Science in Christian Perspective



Department of Psychology
Bryan College
Dayton, Tennessee 37321

From: JASA 29 (September 1977): 114-118.

Lowering reactance among theologians and psychologists is a task relevant to today. Over the past centuries theologians and psychologists, have built up a feeling of distrust toward one another. This distrust or fear stems from the fact that either group views the other as a threat to its freedom. Herein is the concept of reactance. What is needed is a non-emotional look at the causes of this reactance and sow possible means to reduce it. An historical perspective makes clear the origin& and ultimate amelioration of the problem.

Psychology, having lost its soul, is now in the process of losing its mind. Or so goes an idea from a 1973 text by Marx and Hillix on the development of theories and systems in psychology. This statement is more truthful than humorous. Man's soul was not considered an important area of study by Freud. As a matter of fact, Freud considered religion a form of neurosis. In a letter to Ludwig Binswanger, Freud stated, ". . . I have already found a place for religion, by putting it in the category of the neurosis of mankind" (May, 1969, p. 27). At least most psychoanalytic theorists felt that man had lost his soul. However, Carl Jung remained a mystic and spoke about a spiritual plane of man in his idea of a collective unconscious (Jung, 1918, 1934).

Strict behaviorists deny the need to study anything but overt behavior. This is where the name behaviorist came from. John B. Watson, known as the father of behaviorism, felt that only directly observable behavior was food for scientific study. Therefore, mind was ruled out because it was a hypothetical construct. Edward L. Thorndike stated that anything that exists must exist in some amount and if it could not be measured it did not exist. This extreme position led to an adoption of a monistic philosophy of man's nature.

Sheridan (1971, p. 20) states that there are three ways of viewing the nature of behavioristic theory in relation to man: 1. Behavior is the operational definition of mind. 2. Mind content can be inferred only from behavior (implies that mind and behavior are distinct). 3. Mind goes beyond behavior, but only those aspects manifest in behavior can be studied scientifically. The functional view that behavior is the operational definition of mind is traditionally held by behaviorists. This view can be called radical behaviorism since it rules out all but overt behavior.

Recent Trends in Psychology

Recently the behavioristic school of psychology has had the greatest general impact on society and the field of psychology. The entire field of psychology has adopted the behaviorist's experimental approach to study, which relies on the inductive method: postulating hypotheses and testing them in controlled situations. Experimental psychology is one specific area of psychology that is a 'how-to-do-it area: a training ground for psychologists in every branch of psychology. To speak as though experimental psychology were a separate, discrete field of psychological study is misleading. Every field of psychology, as with any science, is dependent on the inductive method for growth. Whether or not a psychologist is a behaviorist does not matter. What does matter is that the method of the behaviorist was adopted by the field of psychology.

Earlier and less productive methods of studying human behavior were rationalism, logic, and sensory impressions. These earlier methods led to an inevitable circular debate about man's inner qualities, drives, instincts, unconscious processes, and nature. This sounds like debates on the number of angels that could stand on the bead of a pin; many ideas were shared but no one ever got the point. While these topics were interesting, they could not be studied objectively and thus lead to formulation of testable hypotheses or practical theories concerning man's behavior.

It was this very circle that the behaviorists did break in order to make psychology a science in the strictest sense. Severing this circular process was not accomplished without a great struggle. Couching this dilemma in the rhetoric of existentialism, one would say that man's psyche would at once be the object and tool of circular discussion and dialog concerning man. Until methods could be developed that would allow for direct measurement and testing of behavior, theories would go untested. Only clinical information and subjective assessment would be available to study man's behavior. Behaviorism came to the rescue in this area and specified the need to study objective, concrete reality that could be consensually validated by independent researchers. The most salient feature of the scientific method for psychology is the demand for inter and intra observer reliability.

Psychology and Theology in History

The history of psychology is full of instances where the struggle to break through the inductive method has been thwarted by various forces. One such area of conflict is that of early religious tradition and superstition. Due to the suppression of an empirical study of man, both physical and psychological, by organized religion, man's understanding of human behavior was limited. Humanity was being denied truth-scientific truth. "The truth shall make you free," John 8:32. Man was continuing to be bound by ignorance, fear, and superstition. The organized church was apparently frightened by scientific truth about homo sapiens. This seems unreasonable since God is the Creator of the universe, man and the natural, as well as physical laws that govern the whole. Whenever science discovers "real" truth, that truth does not differ from the truth authored by God himself. Jesus said, "I am , * , the truth," John 14:6. A scientist's objective description of God's creation will not lead to falsehood. The difficulty comes when man tries to explain the creation without God.

Nowhere is man's fear of the psychologists' "revealed" truth more obvious than in the study of abnormal psychology. Abnormal psychology is one branch of psychology that studies the bizarre, morbid behaviors accompanying personality disorganization. Due to a belief in animism or pandemonism, that was sponsored by early organized religion, man's understanding of mental health was locked into a closet for centuries. Pandemonism is a term coined by the author to imply a belief that demons were blamed for any and all aberrant behavior. Because a person was viewed as demon-possessed and not mentally ill, he could be tortured and subjected to all sorts of inhumanities in the name of "Christianity." Demons were thought to be extremely sensitive to pain; by torturing a person, therefore, the demon should be exorcised. This belief in pandemonism lasted well into the 18tb century. As late as 1793 an official trial for witchcraft took place in New England (Kisker, 1972, p. 45). Pandemonism

Psychologists should be aware of the theologian's quest for understanding man. Both psychologist and theologian have a common purpose, understanding man and being of service to him. It is time to call an end to distrust of one professional group by the other and work together.

as an idea is too radical and overly simplified. Also, experience seems to show that ruling out demons is inaccurate.

The fact that this article can discuss demons and science side by side is evidence of a change in the thinking of scientists and laymen alike. More psychologists and psychiatrists are willing to consider the concept of demon possession today, which implies a move away from the more psychoanalytically and behavioristically oriented views of mental health so prevalent until the last ten to fifteen years, Conversely most theologians are willing to see that demons are not the cause of all mental illness. Pastors are coming in contact with church members who experience deep emotional and psychological turmoil that could not possibly be due to demon possession. This trend shows that both theologians and psychologists are allowing the facts to speak rather than their stereotypical role expectations. This latter point is a good indication that the reactance between theologians and psychologists may be beginning to dissipate.

Demonism, Past and Present

The pan-demonism of early religious thinkers is similar to neurotic thought patterns that focus attention on the all-or-nothing principle-either all behavior is due to spiritism or none is. Conversely, ruling out the spirit world completely by psychologists would be too restrictive and overly simplistic. Some persons do develop mental disorders due to demon-possession or oppression. Therefore, to say that a portion of mental disorders is caused by demons is plausible. However, when an extreme position is taken an error usually results. Pandemonism implies that one's behavior is not a response to environmental or psychological pressures, but an enactment of an inner spirit. This view leads to a philosophy foreign to therapy as a method for treating mental illness. Belief in pandemonism as the cause of mental disorders reached its peak during the 15th century (Kisker, 1972, p. 43). Two Dominican monks in Germany, Johann Sprenger and Heinrick Kraemer, published a book entitled Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch Hammer). This book was designed to aid in exterminating witches, and was written as a result of a statement in 1484 by Pope Innocent VIII urging the clergy to do everything possible to detect witches (Kisker, 1972, p. 43). A movement to destroy witches spread, and the end result was the death of hundreds of thousands of mentally ill men, women, and children. It seems that this fanatical behavior was undertaken in good faith, to make the world a better place. However, the true Christian principles of love, prayer, salvation, grace and Christ's own examples of treating demon-possessed people with love and compassion were overlooked (see Matt. 8:28-34, Matt. 9:32-34, Matt. 17:14-21, Mk. 5:1-20, Mk. 9:14-29, Lk. 8:26-36, Lk. 9:3743). The greatest of all attributes a Christian can possess is love (I Cor. 13:13). Most organized church behavior during the 12th through 18th centuries did not use Christ's example as a model for treating demon possessed people. There were exceptions, but the majority were not using the example of Christ as their model. It was the demon that Christ banished, not the human soull (See Matthew 8:28-34.)

A few early scientists and thinkers such as Hippocrates, who.lived from 460-367 B.C., felt that mental disorders were not due to spirits or demons, but natural causes. Johann Weyer's boot, De Praestigiis Daemonum, written shortly after The Witch Hammer was published, went the way of many before and after. The fire of interest he generated in a naturalistic view of mental disorder was drowned by the "holy water" of the church. This struggle was a bitter one that left its mark on history. It remains for Christian thinkers to explain this phenomenon reported on the pages of history. One thing that needs to be said is that the infamous events tied to the history of the church during those medieval days are man-made errors by organized groups of men resulting from a departure from God's plan of evangelistic, humane, man-to-man encounters.

Hypocrisy and Behavioral Analysis

Psychologists engaged in the study and treatment of persons having personality disorders have seen how inhumanely such people were treated under the auspices of early organized religion. Behavioral scientists view man's actions as the product of the motives or learning that operate within him. If a person claims Christ as Lord and motivator, and behaves a certain way, it should be because of Christian mandates. If there were no hypocrites, or if the term Christian were not so misused and profaned, the simple cause-and-effect relationship between professing Christian faith and proper behavior would be more sharply defined. Psychologists have had a difficult time correlating principles of Christianity (I Cor. 13, for example) with practices early organized religion used for treating mentally ill persons. As psychology emerged as a science in its own right, it began to trim away the vestiges of misapplied theology and philosophy that had so encumbered its development.

Outcomes of the Past Conflict Between Psychology and Theology

Many psychologists viewed theology and philosophy as unnecessary and irrelevant to psychology. Once Freud made the break between psychology and theology there seemed to be no need to ever reunite the two. Philosophy was seen as an attitude toward experimental findings, and in this way became a vestige of psychology rather than vice versa. Also, since the break, so many strides had been made in understanding man's behavior that this seemed to further reinforce the schism. Psychologists who adopted radical behaviorism and ruled out mind and soul saw this as a necessity if progress was to be made in the field of psychology. This monistic "philosophy" was adopted by behaviorists who studied overt behavior.

Reactance: A Behavioral Outcome

Reactance is a phenomenon made famous by Brehm (1966) in his ' book A Theory of Psychological Reactance. Brehm (1966, p. 9) delines reactance as a motivational state directed toward the re-establishment of the free behaviors which have been eliminated or threatened with elimination. Hollander (1971, p. 119) points out that a freedom we see slipping from our grasp takes on greater value than one which is not immediately vulnerable to loss. Hollander calls this a "boomerang" effect. This is one way of viewing the unfavorable reactions of some psychologists and theologians to one another. Research by Brehm and Cole (1966), and Goranson and Berkowitz (1966) indicate that unfavorable reactions can be attributed to the impression of a loss of freedom, or to the extent of coercion perceived to be operating on another subject. This succinct treatment of reactance shows immediate applicability to the problem that has existed between psychologists and theologians. Both groups can be seen to have unfavorable opinions of one another because each views the other as a threat to their own perceived freedom.

Psychology, having evolved from the parent disciplines of philosophy and theology' can once again allow for their existence without being threatened. There comes a point in a child's existence when accepting one's parents can occur without fear of loss of autonomy. As a child grows and develops a strong, functional self concept, parents no longer pose a threat to autonomy and uniqueness of being. Granted, the struggle to maturity and freedom to be one's self is in many instances difficult. However, once the mature offspring feels at home with "self' it is possible to establish new relationships with parents. These relationships can be reciprocal and on an adult to adult level. When either party refuses to relate in an adult way they are creating a conflict that will lead to faulty communications and eventually to mistrust of the other party, When such failures continue, a valuable and meaningful relationship is destroyed. Child and parent alike can learn from one another. Each exists within a unique world. As the center of our own unique phenomenal world, we view experiences in our own way. Therefore, parent and child can at least learn to view the same phenomenon from different perspectives and allow each a distinct view.

One patent of psychology, philosophy, can be seen as a study of values, how man views himself in relation to his world. Philosophy can be viewed as a way to approach or apply findings of psychology. Philosophy is necessary to give direction to science. Technology is advancing more rapidly than man's philosophy of life and ability to formulate adequate moral codes. 

Science, as it develops a technology and life style all its own, needs to have some philosophical guidelines. Theology, the other parent, is concerned with man's relation to God, others, and self. Scientists need to see that they do not live on an island unto themselves. Their discoveries come crashing down upon others in their shared environment. Eventually what they do influences others. Psychologists need to feel a responsibility to others and themselves for their discoveries. Without an adult relationship between psychology, philosophy, and theology the psychologist can lose his feeling of responsibility to anyone other than his fellow professionals. If a group of people do not try to relate to others, they will find a gulf developing and as the silence progresses, breaking this silence with meaningful dialog becomes more difficult.

New Trends in Psychology

Cognitive theorists were convinced that a monistic approach to man was at best an oversimplification. Behaviorists had been trapped by their philosophy of not allowing anything to exist if it could not be objectively measured. Perhaps the behaviorists' conception of existence was too concrete or their measurement techniques not yet sophisticated enough to do battle with mind (psyche) or soul (pneuma). Cognitive theorists or those using the concept of mind did not hesitate to study self perceptions. A simple definition of mind could be one's own perceptions of self. As the cognitive theorist began to "reinvent" mind, a third school of psychiatry, called existentialism, began to speak of mans soul. Existential psychology is not afraid of philosophy or theology, but weaves these fields into its view of psychology. This action does not necessarily sacrifice scientific status. As contradictory as it may seem, there are existentialists engaged in experimental research employing the same inductive methods used by behaviorists. To restate an earlier idea, it is not important whether one is a behaviorist or not; what is important is that the method of the behaviorist be employed. If these psychologists who accept mind and soul can still subject themselves to the vigorous methodology of the behaviorist, then this shows hope for lowering distrust among the entire community of psychology to theology. This will lower reactance as both groups no longer need view the other as a threat to their freedom.

Humanistic psychologists have been alarmed at the way man's basic dignity and meaning have been oversimplified to a series of stimulus-response connections. For man to be studied completely, it is necessary to study man as a complex organism that consists of more than overt, directly observable phenomena. Pleasure principle, drive reduction principle, and law of effect are all concepts used to help understand human behavior. These principles lead to a view of human behavior that is logically self seeking, pleasure seeking, and tension reducing. However, with these tools it is impossible to "fix" a theory of man that is comprehensive and preponderantly accurate. Will, search for meaning, love, and superordinate goals are principles which are more abstract, metaphysical or difficult to quantify. These latter principles can be seen as threats to the parsimony of the earlier mentioned concepts. y

They allow the organism freedom to do itself barm, to do things that do not follow the. logic of hedonism.

Why should some psychologists be upset with the present predominant behavioristic method of studying man? For very few reasons actually. The deterministic philosophy, and behavioral views concerning man have been essential in the progress of understanding human behavior. However, what is to be desired is a more open attitude toward phenomena that can be studied or even allowed to exist in man. What harm does a mind or a soul do to psychology, the discipline? No harm pragmatically as I see it. However, if psychologists accept mind and soul, they are then faced with two concepts that are- more difficult to conceptualize and study empirically. This seems to be one reason why behaviorists are so reluctant to allow these concepts to exist. There is nothing wrong with stressing the need for operational definitions of terms. This is necessary. There seems to be nothing wrong with saying that the only things that can be studied scientifically are overt behaviors. However, it does s eem wrong (or incorrect to use a less value-laden term) to say that if something does not exist in a way that our finite minds can comprehend or measure, it does not exist at all. This seems to be deistic anthropomorphizing. When Thordike made his famous statement about measurement and existence, it was needed. However, have we not progressed enough to know that for every fact we have discovered there are myriad other facts hidden from our present view? New technology continually makes overt that which was covert and hidden yesterday.

Psychologists need to be open to new ideas that come along or even to new interpretations of the old. Perhaps theology may provide input to help this process. However, as long as reactance of psychologists toward theology is high, this is nearly impossible. A byproduct of reactance is the continuation of a cognitive set that can hinder solution of a problem calling for a new solution; this is rigidity. New data from sources today considered mystical or subjective may tomorrow provide keys unlocking mysteries concerning human behavior. New theories of psychopathology may be necessary to replace or augment classical theories. We know that man is influenced by his culture and society. Culture is changing and developing; therefore, is it not possible that theories that held consistently for one epoch of time may be misleading in a later time? The environmental causes of man's behavior are changing; therefore, psychologists may need to study phenomena heretofore considered irrelevant. Victor Frankl stresses the need to consider a spiritual plane of man's existence and stresses the need to guide people to find a meaning in their lives. This lack of meaning is what he calls no-ogenic or existential neurosis. This neurosis is different from classical Freudian concepts of neurosis as shown by Crumbaugh and Maholic (1964). Frankl was open to new sources of conflict, value conflict, that led to neurosis. By being open to new sources of data concerning man, new discoveries should be forthcoming.

Reactance by psychologists to subjective areas of study in psychology, e.g., meaning in life, soul, and conversion, should diminish if they can see relevant advances concerning man's understanding of man stemming from a study of such variables. Also, if studying these areas does not remove freedom to do research as dictated by empirical methods, reactance will be lowered.

With the increased understanding of learning processes (cognitive functions) teachers, psychologists, and ministers are able to help persons with learning and behavior difficulties. Therapy techniques utilizing value assessment and meaningfulness of existence though relatively subjective do alleviate suffering. Theologians have for years been pragmatists. They have accepted ideas that have functional utility. Psychologists should be aware of the theologian's quest for understanding man. Both psychologist and theologian have a common purpose, understanding man and being of service to him. The ways of serving these purposes overlap. It is time to call an end to distrust of one professional group by the other and work together. From the research of Sherif and associates (1953, 1958, 1961, 1962) an effective way to remove the ill feelings built up by mutual reactance is to view working together to improve the conditions for man's existence as a superordinate goal. For the lowering of hostility between groups a continuing need for mutual cooperation toward achieving a superordinate goal has to be maintained over a period of time (Sherif, 1962, p. 11).

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