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Lessons from the Past: Science and Christian Faith
-- Nathaniel Carpenter, Philosophia Libera, 1622
Reality is a nuisance to those who want to make it up as they go along. -- Austin Farrer, Saving Belief, 1964
Over the last century -- psychology's first full century -- definitions of the field have varied. For its first forty years psychology was, as William James declared in his pioneering 1890 text, The Principles of Psychology, "the science of mental life." During the next forty years, from the 1920s into the 1960s, it was the science of behavior. Today's textbooks commonly synthesize this history by defining psychology as the science of behavior and mental processes. Note what all these definitions have in common: that psychology aspires to being a science.
Toward the end of the twentieth century, the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner cautioned that "psychology has not added up to an integrated science, and is unlikely ever to achieve that status." Yet he noted that it was important to recognize "insights achieved by psychologists; to identify the contribution which contemporary psychology can make to disciplines which may some day achieve a firmer scientific status; and finally to determine whether at least parts of psychology might survive as participants in a conversation which obtains across major disciplines."
Psychology's claims to be a science are justifiedtoday by its solid achievements in both pure and applied research. Claiming the status of a science implies also acknowledging the limits of science. These limits are not imposed by Christian belief but are shared by humanists and scientists alike. There has, however, been a trend in recent years for some -- notably, postmodernists -- to argue that scientific knowledge is subjective. Some Christians, mistakenly believing that by weakening the objectivity of scientific knowledge they might strengthen the claims of religious knowledge, have at times succumbed to the temptation to endorse such views. Max Perutz, a Nobel laureate in molecular biology and himself a Christian concerned about the postmodern challenge to the future of science, notes: "This is a caricature of modern science . . . the bulk of scientific knowledge is final. If it were not, jet planes could not fly, computers would not work and atomic bombs would fail to explode." As part of that conversation, this book asks, "What is the relationship between Christian faith and psychology?" To answer that we must take a brief look at the history of relations between faith and science.
When they are asked, "What is the relationship between faith and science?" many people -- Christians and non-Christians alike -- answer, "Conflict." They think of Galileo, condemned for questioning the church's conviction that the sun revolves around a stationary earth. They think of the reaction against Darwin's ideas at the Scopes trial and among today's anti-evolutionists. They think of the encroachment of natural explanations of disease, of earthquakes and storms, and of human behavior -- realms once reserved for supernatural explanation. Ifreligious and scientific explanations occupy opposite ends of a teeter-totter, then as one goes up the other must come down.
Contrary to this popular view that religion and science are antagonistic, many intellectual historians argue that the seventeenth-century development of modern science was supported by Christian ideas. If, as had often been supposed, nature is sacred, then we ought not tamper or experiment with it. If, however, nature is not an aspect of God, but rather is God's intelligible creation -- a work to be enjoyed and managed -- then by all means let us explore this handiwork. If we wish to discover its order, let us observe and experiment, believing that whatever God found worth creating we can find worth studying. Moreover, let us do so freely, knowing that our ultimate allegiance is not to any human authority or doctrine, but to God alone.
It was this biblical view of God and nature that in part motivated the participation in the scientific enterprise of several of the founders of modern science (among them Blaise Pascal, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and even Galileo) and many of the founders of American colleges, 90 percent of which were church-founded at the time of the Civil War. Whether searching for truth in the book of God's word or the book of God's creative works, these scientific pioneers viewed themselves in God's service. Believing that humans, too, were finite creatures of God, not extensions of God, they did not depend solely on intuition and reason but also on observation. They assumed that we cannot find the whole truth merely by searching our minds -- for there is not enough there -- or merely by guessing or making up stories. For Bacon andothers the aim was humbly to submit their ideas to the test, knowing that if nature did not conform to them then so much the worse for their ideas. Having dominion over nature meant not to force nature into their own doctrinal categories, but rather first to understand it, then to adapt their conceptions to what their observations and experiments revealed. For example, "Bacon learned the lesson that we should seek for the sciences not arrogantly in the little cells of human wit, but with reverence in the greater world," noted the historian of science R. Hooykaas. Bacon expected the restoration of science to come by "true humiliation of the spirit." If scientists' data told them that the earth was not stationary, then they must abandon the notion that heavenly bodies circled the earth. Reason, they believed, must be aided by observation and experiment in matter
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