The more I consider The End of Faith, the more ashamed I become of my own field of clinical psychology. Consider this - if someone walks into my office with a certain belief that they will eventually be abducted by aliens who will perform experiments on them, they would be assigned a rather heavy duty diagnosis and be referred for antipsychotic medications. On the other hand, if someone comes into my office with a certain belief that eventually Jesus Christ will return to the earth and lift them, and everyone else who believes precisely as they do into eternal salvation (pearly gates and all), they are given a free pass. My license would be on the line if I questioned their beliefs. I would be considered to have a lack of respect for diversity.
Actually, this probably makes more sense in the field of psychology, which is a pseudo-science to begin with, than in truly scientific fields. A parallel can be drawn between psychology and religion. There are several different "sects" of psycholgy that each purport to have a monopoly on truth. And the trouble begins when any one of the theories to take itself too literally. Yet, it seems to me that psychology ought to have something to offer to advancing the cause of rationality over "faith". I'm just not sure how this can be accomplished.
I appreciate the honesty in your message. I’m not a psychologist, so I hope you’ll tolerate a point of view from the outside, and am counting on you to correct any of my assumptions that might be mistaken.
Could it be that much of psychology cannot be considered as science because of only a very few past theorists who were enormously influential and, unfortunately, enormously mistaken? I would suggest that your field is still in its infancy, and became polarized by two extremists akin to militant atheists vs. fundamentalist religionists. I’m referring, of course, to Freud and Skinner. Of course, Freud is usually associated with psychiatry, but I think you can see my point. On top of everything, Freud’s and Skinner’s followers screwed things up even more than their teachers had, by disseminating overly literalistic interpretations of their masters.
From what I gather in books I’ve read, the field of cognitive psychology actually is fairly scientific. They formulate hypotheses and theories that make sense in the real world—often evolution-based—and set up treatments that follow from the theory. For instance, a cognitive psychologist might treat an autistic person who has trouble discerning emotions of others by instructing the child’s teacher to set up lessons involving photographs of people’s faces, with discussions about what the faces might represent. The results are fairly verifiable, it would seem to me, and that is what science attempts.
I completely agree with your point about psychologists shirking their responsibility when they fail to publicly rail at religious fantasy. A clinical practitioner may have his or her license at stake, but private authors associated with universities and think tanks don’t. Yet I rarely see spiritually mature points of view in the media, such as that of Sam Harris. It’s disgusting how frightened otherwise intelligent people can be. Can it really be that scary to criticize ancient and harmful myths?
Ann, don’t be so hard on yourself. Psychology need not suffer anybody’s jeers as long as it holds it’s theories up to good evidence and watches carefully their inferences. It’s a tough field…just ask a chemist to control for as many variables as there are in psychology and predict a reaction outcome. It’s no pseudoscience…just a lot more statistically oriented than the hard sciences. I thought chemistry was more of a science when I trained in it in grad school, but as a physician now, I sure have respect for the accumulating work on the workings of the mind and behavior, as well as the ways we go wrong in our thinking and beliefs. Don’t fret, treat the truly crazy ones and let the otherwise rational religious ones have their crutch. Remember they’re not crazy, just victims of a very comfortable failure of their “that can’t be” system. They’ll be around until critical thinking becomes a lot more popular. Likewise I had a patient who was rational but became convinced that he could treat his prostate cancer with antacids “because my system is too acidic”....just another wave of almost plausible pseudoscience that people will believe. He thought I was too close-minded to accept new ideas. Good luck.
Ann, from what little Ive read—I majored in the subject so that means I know very little —things that can be harmful to a persons life (his relationships, his job, his health, etc) should be handled somehow, even it is a faith-connected thing you have to deal with.
Certainly if I were a Dr of psychology, I wouldnt know how to handle it. Im an atheist. But maybe someone else who had more experience in it, ‘grounding’ if you will, could. Maybe you could refer these types to someone like that.
Might be a silly question, but would your license also be on the line if you gave the “alien believers” a free pass? After all, are they not entitled to their own beliefs :?