An article on five researchers in studying the neuroscientific basis for religious experience: Michael Persinger, Stewart Guthrie, Andrew Newberg, Dean Hamer, and Rick Strassman.
Critics point out that Persinger’s subjects usually know in advance how the God machine is supposed to affect them and hence might be only responding to suggestion. A group at Uppsala University in Sweden recently found that subjects lacking such expectations experience no unusual psychological effects as a result of electromagnetic brain stimulation. Persinger counters that in at least two of his studies, suggestibility could not have been responsible, and the Swedes “didn’t use our equipment properly.”
Dawkins, when he visited Persinger’s lab, experienced a slight dizziness and twitching in a leg but otherwise “nothing unusual.” And Charles Cook, a former grad student of Persinger’s who supervised God-machine sessions in the 1990s, has noted that most subjects who sensed a presence typically experienced only a vague feeling of being watched—which they were, of course, by the researchers.