|Why is the brain not mentioned in the Bible?|
A Skeptical objection I have seen asks, "Couldn't God have really impressed everyone by providing predictions about the Nazis, or space travel? Couldn't Jesus have impressed his audience by comparing the mustard tree to the redwoods?"
Could he have? More likely, God would have confused ancient people with predictions about the Nazis and space travellers; more likely Jesus would have offended even more people than he did with talk of giant trees that were over the ocean. Paul had a hard enough time preaching a crucified Messiah; he didn't need to defend obscure issues of botany and the existence of trees no one else had ever heard of as well.
In my article on Biblical cosmology I replied extensively to a critic who claimed that the Bible taught a flat earth and a solid sky. As I showed, the Bible says nothing of the sort -- it is in fact equivocal on such matters. One could by various machinations read a solid sky and such into the text; one could also justly understand the Bible to be describing nature as we know it to be. I termed such equivocal language to be an accommodation to human finitude without being an accommodation to human error.
The objections above are those of a modern with an overestimated self-image asking why God did not do something that would impress them personally. This is wrong-headed, because such predictions to the ancients would have been a distraction from the Gospel, and in their finite ignorance, a reason not to believe the Gospel.
So does the critic care more about his own salvation (when he can after all adjust his thinking) than that of the ancients (who could not, not having the needed resources?). Thus:
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a seed of a redwood, which is an enormous tree, higher by sevenfold than the pinnacle of the Temple, which dost live on the shore of a sea many days' journey from here, in a land yet unknown to you, but which will be found by descendants of the Romans one thousand and five hundred years hence...
We would be no more patient with one today who came and spouted off about "glep plants" on "the planet Glorp" which was "around Alpha Centauri" -- even if we discovered 250 years from now that this person was right, what good is that today? Do you listen to such a one, or lock him up as a madman?
In light of this, I come now to an article entitled, "Does the Bible Speak of the Brain?" This article contains some quite helpful information, which we do not dispute and will assume to be accurate, concerning ancient conceptions of how various bodily organs were the "center" of various aspects of our personality: The heart as the seat of emotions and thought was a big idea, but some began to contest this view in Greece by the 300s BC in preference for the brain as the center of such. However, "heart preference" maintained its prominence among most people.
Our writer makes much, first, of that no specific data is given in the Bible as to where the "seat of the mind is located." My own answer is encapsulated above: What difference does it make? Who would this have impressed other than a few Greco-Roman physicians and a few modern people with a false sense of their own relative importance? And what would this have done to the "average Josephus" who comprised the majority of readers and hearers?
But let's not get too far ahead. Here's where we get to the substance of the objection:
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 )...Besides the heart, the Bible also focuses (to a lesser extent) on the emotional and moral significance of the bowels and kidneys.
One can ask what grounds there are for seeing this as problematic, since even today, in spite of knowing better, we speak of "believing in our heart" -- does the critic object to people when they say this, too? -- that it may have been derived from previous "erroneous" conceptions does not matter. We should know better, after all.
But what it ultimately goes back to is my primary point, about accommodation to human finitude without accommodation to human error.
Let's look at an example of this, from Jacob's life. As I noted, Skeptics accuse the Bible of teaching "funny genetics" here. Does it? No, because something is missing, even without the qualification of God's action later on. It reports that Jacob did A, and that B happened, but does not state that B was caused by A. And really, what more could God do with an inspired penman than this, without releasing chaos and confusion?
And to work this out further, let's look at examples given in the article:
I long after you in the bowels [affection] of Christ (Philip. 1:8).
(T)he bowels of the saints are refreshed.... (R)efresh my bowels in the Lord (Philemon 7:20).
My reins [kidneys] also instruct me in the night seasons (Ps. 16:7).
Yea, my reins [kidneys] shall rejoice when my lips speak right things (Prov. 23:16).
What's missing here? There is no statement (as there is found in the Talmud, which is also quoted) that, for example, "one kidney prompts man to do good, the other to do evil." We have expressions, but not designations. One can only find error by reading into the words presented a host of beliefs and issues not expressed in the text -- keeping in mind that the ultimate author, God, does know better, and thus is no more in error than we are when we speak of "believing in one's heart" idiomatically.
That such things may indeed have been believed by Solomon or by Paul is not relevant. If a native who believes in a solid sky says, "The sky is blue," his statement is not in error.
And now relate this to what I have said above about forecasting Nazis and such:
SOLOMON: Yea, my kidneys shall rejoice...
GOD: Solomon, your kidneys can't rejoice. Your brain is where your emotion is centered. Put "brain".
SOLOMON: Oh...okay. Really?
Perhaps it would have been fine to give Solomon a quick anatomy lesson on the spot, but then what about everyone else who would read Proverbs? The critic who insists that God should have done us the favor of giving us this vast store of knowledge needs a little perspective.
I know critics who think that God should have given Rome the plan for a steam engine. Really? And with that, they would have done what? Expanded the Empire, put the world under their grip, enslaved billions who couldn't compete. Give everyone else the steam engine to balance it out, and you'll have bigger wars; or else some might have just picked their noses with the steam valves.
Also regarded as problematic is the Biblical statement that "the life is in the blood...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 system." That depends on how one defines "life."
The Hebrew word for "life" is nephesh and carries the meaning of breath or vitality. Technically the "breath" is in the blood since that it where oxygen is carried to the rest of the body.
Light is also made of a study in which it was asked, "What is the most important function of the body?" and most people answered with regard to respiration or circulation. Our writer says, "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."
I rather doubt it demonstrates anything of the sort, other than that survey questions can be very hard to answer well if not properly defined out. If you don't define what is meant by "important" then people will fill it with their own meaning.
And that, more or less, is what the critics do when they critique the Bible on this point of biology.
Related article recommended by a reader here.