On Islam’s view of psychology and scientific reductionism

What do you think of theory of psychology like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator? Is it worth it to study it to understand human personality or is it just a mere fun and entertainment? Also, how does Islam view the majority of theory of psychology which was born in Western? Thank you. I love your blog!

Islamic theology embraces science because it considers this universe a simulation-like thing that is designed to work according to scientific principles (as I explain in my essay Al-Ghazali’s Matrix and the Divine Template – PDF file). So whatever is established by science will also be automatically confirmed by Islamic theology.

Psychology is like any other science. Whatever objective and verifiable results it discovers will be accepted by Islam. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is not firmly established (see the criticisms section on Wikipedia), so Islam’s view of it will have to take these criticisms into account.

Psychology has what is called a “replication crisis” where studies conducted to verify previous studies often come to different results. For this reason psychology is not as respectable as the other sciences and its results should always be treated with skepticism unless some result is validated by many studies.

There is, however, the issue of scientific reductionism which is likely what led to your question. Science tends to treat humans as if they were nothing more than “clever apes”, animals who happen to be intelligent and use language. This view operates under the belief that science can work out everything there is to know about humans through scientific studies.

Islam is opposed to that view. It will accept all empirical and verifiable results of the sciences, but similar to Christian philosophy it views humans as “embodied spirits” not clever apes. We all have an “inner ape” that can be studied by science; this refers to the parts of our biology and psychology that are under the control of physical factors like genes. Islam fully accepts this.

But Islam and Christianity both go a step beyond that: Humans also have uniquely human part that is layered on top of the ape part and that controls it. The uniquely human part has self-consciousness, free will and inviolable dignity.  There is nothing wrong with the biological and evolutionary study of humans, but there is something wrong with suggesting that that is all there is to humans. We believe that humans can transcend their physical limits and overcome the inner ape’s instincts in order to do what is better, more just and more admirable.

The view of Islam and Christianity is that humans have inner apes and potential inner saints. The perfect human in both Islam and Christianity is the one who strives always to embody the divine attributes that are fit for a human to have (generosity, fairness, mercy, compassion, empathy). We believe that all humans have been given a nature (what Islam calls a fiṭra and which is also mentioned by Christians like Thomas Aquinas) that seeks to transcend itself by communion with God and the embodiment of His attributes. This, needless to say, is a far more beautiful and humane worldview than what scientific reductionism believes about humans.

If someone uses psychology or other fields of science to build a theory that reduces humans to nothing more than clever animals, then that is rejected by both Islam and Christianity. But that is not science anyway; there is no proof that humans are merely animals. It is just an unproven conjecture that some people like. As for the respectable, non-conjectural parts of science that are supported by studies, they are accepted by modern Islamic theology and the Christian theology of thinkers like Alister McGrath.

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