Year after year, psychology is one of the top college majors and many Christian students pursue careers in counseling or social work. But whatever their major or career choice, if your students go to college, there is an excellent chance they will take at least one psychology class. In some respects, Psychology 101 will be like every other science course, but in others, psychology is unique. It is the study of us. Unlike every other science, psychology deals with some of the same worldview issues as the Bible. Modern psychology and a Biblical Christian worldview intersect around big questions like:
What does it mean to be human?
What is the nature of the mind?
What causes mental pain and suffering and what do we do about it?
Modern psychology’s answers to those questions have changed over the years. I first took psychology as a freshman in 1980. I learned about behaviorism, which taught that to be human meant being an advanced animal, going through life robot-like, without free-will, responding to environmental inputs. I learned about Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic psychology, which taught that the mind was a battlefield of unconscious psychic forces. I learned about humanistic psychology which taught that I had an innate goodness, that my feelings and self-image were top priority, and that morality was learned and relative. The challenge for Christian students today is the same as it was for me way back then – to learn about the wonders of the human mind while maintaining respect for the authority of the Bible and to not compromise the Christian worldview.
But students entering college today face a new challenge. Today, evolutionary naturalism is psychology’s dominant worldview. It has been said that “evolution is the new psychology.” Evolutionary naturalism and a Christian worldview each make mutually exclusive claims about human psychology. How one defines the word ‘psychology’ illustrates the pivotal worldview difference.
Psychology means the study of the psyche, which is from the Greek word psuche (pronounced psoo-khay). Psuche meant “life,” but it differentiated human from other forms of life. To have psuche was to have a uniquely human combination of natural/physical and supernatural/immaterial natures. The Bible is clear that humans have psuche. Evolutionary naturalism, on the other hand, is equally clear. We have one nature and it evolved.
In the final chapter of The Origin of Species, Darwin predicted that someday:
“Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation.”
That day has come. Modern psychology presumes that every mental power and capacity, even those we think of as uniquely human, special, or God-like, were acquired, bit by bit, over a very long time, through variation and natural selection.
In what has been called “The Astonishing Hypothesis,” Dr. Francis Crick wrote:
“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: ‘You are nothing but a pack of neurons.’”
Taken together, The Astonishing Hypothesis and Darwin’s prediction represent bold claims. They represent evolutionary naturalism applied to psychology and taken to their logical conclusions. Evolutionary naturalism cheapens our mental life. It reduces consciousness and free-will, language and song, love and hate, altruism and greed, and more to packs of neurons operating selfishly to assure the survival and perpetuation of our genes. Neuroscientists today peer inside the living brain and “see” its structures and functions and the billions of neurons and the trillions of connections between them. The most complex structure in the known universe, the human brain, must have evolved by numerous and successive slight modifications. Students should not lose sight of those claims. The Theory of Evolutionary requires that they be true.
Psychology is an opportunity for students to see for themselves that evolutionary naturalism is silly and that the Christian worldview is the most logical and meaningful paradigm for understanding the big questions about the human mind — after all, it is God’s grandest creation. The collective discoveries of psychology point inexorably to our Creator.
When we approach psychology from a Christian perspective, it all makes sense. Psychology class is an opportunity to experience a new kind of awe at the wonder of God’s creation. The ways we sense and perceive the world, our personalities, emotional lives, and relationships are unique in the world, awe-inspiring, and worthy of study. Psychology shows us that, like the Bible says, we are born with a moral compass, but we are not inherently good. It provides an opportunity to talk with students about a host of issues, including the relationship of mental health and mental pain to one’s relationship with Christ. And for those future Christian counselors and social workers, it is an opportunity to establish a Biblical worldview foundation for their career.
Originally published in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine