Faith in the Brain

Could this validate her claim that God is speaking through her?

"They're not focusing their attention. In fact, if anything, their attention kind of goes out the window, because they feel like they're being taken over, by something else -- in this case by the spirit of God," Newberg said.

Morgan didn't need a scan to be fully convinced.

"At that moment, I know that I'm in the presence of God and that the Holy Ghost is making intercession for me."

A Brain of an Atheist

However, nonbelievers might look at the same brain scans and say the results are just neurons firing in the brain. Margaret Downey is a devout atheist and president of Atheist Alliance International. She agreed to have her brain scanned by Newberg.

Downey is passionate about her atheism.

"The reason I became an atheist is that all the questions I had about religion -- about God -- were left unanswered, and all the evidence I asked for have never appeared to me," she said.

Downey, who has studied religion since she was a child and read the Bible cover to cover, meditated about the concept of God.

So, is the brain of an atheist different from the brain of a believer?

"We have actually found some evidence that there are differences between people who are very religious or spiritual, and people who are nonreligious," said Newberg.

And Newberg said Downey's brain did seem different in the scan. Her center of focus didn't light up the way it did with nuns and Buddhists. Nor did it go dark like those speaking in tongues, which Newberg said can be interpreted to suggest that nonbelievers are born with different brain circuitry than believers. He believes people are hard-wired to have various types of spiritual and religious experiences.

"The brain certainly plays a part in that. There are certain people who are wired in ways that they are more willing to accept certain types of evidence, certain lines of arguments differently than other people," he said.

Beliefs Change Over Time

Regardless of whether the capacity to believe is built into our brains, it's clear that people's beliefs can change over time. Kenneth Kamler's did. He, like Newberg, is an medical doctor and a man of science.

Kamler, a New York hand surgeon, witnessed an extraordinary event on Mount Everest that changed his views on faith forever.

Local Nepalese Buddhist men, called sherpas, often act as porters and guides to people interest in climbing Mount Everest. On Kamler's first trip up to the highest place on Earth, one sherpa named Pasan was crossing a steep divide on a ladder when he had a terrible accident.

"He fell head first into a crevasse about, about 80 feet down, and he landed head first, and he was sort of wedged down there, refrigerated, in this crevasse for about half an hour before he could be pulled out," Kamler said.

Pasan was unconscious and his health deteriorated quickly -- his blood pressure dropped and his pupils stopped responding to light. Kamler knew his brain was bleeding.

"We were up on a glacier, we were three miles up in the air in below zero temperatures… The prognosis for the sherpa was not good at all," recalled Kamler.

Kamler watched helplessly as Pasan was surely slipping away. But then a group of sherpas in the medical tent made a circle around Pasan and they started to chant. Kamler described it as "a deep, low droning. Kind of a noise that seemed to emanate from within them and it was a, it had a very hypnotic effect."

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