Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Is speaking in tongues falsifiable?

  1. Jun 4, 2008 #1

    There are a lot of religious practitioners who believe they can speak in other languages without learning them. The drawback is that they are also unable to understand what they are saying. I can identify some initial barriers to disproving this as follows:

    1) Different beliefs are involved, so disproving one instance doesn't disprove the whole thing
    2) Some practitioners believe they might sometimes speak in languages of angels and we cant know what these languages are.
    3) There are a lot of extinct languages that have been lost forever.

    Now let us make some assumptions to give ourselves a chance. Let us focus on one specific utterance by a believer who excludes angelic languages and extinct ones as a part of their faith. We are now dealing with falsifying one utterance of an active human language.

    Here is my question:

    With modern technology, phonetics, language databases and experienced scientists, can the idea that an individual utterance is of an active human language be falsified? Or, with the Ethnolog organisation recognising 6809 languages, is this simply beyond our current technology to falsify speaking in tongues?


  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 4, 2008 #2
    Before proceeding, it would be important actually point out some specific examples where somebody is speaking in a language that he or she should not be able to speak naturally. Without examples this phenomena remains a myth that lives only in stories.

    Personally I have seen only one instance, where somebody has "spoken in tongues". He was a local religious extremist here in Finland, and basically he was talking Latin with typical Finnish accent, so it didn't seem very miraculous to me. Obviously he had merely practiced talking those some sentences that he did talk. Perhaps it seemed more miraculous to those who were in the right mood?
  4. Jun 4, 2008 #3

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

  5. Jun 4, 2008 #4
    I think that to proceed in this direction properly, we would need to prove that a given tongue speaker had not learnt their "language" by natural means. I don't think this can easily be done, I mean could you prove to me that you had not learnt to speak Chinese by taking lessons? To be a fair test, I would want to be able to tell the difference between any genuine tonuge speaker and a hoax.

    I was wondering if the technological approach would actually yield a definite answer (or perhaps one day?). I heard that there is a measurable difference in brain activity between someone speaking in tongues and someone speaking a learnt language. So alongside this, my interest was in a technological ability to falsify/confirm an utterance being in an active human language.

    People can post their stories if they like tho'.

  6. Jun 4, 2008 #5
    Thanks for the link, I'll take a look
  7. Jun 4, 2008 #6
    Seeking's post surprised me. It seems there is at least two completely different phenomena, that are both confused as the speaking in tongues.
  8. Jun 6, 2008 #7
    What are they?
  9. Jun 6, 2008 #8
    Other one is the glossolalia where somebody speaks unintentionally, and other one is an event where somebody speaks very intentionally something strange, but other people around still consider it miraculous. The first one seems to be best explained by psychologists or biologists, but the second one needs only skepticism.
  10. Jun 6, 2008 #9
    And both, of course, differ quite radically from the biblical event in which a bunch of people all speaking different languages understood each other perfectly.

    *That* sort of speaking in tongues would certainly meet the criteria of being falsifiable.

    The other stuff...probably wouldn't.
  11. Jun 14, 2008 #10
    Glossolalia is interesting. "Speaking in tongues" appears to be easily falsifiable as does a lot of other religious phenomenon.
  12. Jun 14, 2008 #11
    Hi Jase,

    I thought this thread had gone dead. How do you think tongues can be tested?
  13. Jun 14, 2008 #12

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    That is an assumption.

    I am going to lock this thread and defer discussion to the one linked earlier. If you want to catch people who are lying, you need a lie detector.

    When we have one that is reliable, let me know. This will answer many questions.
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2008
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook