Now, I’m Not a Psychologist, But…


Sounds like the beginning of the punchline of a bad joke, but there’s a measure of truth to it, after all I stayed at a Holiday Inn one time.

Okay, enough fun and games.

Behavioral scientist and social commentator Gad Saad has a post that was cited on an atheist blog on his blog over at Psychology Today that, given its tone, and the qualifications of the author, are simply concerning to an interested and relatively knowledgeable observer.

In a post titled, “Religious Beliefs: Divine Revelation or Mental Disorder“, Saad writes,

The evolutionary biologist and renowned atheist Richard Dawkins has lucidly pointed out that many religious beliefs would constitute signs of mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia) if these were not cloaked in the drapes of divinity.

As a behavioral scientist, someone who should have some training in psychology, why is he allowing an evolutionary biologist to define what is or is not mental illness? Did Richard Dawkins suddenly become proficient and knowledgeable of what constitutes such? He constantly inserts himself into the field, even though his primary area of research was centered on chickens and he has no letters, that I can find, in the field. Let’s just, for the sake of the argument, that to even someone who has no background in psychology, it is a questionable tactic to quote someone who is not an authority in the field. So, what is schizophrenia, since there’s an assertion of it?

Schizophrenia is defined as,

[…]a disorder characterized by disturbances in thought, emotion, and behavior—disordered thinking, in which ideas are not logically related; faulty perception and attention; a lack of emotional expressiveness or, at times, inappropriate expressions; and disturbances in movement and behavior, such as a disheveled appearance. (Ann M. Kring, editor, Abnormal Psychology, 12th edition, p. 251)

I know a lot of religious people, but you just don’t assign some mental disorder to them, especially when they don’t exhibit the signs of it. That’s simply name calling. But Gad continues,

Take a supernatural belief rooted in religious doctrine, and call it divine “fact” X. If it is part of a person’s religious narrative, it constitutes a belief that must be respected (and for one particular religion, one should not even criticize openly any of its belief system…no I am not referring to the Amish).

Um, why do we exclude the Amish? Shouldn’t even their beliefs and opinions be put under the microscope for examination? If he is going to arbitrarily exclude one group, then we can arbitrarily exclude any other group. He continues,

However, if an individual held the same belief X, without it being part of a religious narrative, the individual holding this belief would be met with derision (if not concern for his/her mental wellbeing).

Okay, on what basis is he making that judgement? Is he judging the belief or the source thereof? Let’s see if he clarifies this.

I would push Dawkins’s argument further. Take a given divine “fact” X held by members of some religion. Most individuals who are not part of the religion in question will typically view the belief as outlandish. Hence, a belief that would otherwise be considered a sign of mental illness is perfectly “logical” when it applies to one’s religion.

That’s nice that he wants to push Dawkins’ (fallacious) argument further, the problem is it’s a big, “So what?” So what if one group thinks that the beliefs of another group are “outlandish“, it doesn’t matter what they think, it matters what is true.  Galileo’s belief that the earth revolved around the sun was once considered “outlandish”, and he was chastised for promoting something that he could not prove. Trying to say that a belief, regardless of who holds it, or even why, is somehow a “sign of mental illness” simply doesn’t follow from the premises. He tries to cover up this lazy reasoning by saying,

Lest some reader misinterpret my position, let me be clear: I am not suggesting that religious believers are “crazy” or that they suffer from mental illness.

Well, gee whiz, I’m glad that he’s not doing that, even though that’s exactly what he seems to be implying.

I am merely pointing out that the same belief is either sacred or a sign of mental illness depending on the context in which it is believed.

How about just admitting that you don’t care what people believe or what their justification for believing it, you just think they’re nuts. I don’t think that my Presbyterian brothers are mentally ill because they believe in infant baptism, I think that they’re wrong. I don’t think that Muslims are mentally ill because they believe what they believe, I believe that they’re wrong. There’s a world of difference between being wrong and being mentally ill. Gad is trying to get around proving a case that what he believes is true or not by dismissing any opponent as simply being deranged. In my opinion, it’s ad hominem by proxy. 

He continues,

The teaser image that I have chosen for this post makes roughly the same point. A child’s belief in the Easter bunny and in Santa Claus is acceptable but one is expected to outgrow such childish beliefs. Now, an adult who believes in God (who otherwise shares an extraordinary number of the same narrative as Santa Claus) is perfectly sane. Readers interested in my critique of religion may refer to many of my earlier posts on this subject including here. (Link removed.)

The problem is that is not a meaningful analogy, and it fails to explain why people who once called themselves atheists, such as J. Warner Wallace, Peter Hitchens, and Guillaume Bagnon, now call themselves believers. It proves that there is no logical connection between such beliefs is dependent upon Santa Claus having certain attributes of God, which is simply the reverse of what he asserts. (See here.)As far as his “critique” goes, be patient, I’ve got a response coming to that as well.

So, what’s the takeaway? Gad starts with an argument by someone who is not an authority on psychology and ends by making an irrelevant comparison. If a serious atheist, especially one that prides themselves on logic and reason, cannot see the fallaciousness of the argument, they might need their head checked, and not by someone whose primary focus is the effect of marketing.

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