We turn to the last section of Everett Worthington’s Coming to Peace with Psychology (IVP, 2010) entitled, “What Psychological Science has to Offer Theology”.
Chapter nine has the goal of exploring psychological tools and what they can do. Worthington rightly points out that all sciences derive from philosophy. They are an attempt to conceptualize reality “by observing, measuring and quantifying life experiences.” (p. 149). He then summarizes Thomas Kuhn’s work on the concept of scientific revolutions–that is most of science is an effort to support existing hypotheses until the current paradigms no longer work at which point a revolution occurs in thinking. Then Worthington points out another way of looking at scientific progress–the creation (happenstance or not) of new tools results in massive new data that may change our perspective on reality.
Worthington seems to prefer this model and wants to explore the “new tool” of psychological science. In his mind psychological science is a new theological tool. Wait, you might say, how is it a theological tool? He would argue that it helps us understand humanity better thus it teaches us something about the God who created us.
Here are two of the “tools” he mentions for looking into the mind: Peripheral nervous system measures that get at subtle experiences of stress; face twitch recording that get at highly subtle psychological reactions. Both may help us understand reactions/behaviors that cannot be easily verbalized.
The remaining portion of the chapter defends the value of science in spite of its shortcomings. Yes, science is flawed, but to Worthington it is “still useful.” He wants to remind readers that science isn’t as cold and impersonal as it is often portrayed. It can teach about development of children, about religious behavior, about human strengths, etc.
If there is a problem, says Worthington, it is that “we [scientific tool users] do not often refer back to the purposes of psychological science–to think the thoughts of God, to know the Creator by learning about the creation.” (p. 166)
I think it is helpful to remember that tools like these do produce data–data worth looking at and learning from. However, it appears we don’t do well with our approach to this data. Either we are too enamored with its glittering images as if it were spoken from the mouth of God or we reject it because it must be biased and a waste of time. Careful critical evaluation of self and data are necessary. What are our blind spots? Are we too enamored with data? Or do we think we already know all we need to know?