Sunday, June 01, 2008

How Our Brains are Wired for Belief

How Our Brains are Wired for Belief

Monday, May 5, 2008
Key West, Florida

Brain scans
Brain scans show subtle differences between the human
brain at rest (top row) and during prayer or meditation
(bottom row).

Some of the nation's leading journalists gathered in Key West, Fla., in May 2008 for the Pew Forum's biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life.

Recent advances in neuroscience and brain-imaging technology have offered researchers a look into the physiology of religious experiences. In observing Buddhist monks as they meditate, Franciscan nuns as they pray and Pentecostals as they speak in tongues, Dr. Andrew Newberg, a radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, has found that measurable brain activity matches up with the religious experiences described by worshippers. The social, political and religious implications of these and other findings are just beginning to permeate the broader culture, according to New York Times columnist David Brooks, who has been tracking new developments in the field.

What does brain science add to age-old debates about the existence of God and the value of religion? Can political parties and religious groups use scientific insights to influence the beliefs of others? Are scientists as a group becoming more open to ideas of religion and spirituality? The Pew Forum invited Dr. Newberg and Mr. Brooks to raise these questions and share their insights with the journalists gathered in Key West.

Audio Listen to the audio transcript
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David Brooks, Columnist, The New York Times
Andrew Newberg, Assistant Professor, Department of Radiology, University of Pennsylvania

Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics and Public Policy Center; Senior Advisor, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

Navigate this transcript:

Andrew Newberg speaks on:
Liberal and conservative brains
The physiology of beliefs
Brains in meditation, prayer and worship
Why belief in God persists

David Brooks speaks on:
The revolution in brain research
Why science is now more open to religion
Neuroscience points toward "soft-core Buddhism"

Q&A discussion topics:
Brain responses to "flip-flopping"
Does science reject the soul?
Is religious Darwinism valid?
Does neuroscience confirm religious belief?
What causes religious or political transformations?
Brain physiology in party politics
Is scientific materialism really in decline?
Should society prevent the spread of harmful beliefs?
Do unconscious drives negate free will?

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