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Neurotheology -Is "God" Hardwired in the Human Brain?

Shutterstock_2149425_2William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience detailed the universal belief systems of the human species. Freud's colleague GustavJung called our belief in God a universal archetype, an integral part of our collective unconscious.

Dr. Andrew Newberg, University of Pennsylvania neuroscientist and author of "Why We Believe What We Believe," is working on ways to track how the human brain processes religion and spirituality. It's all part of new field of study called neurotheology.

Why, for example, do we continue to be fascinated by God, religion, UFOs, conspiracy theories, and miracle cures, even when science can dispute many of these claims? Simply put: Why do we believe what we believe?

Newberg examines the underlying mechanisms which govern our spiritual, social, and individual beliefs, arguing that we are biologically driven to find meaning and wholeness throughout our lives. In fact, our brains have the capacity to create and maintain a system of beliefs which can take us far beyond our survival-oriented needs. These belief systems not only shape our morals and ethics, but they can be harnessed to heal our bodies and minds, enhance our intimate relationships, and deepen our spiritual connections with others. However, they can also be used to manipulate and control, for we are also born with a biological propensity to impose our belief systems on others. This innate power of our beliefs to heal or injure, to foster happiness or disease, or generate societal friction or peace is the underlying theme of his book.

After spending his early medical career studying how the brain works in neurological and psychiatric conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, depression and anxiety, Newberg took that brain-scanning technology and turned it toward the spiritual: Franciscan nuns, Tibetan Buddhists, and Pentecostal Christians speaking in tongues. His team members at the University of Pennsylvania were surprised by what they found.

"When we think of religious and spiritual beliefs and practices, we see a tremendous similarity across practices and across traditions."

The frontal lobe, the area right behind our foreheads, helps us focus our attention in prayer and meditation.The parietal lobe, located near the backs of our skulls, is the seat of our sensory information. Newberg says it's involved in that feeling of becoming part of something greater than oneself.The limbic system, nestled deep in the center, regulates our emotions and is responsible for feelings of awe and joy.

Newberg calls religion the great equalizer and points out that similar areas of the brain are affected during prayer and meditation. Newberg suggests that these brain scans may provide proof that our brains are built to believe in God. Echoing Jung, he says there may be universal features of the human mind that actually make it easier for us to believe in a higher power.

Some nuns and other believers champion the brain scans as proof of an innate, physical conduit between human beings and God. According to them, it would only make sense that God would give humans a way to communicate with the Almighty through their brain functions.

Some atheists saw these brain scans as proof that the emotions attached to religion and God are nothing more than manifestations of brain circuitry.

Scott Atran doesn't consider himself an atheist, but he says the brain scans offer little in terms of understanding why humans believe in God. He is an anthropologist and author of "In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religon" he sees religion as a mere byproduct of evolution and Darwinian adaptation. Posted by Casek Kazan.




just as i was reading this little article i had a brain wave.
if we are supposed to communicate with god, what about those who can't feel 'his presence'?

demon duckie (-_-'')

dear demon,
that's like saying "if we're suppose to see, how come sometimes there is no light."

what's the difference between being hardwired for "religious experience" vs. wondering about where we come from and making up stories to fill in those blanks? every psychologist and neuroscientist worth his salt knows humans are hardwired for filling the blanks, wondering, and being amazed... why can it not be that a "religious experience" is just all three sort of happening at the same time?

Because if all three happened at once your brain would go haywire and you would die.

What if those areas developped after years of belief???

Brain-readout of dying atheists

Hi everybody. With interest I read scientific articles on novel brain readout techniques (like doi:10.1038/nature06713), which I wanted you to read to tell me your opinion about it.

An artifical neural net (multilayer preceptron) could be used as visual encoder to reconstruct the images seen or imagined by an individual from its brain currents (electro-encephalography) or from its biomagnetic fields, alternatively.

Thereby, the images seen or imagined by an volunteer could be reconstructed to a good extent (1 to 5 images per second, black/white, but denoted as "almost youtube-quality").

Another part of the work was the recording of the brain activity of dying persons. More than one hundred volunteers of an elderly hospital were examined in advance and questionnaired for their religious beliefs also. When they were up to die, their brain activity was recorded and the concerning images were reconstructed, finding characteristic sequences, like that reported by near-death-experiencers. There was almost always a tunnel experience, followed by some kind of judgement tribunal chaired by an old man, some kind of life film and afterwards a sequence showing a paradiese garden, or alternatively hellfire, or a "black hole" before brain flatline. Interestingly, hellfire and black hole sequences seemed to be significantly increased for atheist volunteers, whereas the paradiese garden sequences were found more frequently for persons with strong religious believes.

This technique could also be used as lie detector, or at the airport, as detector against terrorism, the inventors of this technique believe.

I cant find anything on the web about the research done on dying patients. Where did you read about it? Would be an interesting article

Are we hard wired? Isn't that the same as "Didn't god create me?" in different terms.?? well that's just the question isn't it? so u ask yourself, did god create me?... would god benefit if he/she created me but didn't hardwire @ the same time?? .. so it seems we need to think out of the box here... which I am personally amazed @ how hard it can be to just do that. Take the American government and its foreign policy 4 example ... isn't it possible that some people, because they wanted to think out of the box were suddenly and violently "disposed of", just because they dared do something differently?

"Why, for example, do we continue to be fascinated by God, religion, UFOs, conspiracy theories, and miracle cures, even when science can dispute many of these claims?

This is a ridiculous assertion. It is impossible to prove that something doesn't exist. All science can prove is that so far it can't prove it does exist and that some -- not all-- claims have been disproved (at least to the satisfaction of certain scientists).

It's also ridiculous because there is actually a strong body of scientifically rigorous evidence that some "impossible" things in fact happen.


Today’s scientists are like religious gurus of earlier times. Whatever they say are accepted as divine truths by lay public as well as the philosophers. When mystics have said that time is unreal, nobody has paid any heed to them. Rather there were some violent reactions against it from eminent philosophers. Richard M. Gale has said that if time is unreal, then 1) there are no temporal facts, 2) nothing is past, present or future and 3) nothing is earlier or later than anything else (Book: The philosophy of time, 1962). Bertrand Russell has also said something similar to that. But he went so far as to say that science, prudence, hope effort, morality-everything becomes meaningless if we accept the view that time is unreal (Mysticism, Book: religion and science, 1961).
But when scientists have shown that at the speed of light time becomes unreal, these same philosophers have simply kept mum. Here also they could have raised their voice of protest. They could have said something like this: “What is your purpose here? Are you trying to popularize mystical world-view amongst us? If not, then why are you wasting your valuable time, money, and energy by explaining to us as to how time can become unreal? Are you mad?” Had they reacted like this, then that would have been consistent with their earlier outbursts. But they had not. This clearly indicates that a blind faith in science is working here. If mystics were mistaken in saying that time is unreal, then why is the same mistake being repeated by the scientists? Why are they now saying that there is no real division of time as past, present and future in the actual world? If there is no such division of time, then is time real, or, unreal? When his lifelong friend Michele Besso died, Einstein wrote in a letter to his widow that “the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Another scientist Paul Davies has also written in one of his books that time does not pass and that there is no such thing as past, present and future (Other Worlds, 1980). Is this very recent statement made by a scientist that “time does not pass” anything different from the much earlier statement made by the mystics that “time is unreal”?
Now some scientists are trying to establish that mystics did not get their sense of spacelessness, timelessness through their meeting with a real divine being. Rather they got this sense from their own brain. But these scientists have forgotten one thing. They have forgotten that scientists are only concerned with the actual world, not with what some fools and idiots might have uttered while they were in deep trance. So if they at all explain as to how something can be timeless, then they will do so not because the parietal lobe of these mystics’ brain was almost completely shut down when they received their sense of timelessness, but because, and only because, there was, or, there was and still is, a timeless state in this universe.
God is said to be spaceless, timeless. If someone now says that God does not exist, then the sentence “God is said to be spaceless, timeless” (S) can have three different meanings. S can mean:
a) Nothing was/is spaceless, timeless in this universe (A),
b) Not God, but someone else has been said to be spaceless, timeless here (B),
c) Not God, but something else has been said to be spaceless, timeless here (C).
It can be shown that if it is true that God does not exist, and if S is also true, then S can only mean C, but neither A nor B. If S means A, then the two words “spaceless” and “timeless” become two meaningless words, because by these two words we cannot indicate anyone or anything, simply because in this universe never there was, is, and will be, anyone or anything that could be properly called spaceless, timeless. Now the very big question is: how can some scientists find meaning and significance in a word like “timeless” that has got no meaning and significance in the real world? If nothing was timeless in the past, then time was not unreal in the past. If nothing is timeless at present, then time is not unreal at present. If nothing will be timeless in future, then time will not be unreal in future. If in this universe time was never unreal, if it is not now, and if it will never be, then why was it necessary for them to show as to how time could be unreal? If nothing was/is/will be timeless, then it can in no way be the business, concern, or headache of the scientists to show how anything can be timeless. If no one in this universe is immortal, then it can in no way be the business, concern, or headache of the scientists to show how anyone can be immortal. Simply, these are none of their business. So, what compelling reason was there behind their action here? If we cannot find any such compelling reason here, then we will be forced to conclude that scientists are involved in some useless activities here that have got no correspondence whatsoever with the actual world, and thus we lose complete faith in science. Therefore we cannot accept A as the proper meaning of S, as this will reduce some activities of the scientists to simply useless activities.
Now can we accept B as the proper meaning of S? No, we cannot. Because there is no real difference in meaning between this sentence and S. Here one supernatural being has been merely replaced by another supernatural being. So, if S is true, then it can only mean that not God, but something else has been said to be spaceless, timeless. Now, what is this “something else” (SE)? Is it still in the universe? Or, was it in the past? Here there are two possibilities:
a) In the past there was something in this universe that was spaceless, timeless,
b) That spaceless, timeless thing (STT) is still there.
We know that the second possibility will not be acceptable to atheists and scientists. So we will proceed with the first one. If STT was in the past, then was it in the very recent past? Or, was it in the universe billions and billions of years ago? Was only a tiny portion of the universe in spaceless, timeless condition? Or, was the whole universe in that condition? Modern science tells us that before the big bang that took place 13.7 billion years ago there was neither space, nor time. Space and time came into being along with the big bang only. So we can say that before the big bang this universe was in a spaceless, timeless state. So it may be that this is the STT. Is this STT then that SE of which mystics spoke when they said that God is spaceless, timeless? But this STT cannot be SE for several reasons. Because it was there 13.7 billion years ago. And man has appeared on earth only 2 to 3 million years ago. And mystical literatures are at the most 2500 years old, if not even less than that. So, if we now say that STT is SE, then we will have to admit that mystics have somehow come to know that almost 13.7 billion years ago this universe was in a spaceless, timeless condition, which is unbelievable. Therefore we cannot accept that STT is SE. The only other alternative is that this SE was not in the external world at all. As scientist Victor J. Stenger has said, so we can also say that this SE was in mystics’ head only. But if SE was in mystics’ head only, then why was it not kept buried there? Why was it necessary for the scientists to drag it in the outside world, and then to show as to how a state of timelessness could be reached? If mystics’ sense of timelessness was in no way connected with the external world, then how will one justify scientists’ action here? Did these scientists think that the inside portion of the mystics’ head is the real world? And so, when these mystics got their sense of timelessness from their head only and not from any other external source, then that should only be construed as a state of timelessness in the real world? And therefore, as scientists they were obliged to show as to how that state could be reached?
We can conclude this essay with the following observations: If mystical experience is a hallucination, then SE cannot be in the external world. Because in that case mystics’ sense of spacelessness, timelessness will have a correspondence with some external fact, and therefore it will no longer remain a hallucination. But if SE is in mystics’ head only, then that will also create a severe problem. Because in that case we are admitting that the inside portion of mystics’ head is the real world for the scientists. That is why when mystics get their sense of timelessness from their brain, that sense is treated by these scientists as a state of timelessness in the real world, and accordingly they proceed to explain as to how that state can be reached. And we end up this essay with this absurd statement: If mystical experience is a hallucination, then the inside portion of mystics’ head is the real world for the scientists.

Its interesting. I would like to know more about this…I really wanted to know how this works can you please help me out…….Thanks for sharing.

I certainly enjoyed the way you explore your experience

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