God and the Brain

I recently came across a couple articles that inspired the blog post you are now reading. For more information please see the following articles published in Leadership Journal:

“Can Neuroscience Help Us Disciple Anyone” by John Ortberg

“The Sanctified Brain” by Robert Crosby


Thinking about how our brains perceive and experience God was a question I hadn’t yet asked myself until my Behavioral Neuroscience professor at Wheaton College mentioned it as a field of Neuroscience. “Neurotheology” has been thrown around the last couple years as an emerging sub-field of neuroscience research. Research might include EEG data while a participant is praying a memorized prayer vs. a prayer they make up on the spot or an EEG of a person speaking in tongues vs. singing a favorite hymn.

Those of us who identify with a particular religion whether it be Christian, Islam, Buddhist, etc. identify with feelings experienced during worship music or a really inspiring sermon but where are those “God Circuits” (as Dr. Andrew Newberg from Thomas Jefferson University has called them) located. Furthermore does the fact that we can locate them within a neural network make them any less “spiritual”? What would happen to our salvation (or our ability to become saved) should the areas of our brain responsible for retrieving memories or experiencing God get damaged?


What does the process of sanctification look like neurologically?

We’ve known for some time that our brains are malleable through what we call “neuroplasticity”. Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8 ring especially true given this fact: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” We are literally re-wiring our brain by what we think about, therefore, focus on things of LIGHT!

So is religion just our brains? Some are quick to jump to what Dr. John Ortberg calls “nothing buttery” (as in “We are nothing but our brains…”). John Ortberg writes, “We are not just our brains. No one has ever seen a thought, or an idea, or a choice. A neuron firing is not the same things a a thought, even though they may coincide.”

We still aren’t sure how electricity makes it’s way into complex thoughts and memories.

Regardless of what the future of neuroscience holds we can take comfort that the God we serve has so equipped us to ask the tough questions and find him not lacking in answers. We are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made”.


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