, and it's 6000 year-old Earth. Makes you wonder how much longer the parasites who live on them can keep their creationist victims so ignorant of the tsunami of science which is engulfing them. Must be a bit like Canute trying to order the tide to retreat.

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