TOWER OF BABEL: The Evidence against the New Creationism

by Robert T. Pennock

"A Bradford Book", published by The MIT Press, 1999.
reviewd by John B. Hodges


Robert T. Pennock got his Bachelor's degree as a "joint degree in biology and philosophy", and his Ph.D in the history and philosophy of science. I don't have details of his career since; he mentions at one point teaching seminars in the philosophy of biology. His book TOWER OF BABEL is written to answer and refute the criticisms of evolutionary biology that have been made by the "Intelligent Design Theorists": Philip Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, and others who seek to challenge "naturalistic science" in favor of developing "theistic science". His book is primarily about how science is done and why it is done that way, why evolutionary biology is a science and "Intelligent Design Theory" is not, what is the logic and evidence supporting contemporary Darwinism and why the criticisms of the Creationists fail.

As part of his argument, and as a theme that recurs throughout the book, Pennock makes an analogy between biological evolution and linguistic evolution. Languages change over time, in their pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, and these changes can be observed as they happen and documented over centuries in the writings that have been preserved. (For European languages, one of the best "document trails" is the different translations of the Bible that have been made over the centuries.) It is well established, for example, that the "Romance languages", Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, and a few smaller ones that are less well-known, are all descended from Latin, as it was spoken in the Roman Empire. While the Roman Empire prevailed, Europe was linked by trade and by government, and Latin was the common language everywhere. After the Empire fell and the roads were no longer maintained, Europe broke up into lots of smaller fiefdoms that were largely self-sufficient, and the local ways of speaking gradually drifted apart. Over the centuries they drifted far enough that they were no longer mutually intelligible; local dialects had become separate languages.

This is a problem for Creationists, because the Bible gives a different account of the origins of languages. Languages were all created by God; the first language was given to Adam, and after the Fall, after the Flood and Noah's Ark, the descendants of Noah settled in the plain of Shinar and began to build a tower. (Genesis 10 and 11.) Yahveh decides to disrupt this project by changing everybody's language; since the people could no longer understand each other, they scattered and settled all over the world, each family/clan/tribe with their own language. Henry Morris and the Institute for Creation Research explicitly support this account, and other prominent Creationists have sometimes let it slip out that they do also.


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