OK, a word of explanation. Lisa was doing a pharmacy paper on this subject, and I thought I’d do my version, using some of her notes and stuff. See what you think!
The argument that religious belief is a form of delusion is a common one. In psychiatric terms it is not correct; DSM IV clearly states that this, where delusions are stated not to include ‘articles of religious faith’. (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 765)”
DSM IV does contain a new category of religious or spiritual problem –
“V62.89: This category can be used when the focus of clinical attention is a religious or spiritual problem. Examples include distressing experiences that involve loss or questioning of faith, problems associated with conversion to a new faith, or questioning of other spiritual values which may not necessarily be related to an organized church or religious institution. (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 685)”
This was adopted for the fourth edition. It has proven controversial – but this refers to psychiatric problems related to religious belief, not religious belief in itself. Delusions can of course take on religious aspect, and some religious beliefs may be delusional, but a standard definition of delusion,
“A delusion is a false, unshakeable idea or belief, which is out of keeping with the patient’s educational, cultural and social background; it is held with extraordinary conviction and subjective certainty” (Sims 2003)
Cultural and social background clearly excludes most ‘mainstream’ religious beliefs. A woman who believes her cat is a deity may be delusional; a man who rips out the hearts of victims to offer them to the sun god is delusional, unless he happens to be an Aztec priest of a former era, in which case arguably the definition would endorse his beliefs. Religious belief in itself is clearly not a delusion. in psychiatric terms.
Are religious people, if not delusional, still psychotic? Some have argued that the religious are neurotic, and that religions roots lay deep in personality issues ( for example, (Freud, 1939)). Others have looked for neurological and organic problems, most famously Michael Persinger with his ‘God Helmet’ experiments. These however were not double blind, and when replicated without the subject knowing if the machine was running or not or the purpose of the experiment did not work, showing suggestion at the root of the claimed results. (Granqvist 2005)
At the heart of the discussion of whether those who believe in a God are psychotic must be whether that belief, theism, is a false belief. Richard Dawkins has become famous for asserting “there is no evidence for God”, (Dawkins, 2006) but the claim is clearly untrue – many people claim to have experienced gods, and there is much evidence offered. When challenged he asserts he means “there is no scientific evidence for God”. This however is equally problematic – the basis of all modern Science is methodological naturalism –
“It is an epistemological view that is specifically concerned with practical methods for acquiring knowledge, irrespective of one’s metaphysical or religious views. It requires that hypotheses be explained and tested only by reference to natural causes and events.” From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism_(philosophy)
As such questions of God’s existence can not be admitted as scientific questions, and no scientific evidence can be offered. Also The Problem of Induction is settled in all modern Science by Hume’s assumption (see http://18th.eserver.org/hume-enquiry.html) of a universe governed by Natural Laws which are uniform and constant, which precludes direct Divine Intervention. If a God or Goddess exists it will be invisible to Science because of the axioms underlying all Science.
Science is not the only way of understanding however – the questions “how do I feel today?”, “what caused the First World War?”, and “does my mother love me?” are meaningful but not scientific. One can quite rationally argue a proof of a Creator using modern cosmology, (see Davies 2006, Rees 2000) or philosophical arguments. such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalam_cosmological_argument
American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, DSM IV. Washington: American Psychiatric Association.
Davies, P (2006) The Goldilocks Enigma, Allan Paul
Dawkins, R (2006) The God Delusion, London, Black Swan
Freud, S, (1939) Moses and Monotheism, London, Routledge.
Granqvist et al (2005) ‘Sensed presence and mystical experiences are predicted by suggestibility, not by the application of transcranial weak complex magnetic fields’ in Neuroscience Letters, 379(1), p.1-6
Persinger, MA (1983) ‘Religious and mystical experiences as artifacts of temporal lobe function: a general hypothesis. in Journal of Perceptual and Motor Skills. Vol 57( Pt 2):p. 1255-62.
Rees, M, (2000), Just Six Numbers : The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe, Phoenix
Sims A (2003) Symptoms in the Mind: An Introduction to Descriptive Psychopathology.3rd Edition, Saunders.