From Adamic or the language of the Garden of Eden until the Tower of Babel: the confusion of tongues and the earliest dialects attested

No, I didn’t have a revelation today. I am just offering a little support exactly to what Dawkins and his Brights dislike, to show them extreme action causes extreme (re)actions. I’d like to play their radical game, too, offering some help in linguistics to those who have only naïve theories on the language of Eden.

These are the statements about the Adamic language and the Tower of Babel as Abrahamic texts, beliefs and traditions show:

  • Adamic was the language spoken by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adamic is typically identified with either the language used by God to address Adam, or the language invented by Adam (Book of Genesis 2:19).
  • The Genesis is ambiguous on whether the language of Adam was preserved by Adam’s descendants until the confusion of tongues (Genesis 11:1-9), or if it began to evolve naturally even before Babel (Genesis 10:5), into what is usually called Chaldaic:
    1. Dante in his De Vulgari Eloquentia argues that the Adamic language is of divine origin and therefore unchangeable.
    2. In his Divina Commedia, however, Dante changes his view to the effect that the Adamic language was the product of Adam. This had the consequence that it could not any longer be regarded immutable, and hence Hebrew could not be regarded as identical with the language of Paradise..
  • Also, the nature of that original language remains controversial, interpretations showing many nationalist flavours:
    • Traditional Jewish exegesis such as Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 38) says that Adam spoke Old Hebrew or rather its linguistic ancestor Proto-Canaanite, because the names he gives Eve – “Isha” (Book of Genesis 2:23) and “Chava” (Genesis 3:20) – only make sense in Hebrew.
    • Traditional Christians based on Genesis 10:5 have assumed that the Japhetite, or Indo-European, languages are rather the direct descendants of the Adamic language, having separated before the confusion of tongues, by which also Hebrew was affected.
      1. Early Christian fathers claimed that Adam spoke Latin to explain why God would make it the liturgical language of his Church, although “Latin” here would be a loose way of referring to its ancestor, Proto-Italic or older Europe’s Indo-European.
      2. Modern traditional Catholics follow Anne Catherine Emmerick’s revelations (1790), which stated that the most direct descendants of the Adamic language were Bactrian, Zend and Indian languages (i.e., the Indo-Iranian languages), associating the Adamic language with the then-recent concept of the “common source” of these tongues, now known as Proto-Indo-European:

        This language was the pure Hebrew, or Chaldaic. The first tongue, the mother tongue, spoken by Adam, Shem, and Noah, was different, and it is now extant only in isolated dialects. Its first pure offshoots are the Zend, the sacred tongue of India, and the language of the Bactrians. In those languages, words may be found exactly similar to the Low German of my native place.

    • Many Muslim scholars, following the traditional Jewish identification of Pre-Hebrew as the Adamic language, hence classified within the Semitic language family (which includes the Ge’ez language used in the Book of Enoch), claim that Pre-Arabic – hence Proto-(West-)Semitic – is the original Adamic language. Most of them do not believe the Semitic languages were the direct descendants of the Adamic language, but rather trace them back to Abraham, instead of Noah and Adam.
  • The confusion of tongues is the initial fragmentation of human languages described in the Book of Genesis 11:1–9, as a result of the construction of the Tower of Babel.

    And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

    Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

    So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

    The language spoken by Noah and his descendants – whether the original Adamic language (either of divine origin or not) or the derived Chaldaic – split into seventy or seventy-two languages, according to the different traditions. The existence of only one language before Babel in Genesis 11:1

    And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech

    has sometimes been interpreted as being in contradiction to Genesis 10:5

    Of these were the isles of the nations divided in their lands, every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.

    1. This issue only arises, however, if Genesis 10:5 is interpreted as taking place before and separate from the Tower of Babel story, instead of as an overview of events later described in detail in Genesis 11.
    2. It also necessitates that the reference to the earth being “divided” (Genesis 10:25) is taken to mean the division of languages, rather than a physical division of the earth (such as in the formation of continents).

So, to sum up, these are the facts known to us from comparative linguistics, related to those Abrahamic beliefs and interpretations and the biblical chronology:

  • Mainstream linguists – without any links to religion, just based on comparative grammar – have accepted some form or other of language superfamilies, from Eurasiatic and Afro-Asiatic < Nostratic < Borean < Proto-World language, which would correspond loosely to that common language of the Genesis that was spoken before it was (instantly?) “confounded” into different languages, hence the similar (or even worse) results obtained in reconstructing subgroupings (say Indo-Uralic, Ural-Altaic) than with a more global Nostratic or even Proto-World language.
  • Most of the earliest attested, reconstructed or (generally accepted) hypothetic languages, like Old Egyptian; (Semitic) Akkadian, Pre-Proto-Canaanite; (Indo-European) Europe’s Indo-European, Proto-Indo-Iranian, Proto-Greek, Common Anatolian; (Uralic) Proto-Finno-Ugric; (Sino-Tibetan) Proto-Sinitic; (Pre-)Proto-Dravidic; etc. can be traced back – depending on the archeological findings and linguistic theories, inherently inexact – to ca. 2500 BC.
  • It is therefore odd that before that date everything is ‘more blurred’ (so to speak) in linguistic findings and reconstructions of older linguistic ancestors – as e.g. the hypothesized laryngeals (or their phonetic output) in Late Proto-Indo-European, or the difficult reconstruction of Proto-Semitic, not to talk about Proto-Uralic or Proto-Sino-Tibetan. This is the strongest argument to support a theoretical instant split of a common (Chaldaic or Adamic) language into 70 or 72 derived languages, which we know from attested inscriptions, reconstructions or hypothesis, or which disappeared without a trace.
  • About their classification into language “families”, they might be related to the families based on consanguinity as described in the Bible, but identifications of those families by modern scholars have blurred the possible links (if any) between older language superfamilies and Noah’s sons; cf. Japhetic‘s simplistic identification with Indo-European, or Semitic‘s with “Semitic” languages. However, the more traditional identification of Japheth’s sons with “European” peoples (and therefore Eurasiatic languages), and Shem’s sons with (the old concept of) “Asian” peoples (hence with Afro-Asiatic languages) is more reasonable, leaving Ham’s sons with (at least) Austric and Dené-Caucasian languages (see Borean language tree).
  • Many biblical interpretations of the Adamic language share therefore mistakes inherent to the culturally-biased and simplistic views of many scholars, hence the identification of the original tongue as Proto-Semitic by Jews and Muslims, Proto-Indo-European by many Christians (since Rasmus Rask‘s first description of it as “Japetisk”), Sanskrit or Indo-Iranian (Aryan) by Hinduism, etc. That has hindered a more rational interpretation of the Bible and other sacred texts in light of the newest academic findings.

To sum up, we cannot know if the Adamic language existed, or its nature; we don’t know if Chaldaic (the common language before Babel) was the same as Adamic, or if not, if it was global (Proto-World language) or local to the Middle East (Nostratic?) according to Genesis 10:5. We can, however, defend mainstream Abrahamic beliefs on the confusion of tongues and the Tower of Babel as possible (“probability” based on extrapolation has little to do with religion and even with social events happened more than 4000 years ago) and that the descendants of Noah might have spoken a common language until the centuries on either side of 2500 BC:

All that nonwithstanding any possible interpretations of Adamic or Chaldaic from Old Earth Creationists, who usually take the historical accounts of the Genesis (its literal interpretation) as real facts just from the Tower of Babel on, dismissing the rest of the biblical data from the Flood backwards, and indeed any timeline calculated with genealogies by Young Earth Creationists.

Richard Dawkins and the Brights’ supposed ‘Atheism’: renewed antireligious and antitheist hatred against the most basic human rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948, arising directly from the experience of the Second World War. It represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled.

Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Religion SymbolsArticle 2
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

First of all, I cannot be considered a religious person. I shouldn’t need to say that, but since the following text is an anti-antireligion one, I guess most religious and antireligious people would like me to clarify this point. I cannot be classified as an atheist either, but rather as an agnostic — I think that the truth value of certain claims (particularly metaphysical claims regarding theology, afterlife or the existence of deities, or even ultimate reality) is unknown and inherently impossible to prove or disprove.

To sum up my ‘philosophy’, I just don’t care for my real life – if there’s something or ‘somebody’ thereafter, great; if there isn’t, great, too. I am interested in the Bible or any other religious text, just as I am interested in Marxist philosophy, in the Hinduist Śruti as in modern Social-Democratic statements. Just to “cultivate” myself in the so-called culture studies, to know what others think and believe.

In fact, when confronted with dogmatic religious or antitheist people, I often see just daring (and arrogant) ignorance. Like the slogan of the so-called ‘Atheist’ Bus, “there’s probably no god”, as if that probability could be measured… Or like the Flying-Spaghetti-Monster-joke, now frequently used in social networks against anyone who dares to say he believes in something. As Astrophysicist Martin Rees has said about Dawkins’ attack on mainstream religion, that criticism is unhelpful, because “such questions lie beyond science”. I would have said such questions simply lie outside science.

My girlfriend’s sister bought me the book God Delusion (in Spanish) for my birthday, so that I could read some intelligent criticism of religion, because she knows how I usually criticise catholic “scientific theses” on life’s beginning and end (abortion, euthanasia, etc.) and the like. After reading some interesting pages, I looked for Dawkins in the net, and I found that preposterous attitude of him and his “Brights”, who have substituted religious dogma with a new (old) antitheist dogma – history repeating itself, a football match involving people’s opinions. How nice.

I agree with Dawkins that atheists should be proud, not apologetic, because social atheism is evidence of a healthy, independent mind, and that education and consciousness-raising are the primary tools in opposing religious dogma and indoctrination. And I could even personally agree with his disrespectful sentence “many of us [see] religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we [think], if people [need] a crutch for consolation, where’s the harm?“. But the following assertion is logical nonsense and clearly supports antireligious hatred:

September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let’s now stop being so damned respectful!

Please note that thorough argument involving “9/11” and insecurity to justify everything else. Dawkins was maybe inspired by this Family Guy scene?

It is logical that righteous and intelligent people – like Dawkins and many well-minded atheists – tend to be aggressive and irrational dogmatics when confronted with aggression and irrationality from dogmatic religious people. It happens often in dialectics, and it’s hardly avoidable. But that’s not a valid reason to maintain and even lead that confrontation into an open war (first verbal, then who knows), supporting an anticlerical, antireligious and antitheist atheism. It should always be human rights and tolerance against tiranny and injustices, not opinions against opinions.

In this new open war of Dawkins and his “Brights” (akin to the state atheism of some dictatorships), antitheism is carefully disguised as the universalism opposed to cultural relativism, which is an argument frequently used by those who wield power in cultures (not religions) which commit human rights abuses. The 2005 World Summit, a follow-up summit meeting to the United Nations’ 2000 Millennium Summit, reaffirmed the international community’s adherence to this principle:

The universal nature of human rights and freedoms is beyond question

It is a principle valid against any kind of human rights abuses, whether justifed by religion or antireligion.

I could write a book myselft trying to discuss Richard Dawkins’ arguments about religion being socially dangerous, but he convinced me it is completely unnecessary. As Mr. Dawkins put it (when confronted by Alister McGrath with the fact that he is “ignorant” of Christian theology), “do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?“. Of course not. And you certainly don’t have to read up on antitheist hate propaganda before disbelieving in antitheist hatred.

I don’t think this post (or any possible writing) will change the mind of those who have already taken sides – as encouraged by Mr. Dawkins – to make of opinion an easier black-or-white, right-or-wrong aspect, but I’ll finnish it with some similar examples. Let’s suppose that I don’t feel nor believe in “love“. For me what others describe as “love” is just another voluntary exchange, as voluntary as buying bread to eat, or reading a book to learn. However, a lot of people ‘believe’ in it (whatever that means); and in their opinion, it is probably one of the most important aspects of their lifes.

So even if I am “agnostic” in that respect – of the meaning and existence of such thing as “love” -, as I am agnostic regarding the meaning and existence of the afterlife and god in which a lot of people (need to?) believe, I’m respectful and consider them personal opinions – just like the need of atheists in believing there is no god. But I could just as well begin my own “school of Brights”, by igniting flames about “love-believers” being dangerous ignorants, asserting that love is incompatible with (and harms) science, writing books dismissing love and lovers, creating a “Foundation for a Rational Life”, supporting the “flying-spaghetti-feeling-joke”, etc., and making disrespectful statements like:

Many of us saw love as harmless nonsense. Belief in love might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where’s the harm? Domestic violence and especially violence against women changed all that. Love is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of feelings. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects love from normal criticism. Let’s now stop being so damned respectful!

Or, let’s talk about political ideas and democracy:

Many of us saw politics as harmless nonsense. Political ideas might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where’s the harm? Modern wars have changed all that. Politics is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of ideas. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects freedom of opinion from normal criticism. Let’s now stop being so damned respectful!

Or, we could also try to ban literature using Dawkins’ thorough reflexion, equally valid either to prohibit communist writings, or to support the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia:

Many of us saw literature as harmless nonsense. The art of written works might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where’s the harm? Capitalism / Communism changed all that. Literature is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of ideas. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects literature from normal criticism. Let’s now stop being so damned respectful!

Mr. Dawkins and well-minded friends: life should be a “damned respectful” football match, it is a complex game and it cannot be made easier with an either-with-me-or-against-me-type of philosophy. If you fight hooliganism with hooliganism, entering the dogmatic game, you can turn life into an open (and unnecessary) battlefield. It is really sad to see how modern religious people struggle to get involved with each other and respect universal rights, while many modern atheists are turning into arrogant, intolerant dogmatic believers in the non-existence of god and the evil nature of religion…

Addition – 12 Feb 2009: With Darwin’s anniversary, Spanish American biologist and pihilosopher Francisco J. Ayala is participating in a conference about evolution and creationism, and he has been interviewed, making some interesting remarks about his (in his own words) good friend Dawkins:

The hypothesis of God
Luis Alfonso Gámez – “After Darwin, the hypothesis that a superior being designed the world is untenable. If one believes in God, he has to do it because of other reasons, but not because he needs it to explain the world”, says Richard Dawkins.

Francisco J. Ayala – I agree with him. You don’t need the hypothesis of God to explain the world. There are people who need the hypothesis of God to have a religious vision [of life], to give sense to their lives. A year ago, Richard Dawkins and I discussed this in the Salk Institute. I told him: “Why do you want to take the hope away from 80% or 90% of humans who have a miserable life and see in religion their only support?”. He answered that we must begin to teach Humanity so that people gradually find the justification of their existence and their values in science, and he expects that in 50 years humans can live governed by the rational principles of science. I answered him: “If you believe that the 8.000 or 10.000 million people that will be then are going to accept the rational principles of science to explain their existence, you probably also believe in the Fairy Godmother and the Magi“. I don’t know why anyone should struggle to make people who need to believe stop believing. There are a lot of Christian, Jew and Muslim theologues who accept evolution and also believe that their theology is better explained with it. It is a school called process theology.

Answering Ayala’s question about why anyone would care about making others stop believing, I guess the answer lies in the public attention, prizes, interviews, book copies sold, donations, etc. he receives by igniting such flames against beliefs (different than his there-is-no-god belief, of course). Just like prominent creationists (as Michael Behe or William A. Dembski) receive support from a lot of believers, he enjoys having his piece of cake from atheists in this global pie of intolerance.