The heart is deceitful above all things

At Marginalia Review of Books, Sarah E. Rollens, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College argues that far from being the product of careful, rational thought, our beliefs are “affected by both our brain chemistry and our social context.” Furthermore, according to a study she cites, there appears to be a specific neurological correlate to people with rigid, inflexible patterns of thought who are resistant to changing beliefs when exposed to evidence that falsifies them.

For a Christian, this should immediately bring to mind Jeremiah 17:9:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

This verse is a favourite proof-text of those who argue that human nature is irredeemably depraved. Given what research in neurophysiology is showing us, this verse should remind us that human thinking itself is anything but foolproof, and we need to inculcate a program of critical thinking and scepticism to ensure that our beliefs are based on evidence, not on emotion. Although speaking about science, the words of physicist Richard Feynman in his memorable 1974 Caltech Commencement address mutatis mutandis apply wonderfully to the Christian:

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that. 

Author: Kenneth Gilmore