The Religious and Spiritual Importance of the Human Brain
by: Gordon Wayne
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Many people believe that Nature, Evolution, or an omniscient Creator created everything within the cosmos including humankind, which covers the entire package from head to toe. That creative force designed, engineered, and sculpted every organ, blood vessel, muscle, bone, and cell in the human body. Obviously, this includes humanity’s distinguishing characteristic, the human brain, an organ that few religions acknowledge and fewer understand, which is ironic considering religion is not possible without it.
Many species have a distinguishing characteristic, some anatomical endowment that gives them an edge in the dispassionate game of survival. Sharks have razor-sharp teeth and lion fish have poisonous spines; octopuses have boneless bodies that can slither through impossibly small opening; foxes have their legendary cunning; buffalo have powerful shoulders and neck supporting lethal horns; bats and dolphins have the magic of sonar; some fish species have the magic of electricity; cheetahs have the fastest feet on land and peregrine falcons have the fastest wings ideally suited for aerial diving; elephants have long, dexterous trucks and giraffes have long, elegant necks; hummingbirds have an impossibly high metabolism. We humans have a large, sophisticated brain that combines with speech to create a potent force few species can challenge.
With our innate intelligence, we can create clothing, shelters, villages, and tools for hunting and farming; we can design and construct roads, bridges, canals, aqueducts, and mechanical apparatuses; we can engineer motorized vehicles, skyscrapers, airplanes, spaceships, and oceanic vessels larger than villages; we can create biology, chemistry, physics, philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, etcetera; and we can create writing systems and instruments both of which are necessary for developing and promoting religious theories, rituals, and practices.
Religion cannot exist without the human brain and its genetically guaranteed faculties, faculties from whatever or whoever created humanity. The human brain and its inherent intelligence are absolutely necessary for developing religious theories, rituals, practices, and beliefs. As mentioned, human intelligence is necessary for inventing writing systems and tools so people can record religious ideologies, rituals, practices, doctrines, and beliefs. Our brains are also necessary for inventing words so we can articulate religious ideas, rituals, practices and beliefs. Truthfully, religion and human spirituality are virtually impossible without the human brain and its genetically guaranteed faculties.
Despite this, no religion addresses what could possibly be the most important theological issue, namely the truth about the human brain. It is shameful that theologians and religious leaders completely ignore our most important attribute, disgraceful that priests do not enlighten parishioners about their innate intelligence. Perhaps theologians are unaware that every human has a large, sophisticated brain that Nature, Evolution, or the Creator endowed with genetically guaranteed faculties. Maybe preachers cannot pontificate about things they cannot perceive, which begs the question how they can preach about the mortal soul. Whatever their excuse is, they cannot truly understand human spirituality when they are completely ignorant of humanity’s most important biological endowment.
While Nature and Evolution probably do not appreciate the significance of the human brain, human intelligence, and it relationship with human spirituality, a cognizant Creator should. A truly omniscient Creator should understand the importance of the human brain and human intelligence, and its relationship to human spirituality. After all, infinite intelligence should everything about everything and would patiently for finite intellects to unravel that critical relationship. Whatever we choose to believe created humankind, we must acknowledge that it gave every human a brain and gave every human brain genetically guaranteed cognitive faculties. More important, we should recognize that human spirituality and religion are impossible without the human brain.
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The first important cognitive faculty is the instinctive desire and capacity to learn about life, reality, the universe, and human existence. Babies enter this world with zero knowledge, unable to distinguish between their cranium and posterior though they possess the instinctive desire to learn about everything from aardvarks to zymosis. Every human begins life as a baby with no knowledge of life, reality, the universe, and no knowledge about being human but they will learn everything they need to survive.
Every mature human leaves this world with volumes of knowledge about life, reality, and about being human, developing that knowledge through the miracle of learning. Learning is the process through which the human brain develops the necessary knowledge a person requires to function as an adult. This process occurs during the beginning of life inside the contemporary cultural context, which is key to developing our knowledge and understanding, including our knowledge of religion and human spirituality.
Because learning occurs within the contemporary context, babies can emerge into any cultural context and learn everything they need to function as adults. They can learn about living the aristocratic lifestyle or surviving poverty, modern cosmopolitan societies or indigenous hunter/gatherer society. By growing up and learning within the contemporary context, children can learn to function in a patriarchal, matriarchal, or egalitarian society, a totalitarian or democratic society. Babies can learn about surviving loving or abusive parents, conservative or libertine parents, tolerant or intolerant parents, stringent or permissive parents. Newborns will learn about the world around them, devouring whatever information and knowledge about life, reality, and human existence their community offers them.
While learning is a miracle of an individual’s intellectual development, its social and cultural consequences are not too extraordinary in a society whose knowledge is constant from generation to generation. If children build their knowledge using the same information their parents used, they will probably develop comparable understanding about life, reality, the universe, and human existence. However, if children learn some fragment of information that their parents or grandparents did not learn, they could develop different understanding than their parents and grandparents.
Naturally, small changes in the information influencing one generation’s intellectual development will culminate in small differences between the knowledge of consecutive generations. Eventually though, the cumulative effect of many small changes spanning many generations will create substantial differences to a society’s understanding of life, reality, and humankind. Sometimes though a society experiences substantial growth in its knowledge, introducing substantial changes in the information influencing successive generation’s intellectual development.
For instance, Newton’s physics created a mathematically predictable mechanical perspective of reality while Copernicus’ work dramatically altered humanity’s position in the universe. Einstein introduced the idea of relativity while Darwin introduced a new perspective on the origins of species while Freud altered our understanding of childhood. The introduction of these theories created substantial differences between the information feeding one generation’s intellectual development and the next generation. Introducing innovative ideas and theories frequently arouses considerable consternation among older citizens who grew up with traditional while younger people are more receptive toward nontraditional theories.
We can see this process today because children are mastering computer technology faster than their parents. Children have an advantage over their parents because they are not comparing the experience of mastering unprecedented technologies with the experience of mastering traditional technologies. Parents always compare innovative technologies and theories with their traditional experiences, methods, and ideas partially because these are familiar but also because this strategy is the expedient intellectual shortcut. In contrast, every child’s overriding intellectual instinct is to learn everything from aardvarks to zymosis, leaving the task of assessing everything they learn to the second important cognitive faculty.
Because of this natural process, young theologians are usually more willing to acknowledge the potential value of innovative ideas and theories to religious theory and human spirituality. Since older people predictably compare new ideas against traditional beliefs, senior theologians are usually more wary of acknowledging the potential value of new theories. Similarly, young priests will probably be the first to introduce new ideas about human intelligence to their parishioners while their older preachers will naturally resist introducing radical ideas.
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The second important cognitive faculty is the ability to construct a system of personal beliefs, to decide what one is willing to believe and what one absolutely refuses to believe. Every human brain has the instinctive desire to learn about its contemporary world so the brain can use that knowledge and understanding to construct appropriate beliefs. We naturally construct our personal beliefs about life, reality, religion, politics, etcetera from whatever we learn about life, reality, religion, politics, etcetera during our formative years.
Thus, if somebody learns that the earth if flat, they will probably believe earth is flat; if another learns our planet is round, they will probably believe the earth is spherical; if an individual learns the sun orbits the earth, they will very likely believe the sun orbits our world; if another learns our planet orbits the sun, they will probably believe the earth orbits the sun; if we learn that an anthropomorphic deity created life, we will likely believe such a deity created life; if we learn a zoomorphic deity created life, we will probably choose to believe that deity created life; if we learn that life naturally evolved into increasingly complex forms, we will probably believe that life evolved from the ground up; if we never learn about our brains, we will probably end up believing our brains are inconsequential.
The human brain naturally constructs a system of personal beliefs from whatever a person learns using the first cognitive faculty. Whatever we learn about life, reality, religion, politics, etcetera during our youth will provide the foundation from which we construct our beliefs about life, reality, religion, politics, etcetera. Thus, anybody who can learn about the world around them also possesses the genetically guaranteed intelligence to decide what they are willing to believe and not willing to believe.
In other words, we construct our beliefs from our knowledge of life, reality, the universe, and human existence, which our brain assembles from information entering our brain. Our brain gathers that information from our experiences, which covers everything from play to education. Experience covers all possible sources of information such as family, friends, teachers, playmates, activities, events, research, experiments, work, games, etcetera, etcetera. The pivotal theological question is why Nature, Evolution, or an omniscient Creator would design the human brain to construct personal beliefs from the contemporary information entering our brain.
The answer lies in the relationship between our personal beliefs and society’s knowledge and understanding of life, reality, the universe, and human existence. We construct our personal beliefs from our knowledge, which comes from the information entering our brains, and that information comes almost exclusively from society. Because of the intimate relationship between society’s knowledge and our personal beliefs, our personal beliefs can evolve with the growth of cultural knowledge and understanding. If a society’s knowledge remains constant and unchanging from generation to generation, then people’s personal beliefs will remain consistent through successive generations. Conversely, if cultural knowledge grows, evolves, or changes over the millenniums, people’s personal beliefs will grow, evolve, and change with the cultural knowledge.
Whoever or whatever created humankind, including the human brain, created human intelligence so it would begin life learning from the most contemporary knowledge. Then, whatever or whoever created humankind, including human intelligence, designed the human brain so it would use that contemporary knowledge as the material for formulating personal beliefs. Therefore, when successive generations learn from an expanding public library, they will gradually modify their personal beliefs, opinions, and theories to incorporate the burgeoning knowledge.
Although Nature, Evolution, or a sentient Creator gave us no knowledge and no beliefs at birth, we got the insatiable desire to learn. In addition, Nature, Evolution, or the Creator gave our brain the instinctive ability to use that insatiable hunger for knowledge as the foundation for formulating our personal beliefs. Therefore, our brain has the innate intelligence to decide what we are willing to believe and what we absolutely refuse to believe.