Last month author Lane Wallace highlighted two new studies in The Atlantic, both of which offer new insights into the relationship between biology and worldview. In her first piece, "Are Liberals and Conservatives Hard-Wired to Disagree?," Wallace examines the work of cognitive neuroscientist Ryota Kanai. Kanai conducted MRI scans on 118 college students whose "self-reported political views ranged from 'very liberal' to 'very conservative.' " Kanai's findings were rather compelling:
Many areas of the subjects' brains showed no difference based on political orientation. But the subjects classifying themselves as "liberal" had a higher volume of gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex of their brains than study participants who classified themselves as "conservative." The anterior cingulate cortex is believed to play a role in helping people cope with and sort through uncertainty and conflicting information, as well as affecting their levels of emotional awareness and empathy. The "conservative" participants, on the other hand, had a higher volume of gray matter in the right amygdala region—which is thought to play a big role in identifying and responding to threats.
In a second article, "Why Do Women See the World in Shades of Grey?," Wallace details a British study that found women "were more likely to reject absolute answers in favor of the 'somewhat.' " Men, on the other hand, "were far more likely to assert that the objects were completely in or out of a particular category." In short, the men saw the world in black and white, whereas women saw more grey.
Of particular note in the second study is the fortitude with which the women responded. The female participants' answers were not born out of indecision but were instead made in confidence. The women were definitively more comfortable with ambiguity.
The questions fueling these studies are not new. For at least a century, psychologists have hypothesized about the connections between biology and cognitive style. In fact, long before psychology was a formalized field, philosophers and theologians recognized the inherent, oft-intangible differences between men and women.
Only in recent history has this research extended to neuroscience, a means by which scientists are literally able to observe the connection between biology and cognition. Even so, this is a new frontier with lots of unknowns, a point Wallace makes in both of her articles. Not only is the brain incredibly complex, scientists are still discovering the extent to which the environment impacts brain formation. Perhaps men and women were socialized to respond differently. Or perhaps liberals and conservatives are hardwired from birth. These two small studies cannot offer concrete clarity on either theory.
While we still have much to learn about the brain, Wallace ends with an important point: "All of us see the world through lenses. None of us has a completely objective view of reality or truth."
As Christians, we can respond to this research, and Wallace's subsequent conclusion, in one of two ways. One, we can reject it as an argument for relativism that makes no room for absolute truth. Or, we can embrace Wallace's conclusion on the basis of biblical ecclesiology.
Consider, for a moment, Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 12. In this chapter, Paul provides us with the essential framework of the church. It is a body made of many parts, many gifts, many "kinds of service" and many "kinds of working" (v. 6). In addition to this diversity, Paul describes a crucial interdependence between these parts. When we downplay or exclude the "weaker" or "less honorable" parts of the body, the church is crippled. Unless every part is included and functioning according to God's design, the Body is weakened.
At a time when Christians are split by politics, priorities, and gender, Paul's ecclesiological paradigm remains timely. Rather than see our differences solely as obstacles to be overcome, we should see them as a resource. It's not enough to merely appreciate one another; we profoundly need one another.
It is easy to forget how truly diverse the church is. 1 Corinthians 12 is typically read within the context of spiritual gifts, but God's design for Creation points to much more. Not only does Christian diversity include talents and types of service, it extends to gender and even brain function. Whether our differences come from biology or the environment, our God is the Lord of both.
That said, the manner in which we respond to these emerging studies, as well as the God-given diversity to which they point, says much about our belief in God's sovereignty. These studies also challenge us to consider whether our understanding of the church is a biblical one. And finally, these studies compel us, as women, to take seriously our unique contribution to the church, without which the church would be a crippled, limping Body.