Over the centuries, theories have abounded as to why human beings have a seemingly irrational attraction to God and religious experiences. In Why God Won't Go Away
authors Andrew Newberg, M.D., Eugene D'Aquili, M.D., and Vince Rause offer a startlingly simple, yet scientifically plausible opinion: humans seek God because our brains are biologically programmed to do so.
Researchers Newberg and D'Aquili used high-tech imaging devices to peer into the brains of meditating Buddhists and Franciscan nuns. As the data and brain photographs flowed in, the researchers began to find solid evidence that the mystical experiences of the subjects "were not the result of some fabrication, or simple wishful thinking, but were associated instead with a series of observable neurological events," explains Newberg. "In other words, mystical experience is biologically, observably, and scientifically real.... Gradually, we shaped a hypothesis that suggests that spiritual experience, at its very root, is intimately interwoven with human biology." Lay readers should be warned that although the topic is fascinating, the writing is geared toward scientific documentation that defends the authors' hypothesis. For a more palatable discussion, seek out Deepak Chopra's How to Know God, in which he also explores this fascinating evidence of spiritual hard-wiring. --Gail Hudson
From Publishers Weekly
The collaborative efforts of science writer Rause, radiologist Newberg and psychiatrist d'Aquili (Newberg's late colleague at the University of Pennsylvania) result in a murky and overspiritualized remix of what should be a compelling scientific investigation into the neurology of mystical experience. The book's best material is its summary of Newberg and d'Aquili's research using advanced imaging technologies to study brain activity during "peak" meditative states, which not only suggests a characteristic radiological profile but also uncovers some specific correlations between brain function and subjective religious experience. For example, in subjects who reported a feeling of infinite perspective and self-transcendence during meditation, the researchers identified decreased activity in the brain's "object association areas" where perceptions of the boundary between self and other are normally processed. The authors conclude that these experiences are the result of normal, healthy neurophysiology, not to be dismissed as pathological or random events a point that believers and practitioners will doubtless appreciate. But the broader questions these results suggest questions about the origins and significance of human religious behavior lead the researchers quite out of their depth into a speculative rehash of Joseph Campbell, comparative religion and sociobiology. This culminates in a confused and confusing discussion of what it means to accept that religious experience is "neurologically real" or that spirituality "does us good."
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