Speaking in Tongues – The real story

As proof that ‘God’ has poured out his spirit, there is a manifestation known as “Speaking in Tongues”. Those seeing it for the first time sometimes find it to be a bit creepy or bizarre, especially if they don’t know what is going on. It usually happens during times of open prayer within Pentecostal churches or other similar types of groups with a Charismatic leaning. Sometimes one individual will appear to loudly break out into a prayer or song in what sounds like a foreign language, but not any language ever heard before. There is also a variation in which the entire group will all do this together; except of course for those not in the know or not ‘gifted’ yet.

Normally when considering religion, concepts such as “spirit” are vague, immeasurable and meaningless, but here is something solid that we can actually measure and determine if there is anything significant happening. Over the years there has been a lot of serious independent scientific research of this specific practise. One very good example is the long and detailed study carried out back in the early 1970’s by the famous Professor of Linguistics, William J Samarin. From all around the world he gathered and recorded many samples of “Speaking in Tongues”. All this data was then put through an extensive analysis over a period of five years. His conclusions were as follows:

  • While speaking in tongues does appear at first to resemble human language, that was only on the surface.
  • The actual stream of speech was not organised and there was no existing relationship between units of speech and concepts.
  • The speakers might believe it to be a real language, but it was totally meaningless

[Samarin, William J. (1972). Tongues of Men and Angels: The Religious Language of Pentecostalism. New York: Macmillan]

Note that this is not just a blog opinion, its peer reviewed research carried out over many years by a highly qualified open-minded linguist. Speaking-in-tongues is nothing but empty babbling by devoted believers who have deluded themselves into thinking it to be a sign of the Holy Spirit. I should know; I used to be a practitioner myself at one time and truly did believe in the reality of it, but realise now that I was motivated by my desire to blend in and was only fooling myself.

If you dig a bit deeper and consider the history of it all, you find that the modern practise as we see it today is not all that old, it dates back to about 1906 in Los Angeles. Having first started in a revival there, it has since then spread in a viral like manner both geographically around the globe, and also chronologically on to each successive generation. Modern practitioners claim that what they are doing is exactly the same as the experience described within the Book of Acts (2:1-13), however one huge discrepancy is that the story within Book of Acts describes recognised languages from all around the Roman Empire being spoken. In stark contrast, nobody understands the modern mindless babbling.

What is even more fascinating is that the modern manifestation is a lot more widespread then most might appreciate. Other non-Christian religious groups also practise it. Felicitas Goodman, a Hungarian anthropologist compared it with recordings of rituals from Japan, Indonesia, Africa and Borneo and concluded that there was no distinction, it truly is universal and quite easily crosses religious divides. [Goodman, Felicitas D. (1972). Speaking in Tongues: A Cross-Cultural Study in Glossolalia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.]

Finally, just to prove the point that there is no sky-magic involved and that this is just a learned behaviour, there was a study carried out with a group of 60 non-believing undergraduates. 20% could accomplish it after listening to only a 60 second sample and about 70% could succeed with some moderate training. [Spanos, Nicholas P.; Cross, Wendy P.; Lepage, Mark; Coristine, Marjorie (February 1986). “Glossolalia as learned behavior: An experimental demonstration”. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 95]

The Bible states in 1 Cor 14.22 that “tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not”. Well, this non-believer hasnow weighed and measured it all and found it to be mindless babbling. The only sign that this gives is that the believers who practise this are delusional. (I include my past self in that last sentence).

If you are still a believer, and are starting to have doubts, then you might be interested in chatting with me to understand why I am not longer a believer (I promise a friendly discussion) – contact me at skeptic [at] skeptical-science.com (forgive the cryptic email, its to avoid the bots auto- scraping the email address and spamming me)

To those who still believe and have reached here with the, “But I know its real” thought still intact; well, that’s exactly how I felt. What you have to realise is that you are in the grip of a very powerful psychological trick. Before you move on, pause and carefully consider what you have read; I’m not presenting you with an alternative opinion, but rather with hard solid scientific proof that it is not real.

427 thoughts on “Speaking in Tongues – The real story”

  1. @Marrtin… the miracle is in both, depending upon the biblical story. Peters story is different.
    what you’ve said is different from the arguement. The point is no one understands anyone in today’s act of speaking in tongues. Completely different from Peter speaking 3k understanding. Oh by the way, some understood Peter’s language. Many thinks the miracle is only in speaking. What’s the point of speaking if no one understands it?

  2. Tongues ( always a human language) was always a miraculous occurrence. The miracle was not in the speaking, but in the hearing. Peter preached in one language and 3000 were saved and they each heard in their own language .


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