Craig Gross from xxxchurch.com recently put out a series of books and I’ve been reading one of them titled Pure Eyes. There are a few sections in the book that discuss the physical effects of addiction. They equate the use and addiction of pornography to drugs. The similarity between behavior seen in chemical addiction (alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and so on) and pornography addiction is so profound that it is likely that similar neurobiological changes occur in the brain (73-74). Here’s a few things they found:
- Exposure to rewards (pleasures) triggers a portion of the brain called the ventral tegmental area to release a surge of the neurochemical dopamine into three different areas of the brain: the nucleus accuumbens, the prefrontal cortex, and the amygdala.
- Dopamine release into the nucleus accumbens gives a feeling of ecstasy and exhilaration in the body.
- Dopamine release into the prefrontal cortex, or the reasoning part of the brain, leads us to strengthen the behavioral circuits needed to pursue and obtain a certain reward. In other words, the more we have exposed our brains to [whatever pleasure], the more we are going to continue pursuing [that pleasure] whether we want to or not.
- Dopamine release into the amygdala leads us to remember–both consciously and unconsciously–the details of a situation related to a reward. In other words, through continued use of the pleasure, our brains remember the details of the situations associated with acquiring and using the pleasure. For instance, environment, being alone, feelings such as sorrow, frustration, or stress can trigger a deep desire to seek that pleasure independent of that pleasure’s presence.
- Our brains become increasingly tolerant of dopamine levels so that for an addicted person to achieve the same dopamine high, increasingly novel forms of the pleasure become necessary. In other words, you seek more of it and in different forms if possible. (74-75)
Gross and his source, biobehavioral scientist Dr. Ralph Koek from the David Geffen School of Medicine UCLA, get into more details about the chemical releases and effects in the book (please buy it). My main concern is how does this relate to depravity? Surely our sin is more than a biological defect, right? I’m not suggesting that if we were to somehow knock out a certain gene or be able to manipulate the neuron and chemical releases we would be free of addiction and sin, quite the contrary. Our brains are the most incredible machines in the universe. Our hard-wiring is incredibly fine-tuned for the functions that God has intended.
I’m not a scientist, I’m a philosopher and this is how I see it. There’s a question of the will and the biochemistry. The will is the initiating cause and the biochemistry follows suit respective to the will. Our depravity isn’t a physical curse by any means, it pollutes our very being, our immaterial self.
Why is it that we find so much pleasure in the worldly things? Just imagine if our pleasures were founded in God and loving him and others. Imagine the addiction then! Have you ever heard of someone who was literally addicted to God? They got so much pleasure from God that they were stimulated by environmental cues to need more of God. Yet, we are so engrained in these worldly pleasures that our neuro-pathways have set their circuitry to need more worldliness.
Sin is more than a biochemical addiction. It can’t be treated with drugs and no scientific advancement will cure it. Paul talks about this very thing in Romans 7. He knows that he is caught in contradictions, he loves God but yet he does what he doesn’t want to do. The only cure for this is Jesus Christ. Please watch this video on Romans 7.