Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dawkins made a challenge, on knowing the past.

Dawkins made a challenge, on knowing the past.
On Reading The Greatest Show by Dawkins - Parts of it!
Overlooked in Previous, about Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth
Medieval Matters for Richard Dawkins
Do evolutionists ever make unfalsifiable claims?
Two bishop Richards in dialogue (tongue in cheek)
Dawkins said Edgar Andrews had his book "well written" and that is one true word from him
Assortedretorts : ... on "Science Works" quote c/o Dawkins
... on Side issue to "Science Works"

How do we know the Roman Empire existed? How do we know it was not invented by Victorians, with all the Latin texts? How do we know Latin was ever spoken?

In a certain sense, we do perhaps not, but only in a very certain sense: we do not know that Latin was spoken as we know we speak English, meaning in my case not only write and read and think in a language but also talk to people using that language and no other as we know that 2 and 2 are 4. But using common sense we do know we descend from predecessors who, south of certain borders, spoke Latin.

But there is a problem in his parallel. His best parallel would be not evolution but dinosaurs - and creationists are not particularly known for denying dinosaurs. One famous creationist, unlike Dawkins in prison, was while free even known as Doctor Dino.

So, do we - do I as a Latinist for instance - know that French evolved automatically from Latin through sound laws working as mutations?

Frankly, no.

But first it is interesting to know how we know Latin was spoken and there was a Roman Empire. We know it from books more than a thousand years old. And our primary knowledge of the age of those books, distinct from carbon dating of manuscripts and indeed predating carbon dating of anything, is the fact that each generation both recalls the previous one and trusts its direct testimony. We know that if we go back from Sarkozy, we reach one de Gaulle who ruled in Gaul when I was born. We know that if we go back there was a Pétain who shared powers over Gaul with Hitler 28 years earlier. We know that if we go back even earlier, there was a Clémenceau who shared powers with a Wilson not over Gaul but over Germany, ousting the Kaiser from Berlin. Earlier than that - before grandpa was born - there was a Napoleon III who was beaten by the armies of another ruler in Berlin. Now, before going into that, if grandpa had known someone quite other than Clémenceau ruled Gaul and dictated with Wilson over Germany in 1918 (he lived back then) but they had changed the story under his lifetime, he would have told me of such a funny change in the story everyone is hearing about Gaul. And certainly he would have been able to rely on his father's testimony for the defeat of Napoleon III being no invention, if not directly - he was separated from his father when very small - at least indirectly, through older siblings who had stayed longer with greatgrandfather. Yes, he even knew the reliability of recent history through his brother in law, although that was not a man he liked. And similarily any step backward is covered as survival of the news in memory rather than reinvention of news and forgetting the memories of each generation backward. From Napoleon III on can go back to Louis-Philippe, from Louis-Philippe to Charles X, who conquered and Algeria which de Gaulle abandoned. From Charles X and Louis XVIII we get back to Napoleon I, uncle of Napoleon III. From Napoleon we get back to Robespierre, from Robespierre to Louis XVI, and then the dynastic way of rulers (sometimes skipping a generation or two, due to premature deaths in sickness or battle, like the king of Sweden succeeded his grandfather because his father was killed in an accident) Louis XV, Louis XIV, Louis XIII, Henri IV.

People who know the story of France much better than I (that would include the FB profile Luis Infante, he is very good on Spanish kings of any medieval kingdom) can in similar detail trace every step between St Joan of Arc and Henri IV, and so get back from him to her without insecurity, though I rest my skipped knowledge on other peoples' more detailed one.

Now, there are quarrels about how things were before and after the death of Louis XVI, before and after Henri IV was made king, before and after St Joan of Arc fought for English getting back across the Channel. Some of these things are therefore less knowable or less easy to access the knowable truth than for the succession of rulers through the years. But no one is even pretending St Joan of Arc was not born 600 years earlier than when I write these lines, and I think it is as impossible to doubt that as it is for me to doubt that de Gaulle ruled Gaul when I was born.

Why do I keep calling France Gaul? Well, in Latin the territory has always been known to Romans as Gallia. And my point is that we can get back from St Joan of Arc to Julius Caesar with exactly the same certainty as from de Gaulle back to St Joan of Arc. And getting us back to Caesar who spoke and wrote Latin pretty much refutes any claim there were no Romans or there was no Latin.

However, it is funny that a challenge from Dawkins should result in this kind of evidence being brought up. Because, even if all of one hundred or more different traditions concord with a rather recent creation and an even more recent flood, there is exactly one that gives a semblance of a somewhat realistic timeline of generations from creation on to times and persons whose historicity even Dawkins does not dispute. It is of course the Hebrew one. It is extant in mainly three versions, unless you would call the Arabo-Islamic a fourth one. And these are the Samaritan, Judaic-Vulgate and Septuagint versions of Genesis, which differ on how many years passed between the creation and the flood. Plus, after flood the genealogy between Noah and Abraham, then up to Jacob and his sons and some grandsons in Genesis. Then there are some genealogies not found in the five books of Moses but found in Paralipomenon about what happened between Judah son of Jacob and king David, genealogically speaking. And I suppose Kings David and Solomon are counted as historical even by Dawkins, although they were there before there was a Latin tongue - when ero was still eso, when vocari was vocasei and so on.

But there is another thing that makes this argument from Dawkins funny. And that is that the existence of Latin does not mean that French evolved by sound laws working as mutations and that making communication better and better - and so of course we come to why there is such a thing as French.

That "solem" and "solum" after some centuries by some so called sound laws were both pronounced "sol" - or would have been if both survived so far - is pretty certain. But two words merging into one is precisely a loss of information. There are sentences where the merger makes for confusion. And that is why "sol from solem" was replaced by a derivative from "soliculum" - literally "little sun" - which is now written "soleil".

The clear fact is that the reason why French distinguishes between "sun" and "soil", between "soleil" and "sol", is that someone had the creative idea of adressing the sun in endearing and even belittling terms - a bit like St Francis who called him "mister brother sun" - which certainly no Pagan would have done, coining thereby "soliculum". And also, someone had the intelligence to see that if "sol" as in "short for sole(m)" was no good to distinguish itself from "sol" as "short for solo(m)", then "solilye" as in garbled for "soliculum" was still good for it. So, the socalled "language evolution" from Latin to French is a parallel that pretty clearly demonstrates, though not alone, the existence of creation and of intelligent choice.

Now, we do not have commemorating records reaching back to T Rex noting how funny tha shrewlike first mammal looked after acquiring fur. We do not have any evidence suggesting that mutations alone could change one functional kind into another functional kind any easier than sound laws alone could have changed Latin into French without creativity and intelligent design. So, it is very funny for this Latinist that Dawkins should take precisely the existence of Latin and of Romans as a parallel for the process of evolution. Very funny indeed.

The evidence he cites in same video for evolution is - nested hierarchies in the animal kinds. Now, if that were an argument for common descent, it would only occur in languages also due to common descent. Between French and Roumanian, give and take a few loan words, and the languages in between, Italian closer to Roumanian and Occitan closer to French, that appears to hold true. Unfortunately, for someone trying to rule out Intelligent Design, it also holds true for Sindarin and Telerin and Quenya - all invented by one linguist. And yes, they are functional as languages if you can live without ifs and avoid some other prosaic subjects for a while. At least Quenya and Sindarin are. Telerin which is in a kind of intermediate position - syllabic structure closer to Quenya and Consonants closer to Sindarin like palatalised dentals turning out simple dentals and qus going p - is less known, less worked out. Reminding of a few "intermediate fossils" - like a "Miacis cognita" showing only scull cap ...

Hans-Georg Lundahl
bpi, Beaubourg, Paris
Festum Inventionis SS. Crucis