Thursday, 31 March 2011

Does meaningful use of language matter?

One of the most effective strategies if you want to bamboozle people is to monkey around with the meaning of words. This isn’t the same as the biased and loaded use of adjectives- see earlier reflection on ‘think tanks’ being described as ‘right wing’ (conservative) or ‘respected’ (socialist)- although that trick is out of the same box. In ‘Alice in wonderland’ one of the fantasy characters says ‘when I use a word, it means exactly what I want it to mean, nothing more, nothing less’. But if we are to communicate meaningfully, especially about disputed matters, we need to have words whose meaning is concrete, not fluid. A spade is a spade.

Of course I am writing about the misuse of the word ‘evolution’. This happens so often that I intend to look out for specific examples and blog about them as I see them. Here’s an example from yesterday.

Last night I was at a rock and roll concert, never mind which, at which an old favourite song was introduced. The band leader described how the song began (he might have talked about the song’s ‘genesis’ but didn’t). He said that after the song had been originally written by 4 guys in a basement, ‘it evolved’. What he meant by that was that the song had changed over time. But is the use of the word 'evolve' or ‘evolution’ correct when used in this sense, when the song was evidently designed?

The song had indeed (like my waistline) changed over time. I first heard it in the 1970s and have 2 recordings which are non identical, but, like all songs, it was undeniably the result of intelligent design. It began with a group of men who knew they wanted to write a song, with words and music, to perform and record. They had purpose. They had memory. They had critical faculties. They had ambition. They were able to introduce and test different musical ideas, dropping some and incorporating others. Their musical instruments and recording equipment were likewise intelligently designed. The song was designed, then refined, by intelligent minds. In what way is this evolution, since Darwinian evolution has no mind, memory or goal?

May the term ‘evolution’ be correctly applied to such a process as the writing and performance of a song? This is perhaps negotiable, BUT if so, then to avoid confusion we need a completely different term for the supposed process by which, according to the followers of Charles Darwin, humans came into being from a supposed primitive common ancestor. Song writing has been observed many times, the change by Darwinian evolution of one kind of animal into another kind, never.

It ultimately renders language meaningless if we use the same word to describe 2 completely different processes, one which proceeds from purposeful mind and one which does not. Using the term evolution to describe a process which can be shown to be intelligent design is either dumb or part of a deliberate strategy to bamboozle people into believing something they can’t be persuaded of by honest evidence.

Obviously I am not trying to blame the musician, he was just going with the cultural flow, but this was a clear, if perhaps trivial (is anything trivial?) example of how a fundamental error of logic can seep into the popular culture and invade it so fully that people don’t realise what it is they have swallowed. In mathematics, you can never reliably get a correct answer if there is a basic flaw in the way you calculate things.This is true for other matters as well.

We must use words correctly if we wish to avoid confusion, however it is my assertion that the promoters of Darwinianism strive to achieve confusion. Their vague and untestable assertions prosper best in a fog.

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