Summary and book reviews of Why God Won't Go Away by Andrew Newberg, M.D.

Why God Won't Go Away

Brain Science and the Biology of Belief

by Andrew Newberg, M.D., Eugene d'Aquili

Why God Won't Go Away
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2001, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2002, 240 pages

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Book Summary

Newberg and D'Aquili show that the religious impulse is rooted in the biology of the brain--but is religion merely a product of biology or has the human brain been mysteriously endowed with the unique capacity to reach and know God?

Why have we humans always longed to connect with something larger than ourselves? Why does consciousness inevitably involve us in a spiritual quest? Why, in short, won't God go away? Theologians, philosophers, and psychologists have debated this question through the ages, arriving at a range of contradictory and ultimately unprovable answers. But in this brilliant, groundbreaking new book, researchers Andrew Newberg and Eugene d'Aquili offer an explanation that is at once profoundly simple and scientifically precise: the religious impulse is rooted in the biology of the brain.

Newberg and d'Aquili base this revolutionary conclusion on a long-term investigation of brain function and behavior as well as studies they conducted using high-tech imaging techniques to examine the brains of meditating Buddhists and Franciscan nuns at prayer. What they discovered was that intensely focused spiritual contemplation triggers an alteration in the activity of the brain that leads us to perceive transcendent religious experiences as solid and tangibly real. In other words, the sensation that Buddhists call "oneness with the universe" and the Franciscans attribute to the palpable presence of God is not a delusion or a manifestation of wishful thinking but rather a chain of neurological events that can be objectively observed, recorded, and actually photographed.

The inescapable conclusion is that God is hard-wired into the human brain.

In Why God Won't Go Away, Newberg and d'Aquili document their pioneering explorations in the field of neurotheology, an emerging discipline dedicated to understanding the complex relationship between spirituality and the brain. Along the way, they delve into such essential questions as whether humans are biologically compelled to make myths; what is the evolutionary connection between religious ecstasy and sexual orgasm; what do Near Death Experiences reveal about the nature of spiritual phenomena; and how does ritual create its own neurological environment. As their journey unfolds, Newberg and d'Aquili realize that a single, overarching question lies at the heart of their pursuit: Is religion merely a product of biology or has the human brain been mysteriously endowed with the unique capacity to reach and know God?

Blending cutting-edge science with illuminating insights into the nature of consciousness and spirituality, Why God Won't Go Away bridges faith and reason, mysticism and empirical data. The neurological basis of how the brain identifies the "real" is nothing short of miraculous. This fascinating, eye-opening book dares to explore both the miracle and the biology of our enduring relationship with God.

Contents

  1. A Photograph of God? An Introduction to the Biology of Belief
  2. Brain Machinery: The Science of Perception
  3. Brain Architecture: How the Brain Makes the Mind
  4. Myth-making: The Compulsion to Create Stories and Beliefs
  5. Ritual: The Physical Manifestation of Meaning
  6. Mysticism: The Biology of Transcendence
  7. The Origins of Religion: The Persistence of A Good Idea
  8. Realer Than Real: The Mind in Search of Absolutes
  9. Why God Won't Go Away: The Metaphor of God and the Mythology of Science.

Notes
Reference
Index


Chapter One
A Photograph of God? An introduction to the Biology of Belief

In a small, dark room at the lab of a large university hospital, a young man named Robert lights candles and a stick of jasmine incense; he then settles to the floor and folds his legs easily into the lotus position. A devout Buddhist and accomplished practitioner of Tibetan meditation, Robert is about to begin another meditative voyage inward. As always, his goal is to quiet the constant chatter of ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Science meets religion meets good writing. Over a century ago, Nietzsche declared that God was dead, but He just doesn't seem to go away. The authors use science to try and explain religion, not explain it away. They do not conclude that mystical experiences are baloney simply because the brain has something to do with them. It's no accident that the human brain is wired to help folks get religion, the authors insist, but an evolutionary advantage religious people tend to have fewer strokes, lower blood pressure, and better overall health than unbelievers. Nietzsche and other modern prophets predicted the end of religion, but that's unlikely to happen unless the human brain changes. An intriguing study for skeptics and believers alike.

Library Journal

By showing that something really does happen in the brain during meditation and prayer, University of Pennsylvania scientists Newberg and Eugene d'Aquili helped found a new discipline: Neurotheology.

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.

Author Blurb Herbert Benson, M.D., President, Mind/Body Medical Institute and Author of The Relaxation Response and Timeless Healing
A wonderful assessment of the brain and its activity when God is experienced. This should be fascinating to all who are interested in the relationship between humans and God.

Author Blurb Mona Lisa Schulz, M.D., Ph.D., Author of Awakening Intuition
This is one of the most exciting books I have read in my entire career in neuropsychiatry and intution! Why God Won't Go Away shows how one key area in our brain biologically wires us to be connected to each other, the universe, and God. Truly brilliant.

Author Blurb Father G. Ronald Murphy, SJ, Professor, Georgetown University
This work is of tremendous importance in advancing the relationship of science and religion. Few investigators have been able to match the authors' research on the neurological basis of religious experience or their theological analysis and evaluation of this experience. Why God Won't Go Away shows that the mind necessarily includes spiritual and religious experiences.

Author Blurb Larry Dossey, M.D., Author of Reinventing Medicine and Healing Word
A thrilling exploration of the intersection of modern brain science and religious experience by one of the leading researchers in the field….Newberg's reverential attitude toward the great unknowns is reminiscent of Einstein.

Reader Reviews

ceoawa@maine.rr.com

This is an outstanding book. Having been brought up in a scientific household, I have long suspected that the prevalence of religion in human history can only be explained by evolutionary theory, i.e., there must be an evolutionary advantage to the ...   Read More

Ken Adamson

Well thought-out and documented. The facts presented may support conclusions other than those the authors support. This being the case, the reader may want to brainstorm objectively their own conclusion rather than accept or rule out anything.
...   Read More

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