If I Only was a Brain

By Jeff Laird

The scarecrow's introductory song from The Wizard of Oz is light-hearted, because it's only a fantasy character wishing he had a brain in his head instead of straw. The situation wouldn't be nearly so whimsical if he was singing, "If I only was a brain", would it? It's one thing to be a living soul without a brain, it's another to be a living brain without a soul. Either way, as the Scarecrow already knew, physical brains are pretty important.

If we're not bodies, but rather spirits and souls living in bodies (2 Corinthians 5:1-2), why does the brain — a part of the material body — have such a large role to play in how we learn and interact with the world? Why is intelligence so strongly influenced by physical issues like injury, disease, and age? Wouldn't it make us less "soul-ish" if intelligence was just a function of biology? Those are tricky questions to consider, because of their massive impact on how reasonable the Christian worldview really is. Depending on what a person believes about the relationship between the mind, soul, and spirit, any particular answer might be comforting or controversial. At the same time, that answer has to be truthful, scientifically accurate, and Biblical.

Because the issue is both sensitive and crucial, it's important to clearly define terms. Here, "intellect" means the interaction of logic, reason, and learning; this is clearly abstract, not physical. Spirits such as angels possess "intellect". We can then define "intelligence" as the relative ability of a brain to utilize "intellect".

In other words, "intelligence" really is a physical trait, just like height, strength, eye color, or skin color. It makes sense for a person's intelligence to be highly — almost entirely — dependent on the physical structure of their brain. Of course, that statement makes a great many people uncomfortable. And yet, it shouldn't be a problem for someone with a Christian worldview. The Bible teaches that body and spirit aren't the same thing (Matthew 10:28, 2 Corinthians 5:6), and that abilities such as reason are clearly tied to the state of the physical body (Isaiah 7:15, 1 Corinthians 13:11). We can see from experience that physical maturity, and brain health, are necessary to fully develop intelligence.

A coarse illustration would be a computer with a central processor (CPU) and a network card. The CPU receives signals from devices like a keyboard and mouse; these are signals ultimately originating from outside of the computer, directing the internal components. The CPU's architecture determines how quickly it works, and if it's damaged, or the computer itself is disrupted, that speed can be interfered with. The network card, likewise, transmits signals back and forth between something internal to the computer, and something external to it.

The brain is certainly the body's CPU, and it may well be its antenna, or something analogous to a computer's network card. When that connection is less sophisticated, or has been damaged, or is being disrupted by something, there is less ability for the spirit — the real person — to use intellect through that physical body. Just as, in a computer, damage or design changes to the CPU greatly change how effectively a user is able to manipulate the computer's other hardware.

Most important to remember is that our relationship with God is spiritual (John 4:24). Even the physical aspects of Christianity are either tied to, symbolic of, or derived from our spiritual relationship. God interacts with us through many different paths. These may be material (Psalm 19:1), emotional (Jeremiah 24:7), or intellectual (Isaiah 1:18). But our fundamental interaction with Him is spiritual, because the "real" us is spiritual, just as God is spirit (John 4:24). Our physical experiences, including emotions, senses, and intelligence, can be used to lead us to God, and to serve God, but they have never been the primary means by which we apprehend Him.

Of course, the idea that intelligence is purely physical is already comfortably entrenched in materialistic worldviews such as atheism. The difference here between materialism and Christianity, however, is that materialism provides no distinction between the body and the person. From a materialistic perspective, changes to the body actually change who and what that person is, at the most fundamental level. Christianity supports the inherent equality of all human beings, regardless of intelligence, or changes to their intelligence, or their physical bodies.

Materialism, strictly speaking, can't consider those of lesser intelligence as "equal", because in a materialistic worldview, only the body exists, so only the body matters. If the bodies aren't materially equal, then neither are the people. A car with a damaged engine is an inferior car, because there's nothing "more" than the physical structure there. A computer with a slower processor is an inferior computer, for the same reason. If a "person" is just a machine made of meat, it's delusional to talk about their worth in anything other than physical terms. There is no materialistic buffer between a person's physical traits and their essential worth, because materialism says the physical is all that person is.

In other words, Christianity recognizes physical differences as real, but irrelevant to a person's worth and humanity. What we do with our physical bodies is, of course, extremely relevant to our spiritual condition. Our strengths and weaknesses, our gender, and our other traits are God-given for a reason. So our intelligence, physical though it may be, has no bearing whatsoever on our value to God, our need for a Savior, or our equality with other people.

Simply put, intelligence is a function of the body, but our bodies are not everything we are. When we're glorified (1 Corinthians 15:53-54), we won't have the weaknesses of an impure body clouding our intellect.

"Intelligence" is simply the extent to which the physical brain can apply "intellect", which itself is anchored in the spiritual "us" that exists beyond the material. For the Christian, admitting that intelligence is a purely physical trait is not only no big deal, it's a natural extension of our worldview. We don't need a diploma — from a Wizard, or anyone else — to understand that.

See also: "When Others are Weak, Look to God"

Image credit: brain MRI of Katy Ayers, a beautiful woman with Multiple Sclerosis

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Health-Wellness

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Published 2-4-2014