Considerations Regarding a Creation
Model for Experimental Psychology
Paul D. Ackerman
* The present article is a slightly revised expansion of an article previously published in ICR Impact Series, No.50, August, 1977 Paul P. Ackerman, Ph. P. is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Wichita State University, Wichita, Ks. 67208
The present paper will discuss some basic considerations in formulating a Biblical creation model for experimental psychology. As a first step, it will be useful to examine in a somewhat oversimplified way the current state of experimental psychology as it operates under the genera! evolution model. At the heart of the evolutionary viewpoint is the assumption that the universe, including its psychological life forms, is the result of a strictly materialistic process involving vast amounts of time and random changes. Being convinced of the validity of this "time plus chance" explanation, it becomes very difficult to believe that present natural phenomena are as complex as they might superficially appear. To put it another way, the evolutionist is logically inclined to assume that underlying the apparent complexity of the universe there must be a very basic simplicity. Thus from the evolutionists' perspective, if science is going to explain the thoughts and actions of psychological organisms, it must search for simple, economical explanations of the apparently complex behaviors they engage in. This leads them to adopt an approach to scientific investigation and explanation which is called "reductionism".' The psychologist attempts to explain the very complex things people do such as speaking, problem solving, remembering, and so forth in terms of relatively simple mechanisms.
In contemporary experimental psychology, dominated almost exclusively by the evolutionary model, one can identify two broad reductionist camps. One camp may be called biological reductionist, and it attempts to explain the activity of intelligent creatures in terms of genetic make-up, hormone balances, brain cell activity, and more complex instincts and brain functioning patterns. These psychologists believe that the seemingly infinite complexity and variety of intelligent activity observed in nature can be reductionistically explained in terms of relatively more simple and yet highly complex biological mechanisms.
Opposed to the biological reductionist camp is the environmental reductionist camp. Environmental reductionists are also evolutionary in orientation, but they feel uncomfortable with the level of biological complexity posited by the biological reductionists. They prefer a still simpler biological component with more weight given to environmental factors in explaining the complex activities of people and animals. Emphasis is given to such factors as stimulus/stimulus, stimulus/response, and response/reward histories, along with more abstract environmental dimensions such as education, cultural background, and so forth.
A simple analogy will illustrate the difference between these two views. Suppose that a group of scientists was called in to examine some mysterious and advanced model of airplane that had landed in their country for unknown reasons. As the scientists comb over the aircraft, two theories develop as to how it is flown. Some scientists focus on the cockpit with its complex instruments and control slick and come to the conclusion that it is flown manually. But other scientists become intrigued with a complicated computer located in the interior of the craft, and as a result become convinced that the plane is flown be means of an "automatic pilot". The ensuing argument between the "manual control" and "automatic pilot" theories is somewhat analogous to the nature vs. nurture argument in psychology. The "manual control" view illustrates the environmental camp, and the "automatic pilot" view illustrates the biological camp. In this analogy the manual controls represent the relatively simple biological component posited by the environmental reductionist. Thus, the plane must be directed by outside environmental forces (i.e., the pilot) if it is to fly successfully.
The "automatic pilot" on the other hand represents the more complex biological component posited by the biological reductionist. To a much greater degree the plane with an automatic pilot is capable of guiding itself on the basis of internal forces and relatively independent of outside environmental ones.
A CREATION MODEL
In contrast to the above views it is possible to formulate a creation or design model for experimental psychology. An event which took place in connection with the recent Mars landing program provides an excellent illustration for such a model. First of all, no one suspects that the two Viking spacecrafts evolved. We all know that a great deal of energy and intelligence went into their design and construction. When they reached Mars, an interesting thing happened to one of them. A switch malfunctioned, and an important mechanical arm could not be moved. However, the project scientists did not throw up their hands in despair as one might expect. Rather, they began studying the problem and eventually succeeded in bypassing the faulty switch thus allowing the arm to work properly. Now one might say to himself, "How can this be possible?" "If a house light switch is faulty it must be replaced. One could not bypass it from the next room let alone from millions of miles away in space." The answer is simple. The Houston scientists were able to bypass the faulty switch because highly intelligent designers had planned for these and many other contingencies in advance. In other words, the spacecraft was not simply designed to operate on the surface of Mars. It was designed to include a wide range of alternative modes of operation in the event of mechanical failure. It was, in effect, OVERDESIGNED.
The concept of "overdesign" or "contingency design" could be useful in formulating a viable scientific creation model for experimental psychology. If the "mechanical" body a person lives in were designed by an infinitely intelligent creator, scientists might expect to find evidence of overlapping and redundant systems similar to those in the Mars vehicle. This would allow alternate modes of operation in the event of the failure of one or more key psychological or biological systems.
There are convincing data from experimental psychology as well as everyday experience pointing directly and powerfully to just such a conclusion. Psychological organisms including man demonstrate a remarkable combination of extremely efficient and economical organization on the one hand, and incredible potential for functional flexibility on the other. Biological reductionists have tended to appreciate only the first of these characteristics while environmental reductionists have tended to recognize only the latter.
CURRENT SITUATION IN PSYCHOLOGY
Returning to the description of the current state of psychology, the reader may recall the analogy of the scientists examining the aircraft. One group believes the plane is flown manually (environmental) and the other that it is flown by automatic pilot (biological). Of course the fact is that the plane has both capabilities, so in a sense both groups are right in their positive claims and wrong in their denials of the opponent's position. Now what happens as these two groups battle with each other? Each side makes dramatic claims which the opponent denies. The "automatic pilot" group provides evidence that the plane can be safely and accurately flown even with the pilot blindfolded. The "manual operation" group, on the other hand, puts on an impressive demonstration of acrobatic flying using the manual controls. Both sides are embarrassed and puzzled at accomplishments by the opponents. In a sense this is the state of affairs in today's psychology.
As two of the most prominent examples consider the following. Contrary to the expectations of environmentalists, the biological reductionists point to accumulating evidence that indicates that normal human beings grow almost automatically into their language ability. With minimal training and apparently haphazard learning conditions, they are able to master the language with remarkable ease and regularity. On the other hand, contrary to the expectations of biological reductionists, the environmentalists continue to demonstrate and uncover evidence for the incredible capacity and flexibility organisms have for learning. They are fond of demonstrating that supposedly fixed biological sequences of behavior acquisition can be altered or reversed by certain training procedures. The teaching of reading to preschool age children is one dramatic example.
But the flaw in modern psychology goes deeper than simply two opposing sides having pan of the truth and not realizing the opponent's share of it. The fact is that both sides, being wedded to the evolutionary model, fail to do justice to even those areas where they happen to be in a sense correct. The level of complexity and richness of design (i.e., overdesign) goes far beyond current evolutionary/reductionist theories. The result is, as a colleague recently put it, that practice is constantly outstripping theory. Nonpsychologists are constantly doing things that the experts say are impossible. The only reason they even try to do them is either because they are unaware of expert opinion or for some reason choose to ignore it.
EXAMPLES FROM THE ENVIRONMENTALIST CAMP
Perhaps the most dramatic recent environmental example concerns a young student at De Paul University. This illustration was recently reported in the National Press by Ronald Kotulak of the Chicago Tribune.2 In 1953, in order to save a youngster's life from the effects of a severe brain malfunction, surgeons removed the entire left half (or hemisphere) of his brain. Biologically oriented experts, viewing this case in the light of a considerable body of sound scientific evidence that the crucial brain centers for speech and language functioning are located in the left hemisphere, predicted that the young man would never be able to speak or use language in a normal manner. But as Kotulak reports, "Ever since the operation (the young man) has been dumbfounding the medical profession. Doctors who examine him shake their heads in disbelief." By the age of nine his intellectual capacity was measured in the dull-normal range. By the age of 2l, his verbal IQ scores had risen to the bright-normal range. Finally, tests at age 26 showed him to be scoring in the superior range for verbal intelligence. Again to quote Kotulak, "Everything science knows about the brain says it's impossible for (this young man) to be doing as well as he is. Pages of medical textbooks will have to be ripped out and rewritten."
Another dramatic case is that of a young mongoloid child named Nigel Hunt. When Nigel was only two-weeks-old his parents were told by experts that no matter how much love and care they gave him he would always be an idiot. Nothing they could do would alter that fact. Fortunately for Nigel, his parents refused to believe the experts. With great patience, the boy's mother worked with her growing child. Making a game out of it, she spelled out words phonetically as soon as he could talk. Her devotion was rewarded, for by the time Nigel started to school his parents were told that, "no child in his primary school could read better." As Nigel grew older his astounding accomplishments continued. He taught himself to type using his father's typewriter, and then at age 17, became the first Mongoloid to write a book. It is an autobiography entitled, The World of Nigel Hunt.3 Cases such as these highlight an exciting potential for a creation oriented science of psychology.
EXAMPLES FROM THE BIOLOGICAL CAMP
While the above cases speak to what can be accomplished through experience and training, the following examples show the capacity of animals and humans to attain mature functioning with minimal learning requirements. Examples illustrating this biological preparedness are not difficult to find. A recently documented illustration can be found in the work of psychologist Gene Sackett.4 He experimented with infant monkeys and found evidence that they have an innate ability to recognize (in terms of visual preference) their own species as well as react appropriately to certain social cues. For instance, two to four-month-old monkeys that had never seen another live monkey nevertheless showed signs of fear when exposed to pictures of an angry and threatening adult monkey. Similar evidence for human babies has been shown by Fantz5 and Ball and Tronick.6 Ball and Tronick, for example, found that infants as young as two weeks would show fear and agitation when placed in front of an object moving quickly toward them on a collision path. If the object was moving on a path that would miss the infant or was moving away from him, no fear was shown. This phenomenon is called the "looming effect." This and a number of very important similar studies were described and discussed in a recent article by this author.7
One of the most publicized areas of research evidence regarding biological preparedness is that dealing with language acquisition. The majority of researchers in this field are of the opinion that current evidence points to a great deal of specific innate equipment in the newborn that enables him to discover and construct his language more than merely learn it. As an example of the kind of evidence pointing to this conclusion consider a recent study by Condon and Sander.8 These researchers reported findings that "as early as the first day of life, the human neonate moves in precise and sustained segments of movement that are synchronous with the articulated structure of adult speech." What is astounding is that this "interactional-synchrony" as it is called occurs in time frames of mere fractions of seconds as an infant is exposed to adult speech. More astounding, infants exposed to recorded tapping sounds or disconnected vowel sounds do not reveal these highly synchronized tiny movements of head, eyes, shoulders, elbows, feet, etc.
Another dramatic documentation of inborn capacity has recently been reported by Meltzoff and Moore.9 These investigators demonstrated that infants as young as 12 days of age "can imitate both facial and manual gestures." One of the facial expressions successfully imitated by the infants was tongue protrusion (i.e. "stick out tongue"). A moment's reflection will reveal how truly remarkable this ability is for the newborn. When a sound is imitated the product and model stimulus are identical from the infant's perspective. (The word "mama" sounds the same striking my ear regardless of whether I or someone else says it.) In the case of the facial expression this is obviously not the case. What possible link can there be between the sight of another person sticking out his tongue and the feeling of me sticking out mine. What the infants are demonstrating is the designed capability of equating "Their own unseen behaviors with gestures they see others perform." Findings such as those cited here point convincingly to the high level of designed capability in living creatures.
This paper began with the point that the basic preconception underlying virtually all of modern science including psychology is the belief that simple things precede and are more basic than complex things. This evolutionary and reductionistic faith stands in direct opposition to the Biblical assertion, "In the beginning God ..." As a result modern science is driven to search for simple underlying principles. It was then pointed out that within psychology this search has taken two divergent directions which were identified as biological and environmental reductionism. Both of these positions were criticized as being too pessimistic regarding the organizational richness of the phenomena under investigation. Examples relevant to the respective camps were then described.
By contrast a Biblical creation model could provide the conceptual basis for integrating these two opposing views. To illustrate how this might occur consider again the Condon and Sander finding regarding "interactional-synchrony" in newborn infants. This finding is so startling, even from the point of view of the biological reductionist, that there is a great danger of its being ignored. This is always the case with a finding that is not easily incorporated into an evolutionary framework. The finding, however, fits a creation model quite readily. The fact is that this phenomenon if substantiated by further research has great potential benefit as a diagnostic tool for early detection of language related disabilities. Infants found to lack interactional-synchrony could be earmarked for intensive language training programs stressing environmental support and structure such as provided by the parents of Nigel Runt. By contrast experts involved in language remedial training programs might, by enhancing and emphasizing the inherent rhythm of their language models, increase the effectiveness of their teaching procedures. Thus a creation model along the lines of "overdesign" could lead to cooperative effort between two schools of thought which have historically been opposed to one another in a manner detrimental to scientific progress and human well-being.
A creationist psychology need not abandon the search for underlying mechanisms as a method, but only the belief that reductionism is the route to basic truth. The discovery of efficient and economical underlying mechanisms can greatly enhance man's understanding and control over nature, and the search for such mechanisms would continue to be an integral part of science. But additionally, a creationist science could infuse a new optimism that the creation contains numerous built-in but as yet undiscovered potentialities for dealing with man's most troublesome problems.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines reductionism as "a procedure or theory that reduces complex data or phenomena to simple terms." (emphasis added) No criticism of reductionism as a procedure is intended. Rather it is the theory aspect of reductionism that is here being questioned.
2. The Wichita Eagle, November 8, 1976
3. Hunt, N. The World of Nigel Hunt, New York: Garrett, 1967.
4. Sackett, Gene P. Science, 1966, vol. 154, pp.1468-1473.
5. Fantz, R. L. "The origin of form perception." Scientific American, 1961, vol. 204, pp.66-72.
6. Ball, W., & Tronick, F. "Infant responses to impending collision: Optical and real." Science, 1971, vol. 171, pp.818-820.
7. Ackerman, Paul D. "Recent research related to designed perceptual capabilities." Creation and Social Science and Humanities Quarterly, Fall 1978, Vol. 1(I), pp.18-22.
8. Condon, W. S. & Sander, L. W. "Neonate movement is synchronized with adult speech: Interactional participation and language acquisition." Science, 1974, vol. 183, pp. 99-101.
9. Meltzoff, A. N. & Moore, M. K. "Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates." Science, 1977, vol.198, pp. 75-78.