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Evolution of language: FOXP2 and human uniqueness in religious perspective

A paper to be published in Nature (W. Enard et al., "Molecular Evolution of FOXP2, a Gene Involved in Speech and Language") compares the human version of the FOXP2 gene with that of other mammals. Religious scholars comment on the implications for human uniqueness and similarity to other species. EMBARGOED UNTIL 14:00 EST 14 Aug 2002. All quotes are free to use by journalists in any news medium. Contact information is provided and follow-up interviews are encouraged.

1. John F. Haught, Professor of Theology, Georgetown University, Washington DC. Author of numerous books and articles on human evolution. (202) 687-6119.

Q: Does this finding offer any evidence that the Catholic view of evolved body vs. created soul is wrong? According to this report, if language is a feature of soul, language and soul appear to evolve together.

A: "The Catholic view of the "soul" (a notion that signifies the inviolable dignity of the person) first came to theological expression in a pre-evolutionary universe. Today, however, scientifically informed Catholic thinkers have little difficulty with the idea that the sacred origin of our specifically human kind of existence is consistent with an evolutionary emergence. This new theological reflection insists on the intrinsic value of other forms of life as well."

Q: What surprises you about this report?

A: "I'm not surprised that we would eventually discover and isolate such language-relevant genes as FOXP2. What may be harder to digest is that such a momentous outcome as language and culture seems to be so exquisitely dependent on a physically infinitesimal genetic difference that allowed for a certain kind of facial movement in our ancestors."

Q: Is there still room for theological explanations of language and culture?

A: "Darwinian and genetic explanations are part of the story, but not the whole story. If we are looking for still deeper explanations of min
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Contact: Brent Waters
srns@science-spirit.org
412-585-0842
Science and Religion Information Service
14-Aug-2002


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