Science in Christian Perspective



Frank E. Houser

From: JASA 6 (June 1954): 21-22.

In the last issue of this periodical there appeared Dr. S. R. Karinn's extremely pertinent analysis of the Morgenthau school of thought. In my judgment its pertinence is due to the highlighting of the concept of human nature-both Morgenthau's and Dr. Kamm's.

The concept of human nature is, of course, a pivotal one for the social sciences. Some years ago the con - cept of human nature had been consigned to the ash bin by the positivists. With characteristic impertinence this banished subject managed to hide away in the attic, waiting until only recently to descend into the living room of contemporary thought when a less dogmatic generation would give him a fairer hearing.

Because of the renascence of the concept in the various disciplines of social science it is regarded as proper to consider it in this column. Admittedly this subject extends beyond empirical treatment. In what empirical research in human behavior is there which doesn't have an assumption (even "hidden" in the attic perhaps) regarding human nature? Believing that basic presuppositions must be considered as rigorously as data-else contemporary research is meaningless. I propose here a quick survey of how "'human nature" is handled in sociology. To enable contrast, a distinctive Christian position is first presented in the following paragraphs from an unpublished statement by Dr. S. R. Kamm of Wheaton College.

"Christian social scientists will find it helpful to recognize, both on the basis of Biblical analysis and on the basis of rational demonstration, that man is tripartite, that he is composed of spirit, soul and body, (I Thes. 5:23) and that man therefore partakes of the nature of the spiritual order of beings, the order of ideas or rnind, and the order of the body or of the natural world. It is therefore quite in order to refer to the spiritual aspect of man as an essence which does not change in response to non-spiritual forces. As a spirittial being man exhibits a constant response to God, his creator, or rebellion until such time as the grace of God changes that attitude to an attitude of love and obedience.

"Man's mind as part of God's endowment is part of the universal order of the nature of men. It is subject to analysis and study. Certain laws of mental activity of the nature of generalizations may be made concerning this phase of man's personality. As part of the universal nature of men it is subject to control and change through the understandings revealed by revelation, by rational thought, and controlled observation.

"Man's body is part of the universal order of the natural universe. As such it also is subject to analysis and study in the same manner as the other parts of natural universe, with this limitation that man's body is also influenced in its behavior by the mind and by the spirit."

Dr. Kamm, of course, emphasizes that spirit, soul, and body are facets or aspects of a unitary personality.

Now note the three emphases characterizing sociology as far as the question of human nature is concerned. First of all, there are those who discuss the question of the essence of human nature. An example here would be Karl Marx who says that, "The human essence is no abstraction inherent in each individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of social relations." According to Venable, Marx is taking an unambiguous position on the issue; man can be no more than what men actually do in their concrete historical and social environments. So Marx dismisses the question of the essence of human nature regarding such a question as wrongly assuming individuals for analysis rather than people in relationship.

Secondly, there are the vast number of contemporary sociologists who miss the question of essence. They differ by degrees from Karl Marx. They simply do not discuss the question of whether human nature is good or bad. They focus on behavior. They talk about original nature by which they mean reflexes, skeletal structure, drives, temperament, and capacities-matters which are carried by the genes. They say that this original nature needs society to become human nature; that without society, original nature never becomes human nature. For them there is an eternal trinity of personality, culture, and society. These sociologists also point out that in the consideration of human nature there is a tendency for people to believe some behavior patterns to be innate when in reality, they are culturally determined. The sociologist denies that such things as aggressiveness, aquisitiveness, etc., are biologically determined. The common characteristics of human nature are reflections of culture. So in regard to the contemporary sociologist, I would conclude that they miss the question of goodness or badness of human nature through their emphasis on the empirical study of behavior.

Thirdly, there are thinkers in contemporary social science who neither dismiss the question nor miss it, but hit it. Karen Horney, late eminent neo-Freudian, answers the question of whether or not human nature changes by saying that there is the possibility of good and evil in human behavior. But, the constructive urges and the destructive urges in human nature come from different sources. The constructive sources comprise what Horney calls man's essential nature or real self. (Note the different connotation of "essence" in Horney and Kamm). The destructive forces are those which make it impossible for man to fulfill himself. Karen Horne), says, "Just as a tree needs peculiar conditions for its growth, so does the child. If the environmental conditions are favorable, a child grows into a sincere, warm, and active human being, and develops whatever particular potential he has. He does so because, as every living organism, he has the innate urge to grow. Under conditions unfavorable to its growth this development can go easily astray. Then he may become wary, hostile, withdrawn, and overdependent."' Apparently then, when pride, ruthlessness, ambition, and other characteristics occur, it is not because of man's essential nature. It is like a tree which becomes crooked not because of what is in the tree, but because .of the sun, soil, the wind, and so on. Karen Horney concludes that hostility is acquired, not innate. What can be acquired can be changed.

The nature of human nature is not a finished subject. It may never be (due to its nature). However, what may yet be formulated concerning both essence and behavior of human nature promises to clarify assumptions which have been hidden or unqualified or both.

Wheaton, IL May 3, 1954

1. Excerpt taken from sound recording of Dr. Horney.