Newberg, Andrew, Eugene DAquili and Vince Rause, Why God Won't Go Away -
Brain Science & the Biology of Belief (Ballantine Books: New York 2001) ISBN
0-345-44034-X $14. As reviewed Nov. 16, 2012 by Walter Shropshire for WesNex.
Workers in the emerging field of neurotheology conclude from their data of brain
structure and function that evolution produced a human brain which has the innate
capacity to appreciate mysticism and transcendence. This capacity provided a number of
survival advantages and led to the formation of religious metaphors for the existence of
Beginning with observations of a devout Buddhist practitioner of Tibetan
meditation the authors have been led to probe brain architecture and function and relate
their findings to the compulsion to create stories and beliefs. Using the techniques of
functional magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography and single photon
emission computed tomography they have mapped the areas of the brain which are
activated during peak mystical moments of meditation. They conclude: We saw
evidence of a neurological process that has allowed us humans to transcend material
existence and acknowledge and connect with a deeper, more spiritual part of ourselves
perceived of as an absolute, universal reality that connects us to all that is.
In an easily read and understood manner they describe current knowledge about
the structures of the brain and then outline their findings of the autonomic states
connected with spiritual experiences. A sequential pattern of brain, mind, self, and soul is
postulated in a summary of how the brain understands the world using some eight
cognitive operators. They conclude that every event that happens to us or any action
that we take can be associated with activity in one or more specific regions of the brain.
and The evidence further compels us to believe that if God does indeed exist, the only
place he can manifest his existence would be in the tangled neural pathways and
physiological structures of the brain.
For many years this reviewer must confess that he has held the opinion that the
data from neurotheology seem to be simply a second order sophisticated kind of
phrenology. However, the careful experiments and the results from observations of active
and quiescent meditative techniques suggest that such an approach can be productive.
Experiences of Absolute Unitary Being [AUB] need to be treated as real and reports by
practitioners that these states feel more real than every day reality must be taken
seriously. While neurotheology can neither prove nor disprove this point, informed
speculation tells us that its possible that AUB may be as real, if not more fundamentally
real, than what we perceive as ordinary reality.
Time spent with this informative summary will generate many new insights and
possibilities about this field. I recommend it also as a good discussion book for science
and religion dialogue groups.
Review by Walt Shropshire, November 2012.