Can Theistic Psychology Exist in Science
By Jennifer Essig
The Generational Curriculum is an on-going platform for students to post their writings pertaining to Social Psychology. Dr. Leon James and Dr. Diane Nahl began organizing this project in the 70’s to assist students with their verbal and written communication skills and to also help them take more initiative in their own learning.
I am part of the 20th generation of social psychology students asked to put out my thoughts and research for everyone to see. I have no idea if the content of the report I am about to present will be of any use to a world already filled with so much information. Whether or not this report really does make a difference, the experience I will gain in doing the required assignments will undoubtedly be valuable. Students before me have shared their enthusiasm for the way this class was constructed and how they have learned so much in doing tasks that seemed scary at first.
Generation 20 is a unique group which gets to take a look at the inclusion of God in the explanation of science and psychology. Various other issues in social psychology have been explored. The most frequently covered topic is road rage and driving, but there are several generations that have dealt with emotion and motivation. I think that emotions play a big role in spiritual health and these previous generations will help me to better understand people’s development of emotions. I will discuss three reports which I believe to be related to the area of spirituality, the mind, or consciousness.
Generation 16 (http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/459s2002/alohaspirit/report1.html) explained the concept of the three-fold self. According to Alohaspirit, “All humans go through a process of socialization where certain ways of feeling, thinking, and acting according to the norms of that society are picked up and internalized. These habits directly affect the three areas of feeling, thinking, and acting out. While each provides a different function, all three act together and create what is called the threefold self.” People are unconsciously adopting doctrines that may affect their willingness to accept new spiritual ideas that may be beneficial to them. They are stuck in a place where they continuously hurt themselves and those around them. Alohaspirit also mentioned how schemas (mental maps of the world) are developed in our unconscious and how they affect our conscious decision-making processes. This is relevant to our course in that it helps us to understand the underlying motivations of behaviour.
Generation 15 talked about how we can live a more positive life. Meagan Anina Reynolds wrote that choosing to think positively about the world will bring happiness and success and fill a person with compassion. Furthermore, positive thinking is emotionally intelligent and allows one to be enthusiastic, self-confident, and optimistic. On the other hand, negative thinking will result in unhappiness and cause us to act out in self-destructive behaviour. To become more of a positive thinker, one must observe their own behavior and learn to change by practicing new thought patterns. Nicole Reaves (http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/409bf2001/reaves/report1.html) explained this as self-witnessing—to start being aware of our emotions. One can ask his/herself why they are feeling a certain way and when they discover the reasons, they can transform. I believe that this is relevant in that when one is free from emotional bondages, they may also be spiritually more fulfilled.
Generation 19 (http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/409bf2003/naito/report1.htm) was a bit more indirectly relevant to the topic of spirituality. Shawn Naito described that his assignment was to record his affective and cognitive information behaviours as he attempted various tasks. This was an example of self-witnessing, and allowed him to understand his emotions and thoughts as he went through trials. This is relevant to our course in that as each student becomes more aware of their feelings, they can be more spiritually stable.
This class is aiming to investigate whether or not God can actually be included in the study of human psychology in a rational way. We will be using the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg on spirituality as a reference to explore the possibility of including God in the explanation of scientific phenomenon. This course is not intended to speak about religion or doctrine, but to see if God can really be used in science rationally.
According to Swedenborg, theistic science refers to God as the cause of everything natural. Swedenborg was given the special privilege of having dual citizenship, meaning he could be part of the spiritual world while he was alive in the physical world. No other human has been able to be part of both worlds. Through this dual citizenship, Swedenborg was given revelations about God and the spiritual world. He was able to conduct interviews with people in heaven and hell and found that people’s true intentions were revealed in the after-life. They either floated to the top (heaven) where everyone was altruistic or sunk to the bottom (hell) where pure selfishness existed. Neither had a desire to be in the other part of spiritual realm. One’s character while living in the physical world affected their inner-being which could rot as one led an immoral life.
I believe that once we understand who God is and his purpose for creating us, we can begin to live much more meaningful lives and have greater impacts on the world around us. Personally, I am very interested in exploring how God can be included in the study of science because of my own Christian faith. It will be very interesting how the ideas presented to me in Swedenborg’s writings will conflict with or support my own beliefs. I hope that in studying Swedenborg, I can learn to be more articulate and intellectual about my own faith.
This assignment is aimed to explore whether or not God can be used to explain science. I have drawn my conclusions from reading the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, doing research on the web, and reflecting on my own personal experiences. I hope that you will read this report with a critical, but open mind.
The initial reaction to this assignment was very overwhelming because I never thought I was capable of putting my thoughts about God in writing. But this has been a very rewarding journey and I hope that in reading this, your own journey about discovering who God is will begin. Hopefully, it will spark an interest in developing your own relationship with God.
4. Autobiographical (Part One)
God is real. There has never been an alternative for me. I remember being very young and understanding that God heard my prayers. All through elementary school, I would pray every night before I fell asleep for God not to let me have nightmares. And then on the occasions that I fell asleep without praying, I would have horrific nightmares. But this experience was very limited to a child’s understanding of who God was. My idea of who God is at this moment of my life is very different. He is not just someone who wants to protect me.
I grew up in a religious home but my family life was far from ideal. I came from a very broken family so the God I knew was not the God they taught me. Most of my lessons of God came through Sunday School or youth group. I attended very conservative churches and because of this, I became a very narrow-minded and self-righteous person. All through high school, I was extremely judgemental and isolated myself.
In college, I totally rebelled from anything to do with the church. I started to date an atheist who transformed my view of the world. He introduced me to a whole new way of thinking and I became much more tolerant of the world around me. But I could not run away from the fact that God was real.
We would have intense discussions about the possibility of God. One day, while we were driving up to his place which was high up a mountain ridge, we had another one of these lively conversations. As we stepped out of the car, I looked up and was amazed at the gorgeous night sky. There must have been a million stars that night. I asked him, “Look at the stars. How can you believe that they were put there by accident?” He responded as he always did. He just shrugged his shoulders. But then he challenged me. “Well, if God is real, then why doesn’t he send a shooting star right now?” As soon as those words left his mouth, a huge shooting star, it could have been a comet, fell from the sky. He started to tremble. He could not believe what he just witnessed.
That was a turning point for him—and for me. I eventually made it back to church and began living an entirely new life. By the way, we are getting married next January.
So who is God to me right now?
· He is a loving God. His love for me does not change whether I am living my life the right way or not.
· He has put passions and desires in me to fulfill the purpose of my life here on earth.
· He is just. He cannot let things go unpunished.
· He is compassionate. He grieves as I grieve and his heart is torn when mine is.
· He is faithful. He understands my rebellious nature and welcomes me no matter what I do.
· He cannot stand sin. Sin separates me from God. There is nothing I can do, no amount of good deeds, that could ever make me good enough for him. The standard of goodness is too high. How would I ever know if I my character was good enough? The only true way to be connected to God is to believe that my sins had to be atoned for. Jesus’ death was a punishment that I deserved but he took upon himself so that I could be with God.
· God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The father is whom I pray to and the purpose of my life on earth is to bring glory to him.
Jesus Christ the son is whom I can relate with on a human level. He shares in my struggles and knows how I feel.
The Holy Spirit is my conscience. He is my counselor and his duty is to help me to bring glory to God.
· God has given me free-will. Because of it, sin and evil must exist. Therefore, hell must exist also.
· God is all-knowing and all-powerful. But he can choose to limit his knowledge or power when it serves a greater purpose.
· The word of God is in the Bible.
There is so much more to God than I could ever list. But this is the foundation of my faith. What are my beliefs in heaven and hell? I believe that hell is separation from God. Could it be the firey pit where people are gnashing their teeth? I don’t know. I have no clue as to what heaven or hell looks like. But I don’t really worry about it because the evidence of God in my life makes me secure enough in knowing that heaven is greater than my imagination could ever dream of.
5. Autobiographical (Part Two)
My conceptual history of science has been quite limited due to the fact that science has been a really tough and uninteresting subject for me. In elementary school, my only recollections about science are about animals or the solar system. I do not remember learning anything about God or how the universe was created. I do not recall anything from junior high that relates to the creation of the universe either.
It was probably in high school where I first started to hear about the Big Bang theory in biology class. My teacher was a very unemotional person and she presented the course in a very “matter-of-fact” way. Theories were presented to us, but in such a cold way that there was not much discussion about it. At this point, there was no real debate in my mind about the reality of God as the creator.
However, at the university level there was much more passion coming from my science instructors. Most professors spoke about the evolution theory—that through natural selection, man was created. Their passion was a bit startling, because for the first time, I was facing new ideas about how we came into existence. Initially it bothered me and I thought, “Well, there’s gotta be something real behind their passion.” I had professors who were overt atheists, to the point that I felt that anyone religious was being condemned for believing in the existence of God. But still, I was not affected by these professors in the long run.
It would actually be through Christian groups that I seriously began doubting the literal account of creation as told in the Genesis story. A couple of years ago, my friends and I began to explore the idea of humans actually evolving from monkeys. We were attending a theological debate of the origin of man and it was through a Christian that I started to take a more serious look at how God is at work, even in what seems like atheist scientific theories. The theories may contradict the story told in Genesis, but they do not contradict the character of God. I think that it actually shows how perfect God is in his creation, that there are perfect laws, form, and order that he created for everything.
6. Topical Research
Religion and science are two separate issues. Religion is a social organization made by humans who have a need to belong to something. But just because one has ideas of a divine being does not necessarily mean that the person is religious. I think of science as having to do with the creation itself (biology, chemistry, physics) and religion having to do with the worship of the divine designer of that creation. I think that one can study just the creation, and not the creator. But that should be left to the discretion of the scientist him/herself, and not the ethics of the science field. I think that science has put arbitrary limits on its scientists, some who have personal beliefs which they are not allowed to explore within their field.
According to the Discovery website (http://www.discovery.org/csc/), a new theory is aiming to include the idea of an intelligent designer. Certain areas of science are at a standstill in coming up with strictly materialistic theories explaining certain phenomenon. In cosomology, the theory of the creation of the universe is moving toward a more sudden existence from a predetermined time, rather than the pre-existing notion of the universe being eternal and having everything evolved from nothing. Also, as artificial intelligence makes new advances, the fact that no one has been able to replicate “consciousness” is showing the uniqueness of humans. These findings are showing loopholes in current scientific theory.
intelligence design does not speak about religion, it credits a supernatural
being as a creator. Interestingly, this
theory angers evolutionists as well as creationists. Personally, I think this is a good
compromise. Evolutionists automatically
assume this is a creation theory when in fact it does not use the Bible as
reference. According to John West
(2002), it is actually attempting to empirically study whether the design was
made intellectually or by chance. At the
same time, creationists are fighting for the intellectual design theory to
credit the Biblical God as the creator, which it will not do.
(Intelligent Design and Creationism Just Aren't the Same, John G. West, Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology,
The separation of church and state is a very sticky issue. I think we are living in a very interesting period where this separation is moving forward so quickly. This nation was built to provide freedom, including religious freedom. But more and more it seems this freedom wants to be taken away. In order to please the ultra liberals who want nothing to do with anything religious, such as Christmas or Easter, we have certain traditions that we have always taken for granted in the risk of being abolished. At the same, ultra conservative Christians want to force Creationism in our schools or limit sex education.
I do not think it would be healthy for our nation to totally exclude religion from the state. I believe that the separation of church and state served its purpose in the past, but is less revelant for us today because many of us are educated enough to reject any religious doctrine that we do not agree with.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (http://ffrf.org/nontracts/?t=xian.txt)
A Christian organization (http://www.christiananswers.net/q-wall/wal-g004.html) claims that the separation of church and state has to do with the interpretation of the term which is in the first amendment of the constitution. It believes that the amendment was abused by radical separatist movements to purge anything of religious significance from public light. It has not been consistent with historical intent of the amendment. Unless one really understands the historical and legal background of this issue, it is hard to know if this is true.
7. Theistic Psychology
Science today is mostly “atheistic” in that God, or any divine or supernatural force, is not a valid explanation for scientific phenomenon. Although most of the world believes in the existence of something greater than ourselves, God has not been a part of science. Psychology is a branch of science dealing with our brains and behavior. Such things as love, determination and spirituality cannot fully be explained by current psychological theories that try to attribute emotions and behaviors to neural impulses. I believe that our behaviors and thoughts are motivated by something much deeper.
According to Dr. Leon James (http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/theistic-psychology.htm) theistic psychology proposes to include God in psychological theories in a way that is rational and scientific. Theistic psychology does not aim to discuss religion or doctrine, but rather God and the spiritual world. This theory of psychology is based on the 17th century writings of Edward Swedenborg (1688-1772).
Swedenborg was an acclaimed scientist of his day. Rather than pursuing science, he dedicated the last 27 years of his life to exploring the spiritual realm . He was given a divine appointment of being a dual citizen of the natural world as well as the spiritual world. Because of this dual citizenship, he was able to write about his experiences with the people he met in heaven and hell. He was able to converse with historical figures as well those who recently passed on into the spiritual world. He described in detail what he saw and what he heard. These writings have been documented in 27 volumes.
Swedenborg went into depth about the properties of the natural and spiritual world. The natural world is made up of physical and temporary entities. As living human beings, we are somewhat trapped in this body, oblivious to our co-existence in the spiritual world. Yet, how we conduct our lives in this natural world corresponds with what happens in the spiritual world, and simultaneously, our presence in the spiritual world affects our natural life. The ultimate key to having an eternity of purity and goodness (heaven) is to purify our character.
Theistic psychology is based purely on the experiences and experiments of a single individual. Is it possible for theistic psychology to be rational or scientific? Dr. James explains that science is considered rational if it fits the following criterion:
(a) Independent researchers can rationally criticize each other’s work.
(b) It uses empirical methodology.
(c) Once the events and behaviors have been identified, one can apply its principles: theoretically and predictively.
Because theistic psychology fits the criterion, it is assumed that this is a rational and scientific theory.
8. Critique on Theistic Psychology
Where do I begin? I happened to blindly register for this class, having no idea what the course was about. When I first learned that it was about spirituality, I was really excited because I want to become a Christian counselor. Although this class is turning out to be nothing like I thought it would be, the challenges that I am faced with every class is helping me to form my identity and I am really enjoying it. Initially, Swedenborg’s claims of being chosen by God were very absurd. It was difficult to even consider anything he had to write to have any validity or value. But the more I examine his writings, the more I am beginning to see that I agree with Swedenborg about heaven and hell.
First, I will explain the areas of theistic psychology that make sense to me. I am finding that Swedenborg’s descriptions of God and the spiritual world are very realistic. If we take away some of the terminology, I think we will find that Swedenborg’s ideas of God are very similar to a Christian’s. Here are some areas of Swedenborg’s writings that I agree with:
· God is loving and that he has given us free will because of that love.
· After we die, we will face a crucial moment where we will choose between (or float/sink to) heaven and hell.
· Heaven is a place closest to God, whereas hell is separation from God, although not absolutely absent of him.
· Those who are not capable of choosing heaven or hell (children, mentally handicapped) have a special place and purpose.
· Our moral character on earth will affect our decision to choose heaven over hell.
· Scriptures are a sacred revelation from God.
· We need to love others as we love ourselves.
While I am trying my best to stay positively biased, my personal religious beliefs may come into play in my critique of this theory. I will not critique whether or not Swedenborg may have been delusional. There is no way that I can refute that claim. Hopefully, I can come up with rational arguments rather than theological or religious ones. I will argue the following points:
Swedenborg offers no standard of good and bad. Yet, our eternity is based on our moral character. Swedenborg claims that we have evidence of what we know to be good or bad because of our conscience. How will we ever know that our character is good enough? Believing in something does not make it true. So if we believe we are altruistic it does not mean we actually are. The majority of humanity will not make it into heaven. Yet if you ask everyone know if they are going to heaven (if they believe in heaven), they will most likely say yes. Who does not want to believe that they are not going to heaven? What is the standard which we are to live by? Mother Teresa? Gandhi? It seems cruel that none of us will ever know the true intentions of our hearts until we get to heaven.
It is true that humans have the ability to know right and wrong. This is not my point. Rather, my point is how do we know when we have chosen to live in the right way? Where is the line between heaven and hell? Everything is relative and left up our own judgement. I do not think that relativity can be rational.
Also, I believe that evil lies in all of us. Although there are many areas in our lives that we can make adjustments to and to seek counsel in, there will always be areas of weakness. I will always be motivated by selfishness and greed no matter what I do. That is the very nature of being human.
Children and Heaven
In class, we discussed what happens when children pass on to the spiritual world. I was very surprised by the explanation given by Swedenborg because it seems to contradict the idea of free will. If this premise is true—that children are educated by angels who protect them from some of the evilness in the spiritual world, much as a parent does—then where does free will come in?
Here is an analogy that I thought up: There are two teenage boys who have decided that they would never take drugs because of its devastating effects. One boy is home-schooled where his exposure to media is limited, experiences tremendous amount of love by his family, and has no friends who takes drugs. The other boy attends a public high school, has a brother who experiments with drugs, and has friends who urge him to party with them on a daily basis. Who is truly making the choice not to take drugs? The one faced with temptations everyday is truly exercising his free-will. Of course, one can argue that if the home-schooled boy really wanted to take drugs, he would find a way. But the probability of it is so much smaller that it seems the free-will he experiences is limited.
Is it true that even young adults can be considered to be children if their rational minds have not developed? It seems easier to suppress a person’s mind from developing rationally than it is to reform it after damage has been done.
God of Love
To me, love exists only in a relationship to another, whether it be a divine being or person. Yet, in a theory whose foundation is based on God’s love, I do not hear much of the relationship between God and his creation. What does love mean? I have not come across an adequate definition (although it may exist and I have not read it) of what God’s love is about. Maybe love cannot be discussed rationally.
I may be wrong here, but I cannot help but feel that Swedenborg discounts each individual’s mystical experiences. By the definition provided by theistic psychology, I am a mystic. But my personal experiences may not be validated just because they may seem irrational. I do not think “oneness” with God is the term I would use to describe the mysticism that I have experienced. It is more of an intense revelation of the goodness of God. I think that Swedenborg goes too far in generalizing about mysticism.
Furthermore, I am not sure if a human being is capable of knowing everything about God and the spiritual world. Here is a diagram:
The circle represents the amount of
knowledge we possess as individual humans (it is probably actually smaller
than that) This box represents all the knowledge in
The circle represents the amount of knowledge we possess as individual humans (it is probably actually smaller than that)
This box represents all the knowledge in the world.
Big question: How much did Swedenborg know?
Here is the thing, how can an individual know everything? Even if Swedenborg had access to spiritual revelations, his knowledge of the world would still be lacking. He would not understand the knowledge and experiences of each individual. To give him absolute control over this theory is not rational, unless he himself was God and knew everything.
I do not doubt that Swedenborg had revelations from God. Anyone can be used by God to benefit mankind. However, I do not buy into his claim that he had sole possession of such a powerful gift. Swedenborg is not the only person who has been able to come up with a complicated series of interpretations of the bible. Although I have not read J.R.R. Tolken’s Lord of the Ring Series or C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, I have heard enough about them to know how ingenious their writings are. Both authors, who were really good friends, were able to take the bible and turn them into a series of fictitious stories. Lewis is known for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe books, but he is also a famous theologian and philosopher. In his books, such as Mere Christianity, he tries to rationally explain Christianity in a philosophical way.
9. Bibliography on Theistic Psychology
and pastor Timothy Stout speaks about nature revealing
the existence of God. Many view Charles
Darwin to be an atheist. However,
Lambert Dolphin’s Christian Science website claims that modern science was founded by those influenced by Judeo-Christian thought. Some of these leading scientists included Robert Boyle (father of modern chemistry), John Dalton (father of modern atomic theory), James Joule (discoverer of the first law of thermodynamics), Louis Pasteur (formulator of the germ theory), among many others. It also quotes Newton as saying, “"This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being...This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God." Just like the article above, I believe this validates the notion that scientific minds can believe in God and still be considered to be scientific geniuses.
Out (Crabb, Larry. Inside Out. NavPress.
This is a book written by Christian psychologist, Dr. Larry Crabb. He devoted the entire book to self-examination and exposing those areas in our lives that are damaged and broken. Some of the chapters are entitled “Real change requires an inside look” and “What it takes to deeply change.” Although this book also addresses our need for Jesus Christ as a healer and the power of the Gospel, I believe this book is relevant to theistic psychology because it emphasizes self-witnessing and the need to transform our emotions and behaviors in order to lives out to our full potential. I began this paper with the idea that emotions play a big part of our spirituality and I believe we need to be emotionally healthy in order to be spiritually fulfilled.
Terramir.net: Peace and Harmony through Education describes the scientific method specifically in the psychological field. It lists the goals of psychology as to: describe (behaviors and mental processes), explain (behaviors and motivations), predict, and control. One thing that I found interesting about this page was that it said experimentation needs to be replicated through a technique called meta-analysis where the findings of various studies can get combined and reanalyzed. It does not go into detail about what meta-analysis is, but I think theistic psychology is limited in this area of validity because the experiments that Swedenborg conducted are not replicable.
Honestly, even though I consider myself to be a spiritual person I have never thought so much about my own philosophical views until this semester. Coming up with my own views on who God is and my relationship to him takes so much effort. In that way, I commend Swedenborg’s 27 years of determination. I would have given up after the first thirty minutes.
I think that our personal philosophies and ideas of who God is determines the quality of life we live on earth—not only affecting ourselves, but those around us. At the very least, believing in God will strengthen our love for one another.
I am very skeptical about allowing science to truly embrace the notion of God as the creator. Once God and religion becomes mainstream, it seems to get corrupted and distorted to serve purposes other than what it was created for. I hope that science will be more open to theistic theories, but at the same time remain skeptical and allow only those truly seeking to find God to find the evidence for Him.
There is much that the field of psychology cannot explain without attributing it to something higher than ourselves. I am not sure if theistic psychology, based on the writings of Swedenborg, will be of much use to psychology in general. Just as Christian psychology has taken its own path independent from secular psychology, I believe that theistic psychology should also remain a specialized field studied by those who embrace the views of Swedenborg.
11. Future Generations
Theistic psychology is an interesting topic, but as you can see, not even educated scientists and philosophers can agree to what it rational or not. Many of our conclusions about this topic will come not from experiments or controlled observations, but our own experiences. Because of that, trying to include God in the explanation of science will always be a sticky issue. It is too difficult to study this subject without any biases. But I hope that as future generations explore this for themselves, they will grow in their own identity.