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The "God" Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God Paperback – September 1, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 134 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

First published in 1996, this is a minimally revised new edition of Alper's manifesto against belief in God. Beginning with philosopher Kant's supposition that humans cannot know a reality beyond their perception of reality, Alper uses his vast research into scientific phenomenon to build a case that humanity's perception of a spiritual realm is, in fact, the biological result of thousands of years of evolution. Alper writes that this is "'nature's white lie', a coping mechanism selected into our species to help alleviate debilitating anxiety caused by our unique awareness of death." Alper's theory is elegantly drawn, and he shows an admirable grasp of a wide range of scientific disciplines. However, generalizations weaken his case: Alper's proof relies on readers' agreement that all humans are equally spiritual creatures, whose "cross-cultural proclivity toward spiritualism suggests that we must be neuro-physiologically hardwired this way." A harsh anti-religion tone (i.e. "How much longer will be slaves to destructive religious creeds... ?"), though not entirely inappropriate, provides the book's main flaw; aside from the fact that his anti-faith proclamations themselves demonstrate a certain kind of blind faith, he gives no credence to others' views, nor is he compassionate to the helpful role that spirituality plays in peoples' lives. Ultimately, Alper is preaching to the choir, but in a time of renewed interest in the clash between religion and science, this cult classic will appeal to those caught up in the debate.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A Cogent and Engaging Exploration into the Biological Foundations of Spirituality." -- David C. Noelle, Ph.D. -Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at Carnegie Mellon

"Brilliant...Enormously important...Full of scientific and philosophical truths." -- Mark Waldman, Senior Editor of Transpersonal Review

"Brilliant...Provocative" -- Arnold Sadwin, M.D.; Chief of Neuropsychiatry at University of Pennsylvania's Grad. Hospital; Who's Who in Science, 1995; In Medicine, 1996

"Clear, Concise...Bold and Masterful" -- William Wright, Author of Born That Way

"Excellent Reading for every college student--The resultant residence-hall debates would be the best part of their education." -- Edward O. Wilson; Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner

"Matthew Alper is high maintenance. Not only is his intellect superior to most Ph.D. candidates that I know, but his intensity in displaying that intellect and arguing his world view is more compelling than many of my grad school courses. So, here I am, fiercely advocating for a self-published, self-educated, thoroughly unconventional first time author who, with one slim book, has thrown hundreds of years of human religious beliefs out the window and replaced them with a concise scientific view of spirituality that is impossible to argue with...The brain is the secret. In our brains lie nature's survival mechanisms in which god is nothing but a protective lens through which humanity is "programmed" to view the world. Matthew Alper has the chutzpah to remove that lens, to crush it under his heel, and then, as we cringe in the unfiltered light, he dares us all to look up into and stare into the pure scientific truth he has discovered...The "God" Part of the Brain is a challenge at first, but once you open your mind to the potentials of its theories, there is nothing to do but follow its arguments to their logical conclusions. And although he rips away our old stiff crutches, this audacious philosopher is kind enough to spoon feed us a new and positive way to approaching our existences." -- Rebecca Morris

"Thank you for finishing what Julian Jaynes and Joseph Campbell started." -- B.Brown

"The Atheist's Bible" -- Bob Worthington

"You have presented what amounts to a unified theory about the nature of mankind's concepts of God and an afterlife, their origins and evolutionary purposes. I have never seen a better-supported, more comprehensive theory on those questions. Until, or unless, I encounter evidence that meaningfully contradicts your conclusions, I'm going to adopt yours as my own working theory. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for making it available to me." -- James Hazel --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks (September 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402214529
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402214523
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #314,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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The thesis here is that spiritual and religious experience is essentially something the brain *does*, not something that comes from 'God'/'external being'. The author argues that spirituality and religious impulses have emerged in the evolving brain by default amongst evolving social organisms- in this particular book relatively recently in hominid evolution. Key processes include the growing hominid awareness of death, which, when coupled with an innate anxiety function necessary for survival, ultimately led to spirituality, religious and mystical experience.
The author ties together his own spiritual journey with ideas strung together from the likes of Jung, Kant, Plato, Freud, Darwin and E.Wilson, but unfortunately, in my view, leaves out many ideas concerning group conflict-something with which 'groupish' primates are very much affected. One trouble with emphasising 'awareness of death' in the evolution of religious impulses, is just how relevant the 'fear of death' is to say, teenagers-and yet teenagers can have a quite developed 'spiritual impulse'. (eg The average age of 'religious conversion' quoted in the book is 15.2 years, from a study of 15,000). The association of prayer with healing is discussed, (ie essentially placebo, but also stress reduction), 'near death experiences' (neurochemistry evolved to reduce anxiety), 'speaking in tongues' (glossolalia-not explained here, but possibly, in my view, an infant/childhood mechanism overlapping into adulthood-like crying tears), and others such as guilt, morality, etc are discussed in the light of evolutionary theory as applied to human behaviour.
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Format: Paperback
Just as I did, as a teenager Matthew Alper asked the big questions: Who is "God" and what is my relation to him? Which, if any, of the hundreds of religions and sub-religions is correct? Why do religions change so much over time? How come every person's religious view is different from everybody else's? Just as I did, Alper began a personal search for the answers to these questions. He looked everywhere. Like me, he found that the answers to the big questions of "faith" lie not "out there" but within us. He then continued his search far beyond mine, came to many well-reasoned conclusions, then documented and explained his findings in 'The "God" Part of the Brain'. This work draws on many scientific disciplines, including evolution, psychology, anthropology and history, to put into clear perspective the origin of the human need to seek a higher power and, more important, the effect this need has on humanity and its cultures. I found the book to be a "revelation" of sorts in that it finally makes sense out of the din of competing religious views. In this book Matthew Alper shows an enviable commitment to truth, exacting logic and scholarly research as well as a vast intelligence as he explains his search and the answers he found. I did not want the book to end! It explains a very important part of what it means to be human. 'The "God" Part of the Brain' has already made a very great, very positive impact on my life.
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Format: Hardcover
The God Part of the Brain is the story of Matthew Alper's search for god. The short version of my review is that I think the author has articulately shared his genuine, open-minded search for an answer to the Big Question. It's a great read. He's smart and well read, and he presents a lot of interesting material. Few people tackle the question of god with as much humility, rigor and seeming lack of agenda as well as he does. Few people attempt to blend science and spirituality with the balance of open-mindedness and rigor that he does. I recommend it highly as a personal account of someone on the search.

However, I do not recommend it as a book with much to say about the answer to the Big Question for someone else. He comes up with a conclusion, and I'm afraid my review is going to be a spoiler. So if you want to enjoy the explorations and follow him as he asks his questions with equally open mind, I would stop reading this review now.

In my opinion his conclusion is a direct result of his process. His result was pre-ordained by his methodology and the decisions he made along the way. He walked himself into a box canyon and then concludes the canyon leads nowhere. I could see the result coming a thousand miles away. I don't think he had an agenda ... the book is personal enough for me to believe he has an open mind ... I just don't think he let his mind far enough out of the box.

To appreciate where I'm coming from as a reviewer, I've signed up for the belief that we all create our own reality. And I believe that in just about every way one can believe it.

So, in chapter 5 the author struggles with what he knows for certain about god, he comes to the conclusion that god is a word. At one level this is brilliant.
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