Eighteen Theses Against Behaviorism

Based on  Behaviorism and Christianity by Gordon Clark (Jefferson, Maryland.: The Trinity Foundation, 1982)

1.) John B. Watson, Behaviorism

“Behaviorism claims that ‘consciousness’ is neither a definable nor a useable concept; that it is merely another word for the ‘soul’ of more ancient times…(pg3)  No one has ever touched a soul or has seen one in a test tube.”

Here he admits that sensation is the axiom.  In refutation a reader may refer to the section on empiricism.  Initially, I would request the Behaviorist to define sensation; Show how sensation produces perception; Show how perception produces abstract ideas.  This is enough to refute the whole theory from the start.

2.) When atheists are confronted with the obvious problems deducing a philosophy of language from empiricism, they will say that they simply use words as they are generally accepted and determined by the English Language.  This supposed answer has one major flaw: It isn’t true.  Behaviorists use words like mind, perception, observe, fear, rage, love and thought etc.  They are not using these words like the average English speaker uses them. What he means by these words is chemistry.  Therefore, his deceit is exposed.

3.) Saint Augustine

Mechanistic theories of morality fail. Augustine gives the example of his youth when he stole pears from a neighbor. The interesting point comes when we hear that the pears were of such poor quality that the boys threw them to the pigs. The original intent was never to eat the pears. The intent was the love of doing evil with the gang.  The intent was the pure love of evil for its own sake. I could provide multiple examples from my childhood as the rest of us can as well to prove this point. What is the chemical formula for this motive?  They can’t say.

4.) My opponents will assert that genetics and environmental history are the causes of unlearned behavior.  Dr Clark says, “Hydrochloric acid also exhibits unlearned behavior, as do all chemicals.”[1]  This assertion is ambiguous and is usually never defined in detail. My opponents use an appeal to emotion when I mention the difficulties.

5.) What exactly is the chemical reaction that occurs when a man finds out that his wife is cheating on him?  What is the specific formula for jealousy anyway?  Can this formula be consistently re-demonstrated in the lab?

6.) “The behaviorist never uses the term ‘memory.’  He believes that it has no place in an objective psychology” (Behaviorism by John B. Watson pg. 177) Yet my opponents use this term frequently when I ask them if they have ever not had a sensation. They will rely on memories of past experiences and their effects.

7.) “In the unlearned sounds made by the infant we have all the units of responses which when later brought together (By conditioning) are the words of our dictionaries” (Behaviorism, Watson,  pg.185) “But if all this is merely ‘manual,’ why cannot animals enter this field?  Many of them have bodily parts almost as complicated as ours, and their chemistry is equally good.”[2]

8.) Behaviorism’s idea of purpose:

Singer defines purpose as “a result that occurs twice, or more, with two or more bodies.”[3] and “The average common result of a number of processes”[4] Not to forget Voltaire’s objection that this logic leads us to the conclusion that a nose’s purpose is to hold spectacles, it also follows that two rocks falling into a lake proves that the purpose of a rock is to fall into a lake and create a splash. The consequence is absurd.

9.) Behaviorism and ethics:

Gilbert Ryle, while having difficulty defining ordinary language and its application to the words “voluntary” and “involuntary”, makes an unusual statement on page 69 of The Concept of Mind (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1949): “We discuss whether someone’s action was voluntary or not only when the action seems to have been his fault…In this ordinary use, then, it is absurd to discuss whether satisfactory, correct, or admirable performances are voluntary or involuntary.” This seems to undercut any possibility for behaviorism to create a coherent philosophy of ethics.  Dr Clark gives the example of one of his students voluntarily scoring lower on a test so that the class curve would allow a friend who is not doing well in the class to pass.

10.) Behaviorism can claim to explain the creation of sounds through physiology but in no case can vindicate a sound’s meaning.  Different sounds may have the same meaning i.e. general synonyms, and the same sound have different meanings, i.e. “plain.”  One sense has a geographical use and the other has a general adjectival use relaying the idea of a lack of qualities or ornamental attributes.  This is a great difficulty for Behaviorism and is admitted by Ryle. Later, Ryle (The Concept of Mind, New York: Barnes and Noble, 1949, pg. 172) admits even more problems with it in reference to the feigned behavior of hypocrites and charlatans.  What is the chemical formula for hypocrisy again?  If my opponents use an appeal to emotion here I will answer:  On your worldview, a good electrician can identify a circuit that causes a certain light bulb to behave a certain way; Why can’t you do the same?  If the electrician cannot do this we call him unqualified; So are you.

11.) Ryle, later (The Concept of Mind, New York: Barnes and Noble, 1949, pg. 220) espouses an objective standard to sensation by stating that a sensation when sensed in a proper condition will be the same to all.  Even on an empirical worldview this is unfounded. This is why authentic ethnic restaurants are usually filled with the distinct people from the certain ethnic group. I am persuaded that some people receive a pleasant “sensation” when they eat monkey brains but the very thought of it gives me a “sensation” similar to the kind I get when I  have the flu and a bucket to vomit in next to my bed. If my opponents say that one is proper and another improper, I ask: How do you determine that one chemical reaction is proper and another is improper?  The same chemical laws produce both.

12.) Dr. Clark cites an example from an experiment cited in Scientific American, (The Split Brain in Man, Aug., 1967) by Dr. Gazzaniga.  A review of this work (Springer-Verlag 1975, Editorial Review of the Split Brain, State University of New York, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook, New York 11794, Received January 14, 1975) is cited in the Journal of Neurology (Thursday, December 2, 2004) which implies the information is still valid.

The “discovery” was made by Ronald E. Meyers and R.W. Sperry.  The left and right hemispheres of the brain are separated but communicate with each other through bundles of axons known as commissures.  The Corpus Callosum is the largest of these commissures.  The experiment involved cutting this Corpus Calosum.  The fascinating discovery was that each hemisphere functioned independently as if each hemisphere was a complete brain. The experiment was to be a “cure” for epilepsy.  In reference to the effects of this procedure Gazzaniga says, “What was happening was that the right hemisphere saw the red light and heard the left hemisphere say ‘green.’  Knowing that the answer was wrong, the right hemisphere precipitated a frown and a shake of the head, which in turn cued in the left hemisphere to the fact that the answer was wrong and that it had better correct itself!”

Strange consequences can be deduced from such “empirical data.”  Dr. Clark says, “if thinking is just chemistry, how can the motions of one side of the brain be ‘true’ and the motions of the other side be ‘false’?”[5]  The data produced by the same chemical laws here disagrees.

13.) If Behaviorism is correct then the assertions of behaviorist scientists themselves ipso facto are conditioned by his chemistry as well and cannot be true.  The assertion, that their point of view is objectively true, convicts them all the more of their solipsism.

14.)  My opponents repeatedly use the argument that human behavior is controlled by our genetics and the history of our environment.  Why then do behaviorists like B.F. Skinner on the last page of his book assert than in light of Behaviorism man can now control his own destiny (About Behaviorism, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974)?

15.) Western Behaviorists will assert that we should not hurt others because we need to preserve our own species. However, if we kill the weak of our species we assure the survival of the advanced of our species which insures not only survival but advancement of our species. This consequence has been held by other atheist intellectuals.  This is the consistent consequence of this philosophy and Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche in his book Twilight of the Idols hammers the final nail in this inconsistent, Western and atheist coffin.

These men boast of their abilities to show how the human race survives and advances but they can never boast why it ought to survive.  The history of the human race from a naturalistic point of view is an absolute disaster.  Why shouldn’t we all commit suicide? They can’t say.  To these people, crying is nothing more than functioning tear glands. My opponents will accuse Christianity of in-humane doctrines.  They will also assert that the consequences of scripturalism lead us out to the desert prophets of the ancient world.  I would rather hang out with the prophets in the desert than the Khmer Rouge in the killing fields.

16.) My opponents object to the use of an axiom by arguing: “In the real world, real people’s empirical models “begin” as infants, long before they have any linguistic capacity, and therefore by definition cannot “begin” with axioms. And between gaining the ability to manipulate language and engaging in philosophical reflection — the kind in which foundational doubts can even arise in the first place — the human mammal displays a simply extraordinary capacity to tie its shoelaces and keep itself fed.”

Ans.)  1.) How do you know these empirical models begin with infants? Have you tested all infants in all times and places? 2.) “But if all this is merely ‘manual,’ why cannot animals enter this field?  Many of them have bodily parts almost as complicated as ours, and their chemistry is equally good.”[6]
17.) With spiritual rationalism-Clarkianism, things are their definition.  I am my qualities not a physical substance.  Though I have a body, it is in a sense, my mind’s tool.  Moses held a conversation centuries after his brain decomposed in the soil (Mat 17:3) and so will I.

18.) “If thought is simply the product of the brain, no doubt it cannot contradict nature; but then on this basis no thought can contradict nature, and insanity is as natural as any other state of mind. If all thought is thus natural, there is no logical reason to believe that some thoughts, ideas of dialectical materialism rather than of absolute idealism, are more natural, more true, or more valuable, than others.”[7]


                [1] Gordon H. Clark, Behaviorism and Christianity (Jefferson, Maryland.: The Trinity Foundation, 1982), 10

                [2] Ibid., 15

                [3] Ibid., 23

                [4] Ibid., 24

                [5] Ibid., 49

                [6] Ibid., 15

                [7] Gordon H. Clark, Thales to Dewey (Unicoi, Tennesse.: The Trinity Foundation, 1957,  Fourth edition 2000),   376