Psychology as a "Basic Science"
Paul D. Ackerman
What does one mean by the term "basic science"? If one is asked to name a basic science the first thing that comes to mind is physics. Physics is the basic science. But why is it called that? One reason is that it deals with the basic building blocks of the material universe. In that sense we could all agree that physics is basic. But there is another way in which physics is often erroneously thought of as the most basic science, and that is when it is so described in a philosophical sense as dealing with the basic reality of the universe. Such a view, of course, reflects the materialistic bias that is so common to modern science. A common feature of the Biblical perspective as compared to the pervasive secular view is that it turns things upside down. So it is with one's philosophical notion of which sciences are more basic. From the Biblical perspective the basic reality of the created universe is the personal creator God. Personal, meaningful, free self is the basic reality behind the universe. Secondly, man is described in Scripture as the creature created in God's own image. Thus in a very central sense, psychology as the science of mind, intelligence, self is most basic. The most basic reality subject at least in part to empirical scientific investigation is man himself. Psychology is that boundarylimit, basic science that studies the mind and behavior particularly of man but also of other intelligent creatures as well.
Science searches for unifying principles. A unifying principle is onethat ties many different and seemingly unrelated things together. From a Biblical perspective it could be argued that the most fundamental unifying principle of the created universe is man himself. Most specifically and emphatically Christ as the one individual unifying principle, but in a sense all of mankind as the creature in God's own image. What is it that makes the universe coherent and meaningful? What ties together the summer evening symphony of frogs and insects at a farm pond and the immense swirl of distant stars and galaxies? Is it not man with his philosophy, art and science? We strive to know, understand, appreciate and relate all that we survey around us. In man's mind all things relate and adhere. We ourselves constitute the tie that binds all there is together. We ourselves are the unifying principle of the created universe, and psychology is the science of we ourselves. In that sense psychology is a very basic science indeed.
One of the things we expect from a basic science is that it will shed light on essential and important questions of reality. There is a certain aura of importance and excitement surrounding its discoveries. If a Biblical perspective suggests such a basic status for psychology, then those of us who adhere to the Biblical perspective might well expect a more exalted and serious role among the various sciences for psychology. In the present situation where science is dominated by materialist and evolutionist philosophy, psychology is not taken very seriously. This even though in an historical sense psychology owes much of its existence as a science to the evolutionary perspective that denied man's special status in the universe. But that is water under the bridge. Psychology as a discipline is now an accomplished fact and how, in God's sovereign providence, it came to be so it not germane to the present issue. The coming again into prominence of a Biblical creationist perspective will in no wise mean a return to pre-Darwinian days. In Christ all things are made new, and the new creationist awakening in science will be quite distinct from anything which has gone before. Many lessons, both positive and negative, will have been learned from "Darwin's century." The cumulative nature of science will be maintained and enhanced, and one feature of a new creationist age in science might be and perhaps well should be a more exalted role for psychology as a "basic science."
The final characteristic of basic science that we will consider is that by its nature it operates at the boundary limit of power and control over the most pivotal and crucial natural processes. In terms of physics, what has man wrought with the splitting of the atom and what wonders and horrors of potential power await the unlocking ofthe secrets ofsubatomic particles? But the real secret of control over the world around us (I speak foolishly in secular terms II Cor. 12:21) is not to be found in technological advances stemming from the natural sciences of physics, chemistry, etc. Rather it is the case that the most impenetrable frontier of mystery and ultimate power in the universe is to be found in the sinful heart of man. As it is written, "The heart is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things; who can know it?" In secular terms unless we can understand and harness our own heart we are doomed. Conversely (I shall speak as a madman II Cor. 12:23) if we can penetrate the mysterious realm of psychology, what limits might there be to what can be accomplished? We can become as gods (See Ezekiel 28:2-19 for God's view and reaction to such thinking). All that we can imagine we can perform. We shall reach the stars.1 Psychology is basic science.Note