I'm not a psychologist but my dealings with a couple of high-profile theistic apologists recently have led me to believe that delusion might really what we're dealing with. I've alluded to this before, but I think it warrants a proper discussion.

Wikipedia has this on delusion (to save you looking it up):

INDICATORS:
The following can indicate a delusion:
The patient expresses an idea or belief with unusual persistence or force.
That idea appears to exert an undue influence on his or her life, and the way of life is often altered to an inexplicable extent.
Despite his/her profound conviction, there is often a quality of secretiveness or suspicion when the patient is questioned about it.
The individual tends to be humorless and oversensitive, especially about the belief.
There is a quality of centrality: no matter how unlikely it is that these strange things are happening to him, the patient accepts them relatively unquestioningly.
An attempt to contradict the belief is likely to arouse an inappropriately strong emotional reaction, often with irritability and hostility.
The belief is, at the least, unlikely, and out of keeping with the patient's social, cultural and religious background.
The patient is emotionally over-invested in the idea and it overwhelms other elements of his or her psyche.
The delusion, if acted out, often leads to behaviors which are abnormal and/or out of character, although perhaps understandable in the light of the delusional beliefs.
Individuals who know the patient will observe that his or her belief and behavior are uncharacteristic and alien.


FEATURES:

It is a primary disorder.
It is a stable disorder characterized by the presence of delusions to which the patient clings with extraordinary tenacity.
The illness is chronic and frequently lifelong.
The delusions are logically constructed and internally consistent.
The delusions do not interfere with general logical reasoning (although within the delusional system the logic is perverted) and there is usually no general disturbance of behavior. If disturbed behavior does occur, it is directly related to the delusional beliefs.
The individual experiences a heightened sense of self-reference. Events which, to others, are nonsignificant are of enormous significance to him or her, and the atmosphere surrounding the delusions is highly charged.


I've seen most of these features/indicators in my "discussions" with several, high-profile anti-Darwinians particularly when their ideas are challenged. Presumably many of you will have experience this too.

Of course, the real question is this: how do we prove that we're not the deluded ones!

Tags: darwin, delusion, religion

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Replies to This Discussion

Of course, the real question is this: how do we prove that we're not the deluded ones!

- Despite his/her profound conviction, there is often a quality of secretiveness or suspicion when the patient is questioned about it.

Well, atheists don't do this. We don't claim it is a "great mystery" or anything.

The individual tends to be humorless and oversensitive, especially about the belief.

This depends upon the situation...I make jokes about theism, atheism, skepticism and naturalism all of the time.

There is a quality of centrality: no matter how unlikely it is that these strange things are happening to him, the patient accepts them relatively unquestioningly.

I don't claim anything happens to me and accept it unquestioningly. I question everything...as a matter of a fact that is the positive belief that I hold: we should question. I think that even the belief we should question should be questioned.

An attempt to contradict the belief is likely to arouse an inappropriately strong emotional reaction, often with irritability and hostility.

People contradict by beliefs all the time. Sometimes I type or argue with emotion, but I'm never hostile about it toward a person. I may say things that are harsh or hostile if the contradiction was violent or hostile however.

The belief is, at the least, unlikely, and out of keeping with the patient's social, cultural and religious background.

I love that this means religious belief, if held by your background, can not be delusional. Here is where the definition fails. It assumes that your background can't be a delusional one.

The patient is emotionally over-invested in the idea and it overwhelms other elements of his or her psyche.


Hardly. I'm a lot of things other than an atheist and a skeptic. Most of my time not spent on here or listening to podcasts is spent not dealing with these issues directly or at all, even though I am constantly a skeptic, it rarely comes up in a direct way.

The delusion, if acted out, often leads to behaviors which are abnormal and/or out of character, although perhaps understandable in the light of the delusional beliefs.
and
Individuals who know the patient will observe that his or her belief and behavior are uncharacteristic and alien.

Again, my beliefs are constant. I act on them by being me. Acting on them doesn't change my character. This is also a bad definitional point. It assumes the deluded aren't deluded all the time.
The delusions are logically constructed and internally consistent.

Oh, well I guess religion isn't delusional afterall.
:-)

Always love your replies, Stephan.

I noted in the discussion of delusion at Wikipedia's talk page, there has been some argument over faith and delusion. Faith, they conclude, is immune from being defined as delusional because it's a societal pressure. This includes everything from voodoo to Jesus.

This is something that (as skeptics/scientists/non-believers etc.) we should press to have delusion redefined so that the more ludicrous beliefs in our "advanced" society are redefined.

I would expect a person who has live their entire life in little more than a mud hut without the benefit of proper sanitation, nutrition or medicine would believe pretty much anything supernatural.

In the "first" world, we have no such excuse and I see no reason that "faith" should be given special treatment. To believe in an omnipotent god, while silly to us, isn't necessarily delusional; while believing the world was created 10,000 years ago - and actively defending this position - given the weight of scientific evidence clearly is.

I accept that in the US particularly, there is a societal pressure to believe in WASPish creationism, but I see no reason for that to be an excuse. One aspect of delusion that isn't discussed at Wikipedia is the observation that delusional views are reinforced when they go unchallenged.

I can't be the first person to raise this issue, but I expect that medics are frightened of disturbing the status quo: after all some of the most deluded of them all hold terrifying positions of power. 'W' had his finger on the button for nearly a decade and Pope Ratzinger is revered as a head of state - despite everything he is responsible for.
Yes, generally faith and religion are singled out in definitions of delusion as not delusional. That it has to be singled out as NOT delusional after giving the definition really tells us all we need to know.
That it has to be singled out as NOT delusional after giving the definition really tells us all we need to know.

Indeed it does. I would therefore, using the Museum of Ignorance when it launches (and any other outlets we have) propose that we argue strongly against this exception.

To have faith in that which cannot be logically disproven may be dumb to us, but it's not delusional. To have faith in something that infuses your culture (Voodoo, etc.) is not delusion either.

However, this protective boundary has been crossed when the best minds in a society (and in our case, the world) are in near 100% agreement that the case has been solved. I say nearly as there will always be some naysayers (who themselves might be deluded). Only the ignorant or the deluded argue against the neo-Darwinian model but by allowing the deluded few to bring the ignorant majority with them is dangerous and could even be deadly.

I more or less proved this very point (about delusion) in my dealing with Dr. Davison over his Semi-Meiotic evolutionary hypothesis. When challenged, Davison dives into bizarre rituals calling Darwinism a "hoax", repeatedly trumpeting his intellectual superiority and signing off with "I love it so".

He relates the story of his being forced from office in higher education as being a product of his alternative theories, sorry, hypotheses; when the reality might be more a product of his own deluded mind. Without alternative evidence from those involved, it's impossible to be sure - but one thing is for fairly clear, his arrogance knows no bounds!

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