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Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief
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Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,023 Ratings  ·  65 Reviews
Why have we humans always longed to connect with something larger than ourselves? Even today in our technologically advanced age, more than seventy percent of Americans claim to believe in God. Why, in short, won’t God go away? In this groundbreaking new book, researchers Andrew Newberg and Eugene d’Aquili offer an explanation that is at once profoundly simple and scientif ...more
Paperback, 234 pages
Published March 26th 2002 by Ballantine Books (first published 2001)
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Community Reviews

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May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-religion
This book is vast, but all I am adding is quotes because a friend had asked me for them, and it took a long time to type them out.

"Dr. Andrew Newberg is a neuroscientist who studies the relationship between brain function and various mental states. He is a pioneer in the neurological study of religious and spiritual experiences, a field known as “neurotheology.” His research includes taking brain scans of people in prayer, meditation, rituals, and trance states, in an attempt to better understa
Kayson Fakhar
Oct 22, 2014 rated it liked it
if its a nonfiction book where are the references?
if its not why there is academic names in it?
This book was well researched and, for the most part, well argued. In many of my other readings on the subject, I'd come across references to the fMRI work that Newberg and D'Aquili had done with Tibetan monks and Franciscan nuns, so I expected this books to take a largely scientific approach to the topic of religious and spiritual behavior and was not disappointed. On the plus side Newberg and D'Aquili postulate plausible pathways by which the brain generates various spiritual experiences, and ...more
Jan 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-3-stars
The science in this book is well cited throughout, but I wish there was more data regarding "spiritual" or "transcendent" experiences.

"The goal of every living brain, no matter what its level of neurological sophistication, from the tiny knots of nerve cells that govern insect behavior on up to the intricate complexity of the human neocortex, has been to enhance the organism's chances of survival by reacting to raw sensory data and translating it to a negotiable rendition of a world." (15)

Liz Miller
Dec 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recommended
I just finished this book for my Sociology of Religion course (and now I just have to write the 10 page review of it...). Overall, I liked it. I found that Newberg was quite redundant though, saying the same think a couple times in a matter of pages. Using repetition in one's writing is a rhetorical device, but it can be overused, and I say that Newberg overused that device. Beyond that, I would say that it was overall quite interesting and better than many other scientific books that I have rea ...more
Scott Hayden
Aug 09, 2009 rated it liked it
Fascinating biology.

Predictable evolutionary thought; neo-Freudian in an odd sort of way - religion boils down to ancient sexual impulses that developed into something beyond ourselves. (Of course, everything in biological evolution must harken to survival or reproduction.)

At least the author was honest. I was "mocking" him in the margins through many parts of the book refering to him and his as "the priesthood". Later he admitted that his own scientific explanations were indeed a kind of "myth
Nov 11, 2007 rated it liked it
I didn't finish this book. I don't think it was as intriguing as I expected. I am personally an atheist with interests in the sciences, but I am interested in how religion affects people including why they believe even after we have learned so much of the science behind evolution and the universe, etc. I expected to be drawn in much more strongly than I was.
Apr 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Pretty good book. Makes a nice case of reconciling God and science. Wish I had read this 10 years ago. Much of the early chapters had matter I already knew or was familiar with since I have neuroscience training, except their terminology for brain areas was nonconventional. The book really picks up from page 98 and on.
Apr 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Goes over the history of myth and ritual. The author investigated how meditation and prayer performed by Buddist monks and Catholic nuns led to low stress hormones in the brain.
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Aug 26, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: NONE
He pushes the arguments; he has the hypothesis in his mind as he likes it and then uses experiences of all kinds of people as if they substantiate a scientific fact.
Susan Marrier
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spirituality
Newberg's research and thought make a good case for the existence of what he calls Absolute Unitary Being. When he delves into the history of religion, he enters the realm of speculation, but otherwise the neuroscience is carefully done. I began to think of other areas where things that cannot be measured and explained scientifically are accepted as nonetheless real. Music, for example, cannot be explained simply as quantifiable vibrations. And so neither can the mystical experience of union wit ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Boy was this a book that required a lot of attention! it took me forever to read because I felt I had to digest all the information being thrown at me.
It was a lot different from what I imagined but nonetheless captivating with this new concept I was completely unaware of, Neurotheology.
Would I read more on the topic? probably not. Was it good to know about this? yeah, absolutely even if it was just to comprehend the advances of neuroscience.
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An accessible and worthwhile exploration, grounded in neurobiology and philosophy, and leaving most, if not all, of the essential questions open.

Snarky copyeditor’s review: I’d like to take another crack at comma use throughout this book.
Bryan Neuschwander
Apr 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Argues that transcendence or spirituality is biologically universal, and neurologically speaking, "real."
Steven Peterson
Oct 06, 2009 rated it liked it
This book explores the relationship between the brain's functioning and religion and myth. The authors note that (page 8): "Gradually, we shaped a hypothesis that suggests that spiritual experience, at its very root, is intimately interwoven with human biology. That biology, in some way, compels the spiritual urge." In short (page 9), "We will examine the biological drive that compels us to make myths, and the neurological machinery that gives these myths shape and power."

In the study of evolut
Lee Harmon
Apr 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
A single quote from this book probably explains all we need to know about why God won’t go away:

So impressive are the health benefits of religion … that after reviewing more than a thousand studies on the impact of religion upon health, Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University Medical Center recently told The New Republic, that “Lack of religious involvement has an effect on mortality that is equivalent to forty years of smoking one pack of cigarettes per day.

What more evidence do we need that evolu
Apr 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
I really liked the brain science of this book, as well as the anthropology angle. There is a lot of speculation involved in their hypothesis, as there must be when anyone is trying to read what was going on in the mind of early man. But I believe it is a carefully balanced middle ground between the scientific question and the spiritual one. Anyone who is entirely in one camp or the other might not appreciate how this book marries the two.

I am both of the scientific and spiritual mind myself, and
Dec 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology, religion
So, can spirituality be explained by organic mechanisms? Well, this book proves it can. The biology behind spirituality is explained in a very simple and pleasurable way. However, the title may arise doubt and, unfortunately, a lot of prejudice. And that's one of the dangers this book has to face. I suggest that no one should get carried away by that. After all, we all have the hability of trascendence in one way or another, how could it even be possible without a brain which supports such capac ...more
Jul 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Through a study of neurological activities in the human brain for those who are having religious experiences, the author tries to present a scientific base for a reality that unites all religion as well as the traditional scientific view of the world.

However, the experiences in which the person feels unified with the rest of the world is presented as "real" in the sense the observed brain activities, given our understanding of its components' functions, matches the descriptions of those experien
Kevin Bessey
Sep 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a great book on the subject of neurotheology and I thought a great attempt at strengthening the playing field between science and religion. There was a great balance of neurology that made the reading very easy rather than cumbersome - you didn't need an MD to understand what the author was describing.

My only fault with the book is that it seems to push the idea of 'mysticism' which probably doesn't sit will with monotheistic groups such as Christians and Muslims; however I think it did
Jun 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was very thought provoking. I expected it to be more of a Dawkinian approach to squash religion with science, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it has a much more even-handed approach to the traditional dichotomy, making a real concerted effort to bridge the divide. The book basically centers around the attention and orientation centers of the brain, and the principle that certain events/behaviors can deafferent them (or shut them down), providing an extra-sensory experience. A ...more
Trey Nowell
Mar 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A good read that should not take someone terribly long. Goes over the understanding of how the brain works very well, the nature of consciousness mixed with spirituality, discusses mysticism in depth, utilizes empirical data and studies from accredited universities, etc. all in relation to how we perceive God in the brain. I kind of wanted more out of the conclusion than just the mystical interpretation, but nonetheless the book kept my interest. I think this book is more in defense for those be ...more
Sep 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theological, science
This pas summer I participated in a research project conducted by Andrew Newberg, exploring the impact of spiritual practices on the brain. This interested me in his work and so I picked up this book. In his story of the processes of the brain, Dr. Newberg has isolated certain brain functions that accompany mystical or contemplative practices. While Newberg points out that he is only measuring the brain's functioning in a spiritual experience, and can not prove the existence of God, he makes a s ...more
Jul 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Pros: Newberg uses his subjects' (of experimentation) personal stories with just the right amount of description and intrigue without distracting from the science being reported in the book. As he reports on the results of experiments with humans engaged in meditation and prayer, he is always respectful of their beliefs while writing about them. His discoveries are interesting and will hopefully be a good start to a long and happy marriage between neuroscience and religion. (I can't wait to read ...more
Jun 07, 2016 added it
A very compelling argument for the neurological basis of humanity's historical assumption -- across all cultures and borders -- of an omnipresent deity. The only factor preventing me from giving the book four stars is that, by necessity, the reading is somewhat technical in nature, though the authors do their best to make the book accessible to laypersons with little scientific background. As such, you occasionally find yourself rereading passages that you just completed, since brain terminology ...more
Oct 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2006
The authors posit that our brain is neurologically capable of attaining a state where boundaries between self and other are no longer recognizable. They call this Absolute Unitary Being and say that this state has been attained by mystics and called "God." They also say that this experience of unity is real because it is experienced by the brain as real, and therefore God is real. They don't really delve into quantum mechanics, but what they seem to be saying is that the brain is capable of aban ...more
Apr 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: tk, dwayne, william
This book was written by a group of scientists in Canada trying to understand what conditions lead to spiritual experiences. They studied Bhuddist monks and Franciscan nuns with MRI machines, and learned that there are 4 states of over/understimulation that lead to profound spiritual experiences and feelings of unity.

I loved this book, and thought it was so profound that I actually caused me to have a bit of a spiritual experience while reading it. To some degree.

I list the other three books tha
Feb 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this as a part of a class I took in college regarding the psychology of religion and, as a current agnostic and then-atheist this book changed the way I view religion as a whole and the way I regard/interact with devoutly or fanatically religious individuals. Anyone who has ever wondered "wtf are they thinking" when seeing someone speaking in tongues in a church service (which, I'm sure, is many of us...) MUST read this book.

As a sidenote- it's not a light-read and takes some concentratio
Apr 07, 2008 rated it liked it
This book is by a couple of brain scientists who describe what is happening in someone's brain when they have a mystical experience. The question at the heart of the book: "Either spiritual experience is nothing more than a neurological construct created by and contained within the brain, or the state of absolute union that the mystics describe does in fact exist and the mind has developed the capability to perceive it." Fascinating, but a little dense -- I kept putting it down for months at a t ...more
Feb 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in religion and science
At times it is slightly repetitive in an academic way (clearly states the thesis repeatedly) but there is enough variety in topics (meditation, myth,personal gods) to keep it interesting. The background in brain physiology was so clearly explained it made me feel smart while I was reading it (but don't quiz me on it now, please). Overall the authors make a sound, thoughtful argument for the biological capacity for spiritual experiences that is thought provoking and inspiring.
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Dr. Andrew Newberg is Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College. He is also Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Board-certified in Internal Medicine and Nuclear Medicine. He is considered a pioneer in the neuroscientific study of religiou ...more
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