Twenty questions atheists struggle to answer: Questions 7 to 11 discussed

by Dr. Peter Saunders

Last week I put together a list of twenty questions that, in my experience, atheists either ‘won’t or can’t answer’ and invited coherent responses.

I was not, in posting these, saying that atheists have no answers to them, only that as yet in over forty years of discussion with them I am yet to hear any good ones.
The post generated 2,400 page views and 52 comments in a week and ten people attempted to take up the challenge by answering the questions.

I posted my own answers to the first six yesterday and now follow with the next five.

7. How do we account for the origin of 116 distinct language families?

There are 6,909 languages in the world according to the Ethnologue. It is clear that languages evolve, both over time (Spoken Chaucerian English would not be recognised by a contemporary English speaker) and by borrowing words from other languages.

There are similarities between the Slavic, Germanic and Baltic languages and they are all also related to Latin and Greek. It would perhaps therefore be easy to conclude that all languages are related to each other in some way but this is not actually the case.

In fact the above languages have similarities because they are among the 426 languages that belong to the Indo-European language family (see diagram). No less than 45% of the world’s population speak an Indo-European language.

Overall, however, there are 116 different language families. Six of these, account for nearly two-thirds of all languages and five-sixths of the world’s population. But the remaining 110 account for only one sixth of the world’s population and some of them are spoken by less than 1,000 people.

Each of these language families, in spite of some borrowed words from other families, is distinct with respect to vocabulary and grammar, and all of them are very complex.

How did this situation arise? Some linguists believe that all the world’s languages trace back to one proto-human language over 50,000 years ago, but that they have each evolved so much in the intervening time that no recognisable traces of the proto-language now remain. Others believe that there were many different proto-languages which arose spontaneously in different parts of the world.

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The biblical record attributes the world’s varied languages to a supernatural confusion (multiplication) of languages by God occasioned by the building of the tower of Babel. We are told that originally all the world’s people spoke one language, but that when they began working together in rebellion against God he supernaturally caused them to speak different languages so that they would be unable to understand each other and would be divided from each other and spread all over the world.

Is this plausible? Well if the God in which Christians, Jews or Muslims actually exists then surely he would be able to do such a thing and may wish to. But does it fit the evidence?

In fact, if such an event had occurred, then the very thing we would expect to find is a large number of distinct language families each with its own complex vocabulary and grammar, which is exactly what we do find.

This of course does not prove the biblical account, but it is entirely consistent with it.

The atheist alternatives, that all languages arose from one proto-human language or that all language families arose spontaneously and independently, may also be true. But neither of these alternative theories appears falsifiable or verifiable.

The origin of 116 distinct language families is a question atheism struggles to answer.

8. Why did cities suddenly appear all over the world between 3,000 and 1,000BC?

This was perhaps my clumsiest worded question and my critics have taken great delight in pointing out that Australia did not have a city until 1788 and that Antarctica has never had one! Furthermore some cities predated 3,000BC. All this is of course true.

Wikipedia has a list of earliest cities by continent from which it can be gleaned that the oldest cities in other regions of the world date from 5,000BC (Byblos, Middle East), 5,000BC (Argos, Europe), 3,500BC (Delhi, South Asia), 2,000BC (Luoyong, China), 3,200BC (Luxor, Africa) and 2,000BC (Quito, South America).

I should have checked more carefully, but in fact most of the earliest cities were still built over a relatively narrow historical range of 3,000 or so years starting in about 5,000BC.

Why is this important? Well it raises an important question. If, as we are told, ‘anatomically modern’ humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago, reaching full behavioural modernity around 50,000 years ago then why did it take them so long to get their act together and why did people in very diverse parts of the world suddenly all start building cities in the same narrow time frame?

One might argue that the building of cities requires a certain level of technology, but this just moves the question back one step to ask why it took man in ‘full behavioural modernity’ 45,000 years to develop this technology and why it was suddenly developed all over the world in such a small window of time…

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Christian Medical Comment: Twenty questions atheists struggle to answer – questions 7 to 11 discussed



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