Science in Christian Perspective






From: JASA 18 (March 1966): 21-23.

The discussion on Cybernetics and the Concept of Mind was based on a paper by Dr. Siegfried H. W. Buchholz of Germany. Technical developments in cybernetics raise questions about the nature of man. He can be seen as a "cybernetic machine." This new era of the technological view of man coincides with a process of self-alienation. Dr. Buchholz sees this as a loss of the personal center of human existence because man sees himself only in relation to himself, not in a relation to God. It is the fallen man who

*David 0. Moberg is at Bethel College, St. Paul, Minnesota.

turned away from God who regards himself as a "rational" being, independent of God and yet unable by reason to perceive God's speaking.

Cybernetic approaches to man can lead to misinterpretations of "man as a control mechanism" which do not correspond to reality. First of all, views of "man as a unity" are depreciated by making thinking identical with intellectual operations of the brain, by identifying language with information, by seeing human learning as the same as programming a machine, by making conscience the same as a psycho-hygienic control mechanism, etc. Secondly, identification of reality with mathematical models gives a mistaken significance to cybernetic methods in biology, medicine, and education. Thirdly, by subjecting human reactions to the constitutional economy of circuit changes and interpreting mental functions, health, and disease accordingly, man is seen as a self-regulating construction and his emotions are interpreted as psychic control mechanisms. Fourthly, the over-stressing of control processes reduces everything to an aspect of expediency. Wrong scientific conclusions thus lead to a wrong self-understanding of man.

The mechanical brain is seen by GiInther ("Metaphysics of Cybernetics") as a possible image of man which, by means of an "imitatio, dei," can help man to understand himself. The fact that all science can be seen as nothing more than re-thinking something already existing (that is, something pre-thought by the Creator) became evident when the feedback systems found in nature were rediscovered and made useful in computers. The body, soul, and spirit (soma, psycho, and pneuma) of man was compared by G8dan to three cybernetic control circuits with "open access to God." Many questions of man and information deserve attention in the light of cybernetic models.

Dr. Buchholz concluded that "Man as an 'integral being' (FRANKL) can only be seen as a complex unity, he can be healthy or ill only as a whole, he can be a real human being only as a whole. The knowledge of cybernetic relations achieved until now offers very remarkable, new aspects of the design of creation, but no final truth about the 'system' man, by a sudden insight."

In the discussion on cybernetics, it was indicated that during the first seven years of automation about 20,000 papers were published on the subject, but books on man as a machine appeared at least a couple hundred years ago. Every view of man is always a result of a "spiritual" decision. A computer program can be written for any logical specification that can be broken into component parts. Specification is as yet impossible on such topics as creativity, for we cannot break it into a catalog of parts.

Instead of seeing the machine as the image of man who is in turn the image of God, some participants felt that the best study of man is man and that the study of feedback tells more about the communication process than about man. Cybernetic models are helpful in understanding the control mechanisms of the body and the storage of information in the brain. But man's intimate knowledge of himself may be the chief difference between man and machine.

The discussion of Determinism and Free will grew out of two papers by Prof. Malcolm Jeeves, Psychologist in the University of Adelaide, South Austrailia. Because of the relatively slow development of the behavioral sciences and the lack of firmly grounded theory in them, Christians tend to adopt a god-of-the-gaps position in their views on science and human behavior. This is evident, for example, in an article on psychology in the JASA, Dec. 1964. Unnecessary hostility to scientific psychology by some Christians and indefensible assertions about the impact of scientific psychology on Christian beliefs by some psychologists result from basically the same reasons. "They both arise from a failure to think sufficiently carefully about the language used by scientific psychologists and a failure to try and see specifically which Christian doctrines are supposedly threatened by the common methodological assumptions and presuppositions of practicing scientific psychologists." The methodological assumptions of scientific psychology include (1) determinism (the belief that the regularities apparent in human behavior are capable of rational causal explanations and the working assumption that any kind of behavior is orderly, predictable, and lawful in the scientific sense), (2) reductionism, (the assumption that all descriptive psychological statements can be translated into statements in the language of physiology, biochemistry, or physics and chemistry), and the (3) repeatability of scientific research studies. If Christians either hold that determinism is all right as a research strategy but that this does not prove that all behavior is in fact determined, or if they hold that behavior items cannot be completely predicted, they may be using "a convenient temporary escape hatch which is slowly being closed" with every new development of psychology; the god-of-the-gaps is slowly pushed out of man's explanations.

The problem of man's "free choices" and determinism is related to personal responsibility. Some choices are modifiable by praise and blame, but others are not. Religious behavior is accounted for psychologically in terms of (1) social learning theory, which helps us understand the perpetuation of existing traditions but cannot account for the rise of new beliefs, (2) theories of the mechanism of religious conversion, some of which are social and others physiological, and (3) other hypotheses. This has important implications for man's responsibility and for the Christian evangelical notion of "decision." In the future it will be increasingly difficult to discern where the boundaries lie between using behavioral science knowledge, which will enable the manipulation of persons as if they were things, and truly Christian communication of the Gospel. Forethought is therefore advisable.

Prof. Jeeves concluded that two constantly recurring sources of unnecessary conflict between the behavioral sciences and Christian beliefs are the failure to make explicit the methodological assumptions underlying scientific research and the failure to recognize the change in the use of everyday language when common words and concepts are appropriated and modified by psychologists to build their theories.

In the discussion that followed, Prof. MacKay drew a distinction between definitions which equate freedom with unpredictability and those which see freedom as "the ability to do otherwise." We are free as long as we are not bound to do what we do. But in addition there is a logical redress in brain action. All other cognitive systems have inescapable, binding specifications, but not the brain. As soon as conclusions like predictions are built into the system, the very process of reaching conclusions makes the system incomplete, for the effect becomes a new cause.

The self-fulfilling prophecy process in the social sciences was also related to this. Social science predictions of events can be used to avoid the predicted outcome, for man's future is not completely determined by the past which science has studied. Scientific prediction can thus increase man's freedom by giving him a more realistic basis for decision-making.

As long as behavior is modifiable, man is not rigidly determined. Yet it was also indicated that man is not completely free; there are limits to his freedom, including the problem of susceptibility to suggestibility and the question of normality. Prof. Jeeves pointed out that we assume we are normal or healthy organisms and that the mentally ill and the mentally deficient are not. But there may be subtle differences between health and disease which are not yet recognized and which may have a significant impact upon our beliefs pertinent to determinism and free will.