Pages 12-16: winter 1993
DOES THE BIBLE SPEAK OF THE BRAIN?
Does the Bible or the witless Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz mention the
brain more frequently? If your answer was the scarecrow, you are right.
The Bible mentions a number of key human organs, such as the heart, blood,
bowels, liver, and kidneys, but never mentions the most important organ of
all, the brain. This is not unusual, of course, unless you happen to view the
Bible as an inspired scientific textbook, in which case it would appear to be
missing a bit of vital information.
Of course, it is easy to see how a merely human observer could overlook
the brain. It lies hidden behind a hard bony shell and, even when exposed,
maintains a noiseless, placid appearance. Compare the heart, which beats
faster in reaction to anger, love, joy, physical exertion, etc. Add to this
the fact that the heart lies near the center of the body and you arrive at the
ancient conception that it was the primary seat of one's emotions, moral direc-
tion (or misdirection), and according to some, our decision making ability.
Indeed, how could early human observers have avoided being impressed by
the pounding heart and racing blood?
In similar fashion, the ancients were also impressed with the
"breath"--breathing being an easily observable external trait associated close-
ly with life, its speed and depth coinciding with one's emotional and physical
state. In fact, both the Hebrew and Greek words for breath were also used
(in their respective languages) to refer to one's soul or spirit.
Historians agree that hundreds or even thousands of years passed before
the brain, rather than the heart, was recognized as the most important organ
in the body. An ancient Egyptian surgical treatise [circa 3,000 B.C.]
mentioned how head and neck injuries affected a person's speech and the use
of his limbs. This seemed to surprise the author of the treatise, who repeat-
ed several times that "the injury was in the head." Regardless of the impli-
cations of such observations, the Egyptians, along with the Mesopotamians
and the ancient Greek poet Homer, continued to regard the heart as the
primary organ of the soul that harbored intelligence and feeling. To prepare
a pharaoh for mummification, his heart (and other organs of his torso) had to
be embalmed and buried with him, but his brain was removed from his skull
and thrown away.1
Around 460-370 B.C., the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus contested
the heart-centered views found in Homer's Iliad. Democritus wrote: "The
brain watches over the upper limbs like a guard, as citadel of the body,
consecrated to its protection," adding, "the brain, guardian of thoughts or
intelligence," contains the principal "bonds of the soul." However, he also
called the heart "the queen, the nurse of anger" and believed that "the
center of desire is in the liver."
The Greek physician Hippocrates (a contemporary of Democritus) enlarged
the new brain-centered theory with clinical observations. He wrote in The
Sacred Disease, "Men ought to know that from the human brain and from the
brain only arise our pleasures, joys, laughter, and jests as well as our
sorrows, pains, griefs and tears.... It is the same thing which makes us
mad or delirious, inspires us with dread and fear, whether by night or by
day, brings us sleeplessness, inopportune mistakes, aimless anxieties, absent-
mindedness and acts that are contrary to habit...." That the Hebrews took
for granted that the "heart, bowels, and kidneys" were the seats of man's
emotional and moral impulses would no doubt have raised a wry smile on
Hippocrates' face. But that is to get ahead of ourselves.
Plato [428-348 B.C.] in his dialogue entitled Timaeus argued that the
intellectual part of the soul was contained in the head. Then Aristotle [384-
322 B.C.], Plato's student and successor, reverted to the heart-centered
view of the soul. Aristotle observed the way that blood vessels from all over
the body converged toward the heart and how the heart reacted visibly to
being touched while the brain did not. Furthermore, the lower animals, like
worms, insects, and shellfish, all had pulsating heartlike organs but lacked
anything resembling the vertebrate brain. Lastly, Aristotle pointed out that
a chicken's body exhibited a life of its own after being separated from the
head. It was thus obvious to Aristotle that "the seat of the soul and the
control of voluntary movement--in fact of nervous functions in general--are to
be sought in the heart. The brain is an organ of minor importance, perhaps
necessary to cool the blood" (De Motu Animalum).
Three hundred years later, the Roman philosopher Lucretius wrote in a
similar Aristotelian vein, "The dominant force in the whole body is that guid-
ing principle which we term mind or intellect. This is firmly lodged in the
midregion of the breast. Here is the place where fear and alarm pulsate.
Here is felt the caressing touch of joy. Here, then, is the seat of the intel-
lect and mind" (On the Nature of Things, Book III, circa 55 B.C.).
But even though philosophers like Aristotle and Lucretius were heart-
centered, the tradition of Greek physicians, beginning with Hippocrates,
remained brain-centered. In the 3rd century B.C, Herophilus and Erasistra-
tus dissected thousands of bodies and demonstrated that nerves were differ-
ent from blood vessels and that they originated not in the heart, as Aristotle
thought, but in the brain or the spinal cord. Then almost five hundred
years after Herophilus' day, the Greek physician and philosopher Galen [130-
200 A.D.] experimented and established brain physiology as a science. He
demonstrated that the brain played the central role in controlling bodily and
However, because of the influence of Aristotle on medieval scholars and
the added bonus that his view of the primacy of the heart agreed more with
biblical descriptions than brain-centered views, heart-centeredness survived
until the 16th century. As Martin Luther, the father of protestantism, put it,
"Faith is under the left nipple." (According to "folk anatomy," the heart lies
under the left nipple.) Or notice the feeling of uncertainty voiced in Shake-
speare's Merchant of Venice: "Tell me, where is fancy bred, in the heart, or
in the head?" And in Balzac's "Heartaches of an English Cat," the "aches"
have nothing to do with heart disease. After the 1700's, new figures of
speech arose, based on an appreciation of the brain's central importance.
Today we are more likely to warn someone not to "lose his head" rather than
to be "strong of heart," and we admire people with "brains."
Now compare the Bible. It was written at a time when Hippocrates and
other Greek physicians knew better, but throughout the length and breadth
of it, emotional and moral behaviors are related foremost to the heart, the
bowels, and the kidneys, rather than to the brain.
Of course, the Bible speaks of the "head." It is a place to be anointed
and crowned and where the priests wore their miters (turbans), but such
practices were shared by heart-centered cultures, so they cannot be used to
support any theory that the authors of the Bible recognized the primary
importance of the brain.
There is one verse in the Bible that has been cited as some form of
recognition of the brain. Daniel 2:28 speaks of "visions of thy head upon thy
bed." Of course, even if this were an instance of brain-centeredness, it
should be remembered that historical scholarship assigns the book of Daniel a
date of composition later than any other book in the Old Testament. Also,
the verse merely refers to "head-visions," and it could be referring obliquely
to the fact that one's eyes are in one's head or, perhaps, to the fact that
one sees images/visions in his head. However, in neither case does that
imply that what is in one's head is anything more than a screen for visions to
play themselves out upon. That hardly gives full recognition to what lies
inside one's head.
Of course, the Bible refers to the "mind." However, aside from implying
that the mind is not identical with the heart (cf. Mt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk.
10:27), the Bible does not go on to state where the seat of the mind is locat-
ed. Neither are "mind" and head used in conjunction with one another.
Other ancient cultures also referred to the mind without specifying to which
organ it was related. It appears to have been an entity like the soul-breath,
whose location was never specified. Nevertheless, certain organs, to them,
seemed especially capable of influencing and directing one's emotions and
morality, and those were specified.
The ancients (including the Hebrews) all agreed that one such organ, the
primary one, in fact, was the heart. They used the word heart repeatedly,
attaching enormous emotional and moral significance to its behavior. The
Bible emphasizes how the heart "deviseth a man's way," "inspires speech"
"believes," "is joyful," "is deceitful," "is good" (Prov. 16:9; Mt. 12: 34;
Rom. 10:10; 1 Chron. 16:10; Jer. 17:9; Lk. 6:45). This resembles what the
ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, and Greeks (those Greeks who were not
physicians, Homer and Aristotle) believed and taught.
Besides the heart, the Bible also focuses (to a lesser extent) on the
emotional and moral significance of the bowels and kidneys. Here are some of
the verses in the King James Bible in which the Greek and Hebrew terms for
bowels and kidneys are literally translated:
My bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon
him, saith the Lord (Jer. 31:20).
Be ye straitened [restrained] in your own bowels (2 Cor.
I long after you in the bowels [affection] of Christ (Philip.
(T)he bowels of the saints are refreshed.... (R)efresh my
bowels in the Lord (Philemon 7,20).
(S)hutteth up his bowels of compassion (1 John 3:17).
Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins
[Latin, renes, which means kidneys, a literal translation of the
Hebrew] (Ps. 73:21).
My reins [kidneys] also instruct me in the night seasons (Ps.
Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but
establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the heart and
reins [kidneys] (Ps. 7:9).
Yea, my reins [kidneys] shall rejoice when my lips speak
right things (Prov. 23:16).
I am He [God] which searcheth the reins [kidneys] and hearts
The Talmud (Berakhoth 61a) says that one kidney prompts man to do
good, the other to do evil. The kidneys (among other organs, yet excluding
the brain) were especially reserved for Yahweh and sacrificed to Him as a
burnt offering (Lev. 3:4-5). Even if the Hebrews regarded this insight into
the kidneys as "pure poetry" (which is doubtful, based on historical compari-
sons, and since figures of speech have to originate from ideas), it is a
poetry that no longer survives or interests mankind. In fact, in the above
verses the Hebrew word for kidneys has been translated soul in modern
English Bibles to avoid cumbersome explanations of why the ancient Hebrews
attributed moral significance to a person's kidneys.
Or consider the twin biblical notions that "the life is in the blood" and
"without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins" (Lev. 17:11-14;
Heb. 9:22). Because of such ideas, the ancient Hebrews sacrificed in a
bloody fashion many thousands of animals, and Christians came to view Jesus'
"blood" sacrifice as necessary for the forgiveness of sins and the drinking of
Jesus' "blood" (in symbolic and/or mystical fashion) as partaking of his
"life." This is in obvious contrast to scientific consensus, which agrees that
human "life" is not primarily "in the blood" but in the brain and nervous
Indeed, one's primary "life" ends with the total and permanent cessation
of brain activity, even if no blood is shed in the process, as in cases of
poisoning, asphyxiation, or electrocution. In fact, as the comedian Lenny
Bruce used to jibe, "If Jesus had been executed in the twentieth century
instead of the first, Christians would be wearing little electric chairs
around their necks." Maybe so, but if you were a fundamentalist Christian, I
suppose there would still have to be a spear in the side of an electrocuted
Jesus. There's gotta be some "blood" shed for forgiveness. (I am not seeking
to mock religion but merely posing questions to those who claim the Bible can
be interpreted both literally and scientifically.)
"Science" in biblical times was based on apparent, not literal, truths. The
earth appeared to be the flat, firm foundation of creation. The heavens
appeared to be stretched out above the earth like a tent or canopy. The
heart, bowels, and kidneys (and not the brain) appeared to be intimately
linked with one's emotions, morality, and decision-making processes. Even
ancient creation accounts (Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian, Hebrew, etc.)
reflected this attitude toward "science." They thought that God (or the
gods) had created all of the animals and plants as they then appeared and
that their offspring would not appear any different no matter how many
generations should pass. Thus, for the ancient Hebrews, crude "scientific"
theories, based on superficial appearances, dictated the Hebrew view of reali-
ty and their subsequent figures of speech.
According to an article in Psychology: A Journal of Human behavior,
Warren Gorman and Lawrence Edwin Abt questioned 110 females between the
ages of eighteen and twenty to determine the concepts they had of the form
and function of their bodies. Their article "Is the Brain the Most Important
Organ?" (Aug. 1964, pp. 2-11) contained some interesting questionnaire
results. For instance, when asked, "In Children, what is the most important
organ? In adults?... In old people?..." the subjects rated the heart the
"most important organ" in old people and the sex organs the most important
in adults, whereas in children they rated the brain, heart, and digestive
organs as "equally important." (Only five subjects out of 110 responded
"brain, brain, brain" to the three parts of this question!)
When asked, "What is the most important function of the body?" the
subjects answered "breathing," with "circulation or heart function" next.
These first two questions of the survey along with their replies demonstrate
how easy it must have been for the ancients to have overlooked the primary
importance of the brain. Even 20th century questionnaire respondents con-
tinue to overlook the primary importance of "brain function"!
However, the response of the subjects to the next question left no doubt
that a side gap exists between ancient and modern views of the brain. When
asked, "What part or function of the body is most intimately lined with your
emotions?" the brain easily achieved first place. Such a result demonstrates
how deeply modern scientific knowledge has penetrated our culture and
superseded heart/bowel/kidney-linked descriptions of human emotions found in
the Bible and other ancient works.2
1 For much of the historical data on how the brain eventually came to
be viewed as more central to one's life and "soul" than the heart, I am
endebted to Neuronal Man (New York: Random House, 1985), an English
translation of Jean-Pierre Changeux's book L'Homme Neuronal.
2 If the results of my inquiry into the question "Does the Bible Speak of
the Brain?" are deemed unsatisfactory by those who adhere to the literal
words of the Bible and if those same adherents should blame my "blasphe-
mous" conclusions on my "hard heartedness" toward God, then I should like
to reply in all sincerity and politeness that my heart is as "hard" as their
heads are soft.
(Ed Babinski's address is 109 Burwood Drive, Simpsonville, SC 29681-
you ever goin' to keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Pa-ree?"
("The Last Hurrah of the Inerrancy Doctrine," Winter 1990, p. 3). Just as
the soldiers of World War I who had had their horizons broadened by their
experiences in Europe were unlikely ever again to be content with the routi-
nism of life on the farm so minisisters and Bible college professors whose
knowledge has been broadened by exposure to facts about the Bible that in
times past were kept from the flock will never again be content to hide the
truth for the sake of preserving something as dubiously important as "the old
Once something is learned, it cannot be unlearned. This is the principle
that spells doom for Bible fundamentalism if not the Bible, period. We live in
an age of rapid discovery. In this century, man journeyed to the moon; in
the next century, he will journey to Mars and probably beyond. Man has
conquered many diseases and will conquer even more. Scientists talk routine-
ly of genetic mapping, gene-splicing, black holes, quarks, and other concepts
the ordinary mind can barely grasp. In such an environment as this, how
can people possibly go on believing that the God who created an endless
universe once lived in a tent that nomadic tribes carried with them in their
desert wanderings, spoke to them from a column of fire that followed them
overhead, selected them to be his chosen people "above all peoples on the
face of the earth," and took delight when they incinerated animals in homage
to him? How can people who will witness the eradication of cancer, AIDS,
cystic fibrosis, etc. through the application of scientific methods continue to
believe that "the son of God" once went about curing diseases by casting out
devils? To ask such questions is to answer them. They won't go on believ-
ing such ridiculous nonsense. That kind of superstition is doomed. Even
now, it is running on empty.
We say this knowing in advance how Bible fundamentalists will scoff at it.
No doubt, they will cite men like Thomas Paine and Voltaire, who made similar
predictions within time frames that have now come and gone, yet the Bible,
"the word of God," endures. We are well aware of what Paine and Voltaire
rashly predicted. Their primary mistake was that they were too optimistic.
Faith in the Bible will not die overnight; it will not die in the next century
or probably even the century after that. But it will die. The history of
religion is one of birth, development, expansion, decline, and death. It
happened to the ancient religions of Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and
Persia. It will happen to Christianity, as it will also happen to Islam, Hindu-
ism, and Buddhism.
Christians who scoff at the notion of a distant future in which no one
believes in their "word of God" should consider the statistic quoted in Mont-
gomery's article. Already within our lifetime, we have witnessed a 50% loss of
faith in Bible inerrancy, and no doubt the 65% who believed in Bible inerran-
cy in 1963 was significantly lower than the percentage who believed in it in
1930. Go back a hundred years before that, and the percentage of believers
in Bible Inerrancy (in Western societies) probably exceeded even 90%. So if
Bible inerrancy is not living on borrowed time (as we believe it is), why does
it steadily lose ground? What is going to happen to thrust it back into the
privileged position that it once enjoyed?
People constantly tell us that they are praying for our return to the fold,
but this is never going to happen, no matter how many prayers are uttered.
We have learned too much ever to go back to what we once were. Few
laymen devote even a tenth as much time to studying the Bible as we do, yet
they live in an age when they can't help absorbing information that erodes
belief in biblical superstition. That erosion will remain steady until there is
nothing left... except amazement that anyone could have ever taken a book
like the Bible seriously.
On May 23-26, 1993, H. A. "Buster" Dobbs, editor of the Firm Founda-
tion, and Farrell Till, TSR editor, will debate the issue of prophecy fulfill-
ment in conjunction with the Portland Gulf Coast Lectures at the Church of
Christ in Portland, Texas. Dobbs will affirm that fulfillment of OT prophecies
proves that Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God. Till will affirm that NT
claims of prophecy fulfillment in the person and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth
were fabrications or misrepresentations of OT scriptures.
For additional information about the debate, contact Jerry Moffitt, Church
of Christ, P. O. Box 1275, Portland, TX 78374.
Dave Miller's article "Why I Believe in the Inerrancy of the Scriptures"
(TSR, Autumn 1992) was reprinted from The Spiritual Sword (January 1992),
which is published by the Getwell Church of Christ, 1511 Getwell Road,
Memphis, TN 3811). We regret the printer's error that resulted in the mis-
spelling of "Spiritual."
Because of computer malfunction, we had to purchase a new system and
rebuild our address files from an earlier back-up disk and hard copy. In the
process, we may have overlooked some names in mailing the Autumn 1992
The old computer now having been repaired and the original files ac-
cessed, we are sending this issue to everyone who was on the 1992 mailing
list. If you did not receive the Autumn 1992 issue, please let us know, and
a copy will be sent to you. If you didn't receive that issue in the regular
mailing, you may complete the subscription renewal notice in your replacement
copy and receive TSR through 1993 without interruption.
Free first-year subscriptions will be mailed to anyone recommended to us.
Send names to the address on page two.
FREE SUBSCRIPTION: A free one-year subscription to The Skeptical
Review can be obtained by writing to P. O. Box 617, Canton, IL 61520-0617.