Is Psychology Science? Are Jesus and Freud Compatible?

Paul Dean

This article is a follow-up article from yesterday. The question is often asked, "don't Christians need the insights of psychology to find peace and happiness in their lives, particularly if they are to solve the really deep problems of the psyche (Greek-"soul")?" Many ask, "since all truth is God's truth, can't we search psychology to glean God's truth to help those who are hurting?" In yesterday's article, we answered these questions with an emphatic "no." Now, one might say that we are not comparing apples to apples. We are comparing religion to science. After all, psychology and/or psychotherapy is a coherent science like physics or medicine. One might ask, "if you accept the science of physics, why do you not accept the science of psychology?" Again, that view is set forth on the assumption that psychology is a coherent science like physics or medicine. The question is simply put: "is psychology a coherent science like biology or astronomy?" Again, the answer is "no."

Sid Galloway ( has consolidated some research for us and I here glean from that consolidation adding my own comments. Consider the fact that "the American Psychological Association appointed Dr. Sigmund Koch to direct a study focusing on this question. It was subsidized by the National Science Foundation, and involved 80 eminent scholars. Dr. Koch concludes: 'I think it by this time utterly and finally clear that psychology cannot be a coherent science.'" Dr. Koch went further by saying: "The hope of a psychological science became indistinguishable from the fact of psychological science. The entire subsequent history of psychology can be seen as the ritualistic endeavor to emulate the forms of science in order to sustain the delusion that it already is a science." The point is that while many in the field desire to be seen as operating in the realm of scientific fact, such is not the case. While many would like the public to believe that psychotherapeutic philosophy and theory is grounded in scientific fact, the truth remains that it is not.

Dr. Robyn Dawes, Professor at Carnegie-Mellon University and 1990 winner of the APA William James Award, says: "We also know that the credentials and experience of the psychotherapists are unrelated to patient outcomes, based on well over 500 scientific studies of psychotherapy." I remember when my father needed open-heart surgery. His case was special in that at least six by-passes were needed around major blockages in every main artery while those same arteries were "salt-and-peppered" with other blockages such that finding a place from which and to which to by-pass was extremely difficult. We wanted the most experienced and capable surgeon we could find. Imagine our reaction if we had been told the doctor's credentials and experience make no difference regarding outcome. Imagine our reaction had we been told, "whether you get a surgeon fresh out of medical school with no experience or whether you get a surgeon highly acclaimed for his expertise in such cases makes no difference." The point is obvious. If psychotherapy were a science, skill and experience would make a difference and no doubt be a commodity. Yet, according to those within the field, it makes no difference whether one sees a therapist having just completed his masters degree or a Ph.D. with thirty years of experience.

Dr. Dawes affirmed that psychotherapy is not a medical procedure. "Psychotherapy has often been categorized a medical procedure, but as we have seen, it lacks the scientific grounding that characterizes modern medicine."

Dr. Thomas Szasz, author of over four-hundred articles and nineteen books, has written extensively regarding the legal and pseudo-scientific problems related to the field of psychology. These works include Psychiatric Slavery: The Myth of Mental Illness, and The Myth of Psychotherapy. He notes that "...psychotherapy...consists simply of talking and listening.  Since this conversation, regardless of how pretentiously we name it, concerns the question of how people should live, it is axiomatic that psychotherapy is a ministerial rather than a medical enterprise."

Consider what psychiatrist-lawyer, Robitscher, M.D., in The Power of Psychiatry has to say regarding the psychiatrist: "His advice is followed because he is a psychiatrist, even though the scientific validity of his advice and recommendations has never been firmly established." Further, "the infuriating quality of psychiatrists is...their insistence that they are scientific and correct and that their detractors, therefore, must be wrong."

The question arises: "if psychotherapy is not a coherent science, then what is it?" Read what Dr. Szasz says:  "In psychotherapy the situation is altogether different from that obtaining in regular medical therapy. Psychotherapy, as I have shown, is religion...
The result of psychotherapy can thus only be that the subject is, or is not, converted or persuaded to feel, think, or act differently than has been his habit."  

Dr. William Kilpatrik, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at Boston College, with degrees from Harvard and Purdue, answers the question from two perspectives: "It is true that popular psychology shares much in common with Eastern religion: in fact, a merger is well under way. But if you're talking about Christianity, it is much truer to say that psychology and religion are competing faiths. If you seriously hold to one set of values, you will logically have to reject the other." The point here is obvious. Popular psychology is indeed a religion and has much in common with Eastern religion. However, it is diametrically opposed to Christianity. Again, this individual is in the field of psychology. The individual making these assertions is not some Fundamental, Baptist preacher. He is a professor of psychology at Boston College.

Dr. Karl Popper, considered by many to be the greatest 20th century philosopher of science also speaks to this question in "Scientific Theory and Falsifiability" Perspectives in Philosophy." After examining various theories of psychotherapy, Dr. Popper says: "though posing as sciences, [they] had in fact more in common with primitive myths than with science."

Again, Dr. Robyn Dawes noted: "Professionals in psychology and psychotherapy clearly benefit from a New Age psychology--it brings them clients.  Unfortunately, they in turn contribute to and reinforce that psychology...the professionals' 'view' has become highly compatible with the New Age view.  In particular, that very egoism...has come to be viewed as a necessary component of 'mental health'...they are highly influenced by cultural beliefs and fads: currently, the obsession with 'me' particular, a view that feelings and self-esteem 'cause' certain problems, in the absence of evidence."

Paul Vitz, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at New York University and author of Psychology and Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship says: "In university psychology departments, hundreds of thousands of students every year still take courses in which the books and critical analyses cited above are almost never, if ever mentioned. Far from being concerned with scholarly and intellectual debate, our psychology departments and their courses focus on supporting the profession, keeping student enrollment up and faculty morale high...More specifically, contemporary psychology is a form of secular humanism based on the rejection of God and the worship of the self."

The hundreds of categorized, mutually contradictory psychotherapies are philosophies of religion, not empirical science as chemistry, physics, and neurology. They are in essence theologies. In fact, they are systems of religious speculation, in competition with the Word of God. If such is the case, then we must treat them the same way we treat other theologies such as Mormonism or Islam.

In conservative circles, a debate has raged for years over the inerrancy of Scripture. Lines have been drawn and the distinction between conservatives and liberals is clear. Those of us in the conservative camp have no problem with words like inerrancy, infallibility, and authority when it comes to Scripture. We affirm these dynamics as axiomatic. We also affirm the efficacy of Scripture in the proclamation of the gospel. None in our camp would deny that the gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). However, within our camp, the lines are blurry when it comes to the sufficiency of Scripture. All in our camp would affirm such in theory. In fact, the largest non-Roman Catholic denomination in the world, the Southern Baptist Convention, adopted a resolution on the sufficiency of Scripture just a few years ago. Yet, when it comes to counseling, too many in our camp have adopted worldly thinking and rejected the plain teaching of Scripture by embracing psychology and/or psychotherapeutic principles. They deny their own resolution. Integrating these things into our counseling is tantamount to integrating New Age philosophy into our counseling. In practice, most conservatives reject the sufficiency of Scripture.

Many reasons exist for the relative weakness of the church today in our world. One of those reasons lies in the fact that we have watered-down our message when it comes to counseling. We tell people that Christ is sufficient for salvation, but we need Freud for sanctification. How that thought must grieve the heart of God. It surely makes for powerless churches. One need not wonder why many churches are filled with people who appear to be no different from the world: they are being discipled and trained with the world's philosophy even though Paul warned us against such (Col. 2:8). The folk in our church are not perfect, but they are indeed different from the world because not only are the preaching and teaching grounded in the sufficient Word of God, but so too are the discipling and counseling. I mention our church not out of pride, but in an effort to make real the theology I have asserted. God uses His word to change people. It's as simple as that.

What hath Jesus to do with Freud? Consider the fact that Freud was steeped in the writings and theories of Darwin, Nietzsche, Marx, and a host of other God-hating philosophers. His theories and experiments have nothing to do with real science and would be viewed by most as "crackpot" if they were widely known. That material is fodder for a future blog. For now, what hath Jesus to do with Freud? Nothing. Neither should we.