Science in Christian Perspective



Psychology as Scientism: Alienation by Objectivity
Part II: Man as Object and an Alternative

Behavioral Science Department
  North Shore Community College 
Beverly, Massachusetts 01915

From: JASA 27 (September 1975): 130-135.

In Part 1 (June 1975) this essay traced the development of a scientistic attitude in psychology's history up to the twentieth century. Part ii picks up that history and analyzes psychology as a major cultural force promoting the counter culture of youth as it has been depicted by historian Theodore Roszak and psychiatrist Kenneth Keniston.

An adequate approach to a study of man, one less prone to alienating man from himself, must consider alternatives to the rationalist-empiricist epistemology. Such alternatives are represented in the intuitionist tradition of more subjective disciplines, and in the authoritarian tradition associated with religion and revelation. For the Christian, the spiritual nature of man, knowledge of which is rooted in revelation, is not merely another dimension of human existence, but is the unifying, organizing (and mysterious), aspect of human personality.

Watson's Behaviorism

The dismissal of any mental concepts in psychology came in the twentieth century with Watson's Behaviorism. In an extremely influential article written in 1913, Watson called for the elimination of consciousness as a phenomenon for psychological study. This elimination, he argued, would remove the barrier that existed between psychology and the other natural sciences.37

So successful was Watson's argument, academic psychology and Behaviorism became synonymous. Its influence continues in the modified, but equally mechanistic theories of B. F. Skinner and the growing behavior theories of the present day.

A survey of psychology's history, while seemingly belabored in reference to the theme of this essay, is necessary to show how deep and strong the rationalist-empiricist tradition runs in psychology, and to indicate how easy the slip into scientism can be made. In psychology, scientism takes the form of Behaviorism, promoting man's alienation from his experience by relegating human subjectivity to the mystical or artistic realms, declared invalid for a scientific understanding of man.
oestler has made a similar assessment of psychology's history:

Looking back at the last fifty years through the historian's inverted telescope, one would see all branches of science, except one, expanding at an unprecedented rate. The one exception is psychology, which seems to lie plunged into a modern version of the dark ages. By psychology I mean academic or experimental' psychology, as it is taught at the great majority of our contemporary universities . . . By far the most powerful school in academic psychology, which at the same time determined the climate in all other sciences of life, was, and still is, a pseudoscience called Behaviourism. Its doctrines have invaded psychology like a virus which first causes convulsions, then slowly paralyses the victim.38

B. F. Skinner

It remains to bring the scientistic attitude as it is expressed in psychology up to the present. Skinner represents the contemporary extension of this deeply entrenched epistemology. This essay is too brief to provide a detailed critique of Skinner, but some basic postulates can be noted.

Again, Koestler provides a telling criticism of Skinner's writings:

Nothing in their resounding titles indicates that the data in them are almost exclusively derived from conditioning experiments on rats and pigeons-then converted by crude analogies into confident assertions about the political, religious and ethical problems of man.39

Skinner is one of the rare social scientists to express his views in a novel, Walden Two,40 a utopian vision of
society based on his operant conditioning principles of reinforcing (i.e., rewarding) the organism's (i.e., pigeon, rat, or man) most appropriate response (i.e., most appropriate as determined by some supra-agent, experisnenter, or social engineer).

The scientistic attitude of Skinner is best expressed in his own words:

A science and technology of behavior has been so long delayed. We must no longer attribute behavior to intentions, purposes, aims and goals. We can follow the path taken by physics and biology by turning directly to the relation between behavior and the environment and neglecting states of mind.41

Do away with intentions and purposes, mimic biology and physics, and turn society over to behavioral engineers. This, in capsule form, is Skinner's Utopia.

With this underlying philosophical view added to the whole-hearted adoption of the objectivist approach of the natural sciences Skinner admires, the behavioral technology proposed for society becomes a logical conclusion.

"What we need is more control, not less," Skinner advises, "and this is itself an engineering problem of the first importance."42 

Do away with intentions and purposes, mimic biology and physics, and turn society over to behavioral engineers. This, in capsule form, is Skinner's Utopia. The frightening question for the end of such a program is not, "Will it work?" The question is, "Granting it will work, will it give us a human world?" 

The answer is "No!" What Skinner proposes is a society of empty organisms who live, move, and have their being only as respondents to the carefully filtered stimuli of a controlled environment. Such organisms will exist in a world where they will be totally alienated from personal experience, or more precisely, their personal experience will be reduced to that mediated by technological apparatus. Life will become an "instant replay" of some operant conditioning paradigm worked out according to a pre-conceived schedule of reinforcement and contingency situation. The abolition of man will be completed.43 

Of course, no one is ready to implement to the full Skinner's utopian program. Indeed, his critics are as numerous as his supporters. But what is subtly significant is the degree to which the preliminary steps of Skinner's scientism have infiltrated the consciousness of contemporary man. This infiltration has been carried out in the fifty years Behaviorism has dominated the academic psychology scene, the period Koestler calls the dark ages of the science. The present psychology academic fraternity is composed of research professors, teachers, doctoral candidates, graduate students, and eager undergraduates who are steeped, or about to be steeped, in the implicit assumption of a Behavioristic scientism that reduces man to an electromechanical complex. These assumptions are characterized by Koestler as "pillars of unwisdom." Among them he lists the doctrines:

(1) That all organisms, including man, are essentially passive automata controlled by the environment, whose sole purpose in life is the reduction of tensions by adaptive responses. 

(2) That the only scientific method worth that name is quantitative measurement; and, consequently, that complex phenomena must be reduced to simple elements accessible to such treatment, without undue worry whether the specific characteristics of a complex phenomenon, for instance man, may he lost in the process.44

What this infiltrating scientism has done to the experience of man is cataloged by students of the so-called counter-culture. It is to this record we now turn.

Alientation: Man as an Object

Theodore Roszak and Kenneth Keniston are two of the leading contemporary observers and assessors of alienation in American society. Alienation in Roszak's view has promoted an entire counter culture that is radically reorienting-or attempting to reorient-our society. In Keniston's view, more closely aligned with the theme of this essay, alienation points to a lack of moral will to control the technology we have developed.

For both Roszak and Keniston the cause of alienation lies in a subtle myth. Roszak's myth is that of objective consciousness, which calls upon man "to cultivate a state of consciousness cleansed of all subjective distortion, all personal involvement."

Similarly, Keniston notes:

... increasingly technology dominates by default-because it is there, and countervailing values, goals, and purposes are not. The dominance of technology therefore springs ultimately from the failure of positive values in our society, . . . Equally important is our willingness to allow it to be the motor, and this willingness is ultimately a matter of ideology and social myth.46

The descriptions of behavior within the counter culture by Roszak, and among the alienated youth by Keniston, represent evidence that points to the undergirding of these closely related myths.

The scientistic attitude, expressed in the notion that only a rationalist-empiricist epistemology can lead man to ultimate reality, becomes a third subtle, but widespread myth, which, like objective consciousness and the social myth of technological ego dictatorship, is a midwife to alienation. This is clear in behavioral psychologism, a scientistic attitude that in its eagerness to ape the natural sciences has reduced man's behavior to mere adaptive and coping responses and tyranically "succeeded in emptying man of his essential humanity. "47

The severity with which these myths alienate demands closer examination. Roszak describes the severity as a loss of wonder. 

...the beauty described by a scientific world view locked in its mode of objective consciousness is
the beauty of the efficiently solved puzzle, of the neat classification. It is the beauty a chess player discovers in a well-played game or a mathematician in an elegant proof. Such nomothetic beauties are conveniently summed up and indeed certified by a formula or a diagram or a statistical generalization. They are the beauties of experience planed down to manageable and repeatable terms, packaged up, mastered, and brought tinder control.48

Roszak calls science a technocratic trap.49 This trap has only recently been uncovered as activities within the counter culture bring to light "the negative potentialities of the scientific world yew." Technology has not produced the promised New Jerusalem of science, he declares.50

A devolution of science is now necessary, he argues, a devolution that will be resisted as subversive by the technocrats.

Suddenly it becomes a subversion of progress to assert the common sense principle that communities exist for the health and enjoyment of those who live in them, not for the convenience of those who drive through them, fly over them, or exploit their real estate for prof

The crux of Roszak's critique lies in science's ability to "demythologize" life by promoting wholesale skepticism and moral neutrality. 52 In such a culture, criticism ends when science concludes something is true. There is to be no epistemological inquiry when a rationalist-empiricist scientism reigns. Roszak and his counter culture argue for and represent such a resisting inquiry.

As a result of the objectivist attitude, society is undergoing convulsions that can be described best as "poetic" or suhjectivistic oppositions to the prevailing technocratic culture. Demands for political liberation, excursions in mystical Eastern religions, searches for expanded awareness in psychedelic subcultures, and utopian communal experiments are cited by Roszak as the "healthy instinct" resistance of the young to the scientific world view.

In Keniston one finds a less passionate and more clinical analysis of alienation in society. Keniston argues a "cult of the present" has arisen from rapid technological changes.53 This change has engendered a lost connection with history that forces a demand for instant experience among youth. History is irrelevant. Likewise, technological change has fragmented society by shattering the traditional community. 54

From a developmental psychology perspective Keniston delivers a devastating thesis. American adult society is so dominated by the "technological ego" that youth is encouraged to play out its fantasies before committing itself to adulthood. In Erik Erikson's terms, youth represents a "moratorium" on psychosocial development. According to Keniston's analysis, youthful alienation has become a tolerated institution.55 But alienation has become so much a style of life for the young they choose to remain uncommitted to adulthood. Even those who move to adulthood suffer from little alienations.

Keniston casts the ego in the role demanded of it by technology. His psychoanalytic terminology, while pertinent to his thesis, need not delay us. What is noteworthy is his conclusion that

The self-denying potential of the ego is minimized; playfulness, fantasy, relaxation, creativity, feeling, and synthesis take second place to problem-solving, cognitive control, work, measurement, rationality, and analysis.56

To cast the same judgment in Royce's terms, the technological ego is demanding activities that lean dangerously close to a religiofication of the rational. The historic progression is clear: A scientistic epistemology undergrids a social technocracy that demands a super-rationalized ego (I would prefer the concept of "self" to Keniston's ego) that in turn is locked into the scientistic epistemology. A vicious cycle is closed if  Keniston's concept of the technological ego is valid. That it is, seems to be supported by our social order:

Most desirable positions in our society require advanced and specialized training, and, with it, high levels of dispassionateness, ability to remain cool under stress, capacity to concentrate, to maintain long-range goals yet to adapt readily to new conditions, to deal with remote and distant situations, to abstract, to co-ordinate complex operations...57 

The human being is seen basically as an empty organism or an impotent organism. With such a sterile model of man, creativity and adventure are impossible.

In short, to be super-rational. This is Keniston's conclusion. It is an accurate description of the "Rocket Man." It is equally descriptive of the neighborhood trash collector, who is euphemistically-and not always in jest-being called a sanitation engineer.

It remains for us to show that this specialized training is basically consciousness training, accomplished in American society by wholesale adoption of the mechanomorphic model of man promoted by scientistic psychology.

The astronauts again provide an anecdote illustrating man's increasing loss of wonder in the wake of advancing technology. The crew of Apollo 8 was so awed by their experience of orbiting the moon (Apollo 8 did not attempt a lunar landing) they chose to read passages from Genesis, reporting they were "viewing a scene that imbued them with the marvel of the creation."58 However, the technological ego later in the Apollo program had apparently dictated reservations on such human responses. Apollo 10, another lunar orbiting mission, sent hack casual and scientifically objective reports. This type of reporting, except in the case of danger or monumental accomplishments such as Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon, has characterized the space program.

Braden uses this contrast in astronaut's attitudes -with the prevailing objective reports-to illustrate alienation resulting from what he calls Western man's "rape of Mother Nature."59

But it is not the astronauts alone who are encouraged to develop the alienating technological selfconcept. Both the Behavioristic psychology that we have charged with the epistemic error of scientism and the psychoanalytic theory that undergirds Keniston's ego formulations operate on a reactive model of man. That is, their foundation rests on a stimulus-response, or adaptative framework. The human being is seen basically as an empty organism or an impotent organism. With such a sterile model of man, creativity and adventure are impossible. Human behavior is totally explained( and by inference controlled) by the stimulus situations of the environment.60

This type of thinking and research permeates the psychological laboratory. Stimulus and response are both limited by one's experimental design and the capabilities of the apparatus being used. Meaningful data are reduced to what the experimenter can measure in this rigid and extremely confined situation. It is not without significance that the design of American space vehicles is largely the product of so-called "human engineers," trained in psychology.

It becomes an easy transfer from the laboratory to the world of everyday experience. With similar methodological filtration, the experiencing human is asked, not to examine his experience of love, but instead to somehow measure his sexual responsiveness. To a degree, the contemporary preoccupation with sexual responsiveness reflects the influence of behavioral psychology.

In the face of the existential anxieties of life, scientistic psychology aids in shaping man into a conformist,61 negating and suppressing self-affirmation simply by denying the human organism's autonomy. Like ground control to the stranded astronauts of the film, scientistie psychology says to the experiencing self, "Don't do anything stupid, leave the controls to the stimulus situation on the outside."

Perhaps the clearest example of this rape of experience by seientistic psychology is recorded by Maslow. He cites a report in which a study of female sexuality is welcomed as a rigorous examination of a difficult problem "about which so little is known."62 The personal experience of women simply doesn't count in the scientistie framework.

What has happened in psychology is best described as a reduction of man to an object by

methodically and systematically reducing all experience to the kind of experience that can he described accurately in the language of physical science.63

Man, in other words, is eliminated as a subject, abolished, an organism without any expression of autonomy. As a result, man is either alienated from the prevailing social definition of adjusted behavior, or forced to deny his subjective experience. He is Camus' Stranger, or Kafka's K. of The Trial. The same non-fiction expression of alienated man is captured in works such as Rosxak's and Keniston's.

Any adequate theory of man must conskier an holistic approach that accounts for phenomena in all four dimensions: intellectual, emotional, bodily, and spiritual.

Alternatives to Alienation: The Whole Man and the Dimensions of Knowledge.

They'll never reach the moon...
At least not the one that we're after. 
"Sing Another Song, Boys."64 
Leonard Cohen.

Alternatives to the rationalistic-empiricistic approach to reality that undergirds the scientistic attitude of contemporary psychology exist in the views Royce labels as intuitionist and authoritarian.65

The alternative to be proposed here would be labelled by Royce as authoritarian because it rests on theological presuppositions. Rather, it is an attempt to integrate or unify the four approaches to reality by trying to deal adequately with the whole nature of man, including what psychiatrist Viktor Frank] calls the meaning, or pneumatic (spiritual) dimension of man.66

There are certain parallels in Frankl's dimensional ontology and Royce's epistemological classifications that can be exploited to provide an anthropological view on which an alternative to alienation can be framed. Each of Royce's four approaches to reality emphasizes a dimension of the total man. The rationalistic approach emphasizes the intellectual aspect of human existence, or what Frankl calls the noetic dimension. The intuitive approach emphasizes the emotional, or psychic dimension of man. By emphasizing the corporeal, the bodily aspect of life, the empiricist approach to reality corresponds to Frankl's somatic dimension. Finally, the ideologic (i.e., authoritarian) approach to reality emphasizes the spiritual, or pneumatic dimension.

Based on this nosology, alienation can be defined as the separation of one dimension of man from other meaningful dimensions of his existence. The Behavioristic influence in psychology has engendered a onedimensional image of man, thus alienating man from his psychic, noetic, and pneumatic dimensions (cognitive psychology, an outgrowth of behaviorism in the twentieth century, won back some room for the intellect and the rationalist approach, but inherits the neglect of the other dimensions).

The counter culture to a large degree represents a rediscovery of the psychic dimension of existence. Existentialism and mysticism, including the surge of contemporary fascination with the occult, are explorations of the pneumatic dimension of man. These searches for alternatives to alienation are undertaken as quests for unity of the person and a harmony of personal experience.

Any adequate theory of man must consider an holistic approach that accounts for phenomena in all four dimensions, What Royce calls religiofication, and what we have labelled as scientism, is the result of isolating one approach to reality and espousing it as the one superior method of gaining knowledge of the world and oneself. We have traced Behavioristic psychology's scientistic error in this regard. We can extend our criticism by noting a scientistic psychology, based on a rationalist-empiricist epistemology, reduces man to two dimensions, the somatic and the noetic. Further, by insisting that mind and brain are synonymous, Behaviorism tends to reduce all of life to the somatic dimension. 67
The body, or somatic dimension, is the avenue upon which an empiricist epistemology must travel. Descartes pointed the way and psychology has largely taken the route. Philosophy in general has pursued the rationalist route, which is the boulevard of the intellect. Intuitionism and subjectivism, often expressed in poetic and artistic pursuits, travel the psychic route in the search for reality.

The realm of authoritarianism is usually relegated to religion and theology. This is Royce's strategy, although he recognizes that all epistemologies "in the last analysis, get pushed to this approach."68

A Christian view must recognize the validity of knowledge from all approaches to reality, but give supremacy to the knowledge made available by the divine revelation in Jesus Christ.

A similar shunting aside of religion and theology is seen in Keniston, who acknowledges the Judeo-Christian tradition as an historical antecedent to contemporary alienation, but mates that tradition with Existentialism's pessimistic view of man in modern thought.69

There are three misconceptions regarding the spiritual nature of man that are implicit in contemporary analyses of alienation and require correctives from the perspective of historic, reformed Christianity. These misconceptions can he stated:

(1) The spiritual dimension of man is just one of several facets of human existence. In a similar way, revelation (the authoritarian aspect of historic Christianity) is one among many paths to truth.
(2) The traditional Christian view of man is one of an evil, sinful, fallen organism, resulting in a pessimistic view of motivation and social change.
(3) The notion of God as a Creator of the universe is
an irrelevant myth (and as a corollary, the notion of God in the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth is also irrelevant).

To counter these misconceptions requires dealing with them in reverse order. To dismiss the Creator-creature relationship of God and man is an expression of scientistic conclusions at their extreme. The sovereignty of God does not rest on biological philosophizing or cosmological speculation. Creationism is a viable option as a cosmology, and is pertinent to a view of man that is going to regard the whole person, including the spiritual dimension.

Second, the Scriptural assertion that God created man in his own image-the imago Dei (Genesis 1:26)
-suggests pessimism regarding man is a partial view. God is not only Creator, but Redeemer; fallen man can be transformed. To espouse a pessimistic view of man is to ignore the redemptive implications. The restored and regenerated man, transformed by commitment to God in Jesus Christ, represents a positive side to Christian anthropology. Any non-Christian view rejects this transforming possibility and so must acknowledge this only as an historic Weltanschauung, as Keniston does. To debate his view apart from a consideration of God as Creator-Redeemer is to miss the root difference in perspectives.

Finally, a Christian view of man, resting on the sovereign Creatorship of God, must recognize the spiritual realm not as a single dimension of man representing only one facet of creaturely existence, but as the unique, mysterious, organizing aspect of human existence, permeating the somatic, noetic, and psychic dimensions. It is this dimension that defines the personhood of man. As such, a Christian view must recognize the validity of knowledge from all approaches to reality, but give supremacy to the knowledge made available by the divine revelation in Jesus Christ.

From this perspective, alienation is rooted in man's estrangement from his spiritual nature, which in turn is ultimately rooted in man's separation from the Creator-Redeemer. This hasty recitation is an injustice to the theological
richness that could be brought to the discussion.70 It does, however, introduce a perspective that is largely ignored by contemporary psychology. The result of psychology's neglect is a prevailing model of man that is truncated and incomplete, tending to encourage rather than alleviate alienation in all its forms in contemporary society.


37John B. Watson. "Psychology as a behaviorist sees it," Psychological Review, 1913, 20, 176177.
38Knestler, op. cit., p. 5.
39Ibid., pp. 9, 10.
40B. F. Skinner. Walden Two, New York: Macmillan, 1960.
41B. F. Skinner. Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Cited by Robert J. Trotter, "The ultimate conclusions of a mod behaviorist," Science News, Aug. 7, 1971, 100, (6), 96-97. In a cover story following publication of Skinner's work, Time magazine referred to it as 'the non-fiction version of Walden Two."
43This argument is similar to one not directed at psychology, but at technologic culture by C. S. Lewis in The Abolition
of Man
(New York: Macmillan, 1947). The phrases used here are Skinnerian. In a book that has influenced the scientific community more than his popularized writings, Skinner rejects 'mind" and "ideas" as concepts that "lack the dimensions of physical science." See his Science and Human Behavior (New York: Macmillan, 1953), pp. 30, 31.
44Knestler, op. cit., p. 3. In the appendix of The Making of a Counter Culture, op. cit., Rnszak, gives frightening examples of psychological experimentation based on these pillars of Koestlcr's. Roszak argues such experimentation leans to the extremes of dehumanization.
45Roszak, op. cit., p. 208,
46Keniston, op. cit., p. 365.
47Bonner, op. cit., p. 19,
48Roszak, op. cit., p. 252.
49Thcodore Roszak, "Science: A technocratic trap," The Atlantic Monthly, July, 1972, 230, (1), 56-61.
50Ibid., p. 57.
51Ibid., p. 61.
52The Making of a Counter Culture, p. 210.
53Keniston, op. cit., pp. 183ff.
54Ibid., pp. 211ff., and pp. 238ff. This aspect of alienation is investigated by Vance Packard. A Nation of Strangers. New York: David McKay, 1972.
55Ibid., pp. 339, 349. Keniston, a former student of Erikson's, acknowledges his intellectual indebtedness to the theorist.
561bid 13. 317.
57Richard Lewis, science writer cited in Braden, op. cit., pp. 233ff.
59Braden, loc. cit. A fascinating change is overtaking many of the veteran astronauts, a result of their experience in space which is having profound effects on their personal lives. In many cases the changes exhibit resistance to the dictatorship of the technological ego, the astronaut quitting the space program for a more humanitarian task in life. See "The greening of the astronauts," Time, Dec. 11, 1972, 100, (24), p. 43.
60The criticism of psychology in this essay owes much to Bonner, op. cit.; Stephan Strasser, Phenomenology and the Human Sciences (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1963); and Erwin Straus, The Primary World of Senses (New York: Free Press, division of Macmillan, 1963).
61Tillich, op. cit., pp. 93ff.
62Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, op. cit., p. 56fn., also cited in Roszak, Making of a Counter Culture, p. 224.
63Strasser, op. cit., p. 16.
64Leonard Cohen. "Songs of Love and Hate," a recording produced by Columbia Records, Inc., circa 1968.
65Royce, op. cit., p. 12.
66Viktor Frankl. The Doctor and the Soul: An introduction to  Logotherapy. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1957. The dimensional ontology followed here is a modification of Frankl's categories posited by Donald F. Tweedie, Jr. in The Christian and the Couch (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Rook House, 1963) pp. 48-58.
67Cf. Straus, op. cit., pp. 105ff.
68Royce, op. cit., p. 17,
69Keniston, op. cit., p. 393.
70See, for example, C. C. Rerkouwer. Man: The Image of God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdman's, 1962; and Stuart Barton Babbage. The Mark of Cain. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdman's, 1966.