A ‘complex issue’
Published: 4 October 2004 (GMT+10)
I'm trying to understand how the Holy Spirit, emotions, chemicals in the brain, peace (Phil 4:9) and joy all fit together. It's a pretty complex issue, so here is a question that I've been thinking about: Are the peace and joy that come from God a chemical thing in the brain? Please expand as much as you can on this issue. Thank you for your time.
The question you raise is immense and deep. I believe though that emotions do run on chemical (or perhaps better electrochemical) substrates. I.e. that there are material substances which act as transmitters and mediate those emotions. There is a great deal of evidence for that. One only has to think of what drugs like alcohol do to the emotions, for one thing. Does that mean that this excludes a role for the Holy Spirit as a direct mediator or transmitter or manipulator of such things? The same argument has been raised concerning the personality at death. Because the expression of the personality is affected by chemicals, as well as by processes that cause destruction of nervous tissue, i.e. dementia, it is possible to argue that the link between the material and personality demonstrates that the person ceases to exist once the matter and function of the brain cease to exist/operate. It was a paper on this subject written and widely distributed by atheist organisations which I responded to in the document on our website at this link: Brain chemistry and the fate of the personality after death.
I think you will find that, though it deals with a slightly different issue, it is nevertheless directly relevant to the question, i.e. does demonstrating a link between the personality (or an expression of the personality, including subjective and objective emotions) and material substrates exclude the supernatural? It is lengthy, so will take a bit of working through, as well as thinking through, its specific application to your question. It is an ‘in principle’ answer, because a detailed answer is not possible, since we have no way of knowing how the spiritual realm operates. The point is to show that it is quite feasible that it operates in association with the material substrates of the brain.
Yours in Christ,
Dr Carl Wieland
Managing Director, CMI–Australia