Qur'an and the Lying Prefrontal Cerebrum

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This article analyzes the apologetic claim that the Qur'an correctly asserts that the prefrontal region is responsible for lying.

Apologetic Claim[edit]

Several apologists promulgate Professor Keith L. Moore's Qur'anic science of the lying sinful prefrontal area of the cerebrum (here referred to as the prefrontal cerebrum).

D) The Quran on the Cerebrum:

God has said in the Quran about one of the evil unbelievers who forbade the Prophet Muhammad from praying at the Kaaba:

No! If he does not stop, We will take him by the naseyah (front of the head), a lying, sinful naseyah (front of the head)! (Quran, 96:15-16)

Why did the Quran describe the front of the head as being lying and sinful? Why didn’t the Quran say that the person was lying and sinful? What is the relationship between the front of the head and lying and sinfulness?

If we look into the skull at the front of the head, we will find the prefrontal area of the cerebrum (see figure 12). What does physiology tell us about the function of this area? A book entitled Essentials of Anatomy & Physiology says about this area, “The motivation and the foresight to plan and initiate movements occur in the anterior portion of the frontal lobes, the prefrontal area. This is a region of association cortex...”1 Also the book says, “In relation to its involvement in motivation, the prefrontal area is also thought to be the functional center for aggression....”2


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Figure 12: Functional regions of the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex. The prefrontal area is located at the front of the cerebral cortex. (Essentials of Anatomy & Physiology, Seeley and others, p. 210.) (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

So, this area of the cerebrum is responsible for planning, motivating, and initiating good and sinful behavior and is responsible for the telling of lies and the speaking of truth. Thus, it is proper to describe the front of the head as lying and sinful when someone lies or commits a sin, as the Quran has said, “...A lying, sinful naseyah (front of the head)!”

There are many websites that are copy-pasting this proposition, and a search of the internet reveals that all the claims that the cerebrum is responsible for lying and sin comes from the same source, i.e. from Keith Moore.

Dr. Moore has defined the prefrontal cortex as the naseyah. However, his illustration highlights an area (colored tan) that is known as Brodman’s Areas 9, 10 and 11. It is this brain region that we will concentrate our analysis.

There is also the issue of whether the Qur'an actually mentions the prefrontal cerebrum or not as there is some doubt as to the meaning of the term naseyah. Nevertheless, we will accept for the sake of argument that naseyah refers to the prefrontal cerebrum as Moore seems to suggest.

Analysis[edit]

Non-Evidence[edit]

The evidence put forward in support of the claim is thus:

A book entitled Essentials of Anatomy & Physiology says about this area, “The motivation and the foresight to plan and initiate movements occur in the anterior portion of the frontal lobes, the prefrontal area. This is a region of association cortex...”1 Also the book says, “In relation to its involvement in motivation, the prefrontal area is also thought to be the functional center for aggression....”2

Planning and initiation of movement are not lying and sin. Though they may be required for its execution, they are not the same thing. Planning and initiation of movement can just as easily be required for truth and good deeds. In other words, movement control is not the process of lying which is a decision-making process and not a motor function. Thus, this line of thinking is false.

Secondly, aggression is not the same as lying and sin. One can just as easily lie and sin without aggression. Also one can be aggressive, as in self-defense, without being considered deceptive or sinful. Thus, the claim of evidence is false.

Is the Prefrontal Cerebrum Really Responsible for Lying?[edit]

Modern science has investigated the brain processes required for lying and deception. This field has achieved great advancement from the invention of the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology (fMRI). The key scientific teams include those led by Associate Professor Jia-Hong Gao; Professor Scott H. Faro, M.D; Assistant Professor Daniel Langleben; Dr. Frank Andrew Kozel, M.D.; and Professor Stephen Kosslyn.

We choose only the issue of lying and not sin because much medical science has been conducted on lying. Sin is a broader issue and encompasses the subset of lying/deception.

The thesis is that if the Qur'an is wrong concerning the prefrontal cerebrum and lying, then there is no need to prove the more general case of the prefrontal cerebrum and sin as it would immediately prove the entire argument to be false.

Here is a summary of the modern scientific findings:

Associate Professor Jia-Hong Gao, University of Texas Health Science Center[edit]

The imaging data revealed four principle areas of brain activation — in the prefrontal and frontal, parietal, temporal and sub-cortical regions.
Are they lying? Functional MRI holds the answer, scientists say
The News, Volume XXXV, No. 16, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, April 19, 2002

Professor Gao’s experiment is a feigned memory test – which means that the brain areas involved in both feigning (i.e. lying) and memory will be activated. From his experiment, it can be seen that other parts of the cerebrum and the sub-cortical regions are responsible for lying, thus disproving the claim that the prefrontal cerebrum is responsible for lying. The prefrontal cerebrum may only be partly responsible (i.e. for the memory component of the feigned memory experiment) and to assign it the prominent or sole role in lying is incorrect and/or deceptive. In fact, to be strictly correct, the decision-making processes for lying reside in the sub-cortical regions and not in the prefrontal region which is merely responsible for working memory functions, not the executive function of lying.

A detailed examination of the specific brain areas activated in the process of lying is provided by Lee et al., in “Lie Detection by Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging”, Human Brain Mapping 15:157–164 (2002)[1]

In summary, the various functions of the brain areas in the lying process are as follows:

  1. Prefrontal (BA 10, BA 9/46) - goal setting, cognitive-balancing and working memory functions.
  2. Frontal (BA 6) - motor planning/decision processing.
  3. Parietal (BA 40) - mental calculation of numerical problems.
  4. Temporal (BA 21) – visual stimulation.
  5. Sub-cortical {caudate and posterior cingulate} (BA 23) - inhibition of previously learned rules and self monitoring of random errors.

Lee et al. suggest the sub-cortical region is important in the decision-making process of lying, while the rest of the prefrontal-frontal-parietal-temporal-sub-cortical circuit mainly deals with the cognition and mechanics of the process.

Maguire et al. [1999] suggest that an important role for the posterior cingulate region is in the linking of incoming information with a repository of activated knowledge and thereby form a coherent representation of discourse. The conjoint activation of the anterior medial parietal/posterior cingulate region, therefore, reflects the online incorporation of information into a preset mental framework.[1]

Here Lee et al. suggest the role of the posterior cingulate region in formation of the coherent representation of discourse into the preset mental framework (i.e. lying).

Activation of the caudate region reflects performance monitoring, just as Semrud-Clikeman et al. [2000] observed that the intact structure of the caudate correlates with performance on measures of inhibition (of the usual, i.e. previously learned responses).[1]

Here Lee et al. suggest the role of the caudate cingulate region in the performance monitoring of the lying process.

Thus, the caudate and posterior cingulate regions together form and monitor the decision-making process of lying. These regions are in the sub-cortical area and not in the prefrontal cortex.

Professor Scott Faro, Functional Brain Imaging Center and Clinical MRI at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia[edit]

These areas (i.e. engaged in lying) were located in the frontal (medial inferior and pre-central), temporal (hippocampus and middle temporal), and limbic (anterior and posterior cingulate) lobes. During a truthful response, the fMRI showed activation in the frontal lobe (inferior and medial), temporal lobe (inferior) and cingulate gyrus.
Brain imaging with MRI could replace lie detector
Maureen Morley, Radiological Society of North America, November 29, 2004

Here, Professor Faro's team found that the prefrontal cerebrum has no major part to do with lying. That the prefrontal cerebrum was not found to be involved is entirely due to the experimental design. Professor Faro’s experiment did not involve the use of memory, unlike Professor Gao’s feigned memory experiment. This is why Professor Faro found that the prefrontal cerebrum does not play a role in the neurological process of lying.

Frank Andrew Kozel, the Medical University of South Carolina and the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina[edit]

These areas (responsible for lying) included the right inferior frontal, right orbitofrontal, right middle frontal, left middle temporal and right anterior cingulated areas.

Dr. Kozel's team found more evidence that the prefrontal cerebrum is not responsible for lying. His experiment involved finding the brain areas activated when the subjects lied as opposed to when they told the truth. Thus, only the areas involved in lying were highlighted, removing the influence of other cognitive functions such as goal-setting, cognitive-branching, and working memory retrieval.

Assistant Professor Daniel Langleben, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine[edit]

When the subjects were lying, the scientists found significantly increased activity in both the anterior cingulate cortex, a section of the brain that has been linked to monitoring of errors and attention, and the prefrontal and premotor cortices, areas involved in the initiation of voluntary movement.
Diogenes' New Lamp
Rebecca Sloan Slotnick, Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, May-June 2002

Here is more evidence that the prefrontal cerebrum is not responsible for lying. The prefrontal cortex is found to be responsible for the initiation of voluntary movement, not lying.

Professor Stephen Kosslyn. Pychology Dept. Harvard University[edit]

Harvard psychology professor Kosslyn also focuses on the brain in his study of deception, but he uses brain-scanning equipment to see what areas receive intense blood flow during questioning.

While his work has not yet been completed, preliminary results show that different regions of the brain light up when people tell the truth or lie. Further, he believes different regions are activated depending on the type of lie.

His data so far, he said, show the anterior cingulate, located near the front of the brain and associated with conflict resolution, is often activated during lies.
"Brain Fingerprints" May Offer Better Way to Detect Lying
Patricia Wen, National Geographic Society, July 5, 2001

Admittedly Professor Kosslyn’s work is incomplete, but it does back up the work of others.

Conclusion[edit]

Modern medical research utilizing fMRI conduct brain scans has revealed that the prefrontal cerebrum is not responsible for lying.


Cingulate gyrus mid sag.jpg


Other brain regions are responsible, particularly the anterior cingulate gyrus which lies in the medial part of the brain in the frontal-parietal area and not in the prefrontal cerebrum (pictured above in grey).


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The key evidence is provided by Lee et al., (i.e. Dr Gao’s team) who suggest that the sub-cortical regions are responsible for the main decision-making processes of lying, while the prefrontal region is mainly responsible for goal setting, cognitive-balancing, and memory retrieval and manipulation (i.e. part of the cognition and mechanics of the lying process).

Thus, the scientific evidence does not support the claim that the Qur'an correctly asserts that the prefrontal region is responsible for lying as it is not the region responsible for the decision-making process of lying. Other regions, for example the anterior cingulate gyrus, the parietal lobe, other regions of the frontal lobe, and sub-cortical regions (i.e. the caudate and posterior cingulate), are required for the brain processes of lying.

This page is featured in the core article, Islam and Science which serves as a starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about this topic Core part.png

See Also[edit]

  • Lying - A hub page that leads to other articles related to lying
  • I. A. Ibrahim - A hub page that leads to other articles related to I. A. Ibrahim

External Links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Tatia M. C. Lee; Ho-Ling Liu; Li-Hai Tan; Chetwyn C. H. Chan; Srikanth Mahankali; Ching-Mei Feng; Jinwen Hou; Peter T. Fox; Jia-Hong Gao. - Lie Detection by Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Human Brain Mapping 15(3):157-64, 2002. PMID: 11835606. WOBIB: 37.