The 'God' Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God

The 'God' Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God

by Matthew Alper


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Is Man the product of a God...or is "God" the product of human evolution?

From the dawn of our species, every human culture-no matter how isolated-has believed in some form of a spiritual realm. According to author Matthew Alper, this is no mere coincidence but rather due to the fact that humans, as a species, are genetically predisposed to believe in the universal concepts of a god, a soul and an afterlife. This instinct to believe is the result of an evolutionary adaptation-a coping mechanism-that emerged in our species to help us survive our unique and otherwise debilitating awareness of death.

Spiritual seekers and atheists alike will be compelled and transformed by Matthew Alper's classic study of science and religion. The 'God' Part of the Brain has gained critical acclaim from some of the world's leading scientists, secular humanists, and theologians, and is as a must read for anyone who has pondered the question of God's existence, as well as the meaning of our own.

Praise for The "God" Part of the Brain

"This cult classic in many ways parallels Rene Descartes' search for reliable and certain knowledge...Drawing on such disciplines as philosophy, psychology, and biology, Alper argues that belief in a spiritual realm is an evolutionary coping method that developed to help humankind deal with the fear of death...Highly recommended."— Library Journal

"I very much enjoyed the account of your spiritual journey and believe it would make excellent reading for every college student - the resultant residence-hall debates would be the best part of their education. It often occurs to me that if, against all odds, there is a judgmental God and heaven, it will come to pass that when the pearly gates open, those who had the valor to think for themselves will be escorted to the head of the line, garlanded, and given their own personal audience." — Edward O. Wilson, two-time Pulitzer Prize-Winner

"This is an essential book for those in search of a scientific understanding of man's spiritual nature. Matthew Alper navigates the reader through a labyrinth of intriguing questions and then offers undoubtedly clear answers that lead to a better understanding of our objective reality." — Elena Rusyn, MD, PhD; Gray Laboratory; Harvard Medical School

"What a wonderful book you have written. It was not only brilliant and provocative but also revolutionary in its approach to spirituality as an inherited trait."— Arnold Sadwin, MD, former chief of Neuropsychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania

"A lively manifesto...For the discipline's specific application to the matter at hand, I've seen nothing that matches the fury of The 'God' Part of the Brain, which perhaps explains why it's earned something of a cult following." —

"All 6 billion plus inhabitants of Earth should be in possession of this book. Alper's tome should be placed in the sacred writings' section of libraries, bookstores, and dwellings throughout the world. Matthew Alper is the new Galileo...Immensely important...Defines in a clear and concise manner what each of us already knew but were afraid to admit and exclaim."— John Scoggins, PhD

"Vibrant ... vivacious. An entertaining and provocative introduction to speculations concerning the neural basis of spirituality."— Free Inquiry Magazine

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402207488
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 08/20/2006
Edition description: 1ST
Pages: 274
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Matthew Alper (New York City) graduated from SUNY Stonybrook with a BA in philosophy. He has worked as an electrician in England, a photographer's assistant in New York, a fifth-grade and high school history teacher in Brooklyn, a truck smuggler in Africa, a tutor in the Philippines, and a screenwriter in Germany.

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Chapter 1: Throwing Rocks at God

"The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other in silence for some time; at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

'Who are you?' said the Caterpillar.

Alice replied rather shyly, 'I-I hardly know, sir, just at present-at least I knew who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.'"

By the time I was twenty-one, my quest for knowledge of God had taken several unexpected turns. In this time, I had searched the world's myriad religions only to find myself frustrated by a gamut of flaws and inconsistencies in all their logic. I had investigated the various paranormal phenomena only to encounter a trail of false claims and chicanery. I had experimented with the mind-altering effects of psychedelic drugs as well as transcendental meditation, only to undergo a series of distorted sense-experiences, none of which had brought me any closer to acquiring verifiable knowledge of any spiritual reality or God. As a matter of fact, if anything, they had only served to draw me farther away. This was due to the fact that while exploring the effects of LSD, I had a bad trip that led to a severe clinical depression compounded by a dissociative, depersonalization, and anxiety disorder. For a year and a half, I suffered this unfortunate state until, finally, with the aid of pharmacological drugs, I was restored to my previous, relatively healthy self.

Though it may have come at a very high price, I nevertheless managed to garner some extremely valuable information from this otherwise wretched experience, information regarding the nature of my allegedly immortal human soul.

According to the various belief systems (religions) I had thus far encountered, the human soul was supposed to be spiritual in nature, a fixed and permanent agent, unalterable and everlasting. Again and again, I was told that when I died, though my physical body would perish, "I"-the sum of my conscious experience, the essence of my thoughts and feelings, what was perceived as constituting my soul or spirit-would persist for all eternity. The fact, however, that my conscious self had been so drastically altered convinced me that there was no fixed or eternal essence in me.

Twice in a year and a half, I had undergone two complete transformations of my so-called eternal self. First, my conscious self was transformed into something other than it previously had been by psychedelic drugs. Then, a year and a half later, my original self was restored, this time by a drug known as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). But I thought consciousness was supposed to be conceived in spirit-fixed, eternal, immune to the influences of physical nature. If this were true, how was it that the core of my conscious experience had been altered, twice now, by ingesting physical substances? How was it that a combination of molecules-raw matter-could affect something as allegedly ethereal as consciousness, that which was supposed to represent my immutable, transcendental soul? To believe that matter could affect one's spirit, that it could impact upon the soul, would be the equivalence, it seemed, to believing that one could throw rocks at God. If spirits or souls truly existed, it would seem they should be impervious to material influence.

The fact that my conscious self-my allegedly immortal soul-was susceptible to the effects of chemical (physical) substances convinced me that human consciousness must be a physical entity governed by strictly physical processes. If this was true, then in order to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of consciousness-what I previously believed might constitute a soul-I would need to conduct an investigation into the nature of the physical sciences.

Up until this point, I always had the greatest respect for the physical/natural sciences. I was always impressed by their ability to rationally explain most any phenomena as well as to lead to the creation of tools and technologies that worked to make our lives easier. Whereas in the past, however, in which I had admired the sciences, I now revered them. Science had saved my life. I was indebted to it. God didn't save me. I didn't save me. Science, the tool of reason, had saved me. I was my own living proof that science worked. And so, the same faith that many placed in a god or religion, I now placed in science. Simply, it was a paradigm which brought verifiable results. Not that I didn't have faith in science before this. Every time, for instance, I flipped a light switch, one could say I had faith the lights would go on. The difference was that, whereas in the past I had taken my faith for granted, I was now a staunch believer.

As I saw it, science had resolved the riddle of the human soul. Science had proven it could come up with chemical formulas that could manipulate the contents of one's cognitions, emotions, and perceptions in almost whatever way it saw fit. It could electrically or chemically stimulate parts of one's brain in such a way that it could make one passive or aggressive, tranquil or manic, happy or sad. In essence, science could alter and manipulate one's cognitive and emotional states as if pulling the strings on a marionette.

As a result, I was now convinced that the mind, which I previously believed to constitute my transcendental soul, instead represented the workings of my physical organ, the brain. There was no soul. There was no ghost in the machine. My thoughts-human consciousness-were not the manifestation of some ethereal force or will but rather the consequence of synaptic transmissions, electrical and chemical signals being registered throughout my brain, generating a host of sensations, perceptions, emotions, and cognitions in me-pure neuromechanics. Consequently, as far as I was now concerned, the riddle of the human soul had been solved. From hereon, I would interpret the origin of all perception, sensation, emotion, and cognition from a strictly neurophysiological-that is, scientific-perspective.

As secure as I now was that there was no such thing as a transcendental soul, I still found myself plagued by that more essential problem of God's existence. As God supposedly constituted the embodiment of all things spiritual, not until I possessed some rational explanation through which I could resolve the problem of His existence could I be absolutely certain there was no such thing as a transcendental/spiritual reality. And as long as it was possible that God might exist, it was therefore also possible that I possessed a transcendental soul. Consequently, before I could commit to anything, I needed to resolve the greater and all-encompassing problem of God.

As the physical sciences had helped me to rationally interpret the underlying nature of consciousness, I now wondered if it would be possible to apply this same tool of reason to resolve that ever-persistent problem of God. Could the physical sciences crack that nut as well? Up until now, it hadn't come close. From biologists to astro- and quantum physicists, no one had ever advanced anything resembling a scientific interpretation of God. But why was this? Did God truly exist only beyond our grasp, beyond the range of human comprehension? Or was there a physical solution, only no one had discovered it yet?

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Throwing Rocks at God
Chapter 2: What Is Science?
Chapter 3: A Very Brief History of Time or Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Universe but Were Afraid to Ask
Chapter 4: Kant
Chapter 5: God as Word
Chapter 6: Universal Behavioral Patterns

Chapter 7: The "Spiritual" Function
Universal Spiritual Beliefs and Practices
The Argument For a Spiritual Function
Chapter 8: The Rationale
The Origin of Mortal Consciousness
The Pain Function
The Anxiety Function
When Mortal Consciousness Meets the Anxiety Function
Advent of the Spiritual Function
The Origins of Immortal and God Consciousness
Chapter 9: The "Spiritual" Experience
Origins of the Spiritual Experience
The Ego Function
The Transcendental Function
Chapter 10: Drug-Induced God
Chapter 11: The "Spiritual" Gene
Chapter 12: The Prayer Function
Chapter 13: Religious Conversion
Chapter 14: Why Are There Atheists?
Chapter 15: Near-Death Experiences
Chapter 16: Speaking in Tongues
Chapter 17: Why Is America So Religious?
A Bio-Historical Hypothesis
Chapter 18: The Guilt and Morality Functions
Chapter 19: The Logic of God:
A New "Spiritual" Paradigm
Chapter 20: What, If Anything, Is to Be Gained from a Scientific Interpretation of
Human Spirituality and God?
Epilogue: Quest's End
Addendum: Experiments That Might Help Prove the Existence of a Spiritual Function

About the Author

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God Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
From_the_Margins More than 1 year ago
Anyone with a solid education in science and philosophy will recognize this as a weak attempt by one poorly educated individual to justify his pre-formed conclusions. I forced myself through this book because I do NOT disagree with his conclusion that god is but a manifestation of neurochemical functioning in the brain (as is all consciousness). I was looking for the real, scientific meat of the argument, but he has articulated an inadequate, porous defense. In Alper's view, there is a gene for everything, including a "spiritual function" (a function posited on an a priori basis). As a result, he reaches some stunningly obtuse conclusions, such as his claim that atheists are "spiritually retarded." Unbelievable! He does not understand natural selection or evolution and, frankly, has a simplistic grasp of science that would leave him challenged to pass a rigorous college science exam (in whatever branch). Sorry to be so negative, but this was an absolute disappointment.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While enjoying the personal begining, I was looking forward to a stimulating reading, only to be disappointed. The writing style is pleasant, the author's misuses of scientific trivia, with bold and unsupported statements and without any humility made it rather disapointing. It's the typical journey meant to justify one's choices, but if you are trying to get a sincere understanding of how to reconcile G-d's role in our life, I wouldn't recomend this book.
Anesthesia More than 1 year ago
A great read for the religious and the non-religious. It will enlighten your thinking process and give you hope for the future of man. If you are a believer, you can say God planned it this way. If you are not a believer, you can reflect on the wonderment of nature and how emotions,decision making, and the other mechanisms of the brain came to be. Either way, you will gain a renewed appreciation for who we and what we represent.
John_Sterner More than 1 year ago
I teach "Philosophy of Science" on a college level and have been successfully using this book to teach both graduate and undergraduate students for the past seven years. I can't speak highly enough of this work and would include it as a "classic" in philosophy. It is as bold as it is brilliant. The prose is clear and concise and oftentimes poetic. It is an interdisciplinary gem chock full of information that is as thoughtful as it is accurate. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science and/or philosophy.
bujanda More than 1 year ago
Woderfull book, very well investigation, pure knoledge. A classic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A word of warning ... this is not a scientific text. It is a story told in first person of one man's spiritual journey - an autobiography. For someone who is only beginning to search for truth in the subject, this book holds potential to be groundbreaking. Be forewarned, however, that you will learn nothing new here - assuming you paid attention in high school. The case studies and research that the educated reader will expect are largely absent. For some, the conclusions presented in this book may seem like incredible eye-openers. For others, this text will closely resemble the many conversations you've already had on the subject. 'The God Part' seems to have a tunnel vision. It follows one dangerously long path of educated assumptions and never stops to see if anything was missed. It tends to be repetitive - stressing points over and over with little solid backing - a lecturer who enjoys his own voice. The writing often seems course and/or careless. Again, if you are new to this subject, I highly recommend. If mediocre writing style doesn¿t bother you, this would make for an interesting read. But for veterans or discriminating readers, I encourage you to look elsewhere for new answers.
doc_rock More than 1 year ago
Started out well but really bombed out, just like all the other books with this approach. The problem I have with arguments like this is that they operate within the "laws" of our physical universe and attempt to prove something that is metaphysical and transcendent. Whether you believe in God or not, there is no question that this is the realm that God inhabits if He in fact exists. So the book's author assumes that somehow, we'll be able to become perfectly aware, reasonable, stoic and every other virtue just by effort. So it's essentially saying: just try real hard and you'll become a god - and that is way better than believing in God. To use a quote from another recent read, "Sapiens". "We have become self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one. Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don't know what they want?" Y. N. Harari
Sherm1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The best thing about this book is Alper's explanation of why the United States is an outlier among first world countries in terms of religious belief. His thesis is that religion has a genetic basis, the U.S. was founded by religious fanatics, and about 40% of the current population is descended from those fanatics.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book would more properly be titled, "Stuff I've Thought About Without Actually Having Any Knowledge of What I'm Talking About." I don't know how any self respecting publisher could have allowed him to call his book "scientific," but it is certainly far from it. If there's anyone you have a particular hatred for and want to fill their heads with absolute nonsense I recommend you buy this book for them, otherwise let it sit and rot on the shelf.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Matthew Alper is high maintenance. Not only is his intellect superior to most Ph.D. candidates that I know, but his intensity in displaying that intellect and arguing his world view is more compelling than many of my grad school courses. So, here I am, fiercely advocating this unconventional, first time author who, with one slim book, has thrown hundreds of years of human religious beliefs out the window and replaced them with a concise scientific view of spirituality that is impossible to argue with...The brain is the secret. In our brains lie nature's survival mechanisms in which God is nothing but a protective lens through which humanity is programmed to view the world. Matthew Alper has the chutzpah to remove that lens, to crush it under his heel, and then, as we cringe in the unfiltered light, he dares us to look up and stare into the pure scientific truth he has discovered. The God Part of the Brain is a challenge at first, but once you open your mind to the potentials of its theories, there is nothing to do but follow its arguments to their logical conclusions. And although he rips away our old stiff crutches, this audacious philosopher is kind enough to spoon-feed us a new and positive way to approaching our existences.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While I agree in most part with Mr. Alper and his premise, I found the book to be a bit repeative in the beginning. The constant repeating of a position or examples well after the point has been made was tiresome. I found the beginning chapters where the foundations are being set down to be light in hard science and heavy on assumptions, albiet assumptions I lean towards. The book would be a good starting point for someone who is beginning to explore the subject, but the more advanced or indepth reader I believe would find it lacking.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the better books that I have read dealing with Religious Studies and the study of the religious drive in humans. If you are a believer you had best be sure you have some thick skin and expect a further bifurcation of your 'religious' and 'scientific' mind. Matthew Alper has written a fascinating book that explores the idea of looking at homo sapiens proclivity for belief in god as something that can be traced to a physical cause (our brain structure) and compares that proclivity to other traits and characteristics such as hair color, smiling, organ development, etc. that are unique to all those who are of the species homo sapiens. All of the above are determined by our genetic makeup which determines the development and structure of our brain which is the organ that brings forth these behaviours, according to the paradigm presented by Mr. Alper. I especially enjoyed his treatment of language. The faculty of language has been quite often pointed at as a unique trait of our species and many religious have used our ability to speak as proof-positive of the paradigm that asserts our 'divine' origin'. As Mr. Alper convincingly shows, there is a better paradigm that both explains the origin and location of the ability to speak and understand language. I won't steal Mr. Alper's thunder but I will say that one would do well to read and reread this one chapter and let the implications of what Mr. Alper is saying sink in. He is looking at language through the paradigm of science and he produces a very power explanatory model with this paradigm. It is incumbent on those who disagree with the effectiveness of this paradigm to prove him wrong. This paradigm (the scientific paradigm) is the operative one in most of our thinking process, except in those areas which some humans have reserved as off-limits to scientific investigation because of various factors (I will let the reader be their own judge of other's motivations in these areas). For me, it seems apparent that these are the last areas where the biblical ideas of homo sapiens intrinsic specialness still are the operative view. The resistance that is put forth by believers who refuse to allow these areas to be studied by the scientific method and dismiss the conclusions that scientific studies produce as false because the inevitable result will be the closing of a few more gaps where their god currently resides. I have often wondered how religious folks who firmly believed that the earth was flat, or that it was really at the 'center' of the universe adapted when the facts of the matter became real to them. We may be able to study this psychological phenomenon when the thesis of the book becomes the working hypothesis of cognitive researchers which, I anticipate, it should in the very near future judging from some of the luminaries that wrote little blurbs for the inside covers. As Mr. Alper's thesis is acted upon by researchers in various fields that look to substantiate his proposals and develop working hypothesis regarding genetic structure and the location in the brain of belief structures and attempt to test them, we will begin to see that color blindedness, musical and language ability and the willingness or unwillingness to believe whatever myth the culture you happen to be born in holds as being the 'true' revelation from god are all determined by the genetic sequencing in each individuals DNA. Perhaps one day, we may be able to engineer scourges out of human existance such as breast cancer, cystic fibrosis, cancer, etc., and, if Mr. Alper is correct and I believe he is, there will be no more Jonestowns, Holy Inquisistions, World Trade Centers, Wacos and scores of other examples as this psychotic behaviour known as belief in the supernatural can be eliminated by some fortuitous genetic engineering.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I began skeptically reading Matthew Alper's book, as the subject is contradictory to everything I was taught throughout my childhood. For the first 15 years of my life, I never questioned the religious beliefs my family and church imposed on me. After that age, I began to have my own thoughts, and to wonder if what had been 'programmed' into me really existed. I began to doubt that I would experience eternal life, and began to be more inclined to believe that when I die, I will totally cease to exist. However, I never explored these possibilities, and chose rather to try to ignore my concerns and fears. I have been reasonably successful in subscribing to the 'ignorance is bliss' theory until I unexpectedly happened upon Matthew Alper's thought provoking, stimulating, and well written book. I read it in its' entirety today, and I feel that in some ways I may have opened Pandora's Box. But I also feel that thanks to Mr. Alper, I can now begin to form a solid foundation to explore these issues more thoro
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has Nobel written all over it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
From cover to cover, this book is the best piece of writing that I have ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed digesting Mr Alper's thesis. The only thing missing is my testimonial. I have one relative who had several months of obsessive compulsive prayer episodes in conjunction with a head injury. The episodes cleared up on their own with the added twist that the victim has no memory of them. And, I have another relative who died on an operating table who will tell you how much one should believe in NDE's and how it changed her outlook on she can be at peace with herself and how she doesn't fear death anymore...yet her day to day actions and attitudes not only do not reflect this but are often downright unpleasent. As for the style in which the book is written,use of multiple examples of such things as various religions, gods, or practices is helpful to those who may not be aware of their existence, their correct context or to those in need of exact references. Of all the other books on this subject that I have read by more erudite authors, none have been this forthright with their ideas and that is what makes 'The God Part' an interesting read. Mr. Alper stakes his claim without apology or disrespect to others.
Guest More than 1 year ago
All 6 billion plus inhabitants of Earth should be in possession of this book. Matthew Alper's tome should be placed next to the sacred writings section in the libraries, bookstores and dwellings throughout the world. Matthew Alper is the new Galileo. (Watch your back Matthew!) Immensely important. Defines in a clear and concise manner what each of us already knew but were afraid to admit and exclaim. The cat's out of the bag....
Guest More than 1 year ago
Just as did I, as a teenager Matthew Alper asked the big questions: Who is 'God' and what is my relation to him? Which, if any, of the hundreds of religions and sub-religions is correct? Why do religions change so much over time? How come every person's religious view is different from everybody else's? Just as I did, Alper began a personal search for the answers to these questions. He looked everywhere. Like me, he found that the answers to the big questions of 'faith' lie not 'out there' but within us. He then continued his search far beyond mine, came to many well-reasoned conclusions, then documented and explained his findings in 'The 'God' Part of the Brain'. This work draws on many scientific disciplines, including evolution, psychology, anthropology and history, to put into clear perspective the origin of the human need to seek a higher power and, more important, the effect this need has on humanity and its cultures. I found the book to be a 'revelation' of sorts in that it finally makes sense out of the din of competing religious views. In this book Matthew Alper shows an enviable commitment to truth, exacting logic and scholarly research as well as a vast intelligence as he explains his search and the answers he found. I did not want the book to end! It explains a very important part of what it means to be human. 'The 'God' Part of the Brain' has already made a very great, very positive impact on my life.