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A Believer or a Behaviorist?

Greg E. Gifford, PhD, CBC



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Every person possesses habits. An important question to ask in understanding habits is, “what is the role of those habits in the educational experience?” Educators understand repetition, discipline, structure, and environment but do educators understand the behavioral assumptions that drive those methodologies or the ideologies from which current methodology has been derived? Consequently, the aim of this paper is to address one, central research question: can repeated behavior prohibit or promote learning or knowledge acquisition from a behaviorist’s perspective? Ivan Pavlov, perhaps a father in the behaviorism camp, spent years testing and proving what he believed to be the answer to this question.[1] He argued that he could create a consistent stimulus and develop a habit in his subjects (primarily working with dogs) through external means, thus priming them for future responses.[2] He believed that external stimuli teach a person to respond in certain ways, and those responses are then solidified through repeated exposure. Not all behaviorists agree, though, with Knight Dunlap stating these habits of learning were seen as the very fabric of the human nature: “in their totality, make[ing] up the character of the individual.”[3] If Pavlov’s assertion is true, and Dunlap’s perspective is accurate, what role does habit formation plan in the ability of the student to learn?

Overview and Biblical Review

William James (1842-1910), Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), Knight Dunlap (1875-1949), B.F. Skinner (1904-1990), and O.H. Mowrer (1907-1982) will all be carefully reviewed in their understanding of habits as representatives of the behaviorist ideology. This sketch of behaviorism’s perspective of the role of habits in learning will lend itself towards a biblical critique, which the author will provide after this overview. Primarily, though, the author’s thesis is that, according to behaviorists, repeated behaviors—known most commonly as habits—influence the learning process and, consequently, the ability of the student to learn. The author will show this through an evaluation of prominent behaviorists and a reconstruction of their varying positions on habits and their role in learning. Finally, the author purposes to ultimately show the reader that behavioristic educational foundations are not compatible with a Christian worldview due to their faulty understandings of man as will be demonstrated through a biblical critique of the behaviorist position.

Definition of Terms and Delineation of Thesis Argument

Habits: Also used by behaviorists as “associations, conditioning, and habits” are being used in this paper as a learned, automatic or frequent actions. There are varying facets of this definition, but by-and-large this simple definition encapsulates the scope of varying opinions on habits.[4] It should be noted that a habit does not need to occur every time, however, the author is using this term in its common usage, which implies a consistent action.

Behaviorism: the theory that human behavior is fully attributable to physical causes, conditioning, and action. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy clearly states:

Psychology is the science of behavior. Psychology is not the science of mind—as something other or different from behavior. (2) Behavior can be described and explained without making ultimate reference to mental events or to internal psychological processes. The sources of behavior are external (in the environment), not internal (in the mind, in the head). (3) In the course of theory development in psychology, if, somehow, mental terms or concepts are deployed in describing or explaining behavior, then either (a) these terms or concepts should be eliminated and replaced by behavioral terms or (b) they can and should be translated or paraphrased into behavioral concepts.[5]

Behaviorism is summarily both a theory and a practice that focuses primarily on the external factors of man.

Learning: the author is using the common expression of the learning as defined by Merriam-Webster as, “the activity or process of gaining knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something.”[6]

Environmentalism: “a theory that views environment rather than heredity as the important factor in the development and especially the cultural and intellectual development of an individual or group.”[7] Skinner saw that environment is what encouraged and, perhaps, determined the differences in man: “People are extraordinarily different in different places and possibly just because of the places.”[8]

Anthropology: the study and doctrine of man, to include “the difference physical and cultural conditions of mankind.”[9] Part of the author’s intent is to show that a biblical anthropology precludes behavioristic conclusions.

Epistemology: The use of epistemology is intentionally not going to be extensive or used outside of the status quo usage of the word. The most common usages of the word can be represented in the following definitions: (1) the study of “the nature of knowledge and justification”[10] and (2), this is to include the “nature, limits, origins, and verifiability of what is known.”[11]

Research Review: Role of Habits in Learning

According to Behaviorists

William James—Habit

“An acquired habit, from a physiological point of view, is nothing but a new pathway of discharge formed in the brain, by which certain incoming currents ever after tend to escape.”[12] William James understood the evasiveness of defining a habit. He, himself, said that “the moment one tries to define what habit is, one is led to the fundamental properties of matter.”[13] From James’ perspective, a habit was entirely a physiological phenomenon. Habits entailed an organic feature of every human being known as plasticity, by which organs react to external influences but are not overcome in that influence. Imagine a tree that has the ability to flex in the wind, but yet does not break during the strong winds: this is the idea of plasticity. Therefore, James argues that plasticity is vital for a person’s physiology, and this characteristic shows that habits are then formed through “pathways within nerve-centres [sic].”[14] Although it is not clear as to how James has come to these conclusions, it is apparent that he is convinced of the physiological nature and origin of these habits. Consequently, he sees these habits of paramount importance.

James describes habits as

The enormous fly-wheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and saves the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor. It alone prevents the hardest and most repulsive walks of life from being deserted by those brought up to tread therein. … It is well for the worlds that in most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again.[15]

James senses the importance of habits and accredits all of these to primarily physiological nervous center pathways. He sees that if habits were not a reality, then there would be no order in society and no productivity within man. Up to this point, James has made an entirely materialistic approach to habits until he articulates the development of habits.

In James’ articulation of developing habits, James moves from an organic posture to an immaterial posture; he begins to talk of the “will.” In regards to a person getting rid of negative habits he says,

In the main, however, all expert opinion would agree that abrupt acquisition of the new habit is the best way, if there be a real possibility of carrying it out. We must be careful not to give the will so stiff a task as to insure its defeat at the very outset … . It is surprising how soon a desire will die of inanition if it never be fed [emphasis added].”[16]

The reader must see the shift that has taken place within James’ theory of habits—he has gone from neuropathology to the desires that initiate and confirm those habits. Making the change of habits, not about a new pathway within the nervous system, but a new desire. The shift is subtle, but significant in understanding James’ theory of habits. The nuance is this: James believes that habits are sustained through neurological activity, but originate in the spirit, desires, or will.[17] Yet, his position is that this origination is sustained through the material law of habits.[18] Practically speaking, this means that James suggests a habit has origins at the desire level but that those desires are only sustained through the regular practice of habit formation, else they suffer attrition.

Finally, this leads the reader to ask how James would view habits in the process of learning? What role do habits play in learning if the source of habits are immaterial but their sustainment is material? Here is the imbedded connection within James’ writings: habits capacitate or de-capacitate a person for future responses. He argues that if a person lets their emotional promptings to action disappear, they will lose those promptings. Before long, the capacity for those actions will be gone. He uses the example of effort and how promptings to effort, when met with inactivity, will capacitate that person to inactivity.[19] This has paramount significance. According to Williams James, habits capacitate the person towards future action and those actions are developing them into a certain kind of person. It is a two-edged sword of seemingly deterministic nature. The bad news is that if one engages in negative actions, they are putting themselves on a track for irreparability. However, if one performs beneficial habits—according to James—they are put on a track of consistent growth and development.

Therefore, the student need not fear the outcome of their studies. If James’ theory be correct, the process of those studies is actually the gain and discipline that is being developed, not only the content of their studies. “He can perfectly count on waking up some fine morning, to find himself one of the competent ones of his generation, in whatever purpose he may have singled out.”[20] The end goal of education is not content, according to James’ perspective, but the process by which content is attained—by good habit formation.

So, the conclusion would be, according to James, “Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state. We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or vice leaves its never so little scar.”[21] William James, the front-runner of behaviorism, believed greatly in the importance of habits as it affects learning and epistemology. Another who would carry the torch of habits but would become increasingly more materialistic succeeded him; his name was Ivan Pavlov.

Ivan Pavlov

Ivan Pavlov, a contemporary of William James, was a pioneer in the field of reflexes, associations, and habits as noted above. He was a Russian physiologist who originally had education in theology before making the transition to study physiology. He served for 45 years as the director of the department of physiology at the Institute of Experimental Medicine. It was there that Pavlov developed his theories on classic conditioning after thorough studies on the reflexes within the digestion process.

Pavlov believed that there were both conditioned reflexes and unconditioned reflexes. A conditioned reflex was “formed inevitably under a given set of physiological conditions, and with the greatest ease … I think it is fully justified in that compared with inborn reflexes, these new reflexes actually do depend on very many conditions, both in their formation and in the maintenance of their physiological activity.”[22] An unconditioned reflex is seen by Pavlov to be an “inborn reflex,”[23] which is something that is innate from birth. An example of an inborn reflex would be the way in which dogs salivate for food from the point of birth.[24]

What is interesting about Pavlov’s perspective of reflexes, including what would be seen as habit, is that they are lumped into an entirely physiological realm within Pavlov’s taxonomy. He argues that, “The next highest step of nervous activity is occupied by the so-called associations or habits, i.e., the connections formed during the life of the individual owing to the coupling or combining function of the cortex of the cerebrum [emphasis added].”[25] He sees conditioned responses, habits, associations, education and training as all the same thing; “and all of these are really nothing more than the results of an establishment of new nervous connections during the post-natal existence of the organism.”[26]

Note that Pavlov is suggesting habits are nothing more than functions of the cortex of the cerebrum—an entirely physiological phenomenon! For instance, he says, “there should be no theoretical objection to the hypothesis of the formation of new physiological paths and new connections within cerebral hemispheres.”[27] Very matter of factly, Pavlov says that common knowledge suggests that the nervous system of humans was designed for the purpose of communication and that reflexes were a simple outworking of the very nature of human beings. A reflex is something that was cued physiologically and maintained physiologically, according to Pavlov. The question, then, is how would Pavlov see reflexes in relationship to education?

In his conclusion to his Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex, Pavlov has a chapter that he dedicates to the application of his studies on animals to man. In it he says, “It is obvious that the different kinds of habits based on training, education, and discipline of any sort are nothing but a long chain of conditioned reflexes.”[28] This is very telling of Pavlov’s method of education. Now, education is about affecting the cortex of the cerebrum in order to develop neurological pathways that will lead to conditioned reflexes. Pavlov has taken an entirely materialistic perspective of habits/reflexes and their formation.[29] Consequently, what would be of paramount importance would be a consideration of those stimuli that develop changes in the cortex of the cerebrum. Meaning, the environment is what would now become of extreme importance.

The line of argumentation for Pavlov is distinguishing between the inborn reflex and stimulus-oriented reflex. From that perspective, he and William James would actually be in total agreement in regards to the importance of habits, or reflexes. Where they would differ is that James argued for a source of habits being a movement in the emotions, spirit, or will and Pavlov sees that even the emotional disturbances (i.e., fear and cowardice) are from nervous system.[30] James says the emotions created the habits, and Pavlov says the habits created the emotions. These contemporaries—writing just thirty years apart—are suggesting something very different. But in their differences both of them set the stage for someone to come and emphasize the environment of man that cultivates the “conditioned reflexes” or “habits.”[31] The stage has been set for the entrance of that environmentalist and his name is Burrhus Frederic Skinner.

B.F. Skinner

            B.F. Skinner was a leading psychologist with a prolific secular career. He served as the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, received the National Medal of Science from President Lyndon Johnson, and also received the Gold Medal of the American Psychological Foundation. Skinner received his PhD from Harvard before taking teaching positions in Minnesota and Indiana. He was trained in literature but took special interest in psychology in his graduate studies, ultimately creating his own version of behaviorism.

The form of behaviorism that B.F. Skinner created was essentially what could be termed environmentalism, even though he preferred the term radical behaviorism. In his idea of radical behaviorism, Skinner was not only arguing for the importance of behavior, but for the source of behavior as being from a person’s environment. He said,

The position can be stated as follows: what is felt or introspectively observed is not some nonphysical world of consciousness, mind, or mental life but the observer’s own body. This does not mean, as I shall show later, that introspection is a kind of physiological research, nor does it mean and this is the heart of the argument that what are felt or introspectively observed are the causes of behavior.[32]

What Skinner is seeking to do is to show that he believes introspection is not a sufficient explanation about the causes of behavior.[33] The reason for this belief is that Skinner is drawing into question the ability of a person to observe persons. He states that the observer is, in fact, observing “his own body.” The reason this is important is because Skinner, like James and Pavlov, is suggesting that there is an entirely material reason for why people do what they do (i.e., “the observer’s own body; see above quote).

So it must be said that Skinner is not bringing into question the importance of the immaterial feelings, emotions, sensations, and so forth; Skinner is bringing causation of those mental life phenomenon to the foreground. This is where he builds his argument for radical behaviorism. He says, “The environment made its first great contribution during the evolution of the species, but it exerts a different kind of effect during the lifetime of the individual, and the combination of the two effects is the behavior we observe at any given time [emphasis added].”[34] This is a radical statement, but perhaps not for the reasons that Skinner intended. What he is suggesting is that the reason a person does what they do is because of the environment in which find themselves: “People are extraordinarily different in different places and possibly just because of the places.”[35] He has even made a shift in the behavioristic approach to man, whereas, up to this point in behaviorism the importance and reality of feelings and emotions were greatly recognized.

Skinner, to his credit, recognizes the shift that he is making. He clarifies in his writings that in regards to defending behavioristic shortcomings that potentially he has destroyed what was meant to be saved. “In answering these charges I may seem to have ‘abandoned the very basis of behaviorism’, but what I have abandoned are the vestiges of early statements of the position, subjected to various elaborations and criticisms over a period of some sixty years.”[36] He is right. He has abandoned what Pavlov and James sought to develop as Skinner now makes a shift to the environment of man.

This led to his technology of behavior and his extreme emphasis on the environment of man. His logical conclusion in developing his technology of behavior is reshaping that environment. Skinner states clearly that, “what we have learned from the experimental analysis of behavior suggests that the environment performs the functions previously assigned to feelings and introspectively observed inner states of the organism.”[37] The reader must see the transitions taking place within the behavioristic camp: (1) James argued for life as being nothing more than the accumulation of habits, (2) Pavlov argued that these actions are primarily functions of the body derived in the cerebral cortex, and (3) Skinner has now said that environment is the main causal factor for all that man does.

This transition has naturally affected the way in which behaviorists see the educational process. Skinner was consistent in believing that the environment of man was more crucial to consider than the mental theories.

Everyone has suffered, and unfortunately is continuing to suffer, from mentalistic theories of learning in education. It is a field in which the goal seems to be obviously a matter of changing minds, attitudes, feelings, motives, and so on, and the Establishment is therefore particularly resistant to change. Yet the point of education can be stated in behavioral terms … .[38]

Skinner again is making a shift in terms of education. Up to this point Skinner admits that there has been a heavy emphasis on mental processes and education. However, he is suggesting, per his theory of radical behaviorism, that the teacher is nothing more than an “arranger of contingencies.”[39] He goes on to finish the above quote by saying:

“A teacher arranges contingencies under which the student acquires behavior which will be useful to him under other contingencies later on. The instructional contingencies must be contrived; there is no way out of this.”[40] If one follows Skinner’s way of thinking, they are forced to emphasize the education of man through environment. No longer is thinking a primary emphasis of education because, as Skinner states, “thinking is behaving.”[41]

Finally, to truly discern Skinner’s way of viewing habits in regards to learning and education, it must be clarified that Skinner believed that all of learning was behavior. Skinner also believed that the behavior was derived from the environment. Therefore, for Skinner, habits would be the point of education—learning new behavior.[42] According to Skinner, learning new behavior, in turn, comes from the “school to which he goes, its instructional programs, and the behavior of its teachers and supervisors.”[43] Now, education has morphed from content to environment. Consequently, the stage has been disrupted from traditional behavioristic understandings and Knight Dunlap, the next leading behaviorist, shows those inconsistencies in his own thinking about education.

Knight Dunlap

Knight Dunlap was educated at the University of California and Harvard ultimately holding teaching positions at Johns Hopkins, UC Berkley, and UCLA. Dunlap struggled to see eye-to-eye with William James, one of his professors at Harvard, who published his theory on Habits just 40 years earlier than Dunlap’s work. Dunlap believes that the epitome of James’ work in his “brain-path” theory has functionally been rejected for two reasons:[44] “In the first place, while the theory apparently fits some simple cases of habit formation … it does not agree with the more numerous and more important cases of learning … in which a response is continuously modified during the process of learning, so that at the end of the learning it may be distinctly different from its initial form.”[45] Secondarily, “the theory would set aside certain neuron responses, certain neuron chains.”[46] Meaning, that if one neuron was dedicated to another, it would preclude use outside of that neuron chain and Dunlap believes that neurons are used in different ways within different contexts, just as that of a muscle. Therefore, Dunlap has locked horns with James’ theory of learning and found it to be unacceptable, from his own perspective. And that lack of acceptance has also led him to critique another behavioral giant—Ivan Pavlov.

Dunlap believed that, unlike Pavlov, there was a learning of skill and knowledge.[47] He consistently critiques Pavlov, believing that Pavlov is talking past the whole issue of learning and habits. Pavlov focuses on the terms and functions of animals, but did not contribute original knowledge according to Dunlap. Dunlap says, “No doubt Pavlov has himself been misled into supposing that he has discovered new points of view, where he has merely invented terms.”[48] The point of departure for Dunlap is not that he saw Pavlov’s works as unimportant, but rather unrelated. Dunlap viewed Pavlov’s work as more physiological in nature, whereas Pavlov’s work did not prove anything that has not already been stated up to this point. “Pavlov’s work has revealed no modification of response which is not of a familiar type,” accusing Pavlov of developing forty-five years of research from simple common knowledge.[49] Dunlap is saying that Pavlov did not show how the dogs learned to do something that they had not already known. Inducing the salivary glands to functioning does not mean that the dogs actually learned knowledge—it means that physiological processes were induced, not taught. Dunlap goes on: “We have ascribed to Pavlov the proposal of a theory of learning, although it is actually difficult to prove that he holds any theory at all. If we should assume that his theory is merely that all responses are either reflexes, in the usual meaning of the word reflex, or are modifications of such reflexes, we would be ascribing to him a theory which has been put forward by main philosophers since Descartes … .”[50]

After critiquing the fathers of behavioral education Dunlap seeks to offer his own understanding of learning theory. “We learn by acting, by perceiving and by thinking. So far as we can determine, no other ways of learning are possible.”[51] Furthermore, Dunlap seeks to offer clarity on that process by saying, “the constitutional features of the mechanism, including those which are the results of learning in the proper sense, are being modified throughout life by processes of growth, nutrition, and other metabolic and perhaps structural changes. … The results of learning are, therefore, never stable” (18). This loosening of the learning process sets the stage for Dunlap’s later argument regarding learning, which circulates primarily around practice. He said, “The succession of responses of whatever type, through which the learner goes while learning, is conventionally called practice. … In learning to do anything whatever, varying amounts of practice are required.”[52] Although Dunlap doesn’t exclude the possibilities of insight and memory without practice, he sees them as exceptions rather than the standard process of learning. Also, due to his understanding of the difference in the type of knowledge, Dunlap concludes that any type of learning is confirmed by the effects of that learning. “Skill and knowledge are definitely and usefully related in the learning process, the knowledge acquired having a definite value in the learning of the skill and the skill acquired in other cases assisting the acquisition of knowledge.”[53] This sounds so plausible on first glance—knowledge is assisted through practice, therefore learning theory involves practice. But what Dunlap is arguing is that practice is capacitating the learner to process knowledge through “previous knowledge and the organic status at the moment.”[54] One must also note that Dunlap seeks to differentiate between a practice only, and an environmental effect. This practically means that one can ascertain an idea, without that idea having any environmental influence. “The point is: the recall or reinstatement of the knowledge-response does not necessarily produce an immediate environmental change, whereas the reinstatement of the skill-response does essentially have a direct environmental effect of a measurable sort.”[55] Dunlap is situating the process of learning in the area of thought and practice. He recognizes that there are thoughts that do not manifest themselves in any direct practice, but also argues that those thoughts do still indicate knowledge. Moreover, in gaging the acquisition of knowledge, Dunlap suggests that the primary means of gaging skill-knowledge is through practice, but that difference between “knowledge-learning and skill-learning seem[s] to disappear … In particular, wherever a sudden and marked improvement occurs in learning, we always suspect that ideational factors are involved; that knowledge which has been acquired is the actual basis of the improvement.”[56] This leads Dunlap to argue for the practice as being the means of evaluation and knowledge acquisition since practice is the very way in which a person learns. Note that even though Dunlap disagreed with the why of practice from James, he does make similar conclusions to that of James. Both would agree that practice is of paramount importance in the process of learning and yet both miss the internal motivations, emotions, feelings, and inclinations that help develop these practices. O.H. Mowrer, however, picked up on these over sights and developed his two-stage learning theory.

O.H. Mowrer

Mowrer was an American psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Illinois who also emphasized behaviorism. He is known for behavior therapy and two-stage theory. Mowrer, like Knight Dunlap, did not see eye-to-eye with his behaviorist predecessors either. He notes, “As Pavlov long ago pointed out and Sherrington before him had clearly intimated, the fact that living organisms are equipped with a variety of ‘distance receptors’ means that they can react to the merest shadow of ‘coming events’ and, through conditioning, can be put into highly reactive action anticipatorily, ‘foresightfully.’ The only difficulty with the Pavlovian theory in this regard was that it tried to make conditioning a simply matter of connecting external stimuli and external responses, without taking sufficient account of emotions as significant intervening variables [emphasis added].[57] Mowrer, known for behavioral therapy, was critiquing the fact that Pavlov had lost an emphasis on emotions as internal stimuli. (Pavlov as the self-acclaimed physiologist would most likely disagree that this was his intent!) This led him to develop his own theory of behavior most commonly known as the two-stage theory.

The two-stage theory of learning that Mowrer develops picked up on his predecessors input regarding conditioning (i.e., Pavlov) and environment (i.e., William James, B.F Skinner) and advanced the conversation with his idea of avoidance conditioning. He argued that Pavlov, William James, and Thorndike’s law of effect miss something in regards to the component of fear in the learning process. Mowrer believed that fear can quickly uproot entrenched habits and that fear could be conditioned in to avoidance responses.[58] What Mowrer did was emphasize that there is more to be seen than the tangible. He showed that emotions were a “covert response” that must be taken into consideration in the learning process.[59] Therefore, the two-factor learning says that there is not only classical conditioning but also operant conditioning. Classic conditioning suggests that external stimuli elicit certain responses in the student, but operant conditioning suggests that one learns to respond through various learned and solidified responses to the external stimuli. Thus, making an external stimuli reinforce an emotional response: this is Mowrer’s two-stage theory of learning.

What Mowrer has done, which is quite ironic, is brought back the discussion of emotions, motivations, desires, inclinations, and feelings as an important part of behaviorism. Skinner saw these as being behaviors in and of themselves, Pavlov saw them as unrelated to his studies, and James suggests that they were the reason that habits are formed in the first part.[60] The reader must see that there is a great disparity between the way that behaviorists have seen habits and their role in education, however there are common threads that have been noted among the five, prominent behaviorists that the author as analyzed.

Capacitation Towards Knowledge through Habit

Every behaviorist, except Pavlov, believed that the student is capacitated through repeated behaviors. This is the first and most noteworthy of the observations; here are the words of William James, B.F. Skinner, Knight Dunlap, and O.H. Mowrer:

  • William James’ position: “Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state [i.e., their time of formation]. We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or vice leaves its never so little scar.”[61]
  • F. Skinner’s position: “People are extraordinarily different in different places and possibly just because of the places.”[62]
  • Knight Dunlap’s position: “The succession of responses of whatever type, through which the learner goes while learning, is conventionally called … In learning to do anything whatever, varying amounts of practice are required.”[63]
  • H. Mowrer’s position: overall behavior is cultivated through internal responses (i.e., “covert behavior) and external stimuli, predisposing one towards those actions in the future.[64]

Although the behaviorists disagree about the exact causation of behavior, they did see that behavior and habits all have paramount importance in the learning process and the capacity of the learner to learn. Unfortunately, none of the behaviorists—perhaps one could argue this does not include William James—emphasized how the inner man realities do shape the outer man responses. Neither do they address which of the two—inner or outer man—are the causation of action. What is even more interesting is that there is not a clear synthesis of what true behavior looks like, either. Perhaps one views the behaviorist educational model has being cohesive, yet it seems quite fragmented even from a cursory glance. The overview of the behaviorist leaders has set the stage for a biblical critique and evaluation, which is where the author now seeks to take the reader.

Analysis of Research Review from a Biblical Perspective

William James, Ivan Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, Knight Dunlap and O.H. Mower made no claims to religiosity even though half of them received theological training of some sort. Intrinsically, they must see that their efforts are theological in nature because they are seeking to address matters of causation in behavior, inner man or mentalistic theories, and general anthropological deductions.[65] All of these observations and so-called scientific theories involve primarily three areas of theology: epistemological authority, anthropology and theology proper. Therefore, the author will seek to counter-balance the findings of these behaviorists with the Christian alternative.

Epistemological Authority

Every educational curriculum possesses an epistemological authority from experience, to scientific observation, to the writings of others, and et cetera. One of the key behavioristic epistemological authorities is the authority of scientific observation and its so-called authority and explanatory capacity over human existence. However, a Christian worldview finds this to be incompatible.

A Christian worldview is one that must be committed to the epistemological authority of Scripture over experience and scientific methodology. This presupposition is foundational to the teachings of Scripture and inherent in a right anthropology.[66] In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, He says, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). He connects the epistemological authority as being God’s Word. One theologian said, “The difference is significant, for this statement encourages us to think of the Bible not simply as being ‘true’ in the sense that it conforms to some higher standard of truth, but rather to think of the Bible as being itself the final standard of truth.”[67] There is no question for the believer of whether scientific theory/observation or Scripture is authoritative,[68] because for one to be hermeneutically consistent, they must be committed to the epistemological authority of Scripture. And this is a point of departure for behaviorists.

Behaviorists make seemingly plausible observations in regards to human nature, but these observations are built on faulty presuppositions. It is through Scripture that one sees clearly the world that God created. “By your light we see light” (Ps. 36:9) is the way the psalmist would describe the illuminating function of this epistemological authority: it is only through God’s Word a person can truly understand human nature (1 Cor. 2:14). This is so because God’s Word “enlightens the eyes” (Ps. 19:8). This leaves a behavioristic approach to education and educational curriculums as being incompatible to the Christian worldview in its presuppositions, since a Christian worldview espouses the epistemological authority of Scripture as final over human experience and scientific observation.


Soulical versus Material. Although epistemological authority is perhaps the single-most incompatibility of behaviorism from a Christian worldview, another glaring incompatibility is the anthropology of behaviorists. A natural degradation of man flows from faulty presuppositions and thus, observations of man are skewed from their very beginning. However, a Christian worldview has an upward view of mankind that sees redemption from the effects of sin and restoration to a place of nobility as the trajectory for believers.[69] This redemption primarily consists in the understanding that man is both material and immaterial.

From the Genesis 1 account of God breathing into man the “breath of life,” the Christian worldview of anthropology is that man is primarily an embodied soul.[70] Consequently, man is, and must be seen as a soulical being from a Christian worldview, and that distinctive is quite foreign to behaviorists. Consistently throughout Scripture man is reminded that he no longer is to focus on the outward of the seen but on the inward and eternal, as God does (2 Cor. 4:15-16). Jesus states the importance of the soul as being more valuable than the entire world (Matt. 16:26), and Paul says at the point of death a believer will be separated from his body and their soul present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:1-10).

Moreover, the entirety of redemption is focused on the soulical nature of people, making redemption about the recovery of lost souls, not bodies. Bodies will, in fact, be restored (i.e., all nature longs for redemption [Rom. 8:21, 23]), but souls are bought back because of their fall into sin according the Genesis 3 account. To rearrange the nature of man is to rearrange the purpose of man, and the hope for man.

A behaviorist misses the immaterial component of anthropology, which, in turn, causes a fault that is irrevocably damaging to the behavioristic perspective. Physiological influences, environments, and stimuli are all influential aspects of what encourages people to do what they do. However, from a Christian worldview we see that people do what they do because they have an inner man that is overflowing into outer man behavior (Mark 7:23; Prov. 4:23).[71] Looking at the outer man behavior is observing only the tip of the iceberg of the nature of man—stimuli’s do not change the heart of man, they only reveal it (Jer. 17:1-7). This focus on the material component of man will miss one of the most intrinsic parts of a Christian worldview about man: man is a sinner.

There is a sense in which behaviorists have overlooked another vital aspect of biblical anthropology according to the Christian worldview: that aspect is that man is a sinner, with a constant inclination to that which is evil. Romans 3:10 indicates that, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (vv. 10-11). One quintessential oversight of behaviorists is that all humans are sinful—Romans 8:8 says none in the flesh can please God. This may not seem pertinent in a secular, humanistic environment until one clarifies that a person will always do that which transgresses against a God, who has provided directives for life. Therefore, a behaviorist would place heavy emphasis on the stimuli and environmental conditions in which one learns behavior. However, Scripture would put an emphasis on the inward inclinations that lead people to certain behaviors—not vice versa. For instance, Proverbs 4:23 clearly paints the inner man as being the source of all behavior: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”[72] Total depravity connotes that this distortion has affected all of man’s being to such an extent that he has no inherent power of recovery left to restore himself to harmony with God, and that this is the case with every member of the race.[73] Moreover, this is something that starts in the heart of man and progresses outward towards behavior.

The line of argumentation from a Christian worldview is that a soulical understanding of man must also articulate the sinfulness of man. Therefore, man does have internal inclinations that are, apart from God, always inclined towards that which is evil. Environment, stimuli, habits, or classic conditioning are not responsible for the actions of man—it is their sinful heart (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:23). This understanding of man fences in the presupposition of man as being a soulical, sinful creature, something which is foreign to the behaviorist.

Image Bearers. Due to the behaviorist oversight of man as created, soulical beings, they miss that all mankind is an image-bearer of the nature and character of God,[74] one of the most rudimentary aspects of man-as-creature. And as image bearers, man is given insight into the reasons he does the things he does (i.e., he is created this way; see above comments); man cannot reduce all actions to conditioning, habits, or environments (Mark 7:23-25), and lastly that a Christian cannot be a behaviorist if they are truly image-bearers. As an image-bearer, which Scripture teaches explicitly, a person must recognize that God is Spirit (John 4:24). In fact, a person’s image-bearing of God is primarily non-material.[75] This image-bearing component of man’s nature makes behaviorism an incompatible worldview by which to see man. As an image-bearer, man is implicitly and explicitly responsible for the way that he represents the true Image. Leading the discerning believer to note one more incompatibility of the Christian worldview with the behaviorist worldview: human responsibility.

Human Responsibility. If one were to read the works of Ivan Pavlov on conditioning, William James’ perspective of motivation, B.F. Skinner’s view of the role of environment, or Knight Dunlap’s theory of homosexuality there is something grossly absent from these writings and that is the responsibility of humans. In fact, Skinner goes as far to state that environments can determine the character of people.[76] Knight Dunlap believes that bad actions (i.e., homosexuality) is nothing more than a bad habit that has been inculcated through practice and environment![77] Wonderfully absent in these men’s perspective is the responsibility of man as it pertains to man’s environment.[78] A Christian worldview says that a person does wrong things because he wants wrong things (Matt. 12:34; Mark 7:23; Jer. 17:9; James 3:11), not because he is in wrong environments.

The important clarification is that a Christian worldview states that all the actions of man are derivative from the inner man (i.e., soul, heart, bosom) and that man will give an account of those actions (Heb. 9:23). Immediately after providing the source of words, Jesus reminds the hearers of His time that “every person will give an account for the idle words they speak” (Matt. 12:36). Did Jesus not understand what Dunlap and Skinner were to later observe, that environment and habits would shape a person and make a person? That thought is not compatible with the truth of Scripture and the teachings of Jesus. Rather, man will give account for everything that he does and is being held accountable even for the way that he responds to environmental influences, external stimuli, and habitual influences.

A Christian worldview does not minimize or ignore the potency of environments and habits, but it does not maximize them, either. Mankind is responsible for his actions, even in the midst of terrible environments and recalcitrant habits from years of practice. Environment does play a very important role in the Christian worldview. In fact, Paul warns that a believer should avoid being unequally yoked (2 Cor. 6:4) and also that that “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33). The Bible is not ignorant to the influences of environment, but never cites environment as causation.[79]

Cause vs. Influence. One last clarification, although a thorough discussion on the Holy Spirit could be warranted, is that mankind is responsible for their actions. A few instances of this are revealed clearly throughout Scripture. For instance, Joseph was a man who was sold into slavery, betrayed by his family, forgotten by his friends, accused by his boss’ wife, and yet repeatedly saw that God was using these negative environmental occasions to accomplish His purposes (Gen. 50:20). Joseph had a human right to be bitter and retaliatory from a human perspective, yet we see that he recognizes God brought these things into his life to as part of God’s plan for Joseph’s life. They were very influential occasions in his life, but they were not determinative causations of his own conduct. In fact, we see that Joseph repeatedly did what honored the Lord despite his environment.[80]

One last example of human responsibility is the passage of 2 Corinthians 5:10, which says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” Paul focuses his life on pleasing God because he knows one day he will give an account to God for everything—including the way he responded to negative environments. A behaviorist misses the fact that a person is, and will always be responsible for their actions. Yes, environmental considerations are important in the Christian worldview, but they are not determinative. In fact, in the face of negative environmental influences (i.e., “evil”), God calls people to do good (Rom. 12:18-21). Though environment is evil, God provides the grace to do what is right, and all will be held accountable (1 Cor. 10:13; Heb. 9:27). Behaviorism shirks responsibility, but a Christian worldview restores responsibility while recognizing environment is influential, just not determinative. The balance is not to minimize environment, but rather to recognize that environment only influences—it never causes.[81]


Throughout this paper, the author has attempted to reconstruct prominent behaviorists and their perspective on habits—letting them speak for themselves. Perhaps there are more (or less) authors that could have been included, but the reader must note the William James, Ivan Pavlov, and B.F. Skinner must be considered if one is to take serious the behavioristic position. It is also important to recognize the nuances of each of these positions.

William James, the father of psychology, wrote clearly and definitively on the role of habits. He believed neuro-pathways were created during the formation of habits and that those neuro-pathways were forming a person. James was balanced, perhaps more so than Pavlov and Skinner, in his understanding of origination as it pertains to habits. He believed that emotions were the instigators of habits, and that when one had an emotion they must quickly act upon it so as not to miss the opportunity to harness this passion into habit formation. In addition, he passionately believed that habits were at the core of human existence and that if a person wants to be effective, they must develop these pathways of habits. He sees these pathways as determinative and ultimately damning if a person develops the wrong habits.[82] It is incredible to see that James believes that habits are what differentiate classes of people and the end goal of education.[83] It is difficult to overstate the emphasis that James placed on habits and their primacy in human experience.

Ivan Pavlov would see himself as more objective than his American predecessor, William James. His desire was to focus entirely on what could be observed through scientific theory and observation. He considered himself a physiologist, not a psychologist, so his efforts were primarily in regards to associations and conditioning through the means of stimuli. His argument is that he could created associations (i.e., habits) through the means of external stimuli and that the external stimuli can create this association unbeknownst to a person (specifically from his work with dogs). Pavlov left no room for inner man considerations of emotions, feelings, inclinations, or desires. This is true because he saw himself as a physiologist, therefore his theories and lectures are all oriented around the behavior not the inner man that is driving that behavior. Again, as stated above, these two men set the stage for someone like Skinner to address the seeming importance of environment.

B.F. Skinner walked onto a stage that had been prepared by Ivan Pavlov and William James. His radical behaviorism was connecting the dots of the entirely physical, Ivan Pavlov, with the heightened focus on habits and behavior of William James. When Skinner suggests that environment not only influences, but makes people into certain kinds of people he carrying the baton of Pavlov and James. Skinner, like James, understands mentalistic theories, but sees that mental theories are part of a person, therefore, he includes them into environment. Now the transition is almost complete with Knight Dunlap and O.H. Mowrer bringing back behaviorism to emphasize what Skinner had (perhaps intentionally) overlooked.

Knight Dunlap believed in the practice of knowledge as being the primary evaluator of whether or not a learner had acquired knowledge. He takes almost an existential posture towards learning and education through habits. Practice is important, according to Dunlap, because only through practice can one learn and be measured in their learning.[84]

O.H. Mowrer developed in his two-stage learning theory that inner man responses, such as fear, acted as stimulants. He seems to have bridged the gap between all of the behaviorists by offering a solution to avoidance and escape tendencies within people. He believes, for instance, that fear causes the first response of conditioning and that the alleviation of that fear through various means enforces this new form of conditioning.[85] Mowrer, too, stands on the shoulders of James and Pavlov and offers a very enticing perspective of why people respond to fear and are habituated to avoidance and escape responses.

As has been displayed throughout this paper, a behaviorist believes that habits, conditioning, or associations—all used in the same ways—are means of forming and shaping people. According to behaviorists, learning comes somewhat unknowingly as people are steeped in environments, exposed to stimuli, and all of these happen beneath the radar of human awareness on most occasions. The author’s thesis was that, according to behaviorists, repeated behaviors, known most commonly as habits, influence the learning process and, consequently, the ability of the student to learn. This has been displayed in James, Skinner, and Mowrer primarily, but Pavlov and Dunlap hint at these in his discussion on conditioning.

Value of Behavior and Environment

This is difficult for some believers to state, and must be done with great caution, but there is something noteworthy in behavioristic conversations. Behaviors are important; habits are formative; environments do matter. All of these are things that a believer should be okay in stating but the point of departure from behaviorists begins just one step after those statements.

A behaviorist, as shown above, will always come to faulty conclusions about the reason behaviors originate because there is a faulty lens through which they are viewing these behaviors. However, there must grow within a Christian worldview an acceptability of stating the importance of environments and behaviors, but that those are never determinative or prescriptive as has been shown. Even though a habit is important, it never causes and it never determines—according to Scripture. Therefore, a Christian worldview is incompatible with a truly behavioristic perspective.

The author’s purpose was to display that true behaviorism, which emphasizes the supremacy of habits and the causative nature of these habits, cannot be espoused by a Christian worldview due to its presuppositions about man and man’s nature. To espouse to a truly Christian worldview inherently negates a behavioristic worldview. There are no exceptions to this statement: one cannot both hold behavioristic ideology and a Christian worldview. A Christian worldview can emphasize the importance of regular practice, habits, and environments but that does not allow for the steps to be made towards positions similar to that of James, Pavlov, Skinner, or Mowrer. Consequently, to accept behaviorism is to relinquish a Christian worldview.

[1] Ivan Pavlov, Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes (New York, NY: New York International Publishers, 1928), 296-97. Although, some question the results or significance of his findings, Pavlov was convinced his “new” theory of reflexes illustrate and develop learning theory. Knight Dunlap objects; he was not sure that Pavlov had really said anything new, and what salivary glands had to do with brain activity was also amiss to Dunlap. Knight Dunlap, Habits: Their Making and Unmaking (New York, NY: Liverright Publishing Corporation, 1932), 61.

[2] Ivan Pavlov, Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes (New York, NY: New York International Publishers, 1928), 296-97. These lectures are where Pavlov confirmed and presented his idea of classic conditioning. Pavlov is infamous for testing his theories over a 27-year period with the effects of food, dogs, and salivation. His premise was that if a food would trigger salivary glands, which in turn are confirmed through the reception of food (i.e., “conditioned stimuli” [297].)

[3] Knight Dunlap, Habits: Their Making and Unmaking (New York, NY: Liverright Publishing Corporation, 1932), 3. Of interest, Dunlap believed that bad habits were simply learned behaviors that could be rehabituated. Therefore, as the author will display, morals are a moot point since the bad behavior is nothing less than an acquired bad habit.

[4] B.R. Andrews, “Habit.” The American Journal of Psychology, vol. XIV (Spring 1903:No 2): 139. Stephen Covey suggest that a habit is “the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire,” The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 47. “Habit is a mode of mental functioning in which repeated processes are in mind. A habit is one such mode of functioning; and there are as many habits as repeated processes (emphasis added).” Also see a Christian perspective on habits: Jay Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 161. And a final secular definition of habits through Duke researchers: David T. Neal, Wendy Wood, and Jeffrey M. Quinn, “Habits: A Repeat Performance,” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 15 (2004: Issue 4): 199. William James, Habit (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1914), 49.

[5] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (plato.stanford.edu, n.d.), accessed September 28, 2016, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/behaviorism/#1. Cf. George Posner’s description in Analyzing the Curriculum (McGraw Hill, 2003), 65. Posner argued for the behaviorist as not only arguing for what behaviors contribute toward learning but also what are the desired outcomes of those behaviors.

[6] Merriam Webster, accessed September 30, 2016, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/learning, s.v. “learning.”

[7] Ibid., s.v. “environmentalism.”

[8] B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York, NY: Alfred Knopf, 1979), 185.

[9] David A. Statt, A Concise Dictionary of Psychology (London: Routeledge, 1998), s.v. “anthropology.” Cf. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 439. Charles Ryrie, Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1999), 225.

[10] Paul K. Moser, The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), 3.

[11] Statt, A Concise Dictionary of Psychology, s.v. “epistemology.”

[12] William James, Writings, 1878-1899 (New York, NY: The Library of America, 1992), 137.

[13] Ibid., 137.

[14] Ibid., 139.

[15] Ibid., 145.

[16] James, Writings, 1878-1899, 148.

[17] James, Writings, 1878-1899, 148-50. James condemns those who have emotional stirrings but no corresponding actions to those stirrings. He describes a person who watches a play, and is moved by the fictitious characters of that play while their “coachman is freezing to death outside” (149). Meaning, the emotions of the play have not stirred this person to genuine action. Therefore, James suggests that all emotional promptings, or spiritual (150) promptings, must be acted upon or the influence of those promptings will increasingly disappear.

[18] In referring to attention and effort, James says, “The strongest reason for believing that they do depend on brain-processes at all, and are not pure acts of the spirit, is just this fact, that they seem in some degree subject to the law of habit, which is a material law” (150). James, Writings, 1878-1899.

[19] James, Writings, 1878-1899, 150.

[20] Ibid., 151.

[21] James, Writings, 1878-1899, 150-51.

[22] Ivan Pavlov, Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1927), 25.

[23] Ivan Pavlov, Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex, 25.

[24] Ivan Pavlov, Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex, 24. Pavlov says, “The path of the inborn reflex is already completed at birth; but the path of the signalizing reflex has still to be completed in the higher nervous centres [sic]” (25).

[25] Ivan Pavlov, Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes (New York, NY: New York International Publishers, 1928), 296-97.

[26] Ibid., 26.

[27] Ibid., 26.

[28] Ivan Pavlov, Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex, 395.

[29] In defense of Pavlov, he made no claims to enter into the psychological realm of humans (it is unnecessary if his theories hold true). He made great distinction between physiology and psychology, himself saying “So far psychologists and physiologists proceed side-by-side. But beyond this point sharp differences arise between us,” Ivan Pavlov, Conditioned Reflexes and Psychiatry (New York, NY: International Publishers, 1941), 117. He made these comments in regards to the learning theory of conditioned reflexes as being used by the modern psychologists of his time, with whom he disagreed based on psychologists lack of objectivity. “From this, the physiologist is inclined to think that the psychologist, recently split off from the philosopher, has not yet altogether renounced partiality toward the philosophical method of deduction from pure logical work, without verifying every step of thought through agreement with actual fact [emphasis added]” (Ibid., 117). The leads one to see that Pavlov’s epistemology is entirely based on what he sees as the scientific method and its confirmation of fact.

[30] James, Writings, 1878-1899, 148-50. Ivan Pavlov, Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex, 410.

[31] Pavlov said in hopeful aspirations of the benefits of his studies that, “The chief, strongest, and ever-present impression received from the study of the higher nervous activity by our method is the extreme plasticity of this activity, its immense possibilities: nothing remains stationary, unyielding; and everything could always be attained, all could be changed for the better, were only the appropriate conditions realized [emphasis added]” Ivan Pavlov, Conditioned Reflexes and Psychiatry (New York, NY: International Publishers, 1941), 144.

[32] B.F Skinner, About Behaviorism (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), 17.

[33] By introspection, Skinner is referring to consideration of feelings, sensations, ideas, and other “features of the mental life” B.F Skinner, About Behaviorism, 16. He is suggesting the current understandings of mental life are not objective, therefore radical behaviorism is not discounting the mental life but rather questioning “the nature of the object observed and the reliability of the observations” B.F Skinner, About Behaviorism, 16-17.

[34] B.F Skinner, About Behaviorism, 17.

[35] B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York, NY: Alfred Knopf, 1979), 185. Skinner was arguing for an environmentalist perspective, citing Robert Owen saying, “clear grasped and taught that environment makes character and that environment is under human control [emphasis added],” B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, 185. He also said, “[Freedom and dignity] have formulated the task in such a way that they cannot now accept the fact that all control is exerted by the environment and proceed to the design of better environments rather than of better men” (82).

[36] Ibid., 248.

[37] Ibid., 248.

[38] Skinner, About Behaviorism, 184.

[39] A contingency, according to Skinner, is both an inner and external shaping influence on a person. He sees that there are contingencies of survival and reinforcement as the over-arching factor for survival and for behavior. Examples of these are human physiological functions, instincts of animals, a food. For a detailed analysis of Skinner’s view of contingencies, cf. 37, 40-44 in About Behaviorism. Philosopher Gordon Clark believed contingencies to be a meaningless word: “If anyone is to object to the assertion that the term contingencies  is empty of meaning, the reply can be made that in mentalistic terminology it refers to unspecified physical motions in time and space. As such it provides no meaningful explanation.” Gordon H. Clark, Behaviorism and Christianity (Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation, 1982).

[40] Skinner, About Behaviorism, 184.

[41] Skinner, About Behaviorism, 104. “The present argument is this: mental life and the world in which it is lived are inventions. They have been invented on the analogy of external behavior occurring under external contingencies. … The mistake is allocating the behavior to the mind,” (Skinner, About Behaviorism, 104).

[42] Ibid., 184.

[43] Ibid., 184.

[44] Knight Dunlap, Habits: Their Making and Unmaking (New York, NY: Liverright Publishing Corporation, 1932), 57.

[45] Knight Dunlap, Habits: Their Making and Unmaking, 57.

[46] Ibid., 57.

[47] Ibid., 73.

[48] Ibid., 73.

[49] Knight Dunlap, Habits: Their Making and Unmaking, 62.

[50] Ibid., 62.

[51] Ibid., 18.

[52] Knight Dunlap, Habits: Their Making and Unmaking, 72.

[53] Ibid., 74.

[54] Ibid., 19.

[55] Ibid., 74.

[56] Knight Dunlap, Habits: Their Making and Unmaking, 76.

[57] O.H. Mowrer, “Motivation,” Annual Review of Psychology 3 (1952): 434-35.

[58] O.H. Mowrer, “Motivation,” Annual Review of Psychology 3 (1952): 419–438. Also cf. Michaella Buck’s, “Two-Factor Theory of Learning: Application to Maladaptive Behavior,” School and Health 21 (2010): 333–338. She describes Mowrer’s theory by saying, “In contrast to overt behavior, emotions and thoughts are not directly observable and measurable. It is possible only to assume about them on the basis of overt behavior observations. Therefore thoughts and emotions are called covert behavior or covert responses. They function on the same principles as overt behavior” (334).

[59] Buck, 334.

[60] Cf. James, Writings, 1878-1899, 148-50. Ivan Pavlov, Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex, 410. B.F Skinner, About Behaviorism, 248. Ivan Pavlov, Conditioned Reflexes: An Investigation of the Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex, 26.

[61] James, Writings, 1878-1899, 150-51.

[62] B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York, NY: Alfred Knopf, 1979), 185.

[63] Knight Dunlap, Habits: Their Making and Unmaking, 72.

[64] O.H. Mowrer, “Motivation,” Annual Review of Psychology 3 (1952): 419–438.

[65] Mowrer, himself, called Sigmund Freud a “theologian” because he was seen as dabbling in some of the issues of higher powers, and ultimate purposes cf. O. Hobart Mowrer, “Sigmund Freud: Psychopathologist or ‘Theologian’?,” Psychiatry Digest (June 1965): 39–47. Also cf. George Knight, Psychology and Education (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University, 2006), 25. “The acceptance of epistemology is a faith choice” (25).

[66] Inherent because a right anthropology, as will be displayed, understands that the one conducting seemingly objective scientific observation will be a person who is infected by the effects of sin. This infection renders the would-be observer as jaded, and unable to objectively see what is truly taking place. Please see the below section, “Total Depravity.”

[67] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 83. Cf. John MacArthur, The Scripture Cannot be Broken (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

[68] John MacArthur, “The Sufficiency of Scripture,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, 15/2 (Fall 2004): 165-174. Psalm 19 makes the argument that there is a difference in authority of general revelation and special revelation, moreover, the difference is that special revelation supersedes general revelation in authority. Epistemological authority is connected to the very nature of the Scripture and a Christian worldview. Warfield argued that the Scriptures were referred to as God’s words, and to disobey God’s words were to disobey God himself. Cf. Benjamin Warfield, “It Says, Scripture Says, God Says,” in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 1 (Repr. 1932; Nashville: TN, Baker, 2003), 283-332. Louis Berkhof argued that historically general revelation has been seen as insufficient in three primary ways: (1) it does not acquaint man with the only way of salvation, (2) it does not convey to man any absolutely reliable knowledge of God and spiritual things, and (3) it does not furnish an adequate basis for religion. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Repr. 1932; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 1996), 132-33.

[69] Erich Sauer, The King of the Earth: The Nobility of Man According to the Bible and Science (n.p.: Create Space Independent Platform, 2013).

[70] This does not and should not denigrate from the body that houses each person’s soul as those bodies are said to be “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). To err in minimizing the body leads one towards Gnosticism or dualism, as noted by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes in The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ (Grand Rapids: Intervarsity, 1989), 266.

[71] David Powlison says, “There is no psychodynamic,’ no motivation pattern, independent of what people are doing with God. Human psychology is theological because human beings are with-respect-to-God creatures. The prime action is in the man-God relationship, not in an encapsulated psyche whose component parts relate to one another according to some supposed pattern.” The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2010), 243. The motivation of a person, again, is that the person is an image bearing person. G.K. Beale said, “At the core of our beings we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue; we either reflect the Creator or something in creation.” G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), 16.

[72] Cf. Garrett, Duane A. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Vol. 14. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993.

A.W. Pink noted, “Total depravity connotes that this distortion has affected all of man’s being to such an extent that he has no inherent power of recovery left to restore himself to harmony with God, and that this is the case with every member of the race.” Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in the Scriptures: Man’s Total Depravity (Logos Bible Software, 2005), 123. This is not to say that man as is bad as he can possibly be, but rather that all man is oriented towards sin in his fallen state. Louis Berkhof helpfully clarifies when he says, “Negatively, it does not imply: (1) that every man is as thoroughly depraved as he can possibly become; (2) that the sinner has no innate knowledge of the will of God, nor a conscience that discriminates between good and evil … . Positively, it does indicate: (1) that the inherent corruption extends to every part of man’s nature, to all the faculties and powers of both soul and body; and (2) that there is no spiritual good, that is, good in relation to God, in the sinner at all, but only perversion,” L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 246–247.

[73] Ibid.

[74] “The most distinctive feature of the biblical understanding of man is the teaching that man has been created in the image of God. … So to be faithful to the biblical evidence, our understanding of the image of God must include these two senses: (1) the image of God as such is an unlosable aspect of man, a part of his essence and existence, something that man cannot lose without ceasing to be man. (2) The image of God, however, must also be understood as that likeness to God which was perverted when man fell into sin, and is being restored and renewed in the process of sanctification.” Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 1986). G.K. Beale said, “All humans have been created to be reflecting beings, and they will reflect what they are ultimately committed to, whether the true God or some other object in the created order,” We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), 22.

[75] Although God is spirit, some physiological representations can be connected to anthropomorphistic insinuations of God (i.e., “Incline your ear” Ps. 17:6; Ps. 34:15-16). This is not to say that God has bodily ears but that God listens, rather.

[76] “People are extraordinarily different in different places and possibly just because of the places” (185) in B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York, NY: Alfred Knopf, 1979).

[77] Knight Dunlap, Habits: Their Making and Unmaking (New York, NY: Liverright Publishing Corporation, 1932), 222. Most undoubtedly Dunlap’s position would be seen as untenable from a modern perspective because of another anthropology that lends itself towards acceptance of previously unacceptable behavior.

[78] Although, it is important to note that Knight Dunlap suggests what is bad, making a moral judgment about homosexuality. And likewise, Skinner paints a vision of the good life as being preservation of the human race. Both are making ethical decisions as to that which is right, but neither emphasize the human’s right to perform that right act. Rather, it is an external stimulus that changes the person, not the person’s change that leads to the outward action. It is quite seductive in that environment and habits are influential but are not causative.

[79] For instance, in both of the stated passages, the concern is that a person will become more and more acclimated to the secular way of thinking. Paul does not shift the blame to the wicked company, but says that the danger is a person will be wooed towards a different ethical persuasion when they are not careful with their company. The puritans used the idea of wicked company as being infectious, and that Satan would use the company of the wicked to encourage a person to be dissuaded from following God—yet the person was still choosing to disobey. Cf. Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2011), 100.

[80] Genesis 39 where he is accused of immoral relationships; Genesis 40 where he interprets dreams and is forgotten; Genesis 50 where he does not repay to his brothers all of the damage that they caused him over his lifetime.

[81] Often times the example of Christ in relation to environment is overlooked. Philippians 2 states that Christ came to a wicked environment and that he was obedient unto death. Hebrews 4:25-26 says that even though Christ was tempted while in this environment, he was still without sin. Perhaps the epitome of negative environments is personified in the crucifixion, yet Christ remained sinless and did not return evil for evil (1 Pet. 2:22-23).

[82] James, Writings, 1878-1899, 150.

[83] Ibid., 145.

[84] Knight Dunlap, Habits: Their Making and Unmaking, 72.

[85] Think of a person who gets fearful and leaves a room. Mowrer argues that the reward of decreased fear because a person leaves the room is, in fact, a means of a reward for them leaving the room. He has gone full-circle with the behaviorist mindset in bringing back the role of emotions and external reinforcement.


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  1. […] In 1961, Albert Bandura conducted a social experiment with seventy-two, 3-6 year-olds. The experiment is famously known as the, “Bobo Doll” experiment in which Bandura’s Social Learning Theory (1977) was evaluated. The experiment took seventy-two children and placed them in a room for observation for twenty minutes each. In the room 1/3 of the children were exposed to aggressive behavior by an adult model to the Bobo doll, 1/3 were exposed to unaggressive behavior, and 1/3 were not exposed to any behavior at all. The model then would take the child to a different room and leave them alone. What Bandura found is that the children that were exposed to the aggressive Bobo doll behavior were far more likely to imitate that behavior than that of those who were not exposed to aggressive behavior (who doesn’t like to hit a Bobo doll!). Furthermore, girls were far more likely to respond with aggressive words, than boys—who would respond with physical aggression.[1] Bandura picked up on something in his theory and that is the power of imitation. (However, Bandura missed a great deal in his anthropology as a behaviorist; cf. A Believer or a Behaviorist?) […]

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