I’ve been reviewing the history of psychology and Christians in psychology because I’m going to be presenting with a colleague on the topic next week at the National conference of the Christian Association of Psychological Studies (CAPS). Psychology is as broadly defined as the planet and what normally gets told is the celebration of theories and advances of “great men” from Rene Descartes to Darwin to Freud to Skinner to modern professional, clinical psychology. Modernist philosophies of science abound in the “story” of psychology and empiricism reigns as King. Faith and belief have little mention in the story other than science’s emancipation from theology that came during the enlightenment.
We people of faith have a tendency to look at the evils of secularization and the refusal to admit belief biases in the sciences. It would be easy to blame those bad unbelievers. Yet, as I look at the history of psychology, it seems to me that faithful people made most of the significant decisions to advance the field while protecting their private faith. That the effort to maintain faith in light of empiricism as the primary way of knowing, these individuals made significant decisions that still impact how we treat the mentally ill today.
certainly, I cannot vouch for the evangelical beliefs of all on this list, but I can vouch for their personal sense of faith in God (it shows in their writings). Descartes who blessed us with his dualist writings worked very hard to maintain his faith in light of questioning everything. Same with Locke, Kant, and more contemporarily, Rogers–even Watson (yes, Gods of their own making).
But the story that always gets me is of a man named Samuel Woodward. He was the superintendent of Worcester State Psychiatric Hospital in the 1830s–one of the first in America to actively treat the mentally ill. A man of deep faith, he developed an extensive treatment program. He could not believe that the mind could be diseased as that would suggest damage to the intangible soul. So, he believed that mental illness was a somatic disease. However, he believed that compassionate treatment of the mentally ill was absolutely necessary. His compassion was evidenced, in his mind, in requiring patients to undergo 6 hours of moral (read Sunday School) education each day. Woodward kept tremendous records during that time and it appears that he had a 80-90 percent success rate. After 13 years, he stepped down and another took his place. Since the moral education was not seen as treatment, it was stopped (and some have said that the records suggest the success rate decreased).
Here a man of faith tries to protect his faith from science and in the end fails to see that Christian meditation and engagement with the truths of Scripture and God’s love/compassion for them actually helped people. His separating faith from science influenced modeled for the country how to run psychiatric hospitals. It is only now, in light of postmodern philosophies of science, that we are finally recognizing that faith/belief are a part of all sciences and cannot/should not be divorced.
I wonder what we will be laughed at in 30 years. How will the “integration” of psychology and theology be viewed? In what way will conservative attempts to “save” truth actually bring more damage to the place of faith in science? This week I heard about a website trying to compete with the “liberal bias” of wikipedia. NPR had a piece on it. Some of the entries on the conservative site were so laughable if I didn’t think many would go there for their information about the world.