Science in Christian Perspective





From: JASA 18 (March 1966): 2-4.

During the early centuries of scientific development science and theology had a mutually modifying influence on each other. More recently this modification has given way to antagonisms. Currently there is an acute lack of effective dialogue between evangelicals in science and theology, and an inability to communicate with each other. Too often attention has been focused on substantive issues instead of the metascientific issues, which has led to confusing polemics. An example of this confusion is the issues involved in psychoanalysis, psychology, and psychotherapy. Personal examples of non-dialogue may provide helpful insights into more adequate approaches to mutual synthesis.

A Prologue to Dialogue

There are several intents in these comments: a direct reply to R. L. Harris' comments in the December 1964 JASA, an open letter on evangelical theology and Christian thinking in science, and finally, a summary on the nature of psychiatry and psychoanalysis as related to this. My comments are purposely personal because the issues are personal, and the solutions lie on a personal basis. I am speaking of the collaboration between the evangelical theologian and evangelical scientist, perhaps partly represented in the American Scientific Affiliation and the Evangelical Theological Association. As, a member of A.S.A. and E.T.S., and being both a licensed minister and a research psychiatrist, I would like to cite some of my personal experiences which exemplify the need for, and the lack of, collaboration.

As Example 1, about four years ago I organized a monthly seminar for evangelical scientists and ministers which met for almost a year. Several scientists attended along with the minister from his own church. Our striking and disconcerting experience was that the two could not talk to each other, could not comprehend the other's frame of reference, and could not find a mutual language to share thoughts and experiences. In lecturing at Christian colleges in scattered sections of the country I have found this same dichotomy among the faculty-the arts and science faculty and the religious faculty are not engaged in effective, or even intelligible dialogue.

The problem recalls C. P. Snow's24 celebrated discussion on the dysjunction of the two cultures of science and literature. It is worth noting that a series of letters appeared in Scienoe during 1964 refuting Snow's pessimism. Generally, the correspondents reported successful collaboration of the two cultures, when and if professionals in each tried to make themselves understood and tried to understand the other. I think that there is a lesson here for us. John Dillenberger7 has beautifully documented the mutual modifications theology and science made upon each other until the middle of the eighteenth century. From that point onward theology assumed a defensive pose and ceased to modify or be modified by science.15 Such has been our legacy, and remains our crucial problem today as Stevick25 so forcefully reminds us.

As Example 2, 1 have recently presented several papers on theological perspectives in psychology.18,19,20 In preparation I reviewed the systematic theologies. and commentaries of many prominent evangelical theologians. I must regretfully report that they were of no help, because they seemed not to have taken modern psychology into consideration in their thinking. All theological systems rely upon some assumptions regarding the human nature, which affects the exegesis. The church fathers and the reformation theologians framed their theology upon the psychology of their

*E. Mansell Pattison is an instructor in Psychiatry at the University of Washington, School of Medicine, Seattle, WA

day-and their exegesis shows it. Unfortunately, evangelical theology continues to operate upon the assumptions of medieval psychology and has not come to grips with implications of those assumptions or the assumptions of modem psychology. I do not propose that historic theology should be overthrown in the radical manner of many contemporary critics. But I do assert that evangelical theology has yet to seriously apprise itself of its own psychological assumptions, nor has it systematically studied the assumptions of psychology as they influence the construction of theology.8,26 I must report that I have had to turn to other theologians,17,23 instead of my evangelical colleagues, when I study such issues because my colleagues have not entered the dialogue yet. Parenthetically, our Roman Catholic colleagues have taken this issue seriously and have produced some provocative and constructive volumes.4,6,16

As Example 3, let me quote Harris' opinion that "the school of psychoanalysis is so directly anti-Christian that a Christian should directly disassociate himself from it." Such an opinion does not seem to be offered in the spirit of dialogue, or if it is, it is not a very inviting invitation! First, it appears from Harris' remarks that he is ignorant of differences between psychoanalysis, psychiatry, and psychotherapy. Second, I happen to personally know many, if not most of the psychiatrist and psychologist members of Z.A. While I do not presume to speak for them, to my knowledge most of them use psychoanalytic theories, concepts, and techniques in one way or another. Further, many of us were trained in psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy, and some have completed their own psychoanalysis. Would Dr. Harris wish to excommunicate us? I think not. But I do think that this represents an instance of novdialogue. There are other issues where I am sure there is honest disagreement between scientists and theologians who share the same evangelical commitment. May I suggest that we need our mutual resources to complement and modify each other's perspectives. But this can only occur as we respect each other, learn to understand each other, and try to communicate with each other.

Metascience in Dialogue

Although the phenomenal success of the experimental method allowed scientists to long ignore the logical processes and assumptions from which experimental methods proceed, the philosophy of science has now become a major preoccupation of twentieth century philosophy.3,12 Related to the philosophy of science is metascience which is concerned with the logical framework of scientific theories and the role and nature of experimental assumptions.2

Every scientific discipline has its particular metascience structure and questions. It is rare that theology is directly relevant to the empirical operations of science. Rather it is at the level of metascience that the theology is not only relevant but indispensable. This fact is lost sight of in much theology-science dialogue. Take, for example, the replies and counter-replies on the Whitcomb-Morris volume, The Genesis Floo,d.13 Almost all of the discussion is centered around specific scientific data, which cannot settle the theological issues. The real issues at the metascientific level were never raised and discussed. So I doubt that the disputants really can say where the honest disagreements lie, and then proceed to work out means of settling the issue by collaborative effort.

Another example of metascientific issues can be seen in the discussion about the role of psychological theories as they underlie various professions. Harris' takes exception to my use of professional role as a guide line. As a matter of precision, I was alluding to the method of social analysis which follows Talcott Parsone functional social theory. It would be fruitless for Harris and me to argue cases without first reaching common agreement on the sociological frame of reference. Here we would need some sociologists to assist in the dialogue, and probably a philosopher to keep watch over our logic. (I might add that ASA sociologist Paul Peachey has just published a brief monograph which surveys some of these systematic issues.21)

To sum up this point, the specific content of many theories is not the question, it is rather the construction and application of that theory. If we are to engage in more than idle speculation I would suggest that we engage in rigorous study to develop working propositions. In many areas of research today the complexities demand interdisciplinary research teams, and the same need exists for us. Can we respond at such a level of constructive collaboration?

A Case for Dialogue: Psychoanalysis

Since psychoanalysis has been a volatile issue in religious circles for some time it may serve as a timely example of some of the confusions that surround attempts, at dialogue. It is necessary to distinguish between:

a.) Freud and his personal religious views b.) a psychoanalytic theory of psychology c.) psychoanalytic techniques and their modifications d.) a metaphysical extrapolation of psychoanalysis

The reaction to Freud has often been all or none; usually not tempered by any critical knowledge. One of the predominant religious reactions has been violent hostility to both Freud and his theories. Personally he was agnostic and his well publicized monographs on religion were highly critical of organized religion. But Rieff22 has called attention to his commitment of humanism and moralism, and Freud himself admits to the positive effects of religion upon personality. Yet this should not deter us from separating the man from his theories. The truth of Einstein's theories has nothing to do with the fact that he was as ardent an agnostic as Freud.

Many religionists turned from Freud to other psychoanaIysts, Jung, Adler, and Rank who framed their theories in more religious terms. This was no more satisfying since only the words were reassuring-the meanings were no more pro-Christian than Freud's. Others looked to the neo-Freudians, Homey, Fromm, and Sullivan, only to find a metaphysical humanism. Thus the reaction to Freud's personal views without coming to grips with his observations led to premature conclusions about his work. The critics were reacting to the scientific data instead of looking at the metascientific issues. Further, it has often been either psychoanalysis or some other psychology, as if they were mutually exclusive. This fails to appreciate phychoanalysis as part of the whole science of psychology, and its adequacy as a theory will be determined by the interplay of continuing modifications within general psychological theory. And finally, I do not know of any psychological theory which is either more or less Christian as a theory, such is not the issue. On the other hand, there are issues of how a theory is related to an over-all metascientific understanding of man.

There are issues of psychotherapeutic technique to which theology is relevant, but we have to ask the right questions. A common error is to assume that the psychoanalytic model is the standard for all psychotherapy. There are limited and specific indications for this model. Actually, all psychotherapy techniques involve certain moral and ethical questions which we need to seriously examine.1,10,14 But this is not limited to psychoanalysis.

Finally, it is true that some psychoanalysts have taken their professsion as their religion and are highly critical of Christianity. But the same is true of certain biologists, chemists, physicists, etc. Unfortunately, Freud and psychoanalysis have been the scape-goats and whipping-boys for those who do not understand the issues and persist in the demolition of straw men instead of working at constructive syntheses.

In conclusion there are certain issues which do require our attention in psychoanalytic metascience. They are the questions of: a.) determinism, b.) hedonism, c.) relativism. It is beyond our scope to seriously discuss these issues, save to suggest that they have been misunderstood by some, rethought by others, and are being modified in contemporary psychoanalytic thinking, as exemplified in the work of Colby,5 Hartmann,11 and Erickson.9 It is at this level that Christian theology may appropriately contribute.


I have chosen some of my personal experiences to illustrate the lack of, and need for, constructive dialogue between the evangelical theologian and scientist. I have suggested that such dialogue must concern itself with fundamental issues at the level of metascience. Further, such dialogue needs to reserve its judgment and develop working hypotheses on the basis of interdisciplinary collaboration. Finally, I have outlined some of the confusions which exist in the dialogue about psychoanalysis. Often there has been misguided hostility, whereas we need constructive contributions to issues where our Christian commitment is relevant.


1. Buhler, C. Values in Psychotherapy. Free Press of Glencoe: New York, 1962.

2. Bunge, M. Metascientific Queries. C. C. Thomas: Springfield, Ill., 1959.

3. Burtt, E. A. The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science. (rev. ed.) Doubleday: Garden City, 1932.

4. Caruso, 1. A. Existential Psychology-From Analysis to Synthesis. Herder & Herder: New York, 1964.

5. Colby, K. M. A Skeptical Psychoanalyst. Ronald Press: New York, 1958.

6. Daim, W. Depth Psychology and Salvation. Ungar: New York, 1963.

7. Dillenberger, J. Protestant Thought and Natural Science. Doubleday: Garden City, 1960.

8. Doniger, S. (ed.) The Nature of Man in Theological and Psychological Perspective. Harper: New York, 1962.

9. Erickson, E. Insight and Responsibility. Lectures on the Ethical Implications of Psychoanalytic Insight. W. W. Norton: New York, 1964.

10. Frank, J. D. Persuasion and Heating. Johns Hopkins Press: Baltimore, 1961.

11. Hartmann, H. Psychoanalysis and Moral Values. Inter. Univ. Press: New York, 1960.

12. Horowitz, I. L. Philosophy, Science, and the Sociology of Knowledge. C. C. Thomas: Springfield, Ill., 1961.

13. Letters to the Editor and Reviews. J. Amer. Sci. Affil. 16: 59-63, June, 1964.

14. London, P. The Modes and Morals of Psychotherapy. Holt, Rinehart, & Winston: New York, 1964.

15. Merton, R. K. "Puritanism, Pietism, and Science." In Social Theory and Social Structure. (rev. ed.) Free Press of Glencoe: New York, 1957.

16. Oralson, M. (ed.) Sin: A Symposium. Macmillan: New York, 1962.

17. Outler, A. C. Psychotherapy and the Christian Message. Harper: New York, 1954.

18. Pattison, E. M. An Evangelical Theology of Hostility. Read to the Psychiatry Section of the Christian Medical Society, May, 1963, St. Louis.

19. Pattison, E. M. On the Failure to Forgive or to be Forgiven. Amer. J. Psychotherapy, 19:106-115, Jan., 1965.

20. Pattison, E. M. Contemporary Views of Man in Psychology, J. Religion and Health 4:354-366, 1965.

21. Peachey, P. Who Is My Neighbor? (Institute of Mennonite Study Series, No. 4) Faith & Life Press: Newton, Kansas, 1964. 22. Rieff, P. Freud: The Mind of the Moralist. Viking Press: New York, 1959.

23. Roberts, D. E. Psychotherapy and a Christian View of Man. Scribners: New York, 1950.

24. Snow, C. P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge Univ. Press: New York, 1959.

25. Stevick, D. B. Beyond Fundamentalism. John Knox Press: Richmond, 1964.

26. Tillich, P. "The Impact of Pastoral Psychology on Theological Thought." In The Ministry and Mental Health. Hoffman, H. (ed.) Association Press: New York, 1960.