Shaping Mankind’s Behavior

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Charlotte Thomson IserbytDay 30 : Skinner Horror Files

The Hor­ri­ble Truth Comes Out! 

Skinner With RatI
n 1982, just as the Skin­ner­ian machine was rolling full-speed ahead into the class­rooms of Amer­i­ca, THE COMPLETE WORKS OF FRANCIS A. SCHAEFFER: A CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW was published.[1] In a trea­tise enti­tled “A Chris­t­ian View of Phi­los­o­phy and Cul­ture: Back to Free­dom and Dig­ni­ty,” not­ed Chris­t­ian schol­ar and the­olo­gian Dr. Fran­cis Scha­ef­fer warned of B.F. Skin­ner and his meth­ods. This trea­tise was writ­ten specif­i­cal­ly to counter Skin­ner’s Beyond Free­dom and Dig­ni­ty, and to warn the world about the far-reach­ing hor­ri­ble con­se­quences of adopt­ing Skin­ner’s worldview:

Skin­ner says that up until the present time all of human­i­ty has con­sid­ered man to be in some sense autonomous—that is, that there is in each indi­vid­ual an “ego” or mind or cen­ter of con­scious­ness which can freely choose one or anoth­er course of action. But, Skin­ner says, autonomous man does not exist, and it is the task of behav­ioral psy­chol­o­gy to abol­ish the con­cep­tion.… Skin­ner declares that every­thing man is, every­thing man makes, every­thing man thinks is com­plete­ly, 100 per­cent, deter­mined by his environment.

After the pub­li­ca­tion of Beyond Free­dom and Dig­ni­ty [1972], when he [Skin­ner] was at the Cen­ter for the Study of Demo­c­ra­t­ic Insti­tu­tions, he spoke at West­mont Col­lege in San­ta Bar­bara, Cal­i­for­nia. There he said, “The indi­vid­ual does not ini­ti­ate any­thing.” In fact, he said that any time man is freed from one kind of con­trol, he mere­ly comes under anoth­er kind of con­trol. Chris­tians con­sid­er that man is autonomous in that he is sig­nif­i­cant, he affects the envi­ron­ment. In behav­ior­is­tic psy­chol­o­gy, the sit­u­a­tion is reversed. All behav­ior is deter­mined not from with­in but from with­out. “You” don’t exist. Man is not there. All that is there is a bun­dle of con­di­tion­ing, a col­lec­tion of what you have been in the past: your genet­ic make­up and your envi­ron­ment. But Skin­ner goes a step fur­ther, sub­or­di­nates the genet­ic fac­tor, and sug­gests that man’s behav­ior can be almost total­ly con­trolled by con­trol­ling the envi­ron­ment.… Some behav­ior­ists would dif­fer with him on this last point. How is it that the envi­ron­ment con­trols behavior?

Read more about Wat­son HERE

Here Skin­ner brings up the con­cept of “oper­ant con­di­tion­ing.” This notion is based on his work with pigeons and rats. The basic idea is that “when a bit of behav­ior is fol­lowed by a cer­tain con­se­quence, it is more like­ly to occur again, and a con­se­quence hav­ing this effect is called a rein­forcer.” (p. 27) That is, for exam­ple, “any­thing the organ­ism does that is fol­lowed by the receipt of food is more like­ly to be done again when­ev­er the organ­ism is hungry.”

There are two kinds of rein­forcers: neg­a­tive rein­forcers which have adverse effects, and pos­i­tive rein­forcers whose effect is pos­i­tive. Skin­ner con­tends that only the pos­i­tive rein­forcers should be used. In oth­er words, in order to rein­force a cer­tain kind of behav­ior, one should not pun­ish; he should reward. If a per­son is sur­round­ed by an atmos­phere in which he gets a suf­fi­cient reward for doing what soci­ety would like him to do, he will auto­mat­i­cal­ly do this with­out ever know­ing why he is doing it.… With­in the Skin­ner­ian sys­tem there are no eth­i­cal con­trols. There is no bound­ary lim­it to what can be done by the elite in whose hands con­trol resides. [bold added]

Note that last state­ment above. Even though Skin­ner claimed that only pos­i­tive rein­forcers should be used, his suc­ces­sors, most notably includ­ing David Horn­beck (see Day 28 and Day 29 posts) adopt­ed penal­ties as the most effec­tive method of con­trol­ling human behav­ior. So Dr. Scha­ef­fer was right when he warned, “With­in the Skin­ner­ian sys­tem there are no eth­i­cal con­trols. There is no bound­ary limit.…”

Dr. Scha­ef­fer also per­ceived that

The reduc­tion of man’s val­ue to zero is one of the impor­tant fac­tors which trig­gered the stu­dent rebel­lion at Berke­ley and else­where in the 1960s. Those stu­dents sensed that they were being turned into zeros and they revolt­ed. Chris­tians should have sensed it long before and said and exhib­it­ed that we have an alter­na­tive.…We are on the verge of the largest rev­o­lu­tion the world has ever seen—the con­trol and shap­ing of men through the abuse of genet­ic knowl­edge, and chem­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal conditioning.

Will peo­ple accept it? I don’t think they would accept it if (1) they had not already been taught to accept the pre­sup­po­si­tions that lead to it, and (2) they were not in such hope­less­ness. Many of our sec­u­lar schools have con­sis­tent­ly taught these pre­sup­po­si­tions, and unhap­pi­ly many of our Chris­t­ian low­er schools and col­leges have taught the cru­cial sub­jects no dif­fer­ent­ly than the sec­u­lar schools. [bold added]

This warn­ing hit the mark! We now have Chris­t­ian and Con­ser­v­a­tive lead­ers who have adopt­ed Skin­ner’s Human­is­tic pre­sup­po­si­tions about the mal­leabil­i­ty of man, and are now car­ry­ing the ban­ner for the very Skin­ner­ian coer­cive meth­ods that Dr. Scha­ef­fer was warn­ing against!

Skinner with Rat1Dr. Fran­cis Schaeffer’s “Con­clu­sion” is ominous:

What do we and our chil­dren face? The bio­log­i­cal bomb, the abuse of genet­ic knowl­edge, chem­i­cal engi­neer­ing, the behav­ior­is­tic manip­u­la­tion of man. All these have come to pop­u­lar atten­tion only a few years ago. But they are not twen­ty years away. They are not five years away. They are here now in tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs. This is where we live, and as true Chris­tians we must be ready. This is no time for weak­ness in the Church of Christ. What has hap­pened to man? We must see him as one who has torn him­self away both from the infi­nite-per­son­al God who cre­at­ed him as finite but in his image and from God’s rev­e­la­tion to him. Made in God’s image, he was made to be great, he was made to be beau­ti­ful, and he was made to be cre­ative in life and art. But his rebel­lion has led him into mak­ing him­self into noth­ing but a machine.[2]

1. This post is excerpt­ed from page 185–186 of my book.
2. This trea­tise can be found in Vol­ume One, a Chris­t­ian View of Phi­los­o­phy and Cul­ture (Cross­way Books: Westch­ester, Ill., 1982), pp. 374–384