Science & Faith
6/3/13 at 09:30 PM 32 Comments

Psychiatry and Darwinism: Theories in Crisis

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There are core theoretical components to both pyschiatry and evolutionary biology that are in deep trouble. To be sure, there are legitimate scientific theories in both fields, but the public has been lulled into a dogmatic sleep about many of the key claims of physchiatry and evolutionary biology. For example, the evidential failure of evolution #2 and evolution #3 (two meanings of the term "evolution" explained below) is not as nearly well known as it should be due to the strong evidence for evolution #1 (small-scale changes in populations of organisms), which many scientists point to as if this automatically legitimates the other two meanings of evolution (which it doesn't). Read this excerpt from the new curriculum Discovering Intelligent Design to understand this, and why I often use the term Darwinism (or neo-Darwinism) to refer to the failed parts of evolution (#2 and #3).

Let's examine the latest public controversy about psychiatry. We shall then consider the state of crisis that both Darwinism (evolution #2 and #3) and many aspects of pyschiatry (as described below) find themselves in today.

In a provocative May 27, 2013 op-ed piece in The New York Times David Brooks wrote:

[T]he American Psychiatric Association has just released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders. It is the basic handbook of the field. It defines the known mental diseases. It creates stable standards, so that insurance companies can recognize various diagnoses and be comfortable with the medications prescribed to treat them.

The recent editions of this manual exude an impressive aura of scientific authority. They treat mental diseases like diseases of the heart and liver. They leave the impression that you should go to your psychiatrist because she has a vast body of technical knowledge that will allow her to solve your problems. With their austere neutrality, they leave a distinct impression: Psychiatrists are methodically treating symptoms, not people.

The problem is that the behavorial sciences like psychiatry are not really sciences; they are semi-sciences. The underlying reality they describe is just not as regularized as the underlying reality of, say, a solar system.

The APA manual includes mental health labels such as Skin Picking Disorder, Compulsive Hoarding, and Hypersexual Disorder. Pop a few pills, and get the "medical" attention you need to live a better life inside your skin. Really? Is it that simple? The landslide of doubts about this whole business is now upon us.

An ENV article that compares the failures of psychiatry and Darwinism is attracting much attention. Here is the comparative list you will find there that should set off a few cognitive alarms (but you must read this whole article to appreciate these lists):

These stinging criticisms of psychiatry as a pseudoscience [explained in the article] can be summarized as follows:

  1. Long history of failure.
  2. No theoretical basis grounded in biological reality.
  3. Reliance on a book.
  4. Conflicts of interest.
  5. Lack of quality control.
  6. Ignoring critics.
  7. Focus on symptoms instead of causes.
  8. Category errors: confusing arbitrary classification with reality.
  9. Attempting to pigeonhole complex entities into simple categories.
  10. Concern for consistency and consensus over empiricism.
  11. Tortured attempts to fashion theories.
  12. Formalizing schemes to gain legitimacy.
  13. Promissory notes to do better in the future.
  14. Hopes that other sciences will legitimize it.

Evolutionists would probably argue against our using #2, 4, and 5 as criticisms of neo-Darwinism, and would quibble about 3, 8, 11 and perhaps others. But Darwin skeptics could charge, and have charged, evolutionists with all these flaws. Let's briefly see if psychiatry's failures also apply to Darwinists:

  1. Failure to explain the Cambrian Explosion since Darwin.
  2. Extrapolating natural selection far beyond the evidence.
  3. Continuing to exalt Darwin and his Origin.
  4. Scheming to keep criticisms of Darwin out of journals and classrooms.
  5. Flimsy assertions that "it evolved," with little rigor.
  6. Refusing to hear or publish scientific critiques of Darwinism.
  7. Use of homology as evidence and explanation for adaptation.
  8. Inventing terms like "kin selection" and "evo-devo."
  9. Attributing the whole biosphere to undirected causes.
  10. Claiming the consensus accepts evolution in every meaning of the word.
  11. Applying natural selection recklessly to everything, even the universe.
  12. Scheming to prevent intelligent design from gaining a hearing.
  13. Always saying "more research is needed."
  14. Misappropriating genetics, computer science, and development to support it.

To the extent that these kinds of criticisms should debunk psychiatry as a science, they should also debunk Darwinism as science. Science is a noble word. Its standards should be high. Often, however, the word is applied too broadly; it stands for too little because it stands for too much. Having a degree in science, belonging to a scientific society, or getting one's ideas published in a journal are no guarantee you are "getting the world right" when it comes to describing entities as complex as human behavior or the biosphere.

The controversies over psychiatry and Darwinism reinforce the importance of academic freedom. Consider signing the petition to support Dr. Eric Hedin of Ball State University in Indiana. Dr. Hedin is a physicist/astronomer who also teaches a course on the interface of science and religion. The atheist lobby is out to ruin him because Hedin teaches about intelligent design comparatively with naturalistic views.

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