Is the physical human body merely a "biochemical machine" based on 2 Corinthians 4:16?
(Other terms besides "biochemical" might be electrochemical, biomechanical, and so forth.)
2 Corinthians 4:16: "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day."
This may often be missed when glossing over the passage, because Paul is telling us that although our body is decaying and will die, our spirit (in Christ) is growing ever stronger every day. And, indeed, it will reach its full potential in paradise. Here, we might consider how God created the first man, Adam:
Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
Note the passage is actually three separate clauses each separated by delimiter (comma or semicolon). Therefore, if we break things down into its constituents:
1. “The LORD God formed man of dust from the ground,” – this is the first clause. God did not create death; he created a perfect, inanimate, human body from the dust of the ground.
2. “[And] breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;” – this is the second clause. After God created the man’s physical body, He breathed into the man’s nostrils “the breath of life”.
3. “[And] man became a living being.” – the third clause finally tells us the man became a living being.
[ The “breath of life” that God breathed into Adam was the man's alone. He (Adam) then became a "living soul" (nephesh). Nowhere are we told that God appropriated Eve's soul (or breath) from Adam. We each possess our own soul (perhaps meaning the unification of the body and spirit?). Eve was indeed physically sculpted from Adam's rib, but there is no mention of her being animated by Adam's spirit. This should be obvious: We do not share our spirits despite the purely carnal reference: "they will become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24, Mk. 10:8, Eph. 5:31).]
If we critically analyze our physical makeup, I propose that it becomes increasingly evident that fundamentally, we are fantastically-engineered machines. Some may reject this idea. I can empathize with their sentiments. After all, we intimately identify with our bodies both spiritually and psychologically. But consider the following points:
1. Our physical makeup largely functions autonomically. Most vital bodily operations occur unconsciously such as heartbeat, blood pressure, respiration, metabolism, digestion, waste disposal, as well as certain reflex actions like coughing, sneezing, swallowing, among others. There is a vast, integrated assembly of immeasurably small molecular machines (proteins) operating throughout our entire makeup to sustain us from one moment to the next.
2. Many have erroneously suggested: “We only use 10% of our brain.” This is a myth that has been perpetuated for decades. Scientists have found no part of the brain, that if injured, does not manifest itself significantly.
3. Naturally, through exercise (or atrophy) we can and do consciously alter some of our bodily functions. While most autonomic activities are involuntary, they occasionally work in conjunction with other parts of the nervous system to allows for some amount of voluntary control.
4. One scientist from the National Institutes for Health (NIH) has stated: “The pumping system of the body is the most efficient of all pumping systems.
5. The same scientist from the NIH claims: “The body’s computer, the brain, is by far the most sophisticated, the finest constructed, the most efficient computer that has ever been or ever will be designed.
6. And again, this same medical professional suggests that “The thermostat which is located in the brain is adjusted to such a fine degree that the temperature remains constant almost at all times unless something interferes with the function of the machine.
7. Another specialist suggested: “The human body is one of the most efficient chemical factories in the world.
8. Our bodies consist of many fine-tuned, highly sophisticated mechanistic systems. And from this perspective, physically we are little more than biochemical beings, constructed by God.
9. The claims that life emerged from a lifeless “chemical soup of amino acids” ignores the fact inorganic molecules are ever going to yield organic life.
Physically, we are the machines we have discussed, but most of us never pause to reflect on such realities from that perspective. There are at least two reasons for this:
1. We are too spiritually and psychologically invested in our bodies as all we are, and,
2. We are oblivious to the profound array of processes that are relentlessly at work to keep us alive.
Because the body is so integral to our being, we are convinced from an early age that we are our bodies – and little else. However, to date, no one has explained consciousness – an obvious non-material essence. Most believe that our minds are merely the result of chemical processes in the brain. But that assertion is unfounded. Despite many claims otherwise, no one has shown how electro-chemical processes result in the “emergent property” that is the Mind.
That which makes us truly human is the unification of our body and our spirit as we can see from Genesis 2:7. It is the human spirit, or in more tangible terms, our mind or consciousness that animates the body. As the Lord's brother explains:
James 2:26: "[The] body without the spirit is dead..."
Interestingly, when we see something like a tree, the light from that image is transmitted to our brain through the optic nerve, one connected to our visual receptors (the eyes). Bits of the image are stored around the brain upon entry, but the interesting fact is there is no single part of the brain that contains an image of a tree. Rather, tiny bits of information are stored over many disparate locations in neurons across the brain, many of them otherwise entirely unrelated. It is our mind, our spirit that draws all of this stored information together to reconstruct the image of the tree that we then mentally visualize.
Our brain is incapable of “seeing” anything without the immaterial mind. As previously observed, we can think of our brain as the computer – both memory circuits (neurons, or nerve cells) and a database (neurochemical “storage”), while our spirit is the software that deciphers the vast information extracted from the database to give us a meaningful perspective of the world. It seems very much as though physically, we really are biochemical or electromechanical machines after all.