Category Archives: philosophy of science

Coming to Peace with Psychology I (Review)

I’ve arrived as a blogger! No, I’m not getting paid to write and I’m not getting millions of hits each day. But I am getting a new perk. Someone has seen fit to send me complimentary books just in case I might wish to review them here. Free books! Do you know how cool that is? To an academic and book lover, it is just about the best perk ever.

[I guess this is a good time for a disclaimer. I only review books I find interesting. And even if the book comes wrapped in Ben Franklins (this one wasn’t for some reason), I promise to tell you what I really feel about the book]

Today, I received Ev Worthington’s new book, Coming to Peace with Psychology: What Christians Can Learn From Psychological Science (IVP, 2010). You may be familiar with Dr. Worthington’s work on marriage enrichment, marriage and family therapy, and forgiveness. This is my first experience with him writing about the relationship of psychology and Christianity. Here are a few of his thoughts from the introduction and the enclosed “Author Q & A” about why we might need a new book on this topic:

  • “In this book I will claim that we can know people better, and even know God better, by heeding psychological science.” (p. 11)
  • “People have been integrating theology and psychology for years, but a vast majority of the integration has come from psychotherapists. Only a small minority of integrators have been psychological scientists…. While psychotherapists try to generalize about human nature on the basis of the clients they have seen and the models of helping they were trained in, psychological scientists measure the whole range of people–those 15 percent who were clients with some psychotherapist and about 85 percent more who are not.” (Author Q & A)

Wow. He lays down the gauntlet. The problem with previous integration has been the emphasis on anecdotes from therapists. If only we had more integration models by scientists. In fact, he is right–to a degree. Much of integration is highly theory driven. But is that bad?

[Rabbit trail: What are the common “sins” of theologian integrators? Clinician Integrators? Research Integrators? Theologians put far too much emphasis on their constructs and exegesis; clinicians put too much emphasis on “what works”; researchers put too much confidence in p values. In fact none have the corner on the market of truth. But again, Worthington’s book may be very helpful. He is right that both clinicians and biblical counselors fail to interact deeply enough with psychological research. Either they dismiss scientific methods by pointing out its weaknesses or they generalize from a small data point into a grand theory even though the data cannot bear the weight of the theory.]

Let’s hear some more from Worthington about the direction of his book:

  • His theses: Psychological science helps both Christians and non-Christians (a) understand God’s creation in human beings, (b) know about God more because the study of image bearers points to God, and (c) live more virtuously. (p. 13)
  • So, he sees psychology as a common grace to refine us all. This is very interesting. Usually integrative literature has cited common grace as what allows humans to rightly perceive. Here, the discipline IS common grace.
  • The relationship between psychology and Christianity is an “emerging marriage”– one that has possibilities of conflict and yet greater intimacy.

Finally, you might be interested in just what approach Ev Worthington will take in connecting psychology and Christianity. In the past some have described integration as a recycling project, a filter to get rid of non-Christian worldviews, a recasting effort, or a perspectival or level of explanation project. He mentions two: filter and perspectival approaches. The filter tries to have theological/biblical constructs as interpreting science. He finds this problematic. The perspectival model tries to separate the two disciplines as different ways of knowing.

So what does Worthington suggest? A new model he calls a relational approach.

That’s enough for this post. Next post I’ll make some comments on his first section (where he addresses some of the problems in previous integration by pointing to some psychological science).


Filed under biblical counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling science, philosophy of science, Psychology

Quote about psychology and conversion

Check out this quote from G. Campbell Morgan,

No psychology will ever effect conversion. Regeneration must affect psychology.

The Gospel According to John, 1908, p. 58; emphases mine

The context of these two sentences are Morgan’s description of Jesus words to Nicodemus in John 3:3. He is not talking about psychology in the more modern sense we might intend today. What he is saying is that one must be “born again” in order to see the kingdom of God. One cannot think, feel, or perceive the real truth about God–no matter how psychologically mature and aware–without the work of the Spirit.

Notice his use of the words effect and affect. I didn’t have great English grammar education so I will assume some of you also might miss the meaning. Here’s my rewrite of his sentences

Psychological maturity cannot bring you to full awareness of God and creation but conversion will definitely impact your psychological well-being, you soul.

If you are interested in reading this book, you can find the full text on-line here. His comments on the interaction between Nicodemus and Jesus are very enlightening and provide a different perspective than is often given. He gives Nicodemus a lot more credit than do many preachers.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, christian psychology, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, philosophy of science, Psychology, Uncategorized

What should Christian counseling look like?

 I posted this little item for my last guest blog at www.christianpsych.orgfor the month of July. In it I mention “Christian Counseling: An Introduction” by Malony and Augsburger (2007).

And no, I don’t say what it should look like–merely a comment that we still need to figure out how we handle the faith/science dichotomy that we’ve been handed all these years.

Those who have been around wisecounsel for a while will remember I blogged through each chapter. If you are interested in seeing those posts, just use the search engine on this page to find posts mentioning Malony.

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Filed under Christian Apologetics, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling science, Doctrine/Theology, History of Psychology, philosophy of science, Psychology, teaching counseling

APA’s resolution on religious, religion-based, and/or religion-derived prejudice

Just got my 2007 annual report from the American Psychological Association. I rarely read this thick document except for the ethics violation reports. But I saw that the board and council passed the above-named resolution. Some key passages to consider in the long document:

Prejudice based on or derived from religion and antireligious prejudice has been, and continues to be, a cause of significant suffering in the human condition. …

Prejudices are unfavorable affective reactions to or evaluations of groups and their members…

…it is a paradoxical feature of these kind of prejudices that religion can be both target and victim of prejudice, as well as construed as justification and imperative for prejudice. The right of persons to practice their religion or faith does not and cannot entail a right to harm others or to undermine the public good.  …

While many individuals and groups have been victims of antireligious discrimination, religion itself has also been the source of a wide range of beliefs about and attitudes and behaviors toward other individuals…

Allport and his colleagues observed that the relationship between religion and prejudice is curvilinear rather than linear, with highly religious individuals having lower levels of prejudice than marginally religious adherents.

It is important for psychology as a behavioral science, and various faith traditions as theological systems, to acknowledge and respect their profoundly different methodological, epistemological, historical, theoretical, and philosophical bases. Psychology has no legitimate function in arbitrating matters of faith and theology, and faith traditions have no legitimate place arbitrating behavioral and other sciences.

The document goes on to list multiple “whereas” and “therefore be it resolved” statements. The gist of which is to say, don’t discriminate; respect religion and spirituality; avoid prejudice; give no preference (as an Association to either belief or unbelief; recognize that psychology and religion cannot adjudicate either party’s tenets (but psychology can comment on the psychological impact of spiritual beliefs and religion can comment on theological implications of psychology); and try to collaborate if you can.

Problems galore despite their effort not to just paint religion as the bad guy. I’ll post just two. First, what is prejudice? They mention it as an “unfavorable affective reaction.” Okay. So, if I gently and cognitively say that my faith disapproves of certain behaviors or beliefs and based on those differences I decide not to hire you in my private, faith-based school, is that prejudice? I think some would say so. Currently, the debate over the appropriateness of having someone seek counseling to change sexual orientation has plenty of folk arguing that the problem is not affective but cognitive. If you believe you can or should change your orientation then you are accepting dominant prejudices.

Second, the whole document stinks of the separation of science and faith–as if science is all empirical and faith is all unsubstantiated belief. Also, what do those psychologists do who find themselves well trained in both worlds. It would seem from this document that the psychologist training trumps theological training. Again this is thought to be best for “the public good” and yet they do not recognize this as value, non-emprically based statement.

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Filed under church and culture, philosophy of science, Psychology

Last Practicum Monday: Christian counselors in a secular world

Today marks the end of the 2007-8 school year for our MA Counseling students. Some have completed their final credits and others are half-way to their diplomas but I’m sure all are glad the school year is over.

Our students here do fieldwork in a variety of settings: churches, christian private practices, nonprofit social services (hospice, pregnancy centers), and secular or state/federal financed mental health facilities. Those who work in secular settings are often faced with questions about their faith from colleagues and supervisors. Are they going to try to get their clients saved? Will they leave their faith at the door? And students struggle to know what to do with helping clients in some ways (new communication skills) but not being able to help them in deeper ways (putting trust in God during difficult times). Just how should Christians working in secular mental health agencies function? 

First, I very much believe that Christians should be in all aspects of society if they have any hopes of being salt and light in the world. Far too frequently we sequester ourselves from the world and then wonder why they persist in using caricatures of us.

So, if we are going to be in the world but not of it, how might we do it as counselors in a secular setting? I suggest 3 things to consider as we interact with supervisors/colleagues, clients, and our own self:

1. When dealing with an  Agency/Supervisor/Colleague

  • Get to know your context and its/their history with Christians and Christianity
  • When you hear slams or other suspicious questions be sure to explore the “back story” and validate, if appropriate, the bad experiences with naive or offensive behaviors by Christians
  • Discern who you might be able to have a reasonable conversation with regarding the nature of faith and psychology, philosophy of science, ethical care of people (including the exploration of their faith traditions), and the fact that all counseling is evangelistic to some construct of health). In this conversation be sure to using starting points that the other will understand (e.g., ethics, empirical evidence, concerns, etc.) just as St. Paul does at the Areopagus.
  • Communicate that you do not see your job as coercing anyone. You are not responsible for our clients behavior, neither are we for their beliefs. When we raise questions about faith it is to provoke their thinking a bit further

2. When dealing with clients

  • Be sure to ask early in clinical work about faith traditions, current practices, and experiences. These questions fit with what the AMA suggest as important for healing, as community and spiritual resources are quite powerful in the medical literature
  • When given an opening (e.g., questions about God, faith, etc.) pursue gently NOT with statements but questions that may reveal further beliefs, fears, wants, desires, demands, etc.
  • Further, ask how they came to believe what they do believe
  • Point out inconsistencies in belief/behavior; raise possibilities, pros/cons, potential places for hope that may lead to further discussion of God’s handiwork in their lives; Point out places where they seem to recognize their inability to love enough, tolerate enough (gently of course)
  • Be wary of the habit of “telling” others the truth. Many times clients already know the “right” answer. Exhortations may be useful at times but more often than not they cause individuals to become passive–even when they agree with your point.
  • Be ready to answer their questions about YOUR faith with honesty (e.g., what does belief in God look and feel like when everything is caving in?). Be sure not to sugarcoat the Christian life. Be ready to talk about your hope in a broken world (not just for eternity but for now)
  • And if you do talk about your faith, immediately turn it back to them for them to react, explore, challenge, etc.

3. To ourselves

  • Answer the following questions
    • Can I work with integrity within this system?
    • Is giving a “cup of cold water” (e.g., better communication skills) enough for right now?
    • Can I defend what I do say about the Christian faith in my sessions?
    • Am I giving the impression that I believe that there are many ways to God?
  • Develop a theology of mercy ministry akin to God’s providing rain, sun, and health to the just and unjust alike


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, church and culture, counseling, counseling and the law, counseling science, counseling skills, Evangelicals, philosophy of science, Psychology, teaching counseling

How people of faith messed up psychology: A cautionary tale for those who want to save Christianity from destruction

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. Continue reading


Filed under Christian Apologetics, christian psychology, History of Psychology, philosophy of science, Psychology

Committing professional suicide? A call to reform the APA

Just came upon a copy of an address given last month at the APA annual convention by Nicholas Cummings, past President of APA. He offers a scathing review of the disconnect between APA and the rest of the sane world. His beef is that APA loses credibility when it tries to speak with authority from opinions rather than evidence. He gives several examples where there has been both a lack of study in areas deemed now politically incorrect and pronouncements of political correct stances without actual evidence (e.g., impact of single parenting on children, why girls who are sexually active are more likely to be depressed and suicidal than those who do not, the efficacy of reparative therapy—helping those who want to change their sexual orientation from gay to straight).

What makes this interesting is that Cummings is not a right wing whacko but an insider and long-time support of APA. He is coauthor of the book, Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The well-Intentioned Path to Harm. I suspect that readers will fall into two camps about the address: those that appreciate his willingness to say what they have wanted to for some time due to marginalization and power of those who run APA; and those who recognize that while he is correct on some accounts, he only wants to blast gay marriage and single mothers.

I can relate to his points. You can find a similar comment I made to a recent president to APA published in the Monitor on Psychology if you go to this link:

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Filed under philosophy of science, Psychology

Politics & Science

Yesterday, Bush vetoed the stem cell vote. Today in the car, I heard a member of congress hail their initial passage of the bill as “finally getting politics out of science.” Unfortunately, there is no such thing as apolitical science. I understand when a member of congress says something like this but too often I hear scientists say the same thing. Science is never free from subjective interpretation, presuppositions, etc. When a person says, “lets get politics out of science” they usually mean, “lets get YOUR politics our of MY science.”

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