Science in Christian Perspective



Bernard Ramm, M. A., B. D.
Professor of Apologetics, The Bible
Institute of Los Angeles

From: JASA, 2, 1(1950): 28-31.

The edifice of natural theology has been traditionally reared on the material provided by the study of the world, the soul, and God. Many scientists and educated people have decided that in the light of modern scientific investigation of the world we may bid adieu to God. This decision has come chiefly through the physical sciences that take the complete self-sufficiency of the universe as a working principle and convert it into a metaphysical dictum. Moderns have also said good-bye to the soul at the invitation of psychology, especially at the request of behaviorism Any such effort must be taken with the utmost seriousness by students of historic Christianity for upon the existence of the soul so much depends. It is not only difficult but impossible to conceive of anything that could ' truly pass by the name of religious, let alone Christian, if there be no soul. The denial of the soul cuts the nerve of religion in two and any hopes of regrafting, e.g. in humanism, are doomed to failure. With the demise of the human spirit goes the two greatest values connected with it, viz., ethics and immortality. If we are but advance animals then ethics can be exhaustively explained by psychology, and as for immortality, obviously animals have no spirits to survive death. It is, then, quite evident that the denials of behaviorism make the Christian doctrine of the soul an impossibility.

The strange situation at this point is that psychology, "the science of the soul," has taken upon itself the task of denying its subject matter. However, psychologists say, at least on the surface, that the denial of the soul is not the result of philosophical bias, e.g., as contained in materialism, but is rather the necessary outcome of empirical investigation and scientific methodology. Bodies have been weighed before and after death to detect the weight of the soul. The few milligrams of weight lost at death has been determined to be the loss of air in the lungs. Bodies have been minutely dissected and brains have been finely sliced and no soul has been found. It is so concluded that there is no material evidence for a soul. In O'Toole, The Case Against Evolution, chapter II, of Part II, "The Origin of the Human Soul," it is quite clearly pointed out that we simply don't find a soul (a spiritual entity) by a methodology designed to catch only material data.

Upon the lack of material evidence for a soul has been imposed the lack of a soul on methodological grounds, namely, that we can ignore such an entity as the soul and still study psychology successfully. Therefore, what cannot be verified by anatomy or scientific method may be safely denied any existence. But when we take the soul out and bury it we bury along with it religion, conscience, ethics and immortality, at least as they are so substantially defined in the Christian faith. With the burial of the soul is involved the burial of the entire Christian faith. So whether there be a soul or not in our bodies is of capital importance to every Christian.

The Relationship of Philosophy to Psychology

It is our contention that every special science is studied in an atmosphere as real as the air about us, and that atmosphere is the prevailing scientific mood of the day. The most cursory stud~ of the history of science will reveal that science

1. This is exactly what the Logical Positivists do with ethics. Ethical statements to them are non-cognitive, hence non-factual. Their writers on ethics, e.g. Schlick, Feigl, Carnap, and Stevenson, claim that all ethical statements can be studied as either sentence in psychology or sociology. No normative sentences are permitted.
has its moods, tempers, and attitudes, that act as governors and criteria for what passes as scientific and as non-scientific. Just as we draw thousands of breaths and are unaware for the most part of one of the most central processes of life, so our scientists live in an atmosphere that colors and shades every judgment they make. Now this mood or atmosphere is not a bona fide part -of science itself, but is some brand of philosophy whether clearly stated so or not. Hence it is of great import to know the precise relationship between the mood and the science, or between philosophy and psychology.

Psychology, as much as it tries to imitate physics, is a narrow, empirical study whereas philosophy is broad, general, and synoptic. A typical statement in psychology is: "This X is the result of that Y." A typical philosophical statement is: "Both X and Y are the results of Z," where Z stands for a more ultimate and foundational premise than either Y or X.

I Psychology endeavors to keep the metaphysical questions out of the picture and works on an as-if basis whereas philosophy is the effort to draw the entire picture and takes the particular, in which psychology revels, as only one facet of a much larger whole.

Psychology and philosophy have problems that are exclusive to' each other, and they also have problems that are inclusive of each other. Every philosopher by all means should have a good working knowledge of psychological theories and schools, and as much detailed knowledge as befits the problems he studies. Especially is this necessary for the epistemologists whose studies in the problem of knowledge need constant light from parallel studies in psychology. On the other hand the psychologist ought to forsake a strict "bread and butter" attitude toward his psychology and be somewhat concerned with the wider implications of his study. If he doesn't he becomes the typical narrow specialist who might be a genius in his particular specialty but very naive and foolish in treating the broader problems of meaning. In other words, both the philosopher and the psychologist ought to pay considerable attention to their common borderland, namely, philosophical psychology.

Relationship of Philosophical Psychology to Scientific Psychology

The purpose of psychology as a science is to investigate the thousands of different factors in human and animal psychology, and after investigation to classify the information attained by different categories and to formulate laws of varying degrees of generality. Psychology as science is not immediately concerned with philosophical problems. The problem of learning, of memory, of sensation, of visual judgment, are to be studied with as much scientific vigor and rigor as the physicist does his work. The problems of abnormal psychology are more complicated but the same scientific methodology should prevail.

But just as the physicist, if he ever lifts his eyes from his instrument or papers, must make some kind of cosmological judgment, so must the psychologist indicate the implications of his studies. The implications of the scientific study of psychology is the field of philosophical psychology. It asks one question that is stated two different ways: (1) What theory of man is necessary to make psychology possible? and (2) toward what theory of man does psychology point?

It will be noted in the first question that the theoretical foundations and the assumptive basis of psychology will become immediately apparent. The psychologist must be endowed with certain powers of discrimination, of intelligence, of purpose, of foresight, of moral integrity. No theory of psychology should be accepted that demands. a higher interpretation of the experimenting psychologist, than the professed school of psychology permits-something we feel is true of behaviorism.

In the second question the exceeding complex state of affairs inside the human cranium becomes apparent. It is the Christian conviction that the answer to both questions will lead to some doctrine of an extra-organic soul.

The Sins of Behaviorism as Viewed from the Standpoint of Philosophical Psychology

We now come to grips with detailed parts of our problem. The first sin of behaviorism is its failure to realize that the psychologist works in a scientific atmosphere that colors so much of his work. Behaviorism adopts, for example, the mechanical (as opposed to the spiritual) theory of evolution and treats it with all the respect given to a metaphysical ultimate. He also adopts the incipient naturalism in the science of today as his metaphysical backdrop. Hence, by his adoption of naturalism and evolution--things that are the spirit of the times--he is already thoroughly enmeshed in metaphysical presuppositions how much he may seek to deny it. He will never come up with an answer to problems that are out of harmony with evolution or naturalism. That type of interpretation is verboten before he even digs into his daily experimentation.

The second sin of behaviorism is its unabashed goal of imitating physics, i.e. it seeks the same objectivity of physics no matter the price to be paid. One of the purposes of philosophical psychology is to lay bare exactly the nature of such professed objectivity and with Goethe declare that "any fact is in itself a theory" (Egon Brunswik, "Points of View," The Encyclopedia of Psychology, p. 527). A complete pan-objectivity is an impossibility no matter how tantalizing it is as a scientific goal. We need not let the factor of subjectivity in all human activity lead to subjective idealism, but on the other hand, of all sciences psychology is the most liable to subjectivity because, at least on the human level, it is the science of subjects. Hence, philosophical psychologists would object to the indiscriminate application of the objective methodology of physics to psychology. Physics can dispense with sympathy, and much of analogy, but psychology is impossible without sympathy and analogy. To understand physical objects we do not need to feel for them, or like them, or with them, although there are philosophers who would even insist upon it; and, further, I need not use anthropomorphic analogies in describing their activities, as for example, in such classic expressions as "nature abhors a vacuum," or, "each object seeks its place in nature." But in psychology we do sympathize with our objects of experiment, and we do make analogies between our experiences and those of our subjects. It has been claimed that human nature has been more adequately understood by the study of rats; but the study of rats is only possible by considering the rat a sort of mocked-down model of a human. It is closer to the actual scientific procedure to talk of the man-like rat, than of the rat-like man.

The third sin of behaviorism is its denial of consciousness. If vividness, repetition, familiarity, feelings of certainty, continuity, predictability, and the like, be taken as first hand categories for the reality of an entity, then consciousness is the first reality of all human knowledge.2 Schopenhauer, many years ago, realized that causation had to be redefined at each level of reality, and indicated that mechanical causation in physics is replaced by sentiency or stimulation in animals, and purpose or will in man. Consciousness is vividly and distinctly causative in each man's experience and the patent denial of it by behaviorism would be curious if not tragic. Not only is this denial of consciousness directly contrary

2. One of the greatest living philosophical psychologists is F. R. Tennant whose first volume of his Philosophical Theology, "The Soul and its Faculties," demonstrates, as far as we are concerned, the ultimacy and finality of consciousness.

to the most universal experience of all men, and of the most unimpeachable testimony of each individual man, but it is a metaphysical dogma. It is the dogma of pan-objectivism. Consciousness, as traditionally defined and commonly understood, is something very subjective. But subjectivity has been the ghost that has frightened materialism and naturalism for centuries and they have taken themselves to great extremes to rid themselves of it. Subjectivism has been one of the strong points of idealistic philosophy as it leads to the doctrine of a subject, i.e. a soul, and to the Great Subject--God, with due reference to those who think of God only as Object. If all the universe is to be trimmed down to fit the confines of physics then consciousness must go as it is peculiarly subjective. Watson brusquely rids himself of it.3 However, philosophical psychology steps in and indicates the nature of such a denial, its philosophical origins and implications, and the inconsistency of the position.

It is interesting and significant to note that the type of problem that previous philosophical psychologists were interested in, e.g. Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Ward, Tennant, is no longer even on the curriculum of the average school of psychology. Psychology now appears as a strange subject--a study of subjects with no subject; a study of the souls with no soul; a study of the minds with no mind; a study of consciousness with no consciousness; a study or behavior with no subjectivity. If psychology has lost its soul, its consciousness, and its mind, it is one of the great tasks of philosophical psychology to restore the situation to normality and sanity.

The final sin of behaviorism is its denial of the importance of introspection. This is again in interest of its pan-objectivism, and its imitation of physics. But such a denial is not being accepted on all sides any more. Some have pointed out that inward introspection and outward inspection is all of the same cloth. Bertrand Russell in his latest work, Human Knowledge defends the validity of introspection (p. 45 ff). It is perhaps possible in medicine to do entirely without introspection, i.e. reports given by patients, as it actually is done in the case of animals and infants, but it would be a slow, laborious task. What a time doctors would have if all introspective data were left out of their books like "feelings of dizziness," or "dull pains," or, "a general feeling of nausea," or "spots before the eyes." An even more impossible situation would be found if this panobjectivism were extended to psychiatry. However, even if the day comes when there is a completely objective method of detecting each symptom of a syndrome its ultimate roots in introspection could never be denied.

In conclusion, we believe that there would be few works so salutory to the defense of the Christian faith as a great volume on Philosophical psychology demonstrating from philosophical and psychological grounds the bi-partite nature of man.

3. A valuable study of this entire problem will be found in Morris, Six Theories of Mind. Cf. also James' famous essay, "Does Consciousness Exist?"