Science in Christian Perspective
Toward the Development
of A Christian
Psychology: Comparative and Physiological Psychology
RONALD L. KOTESKEY
Wilmore, Kentucky 40390
From: PSCF 32 (September 1980): 151-155.
Comparative and physiological psychology are viewed from a Christian perspective. From this perspective secular comparative psychology studies how humans are similar to animals. This comparative method can be extended to studying similarities between humans and God. Physiological psychology studies how humans are similar to God with respect to neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, sensation, learning, and biological drives. Christian physiological psychologists must also remember that humans are also spiritual, sinful, perceptual, and cognitive beings.
[Paper presented at the 1978 Annual Meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, Hope College, Holland, Michigan; August 11-14. 1978.]
A Christian world-view should be broad enough to encompass all areas of knowledge, including all areas of psychology. Although most Christians would agree with this statement, no one has specifically demonstrated that many of the subject areas of psychology fit into a Christian worldview. In previous papers (Koteskey, 1973; Koteskey, 1975) I have developed a basic Christian perspective into which all areas of psychology can be placed. Briefly, as adapted from Schaeffer (1968), this perspective is that humans are simultaneously created beings (similar to animals, different from God) and personal beings created in God's image (thus resembling him, and different from animals).
Comparative psychology studies the similarities and differences in the behavior of living beings, from plants and one-celled organisms to primates, including humans. Some researchers study animals just because animals
are interesting or because they have some interest in manipulating animal behavior. Others study animals rather than humans because they are easy to obtain, their genetic and experiential background can be completely controlled, and they are less complex.
Secular Comparative Psychology: Like Animals
Comparative psychologists are interested in comparisons among all species and in comparisons among different types of behavior within a species, not just in comparisons between humans and animals. The general goal of comparative psychologists is to move toward developing a general theory of behavior, one which postulates mechanisms applicable to all behaviors of all species. In
attempting to accomplish this, they are more likely to compare several species of animals than to compare humans to animals, although they often do both. Two major approaches to comparative psychology have been used, ethology and experimental comparative psychology.
Ethology is the study of animal behavior from a biological viewpoint. Ethology originated in Europe and places an emphasis on naturalistic observation. Ethologists watch animals in their natural surroundings and carefully describe their behavior. Some observe animals in the field for long periods of time, while others rear animals themselves in nearly natural conditions so they can observe behavior even more closely. Ethologists maintain that this natural description of behavior is essential because premature artificial experiments may obscure important variables influencing behavior.
While European ethology was developing during the first half of this century, American comparative psychology was developing independently. The American researchers also studied animal behavior, but relied primarily on the experimental method. Most experiments were conducted in the laboratory where genetics, age, drives, past experiences, and so forth could be controlled. Objective, precise recording devices could be used and one variable could be manipulated at a time.
When the American comparative psychologists and European ethologists finally "discovered" each other in the 195O's, much controversy arose over the different concepts they had developed. One would expect these two groups to evolve different explanatory concepts since they are studying different types of behavior in different species under different conditions using different methods.
In the Christian perspective taken here, this comparison between various species of animals and between humans and animals is a valid comparison to make. Humans are quite similar to animals, including similarities in some of their behaviors. Humans and animals have similar sense organs, may learn in similar ways, have biological drives, and may inherit behavioral tendencies.
While humans are similar to animals in many respects, we must be careful to remember that they are also very different from them in others. When we apply the comparative method to the human species and systematically compare likenesses and differences to animals, we must he careful not to reason by analogy. Analogy may be used to illustrate but never to prove. While an analogy may he useful to help understand a difficult concept, it does not logically prove anything. In comparative psychology an analogy may serve as a fruitful source of ideas about human behavior, but it does not prove that a human's behavior is caused by the same thing as an animal's. Even though many insights about human behavior come from the study of animal behavior, the final test of their correctness must always be made by a direct study of humans. Uncritical, untested extrapolations from animals to humans cannot be made.
A Christian Extension: Like God
The secular comparative psychologists are correct as far as they have gone. The problem is in thinking of humans as "nothing but" animals. Humans are not only like animals, they are also similar to God. Humans are created in God's image; we most extend the comparative method to snake comparisons between humans and God. Just as the study of animals has proven to he a fruitful source of hypotheses about humans, so does the study of God.
Of course, God is not exactly like anything we know. When humans have attempted to describe God, words fail. Yet even though we cannot know all about God, he has chosen to reveal certain things about himself; we call these his attributes. An interesting study can he done taking a list of the attributes of God and seeing how humans are like him and how they are different. God is self-existent, transcendent, omnipresent, and sovereign. Of course, we cannot be like him in these ways because we are finite, created beings.
On the other hand, God is holy and we are told, "Be ye holy; for I am holy." (I Peter 1:15-16; Leviticus 11:45; 19:2). God is love and we are told to "love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34; 15:9-17), to the extent of loving our enemies, just as God did. "Be ye therefore perfect (in your love), even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:43-48). God is just, so we are told to "give unto your servants that which is just and equal" (Colossians 4:1). God is merciful, so we are told he ye therefore merciful as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:36).
Although many people are reluctant to make comparisons between humans and God, the Bible does so repeatedly. Most Christians want to be more Christ-like: they want to increasingly develop God-likeness in themselves.
When considering the attributes of God one at a time, we must never forget that God is a unity. When considering any one attribute in detail, we find that the other attributes are always involved. All of his attributes are essentially one, blending into each other in his unity. There is no conflict among his attributes and they define each other. We must not overemphasize any one attribute or subset of attributes to the exclusion of others or we get a very unbalanced view of God. Even in this characteristic of God's unity, we are to be like him both within ourselves and in a social sense. Jesus prayed "That they all may be one; as thou Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us . hat they may he one even as we are one: I in them and thou in me, that they may he perfect in one" (John 17:212,3).
The previous comparisons were from Scripture, but indeed similar comparisons are also found in secular psychology. Maslow (1968) reported finding values of Being, or 13-values in people in peak experiences or in self-actualizing people. The B-values he found were wholeness, perfection, completion, justice, aliveness, richness, simplicity, beauty, goodness, uniqueness, effortlessness, playfulness, truth, honesty, reality, and self-sufficiency. Although he was an atheist, Maslow himself noted that these were "attributes assigned to most conceptions of a god." (p. 93). The person at a peak experience is god-like. Maslow noted that it is the god-like in ourselves that we are ambivalent about, attracted to it but afraid of it. He notes that we are simultaneously worms and gods.
Comparative psychology in a Christian perspective thus includes both what the secular comparative psychologists study and comparisons to God as well. These comparisons to God appear not only in the Bible but in secular humanistic psychology as well.
Physiological psychology is the study of the anatomical and physiological bases of all behavior. Whenever behavior takes place, certain physiological events occur. It is these events which concern physiological psychologists. Physiological psychology is closely related to comparative psychology, so closely that the American Psychological Association publishes material on both in the same journal, the Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology.
Secular Physiological Psychology: Like Animals
Thompson (1975) begins his Introduction to Physiological Psychology by stating that humans are animals. He notes that psychologists too often ignore the fact that humans are biological organisms similar to animals in structure, function, and behavior patterns. Physiological psychology is an approach which emphasizes human similarities to animals, not another content area of psychology. Let us now look at some of the major topics usually covered in physiological psychology and attempt to relate human animal-likenesses to human behavior.
These may have implications for humanity's relationship to God.
Neuroanatorny and Neurophysiology. Since the human nervous system is basically
very similar to the nervous system of other mammals, many of the data gathered
in physiological psychology are from animals. Generalizations are then made to
humans. This is done for obvious ethical reasons. If one is interested in the
effect of a lesion in a certain part of the nervous system on
or motivation, we cannot arbitrarily remove a part of a human's
Christians have hardly begun to explore the implications of physiological psychology for their faith. Meyer (1975) is an example of one exploration in this area. He wrote an article on "Neuropsychology and Worship." Research in neuropsychology seems to indicate that there are at least "two mind.,;," a verbal, analytic, dominant hemisphere and a spatial, Gestalt, non-dominant hemisphere. As we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, Scripture appeals to both minds. The apostle Paul reasons and debates in his travels to spread the gospel. Peter exhorts us to study our faith so that we can
Just as the study of animals has proven to be a fruitful source of hypotheses about humans, so does the study of God have that potential.
give a reason for the hope we have. The intricate rational discourses in the hook of Romans also appeal to the verbal, analytic mind of the dominant hemisphere. However, Ezekiel's message is of a great mystical experience when the Lord appeared to him. The apostle John also received a similar vision of the Lord when God appeared to him at the Revelation. The highly symbolic descriptions of these men's visions appeal to the spatial, gestalt, non-dominant hemisphere. Meyer ends by calling the church to minister to both minds so that a complete transformation of the mind may occur.
Sensation. Just as we are similar to animals in neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, so are we similar to them in our sensory processes. Humans are sensitive to a similar range of stimuli. Human sensory organs are similar anatomically and physiologically to those of other mammals. Neural pathways to the brain are similar in humans and other mammals.
Learning. Physiological psychologists have long assumed that humans and animals learn in a similar way. Although they have spent a great deal of time searching for the physical changes that result from learning, the search has been unfruitful thus far. Early work in this search centered around removing parts of the cerebral cortex. It was assumed that there must be connections between the sensory areas for incoming stimuli and the motor areas which controlled responses. However, it was found that it made little difference which part of the cortex was removed; all that mattered was the proportion of the cortex removed.
Physiological psychologists began to consider molecular biochemical changes in learning. If DNA could stare the blueprint for an entire organism, certainly it, or some similar mechanism, could store the memories of a lifetime. DNA, RNA, and protein molecules have all been investigated. These experiments have been conducted on animals for ethical reasons and it is assumed that similar mechanisms will be found in humans.
Biological Drives. Of course, physiological psychology puts the emphasis on biological drives when dealing with motivation. Since humans are similar to animals, they do have these biological drives. Most of the evidence on the regulatory mechanisms of hunger, thirst, sex, and other biological drives has been collected from research with animals.
As an example, many psychologists have proposed "start" and "stop" centers in the hypothalamus which initiate or inhibit eating. Changes in fond intake may be observed quite reliably following lesions or electrical stimulation of these centers in animals. Similar changes have been found in humans; Reeves and Plum (1969, as cited in Balagura, 1973) reported the case of a young woman who developed a hypothalamic' tumor. She suffered from excessive hunger and thirst. When she died two years later, her body weight had doubled and an autopsy revealed a tumor which was restricted to the ventromedial hypothalamic region.
Similar start and stop centers for thirst are found in the hypothalamus. Osmotic, electrical or echemical stimulation of the lateral hypothalamus induces vigorous drinking even in sated animals. Removing these parts of the brain produces at least temporary refusal to drink in a variety of species. Hormonal factors are also involved in that when the secretion of the antidiuretie hormone is reduced, both humans and animals develop excessive urination and severe thirst.
Time similarity in physiological mechanisms underlying sexual motivation in humans and animals is not as clear cut. Sexual motivation of lower animals, especially females, seems to he under rather direct control of the sexual hormones. The presence of estrogen results in sexual receptivity and the absence of estrogen results in the absence of sexual behavior. Sexual motivation becomes increasingly independent of hormones as we look at higher animals and humans. At the level of humans, if there is a minimal amount of androgen present, sexual motivation seems to he relatively independent of the exact amount present. Increasing androgens beyond this minimal amount clues not increase sexual motivation.
A Christian Extension: Like God
Previously I noted that Thompson (1975) began his hook by stating that humans are animals. In the same section he goes on to point out that biology often ignores the fact that humans are animals. Rather than being simply naked apes, humans possess language which sets them apart from all other animals. Humans also have an apparently unlimited ability to develop complex and abstract thought. Their personalities have a complexity and richness which is qualitatively different from animals. Humans are the only ones to deliberately create art, llsev are the only ones to develop ethical and moral systems and behave with charity toward others. After listing all of these God-like characteristics. Thompson goes on to state that he believes that all of these characteristics are the result of evolution and have a biological basis in the structure and function of the human brain. If we understood the brain we should understand all of human behavior and experience.
In the Christian perspective taken here, I take issue with this assumption. Although I agree that humans are similar to animals in many ways, they are also similar to God in many others. When one begins to deal with language, personality, creativity, morality, ethics, and love, one needs to look more to comparisons with God than to the structure and function of the brain. God is spirit and a human created in his image is a spiritual being as well as a physical one.
Before discussing this spiritual aspect, we need to look at a Christian attitude toward the physical. Early Greek
philosophy influenced sonic Christian theology so that it sometimes became overspiritualized" to the point where the body itself was seen as something evil. The position taken here is that the human body is neither good nor evil, hot can he used for either. Humans are mortal physically, so that they die and physically return to the dust of the earth. Yet though they may be weak physically, they are not inherently physically evil. Jesus showed a concern for the body in his healing ministry, He showed compassion for those with sensory and motor difficulties by healing the blind, the deaf, the lame, the lepers, and those who were maimed. Jesus would not restore something that was inherently sinful. We know that the physical body is not sinful in itself, since Jesus Christ was made flesh and yet lived sinlessly among us. He would not have taken oil something inherently sinful. Furthermore, our bodies are described as God's temples. Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are often referred to as dwelling in us, and God would not dwell in something inherently sinful. Finally, God chose the analogy of the human body to tell us about what our relationship with each other and with his Son should be. He would not have chosen something inherently sinful as an analogy for the church and then pot Christ as the head. As Christians we must study the human's animal-like body and its influence on behavior.
Spirit and Sin. While humans are anatomically and physiologically similar to animals, they are also spirit, like God. God is spirit, and humans, created in his image, are also spiritual beings. Cud clues not dwell in temples made by humanity, but he clues inhabit humans, spiritual beings. Romans S has an extended discussion of the body and spirit, noting that ,,'hems God dwells in us it even has an effect on our natural bodies, giving them new life. The physical and spiritual influence each other. Spiritual and physical well-being go hand in hand, 'The term "psychosomatic" illness implies this unity. Psychological or spiritual problems may be expressed in ulcers, headaches and a variety of other "physical" illnesses. On the other hand, the physically ill person is likely to experience spiritual problems as well. Pastors are much more likely to visit the physically ill than the healthy.
As spiritual beings humans are also capable of sill. Psychologists have clone little to study the effects of sin. Clinical psychologists have noted how frequently guilt feelings are found in the etiology of mental illness, but time concept of sin is seldom mentioned. Menninger (1973) asked Whatever Became of Sin? and concluded that things which used to he called sins are now called crimes or symptoms. When they were sins, the minister or priest dealt with them. Now the police, the judge, the lawyer, jailer, psychiatrist or psychologist handle it. They arrest, coerce, incarcerate, counsel, treat, and execute, but never forgive.
Humans are different from both God and animals in that they have the capacity to sin and have sinned'. Animals do not have time capacity to sin. It is the image of God in humans that makes them morally responsible. God does not sin. In his holiness, lie does not capitulate to evil.
Sin Must he taken into account in the study of physiological psychology. Not only are humans a part of a fallen
world, but specific sins have physiological effects. As an example, police frequently use the lie detector which capitalizes on the fact that the guilt that most of its experience when we lie (sin) results in widespread measurable physiological changes. Blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, and electrical resistance of the skin are all affected. Other sins undoubtedly also have physiological effects.
Perception. While humans are similar to animals in their sensory processes, we must not forget that humans are also similar to God in their perceptual processes. Humans do not merely passively receive stimuli, They are active in selecting the ones' to which they attend, organizing and attributing meaning to such stimuli. When studying sensation as physiological psychologists, we roust be aware of these higher processes in humans and the effect these higher processes have on sensations experienced.
Cognition. The topic of perception leads naturally to the topic of cognition. Perceptions are intricately related to cognitions. Humans may have the same molecular bases of memory as animals, but humans are also God-like, rational beings. In Isaiah 1 God asks us to come and "reason together" with huts. We all agree that animals can learn and we sometimes talk to them, but we do not really believe that we can "reason together" with them.
These God-like factors enter into even relatively simple learning situations, such as classical conditioning. The major research emphasizing cognitive (God-like) factors was clone by Kenneth Spence and his colleagues during the 1960's. Spence (1966) summarizes this work, noting that extinction in animals proceeded at about the same rate as acquisition, but in humans extinction occurs much more rapidly. He attributed this to cognitive factors and showed that when using masking situations (where the subject was deceived as to the purpose of the experiment) to eliminate cognitive factors, extinction of the conditioned eyelid response in humans proceeds at a relatively slow rate, as in animals. That is, humans are different from animals, but if one controls for (eliminates) the God-like cognitive attributes, then humans learn like animals.
Cognitive Motivation. In addition to the animal-like biological drives previously discussed, humans also have God-like cognitive motives. Humanistic psychologists have studied the motive toward self-actualization as mentioned in the section on comparative psychology. Even the humanists recognize this drive toward becoming Curl-like. Humans may also be motivated by love, a real concern for the other person.
Cognitive factors are also involved when studying the physiological drives. Numerous experiments have shown that hungry people respond both to internal cues and to external cites, such as the presence of food, the effort needed to get it, and taste. Zimbardo (1969) presents many experiments in which cognitive dissonance is shown to change how thirsty people felt, how much
When one begins to deal with language, personality, creativity, morality, ethics, and love, one needs to look more to comparisons with God than to the structure and function of the brain.
water they drank, and even the chemical composition of the blood. Cognitive factors are major determinants of sexual motivation. Removal of the ovaries and testes in humans has been shown to have little effect (in sexual behavior-unless the person thinks it will.
It should he emphasized here that a human person is a unity, just as God is a unity. Any division into animallike and God-like attributes is highly artificial and only for the purpose of analysis. Even then, something is lust in such an analysis. Whenever we consider annual-like traits, we must not ignore the God-like traits.
The particular Christian perspective taken here accepts what comparative and physiological psychologists have dune, yet says that they have simply not gone far enough. Secular comparative psychologists have compared humans only to animals. This Christian perspective says that the comparative approach must be extended to making comparisons between humans and God. Likewise, physiological psychology has emphasized humans as physical beings. This Christian perspective says that we must also view humans as spiritual beings and he aware of their Cud-likenesses even when studying the physical.
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Maslow, A. H . Toward A Psychology of Being (2nd ed.). New York: Van Nostrand. 1968.
Menninger, K. Whatever Became of Sin? New York: Hawthorn, 1973.
Meyer, S. C. ''Neoropsychology and Worship,'' Journal of Psychology and Theology, 1973, 3, 281-289.
Schaeffer, F. A. The God Who is There. Downers Grove Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity 1968.
Spence. K. W.. ''Cognitive and Drive Factors in the Extinction of the Conditioned Eve Blink in Human Subjects," Psychological Review," 1966, 73, 445-458.
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