Science in Christian Perspective
Frank A. Houser, M.A.
This column is ordinarily devoted to comments on developments in sociological theory and research which bear upon religion. And, when rigor of logic and observation characterize either theory or research ther
is rarely anything inimical to Christianity. However, sociologists must come down out of this rarified atmosphere of precision, and when they attempt to apply their knowledge to problem areas in society, the public is often spectator to hassles between "scientists" and religion which are comparable to anything Durocher displays when he jousts with umpires at the Polo Grounds.
For example, there appears in Marriage and Family Living for August 1952, and August 1953 sections on counselling regarding pre-marital sexual behavior. Both articles are recordings of panels-thus involving medical doctors, clinical psychologists, sociologists, marriage counsellors, and other assorted combatants. Both panels feature a first round where one fellow (a physician in one case, and a clinical psychologist in the other) flagellates Christianity or religion for being prudish, authoritarian, or unscientific while his opponent attempts a defense of chastity on social and psychological grounds. Before long the only person not in the donnybrook is the time keeper-a rather straight-laced fellow who has to get home to the wife and kids at a decent hour.
Here then is a running account of the types of argument. Of course, not all are explicitly anti-Christian. Some are in defense of morals closely associated with Christianity.Panel I.
A rather glib categorization was made by the clinical psychologist who asserted, "While fornication in our society involves some dangers, so, too do skiing, driving a car, falling in love, and doing any number of other things which few of us hesitate to do . . . . although I know of many organizations and groups which are determined to suppress premarital sex relations, I know of no group which is now working for the suppression of such dangerous activities as mountain climbing, football, motoring and-yes!-marriage." He also concluded that "Sex is fun" from which I inferred that anybody who opposes such natural exuberance among the unmarried is a downright killjoy. Several sociologists combined their forces at this point to question the wisdom and accuracy of so dissecting the personality and social relations as to single out "fun" and enthrone it over all the other considerations. The issue of valuing what is "individual", "biological natural", "free", "democratic', and " a right" over against what is responsible, controlled, and considerate threaded through both panels. For example, a teacher of ethics countered the extreme "permissive" approach with the assertion that permissiveness meant the abolition of the family system as we know it, that to have a family system is to have a restrictive sex code. Sociologically oriented readers will recognize the strength of this "functional" argument rather popular in modern sociology.
Members of the audience also had their opportunity. One man took aim at Kinseyan thinking which notes the statistical prevalence of deviation from the conventional code. and therefore concludes we ought to change the code.Panel 2
A medical doctor began with a below-the-belt punch when he said, "As I see it, the Christian doctrine of vicarious atonement calls upon us to beleve that God chose to make a painful and bloody sacrifice of His only Son to square the sins of sex participation on the part of all the rest of us, a procedure which, looked at rationally, seems cruel and unjust and serves to place sex emotions in the worst light imaginable." Perhaps it is only Christian to say that his training probably did not include rules of exegesis. In any case, his own philosophy came out rather clearly in this observation: "The time is already at hand when numbers of us are giving up on ourselves as fourthrate sons of the gods, and are beginning to consider our potentialities as first-rate animals, at the top of the biological scale. This view brings at once a great responsibility and an exciting sense of newly found worth and potential strength." Your columnist confesses his difficulty to comprehend how such change from "sons of the gods" to "first rate animals" brings newly found worth-unless that new worth is less than the old. And, if such be the case, I cannot share the doctor's excitement.
A rather disappointing comment was made by a well known sociologist who thought a rational sex code could be found in "the adjustmental pleasure-pain valences of the individual. They are, moreover, highly individual and should be determined more or less experimentally, for each individual." Aside from being slightly heretical (for sociologists are not wont to place such emphasis on the individual as the ultimate reference) it appears conceptionally sterile to couch behavior in terms of such dichotomous pleasure-pain categories. Surely there have been advances in social psychology since the days of Jeremy Bentham's "felicific calculus".
It is rather apparent, in summary, that practitioners on these panels follow no one set of values. If the panels are representative at all they probably reflect the heterogeneity of commitments in the social science fraternity. However, it is in the field of applied social science much more than in theory or research that religion gets considerable sparring practice with eager opponents.Wheaton College