Am reading Bryan Maier’s (my new colleague) recent dissertation-turned-book, The Separation of Psychology and Theology at Princeton, 1868-1903: The Intellectual Achievement of James McCosh and James Mark Baldwin. Don’t get put off by the long title (we like those in academic treatises because they really tell us what the book will be about).
In short, McCosh, the President of Princeton (1868-1888), was a man caught between the two worlds of science and evangelical faith. He held to the authority of Scripture and that the only way to have saving faith was the work of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures. He also believed that inductive reasoning could uncover the nature and faculties of the human mind, apart from leaning on the Scriptures. In fact, he resisted appealing to Scripture as he felt (a) that he couldn’t rely on human interpretations of what God meant (too much possibility of distorting it for own purposes) and, (b) that he needed to use the philosophies of the day (materialism, realism, positivism) to have his views regarding metaphysics accepted by other scholars (but he failed to note the lack of objectivity within these forms of scientific inquiry). Maier’s conclusion is that McCosh, despite his evangelical faith, played a role in exiling God from psychology when he emphasized the powers of logical positivism to “find” facts over against the rigorous study of Scripture. By prioritizing scientific inquiry and marginalizing biblical theology, it was impossible for a true integration of psychology and faith—a problem he sees that has continued today in the integration movement.
Why you and I should care? McCosh was sure that he could walk the line of maintaining his faith and yet still interact with the findings of the day (lots of work was being done in understanding the mind/brain at the neural/local level). In his mind, he wedded Kant and Locke (experience and introspection) and was utterly convinced that in the end, no conflict would arise between Scripture and Science. Today, we have the same challenge in building a Christian psychology. How do we communicate our understanding of human behavior that we get from the Bible while interacting with advances in scientific studies at the level of neurons? How do we do so in a world less influenced by positivism and more influenced by postmodern philosophies of science?
If I take anything away from McCosh, I take NOT that we should be wary of scientific and philosophical models. Rather, I can see how my biases and blind spots have way more effect on me that I would like to admit. McCosh was sure that he was thoroughly Scriptural in his work, and yet at the end of his life he wondered whether he had neglected the study of Scripture (and he a minister!). In McCosh’s writing, Maier points out how very little he alludes to Scripture to develop his arguments. I have seen how the adherence to any model can make us blind, whether to the model of biblical counseling, the Westminster Confession of Faith, or clinical psychology. None of us are free from derailing over our well-intended models. A large dose of humility and self-criticism is necessary (along with a willingness to listen to our opponents)!