In the first chapter of Coming to Peace with Psychology: What Christians can Learn from Psychological Science (IVP, 2010) Ev Worthington makes this point: We’re not as good at predicting human behavior as we would like to think. Science can help us. Or, the flip side, we are really great at formulating post hoc explanations (after we read scientific data) that help us think that we knew it all along (p. 28). You know, like when you get the answer of some piece of trivia, you feel you knew it all along. He provides several examples of surprising data that prove that we aren’t that good at predicting human behavior. Why is this important? We humans need help understanding our world. We don’t always make good choices even though we have massive data about humanity (biblical, experiential, etc.). So, he asks at the end of chapter one, how does psychological science relate to theology given that theology looks not to “thin slices” of large amounts of data but to Scripture?
In chapter two, Ev shows how his approach to the scripture/science relationship differs from previous attempts. He starts with the origin of the debate, makes an allusion to the Renaissance but quickly turns to the issue of counseling because it is in counseling where Christians are most concerned about whether they are receiving godly or ungodly wisdom. He points to usual suspects: secular models, rejection of Christian worldview, especially in academia, rejection of traditions and authorities. These cultural phenomena lead many Christians to be wary of liberal, free-wheeling, therapists. The call for “Christian counseling that was centered on biblically consistent beliefs and values was answered by Christians trying to integrate current counseling theories with Reformed theologies.
While there are variations on this theme, Worthington thinks one belief ties them together: Scripture and our human interpretations of it provide a clearer picture of reality than do human attempts to read general revelation. And, those disciplines that cover the nature of person (vs. “harder” sciences) have more distortion to them. Thus, there is a need to develop Christian filters to get rid of distortions in psychology.
He then singles out a few individuals who have diverse but generally favorable takes on the filter model: Robert C. Roberts, Eric Johnson, and David Powlison. Each has a different take on the problem of psychology and theology but all agree that there needs to be some critical evaluation of the underpinnings of psychological science. Interestingly, he dismisses each view (gently) for not being able to survive mainstream psychology.
Following these three, he points to three scientists who happen to be Christian: Malcolm Jeeves, David Myers, and Fraser Watts. Each, says Worthington, uses some form of a perspectivalist approach: two disciplines looking at overlapping data from different points of view (and asking different questions).
He ends the chapter saying that psychological science (Not psychotherapy) can be the bridge between science and theology–though I’m not sure he has spelled that out yet. Further, instead of just making Scripture trump (filter model) or Psychological research trump (Myer’s approach), we need a longer dialog when there seems to be conflict between Scripture and psychology.
He will take up “who do we trust during a conflict” in the next chapter.
Some thoughts. For those looking for deeper philosophy of science dialogue, you will need to look elsewhere. This is not Worthington’s focus. Rather, he wishes to give scientific endeavors some room at the table so that it can be taken seriously. To do so, he needs to show how both the filter and the separate-but-equal approaches miss the mark.