How did Adam and Eve learn to speak?

Continuing the discussion from Jay Johnson: Problems With Adam and Eve, I’d like to address one specific objection by @Jay313 in his article for an Adam and Eve created de novo.

To focus on just one discipline: special creation ignores what we know of childhood development. Human beings primarily learn by a process variously called “mimesis,” “social learning,” or “enculturation.” As philosophers from Aristotle to Wittgenstein have observed, we watch as others play the game, we infer the rules, and we attempt to imitate what the others are doing. The same process accounts for how children learn language, the norms of social behavior, and the numerous traditions and social rituals that collectively we call “culture.”

Now, imagine two people deprived of all that information and suddenly thrust into existence. How did Adam and Eve learn to walk and talk? How did they learn socially appropriate behavior? How did they learn to obey a rule? When God warned them not to eat the fruit, how did they know what “death” was? Between birth and maturity, we literally learn how to be human, and the way we learn is by observation, inference, and imitation. The de novo , special creation of Adam requires all of that basic knowledge be implanted in Adam’s and Eve’s minds directly by God in the form of false memories. It’s the omphalos hypothesis again.

My response is this: while it is true that we learn to speak and write by imitation, when I form words, I do not consciously draw upon any memories. For example, at some point, I learned to use the English phrase “for example”, probably by imitating a tip in a book about English writing and style, or subconsciously absorbing it from reading people who use that phrase. Yet, when I chose to write the phrase “for example”, I did not draw upon any such memories. (In fact, I have forgotten when I started using the term and where I first encountered it.) Instead, I use the phrase like a reflex. I simply have the capability to use the phrase as part of my expression. You could say it’s wired into the neurological software of my brain. The same goes for my general use of the English language. The experiences I’ve had are only the means by which I acquire the capability, not the capability itself.

I am an avid musician, and my skills in playing cello and piano are similar. I had to acquire these skills by practice and imitation, but I have little memory of those practice sessions. Instead, I know that when I sit down with a cello I can just play any tune I want. I know what finger position my left hand needs to be in to play a middle C on the A string. It is more like muscle memory, some sort of higher-level neurological connection between my brain and my fingers.

I would also like to bring up the case of Derek Amato:

In October 2006, Amato suffered a serious concussion after hitting his head in a swimming pool.

According to a blog post he wrote for the Wisconsin Medical Society, he lost 35 percent of his hearing and suffered some memory loss.

But when he visited with a friend a few days after the accident, Amato said he felt inexplicably compelled to sit down at the keyboard.

“It was one of those moments when you just know. It was just drawing me to it,” he told TODAY.

Placing his fingers on the keys, Amato began to play — dexterously, beautifully.

“As I shut my eyes, I found these black and white structures moving from left to right, which in fact would represent in my mind, a fluid and continuous stream of musical notation,” he wrote in the blog post.

There are also cases of people who forget a large chunk of their personal memories, such as Benjamin Kyle. Kyle only had a few scattered memories of his childhood. Yet he did not instantly revert to the intelligence level of a child. He could still speak and act like an adult.

Applying this to the case of a de novo created Adam and Eve, it seems that their language and other abilities could have been similarly implanted miraculously and instantaneously by God. God would not need to have implanted false memories to them - only a set of neurological abilities to reflexively be able to express what they wanted in whatever language they spoke. They would be like Derek Amato or Benjamin Kyle, but in respect to the ability to speak and move and do other human things. Thus, Adam and Eve’s ability to do these things would present no more of a problem than the fact that they had adult bodies and appearances. I think this significantly lessens the blow of the Deceptive God Objection (DGO).

@John_Harshman, @pevaquark


I would add that in general, memories play an insignificant role in our kinetic and verbal abilities. I remember nothing of the time between my birth and aged 3. Yet those are the times when I picked up the ability to speak, somehow. And I certainly can speak now. There is no need for me to draw upon those memories to do so. Memories only play a more significantly role in higher-level deliberations, where you have to consciously and carefully take into account a lot of factors. (Still, it may be the case that you could go really far with just memory-less neurological abilities, like the case of Benjamin Kyle.)

Since A&E had no memories of this kind, they would be child-like and naive for their age, being able to speak and express themselves but not being able to consciously draw from a wealth of old experiences. But this fits with the Biblical depiction of their innocence (Gen. 2:25).

Now it could be the case that in addition to the initially implanted spontaneous neurological abilities, Adam and Eve also learned a lot after their creation by interacting with God in the Garden (allowing them to perform more higher-level decision making that I describe above). The naming of the animals by Adam (Gen. 2:19) could be viewed as an allusion to this. God is also depicted as walking in the Garden (from which A&E hid after eating the forbidden fruit - Gen. 3:8), the implication seems to be that he often met with A&E. @Jay313 comments:

…An adolescent Adam and Eve already would have the knowledge of good and evil even before laying eyes on the apple, since they were taken from pre-existing human society, and an “innocent” pair of toddlers would require full-time tutoring by God just to learn to speak, a la Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Actually, the Lord might face a bigger challenge than Miss Sullivan. Children learn as much from the conversations around them as they do from direct, one-on-one conversation with a parent. If the only dialogue Adam and Eve ever heard was what God said to them, they would be more deprived than Helen Keller, since Anne Sullivan signed every word of every conversation around them into Helen’s hand.

My response is that I don’t think it’s ridiculous to suggest that God was the one who tutored Adam and Eve, instead of having them learn from the rest of human society as would be the case for a normal child. After all, people like Irenaeus view the image of God (Gen. 1:26) as developmental, meaning that God created man in his image in order to keep perfecting them and making them be like him. God purposely did not create A&E as completely finished products, even before the Fall. (This is in contrast to the view that he made them completely perfect in the beginning.) God wanted A&E to learn from him, from each other, and from interacting with the rest of creation. One could even say that this is the whole point of the Garden of Eden story. God gave them some starting capabilities that would give them a basis from which they would keep developing, learning God’s commands, creation, morality, and so on, in contrast to the rest of pre-existing humanity. If A&E hadn’t eaten the forbidden fruit (which could be viewed as an illicit attempt to “take a shortcut” in their learning), they would have still been under the tutorship of God.


It is known that if children are raised in an environment without other language speakers, they will quickly invent their own language.

I’m not sure how that would work with adults magically poofed into existence. But then I’m not sure that the Genesis account is clear about whether they were created as adults or children.

Perspective: Personally, I take an allegorical view of the A&E story. But if you want to see it as real, then it seems to me that the language issue is minor, compared to the other problems.


How interesting… As in a language with meaning where they will teach one another and learn from another in an agreed upon manner? Collaboratively, I mean?

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Consider this, Michael: Wherever there are at least two deaf children growing up together without other interference (such as having ASL imposed upon them at a school), a full-fledged sign language develops, complete with complex nuances and syntax. In fact, this in part explains why there are so many national sign languages around the world: many of them evolved from different spontaneous signing community languages. I did not specialize in such areas of linguistics (i.e., lingua-less, that is tongue-less, linguistics) but I know of people who study that exclusively.

A related phenomena (and the differences in languages structures are fascinating) is the community-wide sign language, which tends to spontaneously develop in villages/regions where there is a congenital defect in the local gene pool and a higher than normal percentage of children are born deaf. In such communities not only the speaking parents but lots of other hearing people learn that local sign language (e.g., shopkeepers) because it is simply an all too common occurrence to have to interact with hearing impaired people. I vaguely recall that the east end of Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts had an early settler who brought a hearing-impairment gene to that swampy and very isolated area. After a few generations there were enough deaf people that a full-fledged sign-language had evolved and it was understood by virtually everyone in the area. I think it may still be used there today, although linguists are scrambling to study it before it is tainted beyond recognition and goes extinct. (One of the things they study is how including hearing people in a sign-language community greatly modifies the sign-language in comparison to “pure” deaf sign languages.)

The human brain is definitely structured towards communicating by the use of symbols: whether they be aural or visual or both. New languages can spring forth to fill in any gaps!

POSTSCRIPT: Nobody knows how many sign languages exist in the world. I’ve seen estimates in the hundreds. Also, consider that American Sign Language and British Sign Language evolved separately and so a signer of ASL will not understand BSL without intensive study.

QUESTION: What impact will the explosion of emoji usage have on human and language evolution?


That is fantastic… so we were, quite literally, made to fellowship… however one understands that, we are intended to communicate with one another. That’s really amazing.


Or have a strong capacity for it as part of our evolved nature as social animals :slight_smile: Interesting! I was dimly aware that there’s a unique sign language where I live, but I didn’t know that there were so many unique forms. Apropos of nothing, I came across this, which may be of some interest


Adam and eve speaking was simply a reflection on thinking. it was instant. jUst like creatures and birds singing. there is no reason to imagine they had to invent a languasge. Very likely speaking the original language, pre babel, was just a pure form of using sounds coupled with thoughts/emotion.
Remember god spoke to them out loud.
Yes children just memorize everything but remember they have so much intelligent thoughts. its not like animals who have few thoughts. The speed of kids shows how fat adults could learn to use sounds etc.
Language is still not understood. We now just live in the memory.
Yet it must be the original language only could turn out a certain way. It was not invented by Adam.
It must be a very close reflection of sounds with thoughts/emotion.

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Do you mean children who have never heard/seen human language of any sort?
If so, how is that known? Any references?
Possibly such children could invent something like animal communication, but that is nothing like human language (which has eg productivity, systematicity, complex treatment of time).

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I haven’t been collecting citations.

There are natural experiments. Normal children raised in a community of deaf mute parents will develop a language.

I hear from parents of identical twins, that the twins tend to develop private extensions to language. As others have mentioned, deaf children tend to invent sign languages.

We are a social species, and the psychological drive to communicate with others seems to be what drives this.


That’s interesting, but so far I have been unable to find support for that claim. In fact I can’t so far find a reference to a community of deaf mute parents. Even in so-called “deaf villages”, only a fairly small percentage of the people are deaf, at least that I’ve been able to find.

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@AllenWitmerMiller Are you able to provide any literature to this end?

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I definitely agree that we learn languages by being immersed in a culture of language. Once we have acquired one, we can invent others to some degree of richness.

But modern human languages require culture to evolve and maintain them; no child could invent one from scratch with no other language exposure.

On the deaf mute case: my guess is the the children learned sign language then invented a spoken language to imitate it. I’d also be interested in their exposure to radio or TV.

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If you are asking about deaf children who created their own sign language in isolation from sign language exposure, the famous case in the linguistic literature is what eventually became known as Nicaraguan Sign Language. If you search on that, I’m sure you will find references to peer-reviewed literature.

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No, that isn’t what we’re asking about. This is it:

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of normal children raised in a community of deaf mute parents developing their own language (rather than adopting the sign-language used by the parents.)

[Keep in mind that I didn’t specialize in anything close to psycholinguistics or language evolution per se.]


That is an interesting example. Thanks for raising it.

According to Wiki, it is controversial how much exposure to existing language the children absorbed. This letter from an ASL expert on the NSL claims significant exposure (second paragraph) which the writer says should be included in any explanation of NSL origins.

There is also this paper which points out the the first version of NSL lacked certain primitive spatial concepts. A second version added them, but the degree of exposure of the second generation creators to other language is not described.

Are you arguing that God invented a language and then instantiated the appropriate neural mechanisms for it?

Or that God created a Universal Grammar mechanism, and then Adam and Eve created language, or at least initial versions of modern language, based on having that mechanism?

Or perhaps you are arguing that there were existing humans with language and God instantiated the mechanisms to use that existing language (this hypothesis bears an intended resemblance to (my understanding of) Joshua’s work on A&E and genealogy).

Or something else?

I think you have misunderstood.

I was not suggesting that children would invent a language comparable to the languages that we see in western culture. They would invent something simpler to discuss what matters to them.


This is the simplest and “safest” hypothesis that doesn’t require positing unknown additional languages created organically by God. It is possible that Adam and Eve made an innovation in language, but I can’t think of any definite evidence for that. Does anyone have a good estimate of when high-level language arose in humans or primates?

That being said, if we were to be more speculative and adventurous…if the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is true, and that one’s language affects one’s worldview, could it be the case that God would need A&E to speak a new language in order to be able to properly commune with him? And that the story of Babel could refer to a failure of that language of Eden to be maintained, post-Fall.

On the other hand, this would imply that there was something deficient about the development of language prior to the creation of A&E, and that could contradict the position that creation was “good” prior to A&E. This would be a theological reason against this hypothesis.