Professionally I advertise myself as a “language expert,” which is quite accurate (see ), and I get a wide range of contacts from attorneys and private citizens regarding anonymous letters, plagiarism, contract interpretation, copyright infringement, and other issues where money, reputation, or something else of value is at stake. 

I also get questions about grammar and usage, which I answer gratis, just to shed a bit of linguistic insight on issues that usually cannot be resolved definitively because language is flexible and variable, and there just isn’t one right answer.

But a few days ago, I got this, which is indeed in a class by itself:

“My name is _______and I am student at Texas Women's University in Denton, Texas. As a philosophy major, I am currently writing a research paper outlining the argument against the Tower of Babel. The Tower of Babel is a story told within the Christian bible (Genesis 11:1-9) that tells how all the languages in the world began to exist.

“Within the bible, the people of Babylon decided to build a tower to reach the heavens. This made god angry so he decided to scatter the tower workers all around the world and gave them each a different language to speak. And this is the very reason there are many different languages.

“Within my research paper I am required to provide a professional reference. I would truly appreciate some feedback as a linguistic expert on the validity of the Tower of Babel.

“Is the Tower of Babel possible?
“Is it likely?
“Is it impossible? (I am personally inclined to believe that it is impossible)

“WHY and WHAT makes this story possible, likely or impossible?

“In a nutshell, what is the best reasoning for the many different languages that have existed?”

"I am truly grateful for your feedback and it will go a long way in my research paper.


My reply:

Dear _____,

I suggest you read my book, "An Atheist Reads the Torah" -- it answers this as well as many other questions.  Briefly, there is no archaeological or any other evidence for any of the events of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). The Tower of Babel is a complete fiction.  As far as we know, there is no evidence that everyone in the world spoke one language. I find it remarkable that this is even a viable point of view in an academic institution.

Scientific investigation tells us that the world's 5,000 or so languages are related to other languages in the distant past, and we can describe the historical processes by which ancient “proto-languages” change and ultimately divide into separate language families and individual languages and dialects as people moved farther and farther from each other.

Language is perhaps 100,000 years old. There's disagreement over whether it originated once or many times. We can't go much beyond the historical written records. I think it originated many times because the world's languages are so different. It probably started with gestures, mixed with nouns. Verbs and grammatical relations came later.

The real point of the Babel story is subjugation and dependence: God says that if humans can build the tower, they will be able to do whatever they set out to do and nothing "will be beyond their reach." We learn early on how the Torah writers felt about human ambitions.  

And who heard him say this?  The text doesn’t say that he said it to anybody in particular.  If God supposedly wrote that passage, why does he refer to himself in the third person?

Indeed, God’s method is successful, and he has a point: to this very day, language differences are the main source of cohesion within -- and the root of divisions between -- tribes and ethnic groups.

BTW, this story is not, properly speaking, in the “Christian Bible.” The first 19 books are known as “the Hebrew Bible” or “the Tanakhor “the Old Testament.”  Furthermore, all of Noah’s descendants settle in Shinar before they begin the tower; only afterward is it called Babylon (Genesis 11:2 and 9). 

I am really concerned about the quality and bias of your education.

Thanks for contacting me. I hope I have been helpful.




Humanists have long pondered the question of why religion, even though it is manifestly wrong and harmful to boot, manages, century after century, to survive and enslave most of the world’s people. 

Now comes one of the most astonishing answers I have encountered (OK, maybe I’ve been too sheltered): they teach in it college!

And they call it philosophy!  What a disgusting perversion of a noble endeavor.  In the search for an understanding of the mind, of life, of consciousness, knowledge, thought, beauty, morality, and everything else that makes us human, debating the truth of Bible passages has no place whatsoever.

The Middle Ages are gone, and good riddance.  Except at Texas Women’s University (and, no doubt, many other fine institutions).

Views: 363


You need to be a member of Atheist Nexus to add comments!

Join Atheist Nexus

Comment by Joan Denoo on April 13, 2013 at 7:33pm

Tom Sarbeck, Please correct me where I made errors of interpretation or judgment. 

The purpose of public education came out of the philosophy of the Founding Fathers that in order to have a good republic, citizens had to be educated. Even the Fathers did't anticipate the working man or woman as being counted as a citizen and there was a huge debate over a citizen was defined  as a land owner or not. Finally the decision was as recorded: 

Thomas Jefferson, Virginia’s Citizenship statue in 1779, “Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that all white persons born within the territory of this commonwealth and all who have resided therein two years next before the passing of this act, and all who shall hereafter migrate into the same; and shall before any court of record give satisfactory proof by their own oath or affirmation, that they intend to reside therein, and moreover shall give assurance of fidelity to the commonwealth; and all infants wheresoever born, whose father, if living, or otherwise, whose mother was, a citizen at the time of their birth, or who migrate hither, their father, if living, or otherwise their mother becoming a citizen, or who migrate hither without father or mother, shall be deemed citizens of this commonwealth, until they relinquish that character in manner as herein after expressed: And all others not being citizens of any the United States of America, shall be deemed aliens.” As can be seen Jefferson is equating citizenship of the child to that of the parents, and not the land.

"democratic theory insists that education is required as a condition of democracy itself."

~ Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Papers number 78,

The purpose of education was to have an educated electorate and therefore public education was to be available to all children.

"People who backed free public education at first hoped for benefits such as critical thinking.

"Working as they were in an era when most education was done in church-connected schools, I can see why they faced powerful opposition. I understand they began winning when they obtained business support for such education's usefulness in training workers. Do others here have more information on this?" 

Feminists learned by 1970 "that their foremothers had been taught  helplessness. I was active in the effort to get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified and heard many women speak of "learned helplessness" and express anger that their mothers had not protested.

"More recently a man I know who, like me went to Catholic schools in the 1940s but is unable to "leave the plantation", teased me with the line "Once a Catholic always a Catholic". He quit when I teased him back with "Once a Catholic, always helpless".

Tom Sarbeck

While working on my undergraduate degree I learned for the first time about "learned helpfulness". I knew at once that there was something in this for battered women and children. The focus of my work from 1975-1977 was to identify a healthy family; from 1977-1979 was focus on "Toward a theory of family violence"; and from 1979-on was "A Spendid heresy" in which I studied the role of religion in binding the minds of women and children, the role obedience and submission played in the syndrome, and the need for critical thinking to free oneself. 

It worked. 

Tom, I am so grateful that you and other men learned, ""Once a Catholic, always helpless".

Comment by Joan Denoo on April 13, 2013 at 6:24pm

Ted Foureagles, From my point of view, you identify the thing that keeps us caught in a whilpool and many turn to god to solve it or look for the afterlife where everything is supposed to be perfect. You say so accurately: 

"We see these things that comprise life and explanation is difficult or uncomfortable, therefore God -- problem solved!  We notice that life is often unfair and so imagine it perfected in an unburdened afterlife rather than face it in sweaty reality. "

When faced with a real life challenge, a mentally healthy, mature, adult human being has the capacity to identify a problem.

For example for those who live on a flood plane and get washed out every few years, expecting insurance and government to pay for repairs, instead of picking up pieces and building on higher ground, have a high probability of being washed out again. Problem not solved. 

I live directly on a flood plane, but the last flood that covered my ground was 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. I have a high probability of never being flooded out. 

When people understand probability, they have a tool for better decision making. 

Some people think in either or terms. Either there is a god or there is not. If there is a god, then ones life is prescribed for him/her. If there is no god, He/she can make choices from options. Having access to options, there are probably a dozen ways to resolve a problem or a conflict.

Take the case of an unwanted pregnancy, many believing people do not have an option, some even don't have the option of using contraception or abstinence. My old time friends on this site  remember my story of Rosa who was not allowed to use family planning or abstinence except as prescribed by her priest. She terminated a pregnancy with a stick and died of septicemia. Desperate times call for desperate measures. 

A family who is not restricted can use all the tools available to them to prevent unwanted pregnancies, including contraceptives and abstinence, or in the event of an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy, they have access to safe and legal abortion. In the case of a malformed fetus, choices can be made from several options. 

There may be a sense of loss when aborting a fetus, and grief. That is normal, and can be dealt with in a healthy way. But that often is not the deciding factor when making responsible decisions for ones own life. I had five miscarriages and grieved every one. With healthy mental health assistance, I was able to come to terms with my losses. So can other women. 

It is so easy to put a sense of shame and guilt on someone who already feels those emotions. To do so is about as sick and evil as I can think. 


Comment by Joan Denoo on April 13, 2013 at 5:52pm
Pat, when you say, "In my own profession (the law) I am constantly amazed at the number of attorneys and judges who have deeply held religious beliefs. I want to (and have) yelled, "Did you skip law school 101 where they talked about proponents of a proposition having the burden of proof, and then needing evidence to back it up?!" what is the worst that happens? Do you gain on those issues of logic or does it cost you? What if you developed a reputation as a "Fallicy Fighter"? In the long term, would you be able to empower other attorneys and judges? We obviously live in an age of change in which more people learn how to challenge authority. They will be confronted by more challenges so they might as well get used to it.
Thankfully, individuals can bring about change if the issues involve justice. I realize lawyers and judges aren't interested in justice but in winning. Well, maybe that is part of the problem.
Comment by Loren Miller on April 13, 2013 at 4:02pm

Excellent, Silvia, thank you for posting this.

I like how Chomsky brings out the theme of education vs. indoctrination and how the latter seems to be dominating too much of education in the US these days.  We're supposed to be the inventors and the innovators, yet too much of educational life from K-12 seems to be aimed at "teaching to the test."  I remember hearing Neil deGrasse Tyson talking once about how kids are natural scientists, discovering how the world works on their own until the parents and/or teachers cut off their exploration in favor of rote learning.  How much creativity and exploratory spirit is quashed with that action?

I'll stipulate that some basics do need to be learned, but if education could be organized in terms of guided discovery as opposed to conventional structure, I wonder what the outcome would be.

Comment by SILVIA SAINT-CLAIRE on April 13, 2013 at 3:24pm

Comment by SILVIA SAINT-CLAIRE on April 13, 2013 at 3:16pm

Alan, there are several U-tube videos for "Noam Chomsky on Education"

Comment by Alan Perlman on April 13, 2013 at 1:17pm

PS to Pat: We must never underestimate the importance of seclusion in the indoctrination process.  Every cult leader, from Scientologists to Orthodox rabbis, knows the importance of reinforcing doctrine within while keeping competing ideas out.

Comment by Alan Perlman on April 13, 2013 at 12:47pm

To all: Whatever the original purpose of public education, please see for recent developments.

Comment by Alan Perlman on April 13, 2013 at 10:48am

Thanks to all for your thoughtful input.

Silvia, If you have a link to the Chomsky commments, I'd like to see it.  Your students were fortunate; apparently there are not nearly enough teachers like you.

Tom, I've done some reading on early American education, and as far as I can tell, the purpose was to homogenize a diverse population with a unifying set of values and to create functionally literate but obedient voters, soldiers, workers, and consumers.  Also to educate in a religion-free environment - we see how well that turned out.  But I don't remember any reference at all to critical thinking.  Could be wrong about that.  Great comeback to the Catholic guy.

Ted, Death is the Big Hook, no question.  Major exception: Judaism - don't know why it has so little to say on the afterlife.  The religious solution -- heaven, hell, reincarnation -- is much easier.  It takes a lifetime of practice to get rid of the religion-death mentality and replace it with something more realistic and satisfying.   It helped that my family was not religious to begin with.

Pat, This whole Babel thing was a quasi-revelation (I knew it, sort of, but didn't want to believe it): all over this great land of ours, religious fantasies are maintained at every level of education.  Entire schools of theology and divinity go on year after year, reworking and propagating the same BS.

Sylvia & Deborah, The place to begin to instill critical thinking is at the onset of the age of reason.  Children are very pliable when it comes to reality vs. imagination.  I was just reading, in one of John Stossel's books, about experiments in which children were trained, by suggestive repetition, to recall sexual abuses that didn't happen, even though there was video evidence that it did not.  They were even told it was an experiement, but they STILL believed that the implanted events happened!

We have always told Zach that in science, you learn by asking question, but in church you learn by not asking questions.  We give him evidence and urge him to use his mind to find the truth.

In my previous "Zachary's Brain" posts, I outline the conflict between his two sets of parents (dad and 2nd wife are vanilla Christians).



Comment by SILVIA SAINT-CLAIRE on April 13, 2013 at 8:55am

Tom, if you have the chance listen to what Noam Chomsky has to say on education.

The kids who were my students went to college with critical thinking implanted in their brains; I made sure they did...the same with the kids who decided against college.

© 2018   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: Richard Haynes.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service