May 26, 2017

Minds, Brains, Souls, and Gods: A Conversation of Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience – Part 1

I am going to blog through the book: Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods: A Conversation on Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience by Malcolm Jeeves.  Malcolm Jeeves is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews, and was formerly President of The Royal Society of Edinburgh. He established the Department of Psychology at St. Andrews University and his research interest’s center on cognitive psychology and neuropsychology.

Here is a brief video where he talks about some of the same issues.

The book is set up similar to C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer as a dialogical between a student, “Ben” and a teacher “Malcolm”.  The dialogue reflects almost a half century of teaching in a university setting and is based on discussions, email exchanges, and questions with students in the Department of Psychology at St. Andrews University.

Malcolm Jeeves

The chapter headings are:

  1. What is Psychology, and How Should We Approach It?
  2. What is the Relationship between the Mind and the Brain?
  3. How Free Am I? Free Will and Determinism
  4. Determinism, Genetics, and the “God Gene”
  5. Have Benjamin Libet’s Experiments Exploded the Free-Will Myth?
  6. But Is It All in the Brain? The Emergence of Social Neuroscience
  7. But What About the Soul?
  8. Don’t Parapyschology and Near-Death Experiences Prove the Existence of the Soul?
  9. What Makes Us Human? The Development of Evolutionary Psychology
  10. Are Humans Different? What About Morality in Animals
  11. What is the Difference Between Altruism, Altruistic Love, and Agape?
  12. Does Language Uniquely Define Us as Humans?
  13. Does My Brain Have a “God Spot”?
  14. Does God Guide and Direct Us?
  15. Does Neuropsychology Have Anything to Offer Pyschotherapy and Counseling?
  16. Are Religious Beliefs the Twenty First Century Opium of the People? What About Placebo Effects?
  17. What About Spirituality? Is It a Separate “Religious” Part of Me?
  18. Can Science “Explain Away” Religion?
  19. Where Next?

Most Evangelical’s Position on Faith and Science Issues

I have long desired to dive into these issues and I especially look forward to a lively discussion here at Internet Monk.  Jeeves is a Christian, but this is no crass apologetic.  His psychology students are wrestling with these issues and he honestly wrestles right alongside them.  So far into the book he has taken the tact of honestly addressing the science and, as I have urged repeatedly in these posts, take what is true as true and go at it head on and not stick said head in the sand.

In the first chapter: What is Psychology, and How Should We Approach It?  Jeeves give his student a brief overview of how psychology has developed.  In the nineteenth century almost all major Christian groups assumed a seamless relationship between “psychological care” and “soul care”.  That relationship began to change beginning with early 20th Century Freud’s psychoanalysis the mid-century emergence and dominance of “behaviorism”.  Behaviorism, also known as behavioral psychology, is a theory of learning based on the idea that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning (think Pavlov and his dogs).  Behaviorism’s greatest advocate was B. F. Skinner who considered free will an illusion and human action dependent on consequences of previous actions.

B.F. Skinner

Two famous quotes from Skinner:

“Ethical control may survive in small groups, but the control of the population as a whole must be delegated to specialists—to police, priests, owners, teachers, therapists, and so on, with their specialized reinforcers and their codified contingencies.”

And:

“It is a mistake to suppose that the whole issue is how to free man. The issue is to improve the way in which he is controlled.”

I consider Skinner’s philosophy as behaviorism gone to seed or taken to reductio ad absurdum.

Behaviorism was succeeded by what Jeeves calls the “cognitive revolution”.  The cognitive revolution is the name for an intellectual movement in the 1950s that began what are known collectively as the cognitive sciences. It began in the modern context of greater interdisciplinary communication and research. The relevant areas of interchange were the combination of psychology, anthropology, and linguistics with approaches developed within the then-nascent fields of artificial intelligence, computer science, and neuroscience.  The cognitive revolution continues and now has, in part, merged with developments in neuroscience.

Sadly, some Christians see psychology as an archenemy of the faith, a view reinforced by surveys of academics that show psychology faculty members to be the least religious group.  In popular media there are 3 basic themes that get played over and over:

  1. Psychological knowledge is primarily to help people cope with mental and emotional problems
  2. It is about the links between what is happening in our minds and brains, and
  3. With the celebration of Darwin, that it is about how human psychological characteristics evolved from rudimentary forms elsewhere in the animal kingdom.

Jeeves says:

Regarding balance, I think that science, including the scientific approach to psychology, does have much to offer today’s world.  However, with great success in scientific work comes the temptation to develop a misunderstanding of the scientific enterprise.  As the examples of changing views about dementia shows, at times we have to realize that the assertions that come from science are tentative…

I just received a book that describes five different approaches that Christians have taken to relating to what is happening in psychology with what Christians have traditionally believed.  Some of the contributors support your concerns that an overtly scientific approach misses important things that psychology can teach us.  Other contributors feel strongly that psychology, and particularly modern psychology, has been in error by not making greater references to religion.  The whole are of what is called “transformational psychology”, for example, would see the scientific approach as too limited, a view shared by some of those psychologists who are engaged primarily in clinical psychology and counseling.

On a personal note, I have had family members with mental health issues and have some experience with clinical psychology and psychiatry.  As I think I said once before, the competence of this profession varies widely.  I have had experience with “Nouthetic” counseling (total crap) and New Age Woo Woo from the secular side as well.  But I’ve seen competent, caring professionals that have helped my family members immensely.  I will agree with Malcolm Jeeves though, that “just science” is too limited an approach in this profession.

Comments

  1. Susan Dumbrell says:

    I know I am often the first cab off the rank, blame it on the Time Zones. Sorry if I seem presumptuous.

    Mud Wasps:- a lighter view on life. The last three days topics and comments have been excellent but I needed my garden experience to fill my soul with joy.
    I wish I could have shared with you bloggers the thin Autumn/Fall midday sun as I sat in my garden. Beverage of your choice provided.
    Warm and very peaceful, apart from black birds quarrelling.
    My only conversation with a human today was with an electricity provider on whom I could have poured down coals of fire, OT style. I think I won but who can be sure with the likes of them?
    I tried to be polite. Hmmm…
    My companions in the garden were Mud Wasps flying around my late roses.

    http://www.pestrx.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/mud_dauber_wasp.jpg

    Do cut and paste into your search line.
    They are very beautiful.

    So I dedicate this Haiku to

    “The Mud Wasps”.
    Mud Wasps, dangling legs
    Looks for spiders to entrap
    For her future young

    Frosted, late rose buds
    Hide unsuspecting spiders
    Juicy meals in Spring.

    One of our bloggers recently made the comment along the lines that in renewing creation there is always death.
    C’est la vie.

  2. Susan Dumbrell says:

    Must be Susan again, the day is drawing shut.
    Time to contemplate today’s episodes.
    I did post earlier but is still in moderation I am told.
    Watch for later developments!

    In reply to today’s topic, it is very appropriate for me. I contribute a bit more in my life experience. Pray listen.
    I have written in the past few days that I have had ‘Therapy’ for the past three years. I have no problem saying so, however previously I would never have admitted I needed help or that I was obtaining same. Life throws curved balls.
    I am now in what I consider my three score years and ten plus more years. I am disappointed with myself that I didn’t seek advice sooner. My life could have been richer. I see I could have managed relationships more astutely. It is a great thing retrospect.
    My Clinical Psychologist and I have made some guidelines for my everyday serenity.
    He approves of my commenting on IM. He has expressed that this is a positive thing for me to read and consider and if I think necessary, contribute to. You are a positive in my new life. Well done all.
    Plenty of music, (my choices mainly Bach or Beethoven, Mozart or believe it or not Jazz!).
    I like to dance, so do so. I must look good doing the Tango with a walking stick!
    Slow waltz perhaps may be more my style.
    Meditate for least 10-20 minutes a day.
    Centre myself in dilemmas , these happen frequently. These are mainly due to my husband at the Nursing Home and my having little control of this situation.
    Spend time in my garden, with my cats, enjoy new friends, enjoy my new church affiliation. Read and enjoy poetry.
    Pray to my God in the affirmative rather than saying why has this happened? Why can’t you change my situation? No, offer thankfulness.
    My aloneness is not lonely anymore.
    Bless you all.

    You can fill in the rest. Christ is…………… Well done all!
    Susan

    • “My Clinical Psychologist and I have made some guidelines for my everyday serenity. He approves of my commenting on IM. He has expressed that this is a positive thing for me to read and consider and if I think necessary, contribute to. You are a positive in my new life. Well done all.”

      And we are glad you are here, Susan. Please feel free to work out any personal angst in these comments. Lord knows plenty of us here do that 🙂

  3. Robert F says:

    One of the big problem with Skinner’s Behaviorism is that it begged the question: Who will modify the behavior of the modifiers (i.e. the controllers)?

    • And their prior experiences fated them to believe it anyways…

      • Robert F says:

        It rested on the assumption that the modifiers would be composed of a class of people whose superiority to others would be self-evident; in other words, it rested on an irrational assumption. That was it’s real problem: it was an irrational system.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And their prior experiences fated them to believe it anyways…

        Utter Predestination seven-times distilled down to remove any trace of Calvin, Mohammed, God, or Al’lah..

    • senecagriggs says:

      http://www.livescience.com/27262-psychology-studies-questioned.html

      NOTE: ‘Nouthetic Couseling” was Jay Adam’s version of Glasser’s Rational Emotion Therapy – a hard nose approach to dealing with people with problems. Quite popular in its time.

      “N.A.N.C.” no longer exists. They have become A.C.B.C.? and have largely abandoned Jay Adams. Jay continues to offer certification in nouthetic counseling but everybody else has moved on.

      And let me add this. I believe the ability to effectively counsel is A GIFT. Some people have it, others don’t.

      To brand ALL individual who practice Biblical Counseling as doing “crap” is actually “crap.” There are some extremely gifted counselor in the Biblical Counseling realm. Others, not so much.

      I, of course, think that the wisest and best counsel comes from individuals committed to the truths of Scripture but also having the gift of counseling.

      • “I, of course, think that the wisest and best counsel comes from individuals committed to the truths of Scripture but also having the gift of counseling.”

        And I would agree, Seneca, as I have actually seen. But the idea that the Bible is a “cut and paste” proof text manual for psychological counseling… that you can just pull out a Bible verse for each and every person’s personal problem and “Viola”… problem solved. And if the problem isn’t solved, well, that is due to that person’s failure to properly, utterly, completely, and with their whole heart, BELIEVE THE BIBLE, is… well I’ll stick with my first pronouncement- crap.

      • senecagriggs says:

        I would also suggest that any mainline Christian who thinks Psychology Today speaks to eternal truths is the individual with their head clearly in the sand. dryly

        The Evangelicals I know are l more than well aware how terrible is the status of current psych/sociological studies – basically not worth “crap.”

    • I’m pretty sure that behaviorism is the foil in Lewis’ “That Hideous Strength” in the form of the N.I.C.E.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Who will modify the behavior of the modifiers (i.e. the controllers)?

        The Head, of course.

        I’m pretty sure that behaviorism is the foil in Lewis’ “That Hideous Strength” in the form of the N.I.C.E.

        As well as a predecessor of what’s now called Transhumanism.
        Because didn’t The Head evolve beyond any need for a body?

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        The N.I.C.E. was a diabolical construct from Frost’s behaviorism and Wither’s monism.
        Lewis’ Northern and Southern Dragons, AKA Steiner’s Lucifer and Ahriman by way of Owen Barfield.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Skinner’s Behaviorism is that it begged the question:

      The tense here is correct; we need to be clear that Skinner’s Behaviorism is dead. It is not a living theory.

      > Who will modify the behavior of the modifiers

      Isn’t this one of the primary reasons the APA (American Psychological Association) exists? Over time the APA has squeezed out more and more of the looney, extremist, and baseless junk flying under the banner of Psychology. It serves the same role as start bar associations – IMO, these are reasonable and demonstrably effective ways to address these type of control issues. It is as close to professional democracy as possible.

  4. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > Sadly, some Christians see psychology as an archenemy of the faith

    As a child of the 70s & 80s I am more inclined, as a literate rational person, to view Psychology as an enemy of humanity, civilization, and science.

    I admit my bias.

    And there has been a whole lot of overturning of psychological, sociological, and cognitive research in recent years. They produce a lot of “studies” that are mathematical junk and which fail to be reproduced. Thinking, as an example, of all the FMRI research that went down in flames a couple years ago.

    On the other hand I **know**, beyond this ocean of garbage, that there is real Science in there somewhere. My impression is that the actual Science part is slowly rising from the deep. The siege upon Psychology by the Mathematicians and Statisticians is a necessary phase; we will all be better for it.

    > the competence of this profession varies widely

    That I can agree with; emphatically. It ranges from self-righteous sadist up to competent.

    > that “just science” is too limited an approach in this profession

    I don’t know if I agree with that; too limited, or not yet enough?

    • kerokline says:

      > As a child of the 70s & 80s I am more inclined, as a literate rational person, to view Psychology as an enemy of humanity, civilization, and science.

      As a former psych student, I was all ready to be up at arms. And then…

      >The siege upon Psychology by the Mathematicians and Statisticians is a necessary phase; we will all be better for it.

      Ah, whew. Yup, you get it 🙂

      The issue is that Psychology grew from Philosophy and the humanities, not Physics or Biology. Those didn’t come till later. When the language of Psychology was developed by Freud and Jung, its no wonder that it kind of… well… grew up the runt of the sciences?

      If it weren’t for Skinner, Psychology might still be ruled by armchair philosophers.

      Economics had much the same path. If I had a dime for every page of good research backing up Austrian claims, I’d have like… 20 cents.

      What interests me is the generational gap. Now that being a counselor is considered a clinical-adjacent path, it requires school. Collegiate Psychology is very much -trying- to be a hard-science (like Med School and their and their fancy Psychiatrists).

      • Robert F says:

        You’ve given me a new view of Skinner, one with some positive appreciation. I still think that systematic behaviorism goes too far, just as does philosophical materialism, but I do understand what you and Adam are getting at.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > I still think that systematic behaviorism goes too far

          That is pretty much how knowledge/understanding/science works; it is a process, a honing in on the demonstrable. There is a problem when it clearly doesn’t work, but there is a *serious* problem when it gets in the way of inquiry. Skinner did to a lot to take the philosophy out of psychology.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Economics had much the same path. If I had a dime for every page of good
        > research backing up Austrian claims, I’d have like… 20 cents.

        Excellent comparison!

    • Robert F says:

      It sometimes seems to me that a lot of sociological studies also suffer from poor scientific method.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Are Religious Beliefs the Twenty First Century Opium of the People?

    Compared to 24/7 Social Media?

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      You presume that 24/7 media is not religious in and of itself..

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I know it’s addictive as crack.

        There’s an ongoing urban legend that the big app developers have psychologists — addiction specialists — on the design teams to ensure their app is as addictive as possible (and more addictive than the other guys’). To the point of one-molecule-automatic-addiction like the fictional Thionite, Zu’ur, and Bloodhype.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          “addiction specialists”, aka “game theory specialists. These guys are well versed in the frighteningly easy way to manipulate people, especially isolated people.

          Aside: but studying their dark arts can make meetings far more advantageous.

  6. Psychology is literally a word about the soul. Knowing that we are made in the likeness and image of God it would seem prudent to take a look at the soul not only personally but collectively across cultural and geographic boundaries. To gain insight into the workings of the human mind and spirit is by default to begin getting a glimpse into God. Of course there are all sorts of psychological maladies in humanity that don’t provide insight into the Holy Spirit. A whole field of psychology is dedicated to the abnormal. Nonetheless, for Christians to fear or disdain psychology is unfortunate to say the least.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      DR FRANCKENSTIEN: “Whose brain was it?”
      EYE-GOR: “A… Normal. Abbie Normal.”
      Young Frankenstein

  7. That’s a funny picture, but it could serve as well for the Monastery, and probably the human condition. BF Skinner is alive and well and active in the remnants of the World System, which is diabolical at core in a very real and literal sense, and may be on the run, stay tuned. I would say from the list of chapters that Jeeves is presenting a competent and fairly unbiased review of the 20th century psychology we all grew up with. I would say if you were more interested in reading about real psychology for fifty years ahead instead of fifty years behind, read David R. Hawkins. I’ll be interested in the later chapters where God is apparently allowed into the conversation. When all is said and done, given all the various competing schools of thought, I would say that Susan’s Clinical Psychologist came up with a program that will take you as far as possible down your particular road while everyone else is arguing over the foundations and the details. I would say that Jeeves seems to have done pretty well for a butler.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > which is diabolical at core in a very real and literal sense

      It cannot be true in the Literal sense, as the World System, has no core. If it had a core it would be easier to deal with.

      > and may be on the run, stay tuned

      I am very tuned in – the highly distributed Word System it is doing very very well, a picture of robustness.

  8. Stephen says:

    The question of “Free Will” is an interesting one always. I encourage anyone who is not already familiar with the Benjamin Libet experiment to read up on it. It’s worth pondering for a long while. Sobering and not a little disturbing. It does seem that the idea that at each discrete moment we are free to choose from all available options is largely an illusion. There are indeed constraints on our behavior and the insight here is that many (most?) of those constraints operate at a pre-conscious level. I think most of us intuit this on some level; who is completely aware of all his or her motivations? Isn’t our behavior sometimes as mysterious to ourselves as it is to others? (Rather than piloting the vehicle as we imagine, it may be that the conscious mind is merely along for the ride.)

    But this is an old argument is it not? Is the sovereignty of the Almighty consistent with free acceptance or refusal of grace, or with the predestination of the Elect? I was raised in a rural Georgia Southern Baptist church and I never heard the word “Arminian” until I went away to school. We never thought of ourselves as anything other than the “real” church doing it the way the original NT church did it. Everyone else in varying degrees had fallen into error. The funny part of course was later finding out that all the other groups thought they were the “real” Christians and we were the ones messed up. Who is right? If some of us are wrong, maybe we’re all wrong. heh heh heh

    The truth of course is that you can proof text any position you want. It’s not that the NT writers were necessarily inconsistent so much as it is they just didn’t see any difference between freedom and necessity. Of course we’re free. Of course all is predestined from eternity. We are the ones who have the problem and it is always moderately hilarious to watch Calvinists and Arminians quoting scripture to each other in debates. Reality is more like a Bach fugue. As regular as clockwork and free as a dream.

  9. “Free will” is basically an idea developed by scholastic theologins in the middle-ages to get God of the hook for sending people to hell in a world where he’s predestined everything. So it would be weird if our mentality corresponded to a concept invented to fill a hole in an account of divine justice.