Miracle of the Mind: The Transformative Power of Neuroscience and Faith

With the growth of naturalistic thought, the apparent dichotomy between Christianity and empirical sciences is rapidly growing. However, the empirical sciences and faith are not truly at odds. Specifically, a deeper examination of the field of neuroscience reveals an astounding harmony between the two. Faith and neuroscience complement one another, as having an active faith allows for neural circuitry to strengthen, promoting flourishing. This review comprehensively investigates the principles of neural plasticity, long-term potentiation (LTP), and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques that are essential for establishing Christ-like thoughts in one’s mind. Through the consistent use of Christ-like neural pathways grounded in the Word, Christ-like behaviors are reinforced through LTP, which results in an increased efficiency of these neural networks, leading to effortless thoughts grounded in faith. The generation and continual use of such neural networks and Christ-like thought patterns and behaviors has a multitude of evidence-based physical and mental health benefits, aligning with positive psychology and promises made by God. Future research will be crucial to understand the long-term consequences of using faith-based thoughts and behaviors on neural plasticity.

Miracle of the Mind: The Transformative Power of Long-Term Potentiation in Establishing Christ-like Neural Networks

A significant element of the Christian lifestyle is the notion that individuals are called to have a mind like Christ. This concept is emphasized throughout Church gatherings, in sermons, and throughout the Bible, which presents messages such as “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”.1 However, when analyzing this concept, it is perplexing to understand how Christians can think like Christ. Of course, one may recognize the beauty in having a mind like Christ, yet they may not fully understand exactly how to obtain such a prominent aspiration. This internal conflict between the desire to have a mind like Christ and the struggle to acquire that mind is where the Christian faith and science complement one another. Empirical neuroscientific evidence has supported the notion that physiological changes are associated with embracing one’s faith, thus providing evidence for the transformative power of Christianity through scientific mechanisms, which ultimately will lead to human flourishing and obtaining a mind like Christ.

God’s Architecture of the Brain

The brain, connected by 85-100 billion neurons,2 is the element of the central nervous system responsible for the development of one’s identity, personality, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.3 Each individual is composed of a unique genetic code (“nature”) that is integrated with their environment and their set of experiences (“nurture”). The environment and our experiences moderate the expression of our genotypes. Considering the malleability of one’s genetic makeup and nervous system, one genotype has the potential to manifest in a diverse array of phenotypes. Simply stated, empirical principles of neuroscience inform us that no individual shares the exact same characteristics.4

Complementing this neuroscientific observation, the Word of God attests to the beauty and purpose of human uniqueness. In the Bible, it was proclaimed that Jesus “knit me together in my mother’s womb,” which demonstrates the intricacy to which each human was created through God’s handiwork.5 God designed each human in his image, in a unique and beautiful way. God utilizes each uniquely fashioned personality, genetic code, and individual set of gifts to bring about goodness to His kingdom, as Romans 8:28 states, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Some might assert that the dichotomy between empirical science and the Christian faith is too profound to reconcile. However, when reconciling the design of the nervous system according to neuroscience and the human design according to the Word, there appears to be nothing but harmony. God knit together the intricate wiring of our nervous system, and the gifts that he gave us are established through this beautiful design. For instance, one cannot demonstrate the Biblical virtue of patience without engagement in parasympathetic activation through the nervous system. The mind was ultimately created to enable humans to accomplish more than imaginable through the power of the nervous system and the Holy Spirit.

Long-Term Potentiation

Cultivating a Christ-like mind is a difficult endeavor for most Christians. Although the Bible calls us to have a mind like Christ, in reality, this calling may pose more of a challenge. Cultivating a mind like Christ is important; in order to flourish in the life that God gave us, we must “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”6 According to the Word, having a mind as Christ consists of focusing on what is above, not conforming to what is of this world,7 and renewing our minds in Christ.8 As Christians, we are called to continually reframe our thoughts so that they are Christ-like. By doing so, we can focus our minds on him, and loosen our bonds to what is in the world that may inhibit our relationship with God.

According to modern neuroscience, the process of reframing one’s thoughts involves physiological adaptations in the brain. One of the most fascinating abilities that the brain has is the ability to adapt to its environment, rewire, and transform its internal neural networks9 based on experiences in one’s life.10 This phenomenon is entitled “neuroplasticity,” a term that was developed in the mid-20th century by Donald Hebb, a scholar of varying cognitive psychological processes.11 In his book, Hebb proposed a concrete theoretical concept for the mechanism by which neuronal plasticity occurs. His proposal argued that when one or more neurons wire together and fire an action potential together, there are specific metabolic changes that occur within the synapse (i.e., neurons that fire together wire together). Over time, when this neuronal network repeatedly fires due to recurrent stimulation, this specific set of neural connections that fire together becomes increasingly more efficient through specific changes that occur in the nervous system.12

Experiences, thought patterns, and behaviors are the way in which specific neural networks are established, utilized, and strengthened. The more that these neuronal networks are utilized, the stronger these connections become, which is not only important on a physiological level, but is also crucial for the display of behaviors that exemplify underlying processes of learning13 and memory.14 This concept became known as long-term potentiation (LTP), which is a neuroscientific term used to describe physiological changes and a re-configuration of neuronal networks due to repeated use and stimulation of the networks through thoughts and experiences.15 On the contrary, there is a concept known as long-term depression (LTD), which is when the decreased use of certain neural pathways (and consequently, decreased stimulation of neurons) leads to an increasingly inefficient neural pathway.16 Through LTP, certain thoughts constructed by specified neural networks have the potential to become automatic, as demonstrated through the significant improvements that CBT elicits in the thought patterns of those suffering with mental illnesses such as depression.17 However, when specific neural networks are not consistently used, this can result in a decrease in certain automatic thoughts or behaviors. Therefore, LTP and LDP are opposites; one promotes the strengthening of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, while the other diminishes as such. Both can promote growth towards a mind like Christ.

If LTP and LTD are utilized through the active reworking of negative thought patterns into thought patterns consistent with the Word of God (e.g. turning a negative self image thought into one that establishes identity in Christ), one has the power to transform their mind through Christ. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapeutic technique based off of LTP, utilizes a process involving the identification of any negative thoughts (i.e. neural pathways established in negative thinking), and actively re-frames those thoughts into more positive thinking patterns (i.e. establishing neural pathways rooted in positivity).18 This can be demonstrated through the significant improvements that CBT elicits in the thought patterns of those suffering with mental illnesses such as depression.19 In order for CBT to be effective, these new positive thinking patterns must become utilized more frequently, and thus, CBT requires LTP at the physiological level, which is a distinctive feature of this therapeutic technique.20 This type of cognitive restructuring is extremely difficult at first, because as specific neural pathways increase in strength, they become resistant to change, especially as one ages.21 However, due to long-term potentiation, the more frequently that the individual re-frames negative thoughts, the easier this process becomes, because the new neural pathways associated with positive thinking begin to fire at an increasingly efficient rate.22 Ultimately, these thoughts established by the new neural pathways have the potential to become automatic, as demonstrated throughout literature reinforcing the significant effects that CBT has on thought patterns.23 If these thinking patterns and neural pathways begin to ground themselves in faith, this can eventually establish effortless thinking patterns that are based on the truth of God. For instance, the first time you rode a bike, it was difficult, as the neural pathway associated with pedaling was weak. However, the more you practiced, the easier it became because the connections grew stronger. Now, the task is so simple that we use the phrase “it’s like riding a bike” to convey the simplicity and automaticity of a task. This occurs due to the strengthening of those neural pathways.

LTP, CBT, and Cognitive Restructuring to Achieve a Mind like Christ

In the aspiration to obtain a thinking pattern like Christ’s, we are called by God to “[not] be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”.24 This message is not only biblical in nature, but it also demonstrates how brilliantly the brain is structured in order to transform itself into a mind like Christ’s through mechanisms such as LTP and CBT techniques. For instance, if an individual desires to transform their negative thinking into Christ-like thoughts, they may begin conscientiously studying the Word of God. The more time that is spent reading the Word of God, in prayer, and engaging in Christlike activities such as forgiveness or helping, the more efficient those Christ-grounded neural pathways become. Overtime, through repeated stimulation of Christ-like neural networks from engagement in Christ-like behaviors, thoughts, and experiences, the mind has the potential to effortlessly think and perform thoughts that are based on the Word of God. This spiritual growth within the individual would likely be due to the physiological changes within the neurons, such that LTP would induce efficient firing of these Christ-like neural networks that were stimulated to a greater extent. This phenomenon can be demonstrated through a diverse array of behaviors that have the potential to induce LTP-like stimulation.25 Ultimately, with the repeated use of thoughts and behaviors grounded in Christ, one’s mind can immensely be physically, mentally, and spiritually transformed into a mind like Christ. 

Health Benefits of Obtaining a Mind Like Christ

Long-term potentiation and the transformation of the mind are not the only ways in which neuroscientific principles and faith harmonize. Previous literature has established that engagement in actions and behaviors rooted in Christ also have significant benefits on the overall physical and mental wellbeing of an individual. For instance, followers of Jesus are called to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you,” which is a way to promote spiritual health.26 In an exemplary parallel of this biblical notion, forgiveness of an offender promotes physiological health, and has been demonstrated to reduce anger, heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure.27 Additionally, giving back to others through helpful actions such as volunteering28 and altruism29 has been linked to a comprehensive array of positive mental and physical health benefits. The biblical parallel to this evidence is found in Proverbs 22:9, which says that “those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.” Prayer, an act of communication with God, who tells us to “pray without ceasing,”30 is associated with decreased stress and increased peace through self-reported measures, which is another example of adequate spiritual health affiliating with physiological health.31 As further evidence of this correlation, those who consider themselves religious tend to have lower inflammation.32 Additionally, higher levels of church attendance are associated with overall better health and decreased substance use,33 increased quantity in preventative health care measures,34 and a decreased risk of suicide.35 Thus, participating in Christ-like acts not only has the potential to transform the brain through cognitive processes such as LTP, but also provides multiple positive physiological benefits, further supporting the intimate convergence between faith and neuroscience. The behaviors that have been scientifically demonstrated to be physiologically healthier for the human body parallel what scripture encourages those to do on their journey to obtain a mind like Christ.


Developing a mind like Christ is no easy undertaking. However, when engaging neuroscientific principles with scriptural encouragement, one can understand the extensive physiological, mental, and spiritual benefits that acquiring a mind like Christ encompasses. Although the process of obtaining that mind may pose varying difficulties during the premature stages of cognitive restructuring, God designed the human brain so that it has the capacity to efficiently and effectively reorganize its physiological structure to achieve a mind of Christ through cognitive processes such as LTP and CBT. The journey to achieving a mind like Christ must begin with simple actions, such as engaging oneself with the Word, practicing an act of forgiveness, or praying frequently. Such actions, when actively and regularly pursued, will reflect God’s love because they are rooted in Christ. Once one can understand the power that resides in reframing thought patterns to Christ-like thought patterns, their mind will truly be transformed in both a spiritual and physiological sense. Once these pathways are constructed, they will not be difficult to continually activate. This demonstration of the physiological mechanisms of developing a mind like Christ will assist those who struggle to understand the abstract concept of having such a mind. Through the acquisition of a mind like Christ, the transformative power of God will manifest itself through physical and mental health benefits that parallel scripture. The mind, a true miracle from God, gives us the capacity to strive towards a mind and life like Christ, if one may understand the potential that lies within transforming neural networks. 

Sabrina Blank ’22 is majoring in Psychology and minoring
in Neuroscience. She is from Traverse City, Michigan.

Andrew J. Gall, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Hope College

Spring 2022 Table of Contents

1  Phil. 2:5

2  Suzana Herculano-Houzel, “The human brain in numbers: a linearly scaled-up primate brain,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (2009), 3. https://doi.org/10.3389/neuro.09.031.2009

3  Kenneth L. Davis and Jaak Panskepp “The brain’s emotional foundations of human personality and the Affective Neuroscience Personality Scales,” Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 35, no. 9 (2011), 1946-1958.

4  Mairi Levitt, “Perceptions of nature, nurture and behaviour,” Life Sciences, Society and Policy 9, no. 13 (2013).

5  Ps. 139:13

6  2 Cor. 10:4–5

7  Col. 3:2

8  Rom. 12:2

9  G. Berlucchi and H. A. Buchtel, “Neuronal plasticity: historical roots and evolution of meaning,” Exp. Brain Res. (2009). 192:307-319

10  Paloma Rohlfs Dominguez, “Promoting our understanding of neural plasticity by exploring developmental plasticity in early and adult life,” Brain Research Bulletin 107 (2014), 31-36.

11  Donald O. Hebb,, Organization of Behavior (New York: Wiley, 1949).

12  Hebb, Organization of Behavior.

13  Ya-Ping Tang et al., “Genetic enhancement of learning and memory in mice,” Nature 401 (1999), 63-69.

14  Timothy Bliss and Terje Lømo, “Long-lasting potentiation of synaptic transmission in the dentate area of the anaesthetized rabbit following stimulation of the perforant path,” J Physiol 232 (1973), 331-356.

15  Joel L. Martinez, Jr., Edwin J. Barea-Rodriguez, and Brian E. Derrick, “Long-term potentiation, long-term depression, and learning,” Neurobiology of learning and memory, (1998), 211–246.

16  Peter V. Massey and Zafar I. Bashir, “Long-term depression: multiple forms and implications for brain function,” Trends Neurosci 30, no. 4 (2007), 176–84.

17  Michele Furlong and Tian P. S. Oei, “Changes to automatic thoughts and dysfunctional attitudes in group CBT for depression,” Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy 30, no. 3 (2002), 351-360. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/ S1352465802003107

18  Aaron T. Beck, “Cognitive therapy: A 30-year retrospective,” American Psychologist 46, no. 4 (1991), 368–375. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.46.4.368

19  Furlong & Oei, 2002

20  Frank Wills, Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: Distinctive Features (Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, New York, NY, 2009).

21  Philip J. Flores, “Group psychotherapy and neuro-plasticity: An attachment theory perspective,” in The Interpersonal Neurobiology of Group Psychotherapy and Group Process (Karnac Books, London, 2013), 51–72.

22  Flores, 2013

23  Peter Muris et al., “Predictors of change following cognitive-behavioral treatment of children with anxiety problems: A preliminary investigation on negative automatic thoughts and anxiety control,” Child Psychiatry and Human Development 40, no.1 (2009), 139-151.

24  Rom. 12:2

25  R. A. Hodgson, Training-induced potentiation in the neocortex and its interaction with stimulation-induced long-term potentiation and long-term depression (Order No. AAINQ80753). Available from APA PsycInfo® (2004), (620626137; 2004-99002-005).

26  Eph. 4:32

27  Charlotte VanOyen Witvliet, “Forgiveness and health: Review and reflections on a matter of faith, feelings, and physiology,” Journal of Psychology and Theology 29, no. 3 (2001), 212.

28  Karl Pillemer et al., “Environmental volunteering and health outcomes over a 20-year period,” The Gerontologist 50, no. 5 (2010), 594-602. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnq007 29  Marc A. Musick and Miranda R. Waggoner, “Self-initiated volunteering and mental health,” in Altruism and health: Perspectives from empirical research (Oxford University Press, 2007), 82–96. 30  1 Thess. 5:17

31  Marlena F. Woodmansee, Mental health and prayer: An investigation of prayer, temperament, and the effects of prayer on stress when individuals pray for others (Order No. AAI9962318). Available from APA PsycInfo® (2000), (619567546; 2000-95016-078).

32  Alyssa C. D. Cheadle, Religiousness, spirituality, and mechanisms of health effects in mothers during the first postpartum year (Order No. AAI10125038). Available from APA PsycInfo® (2017), (1886292505; 2016-53066-193).

33  Laura B. Koenig and George E. Vaillant, “A prospective study of church attendance and health over the lifespan,” Health Psychology 28, no. 1 (2009), 117-124.

34  Maureen R. Benjamins, “Religious Influences on Preventive Health Care Use in a Nationally Representative Sample of Middle-Age Women,” Journal of Behavioral Medicine 29, no.1 (2006), 1-16.

35  Tyler J. Vanderweele et al., “Association Between Religious Service Attendance and Lower Suicide Rates Among US Women,” JAMA Psychiatry 73, no.8 (2016), 845–851.

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1 Comment

  1. Such a powerful article. Been wanting to know more about this and this article really helped. Thanks for writing this. God bless 🙂

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