The No-God Delusion
“Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace, and cried incessantly: ‘I seek God! I seek God!’ — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.”
“The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Whither is God?’ he cried; ‘I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers.’”
–Words of Friedrich Nietzsche, arguably the most influential atheist philosopher of all time, from his Parable of the Madman. Interestingly enough, Nietzsche spent the last 11 years of his life locked away in a mental institution.
Robert M. Pirsig summarized how many atheists perceive theistic belief in his famous book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
“When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a religion.”
Somewhat embarrassingly, Pirsig here fails to notice that atheism and agnosticism fit many of the diverse definitions of “religion” present within religious scholarship. But we can put that aside for a moment, and for the purpose of discussion, just accept the definition of religion as “those belief systems which are theistic”…since this is the definition most prevalent in modern popular “secular” culture.
Is religion delusional?
The question then becomes whether or not belief in God could be classified as a “delusion.” Andrew Sims is a former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. In his book Is Faith a Delusion? Why Religion is Good For Your Health, he comments on the psychiatric definition of delusion:
“Although in the past, the word delusion could refer to being fooled or cheated, in modern speech it always implies the possibility of psychiatric illness. It has been appropriated by psychiatry and invariably implies at least the suspicion of a psychiatric diagnosis. If I am deluded, then I am necessarily mentally ill. In English law, delusion has been the cardinal feature of insanity for the last 200 years.”
“Posed as a statement, ‘faith is delusional,’ not only implies that faith is false, but that the believer is mad to believe it.”
In order to classify belief in God as “delusional,” then, it must be demonstrated that belief in God is indicative of mental illness, or at least poor mental health.
Some may be surprised to learn that—not hesitating to pull out the rhetorical big guns—certain outspoken atheists have gone so far as to suggest that belief in God is insane. In his TV program titled The root of all evil? (which, of course, refers to theistic belief), the outspoken atheist biologist Richard Dawkins (author of the famous atheist diatribe titled The God Delusion) said:
“Oh but of course the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn’t it? Symbolic?! So Jesus had himself tortured and executed for a symbolic sin by a non-existent individual? Nobody not brought up in the faith could reach any verdict other than barking mad!”
Theistic religious involvement is strongly correlated with physical and mental health.
But, unfortunately for Dawkins and other atheists, it is actually DISBELIEF in God which correlates with negative mental health consequences.
Sims cites the Handbook of Religion and Health:
“Correlations between religious belief and greater well-being ‘typically equal or exceed correlations between well-being and other psychological variables, such as social support.’ This is a massive assertion, comprehensively attested to by a large amount of evidence.”
A Telegraph article by Sean Thomas titled Are Atheists Mentally Ill? describes the vast amount of research supporting the physical and mental health benefits of theistic belief:
“A vast body of research, amassed over recent decades, shows that religious belief is physically and psychologically beneficial – to a remarkable degree.”
“In 2004, scholars at UCLA revealed that college students involved in religious activities are likely to have better mental health. In 2006, population researchers at the University of Texas discovered that the more often you go to church, the longer you live. In the same year researchers at Duke University in America discovered that religious people have stronger immune systems than the irreligious. They also established that churchgoers have lower blood pressure.”
“Meanwhile in 2009 a team of Harvard psychologists discovered that believers who checked into hospital with broken hips reported less depression, had shorter hospital stays, and could hobble further when they left hospital – as compared to their similarly crippled but heathen fellow-sufferers.”
“The list goes on. In the last few years scientists have revealed that believers, compared to non-believers, have better outcomes from breast cancer, coronary disease, mental illness, Aids, and rheumatoid arthritis. Believers even get better results from IVF. Likewise, believers also report greater levels of happiness, are less likely to commit suicide, and cope with stressful events much better.”
Many atheists have tried to argue that the strong correlations between theistic religious involvement and mental/physical health can be attributed to the social support system which church attendance provides. But as Sims’ above citation of the Handbook of Religion and Health attests, these studies consider religious involvement and theistic belief separately from social support. Further, are we to believe that atheists and agnostics do not have their own structures of social support?
What then could be responsible for these correlations? Why is belief in God and religious involvement good for you? Some atheists have attempted to argue that belief in God evolved to provide survival advantages. As an NPR article titled Is Believing In God Evolutionarily Advantageous? theorizes, belief in God evolved to promote social benefits. But the atheist psychologists featured in the article fail to notice that they have caught themselves in a bind…a Catch-22:
If evolution has caused humans to adopt false beliefs in order to provide survival advantages, then why should we believe in our ability to reason accurately? If evolution selects for survival advantages, rather than for truth, then why should we believe that our reasoning can lead us to truth? And why should we trust the validity of ANY of our beliefs…such as a belief in atheism? What survival advantages did belief in atheism (and the materialist/naturalist worldview that underlies atheism) evolve to provide?
Science in grounded in reason. But in what is reason grounded…if not the mind of God?
Science is grounded in reason. But in what is reason grounded? The theistic explanation is simple: Reason is grounded in the mind of God. (To understand why an eternally-existent consciousness (God) is the view most consistent with modern physics, please read God Is Real…Why Modern Physics Has Discredited Atheism). Atheism, however, provides no grounding for human reason, and therefore no reason to trust the reasoning behind our beliefs. If evolution guides our beliefs, then beliefs evolve to provide survival value, NOT truth. (Please read Why Atheism is Self-Defeating to explore this subject in more depth).
In his book Illogical Atheism, Bo Jinn incisively lays down the failure of atheism to provide a grounding for reason:
“Scientific facts cannot justify reason. It is reason [that] justifies science. But, then, what justifies reason? The reliability of reason, just as the existence of morality and beauty is simply taken for granted by the atheist on purely pragmatic grounds. There is no sufficient ontic referent for their actual existence. Truth/value judgments can be supported by empirical facts, but at the very last instance they will always require a judgment from a personal agent. And unless that judgment is made on the basis of an objective standard of truth, then the judgment is therefore meaningless.”
“…As we speak, there are atheists the world over insisting that atheism is a conclusion which intelligent people come to on the basis of reason. But, if atheism is true, then human reasoning has no validity at all, because valid reasoning implies a standard of truth that can be reasoned toward and a sufficient reason for believing that human reasoning works in the first place.”
“…Theism reasons to and from an objective standard of ultimate truth grounded in an absolute mind (God) which gives validity to rational beliefs, and atheism reasons to and from a completely subjective standard that cannot give validity to any belief (ourselves). We cannot reason to the conclusion that our reasoning is valid, since it is as circular as the proposition B → B”
Considering that atheism does not provide an objective standard of truth that can be reasoned toward, why should we, for example, accept atheistic explanations for the origin of human beliefs? What evolutionary survival advantage did the belief that human beliefs evolved provide? Should this belief (or other atheist beliefs) be, for some reason, exempted from the rule that our beliefs evolved to provide survival advantages…and not truth? Atheist explanations are caught in circular incoherence…much like a dog chasing its tail.
What, then, is the theistic explanation for why belief in God and theistic religious involvement are beneficial to one’s physical and mental health? You guessed it: Because God is real and because pursuing a relationship with God fulfills a fundamental human need. C.S. Lewis put it best:
“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”
And why, then, do non-theist persons (such as atheists and agnostics) not have a need to pursue a relationship with God? Well, they do, but they try to artificially satisfy this need with things of this world that can never satisfy (this is not to suggest that Christians aren’t also frequently guilty of this). Timothy Keller discusses this topic in his book Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters:
“In the 1830s, when Alexis de Tocqueville recorded his famous observations on America, he noted a ‘strange melancholy that haunts the inhabitants . . . in the midst of abundance.’ Americans believed that prosperity could quench their yearning for happiness, but such a hope was illusory, because, de Tocqueville added, ‘the incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy [the human] heart.’ This strange melancholy manifests itself in many ways, but always leads to the same despair of not finding what is sought.”
“What is the cause of this ‘strange melancholy’ that permeates our society even during boom times of frenetic activity, and which turns to outright despair when prosperity diminishes? De Tocqueville says it comes from taking some ‘incomplete joy of this world’ and building your entire life on it. That is the definition of idolatry.”
In the modern world, “idolatry” (the worship of false gods) has not ceased, rather, it has merely changed forms. Keller notes that, in our society, idolatry usually comes in the form of taking a good thing (such as money, sex, recognition, power, etc.) and making it into an ultimate thing…a false god. We often fall for the illusion that acquiring the good things in life that we want will make us happy. This illusion, more than anything else, is responsible for the emptiness that so many people experience in their lives.
One only need examine the many case histories of lottery winners to realize that having one’s worldly desires satisfied does not bring lasting satisfaction. Here is an article which attests to the train wreck that often results when an individual wins the lottery.
A CNN clip titled Lottery Winners’ Lives Ruined lists drug overdoses, depression, isolation, and guilt as a few common side-effects of winning the lottery. Suicide, divorce, drug addiction, and gambling addiction are other frequent side-effects of a lottery win. This is not to suggest that lottery winners cannot be happy. Rather, it is to suggest that the idea that having one’s worldly desires satisfied will bring one happiness is an illusion.
In conclusion, if delusion implies poor mental health, then who is deluded? Hint: It is not Christians.