What is love? This Scientific American article tells us that we can now thank some of our recently identified brain regions for harboring passionate, maternal and even unconditional love. But are we really to understand love to be nothing but the result of a biochemical cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters that are zapped by electrical signals leaping between neurons in this elegant cellular and biochemical symphony? Can we really reduce love so much while preserving its true essence and meaning? So what is love? Is it an emotional and conscious response to biochemistry? Or is the biochemistry the result of the emotional and conscious aspects of our human experience?
Today it is generally expected for journalists to sensationalize headlines beyond what is actually in the scientific research. And as is generally the case, the profundity of the scientific research is eclipsed by the absurdity of their illicitly drawn conclusions. Scientism marches on with its absolute unconscious reduction of all human experience to mere matters of biochemistry. As brilliant scientific work answers more of the ‘how’ questions, scientism routinely tries to remove more of the ‘why’ questions, in the process erasing any and all meaning behind the realities that mankind has known with wisdom for thousands of years. If we want to know the ‘why’ journalists and scientists will paint for us a just-so evolutionary story that sounds reasonable enough, but has no backing of any tangible evidence and only sounds foolish in the testing of the claims in the real world experience.
Should science be used to ponder the ‘why’ questions? When asking ‘why’ we want to know the inner motivations of things, the purposes, the greater meaning; and a purely natural and mechanistic reality can in no way give us insight into such matters. Science can answer the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, but never really the ‘why’. Questions of purpose, meaning, and intention are more philosophical questions than scientific ones.
Understanding the true nature of love cannot be done by using science alone. And have we isolated those processes enough that we know for a fact that we are referring to love or are really talking about lust? Love and lust are two completely different things. The motivation behind lust is the gratification of personal urges. The motivation behind true unconditional love is the unselfish desire for the good of the object of affection, even to the detriment of the one who loves. Think about caring parents and teachers. Think about soldiers who go into battle for the love of their country. Think about missionaries who risk their lives in very volatile places who preach the Gospel for their love of the souls who they do not want to have perished.
Science can perhaps tell us how the brain functions in a state of lust. The more unconditional and altruistic aspects of love have never been sufficiently understood by means of a purely naturalistic explanation. Somehow art, poetry, and music that stir the soul will never be the same; guys will now have a new excuse for not being as ‘loving’ – ‘it’s simply my biochemistry, dear,’ they will mutter. Being unloving will soon be understood to be an ailment no different than depression, with some deficiency in the brain, and will probably in the near future be treated with medication. Oh, what a foolish reality we’re erecting for ourselves having imagined our way out of God’s domain.
And so, love, the greatest ethic in all of human history, is now under attack. But love will not fail. It will not be redefined because, though our bodies may operate through our biochemistry, we do not live merely by the dictates of chemicals and can never be defined by them.
Arthur is an author, a former agnostic, and a current ambassador of Jesus of Nazareth who loves to share the best of reasons for God's ultimate reality. His love and passion are helping skeptics and Christians grow in their faith and knowledge of God through accessible materials.