Science in Christian Perspective




Philhaven Hospital, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania,


From: JASA 20 (June 1968): 48-52.

Historically it has been easier simply to attribute the unknown and mysterious to God than to recognize He has established the consistent principles and law by which the universe is operated and through which personality is developed.

Long before man understood the law of gravity, he was subject to that law; and long before he understood that the world was round and made one complete revolution on its axis every twenty-four hours, he lived by this consistent law of the universe. His very life depended upon consistent laws about which he had very little knowledge.

I once knew a rather popular university professor lecturing in the field of psychology who often implied that man's concept of God was only his way to explain the mysterious and unknown  and that when man is informed his concept of God automatically is removed. He once tried to illustrate his ideas by an explanation of "God given instinct."   He said "What we  once called instinct we now find logical explanations for". He stated,  "We used to say that a homing pigeon found his direction by instinct" and we now know that he has a built-in radar system similar to that used by modern man". I have not been able to verify his statement about the homing pigeon's radar system but it will nevertheless serve for an illustration of my point. When men find the logical explanation to any phenomenon, they are tempted to conclude that their logical explanation somehow displaces God; however, if we consider God the author of the universe one who has established certain laws and principles by which the universe operates, then men's discoveries only verify the fact that there is a God. In other words, an intricate design demands an intelligent designer.

There has been, and likely still is, much that is unknown about the laws and principles underlying human behavior, and we have sometimes carelessly said, "That was the work of the devil", or "That was  divine intervention". Now, I believe in these super natural powers, but I believe that with few exceptions they work through the established principles and laws  which God has predetermined.

I have a tremendous respect for men like Columbus who helped to prove that the earth is round; for men like Albert Einstein who receives much of the credit for discovering the laws of relativity, by which laws men  are exploring space today. I have tremendous respect for men like Louis Pasteur who contributed greatly to
the knowledge and control of germs; and I certainly have tremendous respect for the pioneers in the field of
psychology like Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, and C.  G. Jung, and for persons from their day to ours who have carried on consistent research in the field of psychology. We must always be grateful for those who seek to discover truth, and know that the discovery of  truth does not threaten God in any way. My subject
 requires me to explain how I have personally sought to  relate the fundamental principles of the Christian faith
and the discoveries of modern psychology. First of all, lets summarize some of the psychological studies to which we must give honest consideration.

Many psychological studies suggest that perhaps man is not as free to choose the kind of person he will be as be once thought. At the close of the last century and the and the beginning of this century, men like Freud began to emphasize the importance of early childhood experiences in determining personality adjustment and maladjustment of later life and to emphasize the dynamic role of the unconscious processes in determining man's behavior.  Emphasis on personality determinants was further stressed by the research and discovery related to what was called "conditioned reflex" which stems from the work of the famous Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov. They experimented primarily with animals and learned that by reinforcing the type of response they wished the animal to make and by creating a stressful situation when the animal's behavior was not according to pattern they could train the animal to do many things. This was a strong emphasis in psychology just preceding World War 1. This principle of conditioning was championed by men like J. B, Watson in America, and it has had an important part in the development of the stimulus-response learning theory of our day.

Without question, we must give serious consideration to these truths as we endeavor to relate discoveries of modern psychology to the fundamentals of the Christian faith. It is interesting to find statements in the Bible like, "Train up a child in the way be should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." In other words, the Bible recognizes the basic principles of these psychological discoveries.

There are many things in life which we have come to accept as determining factors in behavior without incorporating them into our total philosophy and asking the question, Is man's freedom of choice then more limited than we thought? Let me list a few of these:

Starvation experiments have been carried out which tell us that man's temperament goes through a radical change when certain important elements of the diet are missing. In other words, his diet may help determine whether he is a congenial person or an irritated, cantankerous sort of individual.

Closely related to this is the fact that man's moods can be manipulated by medication, so we hear medicine described in such terms as "mood elevators," "antidepressants," etc.

We are ready to recognize that when our finest missionaries and church workers become overloaded, their interpersonal relationships are strained.

Certain patterns of behavior suggest to the psychologist that neurological problems are suspected, and the client is referred to a neurologist for an examination. In other words, we no longer say when a child is hyperactive and restless, "It's just the devil in him."

When a child lacks motivation and appears listless, we recognize that he usually does not just willfully choose to be lazy, and that the person who describes his behavior as lazy is probably among the uninformed. There usually is some deeper cause, and we would certanly want the physician to make a complete evaluation. Often there are also psychological causes for what we have termed laziness.

I am sure that many of us are aware that much research is being carried on in the field of genetics. I quote from an extensive series of articles recently published in the Harrisburg "Evening News" by Ralph Dighton.' "Elementary efforts at 'genetic tinkering', altering the genes of lower life forms, have already succeeded. Heat, x-rays, and drugs have changed the offspring of bacteria and even insects so that they are hardly recognizable." To illustrate what Mr. Dighton is saying in this article, let us assume that man decided it would be wise to have a generation of people with very high I.Q.'s. Mr. Dighton is saying that it appears possible that through "genetic tinkering" future generations with extremely high I.Q.'s could be produced. He continues, "There is a grim side, too. The same advances conceivably could be used to turn men into a race of slaves whose thoughts and emotions are predetermined through genetic tinkering".

In another recent article in the "Saturday Evening Post" written by Steven M. Spencer,2 the general public is being made aware of research by some prominent experimental psychologists. He refers to the work of Dr. Cameron, former head of McGill University Psychiatric Department, who claims that through the use of chemotherapy our ability to remember can be greatly improved, and that by administering proper medication the aging need not become so forgetful. He also refers to the work of James V. McConnell who is associated with the University of Michigan Mental Health Research Institute. He has trained flatworms to respond to various conditioning processes. They have taught the worms to stop crawling and contract at the signal of a light. McConnell sliced up a group of trained worms and fed them to a group of untrained worms. The latter then learned the new tricks much faster than normally and faster than those worms which had eaten untrained worms. Some scientists have questioned McConnell's experiments, but it shows you the direction that some research is taking; and I am sure you are aware of the implications in this study for determining behavior of people.

In reply to the resistance Dr. McConnell has experienced, he says, "People are frightened by the implications. Transplanting corneas or kidneys doesn't bother them, but when you talk about transplanting brains or the stuff of memory and learning, you are talking about transferring part of me, my individuality, and to some people that is frightening."

Another very interesting article in this area was published in the September, 1966, issue of "Eternity" magazine.3 The article was written by James Thomas and entitled, Bravely Into The New World. Quoting from this article, "By 1980 they fully expect to discover a biological agent capable of temporarily erasing a person's will or even of altering it permanently. They hope to be able to change a person's personality by 1983, and are confident that by the year 2,000 brain-computer links will be able to enlarge a man's intellect ...Science has clearly indicated it is now prepared to step up from a search for the means to control and manipulate man's environment, to a search for ways to control man himself . . . The biological sciences are already invading the traditional sanctuaries of theology -the areas relating to man's nature, his will, intellect, and his total personality ... Science itself is beginning to recognize the need for a word from the church in these new areas of research . . . The church will have to be prepared to give theological answers which give evidence of a deep soul-searching and a recognition of man's eternal relationship to the Almighty, But first the Church must clearly identify the spheres of concern. For example, what will the research into the control of man's will do to the traditional Christian concepts concerning man as a free moral agent and the Biblical concept of sin?" I feel that these theological questions need to be asked not only as they relate to possible future deterministic forces, but as they relate to the deterministic forces man presently experiences from his heredity and environment.

We, as Christians, cannot overlook the fact that our behavior, that of our children, and the behavior of those to whom we wish to communicate the message of Christ is partly determined by forces beyond the control of our wills, and it appears that this will be true to an even greater extent in the future. These forces, however, will always be in strict harmony with the principles and laws God has placed in the universe.

Dr. James C. Coleman4 of the University of California has said, "Man is almost infinitely malleable, and his personality development is largely a product of the society in which he lives-of its institutions, traditions, values, ideas, and technology, and of the specific family and other interpersonal relationships to which he is exposed."

There are other psychological emphases which we must take a serious look at as Christians. The area of psychology commonly known as self theory is receiving an increasing amount of attention at the present time. We wish to look at two of the most popular approaches to self theory. The existentialists emphasize, and I quote again from Dr. Coleman,5 ". . . the uniqueness of the individual, his consciousness of self, his freedom of choice, his quest for values and meaning, and his responsibility for determining whether his existence has meaning . . . For the existentialists, man is essentially free. Unlike other animals, man is conscious of himself as a self and has the ability to reflect and to question his own existence. He is aware that it is he who is faced by problems and that he can do something about them through his choice based upon his experience of being. Man's freedom is highly valued, but it confronts him with the problems of choice and responsibility and thus often becomes an agonizing burden The anxiety it arouses, however, normally acts as a driving force in his search for new possibilities and his exploration of the unknown. Making the most of one's life does not occur by chance. It requires a willing decision or affirmation by the individual, and it often requires the courage to break away from old patterns and seek new and more fulfilling pathways and the ability to translate new insights into consistent action. Thus the good life involves a moral commitment to make the most of oneself and one's opportunities to become an actualized human being." Basic to their theory is the concept that each person must arrive at his own set of values. They would challenge the absolute standards of the Bible. In fact, they would make organized society impossible because every person is free to establish his own set of values. From the Christian viewpoint we, of course, realize that they give no recognition to God's provision for spiritual life through Christ and progressive maturity as one yields to the Spirit of God.

Another self theory that we wish to look at briefly is the client-centered psychology of Carl Rogers. He emphasizes the inner potential of man for self-direction, self-definition, and self-actualization. Rogers thinks of self- actualization as a continuing process. The fully functioning person is constantly changing and developing.

Self theory might well be labeled "Operation Bootstrap." The potential for maturity and wholeness lies within the individual, and if he will exercise those powers that are his, he will become a fully functioning individual; but if he avoids this responsibility and freedom of choice to move toward a meaningful and self-actualized life, he is then considered emotionally ill.

Some interesting research is being done in the field of extrasensory perception (ESP). In ESP there is a communication not traceable to any known sense, such as hearing. The Society for Psychic Research has recorded an accumulation of experiences where communication has not been traceable to any known sense. You will find these recorded in Science and Psychical Phenomena by G. N. M. Tyrell.6 Some controlled research in this area has been carried out by J. B. Rhine of Duke University and recorded in his book, The Reach of the Mind.7 It is true that ESP has not been completely established or accepted by psychology; however, there are forces at work in this area which intelligent man must continue to study.

In commenting on this research, Albert E. Day8 says, "It is exceedingly interesting to have emerge from the laboratory of science after twenty years of rigid experiments the conclusion that consciousness can know things not reported by the senses and can enter into a relationship of knowledge with another consciousness independent of sense experience. Such a report from science is intimately related to the centuries' long contention of religion that the consciousness of man can enter into a living, knowable communication, life transforming relationship with God."

Another interesting book which is built around the assumption that ESP is a truly operative force in prayer is the book by Frank Laubach,9 Prayer, The Greatest Force in The World. In this book the author demonstrates in a very effective way the possibilities related to the operation of ESP through prayer. It would appear that men are on the verge of discovering the laws by which prayer becomes effective; and I am convinced that men shall continue to discover consistent principles and laws by which the universe is operated and by which men relate themselves to the universe, to their fellowmen, and to God, and that these principles and laws will not be in conflict with the teaching of the Bible.

Most psychologists today take what the profession calls the holistic point of view. They are concerned about genetic influences, home influences, as well as physical and emotional conditions. The holistic approach would also include some understanding and acceptance of self theory. We are concerned that the holistic approach as generally summarized by psychologists today does not view the spiritual forces of the Christian faith as being a constructive part of the holistic approach to the personality.

So we are back to our original question, Does the discovery of certain principles relative to the causes of human behavior and personality development eliminate God or establish Him as the Designer of these principles? The thing that makes this question difficult as it relates to the field of psychology is that the psychological and spiritual fields overlap in many areas.

It would make little difference whether the discoverer of some great physical law were Christian or not Christian; but since psychological and spiritual laws often overlap, conflict is unavoidable. Take, for example, the matter of deep guilt related to illicit sexual behavior. The existentialist would say, "Set up your own values and desensitize your conscience about the absolute values presented in the Scriptures." The Christian must recognize that if God's standards are violated, he must seek the forgiveness of God and that this forgiveness is readily available through the atonement of Christ. There is certainly room for differences of opinion concerning the application of spiritual truth, but Christians consider the basic fundamentals to be absolute.

The evidences of the supernatural which are clearly observable in nature about us, the revelation of God through Jesus Christ as we have it recorded in Scriptures, the testimony of the saints through the ages, our own personal experiences as Christians, and the obvious need in our confused world to somehow add meaning and direction to life demand that we consider God and the implications of a personal relationship to Him through Jesus Christ in a truly holistic approach to the personality.

Thus far, I have been discussing some of the psychological concepts which I have needed to face realistically as I have endeavored to correlate psychological and spiritual truth into a working philosophy for myself.

In summary, I would like to incorporate these psycliological concepts into my basic Christian philosophy by a series of summary statements.

1. The most important goals of life are spiritual goals. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3, "Verily, verily I say unto thee: except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the 'Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I say unto thee, ye must be born again." In Galatians 5:22 ' 23, we see the law of spiritual maturation. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."

2. Spiritual life is a gift from God, and it is an instantaneous result of faith in the atoning work of Christ. In Romans 6:23, we have, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord."

3. Spiritual maturity is the result of spiritual growth as one appropriates the grace of God in daily living. Maturity in the Christian sense is only complete at the resurrection.

4. Both spiritual life and spiritual maturity are basically a work of God.

5. The work of Christ becomes effective in human hearts and lives as it is appropriated by faith.

6. Men are not all created equal as some have chosen to believe. They are not equal genetically; they are not equal in their drives for maturity; and the conditioning influences of their environments are unique for every person. (They should have equal rights to happiness, equal rights before the law of the land, and equal opportunity to develop their potential.)

7. It is God's will that all should, have spiritual life and spiritual maturity, but both are dependent upon spiritual laws God has set in the universe.

8. The amount of nurture needed, the effort required for self-discipline, and the rate of maturation differ with each individual; and when a Christian fails to become mature, it may represent the failure of the family and the church to provide opportunities for maturation, as well as the individual to take advantage of his opportunities.

9. Man is not as free to choose as he sometimes thinks. It appears that he may be less free to choose in the future; however, it is possible that science may enhance man's freedom of choice.

10. Emotional problems are sometimes a cause of physical problems and sometimes a result of them.

11. There is within man a natural drive toward mental and emotional health. If the hindering forces are removed, he will move toward wholeness.

12. We are responsible to communicate the message of the Gospel of Christ, but we are also responsible within the limits of our knowledge, ability, and opportunity to change and control those situations which determine man's freedom to choose spiritual life and spiritual maturity.

13. Each person has a responsibility to move toward spiritual life and maturity in direct proportion to the freedom and opportunity he has to appropriate God's grace.

14. God's judgment of man will be as closely related to man's freedom to choose as it is to the choices be actually makes.

15. If man is free to move toward God, but will not, be has a spiritual problem; but when be cannot because of some limitation, then the problem would more accurately be labeled otherwise than spiritual.

16. One of the greatest forces in reducing obstacles to spiritual life and maturity is for man to exercise the mustard seed" of faith which he already has.

17. Man's move to accept spiritual life and appropriate the grace of God for mature living is a process involving the whole man-intellectual, social, emotional, physical, and spiritual.

18. As Christians, we often fail our fellowman because of our limited concept of his total problem or because of our limited concept of our responsibility. The physician often is concerned only with the physical problem, the sociologist with the social problem, the psychologist with the emotional and mental problem, the educator with the intellectual problem, and the Christian with the spiritual problem.

Unless the whole man is taken into consideration in counseling, we leave ourselves open to serious error. Unless the pre-eminence of our spiritual goal is clear, we work only for time instead of for both time and eternity. I feel that some psychological research is floundering because it has lost sight of the eternal God as revealed through His Son, the Lord, Jesus Christ, and as recorded in His inspired Word. We need a meaningful relationship to God to tie together the deterministic forces which we recognize and the power of choice with which man has been endowed.

Some emphasize "the gale," others the "set of the sail," but it is also of tremendous importance that we have a compass and an Experienced Mariner on board.


1. Ralph Dighton, "Time Nears When Men Will Control our Evolution", HARRISBURG EVENING NEWS, Tuesday, August 9, 1966.
2. Steven M. Spencer, "The Pill That Helps You Remember, Saturday Evening Post, September 24, 1966.
3. James Thomas, "Bravely into the New World", Eternity, September, 1966.
4. James C. Coleman, Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life, (Scotts, Foresman and Co.; Third Edition), Page 53.
5Ibid., Page 645-646.
G. N. M. Tyrell, Science and Psychical Phenomena, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1938).
7J. B. Rbine, The Reach of the Mind, (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1947).
8. Albert E. Day, An Autobiography of Prayer, (New York:
Harper & Row, 1952), Page 50.
9Frank Laubacb, Prayer, the Mightiest Force in the World, (Fleming H. Revell Co., Westwood, N.J.). '