Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Egghead Scoffers

Every now and then, I come across something pretty irritating in my reading. (I bet you never would have known that, eh?) It's the usual slap at the Bible record from the halls of academia, and it's doubly irritating when it isn't really expected.

I'm reading Robert Burchfield's book, "The English Language." It's a brief primer on the history of our written language, and is overall pretty engaging and interesting. However, it's too bad that I had to begin with irritation when I came across this paragraph in the first chapter . . .

"The origin of language is unknown and all theories about this problem are spurious. No languageless human society has ever been discovered on the earth. The faculty of speech therefore precedes recorded history and it is unhelpful to speculate about the circumstances of its origin. The doctrine of Hobbes, and of many Christians, that 'all this language gotten, and augmented by Adam and his posterity, was again lost at the tower of Babel, when by the hand of God, every man was stricken for his rebellion, with an oblivion of his former language' (Leviathan, I .iv.12) is an engaging but unacceptable myth."

Oh, really? On what basis does Mr. Burchfield make that sweeping assertion? Was he around at Babel? Suppose a story is passed down from generation to generation before it's actually recorded on paper. Does that lack of printed transmission until later mean somehow that the story is false?

I can't speak for Hobbes and Leviathan, but the biblical record mentions mankind being together, and then God confusing their languages at the Tower of Babel. Not hard for me to believe at all. The biblical text doesn't say that every single person had a different language. It says that God confused their language and then scattered people around. But I guess I'm quibbling.

As an aside, I have to remember what C.S. Lewis once chided biblical critics for doing (at least I think it was Lewis). He said they doubt the miracle because they doubt the text, and doubt the text because they doubt the miracle.


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