Fingerprints of God
It all started with Tylenol. Until the age of 34, as a faithful Christian Scientist, I had never swallowed a vitamin or an aspirin, never taken a course of antibiotics or visited the doctor, except for the time I was rushed, unconscious, to the hospital after falling off a horse. But on that fateful day in 1994, felled by the flu, I broke down and popped a Tylenol. Within five minutes, I felt the fever ebb like a wave at low tide.
That one rebellious act led to more serious questions. Can I have faith in my religion? What can I believe? And then, a series of scientific questions: Why are some people more spiritual than others? Is there a God gene? Is there a God spot in the brain, a place where God communicates with us? Are we hard-wired to connect with God? Can we train ourselves to access another, spiritual realm? Is there life after death? And for that matter, is there any evidence for God at all?
These questions launched me on a scientific and spiritual journey. I interviewed some of the world’s top scientists to describe what their groundbreaking research reveals about our human spiritual experience. From analyses of the brain functions of Buddhist monks and Carmelite nuns, to the possibilities of healing the sick through directed prayer, to near-death experiences and what they illuminate about the brain and consciousness, I tried to understand what happens to us when we believe in a higher power.
In the process, I traveled to a peyote ceremony in Arizona, flew to Canada to don the “God helmet,” and then marched off to the University of Pennsylvania where a neuroscientist recorded my brain activity as I prayed in a scanner. I may not be able to give you absolute answers, but you will surely feel provoked, energized, and richer at the end of our journey. I hope you find Fingerprints of God to be not only an insightful examination of what science is learning about how and why we believe, but also a compelling story of my own search for a communion with a higher power.
Praise for Fingerprints of God
Christian Science Monitor
May 19, 2009 | Fingerprints of god
MAY 2009 | fingerprints of god
May 31, 2009 | book review
May 17, 2009 | Can Science Find God
May 19, 2009 | Brain Waves of Beatific Vision
Audio Interviews and Stories
Diane Rehm Show
Barbara Bradley Hagerty: “Fingerprints of God”
Some researchers claim humans may be “hard-wired” to believe in God. N-P-R’s religion reporter discusses her search to uncover whether science can explain belief in a higher power.
NPR’s All Things Considered | Five Part Series
Part 1 | The God Chemical: Brain Chemistry And Mysticism
For much of the 20th century, mainstream science shied away from studying spirituality. Sigmund Freud declared God to be a delusion, and others maintained that God, if there is such a thing, is beyond the tools of science to measure.
But now, some researchers are using new technologies to try to understand spiritual experience. They're peering into our brains and studying our bodies to look for circumstantial evidence of a spiritual world. The search is in its infancy, and scientists doubt they will ever be able to prove — or disprove — the existence of God.
I spent a year exploring the emerging science of spirituality for my book, Fingerprints of God. One of the questions raised by my reporting: Is an encounter with God merely a chemical reaction?
Part 2 | Are Spiritual Encounters All In Your Head?
According to polls, there's a 50-50 chance you have had at least one spiritual experience — an overpowering feeling that you've touched God, or another dimension of reality. So, have you ever wondered whether those encounters actually happened — or whether they were all in your head? Scientists say the answer might be both.
If you're looking for evidence that religion is in your head, you need look no further than Jeff Schimmel. The 49-year-old Los Angeles writer was raised in a Conservative Jewish home. But he never bought into God — until after he was touched by a being outside of himself.
"Yeah," Schimmel says, "I was touched by a surgeon."
Part 3 | Prayer May Reshape Your Brain ... And Your Reality
Scientists are making the first attempts to understand spiritual experience — and what happens in the brains and bodies of people who believe they connect with the divine. The field is called "neurotheology," and although it is new, it's drawing prominent researchers in the U.S. and Canada. Scientists have found that the brains of people who spend untold hours in prayer and meditation are different.
I met Scott McDermott five years ago, while covering a Pentecostal revival meeting in Toronto. It was pandemonium. People were speaking in tongues and barking like dogs. I thought, "What is a United Methodist minister, with a Ph.D. in New Testament theology, doing here?"
Part 4 | Can Positive Thoughts Help Heal Another Person?
Ninety percent of Americans say they pray — for their health, or their love life or their final exams. But does prayer do any good?
For decades, scientists have tried to test the power of prayer and positive thinking, with mixed results. Now some scientists are fording new — and controversial — territory.
Part 5 | Decoding The Mystery Of Near-Death Experiences
We've all heard the stories about near-death experiences: the tunnel, the white light, the encounter with long-dead relatives now looking very much alive.
Scientists have cast a skeptical eye on these accounts. They say that these feelings and visions are simply the result of a brain shutting down.
But now some researchers are giving a closer neurological look at near-death experiences and asking: Can your mind operate when your brain has stopped?