Why your brain needs God

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faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain

Neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman

I couldn’t resist ….

I am researching my next post on Choosing our religion, which is taking a bit of work, and I came across this quote by two neuroscientists.

Here is the quote in context (from Why Your Brain Needs God):

“A theologian will tell you that faith is essential to religious belief, but our brain-scan research, which we document in our new book, “How God Changes Your Brain,” led us to the conclusion that faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain. Indeed, we believe that faith is more essential than exercise, especially in light of the cumulative research showing how doubt and pessimism can shorten your life by years.

By faith, we mean the ability to consciously and repetitively hold an optimistic vision of a positive future — about yourself, and about the world. When you do this — through meditation, prayer, or intensely focusing on a positive goal — you strengthen a unique circuit in your brain that improves memory and cognition, reduces anxiety and depression, and enhances social awareness and empathy toward others. And it doesn’t matter whether the meditations are religious or secular.

However, when meditation is religious and strengthens your spiritual beliefs, then there is a synergistic effect that can be even better. Our research into how people describe their own spiritual experiences speaks directly to this fact. On one hand, it seems that people use a tremendous diversity of descriptions in recounting deeply meaningful, spiritual experiences. For some it is love, for some awe, for some it is the experience of direct contact with the divine (however they define that). However, in spite of these many different descriptions, each person describes a transformative element that changes their mind, their health, and their life. In fact, our research shows that the more you engage all parts of your being, your thoughts, emotions, perceptions, social interactions and spiritual pursuits, the more it enhances your brain’s function. But most importantly, this requires a focus on the positive — on love, forgiveness, optimism, and inclusiveness.”

What is says …. and doesn’t say

This quote doesn’t suggest that neuroscience proves God exists. But it does show that belief in God, and the attitudes and actions which should result, can make us healthier, happier and better people. Which of course is consistent with God really being there.

Picture: MorgueFile.

15 Comments

  1. An interesting approach. Personally, I think believing in the divine reality is absolutely natural. I believe we are naturally drawn towards the Source.

  2. Still peddling this absolute rubbish I see. As I’ve said before you would have found that committed Nazis also gained the same advantage in 1930’s Germany. Being sure where your going and having experiences which confirm your commitment will have the same effect no matter what your belief is.

    Meanwhile you might like to ponder what is happening in the US where religiosity can be inversely correlated to life expectancy:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_religiosity
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_life_expectancy

    It doesn’t make religious belief sound that healthy to me as per:

    faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain. Indeed, we believe that faith is more essential than exercise

  3. Hi Gordon, obviously you feel strongly about this. Does this mean you don’t accept the science of guys like Haidt, Newberg, and the rest?

  4. I don’t know how they conduct their research. But they certainly frame their inferences in a misleading manner.

  5. Hi Gordon, we have been through this before – see Do religious believers have better health and wellbeing, like, really?

    There I offered scientific references (quotes and conclusions from 8 sources plus links to over 40 more studies) but you don’t wish to accept them. You admit “I don’t know how they conduct their research”, but you still think you know enough to call their conclusions “misleading”. I also explained how the links you quote are not scientific and prove little (and may even prove the opposite of what you claim).

    I wil continue to reference the evidence, as I will be in a few more posts coming soon. I hope you find them interesting, and challenging. Perhaps you will soon be willing to accept these clear results. Best wishes.

  6. For me God is real. Its a concept linked to energy. The good will always override the bad. This concept is not just religious dogma but scientific fact as well. Eg love will always be stronger than hate. Similarly a recent scientific study covered by national geographic showed that if a child doesn’t receive love in his first year his brain stagnates and doesn’t develop.

  7. Ricky, I love way you say things, your outlook on life must be extremely positive. It doesn’t make your beliefs true though. You can have a positive Atheist view of the world. You can love life for what it is. Just ask me 😉

  8. @unkleE

    Perhaps you will soon be willing to accept these clear results.

    I do accept the results just not the dishonest inferences you or they have drawn from the results. They run contrary to obvious correlations across the world that the more religious countries are the more dysfunctional.

    Meanwhile your best answer to the various correlations I have highlighted and which show religion in a bad light is that they are not scientific. When there are so many correlations its an indication there is no smoke without fire.

    I recall that your answer to the scientific survey I stumbled across which supports my point of view in directly attacking the inferences of other researchers you dismissed as being one against many.

  9. Fair enough Hugo and thanks for the compliment.But Ive done a lot of thinking about this and reading eg where we all come from what started it all etc etc and my beliefs have changed over time.However like stated life is all energy(no one can dispute that) and the good will always override the bad.When it comes down to it I think its as simple as that.

  10. Gordon, what is your explanation of Newberg’s allegedly dishonest inferences? What do you suppose his bias is? Ditto for Haidt.

    As for the inverse correlation in the United States, that without a doubt has to do in part with unhealthy diets in the South. It is similar to the “religion makes you fat” research from a few years ago – the United States buck the trend on that.

    And correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t that ‘survey’ one dilettante with an axe to grind on a New Atheist blog?

  11. @Ignorantia Nescia
    I know nothing of biases. Yes, they are one way to explain their loaded inferences. I only claim their inferences are loaded. They have failed to take into account either the herd effect or the Nazi party effect I have alluded to in another thread.
    As you mention Haidt I include a similar criticism of him by the biologist P Z Myers, althogh Myers refers to what I call the herd effect Myers calls the benefits of community:
    These surveys that Haidt believes are evidence of a virtue in religion actually have a different meaning. They state that scattered individuals who are excluded from communities do not receive the benefits of community, nor do they feel willing to contribute to the communities that exclude them. It is community that benefits people, not religion.

  12. Hi Ricky, hi Hugo, thanks for visiting and leaving comments. I appreciate visitors! And especially visitors who eave friendly and positive comments!

  13. Hi Gordon,

    “Meanwhile your best answer to the various correlations I have highlighted and which show religion in a bad light is that they are not scientific.”

    And that answer was true. We are dealing with complex matters which involve many factors and many partial correlations. If we want to investigate how one factor affects another, we need to correct for the differences in all the other factors. That is what peer-reviewed scientific studies do.

    So I can reference scores of scientific studies (and through them link to several hundred), most of which show the effects I am writing about. Not all show it, because there are many different aspects of religious belief and practice, and while most correlate with positive health and well-being, some do not. In most of these studies, the impact of other variables is corrected statistically or in the experimental design. In some cases the neuroscientists (e.g. Newberg) can identify causation by measuring changes in brain processes. So the correlations and causation can be well established scientifically. And I can quote you experts who have come to the conclusions I have written.

    You offer (correct me if I’ve remembered wrongly) one contrary study (which you haven’t showed whether it is contrary or just presenting a different aspect) and a couple of correlations that aren’t supported by a scientific study as far as you have shown me, they haven’t been corrected, no causation has been established and it is quite likely that other factors (e.g. wealth) are important. In comparison, this is barely scientific and barely significant.

    So I ask you two questions please:

    1. Is this the sum of the evidence you have on this topic?
    2. If so, why do you choose the very limited and questionable conclusion rather than the one well established by science?

    Thanks.

  14. Hi Doug, I read your comment and forgot to respond to it. Certainly some psychologists (e.g. Justin Barrett) say that the human brain is predisposed to see “agency” in the cosmos, which in effect means God.

  15. Eric, I agree, positive comments should be the norm; even when we disagree! Over the years, I have had my share of negative encounters, including a couple with you 😉 and it’s just a waste of time, a waste of this precious life we all enjoy in common, whatever our beliefs are…

    What’s interesting though is what we find “positive” since even if I really like Ricky’s comment above, which I replied to, I am not thrilled by the most recent one. I find the usage of the word “energy” to be quite “negative” in that last comment, for lack of a better adjective, because it’s such a false usage… so, Rick, even if you write “life is all energy(no one can dispute that),” with confidence, I can assure you that LOTS of people would dispute that. I find this usage to be “negative” because it’s “bad”, in the sense that it’s not how the word energy should ever be used. It’s a very versatile word, which can be used both literally and metaphorically, but it does not mean that any usage is “good”, and the fact that it’s so versatile actually causes this kind of “bad” usage. Because no, we cannot say that ‘life is all energy’, this means absolutely nothing… both literally and metaphorically.

    Cheers

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