The Neuroscience of Faith
Our conviction to the truth becomes internalized and a part of our person. Three important parts of our brain that establish a sense of conscience that drive us toward the truth are the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is associated with inhibiting inappropriate social behaviors. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) is involved in moral and ethical decision making as well as making meaning of life. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is associated with reasoning, planning and executive function. Research has found that when the DLPFC is more active the VMPFC is less active. Conversely, when the VMPFC is more active the DLPFC is less active. This suggests that when we act on a clear conscience our thinking is clearer.[i] As an example, the idea of setting aside time to pray the Lord’s Prayer to better follow God’s will in your life sounds like pretty simple planning. Imagine planning to pray the Lord’s Prayer and then immediately after going to spew partisan hate at your neighbors who have a different political view than you. The ethical decision-making part of the brain, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) should be in real conflict with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), the planning part of the brain, when these two very different activities are combined.
Being drawn to the truth and having a clear conscience are only parts of what it is to be faithful. Every chapter of this book and each fruit of the Spirit works in us producing conviction of the truth. The neurological hardwiring toward peace, patience, and joy also are ways that we become convicted of the truth. Neurologically we overcome bad hardwiring and enter into the riches of the fruit of the Spirit when our lives become an expression of faith. If by faith we say that we accept the light, but choose to live in darkness then we are not living truthfully. Truthful living is aligning our thoughts, actions, desire, and will toward love. Scripture is clear on this: “If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true” (1 John 1:6). Neurologically, our body will let us know if we are living in darkness or by the light. All we have to do is pay attention to whether we walk in hate versus kindness, joy versus addiction, or patience versus desperation.
[i]Jennings, The God Shaped Brain, 38.