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Why Does a Scientist Tell the Truth?

Why Does a Scientist Tell the Truth?


"I don't think Frankl fell short of providing a path toward meaning. I think that is somewhat a desecration of his message. He wrote a book of psychology, which is naturally a humanistic and subjective field, not an ethics or biblical commentary," a friend told me after reading my last blog critiquing logotherapy, Frankl's psychotherapeutic method of finding meaning.

She continued, "It would be unethical for a therapist to impose values… The nature of humanity is to be subjective and thankfully so. A universal code of morality cannot and should not exist!"

My friend made an interesting point, and she is in good company.

Establishing value judgments has been viewed by many psychologists and scientists as an offensive departure from the scientific method, to be shunned at all cost.

According to Thomas Harris, author of the best-selling I'm OK, You're OK, "Some of these people steadfastly insist that scientific inquiry cannot be applied to this field. 'That is a value judgment; therefore, we cannot examine it.' 'That is in the field of beliefs; therefore we cannot assemble plausible data.'"

Can—or should—values and scientific enquiry ever mix? Can the objective criteria of scientific thought and investigation be subjected to a system of values, beliefs or morals which are seemingly subjective?

Harris, whose book sold over 15 million copies and according to the Los Angeles Times "helped millions find the freedom to change" argues it can and must.

"What they [people who feel science and values don't mix] overlook is the fact that the scientific method is totally dependent on a moral value—the trustworthiness of the reporters of scientific observation… Why does a scientist tell the truth? Because he can prove in a laboratory that he should?"

Harris quotes Nathaniel Branden, another prominent member of the psychological community, who charges that psychiatrists and psychologists bear a grave moral responsibility if they declare that "philosophical and moral issues do not concern them, that science cannot pronounce moral judgments." Those that "shrug off their professional obligations with the assertion that a rational code of morality is impossible, by their silence, lend the sanction to spiritual murder." (Italics mine.)

For what motivates a psychologist or scientist to do research to make our world a better place? Isn’t he prompted by the conviction, strictly indemonstrable to science, that the universe has a direction?

How can a therapist hope to help his patient deal with his inner conflicts without believing in a human being's innate abilities? Frankl notes: "If we are to bring out the human potential at its best, we must first believe in its existence and presence. And in spite of our belief in the potential humanness of man, we must not close our eyes to the fact that humane humans are and probably will always remain a minority. But it is precisely for this reason that each of us is challenged to join the minority."

In fact, at the root of the existential movement is the belief that man has free choice to become responsible for his actions. In analyzing the existentialists' contribution to therapy, Rollo May writes: "Man is the being who can be conscious of, and therefore responsible for, his existence. It is the ability to become aware of his own being which distinguishes the human being from other beings. Binswanger speaks of 'Dasein choosing' this or that, meaning 'the person-who-is-responsible for his existence choosing…

"(Medard) Boss points out that a person feels guilt because 'he has locked up some essential potentialities in himself. Therefore he has guilt feelings. If you lock up potentialities you are guilty against what is given you in your origin, in your core.'"

Aren't these underlying principles of therapy value judgments? These statements affirm quite unscientifically that every being has a core value and essential potentialities that, if not used, the individual is guilty of abusing. And that man is distinguished among all other creations in his awareness of his responsibility towards himself and the world.

If these weren't members of the scientific community, many of these claims would almost sound like they originate from religious moralists.

Even Sigmund Freud, considered by many to be the demolisher of religious icons, made an unusually religious statement. When asked to summarize psychoanalytic theory in one sentence, he answered in seven words: where id was, there ego shall be. That is, psychoanalysis tries to explain the process where we can (or cannot) substitute choice for impulse.

If we were to summarize the moral thrust of the Torah, it would come out remarkably similar—don't do what you feel like doing; do what G‑d wants you to do.

So, can value judgments and scientific enquiry be compatible?

Perhaps a more basic question is: how can science be effective without morals and value judgments at its foundation?

But then the real dilemma, which becomes ever so complex, is how to define what these morals should be.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
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Inge Reisinger May 7, 2010

good morning to all, the comments are a first step to get in contact with people who have the same religion and for those who do not belong to jewish religion it is helpful for them and their llives and it is the crown when we meet every Shabbat in a Synagogue so I understand love for G-d and his will
Shabat Shalom Reply

Inge Reisinger May 6, 2010

To David, yes I agree with you that a psychologist is an engineer of the mind and your explanation is allright. Thank you Reply

Enzo May 6, 2010

to all... Dear friends.
your comments are better than a book and Chana's article (as allways) is great as well :) Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel May 6, 2010

Science and Psychology Inge, what you wrote does not conflict with my explanation. You may want to disagree, but we seem to accept that a working psychologist uses some scientific knowledge in his/her work. However, "working like a scientist" is not the same thing as the scientific process of knowledge accumulation by theory and experiment. Perhaps it would be more accurate to think of psychologists as "engineers of the mind". Reply

Inge Reisinger May 5, 2010

To David Chester I do not agree with your comment and a Psychologist has to work like a scientist if he is a good one (and I can give you proves which have been already examined by a lot of people on my work) Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel May 5, 2010

Science and Morality I am sorry to read that your article equates scientists with psychologists. A psychologist is not able to work by use of science alone and as a result the medical benefits that he/she gives are due to faith and belief as well as logical theory.

Now there is a difference between the science side and the belief one. The former is based on assumptions without these necessarily having to be true. With beliefs there is no place for discussion, the facts are accepted without any assumptions.

It is however my experience in social science, that when the arguements are good ones and the assumptions sound, then what comes out of the logical deductions are moral ways of behavour. But this does not prove that science and morals are one and the same thing at the start of the process of examination. Reply

Chaskel FRAJLICK Brussels , Belgium May 5, 2010

science Science is science. What man says about science is never science, it is his own speech, his interpretation about a fact. In French "un discours".
My Master, Yashayahu Leibowitz (Israël) who was a scientist (some doctorates) and also a Learned Rabbi told me with a smile, during a meeting at his home : "there are two sorts of sciences, accurate/exact sciences like mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc and on the other hand : Psychosomatic sciences like psychology, sociology, and of course economy. "
By the way Rav Leibowitz was a Psychiatrist and taught neurology at the Medecine school - University of Jerusalem. He was beloved by half Israël and hated by the other part. A great Rav, philosopher and scientist . I liked him. Reply

Inge Reisinger Germany May 4, 2010

Dear Chana, "don't do what you feel like doing,
do what G-d wants you to do" first you find
G-d in your heart and you can feel that in happyness so if you say do what G-d wants you to do it is to share happyness otherwise
it is schizophrenic Reply

Dov Israel Stamford, CT May 4, 2010

Morality does not keep scientists honest. I feel this statement from the article: "...the scientific method is totally dependent on a moral value—the trustworthiness of the reporters of scientific observation…" is false. A scientist does not have to be trustworthy for a theory to be taken seriously. When a theory is brought to the public it is scrutinized by that scientist's peers. If his peers can show his theory false, or show fault in his method, his theory is disproven and the community moves on. There is no moral decision to tell the truth, there is a reluctance to put out a theory that can be easily debunked by peers and proven false. If a scientist was able to prove a theory that was detrimental to humanity, it would still be true if it was proven, repeatable, and sustainable against peer review and scrutiny. This is more difficult with psychology than physical sciences, but none-the-less applicable. Reply

Anonymous May 3, 2010

Whether a scientist is going to see G-d in the equation is whether he is or is not a religious person. Reply

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Chana Weisberg is the author of Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman and four other books. Weisberg is a noted educator and columnist and lectures worldwide on issues relating to women, faith, relationships and the Jewish soul.
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