Thursday, May 1, 2014

Creation, Fall, Redemption and the Naturalistic Fallacy

In Christian colleges that have developed from Reformed denominations you will often hear the words:  Creation, Fall, Redemption.  This is the general framework that guides our studies.  God created the earth and it was good.  The physical creation was good and the societal, psychological, spiritual aspects of life were also good.  Then Adam and Eve sinned and the earth was cursed and filled with brokenness.  But God sent his Son.  He died for our sins and started the whole creation – human beings and all – back toward the good and the unbroken.  He redeemed and is redeeming his world. 

Opportunities to reflect on creation, fall, and redemption often arise in the field of social psychology.  Social psychology looks at how an individual affects and is affected by others.  The topics in social psychology include romantic relationships, prejudice, persuasion, conflict, and conformity.  Psychologists have unearthed some well-supported findings on these topics.  One finding is that men everywhere are more likely than women to be found in socially dominant roles; things like CEOs, politicians, and religious leaders.  Women, on the other hand, are overly-represented in more help-giving roles; things like nursing, education, and counseling.  So is this role distinction an intentional part of God’s creation?  Or does it exist because of the fall?  Or is it part of God’s ongoing redemptive work?  Another well-supported finding is social facilitation:  we do easier tasks better when we are around other people.  You can get a better work-out when you jog with a friend.  You can lick 200 envelopes faster if you’re not alone.  So is social facilitation part of God’s creation?  Part of the fall?  Or part of God’s ongoing redemptive work?  It is tempting to say that because it is universal, well-supported, and scientifically sound that it must be part of God’s creation.  It’s easy to say that something exists because God made it that way. 

I think this temptation stems from our acquaintance with other sciences.  When you learn about the biological processes of photosynthesis you know that because it is universal, well supported, and scientifically sound that God probably created it that way.  Yet we must be careful not to fall into a naturalistic fallacy.  We mustn’t say; “that which is, is good.”  Just because you find something everywhere does not mean that it is God’s original creational intention.  For example, researchers in the biological sciences have discovered that skin cancer is naturally occurring and can be found everywhere.  Does that mean that God included cancer in his creation?  On the sixth day, did he survey all he had made, and did his eyes fall on skin cancer, and did he say, “It is very good”?    

Now consider an example from psychology.  One of the most well-supported findings in social psychology is the self-serving bias.  We think highly of ourselves to an unreasonable degree.  When something good happens it is because we brought it about, when something bad happens it is because of factors beyond our control.  When we get an “A” it is because we studied hard.  When we get an “F” it is because the teacher is too hard.  Psychologists have found time and time again that most people have a self-serving bias.  So is this part of God’s creation?  Part of the fall?  Or part of God’s ongoing redemptive work?  Did God create us to always take credit for the good and never take responsibility for the bad?

Our world is so entirely affected by the fall that it can sometimes be difficult to pull apart what exists because it was part of God’s plan for the world, what exists because of the fall, and what exists because of God’s grace to us after the fall.  Understanding Gods good and perfect will for our world is no easier than understanding God’s will for our own personal lives.  We must be careful and prayerful when we consider these things.  We must not assume that because we have discovered a scientific fact or law that it is thereby God’s law.  It could be the law of sin working in our own members. 
 Jessica B. Clevering, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Trinity Christian College