Andrew Newberg; Eugene d’Aquili; Vince Rause

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

Review by Tim Knepper, 2001

Newberg, Andrew; d’Aquili, Eugene. Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science & the Biology of Belief. Ballantine Books, 2001.

In very simple prose Newberg (without d’Aquili) reiterates the basic points of The Mystical Mind (under the guise of a putative presentation of the context of d’Aquili and Newberg’s hypotheses). Chapters two and three explicate the neurological components relevant to their work: the four association areas (orientation, attention, verbal-conceptual, and visual); the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems; the limbic system; and the eight cognitive operators (holistic, reductionistic, abstractive, quantitative, causal, binary, emotional and existential, the last of which is a new addition not found in The Mystical Mind). Chapters four, five and six tackle the subjects of myth, ritual and mysticism, respectively: Myths constitute the means of resolving certain existential fears (death, suffering, etc.) via the causal and binary operators; The rhythmic ritualized behavior of ritual produces transcendent unitary states via deafferentation of the orientation association area (as well as a strong emotional responses via stimulation of the limbic and autonomic systems); And mystical experiences (a.k.a. AUB, or states of absolute unitary being) are produced via one of two techniques (a passive clearing away of all thoughts and objects or an active focusing on one thought or object) as a partial to total deafferentation of the left (in the case of both techniques) and/or right (in the case of the passive technique) orientation association areas (deafferentation of the left orientation association area produces a sense of limitless or extinguished self, while deafferentation of the right orientation association area produces a sense of absolute spacelessness and infinite time). Chapter seven speculates on the origin and evolution of religion: The neurobiology of mystical experience arose from the mechanism of sexual response (this claim seems to be a new addition to d’Aquili and Newberg’s hypothesis); The beliefs, traditions and behaviors of organized religion originated in mystical experience; And organized religion survived and thrived because of certain physical, psychological and social advantages that it bestowed upon humankind. Finally, chapters eight and nine claim that states of AUB are more phenomenologically real (and therefore, perhaps more ontologically real as well) than ordinary states of existence. Therefore, the authors conclude, God simply won’t go away.