August 10 – Materialism, brains, and minds

August 10, 2022 Randy Bushey

~by Randy Bushey

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). 

We live in a materialistic culture; consequently that opening verse of the Bible is abhorrent to many.

By materialistic, I DON’T mean the desire to acquire physical possessions. Rather, I’m thinking about the more basic issue of cause and effect – for everything and anything.

The prevailing viewpoint – or worldview – is that everything existing is a product of mass (matter, or material) PLUS energy.

Consequently, everything can be explained accordingly: from why my car has rust spots, to why my aging body aches, to the structure of our earth and the make-up of the various life-forms existing thereon.

And materialism addresses the big questions of life including the oldest question in philosophy: why is there something rather than nothing??

Everything exists solely because of the causal relationship of mass PLUS energy.

So, for the materialist, the answer to this question permits no room for anything outside physical explanations. All descriptions of origin must permit natural causation only. In fact, that’s another worldview called naturalism. And there is certainly no room for the supernatural.

Any conceivable option outside of that equation – physical mass PLUS energy – is excluded from the conversation.

There is emphatically no allowance for Genesis 1:1,

But, that materialistic worldview explanation has many significant pitfalls.

And one significant – and obvious – snag is this: how do we explain the functioning of the human mind??

We understand that the human brain defies comprehensive understanding.

Oxford mathematician and Bible teacher John Lennox explains, “The human brain is far more advanced and efficient, and possesses more raw computational power than the most impressive supercomputers that have ever been built.”1

Although impossible to calculate and measure precisely, neuro-scientists affirm the human brain operates at a level of performing a mind-boggling quintillion (a billion billion) calculations per second involving 20 trillion impulses full of information.2

But what about issues of character and courage, love and fear, discipline and commitment? Those are features associated, not as much with the physical brain as with the mind.

So here’s the question: how is the mind to be distinguished from the brain?

The human brain is a physical organ made up of 2 hemispheres, each containing 4 lobes; but the non-physical mind – the personal identity, our sense of consciousness – is somehow related to, but distinguished from, the physical organ.

Evidently the mind is much more than simply a construct of mass PLUS energy.

It is non-physical, non material; it contains no mass.

So what of materialism?

Because of their predisposition/worldview, many – but not all – scientists have tried to reduce the mind to simply the chemical workings of the brain; consequently everything in your mind is simply a result of the chemical/electrical impulses in your head.

If you’re clever, well, that simply results from a vast combination of chemical/electrical impulses

And the same would be argued for those who are artistic, musical, mechanical, and mathematical together with others who love animals, hate conflict, or belittle other races.

It all can be explained by brain chemistry.

It’s really only a matter of which type of conversation is occurring between neurons.

And when it comes to moral decisions – remaining faithful to a promise, helping and sheltering others in need, telling the truth when it doesn’t advance your own cause, refusing to wrongfully appropriate the property of others – that too is just a function of what’s going on in the chemical/electrical connections in your head.

You can see where this type of thinking inevitably leads: in a strictly materialist worldview, nobody’s really responsible, because they are really not thinking in a conscious and rational way, making moral choices. In fact, they cannot control those chemical/electrical transactions.

So, when a 2-year old defiantly punches a newborn baby; when a sexual predator molests a little kid; when somebody misappropriates the money in your pension fund and you lose your hard-earned savings, you need to understand that really they cannot help it! Nobody can help it – it’s just a function of chemicals and electrical impulses in their brain!! Now do you feel better?

Now let’s move from theoretical to practical; from imaginary to real-life.

Nobody really believes that we escape responsibility with that type of explanation!!!

It doesn’t wash!

Not even the so-called “experts” that advance these theories.

Here’s the test: because they react with the same alarm that you and I do when a 2-yr old punches a baby; with the same fury when a sexual predator molests kids; and with outrage when their pension dollars mysteriously vanish because of actions of a fraudulent fund manager. It’s a natural reaction.

They, like us, want to hold the perpetrator responsible for this reprehensible decision to commit evil.

So what do we know for certain?

We all perceive that the materialistic explanation is flimsy, unconvincing, and implausible.

And we all understand that the mind is somehow non-physical and is therefore to be distinguished from our material brains.

Consequently, this materialistic worldview is on a direct collision course, not only with our innate understanding of moral actions and their consequences, but more importantly – and immeasurably more critically – with the clear teaching of Scripture.

The Bible teaches that the currency of God’s Kingdom is righteousness. He’s created our world with mankind alone created in His image; consequently every human person has worth and dignity.

We believe down in the depths of our being, in our very souls, that when universal moral standards are breached, that there must be strict accountabilities.

Every child must learn moral behaviour. The Bible says that is because each of us possesses a human nature capable of evil. We may not be as bad as we can possibly be; but depravity and its natural hatred of God’s holiness has pervaded every part of our beings.

And yet, because we are created in the image of God, we highly value the basic building blocks of righteousness: truth, beauty, justice. We teach them to our kids.

We just struggle to uphold them in our own lives.

Consequently, behaviour must be disciplined – for your 2-yr old with the urge to strike a baby, to the sexual predator who threatens the child you love, to the fund manager stealing your savings.

And for you and me.

Takeaway: That brings us to the unparalleled beauty of the Gospel. God created us with non-physical minds to understand right from wrong, to perceive His eternal deity and existence, and to respond to His offer of salvation through Christ.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).


1 Cosmic Chemistry, John Lennox, Lion Hudson IP Limited, 2021.


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