While more than 90 percent of the general public believes in God, only 7 percent of elite scientists do, according to recent polls. In addition, “Half of Americans claim to have experienced a life-altering spiritual event that they could circle on the calendar in red ink,” she says.
Some researchers are willing to go on the record about what they’re finding, despite potential ridicule from colleagues. “I think the evidence strongly points in the direction of there being more than just this material world,” says Bruce Greyson, a psychiatry professor at the University of Virginia and a leading researcher on near-death experiences.
Adds scientist Dean Radin: “Science is a new enterprise. We are monkeys just out of the trees. And for us to be so arrogant as to imagine we’re close to understanding the universe is just insane.”
Hagerty, who has covered the Justice Department and Sept. 11 for NPR and spent more than a decade editing and reporting at The Christian Science Monitor, examines both sides of the story. She includes detailed explanations of how many scientists explain spiritual experiences as illusions, chemical reactions, mere tricks of the material brain. A “God spot” in the brain may be responsible for religious or spiritual feelings.
But, she and other researchers wonder, does the brain always cause the experiences – or sometimes respond to something external?