Witch doctors in America

Brain imaging is a useful tool, but in the wrong hands it can be little more than hi-tech phrenology. Being able to say that you used single photon emission computed tomography to come to your conclusion sure sounds pretty, and it can seem like you know what you’re doing, but all too often the use of a fancy buzzword is only a ploy to get you noticed, no matter how trivial or even drecky your work is. Here’s a perfect example: a boring paper with almost nothing of interest in it gets published and highlighted in the New York Times, and why? Because the author couples expensive medical gear to religious nonsense, and obviously is very good at self-promotion. He’s a witch doctor in a nice white lab coat.

Andrew Newberg is an author of some rather New Agey popular books, an M.D., and a dualist. He’s the head of the “Center for Spirituality and the Neurosciences” (which is funded in part by the Templeton Foundation, wouldn’t you know it), and he thinks there is something outside the brain responsible for mind. How putting people in fancy gizmos and looking at cerebral blood flow is going to affirm his ideas is a complete mystery to me, but that’s what he does. And then afterwards, he waves his hands around and says the pretty colored pictures that most of his audience don’t understand support his claims.

For instance, this recent paper examined people with glossolalia—”speaking in tongues”. They put themselves into a trance-like state, babbled for a while, Newberg injected them with a compound that would be absorbed in quantities relative to the amount of cerebral blood flow during the episode, and then scanned their brains for the compound. They found a few areas that show differences in activity between singing and “speaking in tongues”, and they show a table of numbers and a pretty picture.

This figure shows two transaxial slices of the singing state (a) and the glossolalia state (b) with rCBF represented as red > yellow > green > blue. These images demonstrate decreased rCBF during glossolalia in the frontal lobes bilaterally. Also, there is a marked decrease in blood flow in the left caudate (as indicated by the arrow) during glossolalia compared with the singing state.

OK, it’s another small piece of data to throw on a growing pile from all of these brain imaging studies; nothing dazzling, nothing particularly bad about it, except maybe that more random studies using gee-whiz techniques are not exactly helpful any more. His conclusion is reasonable, even if it does highlight the triviality of this particular exercise.

The results from this preliminary study have begun to elucidate the neurophysiological correlates of glossolalia. That there were changes in several brain structures suggests that there is complex brain activity during this unusual practice.

Well, duh.

Now, though, look at what happens to this mundane study when it gets into the popular press, and when Newberg talks about it without any critical reviewers peering over his shoulder.

The passionate, sometimes rhythmic, language-like patter that pours forth from religious people who “speak in tongues” reflects a state of mental possession, many of them say. Now they have some neuroscience to back them up.

I’ve read the paper. No, they don’t. This is a paper that reports quite ordinary changes in the level of brain activity during glossolalia; there are no traces of possessing spirits or other extra-cranial meddling entities, and there is no provision in the work for detecting them if there were.

This isn’t just a clueless reporter mangling results he doesn’t comprehend. This is Newberg actively making exaggerated claims.

“The amazing thing was how the images supported people’s interpretation of what was happening,” said Dr. Andrew B. Newberg, leader of the study team, which included Donna Morgan, Nancy Wintering and Mark Waldman. “The way they describe it, and what they believe, is that God is talking through them,” he said.

People believe this is the Holy Ghost taking control of them; the images do not support that interpretation. Look at the image I’ve included. It shows a slight change in the cerebral blood flow to left caudate. Anyone see any ghosts in that picture? Any reason to assume the changes aren’t physiological? Any reason to think the individual’s subjective interpretation of a phenomenon reflects the objective physical causes in any way?

I’m afraid that all I’ve learned from this is that here’s another glad-handing quack on the spirituality bandwagon who is milking attention for some extraordinarily poor, unscientific interpretations of some murky data. If you want to test for mind-brain dualism, go ahead, design an experiment that does that (I can’t imagine one, but then I’m not promoting the existence of spirits); don’t just fling around some impressive-sounding technical jargon and pretend you’ve got evidence. Competent people can see right through that, and can also see that you’re just trying to defraud the rubes. And maybe yourself.

Newberg AG, Wintering NA, Morgan D, Waldman MR (2006) The measurement of regional cerebral blood flow during glossolalia: A preliminary SPECT study. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 148(1):67-71.


  1. says

    This reminds me of my least favorite woo-woo, Clyde N. Shealy, MD, (he’s on google) once gave a talk at Missouri State … he threw up a slide of electroecephalograms …. comparing one in one building to another in another building (honest — that’s what he said). He said to look at how they were identical. There was no time or date stamp on the slide … nor were any of the axis identified … or any legend. …. But take his word for it … they showed that the two were telecommunicating.

    At the same presentation he also gave a 15 minute plug for therapeutic touch. Apparently had never heard of Emily Rosa.

    You should hear the fundies in Missouri whining about the stem cell constitutional provision we passed.

  2. says

    This is a classical case of lazy journalism. There’s no way the reporter didn’t know this was a sham, especially if he’s been covering the medical area for any amount of time. But he likely decided that “Brain-scan quack just another quack”, as a headline, had less punch for the average reader than “Infinite Secrets of the Brain Back Up Glossolalia”. In fact, his editor likely thought the same way.

  3. ChuckO says

    I don’t know what the big thing about speaking in tongues is among these evangelicals. I’m no believer, not even close, and I can speak in tongues at will. I can even make the gibberish sound like various real languages. This is not something I worked at. It just seems that languages have certain rhythms and sounds to them, and it isn’t all that difficult to mimic them. Now evangelicals might claim that these people are actually speaking in some other language but, if memory serves me, that claim has been debunked by researchers who have recorded the “speech” of those in the throes of glossolalia and determined that it was just nonsense syllables.

  4. Despard says

    It’s even worse when you read the imaging literature, or even know a little bit about neuroscience. The frontal lobes are involved in a lot of conscious decision-making, so one interpretation is that there’s less of that going on when people go into a trance and babble. Who’d have thought it?

    If there was a hell for dodgy scientists I’d be going to it for what I’m about to do: cite Wikipedia in support of my claims (I don’t know much about the caudate). Wiki states that the caudate is involved in learning and memory, and also in language comprehension:

    “The left caudate in particular has been suggested to have a relationship with the thalamus that governs the comprehension and articulation of words as they are switched between languages.”


    From the paper (page 68):

    “The phonemic structure was different between the two conditions since the singing was associated with clear grammatical sentences…”

    So… there was less blood flow to the caudate when people were reciting nonsense syllables than when they were singing something with actual words? Again, an utter shock.

    The claims that are being made are a load of rubbish.

  5. boojieboy says

    Yeah, this kind of woo is becoming all too common in neuroscience. Another notable example is Jeffrey Schwartz at UCLA who started out and continues to do perfectly sound research in cognitive-therapies for OCD and other disorders. But it’s the additional nonsense that gets me.

    Unfortunately, it tends to obscure perfectly valid and potentially useful research along these lines by people like Richard Davidson at Madison, who have been studying how meditative pracices can calm excessive emotionality, for their potential mental health benefits for anyone, even the irreligious.

  6. says

    The researchers also used SPECT, which is hardly state of the art anymore. Functional MRI is.

    SPECT is pretty operator-dependent, which makes careful controls, blinding of those reading the scans to which experimental group they were looking at, and multiple people interpreting the exams absolutely critical to obtaining even semivalid results. Anyone want to make a bet about how well was done?

  7. llewelly says

    Given widespread advice such as ‘trust your gut’, and all the talk of ‘gut decisions’, I too, am convinced that there is some thing outside of the brain which is responsible for mind … and it’s CO2 producting intestinal bacteria …

  8. Debra says

    This was my favorite part of the NYT article that clearly demonstrates how objective the research team was:
    “Ms. Morgan, a co-author of the study, was also a research subject. She is a born-again Christian who says she considers the ability to speak in tongues a gift. “You’re aware of your surroundings,” she said. “You’re not really out of control. But you have no control over what’s happening. You’re just flowing. You’re in a realm of peace and comfort, and it’s a fantastic feeling.”

  9. says

    From the ISCID link that boojieboy posted:

    Dr. Schwartz’s breakthrough in OCD provided the hard evidence that the mind can control the brain’s chemistry.

    And now a puzzled, pained expression creeps over my face. . . . I can’t say that my opinion of the ISCID can get any lower, but I think it just got confirmed.

  10. says

    Compare Ms. Morgan’s description of the “gift” of tongues with H. L. Mencken’s:

    From the squirming and jabbering mass a young woman gradually detached herself — a woman not uncomely, with a pathetic homemade cap on her head. Her head jerked back, the veins of her neck swelled, and her firsts went to her throat as if she were fighting for breath. She bent backward until she was like half a loop. The she suddenly snapped forward. We caught a flash of the whites of her eyes. Presently her whole body began to be convulsed — great throes that began at the shoulders and ended at the hips. She would leap to her feet, thrust her arms in the air, and then hurl herself upon the heap. He praying flattened out into a mere delirious caterwauling. I describe the thing discreetly, and as a strict behaviorist. The lady’s subjective sensations I leave to infidel pathologists, privy to the works of Ellis, Freud and Moll. Whatever they were, they were obviously not painful, for they were accompanied by vast heaving and gurgling of a joyful and even ecstatic nature. And they seemed to be contagious, too, for soon a second penitent, also female, joined the first, and then came a third, and fourth, and a fifth. The last one had an extraordinary violent attack. She began with mild enough jerks of the head, but in a moment she was bounding all over the place, like a chicken with its head cut off. Every time her head came up a stream of hosannas would issue out of it. Once she collided with a dark, undersized brother, hitherto silent and stolid. Contact with her set him off as if he had been kicked by a mule. He leaped into the air, threw back his head, and began to gargle as if with a mouthful of BB shot. Then he loosed one tremendous, stentorian sentence in the tongues, and collapsed.

    Illuminating, ain’t it?

  11. Despard says

    Debra: I missed that. One of the co-authors was a subject?? That’s pretty dodgy in most cases. Studies on visual psychophysics often away with this because the responses are so consistent, even if you know the purpose of the study. This is why I know people just getting their PhDs who have four published papers already, for which they were the only subjects.

    But I digress. Usually it’s frowned upon to have someone who knows about the aim of the experiment as a subject, because the knowledge can skew the results.

    Orac: good point. Trouble with using fMRI for this study is that it’s really noisy. Trying to get someone to sing while they’re being scanned is probably really difficult, not to mention artefacts from head movements messing up the image. Having said that, I guess they could have used a PET scan.

  12. Despard says

    Oops, my last post should have read: studies on visual psychophysics often GET away with this.


  13. says

    What exactly is speaking in tongues all about? What do fundies find meaningful in a stretch of gibberish? If no one can understand it, what’s the point? If everyone speaking in tongues spoke in the same kind of gibberish, that would be a different story. We could set up some codebreakers and try to figure it out. What I see instead are a bunch of people praising what even they admit makes no sense. Why? I’m making a rhetorical point, but I am also quite ignorant about the folkways of speaking in tongues.

  14. boojieboy says


    Yeah, that stuff about “the mind controlling the brain’s chemistry” is a hint of the additional nonsense I was talking about.

    What he gets is a perfectly sound, empirical result: having people work on controlling their thinking (cognitive therapy) can change the intrusiveness of obsessions in people with OCD. Fine so far. Then he goes and does some PET studies and starts coming off the rails during media interviews and then public speaking engagements.

    The problem it seems to me stems from how the researchers themselves seek to promote their own work in the popular media, which loves it when they make declarations that amount to sweeping generalizations and ultimately are misrepresentations (lies, even?) of the kinds of valid inferences that CAN be made from brain imaging studies.

    The public eats this shi*t up, and unfortunately, too many researchers who should know better are happy to cater to their appetites.

  15. ddt says

    Slightly off-topic: may I ask what the objection to the Templeton Foundation is? I have no dog in that fight, but I’d like to know if they have an agenda before I apply for a fellowship partially sponsored by them. Thanks!

  16. 99 bottles says

    PZ said, “he thinks there is something outside the brain responsible for mind.”

    Right. And this differs from modern behavior genetics how?

  17. Keanus says

    Digressing a bit, a now popular movement among the anti-abortion crowd is to buy an ultrasound machine (I hear one can buy them for around $20,000 now), install it in a van, and cart it around to Planned Parenthood clinics where they can park it in the street and lure PP patients in for a look see at their uteri. Trouble is none of these folks are trained in how to use ultrasound so, when they latch on to a victim, they are likely to expose them to ultrasound for as much as an hour with no therapeutic aim in mind. It’s not the same kind of woo as pairing up brain imaging with glossolalia under the guise of science, but it’s more damaging in that ultrasound, especially long exposures, is not without its downside, especially under the control of the untrained.

  18. ddt says

    Slightly off-topic: may I ask what the objection to the Templeton Foundation is? I have no dog in that fight, but I’d like to know if they have an agenda before I apply for a fellowship partially sponsored by them. Thanks!

  19. Sastra says

    I’m amazed that any neuroscientist can not only be a dualist, but make claims that studies of the brain are somehow “confirming” dualism. People go into mystical trances and there are changes in the brain in the expected areas. Well OF COURSE. That’s not somehow giving validity to the existence of a spiritual realm or mystical way of contacting it. Nobody ever thought that when religious people claim to have strong, deep internal experiences they were *lying* for crying out loud.

    When people start talking in tongues, having visions, and feeling an interconnectedness to the cosmos and their brain scans show NO CHANGE at all — nothing happening — *then* we’re finding out something interesting and unexpected. As it is, it looks like a lot of True Believers are looking at results which fail to disconfirm materialism, and cooing that — because they also fails to disconfirm immaterialism — the findings are ‘encouraging.’ Yeah. Nice try.

  20. says


    As far as I know, people in these parts object to the Templeton Foundation because the Foundation’s mandate is to reconcile science with religion, a goal which PZ among others views as a compromise with mysticism — useless at best and otherwise harmful.

    But hey, PZ might like your taking their money, depending on what you’ll spend it on — every pound they send to you is one they don’t spend on something much worse! :-/

  21. says

    What Templeton would really like you to do is prove the existence of God by scientific methods, but they’ll settle for showing that science and religion are entirely consistent.

    Agenda? What agenda?

  22. MJ Memphis says

    The whole “speaking in tongues” thing to me seems one big exercise in moving the goalposts. In the Biblical reference, supposedly the people in question were all able to understand each other, regardless of their native tongue; now *that* would be handy for modern evangelists, not to mention easily verifiable proof of the power of their religion! However, back in the real world, that doesn’t work. So instead it became just a generic “ecstatic experience”, with no real practical use, and no verifiable results.

  23. says

    Despard, I agree that the MRI is noisy, but too noisy to sing? I just had one, and any moment I was expecting something by Moby or Chemical Brothers to start up.

    Having worked in Manhattan a number of years, I’ve passed by many, many people lying about on the street speaking in tongues. I wonder why none of them were picked for this study?

  24. Steve Watson says

    I read one of Newberg’s books a couple of years back. The stuff about the neurological correlates of ecstatic and meditative states was interesting, and there’s some (IIRC superficial, but not unreasonable) speculation on the origins of religion and spirituality. Then in the last few chapters he goes off into la-la-land, arguing based on nothing that this all indicates there really is Something Out There involved in these experiences, instead of just auto-induced manipulations of brain activity.

  25. ddt says

    Thanks for the info. I’ll dig around some. Funny, I wanted to use the fellowship to explore the resurgence of exorcisms in America and what that has to do with the lack of penetration of science education, lack of “faith” in science and so on.

    As for MRIs, the last one I had a few years ago was damn relaxing; it was a very hot day, the room was air conditioned, I got to lie down… I remember being annoyed that the technician kept piping in over the P.A., trying to “reassure” me. Just kept waking me up.

  26. says

    ddt: PZ’s objection to the Templeton Foundation is their explicit support for a sciency-god. Check out their website:


    Basically, they like to give money to people who conduct “research” into psuedoscientific sprituality. They have a big annual prize, the Templeton Prize, valued at 800 000 pounds sterling, and lots of other prizes.

    Their favourite type of “finding” is one that directly supports their new-age vision of a loving personal god with lots of spirit friends.

    Sorry, PZ for trying to explain what your opinions may be, I’m paraphrasing based on previous posts.

    From my point of view, I don’t really have much of an objection to recieving grant money from the Templeton foundation – they’re a bunch of religious nuts, but money is money, and as far as I can tell, if they give you some cash there are few strings attached. If you publish findings contrary to their narrow anti-materialist worldview, the worst they’ll do is probably just not highlight your work and not renew your funding next grant-cycle.

    From their website:

    If even one-tenth of world research were focused on spiritual realities, could benefits be even more vast than the benefits in the latest two centuries from research in food, travel, medicine or electronics, and cosmology?

    The main problem I have with this question (and which I suspect PZ shares) is that “spiritual realities” part – they have skipped the bit about providing evidence that anything spiritual is in any way real.

  27. tomob says

    Beware of drawing any psychological or social conclusions from brain imaging. Whenever the ratio of what is known to what is not known is as low as it is in neuroscience, any such conclusions almost always reflect the bias of the interpreter…it becomes neuro-pseudo-science.

    BTW, there is something besides the brain that’s responsible for the mind…the rest of the CNS, the autonomic nervous system, and the rest of the body. But the brain is the main organ.

  28. says

    If even one-tenth of world research were focused on spiritual realities, could benefits be even more vast than the benefits in the latest two centuries from research in food, travel, medicine or electronics, and cosmology?

    Judging from the pretty much universal derailment of European culture during the nine or so centuries spent “focus[ing] research on spiritual realities,” I would have to guess the answer would be No.

    Unless you count syllogisms, pinhead-dancing angel censuses and long-running ecclesiastical debates about whether or not women possess souls to be “benefits.”

    And, BTW, the speaking-in-tongues scene in Borat was worth the whole $8 I spent on the movie ticket.

  29. says

    MJ Memphis wrote:

    In the Biblical reference, supposedly the people in question were all able to understand each other, regardless of their native tongue; now *that* would be handy for modern evangelists, not to mention easily verifiable proof of the power of their religion!

    Well, since the only languages likely to be spoken by people at that scene were Aramaic, Greek and Latin, it wouldn’t mean very much after all.

  30. Despard says

    Alison, ddt: did you have structural or functional MRI scans? Structural scans are the ‘normal’ scans everyone thinks of when they think of MRI: scans to get a high resolution image of the brain for medical purposes/shits & giggles. They normally take 10 minutes or so and the acoustic noise is minimal and can even be pleasant.

    Functional MRI (fMRI) on the other hand is what neuroscientists use to get an idea of what your brain is actually doing. Basically you’re acquiring a whole brain volume over a few seconds, and a ‘slice’ every fraction of a second. There is a very loud and high-pitched noise every time a slice is acquired and the gradient coils which modify the field around the head shift into a new position.

    fMRI scans take between 20 minutes and an hour usually, depending on the task. From my experience in functional experiments the noise really is deafening – you have to wear ear plugs and ear defenders before you’re allowed in the scanner. Add to this the low temporal resolution of functional imaging and the fact that moving the head by even a few millimetres can bugger up the image and doing fMRI for singing tasks doesn’t really seem worth it.

  31. stogoe says

    RedMolly, there were plenty of great moments in that movie (including the bear), but one of the most disturbing was the ten minute nude wrestling match between Borat and his manager. If you went to Borat expecting it not to be disturbing, though…

  32. CJ says

    Aww come on, PZ, calling this guy a witch doctor gives witches a bad name! How about just calling him a quack? I’m sure the ducks won’t mind.

  33. Great White Wonder says

    I’m afraid that all I’ve learned from this is that here’s another glad-handing quack on the spirituality bandwagon who is milking attention for some extraordinarily poor, unscientific interpretations of some murky data.

    Not unlike Allen McNeill at Cornell.

  34. Zetetic says


    “The syllables that make up instances of glossolalia typically appear to be unpatterned reorganizations of phonemes from the primary language of the person uttering the syllables; thus, the glossolalia of people from Russia, the United Kingdom, and Brazil all sound quite different from each other, but vaguely resemble the Russian, English, and Portuguese languages, respectively. Many linguists generally regard most glossolalia as lacking any identifiable semantics, syntax, or morphology.”

  35. Pierce R. Butler says

    Glossolalia: “It’s a Christian thing, right?” “Pentecostal Christians think so, but they are deluding themselves. Pagan Greeks did it – Plato called it theomania. The Oriental cults of the Roman Empire did it. Hudson Bay Eskimos, Chukchi shamans, Lapps, Yakuts, Semang pygmies, the North Borneo cults, the Trhi-speaking priests of Ghana. The Zulu Amandiki cult and the Chinese religious sect of Shang-ti-hui. Spirit mediums of Tonga and the Brazilian Umbanda cult. The Tungus tribesmen of Siberia… the Sukuma people of Africa…”
    – Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, p. 192

  36. says

    A highly amusing quote from the References list of the Wikipedia article mentioned above:

    “Alfred G. Garr and his wife went to the Far East with the conviction that they could preach the gospel in ‘the Indian and Chinese languages.’ Lucy Farrow went to Africa and returned after seven months during which she was alleged to have preached to the natives in their own ‘Kru language.’ The German pastor and analyst Oskar Pfister reported the case of a Pentecostal… ‘Simon,’ who had planned to go to China using tongues for preaching. Numerous other Pentecostal missionaries went abroad believing they had the miraculous ability to speak in the languages of those to whom they were sent. These Pentecostal claims were well known at the time. S.C. Todd of the Bible Missionary Society investigated eighteen Pentecostals who went to Japan, China, and India ‘expecting to preach to the natives in those countries in their own tongue,’ and found that by their own admission ‘in no single instance have [they] been able to do so.’ As these and other missionaries returned in disappointment and failure, Pentecostals were compelled to rethink their original view of speaking in tongues.”

    Hey, I think charismatics should be *required* to evangelize in tongues! To do otherwise would appear to undercut the miraculous power of the Lord…

  37. anomalous4 says

    I worked on a publishing project for the Templeton Foundation several years ago, and as far as I could tell, they’re an odd mix of a quaint form of 19th-century quasi-transcendentalist humanism; “power of positive thinking” stuff; the search for the “common ground of all spiritual traditions” (and in the process publishing books whose content looks an awful lot like that quaint quasi-transcendentalist humanist stuff regardless of its source); general cockeyed optimism; and a certain amount of new-age credulity.

    From their website, templeton.org:

    In the Charter establishing his philanthropy in 1987, John Templeton expresses that his Foundation should serve as a philanthropic catalyst for research on concepts and realities such as love, gratitude, forgiveness and creativity. Twenty years later, the Foundation continues to fund rigorous scientific research and related cutting-edge scholarship on a wide spectrum of “Core Themes.”

    * Creativity
    * Emergence
    * Entrepreneurship
    * Evolution
    * Forgiveness
    * Freedom & Free Will
    * Generosity
    * Gratitude
    * Humility
    * Human Flourishing
    * Infinity
    * Mind & Intelligence
    * New Concepts of God
    * Prayer & Meditation
    * Progress
    * Purpose
    * Science and Religion
    * Self-Control
    * Spiritual Capital
    * Spiritual Development
    * Spiritual Transformation
    * Spirituality & Health
    * Thrift
    * Ultimate Reality
    * Unconditional Love
    * Wisdom
    * Worship

    Their list of areas of interest:

    * Natural Sciences
    * Human Sciences
    * Philosophy and Theology
    * Character Development
    * Freedom and Free Enterprise
    * Gifted Education
    * World Religions

    As you might guess from the lists above, they can be pretty fringey at times, but they do support some legitimate science as well. They have a large archive of news releases about their grants and recipients, as well as detailed guidelines for application and the kinds of projects they’re interested in.

  38. tomob says

    Speaking in tongues, real-life experience.

    It’s a Saturday morning 1992 or 1993. A large gang of rightists led by Rev. Gordon Peterson are blocking the entrance to the Robinsdale Clinic near Minneapolis, jumping on cars as they enter the parking lot, holding up little plastic dolls an inch high, and screaming, “Don’t kill your baby” while the local law enforcement looks on smiling at this supposedly peaceful exercise of free speech.

    After a while the gang masses at the edge of the property, facing a large number of clinic escorts, including myself. Suddenly an eerie noise starts coming from the gang and some of them can be seen looking semi-entranced, mouths open, and tongues tapping against their alveolar ridges (hard bit on the roof of the mouth behind their teeth).

    At first I didn’t know what to make of it. Was it a war whoop? Then I realized they were speaking in tongues. No one seemed to be interpreting for them, however, despite the Apostle Paul’s injunction not to do it in public if there was no interpreter. I could have pointed out their departure from a literal reading of the good book, but I didn’t think they would have been very interested in my opinion.

    In this context, speaking in tongues was a the way the gang psyched themselves up to block the entrance to the clinic. They put themselves into a semi-trance to prepare to do violence.

  39. Kayla says

    MJ Memphis wrote:

    In the Biblical reference, supposedly the people in question were all able to understand each other, regardless of their native tongue; now *that* would be handy for modern evangelists, not to mention easily verifiable proof of the power of their religion!

    Well, since the only languages likely to be spoken by people at that scene were Aramaic, Greek and Latin, it wouldn’t mean very much after all.

    I think their point was that if “speaking in tongues” still meant the same thing it did in Acts, it would be pretty easy to prove. Just have the person speak “in tongues” to a variety of people who spoke different languages and see if they could understand it. If they could, well, that really would be a miracle.

  40. Loren Petrich says

    I found it rather remarkable that those speaking-in-tongues researchers were willing to do something that reveals something so flatly contrary to mind-body substance dualism.

    But then again, I wonder when certain Xian apologists will come out and huff and puff that Xianity does not teach substance dualism.

  41. says

    They should check to see how many of those people speaking in tongues are doing it just to fit in. I did as a teen at an Assembly of God church rally in North Dakota. Everyone around me was speaking in tongues, so I joined in, speaking in some latinate gibberish, making it up as I go. Is there a placebo control group in this study? Is there a way to see the differences in the people who are faking it compared to the ones that really believe?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

  42. says

    Despard, my MRI was of my back, in the claustrophobic nightmare tube, with earplugs. Yeah, it was loud, but it had a good beat.

  43. says

    I don’t know if anyone brought this up in a previous comment, but the change in brain activity makes perfect sense to me. When there is a conscious effort to speak in a language that is known to the person, certain synapses will be used. If speaking in tougues is simply the gibberish I suspect it to be, then the same pathways wouldn’t be used because there is no specific message that is trying to be conveyed. It becomes a humming of music, if you will, rather than imparting a notion. Bag science.

  44. anomalous4 says

    A GodStuff segment (produced by The Wittenburg Door and featured on The Daily Show) a while back featured a clip of pentecostal pop-star Paul Crouch on his TV show, talking “normally” (if dementedly as usual) and suddenly lapsing into something that sounded a lot like really bad – I’m talking abominable, even less hip than Pat Boone – “scat singing.” He broke off briefly to say, “I’m speaking in tongues,” and then went right back to the bad scat.

    Oy vay.

  45. says

    PZ: If I hadn’t been speaking in tongues while doing data entry in my “full-lotus overnight shift” — to get progressives elected — then I wouldn’t be banned from your website. So maybe aliens will soon be abducting the NeoNazi Bush KKKLan.

  46. says

    PZ’s harmonics analogy of genetics sounds kinda like….”Then we reconstruct the image by applying a Fourier transform to the filtered power spectrum, and voila…we get our epithelial cell back, with the superimposed noise mostly gone. It’s like magic!”

  47. Steve Watson says

    As it happens, the latest issue of Discover magazine just arrived at my house, and it contains an article entitled something like “Five Scientists Look For Evidence For God”. Haven’t have a chance to read it yet, but a quick skim shows that among the Five are Newberg and Persninger (the guy who can induce religious experiences using a helmet apparatus; it didn’t work on Dawkins).

    In unrelated news: we’re letting our Discover sub expire this time round.

  48. chengwa says

    dear sir, good day.i am a 27 years old cameroonian who is having a problem with my brain now for close to two months.i was at the hospital and the drogs i was asked to take brought no change.i wish to as if i could explain how i feel so you can help me.i will be waiting to read from you while wishing you the best.
    my regards