Neuroscientific Evidence and Speaking in Tongues:

A recent article by the New York Times describing the diligent research by researchers of the University of Pennsylvania has given Pentecostals something to consider. Acts 2:4 informs us that those who were filled with the Holy Spirit initially spoke with “other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (NKJV) Some translations render the latter clause of 2:4 as “as the Spirit enabled them.” (NIV) Pentecostals have long held that “speaking in tongues” is an enablement of the Holy Spirit and not merely human driven.

Pentecostals have also contended that “those who would be filled with the Spirit should expect to have the witness of speaking in other tongues as the Spirit enables them.”[1] This experience -or- phenomenon of speaking in tongues is when God enables believers to speak languages that have not been taught them previously and can be a form of communication to God, for personal edification, or for interpretation that others may be edified.

Pentecostal theologian and author—Dr. David Bernard—indicates that if one is not familiar with the phenomenon of speaking in tongues, he may unconsciously restrain the utterance.”[2] Essentially Bernard is saying that we choose to yield control of certain functions to God for the “speaking in tongues” to occur. This idea seems, at the very least to mesh with the findings of these professors.

Dr. Andrew B. Newberg, one of the researchers, said that “The amazing thing was how the images supported people’s interpretation of what was happening.” Dr. Newberg is the 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.

The New York Times article(3) said that, “Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania (UP) took brain images of five women while they spoke in tongues and found that their frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers. The regions involved in maintaining self-consciousness were active. The women were not in blind trances, and it was unclear which region was driving the behavior.”

“The images, appearing in the current issue of the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, pinpoint the most active areas of the brain. The images are the first of their kind taken during this spoken religious practice, which has roots in the Old and New Testaments and in Pentecostal churches established in the early 1900s. The women in the study were healthy, active churchgoers.”

This evidence seems to be consistent with the theological view of speaking in tongues that has been widely held by such organizations as the UPCI, AofG, PAW, ALJC, and many others since their inception.

The UP researchers used imaging techniques to track changes in blood flow in each subjects brain in two conditions, “once as she sang a gospel song and again while speaking in tongues. By comparing the patterns created by these two emotional, devotional activities, the researchers could pinpoint blood-flow peaks and valleys unique to speaking in tongues.”

A co-author of the study, who was also a research subject, says, “You’re aware of your surroundings…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.”

The study also produced another interesting find, “Contrary to what may be a common perception, studies suggest that people who speak in tongues rarely suffer from mental problems. A recent study of nearly 1,000 evangelical Christians in England found that those who engaged in the practice were more emotionally stable than those who did not.”

These Neuroscientific findings “contrasted sharply with images taken of other spiritually inspired mental states like meditation, which is often a highly focused mental exercise, activating the frontal lobes.” The scans also showed a decrease in activity of a region called the left caudate. “The findings from the frontal lobes are very clear, and make sense, but the caudate is usually active when you have positive affect, pleasure, positive emotions,” said Dr. James A. Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia. “The caudate area is also involved in motor and emotional control, Dr. Newberg said, so it may be that practitioners, while mindful of their circumstances, nonetheless cede some control over their bodies and emotions.“

Sources Cited In Order of Appearance:

1. Horton, Stanley M. Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective © 1993 by Gospel Publishing House. All rights reserved.

2. Bernard, David K. The New Birth, Word Aflame Publishers, pg. 247

3. New York Times Article: Thttp://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/07/health/07brain.html?ex=1320555600&en=68361191b569c568&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss



spenick said...

Great scientific support for a spiritual experience. As always, if the intellectuals of the day will delve deeper into what they usually attribute to "emotionalism only", they will see that science supports and confirms biblical truths.
As always, great article my friend!

jaoki said...

Pretty amazing stuff! It is totally contrary to "skeptical" wisdom - all of it. Love it...

Anonymous said...

Fascinating, my problem with pentecostal doctrine is the teaching that tongues are necessary for salvation...thats adding to, my friend. The Bible diesnt say tongues are reuired for salvation, yet that is what is taught.

teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.......

Adversus Trinitas

"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)