I’m an Atheist, but I go to a Christian University (for reasons I won’t go into here). In a few intro Psych courses my professors, believing language to be unique to humans, used language as a vehicle to explain the existence of God – and thus the denial of Atheism, and ‘macro’ evolution.
Language isn’t just spoken or written words. Language in its most basic form is simply communication of some information across a medium (of intention and necessity). Christianity must change its definition of language.
A gesture is a good example of language across a non-traditional medium. When we think about language we think about spoken language (words, syllables, phonemes etc.), and we translate that association into our loose definitions of communication. In theory, many define communication by spoken or written language. Yet in practice almost everyone behaves in ways that directly contradict that proposition.
When a friend dies, we send their family flowers. Sending someone flowers is an example of a gesture. That gesture involves the physical action of moving the flowers, as well as the meaning in the language of flowers. Upon receiving the flowers the bereaved widow will reflect what a nice gesture that was.
This is important because central to understanding language is understanding its origins; how it evolved. Christians believe that language was a gift from God, (generally) that evolution is not true, and that everything that is was intended to be. As such, Christians often cite language as evidence for the existence of a creative force in their apology. Yet their very actions betray them and they are none the wiser.
Dogs communicate, they just do so in ways foreign to sentient beings such as ourselves. We are capable of thinking about thinking, and thus we are able to encrypt meaning into anything if everyone involved understands the protocols and conventions. We give someone flowers when they’re ill, or mourning, or happy, or to show love and affection (romantic, familial, pious or platonic); and everyone who is familiar with the norms for each situation can easily translate the meaning. The flowers and flower arrangements given to someone mourning the loss of a loved one versus the birth of a child differ wildly – and are readily apparent. But if you were to give a mourning widow or an elated mother a stick of butter, they’d think you’re crazy – and rightly so. Because they are unfamiliar with the protocols and conventions and so it appears like nonsense. The world is full of situations like these; communication is happening all around us; the valence electrons in the water molecules within the cup on my desk are constantly forming bonds; communication is happening. The mid-night symphony outside my window right now is composed of layers and layers of different organisms communicating, and objects communicating – and yet that cacophony which I cannot even hope to translate, is familiar and tells me that outside it is indeed night-time.
When I look at the mystery of language in the world about me I realize that I’m just a third party unable to immediately understand the hidden messages nature has written (like the elated mother looking confusedly at the stick of butter she was just given).