Language Creationists

In one of the GD threads on Creationism/evolution, someone used what I thought was a great metaphor about speciation, using the evolution of English as an example that nobody is born unable to “communicate with his peers.”

Now, we all know that most creationists (and I’m making sweeping generalizations here, I know, but bear with me) base their beleifs on Biblical inerrancy. Do these same people, or others, take Biblical inerrancy to mean that there were no seperate languages until the Tower of Babel? If so, how do they reconcile this with the mounds of evolutionary evidence for languages? And, if not, how do they reconcile this with Biblical inerrancy?

As a final note, if this belongs in GD, I apologize, and feel free to move it.

I think you found the one flaw in Creationist Theory.

Oh wait… I just remembered another gagillion flaws.

Yes, although for one reason or another they do not make it a major part of their campaigns. From A Visit to the Institute for Creation Research:

In the same way that they reconcile the mounds of evidence for evolution of species.

I truly recommend Tower of Babel. He discusses the evolution of languages (mostly as an analogy to the evolution of species, but with some disucssion of creationist views). He also explains, far better than I can, how belief in Biblical inerrancy works and how people can “justify”, at least to themselves, the creationist tactics.

Oooh! Yet another thread based upon a post that I made. I’m honored.

Most creationists are willing to admit that language speciation occurs. That is, they’re not that close-minded as to deny that Spanish, French, Italian, etc. are all offspring of Latin.

Generally, they argue that only one language existed at the time of the Tower of Babel, after which God scattered people’s languages. Certain languages continued to develop and evolve from there.

Honestly, creationists never cease to amaze me with their insistence upon Biblical literalism. I mean, a talking snake? People living 900 years? A man carrying all the animals on a boat? A magical tower that caused people to speak different languages? This sounds more like a children’s fairy tale than the word of God.

Hmm, I never thought of debating the Creationists along these lines, but it would probably be too easy.
Indo-European languages have been traced way, way back - something like 5000 years. Yet no relationship between the IE languages and other language families has been established.
Given that creationists only think the Earth’s been around for something like 6000 years, this doesn’t give you much time for all of the pre-IE brachiation, does it?

Many historical linguists do think that they can reconstruct a proto-language that Indo-European came from. It’s called Nostratic. This would have to be on the order of about 12,000 years ago.

Somewhat on topic, I remember once coming across a book in a library by a fundamentalist Muslim arguing that the roots of all languages (including English) can ultimately be traced back to Arabic (Arabic, of course, being the language God speaks).

I wouldn’t call Greenberg et al many linguists. A minority of linguists have proposed Nostratic, but it hasn’t found wide support. Frankly the data is just not there.


Do you have an estimate for the percentage of linguists who are willing to entertain the Nostratic hypothesis? I’m not in the field anymore and I can’t get a good feel for this. When I ask linguists about this, their estimates seemed to be biased by their own beliefs. Anyway, I use the expression “many X” to mean “a significant proportion of X, but not necessarily a majority.”

I don’t know of any estimates, my sense comes from speaking with folks and my sense from reading the general thrust from the bigger names. Doesn’t seem like Nostratic has gained support – part of the issue seems to be the underlying methadologies have not stood up to scrutiny (e.g. mass comparision).

That’s not to disprove it – myabe the tools are not just around yet. Anyways, that’s my sense from reading. I’m not in the field either.


Yes. Don’t forget that, according to the Bible, the Tower of Babel incident was only a generation or two after the flood, the only survivors of whom were, at most distant, in-laws.

What’s the problem? Sure languages can grow apart naturally. But the Tower of Babel story explains the existence of many different languages in existence so soon after the flood.

Did the Tower of Babel divide people into different races as well, CMK?

For an interesting discussion on trying to recreate languages before proto-Indo-European, see:

Deriving Proto-World with tools you probably have at home

Basically, you can find similarities between any languages if you look hard enough and drop the stringency far enough. There’s a reason Nostratic etc. won’t ever gain support. Take a look at the list of Chinese-Quechua word similarities.



Well, considering that there is really no concrete definition of “race,” that’s a tough question…but let’s figure it means differences in appearance of the general populations of different nations.

The Bible mentions nations spreading over the Earth twice: once in Genesis 10, once in Genesis 11. Genesis 10 gives a full genaeology of Noah’s children. After listing the descendants of Japheth, it says (verse 5) “From these the peoples of the islands spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language,” indicating that this spreading out is after the Babel incident, prior to which “The whole Earth was of one language” (Chapter 11, verse 1). Ditto Chapter 10, verse 20, which sums of the sons of Ham “by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.” Again, languages. And ditto, in verse 31 for the sons of Shem.

So the spreading out mentioned there, as well as in verse 32, is probably the same one mentioned at the end of the Tower of Babel incident (chapter 11, verse 9) “From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

So yes, in a way, the different races could be said to have come from the Babel incident, since that, it seems, is what prompted the nations to separate from one another.

Chaim Mattis Keller

I once was in this field a long time ago, and went to the site mentioned above, (the proto-world one) and saw that Indo European appears to have been traced back to 6000 years ago, or when the literalists claim the Earth was created. Which should be some time before the Tower of Babel, eh?
In all the time I studied linguistics, I never once heard anyone mention the Tower of Babel. I think we all thought what anyone who doesn’t hang out at an Internet message board thought (and what the rest of the U.S. thought before the Kansas Board of Education weighed in): that this hooey had been eradicated as surely & completely as smallpox. Apparently not.

I’m curious- when do you believe this took place?

The reason I ask is because I’m wondering when you believe Babel happened relative to Sumerian, which is the earliest written language.



Of course. The Tower of Babel wasn’t the beginning of all human communication, it was the beginning of the division of the languages amongst the various families of humanity.

Considering your inability to properly understand this bit of “hooey,” I wouldn’t go (to switch religious metaphors) throwing stones, if I were you. Before you bash Biblical religion, do yourself and us the favor of knowing exactly what you’re bashing.


Well, as I said to the other guy, language in general predated the Babel incident; it’s the diversity of languages that began at Babel.

Also, I’m not even certain that that affected writing. My understanding was that it was a speech-based event. Granted, if a language is based in phoenetic symbols (such as Hebrew, Latin, Greek), the two could be said to be connected, but weren’t all these early forms of written language pictographic, like Egyptian heiroglyphics or Chinese? I assume you’re referring to cuneform, but I’m honestly not certain what sort of written language it was. Perhaps you can answer my ignorance on that point.

But, just to answer your question, I’m pretty sure the Babel incident (according to the Bible) occurred approximately 1800 BCE.

Chaim Mattis Keller

Just FYI, heiroglyphics were not pictographs. Each symbol stood for a letter or phoneme, not a word or concept.

(All data comes from

Sumerian written language: Developed 3100 BCE and replaced by Semitic Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian) around 2000 BCE.

Sumerian script was cuneiform.

Egyptian heiroglyphics were developed around 2925 BCE.

Chinese writing dates from 1800 BCE. Existing samples are little different from modern Chinese writing. Did they miraculously appear in their current form? Or were they developed from simpler forms of writing whose samples are lost to history, a writing that would have to pre-date 1800 BCE by many centuries, at least.

How can all this be, if all the people of the world lived near present-day Baghdad until after the Tower of Babylon was built in 1800 BCE? According to that article above, the Shang dynasty began in 1800 BCE. It didn’t take them long to get from Babel to China, did it? And they already had a well-developed written language when they got there. That’s a miracle, all right.

I did find something really intriguing, though: It’s believed the first alphabet was developed around 1700 to 1500 BCE by the Phoenicians. But a competing hypothesis is that it was developed by none other than the Canaanites at about the same time.

Another article explains that cultures the world over believed that the god(s) they believed in gave them their respective tongues. The Tower of Babel myth is just one of many.

Aside: Why does the Babel story seem to have been inserted at random into Genesis? CMK reminds us that we are first told of the scattering of the people in Genesis 10:5, each clan with its own language, but the Babel story isn’t told until Genesis11:1. It’s as if God or Moses said, “Uh-oh, I forgot to relate why all those people broke up and why they don’t all speak the same language. I’d better tell that story here.” It’s a haphazard way of writing, if you ask me.


Exactly what didn’t I understand? That everyone was speaking the same language until 3800 years ago? Where did you see me say it was the beginning of all human communication?

And am I hallucinating or are you seriously proposing to this audience that everyone actually did speak the same language and - possibly- belong to the same grouping (race, nation, whatever) until 3800 years ago?