Egnor Doubles Down

Creationist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor doubles down in his latest at the misnamed site. He’s still claiming that animals don’t have language.

He really has nothing new to say. He provides no evidence for his claims, just a series of assertions:

“Language in animals has never been demonstrated”: actually, it has. I gave several citations, but Egnor didn’t address any of them. There is a whole subfield of ethology that deals with this. Egnor didn’t even seem to know the name of the field.

“because animals are incapable of language.”: pure assertion.

“Claims of animal language have been made by some ethologists, but those claims are mistaken”: Egnor suddenly starts using the word “ethologist”, which he didn’t before. I am glad to have informed him of the name for the practitioners of the field he is criticizing. Again, pure assertion. He doesn’t actually address any of the cited studies.

“We should begin with an examination of what we mean by language.”: Egnor is not a linguist, either.

“The confusion between signals and designators is at the root of ethologists’ misunderstanding about animal “language.”: Yeah, all those ethologists who actually study animal language are wrong, but Egnor (who didn’t seem to even know the word “ethologist” until two days ago) is right, despite not working in the field. Remember the word “egnorance” and why it was coined?

“Natural animal signals have no grammar”: Probably not true. For example, see here and here and here. Now one could certainly take issue with any or all of these, but the point is that there is a large literature that needs to be assessed carefully, and which cannot be addressed by categorical denials of the kind Egnor makes. Egnor does not do this. He just knows he is correct, because … Aristotle.

“Animals do not signal abstract concepts”: pure assertion.

(Quoting de Waal): “We honestly have no evidence for symbolic communication, equally rich and multifunctional as ours, outside our species”: A red herring. Nobody said animal language was as “rich and multifunctional” as human language, just that it exists, contrary to Egnor’s claims. This is the traditional creationist technique known as “moving the goalposts”.

Finally, Egnor insinuates that I haven’t read de Waal’s books, when I was the one who introduced them to him. He urges me to read de Waal’s books. I have. My records show that I read Good Natured in 1996, as well as Chimpanzee Politics and Peacemaking Among Primates.


  1. blf says

    Ah, but it’s easy to prove, PROVE!, that animals don’t have language: We know animals are smart. Ergo, if they did have language, they’d be telling Egnor he’s an unqualified lying nutter. But they aren’t, therefore, they don’t have language. Q.E.D.

  2. Holms says

    I like the way Egnor quotes a passage of de Waal’s, thinking that it agrees with him:

    You won’t often hear me say something like this, but I consider humans the only linguistic species. We honestly have no evidence for symbolic communication, equally rich and multifunctional as ours, outside our species.

    But all de Waal is saying there is that non-human language is less complicated than ours.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    We honestly have no evidence for symbolic communication, equally rich and multifunctional as ours, outside our species.

    We also have ~0 understanding of the complicated polyphony exchanged by cetaceans.

  4. emergence says

    What pisses me off about Egnor is are common gripes I have with almost all creationists; he does no actual experiments or studies of his own, instead puking out pretentious armchair philosophy, or at best parasitizes the work of actual scientists who could very easily tell him that their work doesn’t support his views. Also, he’s yet another example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. He thinks his tedious pseudo-philosophical wankery makes him more qualified to talk about animal cognition than the people who actually study animal cognition for a living.


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