I was researching the topic of morality and how it is immaterial. Christian apologist Frank Turek will ask atheists what is the love molecule to show that morality is not material. But some articles say that love is a formula: dopamine + serotonin + oxytocin = Love. Some are saying that love is a chemical, physical reaction and deny the immaterial concept of it. Some authors say chemical formulas can be the effect of numerous things based on circumstances and not necessarily connected to emotions. How do you respond to this?
The question we are concerned about is a controversial one, “Is love a chemical reaction?” Some believe there is a “love molecule.” Others believe there is a “biology of love.” There are some who claim there is a love molecule. Our question is what is the nature of love? Is love the result of a chemical reaction or is love the result of something else?
Is Love a Chemical Reaction?
There are many articles on the topic of the love molecule or the love hormone. It is sad that the Internet has many uninformed writers who claim that oxytocin is the reason males and females love one another. They act like experts. But we must remember that every profession has individuals who graduated near the bottom of their class! They are not the experts. We must remember that every profession has individuals who are the experts in the field. The message is we must be careful what we read and who we consider to be authorities. The Internet is filled with false information, speculation, and wanna-be authorities.
Those who teach that we understand the biology of love have overstated the science. As you will soon discover, the science on the biology of love is inconclusive. The combination of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin does not produce love. Rather it is the byproduct of the brains response to another person. For example, one neuropsychotherapist illustrates the process,
When we meet someone and those chemicals start rushing around, Stratford says our brain “looks like the brain of someone who is high on heroin.” “It produces dopamine and serotonin and that’s very hard to override,” she said.
A careful evaluation reveals that dopamine and serotonin are the result of attraction and not the cause of attraction. One author speculates by saying that the chemicals are part of an evolutionary process. Another observes that one of the side benefits is,
Nature set us up to have pair bonds to ensure our offspring had the best chance for long term survival.
Some speculate that morality is a chemical byproduct of our bodies. They seek to understand if homosexual behaviors are an uncontrollable byproduct of purely chemical compounds. That is, people are homosexual because their hormones make them homosexual.
Others are looking for a possible pill, injection, or nasal mist that can be created to help you love someone or make someone fall in love with you. One company has already tried to create a perfume to achieve that goal. Wouldn’t that be great for a woman to be able to manipulate some man? The benefits of such a discovery can only be imagined. These are just some of the concepts found on the Internet.
But we now turn to a more serious and academic source, the Scientific American publication, where we discover that oxytocin is not what the Internet chatter would like us to believe. Abigail Marsh writes,
Oxytocin has another side to it that makes it something less than Love Potion No. 9. Recent research shows that it can intensify a negative memory of a social experience—such as the recollection of your boss yelling in your face in front of co-workers. It may even increase the likelihood of aggression and violence toward others who are not part of your social group.
Oxytocin without question has an influence on social dealings, but its effect may depend heavily on circumstance. The American Psychological Association’s Science Watch had two great quotes from scientists about oxytocin that caution against pigeonholing it as having any fixed role in governing social relationships:
“Oxytocin is not the love hormone,” says Larry Young of Emory University.
Their sources are very credible. Their conclusion is that love does not originate from a chemical reaction. If anything, these chemicals result from a variety of different mental states such as: hate, anger, aggression, love, for example. Notice that this same “love molecule” can produce love or anger.
Is Love a Chemical Reaction?
Now we must ask a serious question, “Why do we love other people?” There are four biblical principles that gives us the answer.
First, the Bible teaches us that God is love.
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:8 (NASB)
God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 1 John 4:16 (NASB)
That is, God is the true source of love. The Greek word that is used for “love” in this verse is agape. It is not eros, which refers to lust or erotic feelings. God is not the source of eros. He created eros for a married male and female to enjoy. Agape is the highest form of love. That is the love that describes God. God is the source of agape love.
Galatians 5:19-21 teaches that we are the source of evil. We do not naturally have agape love. Notice that Matthew 15:18-19 says,
But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. Matthew 15:18-19 (NASB)
The message is that God is love and we are the source of evil, including the sins of fornication and adultery. Sexual sins are included under the umbrella of lust.
Second, since God has repeatedly commanded us to love other people with agape love (John 13:24, 35; 15:12, 17; Romans 12:10; 1 Cor 13:4-8; Ephesians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 3;12; 4:9; 5:13; Hebrews 10;24; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11-12; 2 John 5). That means we do not naturally agape other people. Here is 1 John 4:11.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.1 John 4:11 (NASB)
This verse has a twofold meaning. We do not normally agape other people, and agape is a choice and not a chemical reaction. Notice that this is a command. We are not commanded to generate a chemical reaction.
Third, true love, agape love and not lust, is produced by the Holy Spirit in individual believers. Galatians 5:22-23 clearly teaches us this truth.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB)
This point is further made in 1 John 4:7 where we are told that agape flows from God to those who are believers.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7 (NASB)
If love is just biological, how can we then by an act of our will obey the commands to love God? The sad truth is that too many people have confused love with sex and passion. Therefore, is love a chemical reaction? The answer is no!
God has designed the human body to produce oxytocin and other chemicals in various situations. He has designed us in such a way that a husband and wife will enjoy sexual activities, a friendship hug, and encouraging conversation. In marriage lust is a positive emotion. God designed a husband and wife to respond with that great feeling. God designed erotic love to be a response to agape between a husband and wife.
Eroticism is not agape love! True love is agape love! Where is the proof? Listen to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8,
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails . . . 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NASB)
That is God’s definition of love. It does not include sex. It is the denial of self. It is found in this familiar command,
“‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’” Matthew 22:37-39 (NASB)
The love of God is not pair bonding, sexual activity, giving birth, or a love molecule. Agape love occurs only as the result of being filled by the Holy Spirit. It is a blessing from God.
Is love a chemical reaction? The answer is, “No!” The “biology of love” should be reworded as “the fruit of the Spirit in the life of a Christian.”
1. Emily Blatchford. We Talk To A Neuroscientist About Love At First Sight. Huffington Post. 21/07/2016.
2. Hannah Devlin. What is love – and is it all in the mind? The Guardian. Mon 11 Feb 2019.
2. Abigail Marsh. The Chemistry of Love. YouTube.com. Feb 10, 2014.
3. Gary Stix. “Fact or Fiction?: Oxytocin Is the “Love Hormone” Scientific American. September 8, 2014.
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