And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
A recent, lengthy article in U.S. News & World Report, entitled “Is There Room for the Soul? New challenges to our most cherished beliefs about self and the human spirit,” is representative of a flood of writings centered on a “secular” search for truth and meaning.1
I expected this growing trend, since I spent over a decade in the New Age movement prior to becoming a Christian (originally pursuing a career in evolutionary psychology and ethology [animal behavior]). The historical root generating this modern fruit was made clear in one of my old psychology textbooks:
The theory of evolution was also to have a tremendous impact on contemporary psychology. American psychology today owes its form and substance as much to the influence of evolutionary theory as to any other idea or individual. … People were less content to base their knowledge of themselves and their world on what the Bible and ancient authorities had stated to be true. They were ready to put their faith in science. … Darwin’s work in the last quarter of the nineteenth century was a major force in shaping modern psychology. The theory raised the intriguing possibility of continuity in mental functioning between animals and humans.2 [Emphasis added]
Over the past 30 years, the underlying hypotheses of naturalistic materialism left an empty vacuum into which New Age philosophical speculation, especially the “soft” sciences of psychology and sociology, began to fill the void like spiritual osmosis—all founded upon the theory of evolution rather than the cornerstone of creation. Now, there seems to be a convergence involving not the cutting edge but rather the popular fringe of many different “science” fields (biology, psychology, quantum physics) in an effort to find a unified theory or explanation for the soul apart from the Bible. For example, the U.S. News article asks:
Is the scientific study of consciousness approaching its own Copernican moment, when the fruits of experimental work yield a compelling, comprehensive theory?3
In humility we should pray for the scientists who are attempting to discover truths about the soul through empirical methods. Sadly, many of them either do not recognize or refuse to admit the limitations of science when it comes to the soul. Observational/operational science deals with physical variables, primarily in an attempt to formulate testable predictions (hypotheses) and then test them with experiments that control the factors involved. However, psychology, the study of the soul (Greek: psyche; Hebrew: nephesh), cannot directly, experimentally control immaterial variables such as mind, will, and emotions. Only brain activity and “behavior” can be directly studied and then assumptions must be made about the possible psychological factors associated with them. Such assumptions have even led some toward a reductionistic model of the psyche as merely a manifestation of neurological activity: “If consciousness, particularly higher-order consciousness, exists only to respond more effectively to information in service to life, then we are nothing more than Darwinian survival machines.”4 Others conclude that there is a “ghost” or spirit behind the organic machine of the brain that generates the electrochemical activity. Sadly, the best the world can achieve in its evolutionary search using only general revelation for answers about the psyche is a generic form of spirituality that rejects the Bible (special revelation) and reflects the character of evolution’s competition and survival of the cruelest.5
Dr. John Mattick, professor of molecular biology at the University of Queensland and director of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, writing about new DNA discoveries, illuminates the danger of all assumptions in science:
Assumptions can be dangerous, especially in science. … [A]ssumptions often graduate to articles of faith, and new observations are forced to fit them. Eventually, if the volume of troublesome information becomes unsustainable, the orthodoxy must collapse.”6
While the U.S. News article acknowledges this serious problem in passing, like the secular world in general, it continues forward in the hope that man will find answers to questions about the psyche in spite of insurmountable, human limitations:
Dissatisfied with the reliance on introspection—how do you make an objective science out of people’s subjective reports on their private experiences?—psychologists followed the lead of researchers like Ivan Pavlov and John Watson and turned to the observable results of consciousness: behavior.7
The parallel limitations inherent to both “soul-science” (psychology) and secular “origins” science (evolutionary research) are significant. Secular, origins science is only able to indirectly study the beginning of things by examining the observable results of past events: fossils, rock layers, comparative DNA, etc. The problem for both fields is that as research becomes more and more indirect (that is, removed from the source of a phenomenon), the more necessary it is for assumptions to be made, and therefore the less reliable the conclusions (logical inferences) become. This fact means that the limitations involved in both of these “sciences” are qualitatively beyond even the normal limitations common to the observational/operational scientific research of general revelation.
Therefore both “soul science” and “origins science” are inescapably dependent upon special revelation from our Creator about when, how, and why He created all things—especially souls (Genesis 1:26–31). The Bible is all about God and personal relationships involving the souls of men with Him and one another (loving God and our neighbor). Since psychology is the study of the soul, therefore the Creator’s Word must be the definitive textbook for learning and applying truth and meaning about souls He created for His purpose. Just as the Bible must be our standard for understanding and researching origins/creation, it must also be the standard for the study of the soul (psyche-ology), starting at the beginning with His answers in Genesis.
Sid Galloway is a zookeeper, family counselor, and high school biology teacher, living in south Louisiana with his wife, Linda, six children, and over 40 pets. He earned a BS from LSU and a Master of Divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Sid and his wife head the ministry Genesis Family Education, formerly know as Soulcare Family Ministries.