The Origin of Thought: A Lesson from the Book of Daniel

by John Fulton

Where does human thought come from? Where does our ability to reason and logic and think things through originate? Why does it even matter?  

Scientists reduce thought to the firing of neurons. Those neurons fire in specific ways to specific inputs. The more those inputs occur, the stronger the neural connections and the more automatic and rapid the response to the input. In other words, hear a rattlesnake once and it may take your mind time to recognize the danger and back away. Hear a rattlesnake every day and you respond without engaging your conscious thought; backing away has become automatic. Your thinking is little more than electrochemical impulses in the brain. Cognitive scientists would say your lizard brain, the part of your brain that responds as animals respond, has taken over, and your thinking, higher order brain is cut out of the equation. 

Our ability to reason and logic, that which brings human thought well above what other creatures are capable of, is said to be an evolutionary feature. According to scientists, somehow, in humans, logic evolved and those who could logic best propagated and survived while those who could not, did not. Other than that, science is without an answer as to how it is that humans can logic and reason. Lacking any real understanding, scientists fall back to the magical evolutionary answer that is used as a get-out-of-jail-free card for something to which there is no logical or fact-based answer when looking strictly at the physical world. 

When it comes to thought, science has no real answers. Neuroscience can explain the mechanics of how thought works, but it can’t explain why it is. The fact that neurons connect to each other and form electrical bonds explains what happens physically when we think or react, but it tells us nothing about how this can be. But that is the way with science. It can explain the observable, but it can’t answer any of the truly meaningful questions.  

What does the Bible tell us about the origin of thought and our ability to reason? Well, the book of Daniel has a very interesting verse if one cares to ponder it in depth. In a vision from God, Nebuchadnezzar has the following decreed over him, “Let his mind be changed from that of a man. Let a beast’s mind be given to him. Let seven periods of time pass over him” (Da 4:16, NASB95). In one short verse God explains the origin of thought and reason and reveals where our ability comes from. It comes from him. He gives us a human mind over and above an animal mind and, if he chooses, he can remove our ability to think and reason. He can decide to strip from us our human mind and leave us purely with the animal (physical) mind upon which it rests; a mind incapable of thought and reason and logic beyond the basics of those gifted to animals. 

But this should trigger in the mind two more questions at least. What was the cause for God to remove from Nebuchadnezzar the ability to reason as a human? And what does a beast’s mind look like?  

First, what caused God to remove from Nebuchadnezzar a human mind?  

The answer is reflected in several verses in Daniel, but is probably best captured in 4:30-32 (NASB95–emphasis mine): “The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’ While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.’” 

King Nebuchadnezzar, granted his position by God, granted the ability to rule and reason, think and logic by God; grows full of pride and arrogance and lofts himself above God, makes himself supreme, and professing to be wise, is truly a fool. Therefore, God removes from him a human mind. Nebuchadnezzar makes himself lord of his accomplishments and does not thank the Creator or bless the Creator for that which has been given to him. The price for such arrogance is the removal of a human mind and the gifting of an animal mind. 

Now the second question. What does a beast’s mind look like?  

Well, beast are ruled by the baser instincts: the search for food, the need to reproduce, and the instinct to survive, i.e. flight or fight.  They are consumed by physical pleasure, the avoidance of pain, and sex to ensure continuation of the species. Finally, they are consumed by fear, a constant paranoid wariness, to ensure that threats and predators do not terminate their existence. The ultimate good is surviving to the next moment. Continuing to exist is the ultimate good. 

A human mind is capable of going beyond these baser instincts. It can bring reason and logic to a flight or fight situation and choose a better course. It can dedicate itself to the service of others above the service of self. It can humble itself before God and give to him the glory, and humble itself before others of its kind and show mercy.  

Human reasoning, logic, and thought–our higher traits–are a gift from God. He bestows them upon us as he wills. Those with great intelligence, or heightened ability to reason and logic, owe it to God. They have nothing in which to boast, no place to be haughty or prideful. They should seek him, honor him, and look to know to what end he gave them this special gift.  

The story of Nebuchadnezzar gives another useful insight. How can one gain a human mind?  Daniel 4:34 says, “But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation.” Nebuchadnezzar lost a human mind when he became prideful and arrogant, when he made himself the authority and the power and the majesty. He regained his human mind and abilities when he humbled himself before God, acknowledged his ways, and acknowledge him as sovereign and Lord. 

So, in all this, something of critical importance is learned. Human thought is not simply neurons firing. Our logic and reasoning are not evolutionary features. Science will never be able to explain them in any satisfactory manner for it, by its nature, is bound to the physical; it has no means by which to incorporate the spiritual, to incorporate God. Thought, reason, and logic are gifts from the Lord, bestowed upon mankind as he wills. It is only truly found in those who acknowledge, honor, and serve him. Those who do not may profess to be wise; they often even appear to be wise and to hold the keys of wisdom. They may set themselves up as guardians of the gates of knowledge, but in the end they are merely fools, and their way of wisdom is a path of doom. They will never be able to find the true answers. 

Now, one more question has been posed but not yet answered, “Why does any of this even matter?” It matters for many reasons. But here we focus on our modern world and our reliance on experts.  We look to them to tell us the best course of action. Should we invest in this stock? Should we wear masks or get vaccinated? Should we go to college? And so on and so on. We look to the educated and those with the most and highest degrees as the grand arbitrators of truth and what is right. They are the smart ones, the intelligent ones, the ones able to process information and to use reasoning and logic to discern the correct answer. We treat them as great high priests of our life, the final arbitrators of truth. But we must be careful. If they are not aligned with God, if they are full of themselves as Nebuchadnezzar was full of himself, then they cannot reason out the truth. They cannot come to the logical answer; they will profess and appear to be wise, but in truth be fools, the blind leading the blind. They ultimately will have the mind of a beast.  

A person, a nation, a culture that abandons God and puts its own wisdom above the Lord’s is doomed as Nebuchadnezzar was doomed. Its wisdom will become foolishness; its elites will become mad. Its sovereignty, dominion, and rational thought will be stripped from it until it once again acknowledges God as sovereign. Its human mind will be removed and an animal mind bestowed upon it.  It will be ruled by fear, governed by the baser instincts; it will lose its heart and compassion and become fixated on self and what is best for self. It will see others not as the image of God, but a threat to its survival.  

If you wish to be wise, to discern the truth; then acknowledge God in all your ways.  Give him credit and glory for all you have accomplished and all that you have.  If you acknowledge God in all your ways do not be surprised if you reach conclusions different than the experts and do not doubt the validity of your mind.  For it is likely you have been given the mind of a man, and they have been granted the mind of a beast. 

_ _ _

*Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

One comment

  1. I loved reading this. Intriguing! I have always loved the passage about the birth of Jesus where it says “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). I’ll bet she did! God has given us the ability to think and make decisions so we have the option of accepting His Son as Lord and Savior.

    Liked by 1 person

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