The Religion Delusion

February 23, 2011

Richard Carrier’s outstanding lecture about “Are Christians Delusional?” is must-see video for nonbelievers.

Sure, watch the whole lecture (scroll down), but maybe pause for this question first:

Does Carrier’s preferred definition of “delusion” fit belief in God? His definition, borrowed right from psychology textbooks, goes like this:

A false belief based on an incorrect inference about external reality and firmly sustained despite clear evidence to the contrary.

Many specific religious beliefs are delusional in this sense. Every religious claim in the Bible, for example. Religion in general relies on methods that lead to widespread delusions , no doubt about it.

But what about just this belief, by itself: “There is a supernatural being.”

“There is a supernatural being” by itself (adding nothing about superpowers or perfections) does not fit the given criteria for a delusion. That is so, because there is no clear evidence to the contrary. By definition, a supernatural being has nothing in common with anything natural — no shared features, powers, or properties. So a supernatural being, by itself (again, without any extra commitment to this God being all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, etc.) is logically compatible with all natural evidence, and therefore nothing natural could supply clear evidence against this supernatural being. Neat, right? Right — suspiciously convenient indeed. Too convenient, but not delusional, as defined here.

Skeptics deny that any god exists because there is insufficient evidence to justify belief. Religious believers are foolishly believing in a God despite insufficient evidence. But that it quite different from delusionally believing in a God against clear evidence.

Since psychology’s definition of “delusional” does not cover the simple belief that a supernatural God exists, is there another term that does cover this specific belief? I just called it “foolishness” but maybe a more technical-sounding term is already somewhere in a glossary of psychology/psychiatry. Suggestions?

And now I give you Dr. Richard Carrier.