Are We More than Just Our Brains?

New Line Cinema’s recent film, Moonshot, centers on Walt, an unfocused, average college student with big dreams: he wants to go to Mars. A private space company has made travel to Mars possible for rich civilians and endorsed scientists. Walt’s dreams seem like they will never materialize, as he is rejected from his last chance at joining the program because he isn’t smart enough. Feeling hopeless and prepared to try anything, he sneaks onto the ship traveling to Mars by exploiting his connection with a passenger. He gets thrust into a world of wealth and high IQs as he begins the journey of his life.

 

When Walt arrives on Mars, he discovers that the owner of the company and the crew knew that he slipped onto the ship, allowing him to stay as an experiment. When footage of Walt sneaking aboard is leaked, he becomes a cultural phenomenon. People find how unintelligent and average he is to be hilarious, making his accomplishment of making it to Mars all the more impressive. Because of this, the company wants to use his image to improve theirs, showing that even the average person has a place on Mars. Only, there isn’t a place for them. In a world where intellect is the highest form of currency, the unintelligent are regarded as inferior and without value. Moonshot raises a fascinating question—are we more than just our brains?

A Fear of Stupidity
Productivity. Organization. Creation. Progress. Routine. Purpose. Flow. These are the words or images that scroll across all social media. We wonder how we can be more of each of these things because they seem to be the answer to many problems. These goals can become idols—something to dedicate our attention and life to entirely. Why? Oftentimes, these characteristics are practiced by intelligent and successful people. Intelligence is listed as one of the most highly valued traits. And though there is more to intelligence than the problem solving and quick thinkingThe Astonishing Hypothesis: “Your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” 1 In other words, you’re nothing more than the chemicals and synapses of your brain.

If this is all a person is, then it makes sense that when these abilities are impaired in someone they would be less of a person. Worse, some consider people with these limitations to be a burden on society. The fear of being viewed as stupid or a liability often dictates a person’s actions as well, and it is no wonder when this is how people considered unintelligent are viewed.

Consequences of the Intelligence Idol
When Walt discovers the crew knew all along he was pretending to fit in so he wouldn’t get caught, the ship’s crew instantly change their behavior. They mock him, treating him as little more than a marketing campaign. They care little for his well-being, showcasing what it looks like for a society to view intelligence as synonymous with being fully human. This has profound implications for issues such as medically assisted suicide, abortion, and abuse of the elderly. As Gloria Krahn explains, “If society endorses the right of a person to seek physician assistance to end his or her life because of increasing loss of functional autonomy, what does that say about how our society values the lives of people who live with comparable limitations every day of their lives for years on end?” 2

Since the lives of some people in situations like the ones mentioned above are viewed as ‘less than,’ killing them becomes embraced and even encouraged. It is viewed as compassionate—people no longer have to suffer or feel like a burden. But having this option only makes things more difficult, putting pressure on the most vulnerable in society that they have a duty to die and the doctors who care for them have the duty to kill. In fact, organizations like the Center for Disability Rights strongly opposes assisted suicide as it gives people the opportunity to prey on the most vulnerable in society. This is illustrated by the fact that in countries like Belgium, almost one third of the assisted suicides administered are effected without a request from the patient.

By considering something either a right or a duty, the question of whose life is acceptable to end expands. Canada has recently passed legislation that, starting in March 2023, will enable people with mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, and more to recieve medically assisted suicide. Those who struggle with mental health are more emotionally vulnerable, oftentimes struggling severely with a lack of self-confidence. Being encouraged to ‘die with dignity’ could seem like a worthwhile option to those not wanting to feel like a burden.

The underlying problem is not whether the individual has a high quality of life, but rather whether society finds value in what the individual has to offer. If the value is not sufficient, that person is expendable. As Sharon Dirckx explains, “What status should we assign to those whose brains are not yet fully developed, such as premature and newborn babies? Or those whose brains have never functioned to full capacity, such as those with learning disabilities? Or those whose brains once functioned well but are now in a state of degeneration due to Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia? In fact, none of us are exempt here. Beyond the age of 18, even a fit and healthy person begins to lose brain cells at an alarming rate. Our brains decline with age. Does this mean that personhood does too?”3

God’s Design for Intelligence
If every human life has inherent value, then there is no trait that can make a person’s life any less valuable or worthy of respect. From the Christian worldview, every life has “intrinsic worth and is deeply loved by God whatever their race, gender, achievements, and brain state. There is a core identity to each of us that runs far deeper than simply our bodies and brains, and can anchor us in the storms of life.” 3

In fact, the only reason we have a mind and are able to think is because we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Without God, who is the great Mind behind reality, intelligence would be meaningless. Intelligence is a trait that comes from being made in God’s image and given to all people. It is therefore a universal attribute, but distributed in various ways. Not so that one person can be better than another, but so that we can glorify God by using the traits he has given us.

Yes, people can serve God regardless of whether they work at a church or in IT, but the point isn’t to accomplish more tasks or create more content. The purpose of our varied traits is to serve God, follow him, and grow in relationship with him, his creation, and other people. Being more productive, creative, or intelligent as ends in themselves are not the purpose that God places on our lives.

Neither science, nor IQ tests can answer the questions “Who am I?” or “What is it like to be me?” God knows the answer to those questions better than we do. There is a profound value to all human life, because every human being is made in God’s image. This inherently gives them great value no matter their IQ. Satan loves to tell us lies about our identity obsession. He wants us to believe that intelligent people don’t make mistakes because they are superhuman, leaving the rest of us to be subhuman. But each of us is made to be fully human—not because of our looks, intellect, or other talents. The more we allow the Holy Spirit to shape us into the likeness of Jesus, the more fully alive we become. Our humanity is not rooted in our intellect but in our loving Father, the Giver of all good and perfect gifts (James 1:16-18 ESV).

By Rebecca Sachaj

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