By Gary DeMar
Published April 1, 1989
Behaviorism originated with the work of John B. Watson, an American psychologist. Watson claimed that psychology was not concerned with the mind or with human consciousness. Instead, psychology would be concerned only with behavior. In this way, men could be studied objectively, like rats and apes.
Watson’s work was based on the experiments of Ivan Pavlov, who had studied animals’ responses to conditioning. In Pavlov’s best-known experiment, he rang a bell as he fed some dogs several meals. Each time the dogs heard the bell they knew that a meal was coming, and they would begin to salivate. Pavlov then rang the bell without bringing food, but the dogs still salivated. They had been “conditioned” to salivate at the sound of a bell. Pavlov believed, as Watson was later to emphasize, that humans react to stimuli in the same way.
Behaviorism is associated today with the name of B.F. Skinner, who made his reputation by testing Watson’s theories in the laboratory. Skinner’s studies led him to reject Watson’s almost exclusive emphasis on reflexes and conditioning. People respond to their environment, he argued, but they also operate on the environment to produce certain consequences.
Skinner developed the theory of “operant conditioning,” the idea that we behave the way we do because this kind of behavior has had certain consequences in the past. For example, if your girlfriend gives you a kiss when you give her flowers, you will be likely to give her flowers when you want a kiss. You will be acting in expectation of a certain reward. Like Watson, however, Skinner denied that the mind or feelings play any part in determining behavior. Instead, our experience of reinforcements determines our behavior.
Behaviorism originated in the field of psychology, but it has had a much wider influence. Its concepts and methods are used in education, and many education courses at college are based on the same assumptions about man as behaviorism. Behaviorism has infiltrated sociology, in the form of sociobiology, the belief that moral values are rooted in biology. What are the presuppositions of behaviorism?
1. Behaviorism is naturalistic. This means that the material world is the ultimate reality, and everything can be explained in terms of natural laws. Man has no soul and no mind, only a brain that responds to external stimuli.
2. Behaviorism teaches that man is nothing more than a machine that responds to conditioning. One writer has summarized behaviorism in this way: “The central tenet of behaviorism is that thoughts, feelings, and intentions, mental processes all, do not determine what we do. Our behavior is the product of our conditioning. We are biological machines and do not consciously act; rather we react to stimuli.“1
The idea that men are “biological machines” whose minds do not have any influence on their actions is contrary to the biblical view that man is the very image of God – the image of a creative, planning, thinking God. In fact, Skinner goes so far as to say that the mind and mental processes are “metaphors and fictions” and that “behavior is simply part of the biology of the organism.“2 Skinner also recognizes that his view strips man of his “freedom and dignity,” but insists that man as a spiritual being does not exist.
3. Consistently, behaviorism teaches that we are not responsible for our actions. If we are mere machines, without minds or souls, reacting to stimuli and operating on our environment to attain certain ends, then anything we do is inevitable. Sociobiology, a type of behaviorism, compares man to a computer: Garbage in, garbage out.
This also conflicts with a Christian worldview. Our past experiences and our environment do affect the way we act, of course, but these factors cannot account for everything we do. The Bible teaches that we are basically covenantal creatures, not biological creatures. Our nearest environment is God Himself, and we respond most fundamentally to Him. We respond either in obedience to or rebellion against His Word.
4. Behaviorism is manipulative. It seeks not merely to understand human behavior, but to predict and control it. From his theories, Skinner developed the idea of “shaping.” By controlling rewards and punishments, you can shape the behavior of another person.
As a psychiatrist, one of Skinner’s goals is to shape his patients’ behavior so that he or she will react in more socially acceptable ways. Skinner is quite clear that his theories should be used to guide behavior: “The experimental analysis of behavior has led to an effective technology, applicable to education, psychotherapy, and the design of cultural practices in general, which will be more effective when it is not competing with practices that have had the unwarranted support of mentalistic theories.“3
In other words, Skinner wants behaviorism to be the basis for manipulating patients, students, and whole societies.
The obvious questions, of course, are: Who will use the tools? Who will pull the strings? Who will manipulate the technology? No doubt, Skinner would say that only someone trained in behavioral theory and practice would be qualified to “shape” the behavior of other persons. But this is contrary to the biblical view, which commands us to love our neighbor, not to manipulate him.
In summary, the ethical consequences of behaviorism are great. Man is stripped of his responsibility, freedom, and dignity, and is reduced to a purely biological being, to be “shaped” by those who are able to use the tools of behaviorism effectively.
1 David Cohen, “Behaviorism,” in The Oxford Companion to the Mind, Richard L. Gregory, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 71.
2 B.F. Skinner, “Skinner on Behaviorism,” in Ibid., p. 75.
Excerpt used from Surviving College Successfully: A Complete Manual for the Rigors of Academic Combat by Gary DeMar, 1988 by Primero Resources, used by permission of Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, Inc. Available from your local Christian bookstore.
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“Give me liberty or give me death!”
Patrick Henry’s famous declaration not only helped launch the War for Independence, it also perfectly summarized the mindset that gave birth to, and sustained, the unprecedented experiment in Christian liberty that was America.
The freedom our Founders envisioned was not freedom from suffering, want, or hard work. Nor was it freedom to indulge every appetite or whim without restraint—that would merely be servitude to a different master. No, the Founders’ passion was to live free before God, unfettered by the chains of autocracy, shackles that slowly but inexorably bind men when the governments they fashion fail to recognize and uphold freedom’s singular, foundational truth: that all men are created in the image of God, and are thereby co-equally endowed with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
This presentation is a similar call, not to one but many. By reintroducing the principles of freedom that gave birth to America, it is our prayer that Jesus, the true and only ruler over the nations, will once again be our acknowledged Sovereign, that we may again know and exult in the great truth that “where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).
Welcome to the Second American Revolution!
This DVD features “Liberty: The Model of Christian Liberty” along with “Dawn’s Early Light: A Brief History of America’s Christian Foundations.” Bonus features include a humorous but instructive collection of campaign ads and Eric Holmberg’s controversial YouTube challenge concerning Mitt Romney’s campaign for president.
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Download the Free Study Guide!
God’s Law and Society powerfully presents a comprehensive worldview based upon the ethical system found in the Law of God.
Speakers include: R.J. Rushdoony, George Grant, Howard Phillips, R.C. Sproul Jr., Ken Gentry, Gary DeMar, Jay Grimstead, Steven Schlissel, Andrew Sandlin, Eric Holmberg, and more!
Sixteen Christian leaders and scholars answer some of the most common questions and misconceptions related to this volatile issue:
1. Are we under Law or under Grace?
2. Does the Old Testament Law apply today?
3. Can we legislate morality?
4. What are the biblical foundations of government?
5. Was America founded as a Christian nation?
6. What about the separation of Church and State?
7. Is neutrality a myth?
8. What about non-Christians and the Law of God?
9. Would there be “freedom” in a Christian republic?
10. What would a “Christian America” look like?
Perfect for group instruction as well as personal Bible study.
Ten parts, over four hours of instruction!
Running Time: 240 minutes
Watch over 60 on-line video interviews from God’s Law and Society.
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Special Two-Disc Set!
After 40 years of intense study and world-wide ministry, Dr. Francis Schaeffer completed his crowning work of scholarship – to present profound truths in simple film language. Dr. Schaeffer’s brilliant analysis of the past and predictions for current trends have proven so uncannily accurate that this amazing series still feels contemporary almost three decades after its initial release. Ultimately, Schaeffer concludes that man’s only hope is a return to God’s Biblical absolute, the truth revealed in Christ through the Scriptures.
Available for the first time on DVD, this documentary spectacular also includes intimate in-depth conversations with Francis and Edith Schaeffer. With the on-disc study guide, this presentation forms a unique course of comprehensive study. While this series forms an innovative analysis of the past, this outstanding work is more than history. Each episode focuses on a significant era, yet speaks clearly to 21st-century man with answers for modern problems.
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Is there a connection between pagan religion and the abortion industry?
This powerful presentation traces the biblical roots of child sacrifice and then delves into the social, political and cultural fall-out that this sin against God and crime against humanity has produced in our beleaguered society.
Conceived as a sequel and update to the 1988 classic, The Massacre of Innocence, the new title, The Abortion Matrix, is entirely fitting. It not only references abortion’s specific target – the sacred matrix where human beings are formed in the womb in the very image of God, but it also implies the existence of a conspiracy, a matrix of seemingly disparate forces that are driving this holocaust.
The occult activity surrounding the abortion industry is exposed with numerous examples. But are these just aberrations, bizarre yet anomalous examples of abortionists who just happen to have ties to modern day witchcraft? Or is this representative of something deeper, more sinister and even endemic to the entire abortion movement?
As the allusion to the film of over a decade ago suggests, the viewer may learn that things are not always as they appear to be. The Abortion Matrix reveals the reality of child-killing and strikes the proper moral chord to move hearts to fulfill the biblical responsibility to rescue those unjustly sentenced to death and to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 24:11,12; 31:8,9).
Speakers include: George Grant, Peter Hammond, RC Sproul Jr., Paul Jehle, Lou Engle, Rusty Thomas, Flip Benham, Janet Porter and many more.
Ten parts, over three hours of instruction!
Running Time: 195 minutes
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“When the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing.” – President Ronald Reagan to National Religious Broadcasters Convention, January 1981
Ronald Reagan became convinced of this as a result of watching The Silent Scream – a movie he considered so powerful and convicting that he screened it at the White House. More recently, it was by catching just a glimpse of what this film reveals that Planned Parenthood director and abortion advocate Abby Johnson turned and became a strong advocate for the pre-born.
The modern technology of real-time ultrasound now reveals the actual responses of a 12-week old fetus to being aborted. As the unborn child attempts to escape the abortionist’s suction curette, her motions can be seen to become desperately agitated and her heart rate doubles. Her mouth opens – as if to scream – but no sound can come out. Her scream doesn’t have to remain silent, however … not if you will become her voice. This newly re-mastered version features eight language tracks and two bonus videos.
“…a high technology “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” arousing public opinion just as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 antislavery novel ignited the abolitionist movement.” – Sen. Gordon Humphrey, Time Magazine
Languages: English, Spanish, French, South Korean, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese
Running Time: 28 minutes
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