Psychological Issues in Biblical Lore

Article excerpt

Psychological Issues in Biblical Lore Albert I. Rabin. New York: Springer Publishing Company (www.springer.com). 1998, 222 pp., $34.95 (hardcover).

In 1925, at the dawning of the quantum age, Alfred North Whitehead said that "When we consider what religion is for mankind, and what science is, it is no exaggeration to say that the future course of history depends upon the decision of this generation as to the relations between them" (Science and the modern world, p. 180). The sentiment, at least, rings true at the dawning of the third millennium: the relationship between science and religion is a topic of signal importance in the intellectual life of contemporary society. A.I. Rabin's Psychological Issues in Biblical Lore does its part to make those relations lively by suggesting that an important connection exists between one area of scientific research, contemporary psychology (and especially personality theory), and one significant aspect of religion in the Western world in which psychology situates itself, namely, the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament).

The book is woven around what might more accurately be called a theme rather than a thesis. In Rabin's words, this theme is "how the 'literal' interpretation [of certain descriptions and episodes contained in the Hebrew Bible] fits into modern psychological theory and, possibly, how psychology's concerns in turn have been influenced by those biblical parameters that define Western civilization and culture" (p. 4). The latter half of that topic represents, by Rabin's own admission, the major thrust of this work. The Bible, he notes, has become a sort of "psychic DNA," of modern Western culture, penetrating its language and thought patterns. Moreover, among the products of that culture is contemporary scientific psychology.

His question, in turn, concerns the extent to which that "psychic DNA" passes on some of its issues, through the filter of culture, to contemporary psychology (p. 193). As an essay in the history and philosophy of science, then, this book bypasses the usual concern with the "context of justification," in which one attempts to define (without being anachronistic) the standards and criteria that mark the line between science and non-science, or justified and unjustified belief. Instead, it centers on the question of how certain elements of religion, through culture, contribute essential ingredients to the "context of discovery" out of which particular areas of psychology emerge. This is rather like figuring out why Copernicus chose to re-fashion astronomy rather than whether or not-and to what extent-his new theory was consistent with the evidence and met the scientific standards of the time.

As an essay on the topic of religion and science, the book makes the claim that the relation is, at its best, not one of reduction (E.O. Wilson), nor one of conflict (Richard Dawkins), nor even, finally, one of a sheer separation of domains. Rather, the suggestion is not that psychology would not exist, but that it would not have taken the shape it did without the Hebrew Bible. In effect, this is a specific application of the thesis that-far from being fundamentally in conflict with each other-certain Judaeo-Christian-Muslim theological themes provided the native soil out of which modern natural science grew (for a helpful description and several interesting applications of this thesis, see J. Haught's Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation).

Unfortunately the book is much more eloquent in suggesting this connection in the first and final chapters than it is persuasive in mounting a case for it in the six chapters which intervene. Rabin does "glean" some data from the Hebrew Bible that may be relevant to making the case. …