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Does God exist only in the brain's God spot and on the God gene?
by Graeme J. Davidson
28 April, 2007

"If we have to draw conclusions now, based upon the data, the answer would be more on the fact that there is no deity."

... Are spiritual experiences based on something real or are they a delusion generated within our brains?
... Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg did SPECT-scans on the brains of Buddhist monks and Franciscan nuns as they meditated and prayed. The 3D images that appeared on the computer screen showed diminished activity in a small region of the brain known as the posterior superior parietal lobe, which is just below the crown of the skull. Was Newberg taking a snapshot of God in action?
... In their book, Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science & the Biology of Belief, Andrew Newberg and psychiatrist Eugene d’Aquili claim these experiments show “mystical experience is biologically, observably, and scientifically real”. They theorise that our parietal lobes use information from the senses to give us an awareness of self and our orientation in our physical surroundings. That’s so we won’t bang into doors and walk over cliffs. According to Newberg and d’Auili, during contemplative prayer the lack of sensory stimulus blurs these margins between the self and the world. So, the brain would regard the self as “endless and intimately interwoven with everyone and everything the mind senses”.
... That fits with how sixteenth century Christian mystic St Teresa of Avila, describes her prayer experiences. In her Autobiography, St Teresa says her soul ascended to heaven in a state of spiritual ecstasy “and sometimes the whole body too until it was raised from the ground”. She thought she was levitating.
... When it’s starved of normal sensory stimuli during contemplative prayer, does the parietal lobe switch mode to a dreamlike state that evokes a pseudo-religious experience similar to that induced by narcotic drugs?

... What happens, then, when researchers artificially excite the brain? That’s what controversial neuroscientist Michael Persinger does. He’s designed a helmet, the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulator, to stimulate the brain’s parietal and temporal lobes with a magnetic field. Of the hundreds of experimental subjects, 80% said this gave them a feeling of “an ethereal presence". Subjects usually describe their experiences in terms of their spiritual culture – God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Mohammed, Spirit, a loved one from the grave, an alien. There may also be “a sensation of quiescence, a kind of eternal peace, but they know that somehow their sense of self has been changed forever”.
... Persinger likens these results to the reactions of those suffering temporal lobe epilepsy, which is caused by chaotic electrical discharges in the temporal lobes. Some people with this disorder report sensing “an ethereal presence”. So, maybe when Moses saw the burning bush and St Paul had his vision on the road to Damascus they were suffering from this form of epilepsy. After all, St Paul admits in one of his letters to suffering from an affliction.
... When Persinger he put his magnetic “God helmet” on Richard Dawkins of The God Delusion fame, the renowned atheist was one of the 20% who experienced nothing spiritual. Studies of fraternal and identical twins raised apart suggest that our genes influence whether we are religious or not. So, maybe Dawkins lacks what geneticist Dean Hamer calls the “God gene”.
... In a 2002 ABC News interview, Persinger asserted, "If we have to draw conclusions now, based upon the data, the answer would be more on the fact that there is no deity". But can God be reduced to activity in the brain’s “God spot”.
... His conjectures show how scientists can sometimes be irrational. After all, there are neurological changes when our sensory receptors respond to what we see with our eyes open, when we close them and when there is disease or damage. Neurologists can also stimulate the occipital region of the brain involved with sight so that subjects report seeing things that aren’t in front of their eyes. Does it follow, then, that what we see every day is also a delusion that can be reduced to activity in the brain? Of course not.
... Neurological research helps us understand what’s happening in the brain. It can’t determine whether what we experience is real or not. And in the same way that many of our regular experiences are of real objects in the world, religious experiences may also be of a real “God phenomenon”.

 

 

 

 

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