Thursday, January 27, 2011

Is speaking in tongues real?

Every Christian who does it knows in their heart that speaking in tongues is a learned behaviour. In the desperation to fit in people are encouraged to produce sounds which the brain can take hold of in an unconscious way and create strings of syllables from. That does not make it a real language and it it does not make it supernatural. I have personally seen people during "ministry" at a Businessmen's Fellowship meeting encouraged to make noises in the belief that this will get the process going. Andrew Wommack offers a CD or tape which includes instructions for speaking in tongues:
On this tape, Andrew not only establishes the validity of speaking in tongues, but he shares from scripture some of the little-known benefits that accompany this gift. He also gives instruction on how to speak in tongues, which has made the difference for many people to be able to operate in this gift.
Analysis by linguists have shown that the majority of word forms uttered are open (that is that they end with a vowel). Most words of most known languages end with a consonant so a string of apparent words all ending in vowels are unlikely to be any real language. Further information in this wikipedia article:

Brain scan analysis has also shown that certain parts of the brain are in use when people are speaking in tongues that indicate it is controlled by the subconscious.

There is also a tendency for obvious improvisation to be heard where a riff is played out on one string of syllables with variations each time it is repeated. This makes no sense linguistically. You can see what I mean if I take the previous sentence and do variations on it. It is unlikely in the extreme that variations of the components of a sentence can make sense alongside the original sentence - in English or in any language.
This makes sense.
This makes no sense.
This makes sense linguistically.
This makes linguistically.
This is why speaking in tongues is sometimes parodied as:
She bought a tie,
She bought a bow tie,
She bought a Hyundai.
Although in a strange twist of fate some Christians are reported to have used those very phrases to   train people to "receive" tongues.

Is speaking in tongues biblical?
That’s a hard question, but the evidence from the book of Acts suggests that the tongues described there were known languages intelligible to the hearers:
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:5-11)
Although there is here say evidence of this happening today there are no known recordings of a known language being spoken in tongues.

What about interpretation?
When I was an undergraduate a professor in another Scottish university attended a conference where people were speaking in tongues. He decided to recite the Lords’ prayer in Greek so as not to feel out of place. Immediately someone did an apparently supernatural interpretation of it which bore no relation to the content of the Lord’s prayer.

Are tongues a special "love language"?
This seems to be a modern way of diverting attention from the problem that it is demonstrably not a real language. Its not an idea that can be found in the bible and it seems quite a recent suggestion.

Are tongues specifically Christian?
The answer to that has to be no as the same phenomenon exists in kundalini yoga and certain other religions. In addition to this former Christians from Pentecostal backgrounds can still do it even though they no longer believe. This further backs up the suggestion that it is  a learned behaviour.

What about false tongues?
One of the get out clauses used by charismatics is to say that any tongue which is falsely interpreted or uttered by a non christian is false. This means that there is no way of evaluating a tongue as genuine without additional information such as the status of the person saying it, which is actually the key to understanding the purpose of speaking in tongues.

The true purpose of tongues?
Speaking in tongues acts as a credential within certain types of Christianity to establish credibility without requiring the time necessary to build relationships and be trusted by the group. It is evidence that the person is of the “same substance” of the group they are with and allows them to be accepted almost instantly.

Why is this important?
According to research published by the Evangelical Alliance 90% of British evangelicals now believe in the continuing, miraculous gifts of the holy spirit. This means that charismatic thinking is now mainstream and speaking in tongues is central to this.

Alternative views
Here is a link to a talk by Peter Anderson of Destiny Church in Edinburgh which covers the supernatural aspects of Christianity in general from a charismatic position:
Naturally Supernatural

To be fair, though, although I am sceptical about miracles I don't dismiss them out of hand as utterly impossible. Speaking in tongues is a slightly different issue, separate because Jesus is not recorded as having done it yet he worked miracles.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Theme Music from Gardening Today

Lets go back to lunchtimes in the 80's. Rushing back from school, in the days before everyone took school lunches, for some fish fingers the TV would be switched on for a brief glimpse of Rainbow, Pipkins or Pebble Mill at One. In amongst it all was ATV's low budget gardening programme from Kings Heath Park in Birmingham. Gardening Today (renamed Gardening Time in 1982 when ATV became Central TV) was intended to feature a keen amateur gardener and a professional expert doing the sort of things you might like to try in your own garden. The two original presenters were Cyril Fletcher (famous from his stint on That's Life) and Bob Price, a horticulturalist. They were later replaced by Howard Drury and Arthur Billit.

Which brings us to the real star of the show which was its ridiculously catchy theme tune - a piece of baroque style music played on flute. For years this haunted me. Yet, as someone involved in baroque music I never came across it or anything like it. It does contain elements that are similar to Bach Brandenburg 3, but its not by Bach or any other Baroque composer.

In fact its a piece of modern library music by French composer Raymond Guiot called "Ardent Elizabeth" issued by the French library music company Tele Music. It sounds like part of a longer piece, but it only exists in 15 and 30 second versions. You can listen to them here on the Tele Music web site.

I have now located a 1 minute 43 second flute and harpsichord version:

My BMW Mini review - one year on.

I have had my Mini One for just under a year now and its alerting me to its first service.  I thought I would comment on how I have found it over the past year.

  • Very economical (I am achieving 53 miles per gallon).
  • It has been totally reliable.
  • Fast enough even though its only the 1.4.
  • It drives quite well in snow and ice and the heated windscreen is a big help in the frost.
  • Bluetooth hands free for the mobile phone is very good.
  • In car audio works well, especially the USB audio facility.

  • Suspension is harder than I am used to.
  • No spare wheel - instead they supply a compressor and a container of tyre weld.
  • The doors have no tops and the glass does not engage with the roof if its icy.
  • A weird rattle caused by the "binnacle" bit of the dashboard rattling.
  • Dashboard is too deep. Can barely reach glass from driving position.
  • Lack of rear leg room, possibly caused by very deep dashboard.

Overall its a good car, but the lack of spare wheel and lack of leg room in the back is annoying and unnecessary as the original Austin Mini had a spare wheel and more leg room even though it was smaller. BMW are assuming that you will be near somewhere where you can get the damaged tyre repaired. I worry that it will be damaged while I am driving in the country and its too much damage for the tyre weld to cope with or the tyre weld repair fails before I can get to a garage. The dashboard is very odd.

Overall 7/10

Friday, January 21, 2011

Atheism before Darwin

Robert Dale Owen
Its generally suggested by modern evangelical Christians that atheism is the result of Darwinism. However, I have recently found a book containing a debate  between a Christian called Origen Bacheler and an atheist called Robert Dale Owen during 1831, 28 years before Darwin published his book "On the Origin of Species". The debate was carried out by letter and the arguments are surprisingly familiar.

Robert Dale Owen was the son of Robert Owen, social reformer and founder of New Lanark in Scotland. I came across this book while researching Robert Owen. His son lived in the USA.

You can read the book in full, at no charge, here in Google Books:

Discussion of the existence of God, and the authenticity of the Bible, between Origen Bacheler and Robert Dale Owen

The background to the debate (which started over an argument over whether George Washington was a sceptic) can be found here.

The arguments sound entirely modern:
"If sceptics persecuted Christians", sir they do persecute Christians. They are continually slandering, reviling and abusing them, uttering against them all manner of hard speeches. (from Letter X of Origen Bacheler to Robert Dale Owen)
The word "atheist" is also used extensively throughout the discussion as here. Its interesting that Bacheler is here positioning belief as something you can decide to buy into rather than an issue of true knowledge. This is the same issue I have blogged about previously:
I do not ask that it be admitted to me that we cannot know there is a God. I have made no such statement. I now say we can know this; some do know it. And "if any man will do his will, he shall know." However, I do not admit, that it constitutes a man a sceptic or an atheist in any sense, not to know there is a God. The wuestion, however, now under discussion, is, not whether we know there is one, but whether there is reason to believe this. (from Letter III of Origen Bacheler to Robert Dale Owen)
The discussion between the two men runs round the same circles as many I have had, including examples of immoral action by God in the bible, evidence for miracles, the source of morality and evidence from nature (but without evolution of course). It even includes the common response of the exasperated Christian that people deny the existence of God solely because they don't want to live immoral lives without the fear of being judged.
It all sounds so familiar, and yet it doesn't deal with the real question of faith vs unbelief i.e. what is faith, is it an agreement to believe or knowledge of the truth?
The most interesting aspect, though, is that the arguments rehearsed here in 1831 are no different from those played out in 2011. This shows that Darwin and the theory of evolution have had very little effect on the reasons why people do not believe. Very few Christians rely on creationism to prove the existence of God and very few atheists rely on evolution to disprove God for the simple reason that it can do neither.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Evangelical trends in the UK

New research just published by the Evangelical Alliance makes for interesting reading.

The main points that stand out to me:

  • 90% of evangelicals in the UK believe in continuing miraculous gifts of the holy spirit.
  • Young earth creationism is not growing in popularity amongst evangelicals. Only 39% of evangelicals believe that Christianity and evolution are incompatible.
  • 94% of evangelicals agree that it is Christians duty to care for the environment.
  • 7 out of 10 evangelicals believe, to some extent, that Christians should work collaboratively with people of other faiths on community projects.
  • The younger generation of evangelicals (those under 40) read the bible less than those who are older, but they take a harder line on moral issues than the older generation.
  • Younger evangelicals are more likely to believe in a literal hell with eternal punishment than older evangelicals.

It also confirms my own anecdotal evidence, that:

  • The popularity of creationism has peaked.
  • Evangelicalism is less erudite, less expository and more experiential.
  • Charismatic pentecostalism has become the mainstream in evangelicalism in Britain rather than US style biblical fundamentalism.

The two big surprises are the apparent interest in interfaith work (enough for it not to be a statistical anomaly) and the lack of emphasis on foreign mission work, which was previously a touchstone of evangelical practice in Britain.

Summary of the research here:

Link to the full research report here (PDF file):

How to get We7 on your mobile phone without a subscription

We7 is an online music streaming service that I use a lot. Its easier than Spotify as it does not require any desktop software, running straight from the web browser via a built in flash player. We7 provide an Android app which I had tried on my old G1 phone, but found it to be a bit unreliable so I did not continue it beyond the free trial period.

Having recently bought an HTC Dream HD with Android 2.2 and a functional flash player I wondered if the flash functionality in Android 2.2 would be enough to let me use We7 without the app. I visited the We7 web site and entered an artist name into the radio player. It played correctly. I then tried logging into my account and this worked too. I could see my play lists and found that they play correctly. However, after bookmarking my playlists I found that We7 substitutes the real page address with a referral URL taking you to a subscription sign up page if you go back to the bookmark.

The best way to get round this and make links that are easy to go back to is to go to any playlist or album page, copy the share link provided on the page and email it back to yourself. Clicking on it from the email will take you straight to it. Alternatively you could add the URL to a Google Docs file or add it as a direct bookmark in the browser.

Although this avoids the need for the Android application or paying a subscription it does mean that all your music will require bandwidth. The Android app, on the other hand, works by storing previously listened tracks on the SD card so it will use a lot less bandwidth. Also the browser/flash player will probably use more battery. For light use, though, its a good solution.

While I am talking about We7 here are some handy shortcuts that take you straight to functions on their web site:

Login page

Player - search for and play music

General Playlists like the top 40

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I want to believe

Right now I am not sure if I am a disbeliever a nonbeliever or an unbeliever.

In many ways I would like to believe again as I once did. I really do miss some aspects of being a Christian:
  • Certainty - although this can be over rated and probably isn’t too healthy.
  • Community - being with any group of like minded people and having friendships based on a deep spiritual understanding can be very rewarding, although there is a risk of such friendships being conditional on faith.
  • Personal development - learning about myself through learning more about God and being on the journey.
Of course, these are moot points as I don’t currently believe in God. Its not a deliberate choice, it just happened and its not something that can be conjured up. I have written extensively about this previously so I won’t go over it again except to say that my position has changed a bit over the past six months or so. I do see more of a spiritual aspect to life, but how that can fit in with my skeptical nature is unclear at the moment. Currently I am on a journey of discovery.

Looking back on my life I can see that I gained a great deal from my faith in God and relationship with Jesus, but I didn’t put very much back. That’s probably why, after I lost my faith, I found the small things in life much more precious than when I had been a full on born again Christian. As a Christian my main interest in people was whether or not they were a Christian and if they weren’t how I would share the Gospel with them with the aim of conversion. These days I enjoy getting to know people for their own sakes and am far less judgemental. I don’t think that my former way of thinking is unusual for Christians, but it does place a lower value on those who do not believe, which to me is very unlike the way Jesus treated people.

Earlier today I had an interesting meeting with Peter Anderson of Destiny Church who I have got to know through twitter. My odd background didn’t seem to faze him at all and it was an interesting discussion. Peter’s faith seems to be quite rounded with an interest in unconditional service to others rather than simply in church growth. An interesting and thought provoking encounter. Oh, and his church has an espresso machine, but lets not go there. Peter knows my espresso story and its best forgotten.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ordered an HTC Desire HD

My T-Mobile G1 is now over two years old and will not upgrade beyond Android 1.6. Its also not running as well as it should with updates sticking for some applications. The lack of an earphone socket is a constant niggle and the camera is not as good as it should be for a phone of this calibre especially in low light situations.

With these issues in mind I have looked at all the available phones and quickly dismissed the Samsung Galaxy based on user reviews and the fact that it has intermediate firmware rather than being pure Android. The HTC Desire or Desire HD seemed to be closest to what I need with the HD’s larger screen making it more useful as almost a “mini tablet” for basic word processing or reading documents. I am on T-Mobile. The coverage is pretty good, the pricing is keen and I find their online system easier to use than Vodafone. However, the desire HD was not showing as an upgrade option so I have been popping into the T-Mobile shop for the past month to see if they have them in stock. They have never had any so I phoned up customer services and they offered me one on a 24 month contract at £40 per month with not as good a contract as my current one (£30 and with better Internet bandwidth). In any case they did not have one in stock and would need to go on a waiting list.

I noticed that Amazon had unlocked Desire HD’s in stock so I looked at the figures given that T-Mobile would give me a 20% discount on my current plan to extend it for 18 months with no change of phone. The cost of buying the phone and paying the reduced rental is about the same over 18 months as getting one from T-Mobile and paying the higher price plan, but with the following advantages:

  • The phone was in stock.
  • Amazon could deliver to my work which T-Mobile could not.
  • I get to keep my Google G1 Internet bandwidth limits (very generous fair use policy).
  • Its an 18 month contract rather than 24 months.
  • It is slightly less leaving my account per month (but I have the phone costs up front).

Its a good deal so I decided to go ahead and order. As a bonus Envirofone will buy my G1 (they are quoting me £43 today). Still a shed load of money, but I use my phone for so many things, from blogging to tuning musical instruments, word processing and watching TV. I hope that the new phone with its larger screen will make a better document reader and a more useful MP3 player.

Interestingly T-Mobile added 18 months to my previous expiry date which means my new contract is actually only 14 months. They also reduced my bill by a bit more than expected. Seems like I have made the right decision assuming the phone itself is satisfactory.

Improve your T-Mobile coverage by linking your account to Orange

Shortly after T-Mobile merged with Orange it was announced that customers of one company would be able to use the other's network. This is now in operation. Orange customers received automatic access to T-Mobile in October 2010. T-Mobile customers need to subscribe to the service (which is free).

You can do this here:

The reason for this requiring a process rather than being automatically applied, as it was to Orange customers, seems to be that some of T-Mobile's handsets are set to have data roaming disabled by default. Some of them can be difficult to switch to roaming. There is apparently no shared 3G internet access between the networks. Data roaming is required to prevent error messages showing up when you use picture messaging.

The sign up process identifies your phone and gives specific advice on what you will need to do. There is also a prominent warning that if you leave data roaming turned on and leave the country you will potentially get a massive bill. This might also be the case if you live near the Irish border or line of sight with the Isle of Man. In these cases it might be better to be cautious as you might manage to access another mobile provider with whom T-Mobile have a roaming agreement.

I have registered for it, but so far not been anywhere where my phone has switched over to Orange.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reclaiming the tin whistle

The living tradition of whistle playing is being gradually squeezed out of existence by a pincer action from music colleges and American Irish traditional musicians. Rather than being traditional music we are creating a false tradition. It is not possible to teach a folk tradition. You can document it, but as soon as you start to teach it you have to create a snapshot of something which will become the standard. Sadly, our snapshot was at a time when whistle playing was at a low ebb.

This low point is typified by the homogenisation of traditional music into something called "Celtic" which subsumes all music of Irish, Scottish or even Welsh origin into something like an Irish style (but a very lazy approximation of the joyfulness that used to typify Irish traditional music). This change is quite recent - certainly during the second half of my lifetime. It originates in the USA, where maintaining an Irish identity is very important to many people,  and is further reinforced by the teaching of whistle in music colleges with examinations, even here in Scotland (if you can believe that). It may even relate to the popularity of the film Titanic or the Riverdance stage show.

A while back when I was working in a community centre we had a traditional music course for young people booked in and they all played their instruments in what I would call this pseudo-celtic style. I regularly get comments on my YouTube videos saying that I am doing it wrong because I am not doing it in the Irish style. I went as far as to do some recording in Irish traditional style to show that I can do it, but simply choose not to unless the music requires it.

The difficulty with this is that in Scotland we do have a more staccato style of playing with less slurring because our music requires it. Scottish whistle playing is part of a living tradition, with music learned from other people and handed down. Once it is prescribed by music colleges it will end up like the sort of regimented non progressive (and quite frankly joyless) jazz that tends to dominate that genre of music.

Combined with this is the trend towards more and more expensive instruments. Part of the charm of the penny whistle is that it is a cheap instrument which requires no maintenance, can be carried with you and replaced if it gets damaged. Now that people are moving more to wooden whistles (which require as much drying out and maintenance as a clarinet or oboe) whistle playing is loosing some more of its spontaneity.

I have tended to play on the Clarke whistles a lot which sell for less than £10. I also have Shaw and Dixon. My most expensive soprano whistle was £17 (a Shaw C) although I do own a Dixon alto G and a Shaw low D which were more expensive. There are two local music shops selling whistles with prices up to £250. Quite incredible. There is also a move to larger whistles like the Chieftain to produce more volume, when volume is really as much about a solid sound achieved through resonance rather than just putting a lot of air through the instrument. These very large whistles reduce the ability to play nimbly and the large finger holes make playing in tune chromatically much more difficult.

The tin whistle is, of course, an English instrument (invented in 1843 by Robert Clarke). An awkward fact that is denied by many an Irish American musician for reasons that make no sense or have any logic behind them. Yes, there were six holed flutes before Clarke, but the cheaply available instrument taken up in Ireland was his invention and we should not be surprised by this as Ireland was part of Britain at the time.

On another stylistic note, I have also pioneered the playing of classical music on tin whistle, rediscovering the 19th century flageolet tradition and using some of its techniques (such as bell stopping and chromatic playing). This has tended to be more appreciated by orchestral woodwind players rather than folk musicians, but it has proved what's possible musically with an instrument that costs so little.

So where does it go from here? Sadly, given the experience of other folk traditions like jazz, the battle is probably lost. Watching the whistle players in bands on the hogmanay TV shows there was a clear domination of low whistle and pseudo-celtic or Irish playing styles. It is probably too late to do anything about it, but by raising the issues here it will hopefully start a debate.