Christian Principles in Human Affairs
Message Prepared for the Conference:
The Future Impact of Christianity on China
Beijing International Convention Center
The People's Republic of China
Paul D. Ackerman
May God grant you grace and peace, and I pray that we may bring a spiritual blessing to you and your great nation. We are all the offspring of the first man and woman who were created by God. We are not the product of evolution. The world around us was created by God and not the outcome of evolution. We have death, confusion, and problems in out nations, and in our lives because we have sinned against God's law and his authority. We try to live our lives and govern our nations by our own wisdom and strength, but the Bible teaches that we are dependent on God and cannot understand or reason correctly apart from God, and apart from the forgiveness and eternal life he has provided for us. We can never hope to make sense of our lives, to find lasting fulfillment, or help the ones we love and care about, or direct our nations into wisdom and prosperity unless we understand the lessons of science and academic study in the light of God's message of love and forgiveness and the Bible's teaching about the world and human affairs.
God's blessings and mercies are not for individuals only but also for nations. God loves the nations, and God loves China. Through God all the nations will be blessed. (Galatians 8:8) God has promised that people and nations will glorify him for his mercy. People and nations will trust in him. (Romans 15:8-12) God is the Creator of the nations and has made all nations of people to dwell over the face of the earth. God has created individuals and nations that we should seek after him, and find him, for he is not far from every one of us, for in him we live, and move, and have our being. (Acts 17:24-28)
HOW I BECAME A CHRISTIAN
I was a psychologist before I became a Christian. I believed in God, but only in a vague way As a psychologist, I did not believe in man's free will or moral choice. I believed that all events and my seeming choices and decisions were merely the result of physical causes, and I taught this belief to my students. This kind of teaching, that there is no free-will or moral choice, has done terrible things to the children and adults of my country. You do not want the terrible things that have happened and are happening to my country to happen to China. My life before I was a Christian was painful for me. I was not happy. As a little child growing up in America I had great expectations for life. I looked forward to life as a wonderful adventure, but by the time I became an adult the expectations were gone. As a psychologist I experienced people as well as myself not as choosing, moral agents but as complex phenomena. My world of being a mere complex phenomenon came crashing down in August of 1972 when my five-year-old son was run over by a car and killed. In the horror of that time, I found that my psychology, all the theories and ideologies that I had been taught and that I had taught to my students were of no comfort to me. None of the philosophers and psychologists that I had studied had anything to say to me. I cried out to Cod to help and save me.
In the weeks following my prayer, God showed me that he existed, that he was close to me, and that he cared about me. I became intensely interested in spiritual things. I had a Bible that I had received as a child. I found passages in the Bible where God raised children from the dead, and I placed pictures of my dead son to mark the pages. Then, during my times of grieving, I would take out the Bible to look at my son's pictures, and cry, and draw comfort from the Bible. I began listening to Christian radio programs and reading Christian books. I learned what Christians believed and what the Bible taught. I read a Christian book that explained "justification by faith" as presented in the Biblical book of Romans. As a psychologist, I realized that this concept of justification by faith was very important. I studied the Biblical book of Romans carefully for myself. There was no doubt in my mind that the Bible taught this good news of justification by faith in Jesus. This is what I understood the Bible to teach:
Faith in Jesus Christ is God's plan of salvation for everyone that believes. Faith in Christ is a kind of righteousness that God has revealed to men and affirmed by raising Jesus Christ from the dead.During my spiritual search following the death of my son I came to understand, believe, and receive this Good News of justification by faith in Jesus Christ- I became a Christian. There came, in time, as I "walked with God" and learned more about him, a realization that the worst thing that had ever happened to me and the best thing that had ever happened to me were the same: the death of my son was God's greatest judgment ever brought into my life, and the death of my son was also the greatest mercy of God on my sinful life, because it caused me to turn my life around and seek him. Later I came to know and believe in Christ I found the adventure and fullness in life that I had longed for as a little child but had not found in my life as an unbelieving psychologist. The spiritual theme of my work as a psychologist and scientist has been that God is near and not far off; but also that we need God in order to live our lives fully and properly. The issue of the ministry God called me to as a Christian psychologist is biblical faith and joy in that faith. What I hope for God's great nation of China and for its people is JOY. May God's bringing me to the People's Republic of China by your kind invitation help bring this blessing to pass.
There is no difference between Chinese, Korean, or American; between men and women; between rich and poor. All men and women have sinned, and come short of God's requirements. All men and women can be justified freely by God through belief in the sacrifice that Christ made when he died on the cross for the sins of all humanity. By the righteousness of Jesus, the son of God, a free gift came from God to all men and women for justification and eternal life.
God's word is close to us. If you speak forth your faith in the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved.
(adapted and paraphrased from the Bible's Book of Romans)
LIFE PRINCIPLES AND HUMAN CONDUCT
A central question for this conference is how Christianity can benefit China. Biblical teaching can be an encouragement for persons to do the right thing and be better parents, workers, and citizens. Years ago, a Christian friend of mine gave birth to a mentally handicapped baby. She was embarrassed by the thought of having a retarded child and was tempted to suffocate the baby during one of the nursing periods in her hospital bed. She planned to claim the death was an accident that occurred when she slept. As she contemplated the sin, she remembered a Bible passage about love and mercy for the weak and helpless and as a result did not kill the baby. Over the years the child has grown and become a wonderful blessing and companion to her mother
A person can be no better than the rules or principles he or she believes in. If the principle that governs my life is the evolutionist principle that people only live for this one brief life span with no hope of heaven or fear of judgment, then I will find it harder to make the sacrifice of doing the good things that help my family, my neighbor, and my country. In America when we used to respect the Bible, men married their wives and stayed with them until they were parted by death. Now, in my country; we have thrown out the Bible and embraced evolutionism and humanism as the basis for our social policy with the result that our marriages no longer involve lifelong commitment, but only an intent to remain faithful until some better or more fulfilling arrangement comes along. Marriages and families break up in America for reasons of inconvenience, physical attractiveness, poor health, incompatible interests, and so forth.
For one whose life is based on the principle of sacrifice and Christ's words, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," then he or she will find it easier to do good things to other people and put the interests of others above one's own. Bible study, proper Christian upbringing by Godly parents, and Christian education are designed to instill biblical principles to serve as a basis for good conduct that helps to build strong families and nations. For those who are informed by good principles of life and community interest, he or she will behave better if there is hope of eternal reward and fear of eternal punishment by God. As one's faith in God, heaven, and hell are undermined in a society, it becomes more difficult for the citizenry to do what is right. After my own conversion to Christianity, it was the renewed faith in the existence of God, heaven, and hell that caused me to fully commit to faithfully love and cherish my wife until we are parted by death. The marriages of almost all of my non-Christian friends from twenty-five years ago have broken up. If my wife and I had not found Jesus, our marriage would also have broken apart.
DIVINE CREATION AND HUMAN CREATIVITY
In my psychology, I teach that we are fallen sinners, we are weak and susceptible to a multitude of social influences, we are dependent upon God even for our moment-by-moment existence. We are created in the image and likeness of God. The first thing the Bible tells us about God is that he creates. God is the Creator One aspect of our creation in God's likeness is our creativity. Man creates. One of the benefits for China in opening its doors to the Bible and Christianity should be a flowering of creativity and industriousness, on the part of those who chose to follow Christ. Psychologists and other intellectuals in my country have turned their backs on God and deny him as Creator As a result they have lost the basis for the concept of human creativity. B.F. Skinner is a famous American psychologist who saw more clearly than most the link between belief in a Creator God and belief in creative mankind. He wrote of his evolution based theory of psychology as "threatening the traditional belief in a creative mind." Dr Skinner realized that if we abandon faith in the original act of creation, it is "strange" to believe in a creative mind for humans.
No matter how "strange" it might be for an evolutionist to believe in the concept of a creative mind, creative researchers in psychology have made discoveries that show how God has designed us in such a way that from birth we take joy in exploration and discovery about the world around us. tiny babies given puzzles to solve have been found to smile at the moment they discover the puzzles' solution. We are also prepared, even at birth, to make sense out of the world around us. We are designed to understand the world in preordained ways from infancy. There is a reality "out there" and independent of us, and we are created to understand and fit into the framework of that reality. We can influence the reality but never make it into whatever we choose. No matter how hard we try, we cannot escape totally the effects of the influences God has built into us. This is God's world, and we are part of it. We must submit to God and our created identities as creatures in His image if we want to fit into it. In terms of our spiritual destinies, we must submit to God and his wonderful news of forgiveness, deliverance from sin, and everlasting life with Jesus Christ.
How can the Christian message help in the building up of China's science and technology? The Bible teaches that God created man in his own image. He designed us in such a way that we can understand and enjoy the miracle of his creation. Interest in scientific research and discovery is a central part of our created identity. God has commanded us to populate the earth, and govern and care for the earth properly God has commanded us to steward and care for the animals and plants of the world he has created. In God's image, we long to know and understand, to build and create. The Bible says that it is God's glory to conceal the mysteries of his world, but the honor of people is to search and discover about these mysteries (Proverb 25:2). Our governing and careful stewardship of the earth through science and technology, and also our dominion through the arts and humanities is not merely a matter of obedience to God's command. The work of science and technology in building up our nations and societies is not merely a call to obedience but a call to joy.
A BIBLICAL CREATION FRAMEWORK FOR PSYCHOLOGY
Scripture begins with God who is infinitely superior to his creation. The first man, Adam, in his original created state, was vastly superior to his state after the fall. Re was vastly superior in mind and body to any man or woman alive today Man, of course, creates and thereby transforms the "inferior" to the "superior", but the greatest of our technological achievements - computers, space ships, or whatever - are simple and inconsequential compared to the `technological" sophistication of the human minds and bodies that create them.
In the field of biology, discoveries of the cell's DNA code and later advances in molecular biology have revolutionized our understanding of physiological development. Our newly gained appreciation of the cell's bewildering complexity allows us to appreciate in a small way how the cell is able to produce an adult specimen. Once thought to be an "empty room" or "undifferentiated mass," the modern scientific view of the cell is more like a futuristic, high-technology factory. when we look at a fertilized, reproductive cell we are looking at an incredibly complex "factory" that is able to create an adult of its own kind. Similarly, when we hold a newborn baby in our arms we are looking into the eyes of an intelligence that is capable of creating, with proper nurturance and training, the adult human mind with its intelligence, wisdom and understanding.
In my psychology I teach that, as with the biological cell, all of God's creation, whether it be an individual person or a great nation such as yours, is wonderfully made and able to accomplish its Divinely ordained purpose. In support of my biblically framed psychology, psychologists are discovering remarkable facts about human development and learning. When scientists design a spacecraft to explore another planet they plan very carefully in order to take into account a wide range of conceivable, alternative modes of operation should mechanical damage or failure occur They must over-design the spacecraft, or design it for all sorts of contingencies. As the Bible would lead us to expect, scientists are learning that humans, and all living creatures, show similar contingency- or over-design. Evolutionists have noted and puzzled over this feature of biological organisms. They call it "surplusage" meaning something beyond what is needed. An example is the existence of dual organs. We have two eyes, ears, lungs, and kidneys even though we have learned that a person is able to survive very well with just one.
Scientists have discovered the same phenomenon in the domain of psychology. Concerning perception, for example, psychologists have determined that perceptual object and depth processing in infants is equally good regardless of whether they use both eyes or have one covered by a blindfold. In other words, although some of the richness of the experience of depth perception is lost, humans and many animals have been built in such a way that they can function well even with the loss of one eye. In the science of psychology, contingency - design is most interestingly exhibited in the relationship between biological preparedness and instinctual programming on the one hand and learning and adaptive capability on the other. Instinctual and learning capacities of creatures are not merely complementary as evolution would require, rather they exhibit overlap and design for contingency as Divine creation would imply.
One dramatic evidence of contingency-design is found in research involving cases of severe physiological injury or disease. Notable in this regard is the work of the British neurologist, John Lorber, who has created a stir with his provocative research question, "Is Your Brain Really Necessary?" Lorber's research has lead to remarkable discoveries about people who suffer from hydrocephalus or water on the brain. His research throws doubt on many of our evolution-based ideas about the brain. As an example of his findings he reports the case of a university student with a measured IQ of 126, who gained an honors degree in mathematics, and yet was revealed by a brain scan to have a cranium filled mainly with cerebrospinal fluid. Instead of the normal 4.5-centimeter thickness of brain tissue between the ventricles and the cortical surface, there was just a thin layer of brain tissue measuring a millimeter or so. Lorber reports that many similar accounts have appeared in the medical literature over the years. In the most severe category of hydrocephalus, 95 percent of the cranium is filled with fluid. Many people in this group are severely disabled, but Lorber has found that most of them have normal intellectual and social functioning, and half of them have IQ's greater than 100. The evidence is now clear that the brain can work in conditions we would have thought impossible.
HOPE FOR THE MENTALLY HANDICAPPED
Another dramatic evidence of contingency-design is the capability of the mentally retarded to learn and achieve productive lives. Under the influence of evolutionist dogma, experts have been slow to recognize the capability of humans and other created organisms to bypass and compensate for physical abnormalities and injuries that affected the brain. As a result physicians and counselors in my country have burdened parents of mentally handicapped children with overly pessimistic counsel. One close friend with a Down's Syndrome child was told, "fortunately they do not live very long." Far too often, parents of handicapped children have been wrongly counseled by "experts" that the child would be better off if placed in an institution. Much of what we have been discovering about God's contingency-design of His creatures has come from parents and afflicted persons who refused to believe the counsel given them by experts. You might say that in this area the "experts" have been slowly catching up with the wisdom of "ordinary" people. Thanks to the love and persistence of many parents around the world, as well as the creative research efforts of many scientists, tremendous advances have occurred in our knowledge about education for the mentally handicapped. Once considered beyond education it is now commonplace for Down's Syndrome and other categories of mentally handicapped children to learn reading, writing and basic math skills. Just as with the rest of us, they require love, patience, and opportunities to learn, but, if parents and teachers provide these needs, handicapped children are well able to achieve fulfilling lives that bring joy to their families and communities. I believe that one of the implications of a biblical approach to psychology is that what we call "mentally handicapped" might more reasonably be viewed as gifted for special kinds of service. I believe that with proper training retarded people might make excellent teacher - or caretaker - assistants for little children. They would be much more patient with the slow mental pace of little children learning basic academic skills, and they might even be more perceptive into how little ones think and thus better able to explain things to them. There is one documented study in the research literature where retarded persons proved to he marvelous therapists in restoring 13 emotionally deprived and abused children that were severely mentally retarded as a result to completely normal intellectual and social functioning.
Contingency-design represents more than a scientific discovery consistent with the biblical view. Confidence in contingency-design is an important and practical part of our faith in the kindness, mercy and provision of our Heavenly Father If there is a problem, there must be a solution. If there is a disease, there must be a cure. If there is a thirst, there must be a water that quenches the thirst. Because of our faith in Cod, including our faith in His wisdom as the Creator of the world, we persevere and endure. We continue in hope against all odds and in the face of all adversity. In the domain of science, we continue to research and study. There must be an answer, there must be a solution. No matter how intractable the mystery, the scientist continues the quest because he or she holds fast to the faith: "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings." (Proverb 25:2)
My psychology begins with the concept that man is sinful, fallen and weak. It then encompasses the positive side of human creative genius, joy of discovery, and ability to cope and master the challenges of life. As psychologists probe deeper they discover a domain of human existence that is bidden from our awareness, a wondrous domain reflecting God's moment-by-moment provision for our lives. Underneath the conscious arena of thoughts, feelings, choices, and actions, psychologists have explored the mysterious and hidden realm of biological and psychological systems on which our being rests. Through this underlying realm Cod establishes limits and provides coherence and predictability to our existence. Through this realm he also provides rest and security in the sense that myriads of essential needs are met without thought or effort on our part. I once learned of a person with a diseased condition that entailed the loss of the ability for automatic, involuntary breathing. The individual had to consciously chose every breath. What a curse such a disease would be, and what a restful gift automatic breathing is.
In the psychological realm scientists have discovered similar restful systems. Among the more exhaustively researched are unconscious learning mechanisms encompassed by the term "conditioning." Conditioning refers to the orchestrated relationship that automatically develops between responses and environmental characteristics that are contingently related. For example, a person's subtle manner and pattern of responses in working with a machine adapt to the details of a particular machine's operation. As the machine gets older and develops minor idiosyncrasies we easily adapt and harmonize our actions with them. We are comfortable with the machine we are used to, and it works well for us. One of the positive implications of conditioning or "automatic learning" from a biblical point of view is rest in the sense that in everyday life we find ourselves effortlessly and unconsciously adapting to environmental contingencies and maximizing favorable outcomes and events.
Conditioned responses are among the most vital of God's provisions for us. Conditioning mechanisms provide rest from conscious attention to every minute detail of life. In every aspect of psychological functioning there are similar mechanisms that psychologists have discovered and explored. God's hidden world of automatic systems and mechanisms give us freedom from concern over fundamental requirements of our existence so that we might enjoy a higher life of love, wisdom and creativity. There is in such psychological mechanisms a witness to the structure and stability provided for us by God through his creation, and the rest and deliverance provided for us by God through his salvation. They help us to adjust automatically to changes in our environments, and without them life would be an unimaginable burden. They speak of God's gracious provision for our lives, and they also testify to our dependence upon God and his creation.
Survey research among scientists in various disciplines has shown that experimental psychologists believe more strongly in determinism and reject the concepts of free will and moral choice more than practitioners of other sciences. Experimental psychologists tend to believe in materialism and determinism. The Bible, however, teaches that man is fallen and weak, but not as some psychologists have taught, a mere mechanism, or "particle in a force field." Ironically, research in psychology has shown that belief in the reality of human choice and responsibility is vital to good mental health. People who are encouraged to have a positive attitude about their ability to accomplish worthwhile and helpful objectives are healthier; happier, and more productive. One of the threats to society when students are exposed to prominent theories of psychology is that their faith in the reality of freedom and choice comes under severe challenge.
One of the most important benefits of Christianity and the Bible for a nation is that it provides a framework for belief in meaningful self, accountability, and moral choice. Adherence to the Biblical framework allows a society to have the benefits of a sound social science without having the destructive elements of moral and spiritual decay The tragic consequences for America in having thrown out the Biblical framework in favor of evolutionism and humanism is manifest to all. The logical defense of "meaningful self," moral choice, and character begins with the everlasting, uncreated, all powerful, all knowing, "meaningful self God who has revealed himself in the Bible. Intellectuals who doubt free will start not with God but with primitive matter, time, and chance. These things have no moral choice, character, or "meaningful selfhood," and if our origin is strictly limited to matter, time, and chance we cannot logically have free will or meaningful moral choice either.
On the other hand, if we begin with God, in whose image and likeness we were created, then the defense of free will is based on the biblical teaching that God created all visible and invisible things in heaven and earth-all rulers, nations, and institutions; "all things were created by him and for him and in him they all hold together." The reason every visible and invisible thing in the universe continues to exist is because God who created the universe keeps all things in existence. If free moral choice is genuine, then its basis for existence is the power and wisdom of God. The same God who creates and keeps the universe in existence must also create and keep me as an agent with free will and moral choice in existence.
God chooses and does whatever he wills. He created the universe not because he was compelled to or needed to, but because he chose to for his own pleasure and purpose. God has free will. The Bible also reveals that man was created in the image of God; he therefore exercises free moral choice and is accountable to God. Without belief in God there is no logical basis for belief in free will and moral choice. If we merely evolved by chance from simple, unfree, lifeless, matter, then there is no basis for believing that we are meaningful agents.
To believe in God's existence is to believe in the possibility of your own meaningful existence; to doubt God's existence is to doubt the logical foundation for your own meaningful existence. Thus we see that the foundation for our defense of meaningful self is our faith in God as creator and sustainer of the universe! We base our faith in free will on God and his Word. If we do not hold to this faith, we cannot defend free will with logical consistency. If we do hold firm in this faith, then belief in free will is logical, since God has free will and the Bible teaches that we were created in God's image and likeness. Any "meaningful self we attribute to ourselves is dependent upon God. God has life in himself; we have whatever life he chooses to give and maintain in us. We need God.
God and His Word rescued me from a pit of intellectual despair into which I fell as a consequence of my studies in psychology. After I became a Christian, I re-examined my discipline from a biblical perspective. I came to realize that the Bible's teaching about creation is scientifically superior to the evolutionist framework and an essential, foundational doctrine for understanding psychology and other academic disciplines. "In the beginning Cod" and "man created in the image of Cod" were the pivotal truths that allowed me to escape my doubt about the meaningfulness of human existence. Biblical teaching about, the Fall and resultant weak and sinful nature of man was another vital doctrine that helped me bring the field into focus. Once I learned to keep these doctrines in mind, the research findings of psychology--as opposed to the speculation and armchair theorizing of many psychologists--served to strengthen and bless me in my faith rather than weaken it. I discovered that the hard evidence of psychology confirmed rather than contradicted Scripture. Man is created in the image of the creator God and therefore takes joy in creativity and discovery about the world God has made. In order to be properly creative and correctly understand the discoveries God allows us to search out, we must remain faithful to the Bible and his commandments. As we do so, we uncover mysteries that cause us to glory in the wonder of Cod's creation. Scientific work becomes not only productive and a blessing to man, but a form of worship as well. In psychology we find abundant reasons to heighten our appreciation of God's gracious and loving provision for our lives.
According to the Bible, the oldest temptation for man is the temptation to separate from God and live our lives according to our own strength and wisdom determining what is right and what is wrong for ourselves. The Bible as well as the scientific evidence from psychology warns of the impossibility of this idea. We need God. We cannot live properly, successfully, and productively on our own apart from God. The reason is obvious in the context of many things that the science of psychology has discovered. As an example, one can consider the conditioning mechanisms I discussed earlier In addition, psychologists have discovered that in the process of perceptual and memory processing we are inevitably influenced by our biases, expectancies, and beliefs. Thirdly, in my own specialty area of social psychology, scientists have uncovered principles of social influence, group dynamics, and social perception showing how we are blown this way and that in our behaviors and beliefs by social forces beyond our awareness and control. We cannot constantly control and allow for the effects of the mechanisms and influences we are subject to.
Psychology has demonstrated experimentally how subtle features of our surroundings influence our attitudes and actions in myriads of ways, and they show that we cannot control our lives and insure our destinies apart from Cod. For the Christian who has repented of sin and returned to moment-by-moment fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, these mechanisms point to our rest and peace in dependence on God. We are "fearfully and wonderfully made," as the Bible says. Regarding my eternal destiny and hope of everlasting life, my trust is in Christ and in God. The many promises of the Bible are opened to me. Among my personal favorites are:
(God is speaking) I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you are to go: I will guide you with my eye. (Psalm 82:8)Because of my faith, I rejoice in the discovery of these psychological mechanisms that serve as reminders of God's faithful provision and my dependence upon him always.
God is my strength and power: and be makes my way perfect. (II Samuel 22:38)
The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me for his heavenly kingdom. (II Timothy 4:18)
For the one who rejects Christ, on the other hand, these mechanisms speak to the eternal truth that we cannot stand alone. They are a witness that we cannot fully determine our own actions and destiny. We are part of a world that we have not created, and no matter how much we think we have gained control over it, the evidence from psychology shows that even in our innermost parts we are linked to and dependent on the rest of God's creation.
The scientific evidence from psychology points back to the fundamental spiritual issue facing each person: Whom will you serve? Will you strive to live your life on your own wisdom and strength apart from God, or will you cry out to God for his help and forgiveness? The Bible is full of hope and promise for anyone who genuinely seeks to know and obey God. In the last chapter of the last book of the Bible, God says to you, "whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." God's offer is still open. Jesus Christ is China's water of life. Will China and its great people come, by faith, and drink of God's life for you?
It is God who can arm China and its people with strength and make their way perfect. God can enable China to stand on the heights. He trains your hands for battle; He gives you your shield of victory, his right hand sustains you; he stoops down to make you great. (adapted from Psalm 18:82-35)
* This presentation for the People's Republic of China was adapted
book, In God's Image After All: Raw Psychology Supports Biblical
ism, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516; U.S.A., 1990.