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Lip-Smacking Monkey Talk and Catholic Doctrine

April 10, AD 2013 3 Comments

I read popular science blogs and magazines daily, but sometimes I think, “Man, I wish scientists knew more about Catholic doctrine.” I know, I know, radical concept today, only it’s not a new idea at all. Some of the greatest scientists ever were scientists who saw the world through Catholic eyes. They saw a world with a beginning and a linear tick of time toward an end, a world where all things are ordered, and a world where man is created in the image of God with a rational mind capable of a search for truth. People take it for granted that we just know this, but where do you think it came from?

Rather today it seems no expense must be spared by secularists to separate the Church from science. But be warned: St. Thomas wrote in the Summa contra Gentiles that awkward things happen without faith because our investigations are too easily misled by false conclusions if we let wild imagery or personal desires color our thinking. What spurred these thoughts? This.

Ever feel like you’re debating this guy?

Hints of Human Language Heard in Lip-Smacking Monkey Talk

Sounds made by a little-known monkey living in Ethiopia’s mountain grasslands may hint at the origins of human speech.

[...]

Key to the gelada vocalizations, described today by Bergman in Current Biology, is the ability to smack their lips. Underlying that seemingly simple action is a rich synchrony of lips, tongue and the hyoid bone beneath them.

‘The ability to produce complex sounds might have come first.’

[...]

Though the monkeys moved their lips without without actually vocalizing, the researchers speculated that lip-smacking could have been a precursor to human speech, setting a tempo for what would become the sonic foundations of language.

[...]

The possibility that early ancestors of humans may have shared this ability raises a linguistic chicken-egg-problem, Bergman added.

“The ability to produce complex sounds might have come first. Then, when we could do that, we could attach meanings and communicate in more sophisticated ways,” he said. “Or it could be that, as we needed to communicate more, we developed an ability to produce a greater variety of sounds.” (Source: Wired Science)

Now, there is nothing at all wrong with studying animals to learn about animals, there’s nothing wrong with studying animals to learn more about ourselves as it relates to our corporeal nature (corporeal = material, bodily). However, Catholic teaching derived from the revelation of the Holy Trinity taught us, even beginning in the first century, that man is body and soul, and that he has been created with a rational mind. That is the source of our ability to have human speech, to have language. There is not a chicken-egg problem. Whether our bodies could form speech patterns or not, to actually manifest language, the rational mind has to come first. It’s just logical.

Why does that make way more sense than trying to study lip-smacking monkey talk? Because the natural history of human speech cannot be traced anyway. Think about it. The organs that make speech, the larynx and the vocal chords, are soft tissue, long ago disintegrated after the bodies died. If this ability evolved in body forms, we’ll never be able to know because the specimens are all gone. The second reason is because human speech is not just mumbling. It is the mind processing both sensory intake from the world and reasoning abstractly to form complex ideas. The mind is immaterial (spiritual). It cannot materially evolve over time. It is a Sent. certa dogma of the Catholic Church that every individual soul was immediately created out of nothing by God. (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Doctrine 2.2.14.4)

So studying the monkeys to find out how it is we can speak is not really going to tell us anything useful. Monkeys do not have rational minds. If they did have rational minds, the same as man, they would have innovated as man has. Innovation is a product of the rational mind, and not just problem-solving abilities, but the abilities to study, develop, and manipulate the material world to make our lives better — you know, do science. I don’t see any monkeys doing scientific research on us and publishing conclusions online.

They don’t readily admit it, but studies like these have the goal of trying to prove that God did not create us. Wouldn’t it be better to just accept that He did, and that He gave us rational minds so that we could then study things that would actually further the lot for mankind? What do we gain by studying lip-smacking monkey talk? A good one-liner? Eh. 

Hello, and thank you for reading. My name is Stacy Trasancos. I am a wife, mother of seven, and joyful convert to Catholicism. I write from my tiny office in a 100-year-old restored Adirondack mountain lodge that overlooks a small spring-fed lake. Read more about me here. Find me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or contact me by email. God bless you!
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  • Jeff_McLeod

    I’ve sat near bonfires that make snapping and popping noises. I wonder if fire is about to acquire self-awareness.

    Hi Stacy, I finally got around to creating a disqus account so I could comment here. I save the important things for weekends :)

    Looking forward to jumping in the Jaki discussion too.

    I would like to come back to this topic but I have to do a little background research first.

    • StacyTrasancos

      Let me know how you like Disqus, apparently it’s way better, but I’m having a little trouble navigating it. Hehe, the fires are coming to life! Oh no!