by John MacArthur
Why has the church been so quick to accept psychology? In large part it is because psychologists portray themselves as members of the scientific community. In our scientific age, unequivocal acceptance in the academic community must mean that psychology’s truth claims are unassailable, right?
How Scientific Are the Behavioral Sciences?
After decades of growing acceptance, most advocates of psychology simply assume that psychology is a true science. But it is not. It is a pseudo-science, the most recent of several human inventions designed to explain, diagnose, and treat behavioral problems without dealing with moral and spiritual issues.
Psychology is not a uniform body of scientific knowledge, like thermodynamics or organic chemistry. When we speak of psychology we refer to a complex menagerie of ideas and theories, many of which are contradictory. Psychology has not even proved capable of dealing effectively with the human mind and with mental and emotional processes. Thus it can hardly be regarded as a science.
Many, I’m sure, will object to my classifying psychology as a pseudo-science. But that’s exactly what it is. Little more than a century ago debate was raging over a different kind of “behavioral science” called phrenology. Phrenology held that personality characteristics were determined by the shape of someone’s skull. A phrenologist would feel people’s skulls, diagnosing their problems by the location of bumps on their heads.
If you think behavioral science has advanced greatly since then, ask yourself how reasonable it is to surround an adult in the fetal position with pillows so he can get back in touch with his prenatal anxieties. Given the choice, I believe I would opt for someone poking around on my head!
Modern psychologists use hundreds of counseling models and techniques based on a myriad of conflicting theories, so it is impossible to speak of psychotherapy as if it were a unified and consistent science.
But the basis of modern psychology can be summarized in several commonly held ideas that have their roots in early Freudian humanism. These are the very same ideas many Christians are zealously attempting to synthesize with biblical truth:
- Human nature is basically good.
- People have the answers to their problems inside them.
- A person’s past is the key to understanding and correcting attitudes and actions.
- An individual’s problems are the result of what someone else has done to him or her.
- Human problems can be purely psychological in nature, unrelated to any spiritual or physical condition.
- Deep-seated problems can be solved only by professional counselors using therapy.
- Scripture, prayer, and the Holy Spirit are inadequate and simplistic resources for solving certain types of problems.
Those and other similar godless theories have filtered into the church from the assorted stuff in the psychological tank. Tragically, they are having a profound and disturbing effect on the church’s approach to helping people. Many sincere Christians are seriously off track in their understanding of what counseling is and what it is supposed to accomplish.
Ironically, even before the church became infatuated with “behavioral science,” those who know it best were beginning to question whether psychotherapy is a science at all. In 1979, Time magazine ran a cover story called “Psychiatry on the Couch.” It said this:
On every front, psychiatry seems to be on the defensive. … Many psychiatrists want to abandon treatment of ordinary, everyday neurotics (“the worried well”) to psychologists and the amateur Pop therapists. …
Psychiatrists themselves acknowledge that their profession often smacks of modern alchemy—full of jargon, obfuscation and mystification, but precious little real knowledge. …
As always, psychiatrists are their own severest critics. Thomas Szasz, long the most outspoken gadfly of his profession, insists that there is really no such thing as mental illness, only normal problems of living. E. Fuller Torrey, another antipsychiatry psychiatrist, is willing to concede that there are a few brain diseases, like schizophrenia, but says they can be treated with only a handful of drugs that could be administered by general practitioners or internists. …
Even mainline practitioners are uncertain that psychiatry can tell the insane from the sane. 
The article concludes with a pessimistic forecast by Ross Baldessarini, a psychiatrist and biochemist at the Mailman Research Center. He told Time, “We are not going to find the causes and cures of mental illness in the foreseeable future.” 
Several years later, a conference in Phoenix, Arizona, brought together the world’s leading experts on psychotherapy for what was billed as the largest meeting ever held on the subject. The conference, called “The Evolution of Psychotherapy,” drew 7,000 mental-health experts from all over the world. It was the largest such gathering in history, billed by its organizer as the Woodstock of psychotherapy.
One truth came out clearly in the conference: among therapists there is little agreement. There is no unified “science” of psychotherapy; only a cacophony of clashing theories and therapies.
The Los Angeles Times, for example, quoted Laing, who “said that he couldn’t think of any fundamental insight into human relations that has resulted from a century of psychotherapy. ‘I don’t think we’ve gone beyond Socrates, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, or even Flaubert by the age of 15,’ ” he said.  Laing added,
“I don’t think psychiatry is a science at all. It’s not like chemistry or physics where we build up a body of knowledge and progress.” 
Jeffrey Zeig, organizer of the conference, said there may be as many as a hundred different theories in the United States alone. Most of them, he said, are “doomed to fizzle.” 
Psychology is no more a science than the atheistic evolutionary theory upon which it is based. Like theistic evolution, “Christian psychology” is an attempt to harmonize two inherently contradictory systems of thought. Modern psychology and the Bible cannot be blended without serious compromise to or utter abandonment of the principle of Scripture’s sufficiency.
Though it has become a lucrative business, psychotherapy cannot solve anyone’s spiritual problems. At best it can occasionally use human insight to superficially modify behavior. It succeeds or fails for Christians and non-Christians equally because it is only a temporal adjustment—a sort of mental chiropractic. It cannot change the human heart, and even the experts admit that.
(Adapted from Our Sufficiency in Christ
 Time, 2 April 1979, p. 74.
 Ann Japenga, “Great Minds on the Mind Assemble for Conference,” Los Angeles Times, 18 December 1985, p. 1.
Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B140910
COPYRIGHT ©2014 Grace to You