Science in Christian Perspective





From: JASA 20 (March 1968): 17-22.

Successful theories of human behavior and human motivation, such as marginal utility analysis in economics, arise out of introspective observation of what goes on within the psychic world of human beings. Individual and social behavior only become intelligible in terms of concepts and principles of inner experience. When we know what men want and what they believe, we can account for their actions.

The validity of knowledge in the social sciences is tested, first, by whether other scientific minds reach the same concepts and principles from their psychic study. The knowledge is tested, secondly, by whether behavior which takes place does or does not conform with theory.

The psychic source of theory in the social sciences contradicts the empty approach of behaviorism which would treat a human being as if he were a bundle of physical material and had no psychic existence. The bankruptcy of behaviorism is evident in its failure to produce any important knowledge about human motivation and human behavior.

By holding open the door to mares psychic world as a field-for discovery of laws of psychic existence, the way is left open for study of the manifestations of Jesus Christ in the lives of human beings. Jesus Christ is God, but where He enters human life, the work of His Spirit can be observed, just as human motives and other objects in the psychic world can be studied and verified. We take vastly more on faith from the Bible; yet science is one humble instrument whereby some important things can be learned about spiritual living and salvation.

*Purnell H. Benson is Associate Professor of Business Administration, Rutgers, the State University. He is the author of Religion in Contemporary Culture, Harper and Row, 1960. This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, The King's College, Briarcliff Manor, New York, August 1965.

The topic to which I turn this morning is "Theory Formulation and Validation in the Social Sciences." It actually makes little difference what the specific topic in the Social Sciences is which has been set for us this morning by the Program Committee. Whenever we turn to the question of knowledge in the social sciences we are confronted with the same basic issues. We are confronted with the same threat which false knowledge in the social sciences poses for our precious Christian heritage.

For a hundred years the cult in science known as behaviorism has been gaining increasing sway, although in the past generation some signs of scientists coming to their senses are in evidence. The chief spokesmen for behaviorism have been Pavlov in Russia and John B. Watson in the United States. The ideas of these men are now around two generations old. Their cause is led today by Skinner at Harvard, who would reduce us to automatons molded by teaching machines. Teaching machines do have their place in training the memory or problem solving abilities of human beings, Indeed they are little different from question and answer books which accomplish the same purpose of programmed learning at much less cost and effort. If one is intelligent enough to ask oneself questions, a book is a teaching tool. In this sense the greatest teaching machine of all is the Bible.

Behaviorists have sought to study human beings as if they were physical objects lacking a soul or a psychic life. Watson made much of his claim that consciousness does not exist. He denied the existence of thoughts or ideas. Someone asked him if he had an idea of what he was talking about. He said he did, so apparently ideas exist.

Behaviorists have tried to imitate their big brothers in physical science who have achieved such great success in working with data which can be seen or touched or at least seen or touched with the aid of physical instruments in the laboratory. To be frank about it, behaviorists have almost bankrupted civilization. Far more than denying the existence of man's psychic life and robbing him of his soul, behaviorists have tried to wean man away from what they regard as ghost worship or superstition. The Bible then has no place in the behavioristic scheme of things. Not content with robbing man of his soul, behaviorists have uttered all manner of things in the name of science to undermine the revelation of scriptures. This is not the place to list all of the subtractions from human knowledge which behaviorists have accomplished or have sought to accomplish. At the same time, let it be noted that their additions to human knowledge have been fantastically few and far between. Let any who would challenge this indictment of behaviorism cite the useful contributions to human knowledge of those who have proceeded along the mazelike or ratlike pathways of behaviorism.

I do not wish to diminish important contributions made by those in clinical or pastoral psychology. Some of these gentlemen halfheartedly call themselves behaviorists. What they accomplish in healing human beings is done in spite of their behaviorism, not because of it. In common with those who pursue the study of psychoanalysis, they are guided much more by the study of man's inner realm of psychic experience -the world of thinking, feeling, believing, desiring, and aspiration-than they are by the Shibboleths of behaviorism.

In voicing criticisms of behaviorism I do not wish to appear intolerant of differences of opinion in the quest for scientific truth. Such differences are always to be welcomed and to be encouraged wherever they may appear, since they are our greatest assurance of truth as a growing and developing revelation. What I feel intolerant towards is a dogmatic system which itself displays intolerance towards those who disagree with it. Let us be tolerant towards everything in science which is put forth conscientiously after careful study, as far as allowing a full and fair hearing is concerned. But let us mince no words, spare no bones, and pull no punches when it comes to the vigor and eloquence of our debate with behaviorism.

Fortunately those in social science are not all of one mind. Even while behaviorists have been parroting their absurdities, a great many dedicated scholars have seen the importance of studying human beings, not as atoms or electrons, not as purely biological animals, but as creatures endowed with intellects, feelings, values, and ways of appreciating the greatness and infinitude of their creator and father God. Obviously those who are sick in soul cannot be healed by the behavioristic monkey business of those studying how monkeys solve problems. Irresistibly, many in clinical and pastoral psychology have been brought overwhelmingly to the necessity for studying the inner psychic side of human life in order to understand as much as it is possible to understand of what goes on there.

Moreover, the best theoreticians in the social sciences, and by these I mean men who are recognized for having contributed to the storehouse of human knowledge, are those who have frankly looked at the inner or psychic side of human beings in order to see what makes human beings act. The richest and soundest theories, such as marginal utility analysis in economics, flow directly from an analysis of human motivation and human satisfaction. In political theory the doctrines of the natural rights of man come out of recognition of human beings as value-seeking creatures. In the science of education those who have contributed most are those who, like John Dewey, do not draw upon the dog-spit experiment of Pavlov, but recognize rather that human beings learn from and are guided by the experience and by their inward reflections upon experience.

These men are scientists in the best sense of the word. They seek to understand scientifically what goes on in man's inner psychic life. They are not bound by the narrow requirement that data must be seen in order to be scientific data. They realize that the most important data in social science are those given by patient observation of man's psychic life. They seek for the discovery of laws to which inner experience, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, desires, convictions, and aims conform.

Now I dwell this morning upon psychology, because I regard psychology as the cornerstone of the building which we call social science, Most of the social sciences in one way or another grow out of or are based upon psychology, in much the same way that chemistry, astronomy, geology, engineering, etc., are built upon physics as the cornerstone of the physical sciences.

In the origin of the term, the word psychology meant the study of the psyche or soul. In the best scientific sense of these terms I firmly believe that the task of psychology today should be the study of man's psychic world, or, as the word psyche has been traditionally known, the soul. Nor do I mean to include theology in a domain where it does not belong. I regard man's soul as the stream of consciousness or stream of experience about which William James wrote two generations ago. James is one of the great American psychologists. It is to his credit that he saw the task of psychology as one of understanding what goes on in man's inner world of thinking and motivation.

The study of the psychic world is of fundamental importance, first, because in this realm are found those things of greatest concern to human beings. Here are found their hopes, their values and their aspirations, their convictions, goals, and religious faith. If we are to learn about these things psychologically we must expect to study them at first hand as we encounter them in the psychic world. Nothing can be learned scientifically about the processes of thinking or the development of motivation or about how spiritual joy or peace of mind is to be found except by study of the psychic world.

The study of the psychic world is important, secondly, because what goes on there is the only thing which makes human behavior intelligible from a scientific standpoint. A trivial cataloging of what human beings do or do not do each minute while under laboratory observation is a waste of scientific time. No sense can be made out of such encyclopedic detail, until one sees human behavior in terms of the motivating factors which are present in the psychic world. For example, suppose as social scientists we see a group of human beings running down the street. What we see of their behavior is people running. We do not have the faintest idea of what the running is all about, until we know whether the people are running for exercise, or whether they are motivated by their curiosity about a fire, or whether they are seized by an experience of panic because of impending disaster. We comprehend these motivations by becoming familiar with the inner psychic world of the persons concerned. Principles governing human behavior are directly based upon principles of thinking and motivation. Knowledge of the psychic world acts like a searchlight in illuminating the behavior of human beings.

Having seen clearly the central role played by the study of man's psychic world in social scientific investigation, we are now able to face directly the topics of theory formulation and theory validation in the social sciences.

By theory is meant an idea-picture of the way in which things are related by cause and effect. A theory is an idea of a cause and effect connection. If the theory is true, then the supposed cause and effect connection actually exists. If the theory is false, there is no cause and effect connection. The term "theory" is further defined to mean an idea which has a good deal of factual data or scientific judgment in support of it. If a theory has been fully demonstrated in many ways by many scientists, it gains the status of a scientific law. If a theory is merely an idea as yet untested, it is known as an hypothesis. So when we speak of theory formulation, we are talking about the way in which sensible and plausible hypotheses are generated by the minds of social scientists. The answer as to where hypotheses and theories originate can be given in one short sentence. They come out of study of the psychic world.

A longer answer requires that we address ourselves to how knowledge about the psychic world is gained. There are two ways in which we get psychic knowledge. One way is for the scientist to study his own individual psychic world. This is the time honored route of introspection. We patiently reflect upon the content of our psychic world in order to discern more clearly and more completely what is going on in it. We follow the age old admonition of Jesus, "Know Thyself." The other way in which psychic study is pursued is to talk with other human beings about what they find in their psychic world.

There is a casual impressionistic level at which human beings can report upon their psychic experiences. They can furnish a running travelogue of what happens to them as they go through life. At a more rigorous level, study of the psychic experience of others is pursued systematically. In this case one does not talk with other human beings about their psychic world haphazardly. One first carries out sufficient study of one's own psychic world that one has a clear-cut idea of what goes on in psychic processes. One can then ask specific and carefully designed questions which will yield answers of maximum accuracy by others about their psychic world.

The psychic world is full of things of intense interest to human beings: hopes, desires, feelings, beliefs, insights, frustrations, fulfillments, and all of life's meanings. Part of the psychic world appears as concrete imagery, as when one thinks imaginatively and hopefully of an anticipated vacation at the mountains or at the beach. Much of the psychic world does not exist at this concrete level of imagery but at a deeper level of undifferentiated experience. More subtle discernment is required in order to know what is going on there. How do we then find out what is in the psychic world? The answer is that we come to associate words, verbal symbols, with things which are in this psychic world. Then by means of the words we are able to recall to mind or think about what is in the psychic world. Or, if we experience something with which we are familiar in the psychic world, then it recalls to mind the words by which we designate it.

For concrete imagery, this association with words which recall ideas or images is easily enough seen. Concrete images regress to a deeper condition of colorless or imageless thought when words and their meanings are frequently used. When this has occurred, the use of words merely evokes a feeling of familiarity or knowingness, a kind of dilute, bland, undifferentiated experience in the psychic world. We do not then see anything qualitatively different or concrete. What we inwardly experience are things which we recognize as unlike each other but which we cannot further describe. For example, hope is not the same thing as conviction. Faith is not the same thing as desire. We use these words with the knowledge that each refers to a distinctive catagory in the psychic world. We know when something is not something else or when something is like something else, but beyond things being recognized as alike or different in the psychic world, we do not have the vivid concrete imagery which is associated with fresh visual experiences. Radishes are not turnips. We can just as reliably say that faith is not the same thing as desire, or that hope is not the same thing as conviction.

The great Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, has a word for designating things in the psychic world which are not present as concrete images. He calls them our 11 collective unconscious." He uses the word "collective" because the psychic world is shared by all human beings. He uses the adjective "unconscious" since until we study this psychic world we are not aware of what is going on there, or at least we are not aware of the distinct processes and factors which are operating.

The fundamental principle of scientific search is that we become acquainted with what is in the psychic world by building up ties of association between things which are there and the vocabulary which we use. A schoolboy example of associating words with psychic objects is seen in his learning the Pythagorean theorem. He stares at the construction lines on the page. He reads the proof. Then it dawns on him in a flash of insight how it can be proved that the squares on the legs are equal in area to the square on the hypotenuse. The words and symbols he associates with the sequence of ideas enable him to recall to mind the insights constituting the proof.

After we associate words with things in the psychic world or associate rudimentary actions of behavior with what is in the psychic world, then these things become differentiated from the amorphous mass of psychic experience. We become aware of what is there, not fully conscious in the sense of things which we see, but aware in the sense that we know what the different components in the psychic world are. We develop understanding of how these components interact or work together or lead to various results in the psychic world and in our own actions or the actions of other people.

The process of connecting words with things in our psychic world takes a great deal more time to take place than it does to talk of it. One can spend months, years, of one's life in inward reflection, patiently building up bonds of association between what is there and words by which one designates things in the psychic world. One turns over in one's mind the different contents by considering first this or that experience, until by a process which psychologists call differential association certain things in the psychic world develop stronger bonds of association with their verbal symbols than do other things. When this differential association has taken place, then a particular word or verbal symbol is able to call forth a specific meaning in the psychic world. Before differential association has taken place, all that words can evoke are the undifferentiated contents of our psychic world.

The principles of inner psychology include such laws as that of the association of ideas, or the repression of desires by conflicting experiences. These are principles which we comprehend through study of the psychic world. It is true that one can give an imitation of comprehending these things by talking like scientific students who do know what they are talking about, but this is not real insight, which requires that one become acquainted with one's own psychic world.

When through introspective study, one has succeeded in articulating a principle of inner psychic processes, it is common to refer to such a principle as a theory. It has only the status of a theory, not a law, until either (a) it has been verified by many others pursuing the same introspective study, or (b) it has made possible the prediction of what takes place in the lives and actions of other human beings.

We may remark parenthetically that there are some in social science who insist that they make no use of introspection in the development of their theories. I think the proper reply is that either their theories are trivial and useless generalizations about tiny details of behavior, or else, subconsciously, without knowing it, the content of their psychic world is a source of theory. What goes on in the collective unconscious of mankind is frequently not discerned by those who have their blinders on and insist they operate purely at a level at which behavior can be seen and touched. When one reads their books one is strongly impressed by the extent to which behaviorists use words whose meanings are in the psychic world. Not even a behaviorist can write intelligently without using such words as think, desire, or belief. He may squirm around and try to give these words some purely behavioristic meaning. But the words would never come into his mind and they would mean little to his readers unless the words had this overpowering psychic reference. His theory comes out of the psychic world. How much more effective it is to study the psychic world systematically as a source of theory.

We now come to the question of how theory in the social sciences is validated. By this we mean how theory in social science is proved or disproved to be true or false. By truth, we mean that theory gives a correct idea of the cause and effect connections in the psychic or behavioral world of human beings. By false we mean that the theory is an idea which contradicts what actually takes place in the psychic and personal world of people.

Validation of what is discerned in the psychic world takes place first, when the same researcher is able to repeat again and again the same findings. When one becomes thoroughly familiar with things which are in the psychic world, one develops a sense of at-homeness in using psychic categories. One feels a high degree of validation as far as one's own insights are concerned. Validation of what is in the psychic world takes place in a second way when other researchers reflecting upon their own psychic worlds are able to confirm again and again the phenomena or principles of cause and effect which are present.

At a third level, validation takes place when behavior predicted upon the basis of psychic knowledge proves to take place. In my own experience in working for the Parole Board in Illinois, we constructed a psychic picture of the motivation of the man considered for release. Upon the basis of our understanding of his goals in life, his beliefs and attitude towards others, and his own abilities we made a prediction as to whether he would return to crime or whether be would follow a law-abiding employment. Part of our problem was to ascertain accurately just what is going on in the offender's psychic world. To the extent that we were able to pierce his verbal defenses and find out what sort of man he is really like, we were able to make accurate predictions about what the man would or would not do. When these predictions of going straight or going crooked are verified, the intervening concepts and principles dealing with cause and effect in the psychic world are validated.

This third level of validation is not complete because alternative theories may lead to the same prediction. When the prediction is verified it may still be uncertain which of two theories which fit the data is the correct one. However, a test prediction can often be set up which will decide between two psychic theories. When the test prediction is verified, this decides which of the two theories gives a better fitting explanation of the facts.

We have been using the terms "verify" and "validate" interchangeably. Actually the meaning of "valid" or "validated" is somewhat more restricted than "true" or "verified."

A scientific finding may be correct and still be a useless piece of information. The term valid has come to mean not only verified but also scientifically worth something. If scientific knowledge is meaningful it is worthwhile. Specifically, scientific knowledge is valid if it has its roots in the psychic world. Valid scientific knowledge is par excellence knowledge of the psychic realm. Trivial behavioristic knowledge by contrast is lacking in validity, since it is relatively valueless.

Related to the question of validity of scientific findings is the question of validity of language used to describe the findings. One of the things which has plagued the advancement of social scientific knowledge is the shifting and multiplying vocabulary which social scientists seem to have a weakness for developing. This tendency to proliferate vocabulary stems more than anything else from the desire of mediocre men to be innovators. If they are incapable of developing any genuinely new insights, they make pretense of innovating by merely changing the vocabulary. Usually the vocabulary changes are for the worse and not for the better. The result is that valuable insights in the storehouse of human knowledge become obscured and forgotten. It is only possible for the storehouse of human knowledge about the psychic world to be transmitted from generation to generation if there are effective vocabularies for transmitting these insights so that each new generation can discern for itself the wisdom of the past.

In my opinion the most effective remedy for the wasteful multiplication of vocabulary is to define our psychic concepts in terms of simple concepts of arithmetic and geometry, and then to represent our findings by means of diagrams or charts. Whatever is diagrammed can be improved upon in the light of further research. But the improvement is only done by making changes in a diagram already in existence. One does not discard ninety percent of one's vocabulary, as is so often done, in order to improve the remaining ten percent. Instead, the diagrams become a firm foundation and a point of departure for further knowledge.

Moreover, these diagrams have the great advantage in communication that they represent a complex situation by one geometric picture. They are useful for communicating large amounts of psychic detail at one time. I look for large improvement in psychology through the use of systematic diagrams. This is not the place for me to digress upon the nature of some of the diagrams upon which I have been working myself. It suffices to say that I speak from personal research experience when I warmly recommend this means of representing psychic knowledge and of communicating this psychic knowledge to others.

We have now pretty well covered the ground in describing theory formulation and validation in the social sciences. In the light of what we have been saying I think it is now of spiritual, as well as scientific, value for us to consider theory formulation and validation concerning man's spiritual knowledge. Man's spiritual life, in so far as it is subject to verification, takes place in the psychic world.

It is quite true that there are matters of fundamental spiritual importance, such as the existence of God beyond human experience and the existence of life after death, which are of tremendous importance to followers of Christian doctrine. These questions are matters of religious philosophy. Clear and compelling answers are given in scripture. If one wishes to evaluate these answers from a standpoint of what intelligent philosophical inquiry leads one to believe, this can be pursued as an academic exercise, but of course it is not a problem within the scope of social scientific or psychological work. For myself I take what is set forth in scripture as true because it has been given forth under the leading of the Holy Spirit of God. At the same time, intelligent philosophizing leads me to believe that the universe only becomes intelligible if one recognizes that there is an intelligent mind at the center of its operations and processes. If I were travelling through the woods and came upon a house and a garden, what would be more natural than for me to assume that a living being dwelt there? Likewise as one searches the innerimost recesses of the atom or the outermost reaches of space, what is more natural than to conclude that all of this great universe resulted from an infinite creative mind? Similarly, what I know of life teaches me that God is good. What is more natural than for me to believe that God will continue to care for His children after death. To me, it is incomprehensible that God would lavish loving care upon us for the short space of a few years and then consign us to oblivion. This is philosophy, and I introduce it to show the contrast between philosophy and science.

What can be said about man's spiritual life from the standpoint of research into the psychic realm? To me the fundamental fact about the psychic world of all human beings is that here is found the Holy Spirit as a manifestation of God. We cannot see or touch the Holy Spirit. We feel the effects of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives utterance through our actions and our speech when responses of which we are capable or words have become associated with the reality of the Holy Spirit in our lives. These associations become established through Bible study, through religious education, and through experiencing the Holy Spirit in the lives of others. We are then able through the meanings we acquire to appeal to the Holy Spirit in prayer. The words which we use become a direct address to that of God in our inner psychic world. There is, of course, vastly more of the Lord in the lives of others and outside and beyond human life altogether. But at least we stand on firm empirical ground when we speak of the Holy Spirit as a real scientific fact of our psychic life. This is a broadening of the word "scientific" from its narrow behavioristic concept. Psychologically, we are saying we must learn meanings of words to pray or to hear the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, "No one cometh to the Father but by me." He pronounced the basic psychological fact that we are unable to apprehend the Holy Spirit of God except through the words, the teachings, and the actions of Jesus; and of the Apostles and Saints, since that time, whose lives are a living fulfillment of Jesus Christ in word and deed. My associates in the psychology of religion come to me and say, "Isn't one world religion as good as another." I answer them by saying only in Christianity do we find a full and complete revelation of God, and only by using the Word of God as set forth in scripture are we able to establish effective contact with the spirit of God in our lives.

We read in the First Letter of John, for example, that God is Love, and that he who loves his brother knows God and that he who does not love his brother does not know God. This turns our attention to the basic experiences in family living, in friendship, and in service to the community in which we are able to find the Spirit of our Lord working.

The psychic doctrines set forth in Holy Scripture are much more than theories; they are spiritual laws of our existence. Jesus' plan for salvation is an incontrovertible law which human beings cannot escape. Either they are saved and made whole and healthy and cared for by our Lord for eternity because they surrender 'Lo His will, or else they deny Him and are condemned to spiritual death. We regard these principles as laws because they have been verified again and again in the lives of human beings through history. They are verified again and again in the lives of each one of us as individuals if we dare turn away for a fleeting instant from the commandments of the Lord. They are verified in the lives of our contemporaries as we see them succeed or fail in their confrontation with God.

There are those in psychology, all too numerous, who fail to verify in their lives the things of which I speak. To me, a man who denies that it is possible to have a million dollars, merely because he has never earned a million dollars is exactly like the scientist who denies the Holy Spirit because be himself has never had or recognized that experience, It is necessary that one study scripture and realize that we are saved by faith in and loyalty to Jesus Christ our Lord. It is necessary to go through a long period of spiritual development and devotion, of prayer and Bible study, of fellowship with those who themselves have found Jesus Christ in order that one can come into the possession of the great spiritual wealth of Jesus Christ. Then and only then can one say that one has found in one's own life his precious Lord and Savior, worth far more than many millions of dollars.

While one is patiently waiting and learning, faith is required that the promised spiritual blessings will eventually be found. In this sense, faith is the assurance of things unseen. It is a kind of scientific faith that in the fullness of time, the promised fruits of spiritual living will ripen and will be given to one. Faith in this sense means believing scientifically until things are fully proven.

In conclusion let me say that this fresh approach to spiritual life, the psychological side of Christian Doctrine, is going to produce a great spiritual revival. For too long we have been bedeviled by theories of existentialism and what not, which would have us believe that God is an idea for whom we have no proof. Now we have both the proof by Holy Scripture and what we as psychological scientists see prevails in the psychic world. No longer need we take a back seat and be pushed about by the sloppy logic of psuedo-scientists. We can go forth and use the weapons of science to defeat the destroyers of the Gospel at their own scientific game. I challenge our adversaries who advocate false doctrines to join in debate. I welcome such debate, as it will clear away the morass of false doctrines which afflicts the world, In humility and prayer let us go forward to labor on the plains of history as God ordains that we do.