God and Your Brain

Picture of James E. Croley III, M.D.

James E. Croley III, M.D.

Author and Ophthalmologist

God created man in his image and one of the main reasons is that he could have a close intimate relationship with you and me. He designed us so that his Spirit would be able live inside you and I and God would be a part of us. So, what kind of creation are you?

Most of us here know our name, but who are you? Let’s peel down a few layers and see what is going on inside of you. We are going to dig a little deeper inside your brain and find out who you really are. Let us use the Bible and medical science to discover who you are. What are you made of and what’s underneath that layer of skin that covers your body?

First, let’s talk about the Bible. The word Bible comes from the Greek and Latin words meaning book. What kind of book is it? What kind of information is in it? The Bible provides many different things to different people.

What kind of things could we say about the Bible?

Descriptions of the Bible

  1. Account of God’s actions in the universe and his purpose for its creation
  2. A guide or roadmap for living a full life, purpose, or destiny
  3. A collection of wonderful stories
  4. A refuge or comfort for people in trouble or who have a need
  5. A sourcebook for everyday living
  6. Message of salvation
  7. Tells us what we are to believe about God and what God requires of us
  8. God gave us the Bible to tell us about himself or it is his autobiography
  9. It gives moral and ethical instructions, health guidelines, and how to live our lives
  10. A treasury of insights as to who you are

Tripartite Man

We have a Triune God, and man is classically described in the Bible as having three parts: Body, Soul, and Spirit. There are two other descriptions in the Bible describing the makeup man, and that is Mind and Heart. I believe that the mind and heart are referring to parts of your soul and I will go through the reasons why I believe that this is the case.

Genesis 2:7 NLT

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground. He breathed life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.

God formed man from the dust of the earth. Our bodies are made of a variety of minerals, chemicals, and mostly water, which are all common elements here on Earth. Adam is the Hebrew word for man. It also means “to be red”. So Adam was made from the red clay of the earth.

The Body

human body
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Let’s go over the body first. The Greek word for body is Soma. As a side note, this is where Chico’s clothing chain got its name for its lingerie store. As I said earlier, your body is made of minerals and chemicals found on Earth. You know I could buy the chemicals in your body for a couple of dollars. I could buy the minerals in your body for about three dollars. Your body is just a cheap vessel that contains your spirit and soul. Even though your body is composed of cheap parts, it was miraculously designed by God. 

 

If you printed the DNA sequence of our bodies, the stack of paper it would take to print it is the height of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. Your body is full of sensory receptors and over 70% of your brain activity involves receiving, processing, internalizing, filtering, and constantly making decisions about the sensory input received from your body’s sensory receptors. Most of these occur subconsciously. The body’s primary purpose is to be the vessel containing your soul and spirit. The Bible says that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit inside of Christians.

1 Corinthians 6:19 NIV

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?

We don’t take this Bible verse very seriously many times and I am as guilty as anyone, but we do need to be more aware of it as I think you will see why a little later.

I believe that when it said in Genesis, “God breathed into man the breath of life,” He breathed into man through his nostrils his soul and spirit. The original word for the breathing of life that God put into you is ChayChay means “life”, “sustenance”, or “alive”. It is used in the plural nearly every time it is used in the Bible. Therefore, I believe that God breathed into man his soul and spirit. I think that God breathed it into your brain and central nervous system. He breathed through man’s nostrils right in front of the brain. The Bible didn’t say that your spirit and soul were absorbed through your skin. The Holy Spirit may be in every cell in your body, but the Holy Spirit is going to communicate with you through your brain or mind.

Hebrews 4:12 NLT

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow.

The soul and spirit are very closely connected in the brain or mind, but the soul and spirit are used in different ways throughout the Bible.

What is Your Soul?

The soul
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In the New Testament, the Greek word for soul is psyche, which means heart, life, mind, breath, vital breath, and breath of life.

The English root word is psyche and where we get the words psychology, psychologist, and psychiatrist. These are words we use for the study and treatment of the soul or your mind.

The soul is the immaterial aspect of who you are that is immortal if you are a Christian. There are many references in the Bible where God refers to man as a soul. On a plane or ship, they count how many souls are onboard. Your soul is composed of your intellect, will, emotions, personality, tendencies, dispositions, self-awareness, evaluations, judgments, abstract thinking, mental state, relationships, and volition. In simplest terms, it is who you are. I am Jim Croley with a particular set of emotions, personality, thoughts, beliefs, desires, loves, attitudes, and abilities that are my soul.

Psychotasia is the Greek word for the weighing of souls. Man has been trying to weigh the soul since 2,500 B.C. when there is an Egyptian tomb painting showing the soul being weighed. It is hard to believe that man has been trying to prove the existence of the soul almost since the origin of humankind.

The most famous report of the weight of the soul was in the New York Times on March 10, 1907. Dr. MacDougall weighed 6 dying patients with tuberculosis. He laid them on a flat table containing a very accurate scale. He measured them right before and after their death and came to the finding that the soul weighed 21 grams. There were a few issues with how the study was done that bring into question its validity, but it is interesting that there was a difference in body weight right after dying.

There have been many other attempts with reports of varying weights of the soul using different methods of weighing the soul, which I discuss in my book Believing is Seeing, that have documented similar weights of the soul of a few grams. We really don’t know the weight of the soul, but man keeps trying to weigh it or even try to image it with a variety of infrared cameras or X-rays. Maybe the soul is like helium and lighter than air and the body should weigh more when it dies. No one really knows the answer about the weight of the soul.

So, what other information do we know about the soul?

The soul is the connection, monitor, and referee between your spirit and your body. Your soul receives information from your spirit, which is connected to the Holy Spirit if you are a Christian. If you are not a Christian, then your spirit given to you by God may be mostly dormant, not very active, and not sending your soul information that your spirit contains. Your soul is also receiving information or sensory input from your body. Your soul chooses what information it wants to use and makes decisions that direct your life. The soul is your decision-maker and regulator of all the information your brain is receiving. Your soul is in charge. Your soul listens to your spirit and your flesh. The battle of what decisions to make between the two has been going on in man’s brain since Adam and Eve. It is your soul that worships God.

Psalm 42:1 NIV

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.

Now that you have an idea about the soul, what is the spirit inside of you?

The Spirit

The Greek word for spirit is pneuma which means breath, wind, a symbol of life, wind of heaven, or source of life. Your spirit makes your mind different from all of God’s other creations in that you have a mind based on the mind of Christ. Your spirit allows you to connect to God through his Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit is your conduit to God. It is the spiritual substance by which the human body is made a living person. Your spirit is your conscience. God gave you the ability to know right from wrong and the ability to contemplate. Nurturing and developing a strong spirit connected to God actually makes changes in your brain, which I will cover a little later. 

For non-Christians, their spirit is nearly dormant. It is like a mustard seed that is waiting for water to release its nutrients and let it start growing. Your spirit is waiting on the life-giving water of Jesus Christ so that the Holy Spirit can resuscitate it. Your spirit is looking for or seeking a connection to God that will make it complete and activated. You have heard sermons about a hole in man’s heart that only God can fill. I think this is what they are talking about. Your spirit is waiting for that connection of the Holy Spirit to make it complete and totally functional. 

Inside of you, your spirit and flesh are juxtaposed with each other. Your spirit is trying to influence your soul, just as your flesh is sending signals to your soul of what it desires. As I’ve said before, there is a constant battle going on inside of everyone—between your spirit and the flesh—since Adam and Eve first sinned. Your spirit must be on the same wavelength as the Holy Spirit so that you can recognize, understand, perceive, and communicate with God.rper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

The Mind

human mind

1 Corinthians 2:16 NLT

For, “Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.

The word for mind in the New Testament is nous. This means understanding, reason, the reasoning faculty, intellect, knowledge, and reflective thinking. The Bible is referring to the thinking portion of your soul. This separates us from other animals and allows us to decide to commune and connect with God. Your mind makes the willful decisions that you make.

The Heart

human heart
Image by b0red from Pixabay

The word heart appears in the Bible more than 500 times. The Greek word for heart is Kardia which means the middle, inward parts, kidneys, or reins. It is where we get the medical word cardia or cardiac arrest. As much as the word heart appears in the Bible, it appears that God wants you to be emotional or passionate about him. The heart is the emotional part of the soul. That’s where your passion and feelings come from. Though everyone points to their chest when talking about the emotional part of the soul, it is not where the heart of the soul is located. The heart in the Bible or your emotions are in your brain. The heart is just a muscle pumping blood.

Looking Inside Your Brain

Now that we have looked at what the Bible says about who you are, let’s see what science can add to who you are and your relationship with God. Let’s look at a few of the remarkable things about how God designed man’s complex brain. These are just a few interesting facts about the brain.

1. The brain is about the size of a cantaloupe.
2. Sixty percent (60%) of the brain is fat or lipid.
3. There are 1,000 miles of blood vessels in the brain.
4. The brain uses 20% of the body’s oxygen.
5. The brain can generate up to 25 watts of power.
6. The brain holds 100 terabytes of information.
7. The brain performs 1 hundred trillion calculations per second.
8. The brain contains 100 billion brain cells or neurons. 
9. You can place 30,000 brain cells on the head of a pin.
10. The brain sends signals and communicates with other cells at 100 yards a second.
11. There are 1 hundred trillion connections in the brain.

God developed DNA which he used as a building block for his creation. You can think of it as a huge, complex Lego set. There are many, many pieces that God used for his creation with a set of DNA sequences. There is a DNA sequence for skin, hair, neurons, or brain cells in all of God’s creation. The reason why there are many similarities between his creations is because he used DNA to form them. A hair is a hair. There are small differences in the DNA sequence of hair between different animals.

Dr. Francis Collins, who wrote the book The Language of God, oversaw the scientists who unraveled the DNA strand. One strand of DNA uncurled is 6 feet long. If you stretch out just the DNA in the brain, it will stretch to the sun and halfway back to Earth.

Let’s take a brief look at the brain and central nervous system.

parts of the brain
Image credit: Pearson Education, Inc.

Spinal Cord

At the lower end of the nervous system, there is the spinal cord. The spinal cord in all vertebrate animals functions similarly. Its job is to carry signals to the tissues in the body and receive signals from the tissues back to the brain.

Let’s take a brief look at the brain and central nervous system.

Spinal Cord

At the lower end of the nervous system, there is the spinal cord. The spinal cord in all vertebrate animals functions similarly. Its job is to carry signals to the tissues in the body and receive signals from the tissues back to the brain.

Brainstem

The next level up from the spinal cord is the brainstem. The brainstem is again very similar in all animals as this area is responsible for breathing, heartbeat, digestion, eye movement, and basic life support duties.

Limbic System

The limbic system is the next level up in the central nervous system. The limbic system is an extremely complex set of structures in the brain and there are again many similarities between the different animals that God created. The limbic system is responsible for the flow of epinephrine, behavior, emotion, sexual desires, lust, motivation, fear, instinct, insecurity, selfishness, anger, rage, jealousy, envy, and aggression. It is responsible for the fight-or-flight response. You can think of the limbic system from a Biblical standpoint as the flesh. This is where sin originates in man.

Cerebral Hemispheres

This is the area of the brain that differentiates you and me from all the other animals. This is where all the higher-order brain functions occur.

Occipital Lobe

This is the vision center in the brain. There is a chapter in the Believing is Seeing and The Blinding of America books devoted to sight, perception, and reality.

Parietal Lobe

One of the main functions is self-awareness or the “me- me-me” center, visuospatial processing, alertness, and the ability to relate to other people’s feelings.

Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe has to do with sensory processing and vision memories. Do you know that there may be a specific set of neurons in the temporal lobe for each face that you know? So, every time you see someone, the same set of brain cells fire to let you know who they are.

Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe has two major components called the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex. The prefrontal cortex makes the final decision on the information and data that your brain is receiving. All thoughts, visions, perceptions, and experiences from your environment eventually come to the prefrontal cortex for evaluation. It is responsible for complex thinking, planning, and cognitive behavior; moderates social behavior; and regulates the limbic system. 

 

The anterior cingulate cortex is the critical connection between the prefrontal cortex, which is the decision-making part of the brain, and the limbic system, which is responsible for emotions, lust, sexual desires, rage, anger, anxiety, or man’s flesh. The anterior cingulate cortex is important for emotional regulation, moral and ethical evaluation, empathy, strategic planning, and personality. It is through this area of the brain that your prefrontal cortex monitors and tries to regulate the limbic system. This is where the action is—where you decide to follow an urge from your limbic system or flesh, or where you decide to resist temptation. I know that this is a lot of science, but I believe that knowing there is a scientific basis for the mind and how it works may give you a different perspective. All these reactions are going on in your brain and mind, and the good thing is that you can change how your mind works and the way you make decisions. 

Neurotheology

Neurotheology is the study of religion or religious experiences in neuroscientific terms. Scientists have been trying for years to find a God spot in the brain. Many of these scientists are atheists and believe that man invented God and not that God created man. They believe that because of man’s fear of dying, he created God.

When was the last time you had a nervous breakdown from the fear of dying? I don’t know too many people who think about dying all the time. You certainly may think about it if you have a serious illness, but when young people are having babies, I don’t believe they are thinking about dying. On top of that, why would you create a God that put in place a bunch of rules that you are supposed to live by that would restrict the fun you think you must have?

If you are just looking for a God that says, “I grant you eternal life so that you can relieve your fear,” would you create a God that tells you what you are to become, that you cannot run around with as many women as you want, drink as much as you want, or do anything you want when you want? That doesn’t sound like a logical reason for creating a God to me. Other cultures have created a false god that allowed all those activities that are now considered myths or fairy tales. Other scientists believe that there is a gene for the creation of God and others believe our brain produces a chemical that causes us to believe in a god. I cover some of these different opinions in more detail in the Believing is Seeing book, but I won’t take the time to cover them now.

Genesis 1:26 NLT

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.”

God finished his work or creation with a personal touch. God decided to make a creature whom he could have a personal and intimate relationship with. We have been made in the image of God; in other places in the Bible, it is described as a likeness. In the simplest terms, it means we were made to resemble God.

Now we are not talking about looking like God in a physical-appearance way. Humans were not made like God in the sense of having flesh, blood, arms, and legs. According to John 4:24, God is spirit. The image of God refers to the immortal part of man which sets you apart from all the other animals. Man created in the image of God refers to the abstract attributes of self-consciousness, mercy, authority, rational behavior, volitional actions, abstract thinking, planning, the ability to make decisions, freedom, morality, ethics, and other communicable attributes. Humans have a spirit inside them, just as God is a spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:10-16 NLT

But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.

When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. For,

“Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?”

But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.

God made our brains or minds in a way that is like his but in a very rudimentary way. He instilled spirit and soul into our brain and central nervous system. He did this so that he can communicate with us and that his spirit can live in us and connect to our spirit. As I said before, God is a spirit, but he also has a soul. An example of God having a soul is found in Leviticus.

Leviticus 26:11 KJV

And I will set my tabernacle among you, and my soul shall not abhor you.

You are made in his likeness or image in that you have a soul and spirit in a very basic way similar to God. A little later I am going to discuss how the Holy Spirit resides inside your brain.

Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 NLT

Yes, remember your creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.

Other translations say “loosened” instead of “snapped.” I believe that the Bible places your soul and spirit in your brain or central nervous system based on Ecclesiastes 12:6-7. The silver cord and the golden bowl are your spinal cord and brain. Then you have what I discussed earlier in Genesis, “God breathed into man his life,” using a plural word. I believe that this makes a strong case that God breathed into you your spirit and soul. 

When we die our body, which is composed of minerals, chemicals, and water, returns to the earth. A dead body will decay back to its original elements. Amazingly, Solomon knew that the brain was the location of your mind, soul, and spirit. It wasn’t until several hundred years later that Aristotle proposed that your brain was the source of your mind. God gave Solomon special wisdom. 

Let’s see what other things science can tell us about your brain and God.

God Circuits in the Brain

God Circuits in the Brain
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Occipital-Parietal lobe — This area identifies God as an object that exists in the world.

Parietal-Frontal lobe — This portion of the brain establishes a relationship between you and God.

Frontal lobe — This were where most of the action in the brain relates to God as it creates, conceptualizes, and integrates all our ideas about God.

Anterior Cingulate Cortex — This area is right next to the prefrontal cortex, and this is where you experience love, empathy, and compassion.

Thalamus — This area gives emotional meaning to your concept and relationship with God.

Temporal lobe — The area allows some people to hear God’s voice.

Occipital lobe — The occipital lobe helps you envision an anthropomorphic God.

F-MRI, PET Scan, SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography)
Image by Kondor8 via Shutterstock

functional MRI (fMRI) is like a regular MRI except that you are performing a task while the MRI is completed. You can think, meditate, or concentrate on a specific matter or task while the MRI is being done. This can show what portions of the brain are more or less active while performing certain tasks. This will show what part of the brain is used for different tasks or processes.

PET scans show wherever there is increased activity in the brain, which can also show what areas of the brain are responsible for different activities or processes. SPECT scans work in a very similar fashion. These scans can be used to map what parts of the brain are responsible for different activities, thinking, processes, and/or meditations.

There was a study in JAMA’s Psychiatry Journal in 2014 that found that Christians have statistically significantly larger brains. I don’t think many vocal atheists are so happy with that study, along with the fact that Christians live on an average 6 or 7 years longer than non-Christians. Dr. Andrew Newberg at the University of Pennsylvania has done 25 years of research on religion and brain function and has written several books on the subject.

Until recently, we thought that once we had grown up the brain could not change. We now know that the brain still has plasticity or the ability to form new brain cells. You can teach an old dog new tricks. Some ladies may think that their husbands are untrainable or can’t learn to do new things such as clean up after themselves. But I want to let you know that they can learn. It just requires the right motivation.

The brain is constantly forming thousands of new neurons or brain cells every day and pruning old neurons that have not been used. For every thought, movement, or muscle twitch that you have, there is a set of neurons firing that are responsible for that action. Because of how God made your brain, the Holy Spirit can enter your brain and live inside you. Isn’t amazing to think that God is truly living inside of you? You can have the confidence of knowing that you can live in the peace, joy, and love of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is stimulating neurons in your brain to communicate with you. Every thought that comes up in your mind has a set of brain cells or neurons responsible for that thought.

When the Holy Spirit places thoughts in you, the Holy Spirit is causing neurons in your brain to fire. So many people don’t know this or take advantage of this knowledge. You can change the way your brain works. Over time, your brain can change how it functions. That is one of the major reasons I wrote the two books I have published. I wanted to bring this information about the brain and the message of God in a different way so that it might reach more people. According to scientific evidence, the more time your think, pray, meditate, and study about God, the more what I call God-centered neurons you develop. This is the way you mature as a Christian; you develop more and more God neurons and prune bad or sinful neurons. Your brain is constantly at work forming millions of new neurons and is constantly pruning or removing unused neurons even while you are sleeping.

These next scans are from Dr. Andrew Newberg’s research.

Images at Baseline and During Meditation
Photo by Dr. Andrew Newberg

This is a scan of a Franciscan nun with the one on the left as a baseline. The scan on the right was done while she was praying verbally which shows an increase in the language center since she is verbally praying, increased activity in the prefrontal cortex which corresponds to this part of the brain actively communicating to God, and decreased activity in the right parietal lobe which allows a person to be less focused on themselves and more receptive or have an increased awareness of God versus themselves. 

spect atheist at baseline and while contemplating god
Photo by Dr. Andrew Newberg

This is a SPECT scan of an atheist meditating on the concept of God. There is no increased activity in the prefrontal cortex compared to the baseline scan. There is no difference in the parietal lobe activity. Because there is no Holy Spirit in his brain, there is no increased activity in the brain. His spirit is still dormant, and the Holy Spirit is not present. There is no increased activity in the brain of the Holy Spirit and man’s spirit in communication with each other.

02 spect images at baseline and during meditation
Photo by Dr. Andrew Newberg

This is another scan showing increased activity in the prefrontal cortex. Isn’t it fantastic that you can actually see the Holy Spirit, your spirit, and your soul actively working in your brain? Christianity is not some hocus-pocus, fairytale, or fig of the imagination of a bunch of weird Christians. It is a proven scientific fact that is viewable on a scan. A couple of interesting thoughts related to this science: if someone believes that they are a Christian, but they are unsure if the Holy Spirit is really inside of them and wants some assurance, then they can get a scan and see if their brain looks like this one.

A scan of a Christian meditating and praying shows increased activity in the prefrontal cortex and decreased activity in the right parietal lobe.

How you perceive and see everything in this world is extremely important. Seeing the way God wants you to see is vital for living a Christian life or having a God-centered paradigm.

Proverbs 17:24 NIV

A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.

I hope you enjoyed this post about God and your brain. You can have confidence that God’s Holy Spirit is with you always.

It would be great if you would consider purchasing the books here on the website. All the proceeds are going to missions. I pray that God provides you with healthy eyes, great vision, and may you always focus through a God-centered paradigm.

Dr. James E. Croley III is a respected eye surgeon and a Christian. He is the author of two booksBelieving is Seeing and The Blinding of AmericaOrder copies for your family and friends today.

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