After a long hiatus I return to my summary/review of Everett Worthington’s Coming to Peace with Psychology (IVP, 2010). If you are new here just search his last name in the search bar on my blog and you can quickly catch up.
Chapter 10 is the second chapter in the last section of the book (“What Psychological Science has to Offer Theology”). This chapter covers the limitations of psychological science. Up to this point he has been lauding the value of psychological science as a marriage partner with theology. In fact, the purpose of the book is to argue for such a relationship over those who he sees as being overly critical of psychological science (due mostly, in his mind, to the anecdotal nature of psychological theory).
What does he point to as the limits of his science?
- Despite amazing advances in psychological science, counseling hasn’t changed much (hmmm, does he consider this a limit of science or is this a complaint about practitioners?)
- Psychological science must focus on general truths and so may not be as applicable to any one person
- Scientists are not without bias (but then he goes on to say that given the review process, truth is a lot more likely than not)
- Science can’t reveal the eternal (but it can reveal things of eternal value)
- Inability to precisely predict behavior
- No ultimate “proof” (but, probability is possible)
- Scientist biases include “heuristics” (picking answers from an “available” list), confirmation biases, etc. which reveal our human self-serving nature.
- Emotional experiences tend to make us more certain of our perceptions and beliefs.
- human limitations on what we can remember, understand, perceive, do.
Notice from his list that he focuses on common human limits of knowing. This is a good start but insufficient. It treats science biases in an individualistic manner. I find this ironic given that I believe he has much awareness of family systems. In fact, systems add an additional bias–group think as example number one. Funny too that he gave very few illustrations from science of these various biases. For the most part, he illustrated them from everyday life or from theology. So, we are left with a chapter that admits to some general limits on how far psychological science can take us but no clear acknowledgment of systematic biases in the world of psychological science.
Now, let me be clear. I am not one who believes that psychological science is always biased all the time. And even when it is, there can be much to be learned from it. Nor do I believe that those within biblical studies or theology are unbiased either. But, I do think we need to recognize how specifically these biases send psychological science in some wrong directions.