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The Myth That Psychology Is Scientific
Article by Ed Bulkley
An exciting new science explaining the human mind and behavior was introduced by a doctor in Vienna, Austria. His theories influenced prominent writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Educator Horace Mann declared that he was more indebted to this fresh science than to all the metaphysical books he had ever read. The world-renowned preacher Henry Ward Beecher praised this innovative explanation of human behavior as revealing the principles which underpinned his entire ministry. Horace Greeley thought this new method of evaluating people should be used as the basis for hiring applicants for dangerous jobs. This new understanding of the mind was received enthusiastically at Yale, Harvard, and the Boston Medical Society.
This trailblazing discovery explained intriguing concepts such as amativeness, philoprogenitiveness, alimentiveness, approbativeness, and self-esteem. When this revolutionary hypothesis was first introduced to America, 37 separate organs of the brain had been identified; the number eventually increased to 83.1 Practitioners of this fascinating new science revealed to a receptive world that one’s character could be identified by the shape of the skull!
Coming from the same city that birthed Freudian psychoanalysis, the pseudoscience of phrenology influenced American thought for some 30 years. People accepted this scientific pretender because it seemed to explain why man acts the way he does without making him morally responsible.
Though phrenology has long since been discredited, it was the forerunner of another group of practices: psychoanalysis, psychiatry, and psychology. Using more sophisticated techniques to convince the public that they are scientific, these new theories have pulled off a massive deception in our own day.
Psychology As a Science
Is psychology truly a science, as many integrationist counselors claim? Many people have accepted the claim that psychology is scientifically accurate without actually examining the evidence. Notice this characteristic error in logic written by a confirmed integrationist: “Sometimes theologies are found to be in error while the findings of science stand as firm as the Copernican theory.”2 I agree that some theologies are erroneous, but to state that “the findings of science” stand firm reveals just how confused integrationist thinking can become. Scientific findings are in a constant state of flux. What is affirmed today is denied tomorrow.
For example, a scientific volume, Science Matters, was recently published to explain science to the general public. It promotes the concept of “the big bang” as “our best guess as to the origin and evolution of the universe.”3 The same day the book was announced in the media, astronomers revealed that the “big bang theory” was no longer an acceptable scientific explanation for the dispersion of matter throughout the universe! Within a few days, other scientists disputed the second opinion with a third opinion.
The purpose of Science Matters is to help average people achieve “scientific literacy,” yet the authors seem unable to recognize their own built-in contradictions. In Chapter 1 they write that science is “guided by one overarching principle: the universe is regular and predictable. The universe is not random.”4 Yet in Chapter 17 they write, “Many scientists believe that millions of years of random mixing and shuffling of molecules culminated in the appearance of one living cell—an object that could consume surrounding chemicals to make exact copies of itself.”5
In order to explain variation in species, they write, “Random variations and chance mutations occasionally lead to advantages, which are preserved as non-random evolution.”6 The Bible describes such foolish double-talk in Romans 1:22: “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” Unwilling to admit their own faith, such writers set aside creationism as a mere religious belief. This sort of intellectual dishonesty is representative of much of the scientific establishment.
The same delusion is evident in psychology. Freud’s “scientific findings” have been increasingly discredited by new findings. Thousands of competing psychotherapeutic systems claim to have new findings to support their conclusions. But each new system produces a new finding which contradicts the prior findings.
In infinite contrast, the psalmist writes, “Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Peter proclaimed, “The word of the Lord stands forever” (1 Peter 1:25).
The Definition of Science
To see how miserably psychology fails the test of science, we need to know what science is. Simply stated, science is the systematically arranged knowledge of the material world which has been gathered in a four-step process: 1) observation of phenomena; 2) collection of data; 3) creation of a hypothesis or theory by inductive reasoning; and 4) testing of the hypothesis by repeated observation and controlled experiments.
Following this fairly standard definition of science and the scientific method, one should ask several questions. Do psychiatric and psychological studies follow rigid controls? Are the findings carefully tested by verifiable experiments? Are the hypotheses drawn from the data with rational impartiality? According to some knowledgeable insiders, the answers are no.
Lack of Scientific Standards in Psychology
Dr. Alfred M. Freedman, a psychiatrist with impressive credentials, was interviewed by journalist Martin Gross. Freedman, formerly the president of the American Psychiatric Association, said, “There are a number of assumptions in psychoanalytic theory that have never been adequately tested. The consequences of childhood experience, including the Oedipus complex, may not be of the order we think.”7
Gross documents the statements of several other prominent psychiatrists. Dr. Jules H. Masserman has stated that “psychoanalytic reports are too often based on uncontrolled theoretical and clinical preconceptions.”8 Dr. R.R. Sears headed the Social Science Research Council, which issued a report on psychoanalysis. The report stated, “Psychoanalysis relies upon techniques that do not admit to the repetition of observation, that have no self-evident or denotative validity, and that are tinctured to an unknown degree with the observer’s own suggestions.”9
The point is that human thinking and behavior cannot be categorized scientifically because each human is unique and one’s reaction to events, circumstances, and other stimuli cannot be predicted or tested using the scientific method. Most psychotherapeutic theories cannot be empirically tested and verified. It is impossible, for example, to scientifically examine the Freudian concepts of the id, ego, or superego.
No scientist can accurately quantify percentages of rage. No one can scientifically observe the child, parent, and adult of Transactional Analysis. Science cannot be applied to prove the existence of unconscious motivations. Psychologists are in error to state as fact that humans use less than a given percentage of their total mental capacity. It i s misleading for psychologists to claim that they scientifically examine minds, emotions, beliefs, values, and behaviors. A major writer of integrationist materials admits that “it is difficult to use scientific standards to study emotions like love and hope, the behavior of street gangs, the religious experiences of churchgoers or the effectiveness of psychotherapy.”10 Still, he believes that psychology is scientific.
Psychologist Larry Crabb has stated that psychology cannot be classified as science. He writes:
[M]any admit now that the scientific research method is inherently inadequate for the job of defining truth. Science can provide neither proof nor meaning. In another paper, I pointed out that modern philosophers of science confess the incurable impotency of science to ever say anything conclusively. Science can assess probability but can take us no further. To reach certainty demands that we go beyond (not deny) reason and exercise faith. Humanistic optimism that man is sufficient to solve his problems has crumbled under the weight of science’s inability to clearly assert that any single proposition is true. We need proven universals. Science cannot provide them. We must in faith reach beyond ourselves to get what we need.11
Psychology rarely deals with established facts or truths but with subjective opinions and interpretations of uncontrolled observations. Psychology is not dealing with the consistent interactions between chemicals that can be carefully controlled in the laboratory, but with analyses that are tainted by the unique free wills of the subjects and the mindset of the researchers.
How Psychology Achieved Scientific Status
If the answer to the question “Is psychology really a science?” is negative, then how have psychologists managed to convince the general public that their field is scientific? There are several factors in this major sociological and spiritual deception.
Psychologists use statistics frequently in their writings to create the illusion that their statements are based on solid scientific research. One prominent Christian psychiatrist writes, “I fully demonstrated and documented my belief that approximately 85 percent of our behavior patterns and attitudes are firmly entrenched by age six.”12
Consider these examples of unscientific statistical statements used to support psychological dogma: “In fact, 75 percent of depressives feel they will never recover.”13 “Probably 98 percent of the things we worry about never come true.”14 “If the patients are not maintained following a course of ECT [electroconvulsive therapy, or shock treatment], between 30 and 40 percent of the cases will relapse within a year.”15 By attaching mathematical figures to unprovable statements, psychologists often shore up their claim of scientific inquiry.
A Christian psychiatrist states:
During my residency in psychiatry, I did a categorical survey of the types of patients I had during a six-month rotation on the psychiatric ward. These findings were obtained:
•30%—Hysterical trends, personality or neurosis
What sort of vital information was obtained from this statistical study? The author says, “Conclusions are difficult to draw from such a small sample of a patient population (approximately 40), but one can conclude with certainty that individuals with emotional conflicts are in search of help. One may also conclude that being a Christian does not necessarily free one of emotional turmoil.”17
I appreciate this writer’s candor in admitting that the sampling was small. But consider for a moment: Was a statistical study really needed to conclude that “individuals with emotional conflicts are in search of help” or that “being a Christian does not necessarily free one of emotional turmoil”? Aren’t those facts rather obvious?
I cite these examples of psychological “findings” because they are fairly representative of psychological “science.” Many studies are performed on a small group of people and the subjectively interpreted facts are then projected upon the general population.
The Limitations of Science
Let us turn to the question of science itself. Many people assume that something is scientific if a scientist states it as fact. Freud, who spawned most of the psychological belief systems, was deeply influenced by Charles Darwin’s doctrine of evolution, and the philosophical connection between the two is significant. Evolution, like psychology, has been proclaimed as a scientific fact when in reality it is merely a philosophical and religious theory. J.W.N. Sullivan writes in The Limitations of Science:
The beginning of the evolutionary process raises a question which is as yet unanswerable. What was the origin of life on this planet? Until fairly recent times there was a pretty general belief in the occurrence of “spontaneous generation.”…But careful experiments, notably those of Pasteur, showed that this conclusion was due to imperfect observation, and it became an accepted doctrine that life never arises except from life. So far as actual evidence goes, this is still the only possible conclusion. But since it is a conclusion that seems to lead back to some supernatural creative act, it is a conclusion that scientific men find very difficult of acceptance.18
So difficult, in fact, that many scientists regularly contradict scientific laws in their writings to support evolutionary theory, and to dismiss creation as a laughable relic of the past. In spite of the fact that life never comes from nonlife, the authors of Science Matters still cling to their unscientific faith. Hazen and Trefil write, “Life seems to have arisen in a two-step process. The first stage—chemical evolution—encompasses the origin of life from nonlife. Once life appeared, the second state—biological evolution—took over.”19
No scientist has ever observed life arising from nonlife, and all evidence points away from such a conclusion. Though such scientists must be aware that they are teaching physical, chemical, and biological error, they continue to deceive the public with their “scientific” pronouncements.
In a similar way, psychologists and psychiatrists have successfully convinced the general public that their professional systems are based on hard scientific evidence. Scientists themselves are often deceived by the rhetoric of their peers. Psychologist Ray Jurjevich writes, “[Scientists] are just as suggestible to authority figures as humans in any other profession. Physicists and chemists, biologists and geologists, psychologists and psychiatrists have uncritically bought a lot of nonsense from the elders in their professions.”20
Hazen and Trefil’s statement about the general illiteracy of scientists is particularly revealing:
Intense study of a particular field of science does not necessarily make one scientifically literate. Indeed, it has been our experience that working scientists are often illiterate outside their own field of professional expertise. For example, we r ecently asked a group of twenty-four physicists and geologists to explain to us the difference between DNA and RNA, a basic piece of information in the life sciences. We found only three who could do so, and all three of those did research in areas where this knowledge was useful.…The fact of the matter is that the education of professional scientists is just as narrowly focused as the education of any other group of professionals, and scientists are just as likely to be ignorant of scientific matters as anyone else. You should keep this in mind the next time a Nobel laureate speaks ex cathedra on issues outside his or her own field of specialization.21
The readers of Science Matters should also keep in mind that Hazen and Trefil’s pronouncements are no more trustworthy than those of the scientists they regard as illiterate, for when they speak authoritatively about the origins of life, they are out of their field. The origin of life is outside the realm of scientific inquiry and should be left to philosophy and religion. In the same way, the statements of psychologists and psychiatrists must also be examined carefully, for they are as prone to error as other “experts” who make self-confident assertions based on personal opinion and subjective interpretations of flawed observations.
Scientific and Medical Rhetoric
The use of scientific and medical terminology is another tool used to convince the public that psychology is scientific. Psychologists and psychiatrists use terms such as “controlled studies,” “clinical research,” and “statistical indications” to convey the alleged scientific nature of their field. They connect psychiatry with medical science by the use of terms like “diagnosis,” “patients,” “therapy,” “treatment,” and “cure.” Because psychiatrists are also medical doctors, people are convinced.
Having established their position as scientific and medical, the psychotherapeutic industry proceeds to create new technical terms. They speak of “identity crisis,” “selfactualization,” “Oedipus complex,” “paranoia,” “schizophrenia,” “transference,” “sublimation,” “coprolalia,” “buffoonery psychosis,” “ergasiomania,” and a multitude of other labels designed to impress the layman.
Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey says that psychological labels “are impressive and convey to the uninitiated that we know what we are talking about. Unfortunately, this is not the case.”22 The media, however, portray psychotherapists as infallible scientists who produce an endless succession of scientific findings.
Self and science have established a powerful psychological partnership. Its major products are its claims: truth and cure. Psychology’s truth is in its thousands of findings about sex, marriage, mental health, personal attitudes, child raising, learning, aggression, which have been discovered by a professional. They cascade all around us in journals, newspapers, magazines, and on television, all labeled as “scientific evidence.”23
By linking psychiatry and psychology to scientific disciplines, the public is convinced that the “findings” are accurate and true. Unfortunately, often they are not.
The Perceived Need for Experts
Our generation has great confidence in “experts.” The rapid increase of knowledge in the twentieth century has forced professionals to specialize in their chosen field. Specialization has occurred not only in the hard sciences and medicine, but is evident also in the pseudosciences of psychology and psychiatry. Now we are told that we need experts to help us with every problem of living.
“America is probably the most specialized and professionalized society on earth. We have more experts in more areas than does any other country.…Our culture is dominated by professionals who call us clients, tell us what our needs are and how to satisfy them.”24
We have “experts” to tell us how to lose weight, stop smoking, raise our children, have happy marriages, and be cured of every mental disorder. There are “grief experts” who tell us how to deal with the loss of a loved one, and these specialists advertise their services in mailings to pastors! (Think about that.) The universal acceptance of specialization has intimidated many pastors into accepting a secondary role in the ministry to souls.
One should ask, however, whether psychologists truly have deeper insights into the soul of man than the average person does. Because the human mind and soul are so complex, there is little reliability in the interpretation of individual behavior. “A dozen psychoanalysts listening to the same material are likely to formulate a dozen different estimations of its unconscious meaning.”25 Does this indicate that professional counselors are more capable than laymen to interpret behavior and to help people to change? If not, why are we so confident in the experts? Zilbergeld offers this explanation:
Our belief in the superiority of specialization and our predilection for solutions and perfection pushes us to depend on experts. Even if we have some competence in a given area, we know there are others who know more. Our own efforts seem amateurish and inefficient. Why not let someone with special training do it or at least help us do it? The modern view is well expressed in a recent book: “The key to a successful adult life lies in surrounding yourself with experts, a master person for every need.”26
Because Americans have accepted the need for experts, we have also accepted their interpretations of human needs and behaviors. Research has confirmed what common sense knew all along: that most personal problems can be solved merely by talking with someone and by taking personal action. Why is it that most psychologists reject this rational point of view? There are at least three reasons: First, their professional training has convinced them of the “expert” myth; second, if they accept the validity of lay counseling, the legitimacy of the psychological profession becomes questionable; and third, if people realize they can get equal results from nonprofessional counseling, the personal income of psychologists will be jeopardized, for they depend upon a continual stream of paying clients.
Jeffrey Masson, a former psychoanalyst, reports that psychoanalytical training does not prepare a person to be a better counselor. He testifies that after five years of intensive analysis on himself and his patients he did not understand “emotional problems of living” better than people with no training.27 Masson’s thesis is that all professional therapy is unneeded and long years of intensive psychological study are a waste of time: “I spent eight years in my psychoanalytic training. In retrospect, I feel I could have learned the basic ideas in about eight hours of concentrated reading.”28 What an amazing confession from a secular therapist!
In spite of the evidence that laymen are equally or sometimes even more effective counselors than psychiatrists or clinical psychologists, the “experts” still insist that they are essential in the treatment of major problems.
Belief in Universal Madness
Why has psychology been allowed to intrude into nearly every area of our lives? As incredible as it sounds, many psychologists tend to view most humans as mentally ill:
In New York City, a ten-year study, Mental Health in the Metropolis, claimed that approximately 80 percent of adults showed some symptoms of mental illness, with one in four actually impaired.
In 1977 the President’s Commission on Mental Health confirmed these dire diagnoses. It concluded that the state of our psyches is worse than believed, and that one-quarter of all Americans suffer from severe emotional stress. They warned that up to 32 million Americans are in need of professional psychiatric help. A National Institute of Mental Health psychologist even portrays universal madness as a statistical certainty. “Almost no family in the nation is entirely free of mental disorders,” he stated in a recent federal study. The NIMH psychologist estimates that in addition to the 500,000 schizophrenics in hospitals, there are 1.75 million psychotics not hospitalized, and up to 60 million Americans who exhibit deviant mental behavior related to schizophrenia.29
The only sane ones, it would seem, are psychologists, psychiatrists, and other accredited mental health experts. It reminds one of the old joke about the two psychiatrists who were discussing the general condition of the world. One said to the other, “Everybody in the world is crazy except you and me, and sometimes I’m not even sure about you.”
Importance of the Issue
Even at this point, some would ask, what difference does it make? Why make such a big deal over counseling philosophies?
Because the consequences of this issue are enormous. It determines for many people their ultimate source of truth and authority for daily living. Rather than turning to God and His Word for solutions for the problems of life, today’s Christian is being taught that he must turn to psychology. Instead of consulting with his pastor, the church member is convinced that his problems are too severe for biblical counsel, and that they require the special insights of those trained under secular-based philosophies.
In an article in Christianity Today, Tim Stafford writes:
In the past, conservative Christians have tended to avoid using the mental health system, but over the past three decades psychology has become more acceptable with evangelical circles. As the influence of respected leaders like Clyde Narramore, James Dobson, Frank Minirth, and Paul Meier has broken down the resistance, the number of evangelicals seeking psychological counseling has grown. A survey conducted last year, for example, found that 29% of Christianity Today readers had gotten counseling for themselves or a relative within the past three years and three times as many of them went to a professional counselor or psychologist as went to a pastor.30
Christian pastors have also succumbed to the incessant barrage of psychological messages coming from Christian books, magazines, film series, radio, and television. Having refused to accept evolutionary theory as scientific truth, many Christians have dropped their guard and been deceived by another scientific pretender.
1 Michael J. Martin, “Bumps & Brains, the Curious Science of Phrenology; the Wrong Idea at the Right Time,” American History Illustrated, September 1984, p. 43.
2 Gary R. Collins, Can You Trust Psychology? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), pp. 129–30.
3 Robert M. Hazen and James Trefil, Science Matters (New York: Doubleday, 1990), p. 149.
4 Ibid., p. 1.
5 Ibid., p. 247.
6 Ibid., p. 250.
7 Martin L. Gross, The Psychological Society (New York: Random House, 1978), p. 195.
8 Ibid., p. 196.
9 Ibid., p. 202.
10 Collins, Can You Trust?, p. 109.
11 Crabb, Basic Principles of Biblical Counseling, p. 22.
12 Frank B. Minirth and Paul D. Meier, Happiness Is a Choice (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 15.
13 Ibid., p. 25.
14 Ibid., p. 172.
15 Ibid., p. 225.
16 Frank B. Minirth, Christian Psychiatry (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1990), p. 144.
17 Ibid., pp. 144–45.
18 J.W.N. Sullivan, The Limitations of Science (New York: Mentor Books, 1933), p. 127.
19 Hazen and Trefil, Science Matters, p. 245.
20 Ray M. Jurjevich, A Psychologist’s Ventures in Faith (Glenwood Springs, CO: Ichthys Books, 1987), p. 259.
21 Hazen and Trefil, Science Matters, p. xiii.
22 E. Fuller Torrey, The Death of Psychiatry (Radnor, PA: Chilton Book Company, 1974), p. 158.
23 Gross, p. 16.
24 Bernie Zilbergeld, The Shrinking of America (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1983), p. 87.
25 Gross, Psychological Society, p. 207.
26 Zilbergeld, Death of Psychiatry, p. 87.
27 Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Against Therapy (New York: Atheneum, 1988), p. ix.
28 Ibid., p. 248.
29 Gross, Psychological Society, p. 6.
30 Tim Stafford, “Franchising Hope,” Christianity Today, May 18, 1992, pp. 22–26.
Ed Bulkley "Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology. Harvest House Publishers (July 1, 1993).
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