The Skinner Trap: Abolishing Man's Worth
No matter how His image may have been defaced in me, the thing defaced is His image, remains His defaced image an image yet, that can hear His word. . . . Nothing can make it that I am not the child of God. If one say, "Look at the animals: God made them; you do not call them the children of God!" I answer, "But I am to blame; they are not to blame! I cling fast to my blame: it is the seal of my childhood."
Our century may justifiably be called the age of the disintegration of all values, Prophetic anticipation of this disintegration motivated Oswald Spengler to write his monumental, pessimistic Decline of the West (two volumes, published 1919, 1922). ("Decline" is a euphemist translation of the original German "Untergang" which means literally "going under," or "doom, fall, ruin.") Spengler actually understated the crisis: it affects not only the West but all mankind.
Another contemporary observer voicing similar forebodings was the noted sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin, in his Crisis of Our Age (first published 1941). While Sorokin's overall work is fundamentally flawed when analysed from the Biblical creation perspective,2 he cannot be accused of blindness about the worldwide extent of the crisis, nor about the universal, glaring erosion of values at its root.
Spengler and Sorokin deplored the developments they observed and described. Other academics, however, contributed towards these developments and rejoiced in their impact. The philosophical or political label of these academics is relatively unimportant. What is important is that the ultimate abolition of all objective values or ethical absolutes constitutes in effect if not in explicit philosophy their ultimate aim. Because man is the one creature the God of the Bible created in His own image and likeness, man himself is of absolute, unique and transcending worth simply by being man. Attacks upon the worth and uniqueness of man therefore always and in principle are attacks upon the God of the Bible Himself (cf. Genesis 9:6: "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man"). Furthermore, man's objective, absolute worth cannot be established epistemologically except upon the foundation of man's creation by the God of the Bible in that God's own image and likeness.
Academics included among the destroyers of objective, absolute values in general, and of the worth of man in particular, received indispensable supposedly scientific support from Darwinian and neo-Darwinian evolutionism. We find evolutionism a decisive ingredient in Hegelian idealism; in Marxism Communism; in Friedrich Nietzsche, the prophet of nihilism; in the two philosophical giants of longevity tying our century to the 19th, John Dewey (18591952) and Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), and in their ideological cousin Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). All of them would establish man as his own god, himself deciding what shall count as good or evil and which men shall be allowed to exist.
Man as his own god, however, forfeits the right of recourse to the Biblical Creator-Lord's protective authority to which all men may appeal for ultimate, righteous judgment. C. S. Lewis comments on this point as follows:
A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.
I am not here thinking solely, perhaps not even chiefly, of those who are our public enemies at the moment. The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man, goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany. Traditional values are to be 'debunked' and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it.3
The few lucky people cutting out mankind into some fresh shape Lewis calls "Conditioners."4 The resemblance to "Pavlovian conditioning" is obvious and of course deliberate. From Pavlovian conditioning it is but a short distance historically and in principle to what has been termed "Behaviorism" in America since John B. Watson's work by that title appeared in 1924. The greatest modifier and popularizer of Behaviorism is B. F. Skinner (1904-). We will now turn to Skinner and certain aspects of his life and work.
Skinner and "Behaviorism"
To head off possible complaints that we have unfairly tied Skinner and Behaviorism to Nazism by innuendo through the above quote from Lewis, let us first point out that B. F. Skinner himself admitted the usefulness of his techniques to the Nazis. In a public interview designed to present Skinner and his work with benevolent objectivity to the general public, the interviewer, Richard I. Evans, asked whether Skinner's principles might not be very dangerous to the world if used by a "hostile government." Skinner replied:
There's no doubt about it a science of behavior is just as dangerous as the atom bomb. It has the potential of being horribly misused.5
Evans then commented:
An interesting parallel to this discussion is shown in Goebbels' diary as he outlined the entire formula of communications control in Nazi Germany. Many of the techniques he describes reflect the principles of reinforcement that you have written about.6
Oh, yes. The Nazis made good use of the social sciences.....good" from their point of view, of course; dangerous from ours.7
Skinner was well aware of the religious-philosophical implications of his work and explicitly accepted them with full approval. We could cite a number of passages from his works in which he berates defenders of man's "freedom and dignity" as actually harmful to man. Typical is the following: C. S. Lewis put it quite bluntly: Man is being abolished
What is being abolished is autonomous man the inner man, the homunculus, the possessing demon, the man defended by the literatures of freedom and dignity.
His abolition has long been overdue. . To man qua man we readily say good riddance -
It is often said that in doing so we must treat the man who survives as a mere animal. "Animal" is a pejorative term, but only because "man" has been made spuriously honorific. Krutch has argued that whereas the traditional view supports Hamlet's exclamation, "How like a god !", Pavlov, the behavioral scientist, emphasized "How like a dog!" But that was a step forward.8
Skinner, being also well aware of the crisis of our age, recommends "a technology of behavior" as the most important means of preventing "the catastrophe toward which the world seems to be inexorably moving."9 He calls for "a behavioral technology comparable in power and precision to physical and biological technology"10 resulting, for instance, in precise adjustment of the growth of the world's population or in moving toward a peaceful world. Implementation of such a behavioral technology is a matter of operant conditioning." Such operant conditioning, John A. Weigel, an admiring biographer of Skinner, tells us,
leads to the kind of behavior which persists because it is effective and not merely because it has been somehow stamped in. The identification and manipulation of the variables involved in this kind of conditioning made a rigorous science of human behavior possible for the first time.11
Weigel believes that through "the discovery of operant conditioning as more or less the equivalent of free will and much more prevalent than Pavlovian conditioning"12 B. F. Skinner "has profoundly changed the world and for the better."13 He also, like Skinner himself, realizes that Skinnerian behavioral technology would abolish man as defined from the Biblical creation perspective. In a would-be humorous vein he writes-
Dedicated followers (of Skinner) are known as Skinnerians. They are the proud victims of a legion of enemies who would burn them as witches or otherwise annihilate them for their sins of rejecting both God and humanity.14
Skinner himself has given us the following description of "operant conditioning" and "operant behavior"-
You define an operant in terms of its effects, and study it by means of its effects on your apparatus. Operant behavior, as I see it, is simply a study of what used to be dealt with by the concept of purpose. The purpose of an act is the consequences it is going to have. Actually, in the case of operant conditioning, we study the consequences an act has had in the past. Changes in the probability of responses are brought about when an act is followed by a particular kind of consequence. It can be positive or negative reinforcement as the case may be, but the datum that you watch and follow is the probability that a response of a given type will indeed occur. An operant, then, is a class of responses, and a response is a single instance of that class.15
The "apparatus" best known for its use in the study and implementation of operant conditioning" is the basically simple device known as the "Skinner box." Skinner described the principles leading to his experimental success with the "Skinner box" as (1 ) "When you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it;" (2) "someways of doing research are easier than others;" (3) "some people are lucky;" and (4 "apparatus sometimes breaks down."16
The "Skinner box," in it usual form, is a cage holding a rat, with food and water containers, a light, a screen, and most importantly, a lever for the rat to press which might release a food pellet, and which also activates a recording device so a cumulative record of the rat's responses might be made (a gadget resembling in principle electrocardiogram devices in hospitals). The rat would be placed in the cage after some period of food deprivation so that food pellets it releases by pressing the bar may serve as reinforcements. The rate of food pellet release is then manipulated by the experimenter to see what will happen to the rat's response rates. This manipulation is called "varying the contingencies of reinforcement," and is supposed to simulate contingencies of environment in the real world.
The averse reaction to behaviorism on the part of Skinner's critics could well be related to visualizing oneself entrapped in something like a Skinner box. We shrink from being made experimental specimens under the dispassionate gaze of an observer upon whom we are totally dependent for physical sustenance. (This, by the way, is one of the most plausible attacks against the God of the Bible made, for instance, by Sartre.17) The Conditioner becomes an allpowerful "wholly other deity" whose motives we have no reason whatsoever to trust for he would have to catch us and starve us or in some way coerce us before he could exercise dominion over us. It is true that Skinner opposes negative or averse reinforcement or conditioning which he believes to be both inefficient and ineffective in the long run. His futuristic novel Walden Two (published 1948) emphasizes this belief. However, in experimental practice his pigeons or rats are starved in preparation for their training, and surely the confinement in the apparatus itself acts as a powerful "negative reinforcer" as does the total dependency of the laboratory animals upon their keepers. Here we see another powerful reason why Skinner and his operant conditioning have found so many vocal and determined critics: the confining environment of the laboratory and in particular the Skinner box are not comparable to contingencies in the real world of man except in coercive societies.
Anne E. Freedman raises several important critical points about Skinner's work and views. In view of the supposed scientific value of behaviorism Freedman's statements relating to this issue are pertinent:
It is their (Skinner's critics') feeling that he understands neither the limitations of science nor the nature of value judgments. . They cannot agree with him that science is self-directing so that as each experiment or investigation is completed, it will be clear to all what should be studied next and what should be done with the knowledge already gained.
Indeed, it does seem that Skinner has sketched an exaggerated picture of science. . There is no one path, no one way in which an experiment must be done...
Although he stresses continuing experimentation, Skinner also assumes his approach to the explanation of human behavior in terms of histories of reinforcement is unassailable. However, the periods of upheaval in science clearly demonstrate that science does not have the quality of finality which Skinner would impart to it.
And in the final analysis, science only describes the nature of the world; it does not tell us what the world should be like. The statements of the "values or goals sought" cannot come from science 18
In view of the above remarks relating to the multiplicity of paths open to continuing scientific investigation, it comes as no surprise that behaviorism is being strongly challenged by competing views within the academic discipline of psychology. Cognitive psychology, Gestalt and field psychology, and also some personality theories related to psychoanalysis offer explanations of human behavior rivaling Skinner's sheerly deterministic, empiricist model in plausibility. Karl Menninger' popular work, Whatever Became of Sin? illustrates a certain shift away from viewing man as the mere physical locus of operant conditioning. Menninger writes:
Dr. Joseph Sargent, an internist at the Menninger Foundation, has completed research in which more than 80 percent of 150 migraine patients have brought improper blood flow in the head under voluntary control to a significant extent
The value of taking pant of the responsibility for one's own psychological well-being has never been more clearly demonstrated than by this recent upsurge of "biofeedback training for voluntary control of internal states .
To admit the notion of any "voluntary" control is to acknowledge that such intangibles as idealism and conscience and "will" do play a determining role. My intention here is to resist the total translation of all "sins" and "crimes" into the category of symptoms. Some criminal behavior may be the result of an expression of sickness, but not all criminals are sick. Indeed, few of them are, in my experience.
To admit of voluntarism is to deny the absolute positivism espoused by B. F. Skinner, who believes that even what is apparently voluntary behavior is completely determined, i.e., "predetermined."19
Menninger touches here upon a key aspect of Skinnerism behaviorism, which is that given a man's history of operant conditioning (which includes both heredity and environment), the man cannot act other than he does in a given situation. Skinner's following statement confirms Menninger's assessment, "As far as I'm concerned, the organism is irrelevant either as the site of physiological processes or as the locus of mentalistic activities. I don't believe the organism contributes anything to these overall relationships beyond the fact that it is the behavior of an organism we are studying."20 In the same interview Skinner also stated, "After all, the organism cannot initiate anything unless you assume it is capable of whimsical changes. As a determinist, I must assume that the organism is simply mediating the relationships between the forces acting upon it and its own output ~"21 Man is thus merely the puppet of heredity plus environment, an epiphenomenon among other epiphenomenal organisms. This means he cannot justly be "punished" for offenses against society he could not help committing, being what he is. The answer to this situation as far as society is concerned is to place the offending albeit irresponsible human "organism" in the care of a behavioral scientist for operant(re)conditioning. Skinner praises Darwin's "bulldog," T. H. Huxley, for stating that he saw nothing wrong with this solution:
If some great power would agree to make me always think what is true and do what is right, on condition of being some sort of a clock and wound up every morning before I got out of bed, I should close instantly with the offer.22
For Skinner "the problem is to induce people not to be good but to behave well."23
One wonders if Skinner has ever considered hypocrisy as a problem. It seems that the nearest he came to doing so was in the case of psychotic behavior which could be outwardly modified through behaviorist techniques. Weigel reports that "depth psychologists, such as Dr. R. D. Laing, have belittled mere modifications of the overt behavior of psychotics as not coming to terms with anxiety. Skinnerarians defend their kind of therapy, on the other hand, as the most efficient way to change people."24 Weigel claims in this connection that "teaching a person how to behave as if he were well... is the sole criterion a nonspeculative behaviorist needs."25 Not only Biblical Christians, but well-nigh all thinking people have observed within themselves and their fellow men the co-existence of acceptable overt behavior with inward inclinations toward the opposite behavior. Skinnerians would claim, contrary to Jesus Christ and common human experience as well, that the "whited sepulchers" of pharisaical, hypocritical outward goodness is goodness
This brings up the corollary that Skinnerian behaviorism vaunted as a social panacea in Walden Two and Beyond Freedom and Dignity was never meant to bring about personality changes, but merely (outward) behavior modification maintained by ever-continuing operant conditioning. Change the contingencies as is inevitable in the real world of changing circumstances and the operant behavior will change. There will be "extinction curves" of nonreinforced operants (responses). Whatever else one might say against the Walden Two dream, surely one of the most obvious objections is that it cannot last Lasting outward circumstances must of necessity be founded upon lasting underlying foundations which behavior modification techniques applied from and to the outside of man are not. This is borne out by "a major recent and careful study which found little outcome difference between traditional psychotherapy and behavior therapy. "26
The ultimate value Skinner acknowledges is "survival," basing it on Darwinian evolutionism, the cornerstone of his philosophy. Freedman comments with great acumen:
Since man interferes in the course of evolution, Skinner is not really justified in arguing that the process is a "natural" one to which man can look for guidance. Due to man's intervention, the course of evolution will in part be the product of his values. It would, therefore, be impossible to derive the values he employs in directing evolution from evolution. To state the argument is to reveal its circularity.
In any case, the direction of evolution is not clear cut enough to qualify it as a guide. Different people have drawn very different conclusions from studying it, and some have seen fit to argue that evolution gives us no criteria. A noted geneticist, James Crow, has written:
'Natural selection has been cruel, bungling inefficiently, lacking in foresight. It has no criterion of excellence except the capacity to leave descendants. It is indifferent as to whether living is a rich and beautiful experience or one of total misery.'
It is doubtful that even Skinner believes in it as the final criterion of a culture's worth, as he fears that "interior" cultures will survive and better ones tail. If survival is the major test of a culture, how could the surviving culture be inferior?. One also wonders what he would do if it were to turn out that man has inborn destructive tendencies, It would seem that making the natural a standard must necessarily rest on the assumption that man is naturally good, yet Skinner specifically denies such a belief in goodness. He thus leaves his standard without logical support.27
Actually the whole business of reducing the study and practice of psychology to merely outward behavioral phenomena is empiricist-positivist reductionism at its shallowest. In the process man is reduced to nearly nothing. In Skinner's own words, "Every discovery of an event which has a part in shaping a man's behavior seems to leave so much the less to be credited to the man himself: and as such explanations become more and more comprehensive, the contribution which may be claimed by the individual himself appears to approach zero."28 Even Weigel, bedazzled as he is by Skinner, concedes that man cannot be reduced to nothing because "in simple fact, man does initiate an infinite regress when he begins to measure himself measuring himself, and thus theoretically there will always be a residuum of the unmeasured."29 Skinner himselt however, confidently asserts that "Someday all that is going on inside the organism will be understood, and its bearing on the responses of the organism to its environment will then be clear."30We need not accept this at face value, though, in view of the following Skinnerian "understanding" of what "love is:
With respect to a person with whom we interact. . to 'love' is to behave in ways having certain kinds of effects, possibly with accompanying conditions which may be felt.31
If this definition is "understanding" of love, then indeed nothing seems beyond "understanding." Again mere concern with outward behavior and effects is in view as Weigel obligingly and almost redundantly points out, "Love does not cause one to behave in certain ways. Love is that behavior."32 Not even the specific overt behavior which counts as "love" is described; and again, the problem of feigned love for ulterior motives (which of course presupposes an inner personality independent of overt behavior) is overlooked. How different from this shallow perception of "love" is the Bible's love chapter, (Corinthians 13, which states that one can speak with the tongues of men and angels, give away all one's goods to the poor, and even die a martyr's death, and yet not have love!
Skinner's Personal History and His "System"
I have come to the reluctant opinion that B. F. Skinner must be a rather shallow person: or else he is so supremely reticent or sensitive that he would appear shallow to avoid in-depth involvement. As a young man he wanted to become a writer and asked Robert Frost about his prospects in that endeavor. Frost replied in part as follows:
All that makes a writer is the ability to write strongly and directly from some unaccountable and almost invincible prejudice like Stevenson's in favor of all being as happy as kings no matter if consumptive, or Hardy's against God for the blunder of sex, or Sinclair Lewis' against small American towns, or Shakespeare's, mixed at once against and in favor of life itself. .1 want you to care. I don't want you to be academic about it a writer of exercises. You know best whether you are haunted with any impatience about what other people see or don't see. That will be you if you are you ...
Frost added complimentary remarks about Skinner's "touch of art" in his writing technique. It is a touch evident in all his writings which flow with ease, are clear and often humorous, and mercifully free from pretense and ponderousness. But yet nothing really seems to have touched him deeply. Weigel comments that the sudden death of his younger, only brother, in 1923 tested Skinner's objectivity. Was he so "objective" because he simply could not feel anything deeply? After Frost's qualified encouragement young Skinner spent one year (1926-27) at his parents' home attempting to establish himself as a writer, He calls it the "dark year" of his life, tasting the agony of total dryness.
The truth was, I had no reason to write anything. I had nothing to say, and nothing about my life was making any change in that condition.34
From this failure he turned to psychology, decisively influenced by a bit of writing by Gilbert K. Chesterton about a character in a novel by Thackeray whom Thackeray, the character's inventor, supposedly did not understand. "That was my cue, Skinner writes, "I was interested in human behavior, but I had been investigating it in the wrong way. . . Literature as an art form was dead; I would turn to science."35 Skinner turned away from belief in God under the influence of a statement by a secondary character in the novel Quo Vadis.36 As reasons for unbelief go, his seems rather superficial, as seems the belief he abandoned. There was no protracted struggle as, for instance, in the life of John Dewey whose philosophy overlaps with Skinner's in many respects.
One of the most striking judgments about Skinner I came across was the following remark by a student of his work and life: "He had nothing to say, and so he devoted his life to making sure that no one else would have anything to say." Not only did Skinner have nothing to say (as a writer), Robert Frost's words, "That will be you if you are you must have haunted him since obviously he was not "he," having nothing to say he in this sense "was not." He merely existed as an organism exhibiting overt behavior, with no inner self clamoring to be heard or expressed. If much of Sigmund Freud's painful personal history lies at the root of psychoanalysis, is it not at least worthy of consideration that much of Burrhus Frederick Skinner's painful experience of inward nothingness lies at the root of Skinnerian sheerly positivistic behaviorism?
While I accept the relation between Skinner's personal history and Skinnerian behaviorism as I accept the tie between Freud's personal history and Freudianism (about which latter there seems to be no serious doubt), I would not, on these grounds, acceptor reject either behaviorism or Freudianism as true or false. With C. S. Lewis I unalterably opt, as any Biblical Christian must, for the obligation on us all "to show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong"37 (the "why" in this statement referring to the man's personal background).
Can it be shown that Skinnerian evolutionistic, determinist, positivistic behaviorist philosophy his claim that man is nothing but his overt, measurable behavior, which in turn is the inevitable product of his operant conditioning is in fact wrong? I believe the answer is yes, because I believe that statements of objective fact are made, not because of a man's antecedent operant conditioning, but rather simply because the statement is true. Let me illustrate with the example used by C. S. Lewis:
Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is 'wishful thinking.' . . When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not,38
Both C. S. Lewis and his challenger in this example make statements about Lewis' bank balance, not because compelled by operant conditioning, but because of the actual amount of money in the bank they themselves verified. Statements of objective fact, such as claims about how much money I have in the bank, or that water freezes at 320 F, cannot be called "operants (responses resulting from operant conditioning)" if I have checked them out myself. (It may be possible to include the products of musical, artistic and literary creativity here as well, for my musical composition, sculpture or drama is in a sense a statement of objective fact," the concrete form truly embodying my imagination, which I have checked out myself as being true to my imagination, and as my own work. With such statements of objective fact you or I ourselves have checked out as being so and not other, "operant conditioning" is absent. But Skinner says all behavior occurs as the result of operant conditioning.
To declare that everything whatsoever which we say and do is due to our operant conditioning is to declare that nothing we say and do is of any value or meaning in itself. Not only the Christian's claim that the personal God of the Bible exists is emasculated and pooh-poohed on the grounds that the Christian "just claims God exists because he has been operantly conditioned to say so" the atheist's claim that there is no God may be emasculated and poohpoohed on the same grounds When my friend tells me, "I love you" is this merely and exclusively my friend's operant conditioning made audible? Is there nothing about me (and not, or not equally, about anyone else) which uniquely evokes my friend's unique love? Might my friend be operantly conditioned to love a waxworks doll rather than me? (Experiments with baby monkeys and artificial "mothers" would seem to deny this.) In denying the possibility of factual truth and also of unique identity the thesis that operant conditioning causes all behavior whatever ultimately denies Biblical creation by the eternally unchangeable God Who created His creatures "after their kind."
Let us ask one more question. Can we accept the Skinnerian explanation of our behavior of opposing and abhorring Nazism as simply and entirely our operant conditioning? Or would we deny that we could ever come to terms with Nazism (no matter what "operant conditioning" we might be subjected to) because Nazism is evil in an unalterable, fundamental, absolute sense? Would we approve of operant conditioning designed to help us espouse Nazism? If not is our refusal merely and exclusively our own subjective, relative, operant conditioning-caused "gut feeling?" Can we rely upon such "gut feelings" for ethical or practical guidance (the two are closely intertwined)? I think not. I have known Americans with Nazi "gut feelings." I have also known anti-Nazi Germans mimicking Nazi "gut feelings" to stay out of prison. Confronted with such reality, Skinnerism seems "unreal," a scientistic mirage whose limited explanatory validity has been blown out of all proportion.
Lastly, the argument used by Sir Karl Popper against Darwinian evolution might be applied against Skinner's behavioristic philosophy as well. Popper's criterion for a theory to be scientific is, "Statements or systems of statements in order to be ranked as scientific must be capable of conflicting with possible or conceivable observations."39 How can the absence of an inward personality with free will "behind" or "within" man's observed outward behavior be scientifically tested? The biofeedback experiments reported by Menninger would seem to support the presence of an inner self with voluntary initiative. If Skinnerians argue that the behavior of human organisms in such biofeedback experiments is also under operant conditioning (to be explained later), then what other experiments can they suggest which might falsify their theory? Sir Karl called Darwinism unscientific, a metaphysic rather than a science. Skinnerian behaviorism, being unadulterated positivistic determinism, falls in the same category.
Acceptable Aspects of Behaviorism
What is there in behaviorism which we can praise and hold fast? First, a number of behavior modification techniques do work. Animals can be "shaped" to do amazing feats they would never attempt to do apart from such operant conditioning. The implication of vaster than presupposed achievement potential in animals and human beings is obvious and helpful. True, behaviorism may not actually be the first movement to use the techniques, for we have seen amazing circus performances by all kinds of animals for centuries. In fact, Skinner himself describes some amazing performing pigeons he observed at a county fair in New York State in his youth, whose memory stayed with him throughout his life.40 But behaviorism did put the use of such techniques on a scientific, that is, measurable and exactly repeatable basis, and some aspects of comparison between animals and men are quite Biblical (cf. Psalm 32:8-9, Proverbs 636~ etc,).
Second, Skinner is responsible for the vast use of teaching machines and self-grading teaching materials in our schools. Student independent study is facilitated, and individuals can proceed at their own learning speed, no doubt an advantage.
Third, there is inherent truth in behaviorism because "contingencies" the overall set of hereditary and environmental factors do, of course, have a part in an organism's behavior, and a change in various contingencies will, of course, affect behavior. The non-behaviorist would merely insist that the organism can also initiate behavior, in particular when an act appears for the first time.41
Fourth, Skinner and behaviorists have directed attention to the treatment of institutionalized retarded people, by pointing out that these people have much unrecognized potential, and also by demonstrating that they can function well in a redesigned, simplified environment better adapted to their abilities. I find my gratitude to Skinner for this achievement somewhat mitigated by his approval of experimental research involving retardates as subjects "to contribute to a world in which others like themselves will lead better lives" without their (impossible-to-obtain) informed consent.42 But undoubtedly behaviorism has on balance improved the public's attitude towards and management of retarded people.
Fifth, the behavioristic model of abolishing human worth may in the long run be far less damaging than present streams of "self-centered" psychological theory and philosophy. Significantly, two recent in-depth studies of psychology in general and psychotherapy in particular from the Biblical Christian point of view, Psychology as Religion: The Cult of self Worship by Paul C. Vitz, and The Psychological Way/The Spiritual Way by Martin and Deidre Bobgan, have expressly excluded a discussion of behaviorism from their work in order to concentrate upon other and in their opinion more dangerous psychology systems. I believe Vitz and the Bobgans are right, for to deny human personality and will altogether is less immediately corrupting than to idolize them. Both errors, of course, will damn unless repented of and forsaken for regeneration of human personality and will in Jesus Christ by God's grace and Spirit.
Responsibility and Blame Under God
What is the most damning aspect of Skinnerian behaviorism from the Biblical creation perspective? It it the denial of personal responsibility for one's acts. The Skinnerian behavioristic model is a close and faithful imitation of Adam after the fall putting the blame on Eve, the serpent. and ultimately on God Himself for providing just these "contingencies," rather than taking the blame belonging to himself. If there is no self at all beneath the overt behavior if the self is its overt behavior, which in turn is nothing but the locus for intake of operant conditioning and output of responses resulting therefrom - then, of course, no "blame" can attach to anyone and anything. Another way of saying this is that man, being nothing but another animal or "organism," cannot be "blamed" for, say, Nazi behavior any more than a rattlesnake can be "blamed" for striking, or a rotten tree for falling. "Blame" and "praise" are then not objective appraisals of objectively "good" or "evil" behavior which man is able to choose and do, or to reject and shun. Rather they become mere contingencies of reinforcement to elicit this or that overt behavior agreeable to the conditioner. And the conditioner, being himself subject to operant conditioning, including headaches, fatigue, lust, ambition and what have you, will of necessity play fast and loose with "praise," "blame" and all other contingencies (another reason why Walden Two is doomed to fail, as stated earlier43).
Worst, redemption and regeneration are made meaningless because there is no one to be redeemed or regenerated (even it there were a God willing and able to do so, which Skinner, of course, denies). Along with man's unique worth as the being created in God's own image, Skinnerism voids the worth of redemption and salvation by Jesus Christ. George MacDonald said it well: "I cling fast to my blame: it is the seal of my childhood." In this he merely paraphrased Hebrews 12:7-8: "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers. then are ye bastards, and not sons.
The crisis of our age, foreseen and diagnosed by such as Spengler and Sorokin, is the disintegration of all values all over the world. Some academics have hastened and welcomed this disintegration, supported by Darwinian and neo-Darwinian evolutionism. Among the values they would destroy is the worth of man as the one creature the God of the Bible created in His own image and likeness. Attacks upon the worth of man are, therefore, always and in principle also attacks upon God Himself.
Skinnerian behaviorism, reducing the study and practice of psychology to merely outward behavioral phenomena is empiricist-positivist reductionism at its shallowest and reduces man to nearly nothing. As compared to other modern academic value-destroyers, the "Skinner Trap" entails two principal threats. The first as slated above is the abolition of man as created in God's image and likeness, and therewith the abolition of his self, his unique and supreme worth. and his responsibility for his acts. The second is the threat of literal entrapment in a coercive society resembling a Skinner box. While this is horribly frightening, we who are the children of the Living God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ cannot be overcome even by confinement in a world-wide Skinner box; for "greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world" (I John 4:4).