We wouldn’t be giving publicity to this if it wasn’t in Scientific American (January 19, 2012): “Is There a Difference between the Brain of an Atheist and the Brain of a Religious Person?” Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg reports,
Researchers have pinpointed differences between the brains of believers and nonbelievers, but the neural picture is not yet complete.
Several studies have revealed that people who practice meditation or have prayed for many years exhibit increased activity and have more brain tissue in their frontal lobes, regions associated with attention and reward, as compared with people who do not meditate or pray. A more recent study revealed that people who have had “born again” experiences have a smaller hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in emotions and memory, than atheists do. These findings, however, are difficult to interpret because they do not clarify whether having larger frontal lobes or a smaller hippocampus causes a person to become more religious or whether being pious triggers changes in these brain regions.
Given neuroplasticity – the tendency of neurons to rewire in response to perceived need – the latter would seem more likely. It would also explain claims (not refuted by evidence) – that one was changed by a religious experience: “I no longer acted out hostility and resentment to nearly the same degree, …” “etc. No, because that was no longer the main pathway.
It’s going to take a while to understand the useful information.
See also: The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).