Science in Christian Perspective

 

 

North American Evangelicalism and the Social Sciences: A Historical & Critical Appraisal

MARY STEWART VAN LEEUWEN

Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies
Calvin College
Grand Rapids, Michigan

From: PSCF 40 (December 1988): 194-203.
Biographial Sketch of Dr. Van Leeuwen

This paper traces the nineteenth and twentieth century relationship of evangelicalism to the social sciences, particularly via the question of how the natural and social sciences should relate to each other and how both should relate to world view considerations. The "perspectivalist" approach of Bernard Ramm and Donald MacKay, which the latter deemed adequate for both natural and social sciences, is contrasted with the more post-positivist approach initiated by Thomas Kuhn and developed by Steven Evans as a more "hermeneutic" and "value-critical" approach to the social sciences. Reasons are advanced for Christian social scientists to give this latter approach more serious consideration.

As a critical overview of the relationship of evangelicals to the social sciences, this paper focuses mainly on positions reflected in two interdisciplinary journals which began thirty to forty years ago and continue to this day. These are: The Christian Scholars Review, which began in 1955 as The Gordon Review and changed to its present name in 1970, and this journal, which began as The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation in 1949 (seven years after the American Scientific Affiliation was formed as an organization to bring together evangelicals in the natural and social sciences) and which recently changed its names to Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. I will, however, begin with some remarks about the eighty years or so prior to the beginning of these publications.1 In addition, because North American thought has been influenced not a little by British evangelicalism in the last four decades, I will give credit to the latter tradition where due.

After a consideration of the pre-1947 period, the paper will develop three observations concerning the ambiguous relationship of evangelicalism to the social sciences. The first concerns the relationship of the social sciences (both Christian and secular) to the natural sciences, and the consequences which followed the majority decision to organize Anglo-American social science around a natural sciences paradigmatic ideal. Secondly, I will trace the debate, which has gained momentum in the last two decades, between Christians who believe that the social sciences should be "hermeneutic" or "interpretive" disciplines (instead of, or in addition to being "scientific"), and those who believe just as sincerely that good, God-honoring social science can only be done if, like the natural sciences, it limits its attention to causal, deterministic relationships which are empirically testable. Finally, I suggest that the social sciences should and will become more hermeneutic in their approach (without jettisoning all that they have acquired of value from the natural sciences paradigm) and that evangelical Christians can both lead and profit from such developments. 2

Evangelicalism & the 19th-Century Rise of Social Science

The climate in which the social sciences emerged was both similar to and different from that which prevailed when the natural sciences began to be formalized three centuries earlier. Many historians see the natural sciences as resulting in part from the antischolastic, anti-authoritarian mindset of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Many also see in the emergence of natural science the beginnings of secularization in European society. But others are willing to grant that the Reformational mindset, which saw Earth as the orderly creation of a faithful God-a creation human beings were mandated to explore with respect and gratitude-could be a catalyst to the development of natural science without always sliding into unbelief.

The social sciences, by contrast, emerged as separate disciplines only in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this case there was also a revolt against authority, but now of a much more profound nature. Prior to about 1870, there seemed to be a kind of Christian "gentlemen's agreement" among academics to the effect that the naturalism of the natural sciences would go only so far. It was considered quite compatible with good creation theology to see God's providential hand in the mechanics of day-to-day physical and biological laws. But two areas of inquiry were implicitly off-limits to naturalistic explanation-namely, the origins of life and the individual and social behavior of human beings. In American colleges (including such now-secularized institutions as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale) these topics were exegeted not by natural or social scientists (the latter did not have any institutional existence as vet) but by a "moral" or "mental philosopher," frequently the college president, who was often as not also a clergyman. The standard, year-long moral philosophy course for seniors was, in historian Mark Noll's words,

a course with vast horizons, including everything having to do with human beings and their social relationships (the subjects studied under this rubric would later become the separate disciplines of psychology, philosophy, religion, political science, sociology, anthropology, economics and jurisprudence). The course almost always included an investigation of epistemology in general and the epistemological foundations of Christianity in particular.... It represented an effort to perceive all bits of knowledge as parts of a comprehensive whole, and to do so within a Christian framework. It was, in modern jargon, a course seeking to integrate faith and learning. [It] provided college seniors with a respectable defense of one's existence and the moral law. It offered comprehensive exhortations to live morally in society, to support religion, to put public good above selfish interests, and to work for the coming of God's kingdom in America.3

In its intention to combat atheistic skepticism, promote democratic ideals and encourage social morality, moral philosophy represented a laudable program. But the methods for achieving its ends were ill-equipped to withstand the rise of evolutionary biology, old-earth geology, hypothetico-inductive experimentalism, and the so-called value-neutral, naturalistically inclined social sciences. Noll points out that its epistemology was reductionistic: it assumed that intuition was an adequate basis for the defense of morality, that science was the supreme route to truth (its methods equally applicable to Scripture and the natural world), and that logical argument alone could prove the existence of God. Moreover, its ethics were individualistic: moral philosophers were unable to see that sin could be a property of institutions as well as of individuals, a myopia which probably helped lead to their being upstaged by the new, secular discipline of sociology.

The moral philosophers were also committed to Baconian inductivism-to the notion that unchanging "facts" (whether in nature or Scripture) could be perceived by unbiased minds and organized without controversy into generalizable propositions or laws. Thus, they were reluctant to concede that the construction of scientific laws might require disciplined imagination and hypothetical thought, or that such laws (not to mention their own handling of Scripture) might be open to revision. As a result, there was a too-simplistic triumphalism about evangelical moral philosophy: its adherents assumed a priori that the enterprise of science would always confirm their particular doctrines about God, creation, and human beings.

In light of all this, most evangelicals were ill prepared to weather the onslaughts of biological and social Darwinism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.4 Their response was to retreat from contact with mainstream higher education almost completely after the demoralizing outcome of the Scopes trial in 1925. Instead, they concentrated on setting up Bible colleges, or, at the few remaining evangelical liberal arts colleges, in clinging to the nineteenth-century moral-philosophical approach to learning, thereby creating a wider and wider chasm between themselves and mainstream natural and social science.


Moral philosophers were unable to see that sin could be a property 
of institutions as well as of individuals
...


This "fortress mentality" continued unabated until what historian George Marsden sees as the watershed year of 1947, when Carl Henry published his famous critique, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism.5 That was also the year of the founding of Fuller Seminary; consequently, the period of serious American evangelical dialogue with the social sciences is no longer than those intervening forty years.

The Beginnings of Rapprochement

In January 1949, the first mimeographed issue of The American Scientific Affiliation Bulletin (soon to become The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation) was produced. The majority in its seven-year-old parent organization were natural scientists, dedicated to the task of overcoming the schizophrenia many had lived with as culturally defensive fundamentalists on the one hand, and trained scientists on the other.6 But from its inception, the journal welcomed contributions of a social-scientific nature as well, although the majority of such papers appearing in early issues were in fact written by theologians, philosophers, and pastoral counsellors-something which may indicate both a residual attachment to the "moral philosophical" approach among evangelicals, as well as the paucity of evangelical scholars actually trained in the social sciences.

Consequently, the early articles in the J.A.S.A. have a decidedly "in-house" flavor, reflecting more concern to make science relevant to the contemporary pastoral and theological agenda than to show the relevance-or even the compatibility-of a Christian world view to the conduct of science. In light of the stand-off between fundamentalist and mainstream scholarship in the first half of the twentieth century, this was perhaps the most that could be expected-or risked without being branded heretical. Thus, the first five or six volumes of the J.A.S.A. included articles with titles like: "Science and Salvation," "Geriatrics and the Book of Ecclesiastes," "Probability in Biblical Prophecy," "The Biblical Psychology of Conviction," "Reflections on Sociology and Evangelism," and "Genetic Evidence as to the Color of Adam and Eve."

But the year 1954 saw another watershed publication, a book that was considered so significant that the J.A.S.A. published no fewer than three reviews of it in the December 1955 issue, by an anthropologist, a theologian, and a biologist.7 Twenty-five years later, in 1979, a special Festschrift issue of the journal honored the book's author and commemorated its publication, at which time the volume itself was still selling briskly through the Affiliation's book service. The book in question was philosopher/theologian Bernard Ramm's The Christian View of Science and Scripture, which ranged over the fields of astronomy, geology, biology, physical anthropology, and philosophy of science.8 There is little doubt that, for better or worse, its conclusions have shaped faith/science dialogue within an entire generation of evangelicals in the natural and social sciences.


[A] "fortress mentality" continued unabated until ... 1947 when Carl Henry published his famous critique, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. 


The cover commentary on Ramm's book is a bit misleading, for it reads:

Acutely aware of the imperative necessity for a harmony of science with Scripture, [the author] calls for the return of evangelicalism to the tradition of late nineteenth-century conservative scholars, who learned the facts of science and Scripture with patience, care and integrity, and showed with great competence that these two can never conflict. [The result is] a scholarly, comprehensive and masterly contribution to.the complex problem of finding a true harmony between modern science and Holy Scripture.

Ramm's approach, however, was anything but a return to the nineteenth-century moral-philosophical approach, although his strong creation theology certainly convinced him that there need be no conflict between "God's word in Scripture" and "God's work in nature." Both, he affirmed in the tradition of Reformed theology, are the ongoing products of God's purpose and sovereignty; therefore, evangelicals need not be defensive about the results of natural science when carefully done and cautiously theorized without accompanying metaphysical pronouncements. In other words, science short of reductionistic scientism was a legitimate aspect of the human mandate to subdue the earth.

But Ramm differed from the moral philosophers in several crucial respects. First of all, he affirmed a division of labor between science and theology: science was to explore the structure and functioning of the universe, while theology was to explain its ultimate meaning and purpose in light of revealed truth. Secondly, the Bible was not to be treated as a scientific


The fact/value division between science and religion goes back at least to Kant, and evangelical biblical scholars had been applying a hermeneutic similar to Ramm's for over a quarter of a century.


textbook (as many fundamentalists had tried to do in wake of the moral-philosophical tradition). It was to be understood as God's progressive message embodied in the phenomena] language of the cultures to which it was revealed, and not as a coded storehouse of scientific theory which could be deciphered by means of a certain exegetical calculus available to a privileged few. Finally, because science and Scripture were two different, yet complementary, ways of understanding the universe, each was to be given sovereignty to operate in its own sphere. Theologians should not presume to be scientists, and scientists qua scientists should not dabble in metaphysics. If these rules were observed, Ramm thought, the way would be open for a mutually respectful dialogue between evangelicals and the sciences. 9

It should be pointed out that neither Ramm's integrative approach nor his hermeneutics were strictly new, as he himself was careful to acknowledge. The fact/value division between science and religion goes back at least to Kant, and evangelical biblical scholars had been applying a hermeneutic similar to Ramm's for over a quarter of a century. Indeed, in Britain, where their conclusions were better diffused among


In MacKay's view, the social sciences should be organized around a natural-sciences ideal, leaving the interpretive or hermeneutical approach ... to the humanities.


non-scholars, Ramm's book was so enthusiastically received that a British edition was released within a year of the American one. The virtue of Ramm's semi-popular work was that it "brought the [American] fundamentalist reading public up to date" with the conclusions of its best biblical scholars.10 Many of those readers apparently did not like what they read in Ramm's volume,11 but for many evangelical scientists (as the later Festschrift reminiscences make clear), Ramm's book was like a breath of fresh air which enabled them to survive with integrity as scientistChristians.

Ramm's Perspectivalism & Evangelical Social Scientists

The most prominent social scientist to develop Ramm's "division of labor" approach (although he may have arrived at it through independent British influences) was undoubtedly Donald MacKay of Keele University in England.12 Trained as a physicist, but with an acquired interest in human thinking from a cybernetic perspective, MacKay was the creator and head of an interdisciplinary department of neuroscience until his death in 1987. MacKay, who became a role model for many evangelical academic psychologists, was famous for his promotion of three ideas in service of the religion/social science rapprochement.

First, MacKay held that it was possible to examine the same phenomenon from a number of logically separate but complementary "perspectives," each of which could be theoretically exhaustive on its own level but still not suf f icient to do justice to that phenomenon. Thus, for example, an electrically wired "NO EXIT" sign may be described exhaustively by an electrician in terms of resistances, wattage and voltage; by a firemarshall in terms of efficient traffic flow in case of emergency; by a linguist in terms of the Latin and Anglo-Saxon roots of the words involved; or by a literary critic in terms of Sartrian existentialism. So too with the study of human behavior: one could study human beings as mechanisms without necessarily denying that other "perspectives," or "levels of explanation" (such as the religious) were needed for a complete account.

As a related point, MacKay was a sharp critic of all reductionisms-that is, of attempts (especially by behaviorists) to reduce all of human functioning to "nothing but" what they observed from their own research perspective. Thus, he had nothing against B. F. Skinner's program to examine human functioning only in terms of respondent and operant conditioning (that was his privilege as a specialized scientist) provided he didn't turn metaphysician and announce that there was nothing more to be explained (as he surely did, for example, on the religious level).

Finally-and most importantly for this paper MacKay was a strong unity-of-science adherent in the philosophical tradition of Karl Popper. This meant, first of all, affirming the position that there was only one method which characterized all true sciences (including social sciences), a method which consisted of giving causal, deterministic explanations which were empirically testable. So although he was anything but scientistic (in the sense of according science both complete and ultimate explanatory power of all phenomena), he did adhere to the idea that sciences and non-sciences are characterized by different methods, and so explain the same phenomena in very different wavs. Thus, when talking about the study of human beings', MacKay often used the metaphor of the "O-Story" and the "I-Story." The "O-Story," (the "outside" or "objective" story) was the account given by social or natural sciences in causal, deterministic categories. Such an account, no matter how complete on its own level, did not preclude other, non-scientific disciplines (such as history, literature, theology, etc.) from analysing human beings from an empathetic "I-Story," or "insider's" perspective. But it did mean, in MacKay's view, that the social sciences should be organized around a natural-sciences ideal, leaving the interpretive or hermeneutical approachwith its stress on human meaning, values, freedom, and responsibility-to the humanities.

Closely allied to this was MacKay's insistence on the in-principle objectivity of the scientific method. Although human bias and prejudice was constantly in danger of creeping in, MacKay was certain that the checks and balances of the scientific method (e.g., its norms of replicability and empirical testability) made it possible for scientists corporately and progressively to l, see what was really there. " Moreover, he suggested, from specifically Christian scientists God expected no less. In a 1984 letter to the J.A.S.A., criticizing a colleague who espoused a more Kuhnian, post-empiricist philosophy of science, MacKay wrote:

If we publish the results of our investigations, we must strive to "tell it like it is," knowing that the Author is at our elbow, a silent judge of the accuracy with which we claim to describe the world He has created.... If our limitations, both intellectual and moral, predictably limit our achievement of this goal, this is something not to be gloried in, but to be acknowledged in a spirit of repentance. Any idea that it could justify a dismissal of the ideal of value-free knowledge as a "myth" would be as irrational-and as irreligious-as to dismiss the ideal of righteousness as a "myth" on the grounds that we can never perfectly attain that.... [Christians must not) forget that, whatever their difficulties in gaining objective knowledge, they are supposed to be in the loving service of the One to whom Truth is sacred, and carelessness or deliberate bias in stating it is an affront.13

However, in expressing the issue in the way he did, MacKay may have confused some of the very levels of explanation he was so anxious to keep independent. For it is one thing to say that evangelicals should unambiguously confess that God is the author of truth and sovereign Lord of the universe. It is quite another thing to imply that such an acknowledgement can lead to only one, properly Christian philosophy of science-


There is no doubt that the perspectivalist resolution was (and still is) attractive to many evangelicals, especially those in the academic, as opposed to the applied, social sciences.


namely, one which claims, Kantian fashion, that facts and values can be neatly separated and will be so separated in the best exemplars of science.14 To this point I will return presently, but before doing so I wish to comment on what it was about MacKay's perspectivalism that attracted so many Christian social scientists.15

There is no doubt that the perspectivalist resolution was (and still is) attractive to many evangelicals, especially those in the academic, as opposed to the applied, social sciences. In a sense, it allowed them to get the best of both worlds: by affirming that no one perspective on human behavior was complete by itself, they avoided charges of naturalistic reductionism from fellow-Christians; at the same time, by affirming the hegemony of the scientific approach in their own particular disciplines, they maintained professional respectability with their secular colleagues. Thus, in a 1972 collection of essays, Christ and the Modern Mind, economist Thomas Van Dahm wrote:

Economics, in brief, being a science, is ethically neutral, its principles suitable for use for the loftiest as well as the most depraved ends.... Will the fact that the student approaches economics from the standpoint of a Christian world and life view cause any problems for him in cases where the professor or authors of the course materials hold other views? No, provided that neither the student nor the professor and authors allows their views on religious questions to interfere with their perception of data, and provided that they can keep separate any cases Of disagreement arising solely from differences in their underlying premises concerning the nature of God, man, and the physical world and their interrelationships. Such disagreements simply are not economic, but philosophical; therefore they have no bearing on one's understanding of economics per se.16


By embracing only natural-scientific models of humanness, evangelicals in the social sciences, while moving closer to their secular academic colleagues, created an ever-widening gulf with their colleagues in the applied social sciences ...


And sociologist John Scanzoni wrote in the same volume that

a "Christian sociology" does not exist any more than a " Christian psychology" or a "Christian biology." Sociology ... represents an attempt to apply scientific methodology to the stufy Of relationships between individuals and between groups. Any science is a set of generalizations induced from observations about empirical phenomena. Christianity, on the other hand, is a set of deductive propositions, many of which are simply beyond the ken of empirical verification.17

The upshot of this way of resolving the tensions between faith and social science was usually the conclusion that one's scientific work had scant bearing on one's confessional life, and that one's confessional life had little bearing on social scientific theorizing. Thus, when asked by students what makes a Christian psychologist (or economist, sociologist, anthropologist, etc.) adherents of the perspectivalist resolution could often be heard to say that "A Christian psychologist (etc.) is simply a good psychologist." What this was meant to imply was that one's faith might affect one's personal conduct as a social scientist-hopefully making one more honest, more careful in data-collection and analysis, and more courteous towards research subjects, clients, etc. A Christian service mentality might also be a motivator behind the kinds of applications one sought for one's research results. But the actual conduct of hypothesis testing-the actual "logic" of the scientific method-was seen, at least in principle, to be rightly immune to world view considerations.18

Problems of Perspectivalism & the Post-Positivist Response

There was, however, a price to be paid for this neat compartmentalization of one's social scientific paradigm-putatively value-free, deterministic and naturalistic-from one's Christian confession regarding the supreme importance of certain values, the relationship of human freedom to moral responsibility, and the existence of a non-material reality. The most obvious problem was that by embracing only natural-scientific models of humanness, evangelicals in the social sciences, while moving closer to their secular academic colleagues, created an ever-widening gulf with their colleagues in the applied social sciences, particularly those in counselling and clinical activities. It is true that there have been some attempts to "scientize" clinical psychology-the medical model of mental illness and doctrinaire behavior modification are the most obvious examples-but for the most part clinicians and counselors (Christian and secular) have assumed a model of humanness which stresses the very things which the methodological determinism of academic psychology ignores: the irreducible existence of meaning, values, freedom, and moral responsibility in the lives of their clients.19

A second problem has to do with the fallout of Ramm's insistence that the Bible not be seen as a sourcebook of scientific theories. One can understand why Ramm hammered so insistently on this point, and why evangelical natural scientists agreed with him: the biblical drama of creation, fall, redemption, and future hope is not natural or social history so much as it is "metahistory," or salvation history. Its trustworthiness is not dependent on its various genres being reducible to a rigid chronology of temporal events, a set of logical propositions, or a set of detailed scientific theories (all


Christian social scientists need an understanding of both the substantial and the relational image to do justice to the scriptural picture Of humanness.


of which earlier fundamentalists claimed.) But the social sciences are concerned with human beings, not for the most part with subhuman entities as are the natural sciences, and human beings are central players in the biblical drama. Systematic theologians have long seen the importance of articulating a biblical anthropology in the form of the doctrine of man; by contrast, evangelical social scientists have tended to deny that the Bible reveals anything about human nature that could help them construct and adjudicate theories. 

This denial is accomplished by focussing on what theologians have called the relational image of God in persons to the exclusion of the substantial image; that is, on the claim that the way persons "image" God is strictly through His covenant relationship to them, and conversely, through their potential to respond to God and to their neighbors rather than because of anything essentially different about human beings per se.20


A personal, value-laden, hermeneutical dimension-not reducible to technique-is not only inescapable in science, but probably essential to it.


Again, adherents of this position seem to get the best of both worlds: they acknowledge the importance of covenant theology (thereby maintaining an evangelical identity), but at the same time assert that discovering what (if anything) makes humans unique is a strictly empirical question (thereby sparing themselves the embarrassment of seeming like religious fanatics in the eyes of their secular colleagues). But Christian social scientists need an understanding of both the substantial and the relational image to do justice to the scriptural picture of humanness.21 In particular, they need to grasp and apply what Scripture says about human freedom, creativity, sociability, sexuality, and the impulse to worship and attribute meaning. Moreover, they need to understand how each of these is qualified by successive acts of the biblical drama. This is no easy task for social scientists, who want to avoid the naive biblicism that characterized their nineteenth-century forebears with regard to the natural sciences. But to overreact by denying that the Bible contains anything of relevance to social science theorizing is simply to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.22

A final problem resulting from rigid adherence to the unity-of-science ideal has been a progressively outdated conception, on the part of both Christian and secular social scientists, as to how the natural sciences actually do operate. Contemporary philosophers of sciences, beginning with Thomas Kuhn in the 1960's, have become acutely aware that the actual, historical practice of sophisticated science departs substantially from Popper's notions of falsification and rigid, hypothetico-deductive logic-notions what are still taken for granted in academic psychology particularly.23 The business of science is basically that of theory-adjudication; that is, deciding which of many possible theories best explains a certain phenomenon. In making such decisions, scientists use a number of non-logical criteria which philosophers of science term "epistemic values." These include such things as the simplicity of the theory under consideration, its internal coherence, its breadth of scope (i.e., the number of other theories it can subsume), its empirical testability, its susceptibility to numerical expression, its fruitfulness (i.e., the number of research programs it generates), and the success with which it can be modelled through the use of meaningful metaphors.

However, scientists by no means apply such epistemic values in universally agreed-upon ways. For one thing, it is almost impossible to maximize all of these values at once when judging a theory, and scientists differ in the way they rank-order their importance. This does not mean that "anything goes" when it comes to judging theories; as with the criticism of literary texts, there are limits on the range of theories one can realistically apply to the materials. But it does mean that a personal, value-laden, hermeneutic dimension-


The distinction between the so-called "value-neutrality" of science and the "value-ladenness" of relion simply doesn't hold up.


not reducible to technique-is not only inescapable in science, but probably essential to it.24 How does one scientist settle on the model of the double helix to describe the DNA molecule, or another on the metaphor of the snake swallowing its tail to represent the benzene ring? An adequate apprenticeship, a deep sometimes even inarticulate knowledge of the field, the capacity to think divergently, a hunch as to what one is looking for even before logical and empirical details support it-such "tacit knowledge" is no less essential in natural science than it is in textual criticism or counselling psychology.

In addition, it is now well understood that there are no strictly neutral "facts." Not only are theories underdetermined by facts (witness the number and diversity of espistemic values that come into play), but the reportage of "just the facts" is in fact highly valueladen. What scientists choose to look at, how they conceptualize it, how they determine the validity of those concepts, how they decide on the range of applicability of their findings-all of these operations involve value-judgments, many of which are bound not just to epistemic values, but to the scholar's prescientific faith-commitment to a certain world view. Consequently, the distinction between the so-called "value neutrality" of science and the "value ladenness" of religion simply doesn't hold up.25


Study after study has shown that it is natural scientists who perceive the least conflict between science and religion, and who display the highest levels of religious commitment.


An important question, then, is not why some evangelical social scientists have begun to reject the traditional empiricist notions of objectivity and valueneutrality, but rather why so many others continue to cling to them. The work of Robert Wuthnow, an evangelical sociologist at Princeton, suggests that it has to do with the greater insecurity of all social scientists regarding the legitimacy of their disciplines, given the institutional recency of their existence and especially the lower level of theoretical consensus that exists in the social as opposed to the natural sciences.26 Lower levels of religiosity tend to be associated with higher levels of education in all academic fields; but contrary to the accepted secularization hypothesis concerning the inevitable conflict of science with religion, it is not true that irreligiosity is highest among academics in the most successful natural sciences. In fact, study after study has shown that it is natural scientists who perceive the least conflict between science and religion, and who display the highest levels of religious commitment.27 Wuthnow argues that the latter, being more secure in their accomplishments, have less need to develop "boundary posturing mechanisms" by which they set themselves apart from the social norms and epistemology of everyday life in order to feel more secure as an academic guild. "People in the social sciences and humanities reject religion not so much because of what they dislike about religion specifically [Wuthnow notes that they differ from the ordinary population on political and life-style issues too] but because op their ill-codified reality they need to protect within their own discipline."28

Furthermore, it turns out that this boundary-posturing activity is greater among self-confessed religious people in the social sciences (few though they may be) than it is among their religious colleagues in the natural sciences. A 1973 study revealed that social scientists who believed in God were much more likely to assert that they had to keep their religious convictions and their research separate than believers working in the natural sciences, who generally said they felt no need to keep science and religion separate!29 This suggests that many evangelical social scientists feel doubly defensive. Not only are their disciplines, which aspire to be scientific, dubiously successful in achieving this end (at least by unity-of-science standards), but in addition they themselves fear being labelled "subjective" or "intellectually lightweight" because of their Christian commitment. Thus, those who do not decrease their defensiveness by renouncing religion entirely take pains to keep their religious and disciplinary epistemologies in mutually exclusive compartments.


The time is ripe for evangelical social scientists both to stop accepting false guilt for having a world view that weakens" their scientific objectivity, and to give up the rigid compartmentalization of their religious from their scientific activities.


It should be clear by now that a legitimate alternative to this strategy would be to accept at least a weak form of the sociology of scientific knowledge, acknowledging that the pursuit of truth in science (and especially social science) is not a value-neutral endeavor at any point, and that the theory-adjudicating activities of scientists are not as different from those of non scientists (or as free of social and metaphysical influence) as their popular image has led people to believe. Philosophers of science increasingly agree that world view considerations affect all scientific theory adjudication, whether this is consciously acknowledged or not. Consequently, the time is ripe for evangelical social scientists both to stop accepting false guilt for having a world view that "weakens" their scientific objectivity, and to give up the rigid compartmentalization of their religious from their scientific activities. They need to realize that it can be an advantage to have a world view which is overt rather than covert, under constant scholarly discussion, open to refinement, and capable of supplying certain "non-negotiables" about the basic nature of individual and social life, both as these were creationally intended and as they have been affected by the Fall.

Such an admission should, in turn, leave evangelical social scientists free to explore the possibility of alternative paradigms to the methodological determinism demanded by adherence to the unity of a science ideal. I agree with Stephen Evans that this does not imply the eclipse of empirical research, with its search for regularities of behavior. It does mean, however, that such regularities are only the beginning, not the end, of social explanation. It means that social scientists have to look for explanations of human behavior (both regular and irregular) as much in the realm of reasons, intentions, and purposes as in the realm of laws of the natural-scientific sort. It means that like their colleagues in counselling, history, and literature, they must begin to see human beings as "narratives in progress" or "living texts," as much or more than as passive materials in an experiment. This suggests that human behavior is to be regarded as quasi-linguistic: fully understandable only if one has learned the grammar and syntax of the rule-following community to which a respondent or client belongs. This is what Evans calls the "interpretive" side of social science, which is fully as important as its empirical side (and, indeed, essential to it).30

The development of a more interpretive metbodology in academic psychology would obviously do much to unify it with the concerns and methods of Christian clinicians and counsellors, not to mention those of overseas and home missionaries-whose successful work depends on their ability to become empathic "participant-observers" in the cultures to which they are assigned. Nor does such an approach have to imply value-relativity, for as Evans points out, even as we seek to understand the rules by which others operate, covert judgments of value are inescapable. The very fact that even the self-professed value relativist distinguishes between acceptable reasons for a given behavior and rationalizations (which are seen as "bad" or "inadequate" reasons-note the value-judgment!) testifies to this.

It is increasingly recognized that all social-scientific work whether consciously admitted or not, includes an interpretive face and a judgmental (or "value-critical") face, in addition to its better-understood empirical face.31 For evangelical social scientists to focus consciously only on the last of these, to the neglect of the other two, is to produce social science theory which is at best incomplete, and at worst sub-Christian. Increasing numbers of mainstream social scientists recognize the need to do justice to all three.32 Consequently, given both the textual-interpretive traditions and the valueconcerns Christians have to draw on, it would be both sad and ironic if evangelicals failed to offer leadership at this time of paradigm questioning in the social sciences.

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen (Ph.D., Northwestern) was for a number of years a psychologist at York University in Toronto, and is now professor of interdisciplinary studies at Calvin College, where her duties include teaching philosophy of social science. An ASA Fellow, she also serves in senior editorial positions with The Reformed journal and Christianity Today.

1988

Notes

1For a more detailed treatment of the 19th century, see George Marsden (ed.), Evangelicalism and Modem America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), Part 1, and also his Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).

2A more detailed development of these points as regards the case of psychology is in Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, "Psychology's Two Cultures: A Christian Analysis," Christian Scholars Review, Vol. XVII, No. 4 June 1988), pp. 406-24. A detailed philosophical analysis can be found in C. Stephen Evans, Psychology as a Human Science: Prospects for a Christian Approach (Grand Rapids: Baker, in preparation). A 40-year overview of evangelical scholarship in general can be found in George Marsden's "The State of Evangelical Christian Scholarship," Reformed Journal, Vol. 37, No. 9 (Sept. 1987), pp. 12-16 (reprinted in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 157-159).

3Mark A. Noll, "Christian Thinking and the Rise of the American University," Christian Scholars Review, Vol. IX, No. 1 (1979), pp. 3-16, (quotation from p. 6).

4For an account of little-known exceptions in both Britain and America, see David N. Livingstone, Darwin's Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter Between Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1987).

5Carl F.H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modem Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947). See also Marsden, "The State of Evangelical Christian Scholarship. "

6Marsden points out that, in 1947, the transdenominational movement was known either as fundamentalism or evangelicalism (usually the former), but that it was fundamentalist in character. The theological distinction$ between the two have developed since then.

7 All three reviewers were from Wheaton College, which was very much the intellectual flagship of the American fundamentalist/evangelical movement.

8Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954).

9Ramm is careful to note that his approach is not unique: some form of it has been typical of both Catholic and Reformed theology throughout the centuries, and American evangelical thought could have continued in this tradition but for the cultural retreat and defensiveness of fundamentalism. See also Livingstone, op. cit.

10Robert D. Culver, "An Evaluation of The Christian View of Science and Scripture from the Standpoint of Christian Theology," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Dec. 1955), pp. 7-10, (quotation on p. 7).

11Witness the following comment from Ramm's letter to the J.A.S.A. in conjunction with the latter's positive evaluation of the book: "With some of the very mean criticisms I have been receiving, it is a comfort to get some Amens from solidly evangelical men." See Vol. 7, No. 4 (Dec. 1955), p. 7. But in an interview in the Festschrift volume, Ramm estimated that over 25 years, positive letters about the book outnumbered negative ones by about twenty to one. See, "An Interview with Bernard Ramm and Alta Ram "Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Dec. 1979), pp. 179-86, and also Ann H. Hunt's summary of press reactions to the book on pp. 189-90 of the same volume.

12Donald MacKay, The Clockwork Image (London: Intervarsity Press, 1974); Human Science and Human Dignity (London; Hodder and Stoughton, 1979); Brains, Machines and Persons (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980). For critical analyses of MacKay's position, see for example Clifton J. Orlebeke, "Donald MacKay's Philosophy of Science," Christian Scholars Review, Vol. VII, No. 1 (1977), pp. 51-W; and William Hasker's "MacKay on Being a Responsible Mechanism: Freedom in a Clockwork Universe," Christian Scholars Review, Vol. VIII, No. 2 (1978), pp. 130-40; MacKay's response to same (pp. 141-48 of the same volume); and Hasker's response to MacKay's response (pp. 149-52 of the same volume).

13Donald M. MacKay, "Objectivity in Christian Perspective," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, Vol. 36, No. 4 (Dec. 1984), P. 235.

14The quotation cited is not an isolated example of MacKay's conviction that a pre-Kuhnian, Popperian philosophy of science was the only proper one for Christians. In another article, "Value-Free Knowledge: Myth or Norm?" (Faith and Thought, Vol. 107, 1980, p' 202), he voiced concern over younger Christian colleagues being "seduced" into rejecting the norm of value-free knowledge, and saw such post-positivistic leanings as "symptomatic of the practical atheism of our day." The author also recalls his personal visit to the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship in 1981, at which time the center fellows (who were studying the relationship of Christianity to the behavioral sciences) were urged to "let the Kuhns and the Habermas' go their own pagan way, and stand instead on the unshakable Word of God."

15Perspectivalism as a philosophy of integration has been a strong theme in the pages of the J.A.S.A. since its original, basically positive endorsement of Ramm's book.

16Thomas Van Dahm, "Economics." In Robert W. Smith (ed.), Christ and the Modern Mind (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1972), pp. 215-23, (quotation from pp. 216-17).

17John Scanzoni, "Sociology." In Smith, op. cit., pp. l22-33, (quotation from pp. 123-24). Note that despite his implicit separation of methods for science and theology, Scanzoni's epistemology for both is very much in the tradition of the 19th-century moral philosophers, who were not only Baconian inductivists (assuming that observed "facts" could be organized into generalizations without dispute), but also "propositionalists" with regard to the nature of Scripture (assuming that, regardless of genre differences, all parts of the Bible could be reduced to an interlocking set of logical propositions). Both mainstream pre-Kuhnian scientists and mainstream evangelical biblical scholars would be startled by Scanzoni's simplistic epistemology masquerading as sophisticated philosophy of science and theology.

18The distinction between the "context of discovery" of hypotheses (in which any source of inspiration is allowable) and the "context of justification," or testing of those hypotheses (in which only the so-called "logic of the scientific method" is said to operate) is a distinction made famous (and for a long time normative) by Karl Popper. See Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Basic Books, 1959).

19For a further critical analysis of these tensions, see Evans, Psychology as a Hunwn Science; Stanton L. Jones (ed.), Psychology and the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), especially chapters 1, 3, 7-9; and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, The Person in Psychology: A Contemporary Christian Appraisal (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1985). There are a number of historical reasons for the decision of clinical/counselling psychologists to work primarily from a non-scientized model of humanness. But in addition there is a pragmatic factor which also weighs heavily: academic psychologists have traditionally been able to summon research subjects on command (from undergraduate classes especially); consequently, they have not had to worry much about any offense given to these subjects by their reductionistic and often deceptive manipulations. (The same is true of clinicians using a medical or behavioral model with severely disturbed patients who have temporarily lost their civil rights and freedom of choice and movement.) By contrast, counselling psychologists have to work in an open market: condescending and dehumanizing behavior towards clients results, in the long run, in having none.

20 See, for example MacKay, Human Science and Humann Dignity; David Myers, The Human Puzzle: Psychological Research and Christian Belief San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978); E. Mansell Pattison, "Psychology," in Smith, op. cit., pp. 185-203; G.C. Berkhouwer, Man: The Image of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962); and Douglas John Hall, lrwging God. Dominion asr Stewardship (New York: Friendship Press, 1986). For an opposing treatment, see Sidney Greidanus, "The Use of the Bible in Christian Scholarship," Christian Scholars Review, Vol. XI, No. 2 (1982). pp. 138-47.

21For an excellent development of this point, see C. Stephen Evans, "Healing Old Wounds and Recovering Old Insights: Towards a Christian View of the Person for Today," in Mark Noll and David Wells (eds.), Christian Faith and Practice in the Modern World: Theology from an Evangelical Point of View (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), pp. 68-86. Evans points out, among other things, that if it were only the relational, and not the substantial image of God that mattered,  Jesus Christ could just have easily been incarnated in the form of a tomato, rather than as a person.

22For an elaboration of this criticism, see especially Nicholas Wolterstorff, Reason Within the Bounds of Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976).

23Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Ret)olutim (University of Chicago Press, 1962 & 1971). See also Frederick Suppe, The Structure of Scientific Theories (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977); and Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (Aberdeen: Cambridge University Press, 1970). For a good summary of the state of philosophy of science from a Christian perspective, see Del Ratzsch, Philosophy of Science: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986). 

24 For an elaboration, see Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, rev. ed. (University of Chicago Press, 1962).

25For a more detailed discussion, see Evans, Psychology as a Human Science, and also David Lyon, "Valuing in Social Science; Post-Empiricism and Christian Responses," Christian Scholars Review, Vol. XII, No. 4 (1983), pp. 324-38.

26Robert Wuthnow, "Science and the Sacred," in: Phillip E. Hammond (ed.), The Sacred in a Secular Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), pp. 187-203.

27See Wuthnow's bibliography for a list of such studies, but note in particular The Connecticut Mutual Life Report on American Values in the80s: The Impact of Belief (New York: Research and Forecasts, Inc., 1981); Stephen Steinberg, The Academic Melting Pot: Catholics and Jews in American Higher Education (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974); and Fred Thalheimer, "Religiosity and Secularization in the Academic Professions," Sociology of Education, Vol. 46 (1973), pp. l83-202. It should be noted that the findings of these studies are supported by some uniquely evangelical data: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in North America reports that its volunteer faculty advisors to student groups on secular campuses come overwhelmingly from the natural sciences, with only a small percentage from the humanities and almost none from the social sciences. It is also clear that this reflects not differential rates of volunteerism, but the much greater percentage of Christian faculty among natural scientists in comparison with social scientists and humanities scholars (personal communication with James Sire and Michael Maudlin, June 1987).

28Wuthnow, op. cit., pp. 197-98.

29Fred Thalheimer, "Religiosity and Secularization in the Academic Professions, " Sociology of Education, Vol. 46 (1973), pp. 183-202.

30Evans, Psychology as a Human Science. See also David Braybrooke, Phosophy of Social Science (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1987).

31Recent articles in the Christian Scholars Review which attest to the recognition and validity of these three faces include: Arthur J. Moen, 1. Paradigms, Language Games, and Religious Belief," (Vol. IX, No. 1, 1979, pp. 17-29); Ronald J. Burwell, "Sleeping With an Elephant: The Uneasy Alliance Between Christian Faith and Sociology," (Vol. 10, No. 3, 1981, pp. 195-208, with responses); Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, "The Unfulfilled Apprenticeship of North American Psychology," (Vol. XI, No. 4,1982, pp. 291-315, with responses); James J. Oltbuis, "On Worldviews," (Vol. XIV, No. 2, 1985, pp. IW-64); and Richard Perkins, "Values, Alienation, and Christian Sociology," (Vol. XV, No. 1, 1985, pp. 8-27, with a response by Stephen Evans in Vol. XV, No. 3).

32Examples from psychology include: Kenneth J. Gergen, Towards Transformation in Social Knowledge (New York: Springer-Veriag. 1982); Rom Harre, David Clarke, & Nicola De Carlo, Motives and Mechanisms: An Introduction to the Psychology of Action (New York: Metheun, 1985); Donald Polkinghorne, Methodology for the Hunwn Sciences (Albany: State University of New York Press); Peter Reason and John Rowan (eds.), Human Inquiry: A Sourcebook of New Paradigm Research (New York: Wiley, 1981).


 

 

 

 

 

 

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