May 30, 2020 | David F. Coppedge

Don’t Trust a Secular Shrink

What is secular psychology good for? With few exceptions, it is good for nothing but running away from.

There are some physical disorders of the brain that have mental consequences. Those are not “mental illnesses” (diseases of the mind) as much as after-effects of physical maladies. Fixing those, therefore, needs to go to the physical cause that is producing the effect. It makes no sense to counsel someone who is depressed or anxious because of a physical cause, any more than it does to tell your mechanic to fix your engine by talking to it when it runs slow. The engine is like the brain; the mind is the driver. Each can influence the other: the driver can get mad at the engine, or the engine can instill terror in the mind when the driver is about to hit a tree.

Secular psychology, though, largely thinks it can explain the mind – the invisible “you” or soul or self, whichever term you want to call it – by fixing it directly. That might involve talk therapy, drugs, mental exercises, electric shocks, or even frontal lobotomy—a holocaust caused by wrong beliefs about the mind (see Dr Jerry Bergman’s documentation from 22 Jan 2019).

Psychologists can do some good in limited circumstances, such as educational psychology: teaching students how to memorize or perform better on tests, based on many experiences of people using techniques that bore successful results. They might know how to overcome phobias or fears through exercises, or how best to break bad habits. This kind of “folk” psychology, sometimes supported by experimental evidence, might prove useful. It’s like driver training, helping a student driver with a skill until it becomes habitual. It doesn’t always take a professional to help in such circumstances.

But most secular psychologists are evolutionists. That means they view the mind as a manifestation of the physical brain that evolved from lower forms of life. By denying substance dualism (the view that the body and the mind are ontologically separate, though connected), they are bound to be wrong when they try to explain your behavior as a result of selection pressures during your presumed evolutionary past, or when they try to fix it with physical means, like drugs. Many of us have heard evolutionary tales about diet and competition for mates, such as the ‘caveman diet’ that is supposed to mimic how our hominid ancestors evolved to eat meat. Carl Sagan, in the original Cosmos series, once tried to explain our affinity for trees by saying that our ancestors used to climb in them. Evolution News scoffed at such nonsense (May 21) based on the first article below; we will examine others.

Flawed Methods

Subrena E. Smith, “Is Evolutionary Psychology Possible?” (Biological Theory, 5 Dec 2019). Smith argues that evolutionary psychology does not fulfill the standards for scientific theories, because its “strategies for making inferences about present-day human psychology are methodologically unsound.” Smith is pictured in an interview at Gizmodo making her case. Reporter Ryan Mandelbaum is shocked; “This philosopher is challenging all of evolutionary psychology,” his headline reads. Actually, Ryan was not that shocked. “We at Gizmodo have long rolled our eyes at the often-nonsensical conclusions that some people come to when employing evolutionary psychology theory, so we were excited to chat with Smith about her work,” he says. While Smith is an evolutionist herself, she challenges psychologists with the “matching problem” that she says plagues evolutionary psychology: its inability to match what selection pressures or responses our ancestors faced with what humans face today. She also scoffs at the notion that we have not changed since the Pleistocene many thousands of years ago. And worse, if humans can only respond blindly to their evolutionary past, how are governments supposed to hold them responsible?

Where does stress live in the brain? Scientists may have the answer (Fox News Science). Here’s an example of a physical cause with mental consequences. It’s as straightforward as understanding adrenaline; the hormone speeds up the heart rate and puts the brain on alert. Receptors in the brain respond appropriately with the fight or flight response. “Higher levels of stress are found in the hypothalamus;” researchers found; “lower [levels of] stress are found in the dorsal lateral frontal cortex.” Those mechanisms explain where the engine responds when the driver steps on the gas. But the driver’s mind can experience stress when the engine is functioning normally. Delusions can put a person in panic; what about that kind of stress? A psychologist might be able to measure waves in the cortex of a normal brain, but have no idea what mental state is causing it.

Thought Control

Depression viewed differently when thought to be biological (Medical Xpress). Here’s a curious finding from Rutgers University:

People who believe more strongly that depression is biologically caused also tend to think it is more severe and long lasting, compared to those who see less of a role for biological causes, a new Rutgers study finds.

At the same time, people who believe that biological factors cause depression also tend to be more optimistic that treatment will have a positive effect, said Sarah Mann, a former doctoral student at Rutgers University-New Brunswick who led the study.

The thoughts are caused by beliefs. Basically, a set of beliefs influenced another set of beliefs, and could be radically different within the same brain. If you tell a patient that her depression is biological, she might feel one way. If you tell her wrong thinking is causing it, she might feel very different. The brain hasn’t changed; her thoughts and beliefs did. In the May 24 entry we quoted C.S. Lewis who argued that thoughts are supernatural. What we convey in thoughts from person to person can have physical, emotional, and spiritual effects, even when the body and brain don’t change, but thoughts are the driver of the car. What we choose to believe can affect our mood and our choices.

Darwin Again

Researchers call for new approach to some mental disorders (Washington State University). Let’s end with a shocker. This article says,

Chuck-in-the-Box keeps popping up uninvited.

Some of the most common mental disorders, including depression, anxiety and PTSD, might not be disorders at all, according to a recent paper by Washington State University biological anthropologists.

In the paper, published in the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, the researchers propose a new approach to mental illness that would be informed by human evolution, noting that modern psychology, and in particular its use of drugs like antidepressants, has largely failed to reduce the prevalence of mental disorders. For example, the global prevalence of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders remained steady at 4.4% and 4% respectively from 1990 to 2010.

The authors also theorize that depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder may be primarily responses to adversity; therefore, only treating the “psychic pain” of these issues with drugs will not solve the underlying problem. Kristen Syme, the first author on the paper and recent WSU Ph.D. graduate, compared it to medicating someone for a broken bone without setting the bone itself.

Now wait a minute. Wasn’t it evolutionary theory that Subrena Smith and Gizmodo challenged for its bad methodology? And now these researchers, admitting that evolutionary psychology has been ineffective for 20 years, want “human evolution” to “inform” better methods? These losers want to lose more patients?

“Mental health research is still very much stuck in a view that comes out of the 19th century, and revived in 1980, of classifying everything by symptoms in the hopes of revealing underlying patterns that would lead to solutions, but it really has not,” said Hagen, a WSU professor of evolutionary anthropology and corresponding author on the paper. “Even though we’re using new measurements, like genetics, biomarkers and imaging, these still haven’t added up to the insights needed to really improve people’s lives.”

So what are they proposing? They admit some “mental illnesses” have a genetic cause or could be due to aging, but they recommend adding more evolutionary nonsense to the very methods that have failed so miserably!

Instead of addressing mental issues by their symptoms, Hagen and Syme propose approaching mental illness by their probable causes. They acknowledge that some psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia are likely genetic and often inherited and others like Alzheimer’s appear connected with aging.

However, the anthropologists argue that some conditions might be a mismatch between modern and ancestral environments such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD. Hagen pointed out that there is little in our evolutionary history that accounts for children sitting at desks quietly while watching a teacher do math equations at a board.

This is absurd. How could pressures in a cave that humans faced tens or hundreds of thousands of Darwin Years ago have any influence on children in school today? Are the reactions coded in the genes somewhere? Have those genes not caught up with the times? Does it mean that teachers and pupils can’t do anything but act out what mythical ancestors did? And if they are genetic, are they even treatable? Are they ‘disorders’ at all?

And what are they recommending to do about it?* Take kids out of school and make them hunt tigers? Thinking people should, like Ryan at Gizmodo, roll their eyes at such nonsensical conclusions. It illustrates what Dr Bergman demonstrated on May 27, “Darwin Myths Die Hard.

Let neurosurgeons delicately work on your physical brain if need be. Let trained psychiatrists calm out-of-control anxiety with medications if necessary, but only temporarily until patients can regain control of their thoughts. Dr J.P. Moreland, a very smart philosopher, was helped by this, even though he is a committed substance dualist; he explains his experience at Mind Matters.

But don’t let evolutionary wackos ever do surgery on your mind! Better a suffering person talk to a pastor, a loving and wise counselor or a family member than one of those. They have been so wrong so many times, because they work from a false premise: that the mind is physical, and that it evolved from slime over time. Run from them like you would run from a charlatan.

There is help. Open the Manufacturer’s Manual. Look what it did for Wernher von Braun. Testimonies abound describing victory over bad habits, courage in the face of danger, peace in the midst of trials, and joy when all around are angry or depressed. This is what the Great Physician can do for anyone, because He loves the creatures He designed. He knows the mind infinitely better than any “evolutionary psychologist” ever could. You can trust His healing hands.

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (John 14:27)


*The paper by Syme and Hagen last November in the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology contains one of the most incoherent discussions of mental illness you will ever see. On the one hand, the authors fully admit that the history of psychology and psychiatry, including theories based on evolutionary naturalism, have been an utter failure for over a century, and that treating mental illness as a “disease like any other” has been fruitless if not harmful. Look at these quotes from their paper, “Mental health is biological health: Why tackling “diseases of the mind” is an imperative for biological anthropology in the 21st century.” (Notice that they embedded their naturalism right in the title.)

Here we provide a comprehensive critique of mainstream research on mental disorders (see Figure 1). First, we review the contribution of mental disorders to the global burden of disease. Second, we explore the successes and failures of biological psychiatry, including psychopharmacology, imaging and other biomarker research, and genetic and epigenetic approaches. Third, we critique the theoretical foundations of psychiatric classification, reviewing different concepts of disorder and disease. Our goal in the first half of our article is to convince biological anthropologists that there is a genuine and widely‐recognized theoretical crisis in mental health research.

In the early 2000’s, well‐intentioned campaigns aimed to reduce the stigma of mental illness by reframing depression, schizophrenia, and other disorders as “diseases like any other” (Pescosolido et al., 2010). A key tactic, eagerly adopted by drug companies, was to popularize “chemical imbalance” models. These campaigns failed on two counts. First, a systematic review found that an endorsement of biogenetic causes of mental disorders does not reduce stigma and, in fact, might even increase stigmatizing attitudes among mental health professionals and the mentally ill themselves (Larkings & Brown, 2018). Second, there is little evidence that psychopharmaceuticals correct specific chemical imbalances or neurobiological deficits.

The “chemical imbalance” theory of depression, for example, also known as the catecholamine, monoamine, or serotonin deficiency hypothesis, was based on the chemical action of the first generation of antidepressants, which were discovered serendipitously and found to act on monoamine pathways to increase monoamine concentrations (López‐Muñoz & Alamo, 2009). We now know that the “chemical imbalance” hypothesis of depression is false…..

Critics from within medicine, psychiatry, and related fields are calling attention to the failure of psychiatric research to improve public health. Many critics argue that this failure is due, in large part, to fundamental flaws in the classification of mental disorders based on the DSM, and that psychiatric nosology (the classification of disease) is undergoing a crisis of confidence (for review, see Zachar & Kendler, 2017)….

Unlike the natural classifications of plants, animals, infectious diseases, and inorganic substances, which all played key roles in the discovery of underlying causal principles, such as the theory of evolution, the atomic theory of matter, and the germ theory of disease, the various classifications of mental disorders have failed, so far, to uncover their underlying causes. The current system has little claim to be a “natural” classification, and is instead deeply contingent on the specific history of psychiatry. As Kendler, a leading figure in psychiatry, notes, “Had we been in a parallel universe in which Emil Kraepelin, Eugen Bleuler, Kurt Schneider and Robert Spitzer never lived, DSM‐IV would surely have differed in important ways” (Kendler, 2009, p. 1938).

But what is their solution? More evolution! More naturalism! This goes to show that when people reject creation and the reality of personal responsibility, they go nuts!

Mental health is biological health and should be a thriving area of research in biological anthropology….  It is possible that research in diverse populations that incorporates an evolutionary concept of cognitive/emotional function, and which considers a broader array of phenotypic markers and causal models, would better identify genuine cognitive/emotional dysfunctions.

One of their ending recommendations says, in effect, bring in Darwin for help!

Use every theoretical tool in the toolkit, for example, evolutionary theory, population genetics, Tinbergen’s four levels of analysis, life history theory, and cultural transmission and evolution.”

Anything but admitting that we have souls! These guys are crazy. How? They give moral imperatives without any foundation for morality; in fact, they laugh that “moral insanity” was once classified as a disorder, when maybe the poor suffering patient was feeling a real conviction of sin from true moral guilt. Their view of mental illness is irrational because it refutes itself. On what basis can they tell their colleagues what “should” be done, if we are evolved beings in an amoral world? They know in their heart of hearts that morality is real, and that leaving behind a trail of wreckage for the past century is a crisis that “should” be rectified.

They are not only nuts, but dangerous. By using the same worldview that produced all the wreckage, they would usher in another century of phony and harmful ideas to ruin people’s lives. Get away! They deny their Creator. They deny the reality of mind. They deny the soul. They deny sin and moral accountability. What good can such ‘experts’ possibly do who deny the foundations of their essence, and look back at over a century of failure stemming from the same worldview they hold? This is just like what God told Jeremiah to speak to the people of Jerusalem in 600 BC, who were ‘supposed’ to be God’s people and act like it:

For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns That can hold no water.  Jeremiah 2:13

To end on a note of hope, let’s look closer at that analogy of a “fountain of living waters” —

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar:

If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4)

Jesus in Jerusalem (John 7) said to the crowds gathered for a feast:

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

So the “fountain of living waters” Jeremiah spoke of was the Holy Spirit. A spirit is not biological! It is a person. Secular psychology loses from square one by disbelieving in the reality of the human spirit. That is what makes us persons, not just biological organisms. How can they help the souls of people while denying the reality of the spirit? It’s a worldview doomed to failure.

After Jesus died and rose again, and ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit was given in power to the disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Now, anyone who repents from their sin and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ receives the indwelling Holy Spirit, the fountain of living waters. The Holy Spirit, being one with the Father and the Son, provides meaning, joy, and guidance in this life, and everlasting joy in heaven.

Don’t waste money on charlatan shrinks. Leave those broken cisterns behind. Come to the fount of living waters!

“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance. (Isaiah 55:1-2)

How do you come to this fountain of living waters?

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:8-13)

Whoever calls on the Lord Jesus in repentance and faith receives the Holy Spirit, the “Helper” who gives peace, comfort and guidance to those who have believed in Jesus. In his letter to the Romans (ch. 8), Paul elaborates on the role of the Spirit in the believer’s life. As you read this passage, think about the failure of naturalistic psychologists (vv 6-8), and the power available to those who follow Christ.

6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

The choices before us could not be more opposite: failure vs success, emptiness vs purpose, depression vs joy, fakery vs reality, broken cisterns that can hold no water vs the fountain of living waters. For your mental health, make the right choice.

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