Science in Christian Perspective



From: JASA 20 (March 1968): 24-27.

This panel discussion is based on an article by Ralph H. Turner of Oberlin College entitled "Dithering Devices in the Classroom: How to Succeed in Shaking Up a Campus by Really Trying," and will explore the usefulness of several topics to be used as dithering devices on college campuses in the classroom situation. British machinery was kept vibrating and consequently running smoothly by these original dithering devices. Similarly, the educational procedure may be improved by the occasional discussion of unusual and inter-disciplinary questions. The following presentations are not attempts to exhaust the topics under consider-

*William Bass, Ph.D. is on the philosophy faculty of Talbot Theological Seminary. The paper is based on a presentation at the 1967 Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation at Stanford University, Stanford, Cal. August, 1967.

ation, but merely efforts to present basic material for thought, discussion and the exploration of implications, problems, and facets of the topic and should be so understood regardless of the fact that the material is presented formally.

A seemingly significant, appropriate and usable dithering device is that of "the problem of demon possession in abnormal psychology." It would seem that this problem can be elaborated under a number of separate captions. In the first place, it should be indicated that demonic activity may or may not center in the phenomenon of possession. That demon possession exists is evident from Biblical and extra-Biblical sources. However, this may not be the central thrust of demonic activity. The importance and "work" of the demons may be more diffuse as in the cultural phenomena of a given period. Certain ideas in a given cultural period including our own may be demonic, while other ideas are neutral or even God-given though both are seemingly implications of the natural realm. The spiritual orientation in ancient civilizations or the more modern materialistic or socialistic orientations may be "sponsored" by demons. To speculate a bit, swarms of demons or a single one may be behind any given phenomenon. Now the thrust of this is simply that demon possession should not be overly magnified in relationship to abnormaI psychology. If possession is at the core of what demons are trying to accomplish, it seems at least plausible that few of abnormal phenomena or even none of them may involve demon possession-or many or all of them may involve other forms of demonic activity. The Christian doctrine, that is, the Biblical doctrine of the world, is that it is a unified whole. It is a systematic, total orientation and the form of this orientation seems to change. Therefore, demonic activity may be incorporated differently from period to period. Possession may be the rule at a certain period and important in certain individuals, but it may not be of uniform significance.

A second and very important thrust in this regard has to do with the Biblical record-especially the Gospels-which clearly recognize the difference between abnormal phenomena and demon possession. Abnormal mental phenomena are recognized, but so is demon activity and sometimes both are attributed to a single syndrome (Mark 3:20-22). Thus, while we may use the Scripture to defend the fact of demon possession and its significance for abnormal phenomena, we may not use it to defend a one-to-one relationship. The door is left open by the Bible to hold that an abnormal phenomenon is in fact non-demonic in any given case, although it may be. Discussions along this line often make the Bible say too much or too little. In considering this matter, we must be careful to give the Gospel accounts full credence-when we intend to be examining the matter from a Christian perspective.

A major thrust of C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters may constitute our third emphasis which is that demons are notably "flexible." Wormwood instructs Screwtape to change tactics from time to time and to use different tactics with a given individual. This is probably correct, for a Biblical study of angelic powers such as that of Calvin Schoonhoven, The Wrath of Heaven, indicates the truthfulness of this perspective. Angels come in various kinds according to Schoonhoven. There are demonic beings; there are wholesome beings, and there is a sort of quasi-angelic being of the "Peck's bad boy" type who actually gets into "devilment." The latter are given the task of antagonizing the saints and they love it. That good angels may be "mean" in the Biblical tradition gives a flexibleness not only to individuals but to the kinds of angelic creatures. Perhaps some of what is attributed to demons is really performed by these rather unwholesome creatures. The writer is impressed that the powers in Ezekiel seem at times less than personal, at least from the basis of human comparison they are almost mechanical. Thus the range of kinds of personages and the range of what they can do leaves a vast field with which to try to integrate abnormal behavior. However, it must be recognized that demonic and even angelic tendencies lend themselves very well to the discomforture symptoms and maladjustments of some kinds of mental illness. It can well be held that, in some cases, even minor disturbances such as psychopathic personality or a tendency to curse may be of demonic influence or even possession. The gist of what is being said here is that we cannot be too hasty in making identification, but that Biblical truth indicates a great sphere of possibility for this thing.

Since the writing of G. Stafford Wright's, Man in the Process of Time, we have to follow also the fact of the vast flexibility or richness of human personality and not too quickly attribute foreign influence to the motions of the human spirit. This is the fourth thrust. Wright finds man to be capable of extra-sensory per ception, extensive intuitive capacity, etc.-almost any thing short of the act of levitation which Wright will not guarantee-all on the basis of his human potential ity. So again we should not be too quick to attribute demon possession to any particular syndrome when, in fact, man is nearly as flexible as the demons with untapped resources in himself which he may exercise and learn to exercise completely aside from any touch of the supernatural. Wright's presentation is very well balanced and one cannot too quickly dismiss it in consideration of this kind.

On the basis of Biblical theology, it can be maintained that demonic attacks must be interpreted as a basic effort to thwart the establishment of the Kingdom of God. It is very clear that the integrating factor of the entire flow of Biblical truth is the preparation for the invasion of the Kingdom of God, both the preparation and the invasion taking place in several stages and consummating in what we know as the preparatory body, the Church, the subsequent Messianic Kingdom and the turning over of that Kingdom to God. Now this basic understanding which is currently so widely accepted with regard to the thrust of Biblical truth has to be the central and initial model of Biblical interpretation. Demonic activity has to be seen within this framework. The cross was the means of defeating demonic powers according to New Testament theology. Demonic efforts would be directed at a cosmic level toward thwarting the Kingdom of God and the final promotion of an anti-kingdom or pseudo-kingdom of God, with all the overtones of the apocalypse. This is another reason for believing that demon possession may not be at the heart of demonic activity during this age, but that the effect may be more diffuse. Since it is necessary to read the relationship of demons to human personality in this regard, it is most plausible that demonic effectiveness would be greater if cultural means were utilized rather than arbitrarily attacking a single personality at its source. On this basis, many cases of abnormal phenomenon would be a by-product of the broader social influences of demons. Thus, problems which men like Rollo May would attribute to the modem social mileau may be so interpreted while not denying demonic activity. Kurt Koch has recognized the traditional psychological problems as existing alongside the existential ones and the problem of possession. Demonic activity could thus be direct (in possession) or cultural and existential. Newer psychology from non-directive therapy on to reality therapy seems to fix the genius of abnormality within the framework of human responsibility and out of the area of seizure by an outside realm. This may be regarded as correct, while not ruling out the Biblical framework regarding demon possession.

There are thus many facets, only some of which have been suggested, to the matter of demon possession and abnormal psychology. The field is open for extensive dithering in this regard. Surely for the Christian student in the Christian college this is an open area for discussion and could well prove profitable both to the student and to the Christian community at large.

Now a second question which may be examined here as a dithering device is that of the relationship between the environment and original sin, under the caption "Environment and Original Sin." Perhaps seeing the concept of original sin in its relationship to Western thought and Biblical truth is one of the most valuable approaches that can be made to this dithering question. In the first place, it must be recognized that individualism is a late Western phenomenon. Allan Watts' correctives along this line may be too strong. Watts suggests that there is no individual thought or individual personality, but that following the Hindu doctrine, all mind or thought is one. Certainly departure from the concept of an Aristotelian world-mind in various phases of its decline has allowed an individualism, an individualism which incorporates aspects of an ancient self-realization tradition, to come to the fore. Individualism may be regarded as an interlude in a 19th century phenomenon of modem thought which has now passed. Original sin as taught from the Reformation on has largely been a matter of individual sin. This is not to say that theologians and even Biblical theologians have not tried to put the matter in a better perspective. But for all this, the development of frontier revivalism and later evangelistic efforts have made original sin a matter which belongs to "you, you and you." In terms of the topic under discussion, this individualism would militate against an environmental context for original sin which is not necessarily justifiable. So that, on this basis alone, at least, one might move from this individualism toward an environmentalistic concept while still holding some sort of doctrine of original sin.

What is original sin? If we neglect the historical development of the doctrine, it becomes a word which Christians use for a number of factors contained within the Bible and some also found within other experience. An enumeration of these must include the following: since the Fall, man has come under Satanic control; death has passed upon all men; the will of man is subject to sin; be is a sinner, according to some confessions of faith, both by nature and by choice; Adam became a sinner and his progeny was sinful either because they were simply descendents of his or because his ability to bear progeny was a sinful process. Again, original sin means that man is lost. He is away from God. He has been separated from God. Further, it means that man is part of the world, a world that is separated from God and has some degree of autonomy away from God and that this autonomy is evil.

Now if we emphasize the control of Satan, the death of all men, the fact that Adam and his seed are one and that man is part of a sinful world process, it is very clear that environmentalism is involved, for the environment is implied in each of these facets of what original sin means according to the Bible. Depending on how one wishes to interpret the fact that man's will is subject to sin, it could also be held that his will is subject to sin because of external influences in part, although this probably will not totally lend itself to environmental interpretation. The idea that man is lost and away from God involves him in the environment in so far as he becomes what Van Til would call an autonomous individual or in that he partakes of a totally sinful world. But certainly in analyzing sin in this way, we may see that many of the facets that we have called original sin do have their environmental aspect.

At the pragmatic level, it is certainly observable that group life, modern collective structures and customary associations, do contribute their share to sinfulness. This is especially true in the matter of eliciting sin in small children and in teenagers. Of course, who can deny that the same thing takes Place in adult life? Rousseau may have been correct, and there are at least certain kinds of sins that a person could avoid were it not for the influence of the environment. Now this can be countered with the idea that properly original sin does not include these environmental matters. Yet, reformed theology where the emphasis is upon original sin holds that man is totally sinful.

One of the most outstanding truths along this line is of a historical nature. Simply stated, both Augustine and Pelagius emphasized the social aspect of sin in one way or another. These were the two famous gentlemen who set up the question between original sin and sin as a matter of pure individual acts. But it must be recognized that Augustine did not think of original sin as a purely individual matter, but rather in terms of the "mass of perdition" thereby implying the totality of the mass of humanity in sin. Pelagius, on the other hand, emphasized the social dimension of sin. So at that basic juncture it may well be held that the concept of original sin started with both of the contestants in their own way emphasizing the social aspect. Then too, it can be emphasized that the New Testament (Ephesians 2:Iff) speaks of Satan as the prince of the power of the air who now works in the children of disobedience, implying at least that there is a social dimension. Revelation, in the Laodicean epistle, seems to indicate a matter of group conformity and this probably in an eschatological. sense. Classical Protestant liberalism recaptured something of this when it held that the social body was a means of corruption. Proverbs has stated that evil companions corrupt good moreas and it is certainly evident that group eschatological life upon the planet in which we live is an environment which caters to and encourages sin.

In this matter as well as in regard to demons, we have to recall the fact that the world is cosmos, and the cosmos today is largely the realm of the mass media, consumer orientation, pyramid climbing, the cult of the girl, etc. Sin in its deepest significance, from lying on the income tax to sexual immorality, enters the world not via basic human passions, but via the life of the group and the teachings and impulses of the group. All flesh is one and all flesh is as grass and flesh unites in mass collectivity now that the rides of the game have been dropped. Now since "Western Christendom" has fallen and the "world has come of age," something has to supply the vacuum. This something else is of a social dimension, is eschatological and heightens both the level and intensity of God's current displeasure. The environmental dimension also seriously threatens the Church of God in these days as the deceiver comes to us via this indirection. All flesh is as grass; man is involved in sin in the mass. How suitable and meaningful for current dithering.

The tragedy is that those who believe in original sin somehow fail to see our current sociological situation in perspective, while those who scarcely believe in what may properly be called original sin have become experts in the field. Let us dither on this in the classroom then, and hope that it contributes to the clarification of the life of the church in the world.