Back in August when it was first released, I linked to a study from the Reproduciblity Project about the lack of reproducibility in behavioral science studies and its implications for social policy making. (That post followed-up in part a post I had done in July on authority and science.)
Come this week there is a fantastic article by Andrew Ferguson in The Weekly Standard that dives deeply into the “behavioral sciences.” You really need to take the time to read it all.
I want to focus on this one specific paragraph from Ferguson’s excellent piece:
For even as it endows social scientists with bogus authority—making them the go-to guys for marketers, ideologues, policymakers, and anyone else who strives to manipulate the public—it dehumanizes the rest of us. The historian and humanist Jacques Barzun noticed this problem 50 years ago in his great book Science: The Glorious Entertainment. Social psychology proceeds by assuming that the objects (a revealing word) of its study lack the capacity to know and explain themselves accurately. This is the capacity that makes us uniquely human and makes self-government plausible. We should know enough to be wary of any enterprise built on its repudiation. [emphasis added]
Ferguson uses this as part of a discussion of the lack of humility among behavioral scientists. But I see this excellent observation about what it means to be human on a different level. This is the point at which religion and science are really at war. It is not evolution, or the physics of creation, it is here in the so-called social and behavioral sciences where religion and science genuinely crash. Fundamental to the Judeo/Christian world view is that humans are Imago Dei – in the image of God. “Science” that assumes we are objects that can be manipulated is entirely and completely antithetical to such a notion. This renders the great debates surrounding creation as merely diversions.
But what I find most troubling about Ferguson’s magnificent observation is that entirely too often we give the behavioral “scientists” reason to continue with their dehumanizing presumptions.
Think about all the times we act more like cattle than people. When we line up for days to buy the latest and greatest iPhone as if it were the Holy Grail itself or when we vicariously live our lives through the exploits of some “celebrity” on the cover of People magazine we are being manipulated. And in allowing ourselves to be manipulated we give up that most essential element of our humanity – that part of us which is in the image of God.
Perhaps the most fundamental way that this is a “Christian nation” is that it was founded on the idea that government should not seek to control (manipulate) people but to enable them to fully realize the image of God that they contain. This image is not something that simply is; it is something that has to be discovered and exercised and cultivated. Government, which is entirely an enterprise of control, has to get out of the way. Institutions likes schools and churches, institutions designed specifically to cultivate the image within, need to rise and do that cultivation.
But such cultivation also requires a great deal of us. Those institutions can provide us with numerous tools to grow in the image of God, but only we can actually grow, and that is hard work. Sadly, we are lazy. So rather than do the hard work of growing in God’s image we sink into a cattle-like state, serenely chewing our cud while expecting someone to tell us what to do. And thus schools and churches change from institutions that develop us into institutions that process us. If we are going to act like cattle, they are going to become feedlots.
There is much involved in being in God’s image – it is not simply a matter of stances, issues, or morals though they are part of it. It is also a matter of character and reason and knowledge. It is a matter of wisdom and holiness. In those of us that are deeply committed Christians, our laziness often expresses itself in our tendency to latch on to just one part of God’s image while we are just as ugly as everyone else in other parts of our lives. We need to overcome our laziness and seek all of God’s image.
Our best example is Jesus, not merely the image of God, but God Incarnate. He was persecuted, suffered and crucified in the sea of us in whom God’s image is so far from perfected. Perhaps in the end that explains why we seek to be cattle rather than Imago Dei. But if we are going to claim the authority of that image, we cannot be cattle – we must follow His example. Suffering persecution changed the world, not revolution. The world desperately needs to change again. It is time for us to fully grasp for our humanity.