Magnets, Morality and the Human Soul

The National Academy of Sciences recently reported that you can impair someone’s ability to make moral judgments by applying a powerful magnetic field through the skull to the right temporo-parietial junction (TPJ) of the brain. This research confirms that moral capacity functions in the brain, and makes us ask: Is there such a thing as a separate soul? 

The human brain.

This question has profound implications for judges, jurors, and theologians — as well as neuroscientists. Seventh-day Adventist Christians are not surprised by this finding, because they do not believe that the human has a soul separate from the human brain.

If the brain is the only organ of spirituality, then moral judgments can be adversely affected by a wide variety of environmental factors. Alcoholic beverages top the list. Passages in the Bible suggest that drinking alcohol can impair the moral ability to differentiate between what is holy and what isn’t.

Ellen White, a classic religious writer from the late 19th century, confirmed this idea. “Intoxicating liquors and tobacco have proved a terrible curse to our race, not only weakening the body and confusing the mind, but debasing the morals.” (Child Guidance, 404)

Food choices can affect morality as well. “Children should not be allowed to eat gross articles of food, such as pork, sausage, spices, rich cakes, and pastry; for by so doing their blood becomes fevered, the nervous system unduly excited, and the morals are in danger of being affected.” (Healthful Living, 181)

Popular music videos are another way to desensitize morals. “Low songs, lewd gestures, expressions, and attitudes deprave the imagination and debase the morals. Every youth who habitually attends such exhibitions will be corrupted in principle.” (Adventist Home, 516)

Even reading habits can affect moral judgment. “Before accepting the present truth, some had formed the habit of novel reading. … Yielding to the temptation continually before them, they soon lose their relish for solid reading. They have no interest in Bible study. Their moral power becomes enfeebled.” (Adventist Home, 414)

On the other hand, a proper diet (and exposure to good media and quality literature) can strengthen moral perceptions. “In order to strengthen in them [children] the moral perceptions, the love of spiritual things, we must regulate the manner of our living, dispense with animal food, and use grains, vegetables, and fruits, as articles of food.” (Appeal to Mothers, 20)

Perhaps the strongest boost to moral perception comes from the simple activity of reading the Bible. “The most valuable rules for social and family [interaction] are to be found in the Bible. There is not only the best and purest standard of morality but the most valuable code of politeness.” (Adventist Home, 423)