Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

A Linguistic Argument for God's Existence

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

A Linguistic Argument for God's Existence

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Many arguments to demonstrate the reasonableness of God's existence have been advanced over past millennia.1 On this issue, the biblical record maintains that clear evidence of God's reality resides in the natural realm all around us. This evidence is so plain, the record claims, that no human being can fail to have awareness of God's existence (Rom 1:20). This paper calls attention to a category of reality that provides especially powerful support for God's existence. Our focus is upon the phenomenon of language. We begin from our own subjective experience of this phenomenon and then extend our considerations to the realm of the material world around us. Because language is so integral to our own mental processes and so intuitive in the way we relate to other human beings, most of us never pause to analyze just what is occurring when we think, write, speak, or process what we read or hear others say. Therefore, a crucial first step in this discussion is to establish clearly what the term "language" entails.

II. WHAT IS LANGUAGE?

There is an extensive body of scholarly literature, generally under the category of philosophy of language, that deals with this and related questions.2 In this article we deliberately narrow our scope to what we deem to be the most basic aspects of the phenomenon of language. In particular, we shall focus on the close association of language with meaning. And in regard to the term "meaning," we utilize its widely accepted definition in a linguistic context of "the denotation, referent, or idea associated with a word or phrase."3 Although the philosophers of language have written a great deal on the nature of meaning, we will restrict our use of the term to this standard definition. Furthermore, in speaking of language we include not only spoken and written human languages, but also the realms of computer languages and mathematics, and the message-bearing sequences of nucleotides in DNA and RNA observed at the molecular level in the biological domain. Hence, our use of the term language agrees in most essential respects with the term formal language used in the fields of linguistics, computer science, and mathematics. Under these caveats, what are the essential characteristics of language? We offer a simple answer that emphasizes two essentials.4

1. Language involves the assignment of meaning to otherwise meaningless symbols to form a vocabulary. As we have already hinted, language is intimately associated with meaning. The first elemental characteristic is that language maps or assigns meaning to a set of symbols. The symbols in themselves, apart from this assignment, generally have no meaning. In the case of spoken human languages, sounds, normally referred to as words, serve as the symbols. For example, in the English language, the spoken word "dog" encodes for a certain range of meaning. Other spoken human languages may use entirely different sounds to represent a similar range of meaning. For instance, Spanish uses the spoken word "perro," French "chien," Italian "cane," German "Hund," Russian "sobaka," and Chinese "göu." The sounds, or symbols, are arbitrary. Without meaning assigned to them within the context of a specific language, the sounds in themselves carry no meaning. The set of words in a language is usually referred to as its "vocabulary." Emphasizing this essential characteristic of language, namely, of associating meaning with symbols (in this case sounds), Noam Chomsky, regarded by some as the father of modern linguistics, has written, "At the crudest level of description, we may say that a language associates sound and meaning in a particular way."5

Most human languages today also have a written form that utilizes a set of characters. In this form, individual characters or strings of characters or letters represent the words to which meanings are assigned. This written form of a given guage has a phonetic correspondence with its spoken form. …

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