WHY GOD WON’T GO AWAY – Published 1999

Andrew Newberg, M.D.

Neuroscientist. Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital

Eugene d’Aquili, M.D.

Assistant professor, the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania


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.

There’s little doubt that the transcendent states from which religions rise are neurologically real – brain science predicts their occurrence, and our imaging studies, as well as others, have actually captured them on film.

We hope our work will provide a new way to explore the connection between science and the religious urge – the driving spiritual force behind all religion – in ways that not only shed new light on the origins and meaning of human spirituality but also give us greater scientific insights into the mysterious workings of the human brain. It has always been our hope that our work will advance the intersection of science and religion in a way that allows each perspective to enhance, rather than diminish the other.  

When philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in 1885, made his famous proclamation that God was dead, he was saying, of course, that God had never really lived at all. Like other great rationalist thinkers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – Marx, Freud, James Frazer, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Bertrand Russell, to name a few – Nietzsche regarded God as just another vestige of an unscientific past that humanity would soon outgrow. It was the great expectation of many in that world-changing generation of thinkers that, as educational levels rose and science provided more realistic explanations for the mysteries of existence, the irrational appeal of religion would simply fade, and God, in all his incarnations, would simply go away.

God, however, has not obliged, and as we enter the new millennium – an age of unprecedented scientific and technological enlightenment – religion and spirituality continue to thrive.

We believe, in fact, that the remarkable tenacity of religion is rooted in something deeper, simpler and healthier that weak-minded denial or sheer psychological dependence.

Evidence suggests that the deepest origins of religion are based in mystical experience and that religions persist because the wiring of the human brain continues to provide believers with a range of unitary experiences that are often interpreted as assurances that GOD exists. We believe that evolution has adopted this machinery, and has favored the religious capabilities of the religious brain because religious beliefs turn out to be good for us in profound and pragmatic ways.

Studies have shown that men and women who practice any mainstream faith live longer, have fewer strokes, less heart disease, better immune system function, and lower blood pressure than the population at large.

New data indicates that religious behavior and practices can improve mental and emotional health in several significant ways. For example, research shows that rates of drug abuse, alcoholism, divorce, and suicide are much lower among religious individuals than among the population at large.

A quiet prayer, a stately hymn, or an hour spent in meditation, can activate the body’s quiescent function that has been shown to enhance immune system function, lower heart rates and blood pressure, restrict the release of harmful stress hormones into the blood, and generate feelings of calmness and well-being.

Faith in a higher power offers believers the assurance that their lives have meaning and purpose, that they are not alone in the struggle for survival, that powerful, benevolent forces are at work in the world, and that despite the terrors and uncertainties of existence, they should not be afraid.

We believe the neurology of transcendence borrows the circuitry of sexual response – but the strong survival advantages of religious belief make it very likely that evolution would enhance the neurological wiring that makes transcendence possible. This inherited ability to experience spiritual union is the real source of religion’s staying power. It anchors religious belief in something deeper and more potent than intellect and reason; it makes God a reality that can’t be undone by ideas, and that never grows obsolete.

(Highlight added by GIFT.)

…Our research has left us no choice but to conclude that the mystics may be on to something, that the mind’s machinery of transcendence may, in fact, be a window through which we can glimpse the ultimate realness of something that is truly divine.

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