Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Religious Belief Is Pathological!

Question: What do philosophers as diverse as Kierkegaard, a devout Christian, and Rey, an atheist, have in common, and share with scientists like Dawkins, Persinger, Saver, Rabin, Ramachandran, Cook, McKay and Coltheart, to name only a few?

Answer: They have all concluded that theistic beliefs are, in some respect, a product of abnormal cognitive functioning which presents itself as intellectual dysfunctioning on the part of the believer.

Not unnaturally, these conclusions meet with resistance from theists. Those less capable of applying intellectual rigour and logical argument simply trot out their reasons for believing, as if those were evidence that their alleged god exists, together with their spurious evidence that it does, and ignore completely that their professed claims violate at least as many established logical, physical and biological principles as other beliefs that are unequivocally viewed as being delusional. The slightly more sophisticated and duplicitous like to argue that their beliefs are not delusional, and indeed they are not, if one feels constrained by the contentious definition of delusion given in the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition’, (American Psychiatric Association 1995, p783, italics added):

"A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture (e.g. it is not an article of religious faith)."

That definition begs the question: Is it appropriate to define delusions in such a way as to exclude anything that sufficiently large numbers of people believe?

Many practitioners feel that it is not!

It is important to note that other aspects of the definition of delusion given in the DSM-IV are also contentious, such as the fact that many delusions are not “firmly sustained”, nor are they necessarily impervious to evidence or experience.

Be that as it may, practitioners acknowledge that the definition of delusion given in the DSM-IV causes extreme difficulty when attempting to make a diagnostic distinction between the content of culturally sanctioned religious beliefs and that of religious delusions. Additionally, the requirement to have to make such a distinction is being recognised, finally, as a challenge to established psychiatric nosology, since it is completely artificial, and made on grounds other than psychiatric determinants.

Whilst Marx and Freud are often credited as being the originators of the view that religious belief is pathological, both Rousseau and Hume also deserve credit in this respect. However, it has taken the latest experiments in neuropsychology and neurotheology to demonstrate the variety of anomalous, abnormal and dysfunctional neuropsychological processes underlying different facets of religious experience and belief.

The conclusions drawn from this research is that religious belief is reflective of intellectual dysfunction, and supports the Freudian argument that religious belief has motivational origins. Thus, religious beliefs can properly be described as a delusion, irrespective of the fact that they may be culturally sustained; furthermore they violate at least as many established logical, physical and biological principles as other beliefs that are unequivocally viewed as being delusional.

Historically, even so-called ‘great’ theologians like Loyola and Augustine were aware that religious beliefs were a delusion, which was why they supported the doctrine of “sacrificium intellectus”, the sacrifice of the intellect; silencing the voice of reason in favour of blind faith! So-called ‘sophisticated’ theologians of today still have little other than that doctrine, and a great deal of sophistry, in their armoury!

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