5 Reasons Why Freud Was Wrong About Science

by Thomas Rauchenstein

Sigmund Freud (b.1856 – d.1939) is well-known as the father of Psychoanalysis and a key intellectual figure in the secularization of Western culture. His reputation as an atheist and outspoken critic of religion is among the ranks of Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx, both of whom viewed belief in God as a crutch for weak-minded people.

Some modern day psychiatrists speculate that Freud’s early childhood experiences predisposed him to reject his Jewish heritage and adopt an atheistic philosophy of life. For example, Armand M. Nicholi – Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School – argues that Freud’s atheism was shaped by social factors such as early childhood poverty and anti-Semitisim, as well as by psychological factors issuing from abandonment by his nanny and hostility toward his father.[1]

“Freud’s early childhood experiences predisposed him toward atheism” (Armand Nicholi)

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But perhaps the most important factor in the development of Freud’s atheism was his understanding of science. In his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933), Freud argued that the scientific method was the only way we could truly come to know things. In an oft quoted passage, he writes that “there are no sources of knowledge of the universe than the intellectual working over of carefully scrutinized observations, what we call research…” (p.159).[2] Elsewhere, in The Future of An Illusion (1927) he states, “Our science is not illusion, but an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.”

Freud thought that belief in God was problematic if human knowledge was restricted to the methods of science. Why? Because God is (by definition) a non-empirical entity, unable to be measured through observation and experimentation.  And if so, then God’s existence cannot be proved or disproved by science. Ironically, Freud failed to recognize that this conclusion only warranted agnosticism about God, not atheism. Be that as it may, his understanding of science (which I call “scientism”) faces five serious objections…


5 Reasons Why Freud Was Wrong About Science | Hope Beyond Reason