However many other aspects of human nature and behavior we find among animals on earth, human capacity for language remains unique. The capacity for language and the capacity for abstract thought are intimately connected. We communicate complex ideas to each other through the medium of language. We even internalize and consider abstract concepts through the medium of language. This is an intimate part of who we are as a species, as a people. Language places boundaries on the way we think, but these are soft boundaries. We can break away from what we know and move into uncharted territories.
Even here, language plays an important role. To communicate new thoughts we often develop analogies and use metaphors connecting things we already know (or think we know) to these new and unfamiliar ideas. It is hard to imagine making progress in any other way. As a physical chemist I will describe the quantum nature of matter using concepts that are familiar – waves and particles. But electrons and photons are neither waves nor particles. As inherently quantum mechanical entities they behave wave-like or particle-like under certain circumstances.
When we read Genesis we read a story of divine origin told through the medium of human language, for human understanding. We believe as Christians that there is a divine source for the story. But the story must use concepts familiar to the original audience to communicate the important new ideas. This is how human language and thinking works. There is no way an ancient audience could really have made a leap from their world to our present day understanding of cosmology and particle physics. It would just have muddied the waters.
Human language is powerful, but can also be deceptive. Two recent posts on the BioLogos site (link: here) discuss helpful and unhelpful metaphors for evolution. Their introduction: “Evolution is a complex scientific theory that can be hard to wrap the mind around. To help us grasp evolution, we sometime employ metaphors; powerful conceptual tools that help us understand new concepts by connecting them to ideas we are familiar with. However just as the right metaphor can go a long way in guiding our learning, so the wrong metaphor can be dangerously misleading.“