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Will Gervais is a senior lecturer in psychology at Brunel University London. He and some of his colleagues conducted a study recently to assess “the degree to which people hold supernatural beliefs.” They were trying to measure how religion works in human societies. To conduct their research, they surveyed a group of people concerning their belief in God. This survey also included a psychological assessment to evaluate the nature of participants’ commitment to their religious faith.
At this point, I don’t really want to get into the findings of their survey. The reason I don’t want to do that is that the findings are simply not that meaningful. The reason they are not very meaningful is because the results of this kind of “research” are not capable of giving any kind of reasons why their results should be regarded as meaningful. All they are able to do is give means and averages of a group of people’s opinions about the subject, then speculate about the meaning of their results based on their previously determined personal worldview beliefs.
For instance, the results of this study on religion concluded that “a lack of exposure to credibility-enhancing displays of religious faith was a key predicator of Atheism.” In other words, people raised in an atheistic environment tended to be Atheists. They further concluded that you are actually better off knowing what their parents believed if you wanted to draw any conclusions about how individuals came to their beliefs. Wow, what an insightful conclusion. Your tax dollars at work.
Of course, this example is only one illustration of the thousands of studies that are done in the many social science fields every year. Surely there is value in some of them, right?
Well, it all depends on what kind of value you are looking for. If you are wanting to know, on average, what a particular segment of society thinks or how they act in particular situations, this kind of research will give you that . But if you are trying to find out why people think and act in particular ways, you might as well flip a coin.
It needs to be remembered that social science research is not about finding out what individuals think and do. Rather, it is about getting at the tendencies of society at large. The only problem is, social science research is incapable of coming to any kind of definitive conclusion about any of that. Let’s take a look at why this is so.
In order to understand this matter, we need to know a little something about social science in general. Social sciences are attempts to use the scientific method (the use of experiment and observation) to discover things about the social environment of humanity. But there is an underlying assumption about the nature of humanity that drives the study of every field of social science in nearly all institutions of higher learning (ex. psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, political science, and others). That set of underlying assumptions are based on the beliefs of Naturalism. Naturalism begins with the belief that the natural universe, operating by natural laws, is all that exists. With that as a starting point, man is regarded as nothing more than a natural animal creature with a highly evolved brain.
Now it is, of course, possible to use the scientific method to discover many things about the human body. And if human beings are, indeed, nothing more than natural animals, then the social aspects of human life must ultimately be discoverable using the scientific method. That would be possible because once the mechanical brain functions that cause social behavior are fully understood by science, every social action people took would be biologically traceable and able to be empirically documented. After all, if human beings are purely natural animals, everything about human behavior would be biologically determined.
The only problem is, human beings are not merely natural animals. There actually is a spiritual aspect to humanity that empirical science cannot study (since it is not a physical property that can be observed and experimented upon). So, the best social scientists can to is observe the behavior of many people and come up with means and averages. This does not mean that all of the work of social scientists is useless. There is some value in knowing averages and trends as it relates to human social behavior. But these findings are not real science (even though the researchers attempt to use the scientific method), and they can never get at “why” people act the way they do.
Now to be sure, social scientists do often frame their conclusions with speculations as to “why” people act the way they do. And this brings us to another extremely important point: their speculations are not based on scientific conclusions, they are based on their naturalistic worldview assumptions regarding how Naturalism explains human behavior.
If you want to get at the real motivations of people as they interact in society, you have to begin with an understanding of the nature of man that actually corresponds to reality – that human beings are persons made in the image of God, but fallen. The truth is, there is a spiritual aspect to the human person that is revealed in Scripture. It is understanding this spiritual element that allows us to get at the TRUE foundation that is necessary to understand human behavior.
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
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