Modern Psychology and the Bible

By Wayne Jackson

For the past several decades, “psychology” has been a popular theme in American society. Countless students become “psychology majors” as they matriculate through school. The Yellow Pages of the phone book are filled with listings for psychologists and psychiatrists. For many, it is the “in” thing to have a therapist. Exactly what is “psychology,” and how does this area of interest relate to the Bible?

Psychology Defined

Psychology may be defined in two very different ways — depending upon whether or not one is approaching the topic from the biblical vantage point, or from the humanistic viewpoint. The humanist, i.e., one who considers man to be the measure of all things, with no need for belief in a supreme Being, suggests that psychology is “the study of human and animal behavior.” (We will probe this concept additionally later.) “Psychiatry,” a related discipline, specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological problems.

The term “psychology” actually derives from the Greek root, psyche (soul), and pertains, therefore, to a study of the soul (or spirit) of man.

One may affirm with confidence, that no “psychological” theory can benefit man that fails to consider the “soul” aspect. This would include such issues as:

  1. Does the human being have a soul?
  2. If so, whence the origin of that soul?
  3. What is the nature of the human soul?
  4. What is the purpose of man’s soul?
  5. Finally, what lies ahead as the ultimate destiny of the soul?

Man, the Soul Creature

In the balance of this article we propose to highlight several glaring contrasts between biblical psychology and the psychology — falsely-called — that so dominates our modern culture.

There is a vast, unbridgeable chasm that exists between valid psychology and that which proceeds from a humanistic ideology. Let us probe some of the various questions just raised.

First, does the human being possess a soul? Logic demands, and the Bible affirms, that there is an entity within each human that sets him or her apart from all other biological creatures. This entity is the soul.

One atheist, Julian Huxley, has even authored a book titled, The Uniqueness of Man, in which he acknowledged that, since the days of Darwin, when mankind was viewed strictly in animalistic terms, the “man-animal gap” has been “broadening” (Huxley, 3). By that he meant that it is becoming increasingly difficult to view human beings as mere animals.

Another writer says that “…the very fact of human personality carries metaphysical overtones. Man’s psychological nature suggests something transcendent of which the psyche is but a partial reflection” (Progoff, 256).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote:

“Either we have an immortal soul, or we have not. If we have not, we are beasts; the first and wisest of beasts it may be; but still beasts. We only differ in degree and not in kind; just as the elephant differs from the slug. But by the concession of the materialists we are not the same kind as beasts; and this also we say from our own consciousness….it must be the possession of the soul that makes the difference” (Mead, 416-17).

Second, if we have a soul, what is its nature? Those who accept the Scriptures as the Word of God are bound to acknowledge that human beings possess an inward essence (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16) known as the “soul.” Initially, let us observe that the term “soul” is found in at least three senses in scripture.

“Soul” is sometimes employed as a synecdoche (the part for the whole) to designate the entire person. Eight “souls” were saved in Noah’s ark (1 Pet. 3:20). Every “soul” should submit to the civil authorities (Rom. 13:1), when such are not demanding a compromise of Christian principles (cf. Acts 5:29).

Additionally, the “soul” can denote biological life. In the Old Testament, all living creatures are said to possess “soul” (Gen. 1:30. Nephesh is the Hebrew term; the Greek equivalent is psyche, LXX). During a dangerous shipwreck en route to Rome, Paul informed his shipmates that though the vessel would be destroyed, there would be no loss of “life” (psyche). He was referring to their physical lives.

Finally, and most significantly, is the use of psyche to designate that part of the human being that is in the very “image” of God (Gen. 1:26). In this instance psyche is the same as “the spirit” (pneuma). To this component of mankind various qualities are attributed. Consider, for example, the following:

  1. The “soul” cannot be destroyed by the termination of physical life. “And do not fear them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul…” (Mt. 10:28). Similarly, the “spirit” is said to be characterized by an “incorruptible” nature (1 Pet. 3:4).
  2. The psyche is capable of possessing knowledge. David declared: “I will give thanks unto you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Wonderful are your works; and that my soul knows right well” (Psa. 139:14). In the New Testament, Paul rhetorically asks: “For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him” (1 Cor. 2:11).
  3. The psyche is an entity of emotion. In one of his defenses, the suffering Job argued that “[his] soul grieved for the needy” (30:25). Similarly, the prophet Daniel declared: “My spirit was grieved in the midst of my body” (7:15). As the Lord Jesus once contemplated the prospect of his impending death, he said: “Now is my soul troubled” (Jn. 12:27). Later, the apostle John would write: “[H]e was troubled in the spirit…” (13:21).

In modern humanistic “psychology,” however, none of these matters are considered, and therein lies the worthlessness of the system. Humanism sees the universe as consisting solely of matter; soul does not exist.

Can one be a true “psychologist” who does not even believe that human beings have souls? It is not without significance that the founders of modern psychology were men whose chief interests were in material or physical phenomena, e.g., chemistry, physics, and physiology (Cosgrove, 28).

Responsibility to the Creator

One of the underlying tenants of modern psychology is a skepticism about the existence of a supreme Being to whom man ultimately is accountable. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), known as the founder of psychoanalysis, was a tremendously significant figure in the field of psychology. His influence permeated the educational field in many ways. Freud was an atheist who contended that religion is but an “illusion.” He argued that early man did not understand the material forces of nature. Hence, out of that frustration, our ancestors felt “the need to make tolerable the helplessness of man.” As a result, they “personified the forces of nature,” and endowed them with qualities that reflected a “father-longing” (30,32,38).

Other leading dignitaries in the field also had atheistic inclinations. John Dewey (1859-1952), who exerted a vast influence over a number of disciplines (including psychology), and B.F. Skinner (1904-1990), a leading advocate of “behaviorism,” both were signatories of the infamous Humanist Manifestos, which utterly repudiated faith in God. Carl Rogers (1902-1987), prominent for “client-centered” therapy, was quite religious in his early years; eventually, though, he leased his brain to skepticism.

Here is a very important point. When men repudiate an awareness of the very Creator who designed them, they cannot possibly have a view of humankind that is normal and conducive to mental soundness. Humanistic psychology (which is the basis of virtually all modern psychology) is, therefore, bogus.

And yet many, who profess a reverence for Christianity, are mesmerized by the theories of these men. One writer, for instance, in glowing language, says: “Carl Rogers seems to have brought a lot of God’s truth to light by discovering some of God’s principles for healthy human behavior” (Kirwan, 60). More on this later.

Evolutionary Presuppositions

As we mentioned earlier, modern psychology is generally defined as the study of “human and animal behavior.” This very definition should be a “red flag” signal that we are talking about a school of thought that is grounded in evolutionary dogma. Dr. Paul W. Leithart has written: “All traditional psychiatry rests on two errors: 1) The acceptance of evolution; 2) Secular humanism” (8).

This point can be amply demonstrated; Charles H. Judd wrote:

“If … psychology is to gain a complete understanding of human nature, it must take into account the findings of the science of biology, which traces man’s bodily structures and some of his traits back to remote origins in the lower forms of animal life” (15).

One writer, in a book titled, Apes, Men, and Language, stated: “Darwin has provided the basis for a paradigm that might explain both human psychology and human behavior in terms of man’s continuity with the rest of nature…” (Linden, 41).

After much research regarding this matter, Prof. Raymond Surburg concluded:

“The evolutionistic influence on modern psychology must be traced back to Darwin’s genetic approach to psychological problems or to his argument that man evolved from lower animal forms. It was his suggestion that many human expressions of emotion are merely continuations of actions useful in the animal, e.g., the sneer is a continuation of the animals’ preparation to bite. A lengthy comparison of the mental powers of man and the lower animals was made by Darwin, who believed that animals showed evidence of imitation, curiosity, imagination, and even of reason. Darwin’s genetic approach was extended to the study of animal, child, and racial psychology by a number of psychologists…” (184).

If modern humanistic psychology is grounded in Darwinism — and clearly it is — then the various theories that arise from this presupposition are as false as the doctrine of evolutionism itself.

Human Conduct

Psychological theory plays a significant role in either:

  1. explaining man’s conduct, or,
  2. in recommending human activity.

And herein lies one of the dangers.

Reflect for a moment on these two points.

First, for example, Sigmund Freud, and those who were influenced by him, argued that the “sex drive” is the primary force of all emotional life. This suggests that man is but a biological machine driven by the sex urge, which implies that such a dominating “instinct” leaves little, if any, room in man for the exercise of will and the expression of moral choices.

This is why, more and more, we are hearing the refrain that human beings personally are not at fault for their aberrant conduct. We simply can’t help what we do, it is alleged. For a further consideration of this point, see my book, {glossSub (“Courier Publications”,“The Bible & Mental Health”)} (89-96).

Second, modern psychology not only attempts to rationalize man’s behavior with mechanistic suppositions, frequently, it actually encourages wrong activities.

Earlier we mentioned the name of Carl Rogers. Rogers was a leader in the “humanistic revolution” in psychology. He became popular for his “client-centered” approach to therapy. Observe the following quotation, and how radically at variance it is with biblical morality.

“It has seemed clear … that when the counselor perceives and accepts the client as he is, when he lays aside all evaluation and enters into the perceptional frame of reference of the client, he frees the client to explore his life and experience anew, frees him to perceive in that experience new meanings and new goals. But is the therapist willing to give the client full freedom as to outcomes? Is he genuinely willing for the client to organize and direct his life? Is he willing for him to choose goals that are social or antisocial, moral or immoral? If not, it seems doubtful that therapy will be a profound experience for the client …. To me it appears that only as the therapist is completely willing that any outcome, any direction, may be chosen — only then does he realize the vital strength of the capacity and potentiality of the individual for constructive action” (48-49).

Anyone remotely cognizant with New Testament ethics can perceive how destructive the Rogerian method is.

A Summary

As we conclude this brief survey of humanistic psychology, surely it has become evident to every reader who regards the Bible as a divine revelation, that there is a vast difference between modern, humanistic “psychology,” and the wholesome mental health principles that abound in the Bible. Think about some of the vivid contrasts.

  1. Humanistic psychology alleges that the personhood of man can be explained solely in terms of a materialistic substance. But both the Bible and common sense affirm that there is more to man than matter. His self-awareness, conscience, emotions, ability to reason, aesthetic sensitivity, etc., all argue that “humanness” is far more than mere molecules in motion.
  2. Modern psychology asserts that human conduct is the result of impersonal forces (environment) that have acted upon our species over eons of time. We are the products of time and chance. Ultimately, therefore, there is no such thing as “good” or “evil.” Traditional psychology is committed to “utter neutrality” in matters of morality (Liebman, 180-81).

    The Humanist Manifestos I, II asserts: “Ethics is automous and situational, needing no theological or ideological sanction” (17). This means that man is subject to no higher moral law than what he himself determines. Were that the case, there could never be a “situation” during which one could do wrong! That is precisely the position argued by atheist Jean Paul Sartre. He contended that whatever one choses to do is right; value is attached to the choice itself so that “…we can never choose evil” (279).

    By way of vivid contrast, the Bible teaches that human conduct is the result of the exercise of man’s free will, and that bad choices, i.e., a violation of the law of God, as made known in the objective revelation of sacred scripture, have resulted in the numerous problems that afflict the human race today. “God made man upright; but they have sought out many devices” (Eccl. 7:29).
  3. Traditional psychology contends that man’s religious inclination (which, incidentally, is universal) is merely the result of an ignorant personification of the inexplicable forces of nature, endowing them with the “father” symbolism. But, the Bible teaches that there is a real Heavenly Father (Mt. 6:9), who genuinely cares for the human family, and who desires to rescue it from the consequences of its rebellion (Jn. 3:16).
  4. Modern psychology declares that since man is an evolved animal, the key to understanding his personality is to be discovered in studying animal behavior. In opposition, the Bible affirms that mankind is separate entirely from the animal kingdom, and only humans possess personhood.
  5. Secular psychology suggests there is no objective source of information to define the nature of human difficulties, and to address the remedy for these problems. The answers to mental ills, it is said, lie within the person. But, the Bible contends the way of man is not within himself; it is not in man to direct his own steps (Jer. 10:23).

    Moreover, the objective source of remedy is the divine revelation of scripture (1 Cor. 2:6ff), amply documented by a wide variety of evidences. These inspired documents are able to satisfy completely every genuine need of the human mind (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Conclusion

The fact of the matter is this: the reputation of humanistic psychology/psychiatry these days is somewhere between that of the alchemist and the snake-oil salesman.

Sometime back, TIME magazine carried a major article titled: “Psychiatry’s Depression.” Dr. E.F. Torrey, a psychiatrist, has written a book dubbed: The Death of Psychiatry. Thomas Szasz, Professor of Psychiatry at the State University of New York, authored the shocking volume: The Myth of Mental Illness (1960), and O. Hobart Mowrer, an atheist who served as President of the American Psychological Association, produced a work called: The Crisis in Psychology and Religion (1962) in which he challenged the entire field of psychiatry for its dependence upon Freudian premises (see Adams, xvi).

The more one reflects upon the presuppositions of modern, humanistic psychology, the more he is inclined to think that Lucy, of the Charlie Brown comic strip, was overcharging when she gave counseling sessions for five cents!

Sources/Footnotes
  • Adams, Jay. 1970. Competent to Counsel. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed.
  • Cosgrove, Mark. 1979. Psychology Gone Awry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  • Freud, Sigmund. 1949. The Future Of An Illusion. New York, NY: Liveright Publishing.
  • Humanist Manifestos I & II. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Press, 1973.
  • Huxley, Julian. 1941. The Uniqueness of Man. London: Chatto & Windus.
  • Jackson, Wayne. 1998. The Bible & Mental Health. Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications.
  • Judd, Charles H. 1939. Educational Psychology. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Co..
  • Kirwan, William T. 1984. Biblical Concepts for Christian Counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
  • Liebman, Joshua. 1946. Peace of Mind. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  • Leithart, Paul W. 1980. “Psychiatry and the Bible,” The Christian News. September 15.
  • Linden, Eugene. 1974. Apes, Men, and Language. New York, NY: Penguin.
  • Mead, Frank. 1965. The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations. Westwood, NJ: Fleming Revell.
  • Progoff, Ira. 1956. The Death and Rebirth of Psychology. New York, NY: Julian Press.
  • Rogers, C.R. 1951. Client-centered therapy. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Sartre, Jean Paul. 1966. “Existentialism,” reprinted in A Casebook on Existentialism. William V. Spanos, ed. New York, NY: Thomas Y. Crowell.
  • Surburg, Raymond. 1959. “The Influence of Darwinism,” in Darwin, Evolution, and Creation. Paul Zimmerman, ed. St. Louis, MO: Concordia.
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.