Man: Created in the Image of Speaking Triune Lord

From the introduction and conclusion of an article discussing a recent study’s findings that premature babies process speech even as neurons are migrating into place (!!!) — written by John Timmer at Ars Technica:

The human brain has a remarkable capacity for interpreting speech, with large areas of the brain given over to tracking the sound and interpreting it as language. The neurons that manage this capacity are put in place during our embryonic development, and these are able to respond to sounds shortly after birth. But now, a new study looked at brain activity in premature infants, and it showed the networks that respond to syllables are already active well before most infants are normally born.

It’s often difficult to distinguish between the things our brains are structured specifically to do and things our brains are structured to have the capacity to learn. The fact these areas of the brain can pick out speech differences even before the final structure is in place, however, provides some support to the idea that some capacity to speech is inherent to the brain.

Some capacity to speech is inherent to the brain, indeed. Milton Terry understood this:

Language is not an accident of human nature; else might it utterly perish like other arts and inventions of man. It is an essential element of man’s being, and one which distinguishes him from the brute (Biblical Hermeneutics, 71).

So did A. W. Tozer:

Thought and speech are God’s gifts to creatures made in His image; these are intimately associated with Him and impossible apart from Him. It is highly significant that the first word was the Word: ‘And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ We may speak because God spoke. In him word and idea are indivisible (The Knowledge of the Holy, 2).

And Christian evangelists know that speech is inherent to our brains (that it is inherent to a physical aspect of our nature). No surprise there. After all, Jesus Christ instructed us to use speech to teach and call sinners to repentance and baptism in the name of the Triune Lord: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). Evangelism and preaching is all about speech (perhaps we could even say evangelism/preaching assumes “some capacity to speech is inherent to the brain”).

God spoke creation into existence, and God speaks (has spoken) the new creation into existence. I think this is what the doctrine of justification is all about, really. Insisting and echoing what we’ve been told: that the Triune Lord is consistently a God of not only creation-making speech but also redemptive speech. That He is a Lord who not only creates but restores and saves a sinful and fallen creation, and that He does so by the power of His declarative word, which he declared before the foundations of the world according to His good pleasure when He chose/spoke that Christ (the Word) would provide atonement for our sins. God said, “I saved you.” Our response is to echo God, “God saved me!” When you boil down basic Christian teaching — i.e., in the words of J. I. Packer, “Adoption by propitiation [atonement]” — we only teach that which the Father has already spoken through the Holy Spirit about His only begotten Son/the Word.

And for those who speak Science, this is the abstract from the recent study referenced in the Ars Technica article:

The ontogeny of linguistic functions in the human brain remains elusive. Although some auditory capacities are described before term, whether and how such immature cortical circuits might process speech are unknown. Here we used functional optical imaging to evaluate the cerebral responses to syllables at the earliest age at which cortical responses to external stimuli can be recorded in humans (28- to 32-wk gestational age). At this age, the cortical organization in layers is not completed. Many neurons are still located in the subplate and in the process of migrating to their final location. Nevertheless, we observed several points of similarity with the adult linguistic network. First, whereas syllables elicited larger right than left responses, the posterior temporal region escaped this general pattern, showing faster and more sustained responses over the left than over the right hemisphere. Second, discrimination responses to a change of phoneme (ba vs. ga) and a change of human voice (male vs. female) were already present and involved inferior frontal areas, even in the youngest infants (29-wk gestational age). Third, whereas both types of changes elicited responses in the right frontal region, the left frontal region only reacted to a change of phoneme. These results demonstrate a sophisticated organization of perisylvian areas at the very onset of cortical circuitry, 3 mo before term. They emphasize the influence of innate factors on regions involved in linguistic processing and social communication in humans.