Pharyngula

Privileging belief

A horrible little cult in Baltimore committed an ugly crime.

…they denied a 16-month-old boy food and water because he did not say “Amen” at mealtimes. After he died, they prayed over his body for days, expecting a resurrection, then packed it into a suitcase with mothballs. They left it in a shed in Philadelphia, where it remained for a year before detectives found it last spring.

The child’s mother, Ria Ramkissoon, and others are on trial for murder, reasonably enough. Here’s the kicker, though:

Psychiatrists who evaluated Ramkissoon at the request of a judge concluded that she was not criminally insane. Her attorney, Steven Silverman, said the doctors found that her beliefs were indistinguishable from religious beliefs, in part because they were shared by those around her.

She wasn’t delusional, because she was following a religion,” Silverman said, describing the findings of the doctors’ psychiatric evaluation.

Well. Why should the religion label excuse delusional beliefs?

Comments

  1. #1 SVN
    March 29, 2009

    I have no words to say for this. Since she’s not criminally insane, let the law have its way with her and the others.

  2. #2 Primewonk
    March 29, 2009

    21st Century America.

    It’s just sad.

  3. #3 Cokehead
    March 29, 2009

    That’s terrible.

    Life In Prison, yes?

  4. #4 Leigh Williams
    March 29, 2009

    And here’s the money quote:

    Although an inability to think critically can be a sign of brainwashing, experts said, the line between that and some religious beliefs can be difficult to discern.

  5. #5 Lighthill
    March 29, 2009

    Ugh. It takes a long time to starve somebody to death.

    But as for the matter of the mother’s mental state, I prefer the conclusion they reached. If she were delusional, wouldn’t that be a mitigating factor in legal proceedings against her? I wouldn’t want a system where people, instead of pleading insane, could just “plead religious” in order to get out of a murder rap.

    Religions can’t really have it both ways with psychology. If you get to believe in an invisible friend without being called insane, then maybe you shouldn’t get to plead insanity when your invisible friend tells you to break the law.

  6. #6 DrBadger
    March 29, 2009

    I’d rather have it this way, why let religious people off the hook (as much as “not guilty by reason of insanity” could count as off the hook).

  7. #7 Holbach
    March 29, 2009

    Religion can be both criminal and insane, therefore it should be prosecuted in either state or separately. No quarter to this pernicious pox of humanity.
    dave mabus seems to fit the mold.

  8. #8 Crystal D.
    March 29, 2009

    It’s just amazing what religion can do to people. Even more amazing, the quote that it’s difficult to discern religion from delusion. Did they even stop to wonder why that is??

  9. #9 Jeanette
    March 29, 2009

    Well, religious beliefs are delusional, but I think that finding was a good one. People who are delusional because they choose their delusions shouldn’t get the same kind of sympathy from the legal system, or anyone else, as people who are delusional because of severe mental illness. Not that heinous acts can be excused in either case. But the psychiatrist’s conclusion probably doesn’t give the mother a “pass,” just allows her to be held to the same standards and consequences as anyone else, which is as it should be.

  10. #10 JPBrowning
    March 29, 2009

    Oh c’mon, this is religion actually serving a good purpose. It keeps these people from being protected by an insanity plea. They aren’t insane, just willfully stupid and ignorant, and that does not deserve any such protections.

    I’m hoping for life without parole. At least then, any damage they inflict will be upon other criminals and not innocent 16 month old children.

    And @dave mabus #6, that is another raving lunatic post about the end of the world. Big deal, it’s nothing new or interesting. Good job. Now go away.

  11. #11 clinteas
    March 29, 2009

    Although an inability to think critically can be a sign of brainwashing, experts said, the line between that and some religious beliefs can be difficult to discern.

    I actually find that quite a bold and reasonably enlightened statement in the context.

    And she cant hide behind her religion,and will be prosecuted as sane,I think thats a good thing.Because yes,it takes a long time to starve.

  12. #12 GW
    March 29, 2009

    > The group came to believe there had been no resurrection because someone among them was not a true believer, according to an attorney for one of the other defendants, Marcus Cobbs.

    The usual excuses for unverified acts of miracles.

  13. #13 Cheezits
    March 29, 2009

    Why should the religion label excuse delusional beliefs?

    It’s not excusing them. It’s saying she’s not delusional in the psychiatric sense (although I am not convinced). I don’t think this means she’s going to be set free.

  14. #14 Crystal D.
    March 29, 2009

    And then there’s Mabus, skipping meds again, no doubt.

  15. #15 Dr. J
    March 29, 2009

    Wow, you really need to read the article…there is little I can add as it is all pretty incomprehensible.

    Although an inability to think critically can be a sign of brainwashing, experts said, the line between that and some religious beliefs can be difficult to discern.

    “At times there can be an overlap between extreme religious conviction and delusion,” said Robert Jay Lifton, a cult expert and psychiatrist who lectures at Harvard Medical School. “It’s a difficult area for psychiatry and the legal system.”

    In the end, I guess if you determine one religion is “legally crazy”, how can you not consider the others the same?

  16. #16 cyan
    March 29, 2009

    manslaughter in the 1st degree

    - its okay because of religion? no effing way

  17. #17 Chayanov
    March 29, 2009

    “We can’t tell the difference between religion and insanity, so we’ll give religion a special exemption. Otherwise, the asylums would be packed to the rafters.”

  18. #18 John the Skeptic
    March 29, 2009

    @Lighthill: You are exactly right. If she had been found to be criminally insane, that would have laid the groundwork for an insanity defense. I’m not sure what the law is in Maryland, but most states allow for either the irresistible impulse rule or the old M’Naghten rule (unable to appreciate the nature and quality of the act) for the insanity defense to apply.

  19. #19 Ichthyic
    March 29, 2009

    Mabus has escaped again!

    David Mabus must be the reincarnation of Harry Houdini!

    quick, somebody fetch Randi!

  20. #20 Jason A.
    March 29, 2009

    What in the hell is that post the mabus/PZDUMMY guy is linking to? It doesn’t make any sense, just a bunch of rambling word-salad bullcrap.

  21. #21 clinteas
    March 29, 2009

    PZ,

    do some gardening will ya….
    First mabus off his meds as usual,and then Barb by the looks of it,its starting to smell in here.

  22. #22 Parse
    March 29, 2009

    “Javon’s body remained there for at least a week, police said. Eventually, it was wrapped in a blanket and placed in a suitcase. Queen Antoinette burned the mattress and Javon’s clothes, police said, and the room was washed down with bleach. ”

    I would hold this as the kicker, which solidifies (even further) the necessity of murder charges. It’s somewhat understandable to not want to tell the police if you haven’t done anything wrong (tragic, but understandable). But deliberately expunging all evidence in such a fashion screams that they know what they did was wrong.

  23. #23 Paul D
    March 29, 2009

    Makes me sad to be a baltimorian.

  24. #24 Random Mutant
    March 29, 2009

    “visit url to see how we won James Randi’s Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge…”

    Has James Randi been informed?!? You’ve only got a short while to do it properly. I note the link to the Youtube clip has been removed due to terms of use violation. You might wish to visit an E.R., you’ve just shot yourself in the foot.

    Back on topic, let’s see these deluded cultist sickos feel the full force of the law, allowing them to plead insanity is too good for them.

  25. #25 Ichthyic
    March 29, 2009

    @Barb:

    why are you posting here?

    you were banned, remember?

  26. #26 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    People do insane things without being clinically insane.

    barb, OTOH…

  27. #27 Libeqrat
    March 30, 2009

    Just to chime in from the legal perspective . . .

    Criminal insanity is not insanity as a layperson would use the term. It’s not even psychiatric insanity.

    To be not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity, a defendant’s mental defect must render her completely unable to understand the nature/wrongness of her actions or render her completely incapable of conforming her actions to that which the law requires. One can be delusional (e.g. believe that a magic fairy in the sky wants her to murder her child) and still understand that doing so is wrong by human and legal standards.

    I think it’s pretty clear that someone who starves her child, knowingly causing its death, and then hides the body from the authorities is not criminally insane, and should be held responsible for her actions. ;)

  28. #28 bassmanpete
    March 30, 2009

    Dave Mabus makes me think it’s time for another episode of Survivor. Or maybe PZ should just ban him without a vote!

    “actually atheism is a crime punishable by death…HAHA”

    Unfortunately it looks like Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World is still with us.

  29. #29 Alien
    March 30, 2009

    This actually makes since. First, criminal insanity is a “mental defect or disease that makes it impossible for a person to understand the wrongfulness of his acts or, even if he understands them, to distinguish right from wrong.” http://www.nolo.com/definition.cfm/term/d0330f5d-8018-4e8d-8c487c2f09a501e6/alpha/c/

    Secondly, psychiatrists have a specific definition for a delusion – “A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delusional but it comes from the DSM-IV

    Beliefs common to one’s culture therefore are not held to be delusional even if they are, in fact, false.

  30. #30 Tony Sidaway
    March 30, 2009

    PZ, note that the term “criminally insane” here only implies diminished responsibility for crime. If the psychiatrists have concluded that the mother wasn’t criminally insane, it means that she still had the ability to distinguish right from wrong. It only amounts to a declaration that she is fit to stand trial and was “in her right mind” (such as it was) at the time of the alleged offense.

    I note without pleasure the following section from the Washington Post report: Sources and Ramkissoon’s mother said Ramkissoon, 22, has agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge on one condition: The charges against her must be dropped if her son, Javon Thompson, is resurrected.

    Apparently there is a plea bargain whereby she will plead guilty to “child abuse resulting in death” and cooperate with the prosecution. This may be essential to get to the bottom of what happened.

    While part of me applauds the DA’s office for adopting a creative and flexible approach to plea bargaining, another part of me wants to ask what century we are living in. I wish I could be confident that they will throw the book at these irresponsible and murderously stupid people.

  31. #31 Desert Son
    March 30, 2009

    Parse at #29:

    deliberately expunging all evidence in such a fashion screams that they know what they did was wrong.

    Excellent points. Even if completely in the throes of illusion, totally failing to perceive reality, the cult members might have gone to some authority and said, “We were expecting resurrection of the flesh, but it didn’t happen.”

    But they didn’t.

    The whole “There was a non-believer among us” as explanation for the “failure” of the resurrection to occur is infuriating. Negligent murder AND abdication of responsibility – what a nightmarish combination.

    No kings,

    Robert

  32. #32 Steve_C
    March 30, 2009

    Oh for fuck’s sake Mabus, you loon, we know your pathetic story. Grow the fuck up you deluded crackpot.

  33. #33 Jim Spice
    March 30, 2009

    … her beliefs were indistinguishable from religious beliefs, in part because they were shared by those around her.

    It might be possible argue the perpetrators were suffering from Folie deux, delusional beliefs comes to be held by more than one person. But how would you separate this from any religious beliefs?

  34. #34 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    fucking hell, PZ, can’t you get SEED to give you some better filter software?

    mabus has appeared all to frequently over the last month, and both Simon and Barb have posted since they were banned as well.

  35. #35 Desert Son
    March 30, 2009

    Posted at . . . well too many places, really:

    no need to respond [redacted]

    Thanks for stopping by to try and contribute to the conversation, but we read (heard) you the first time. One of the great things about digital media like this is, often what someone posts is preserved for a fair length of time. Having posted it once (or even twice, the occasional odd double post is not unheard of for even seasoned computer users), there’s no need to keep repeating it. Thanks awfully.

    Broken record is broken.

    No kings,

    Robert

  36. #36 Tony Sidaway
    March 30, 2009

    It isn’t just by deliberate deprivation of food that religious loons kill children in the USA. The cases of Kara Neumann and Ava Worthington are only recent examples of a common form of religious maltreatment resulting in death: stupid, religion-obsessed people withholding medical treatment and praying over a very sick child. The laws of 41 (yes, FORTY-ONE) states are still sabotaged so as to prevent these people from being charged with criminal offenses if on religious grounds they refuse medical treatment to their sick children. In a purportedly First World country int he twenty-first century, this is unacceptable.

  37. #37 Felix
    March 30, 2009

    I think [he] will post again at least once every time someone responds. He got a post through at the heavily moderated Ray Comfort site too.

    Now, to things that matter. I think every religious group that behaves in ways that are typically evidential of cultism (like deprivation of family contact) should be obliged to have a government/social services official check on every member and child every week. It’s the only way to prevent more of these cases, which happen with sad regularity. No, it’s not religious freedom to treat children like they were a potted plant, to deny them nourishment and water whenever you feel like it. All that moral theorizing still wont help the next dying child (or mentally ill adult) if society maintains that charade of letting obviously extreme religious groups do as they please.

  38. #38 blueelm
    March 30, 2009

    In this case I think that the real distinction is that the people in question are not being considered criminally insane, in the sense that they could have realized that their actions were wrong and therefore should stand trial.

    I’m curious about your stance, PZ, although I hope I’m not being too forward. Do you think that she should not stand trial because of the religious indoctrination? It is an interesting question because there may be some truth to that in my opinion. It seems to me that some people can become so engrossed in the madness of a belief that they are truly not of sound mind, no longer capable of telling right from wrong.

  39. #39 TigerHunter
    March 30, 2009

    Religion: a perfect explanation of why otherwise sane people believe and do stupid things.

    I’m reminded of how, if archaeologists come across something that seems completely useless, they usually conclude it’s a religious artifact. I find the correlation between religion and uselessness rather fitting.

  40. #40 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    Beliefs common to one’s culture therefore are not held to be delusional even if they are, in fact, false.

    A friend of mine is in fact an actual psychiatrist. We both had a couple of beers in us when I asked him about the stuff, but he agreed that he considers delusion still to be delusional even when everyone in a society were suckered in.
    So, while the DSM has this politically motivated escape clause, even the doctors themselves ( most probably even those who wrote it ) don’t accept its validity.

  41. #41 Gotchaye
    March 30, 2009

    Part of the reason for the distinction between personal delusions and ridiculous beliefs held by a whole group of people is that only one is at all unusual. In psychiatry, the point is often to determine “what’s wrong” with the patient. It’s hard to say that entertaining religious beliefs is a disorder – if anything, something’s strange about the minds of the completely irreligious. As has been noted, the human mind seems wired for magical thinking.

    Personal ridiculous beliefs, however, are indications of something more than just that someone is prone to magical thinking. A very different view of morals than what prevails in one’s society is indicative of psychopathy, for example.

    The basic idea is that the person that constructs a religion from scratch is crazier than the person that holds to a religion because that’s what he/she was taught. The former type is atypically crazy, whereas the latter, while still perhaps irrational, is only typically so. I don’t think this is controversial even among people who think that all religions are ridiculous or even harmful.

  42. #42 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    So, while the DSM has this politically motivated escape clause, even the doctors themselves ( most probably even those who wrote it ) don’t accept its validity.

    I suspected as much.

    thanks for the anecdotal evidence in support.

  43. #43 Organ donor
    March 30, 2009

    Speaking as a parent who has recently been trying to teach an 18 month old how to say “please”, these people are not just religious idiots, but crappy parents as well. Most 16 month old children are just learning to speak and have very limited understanding of the social context of speech. Expecting a child of that age to say amen before eating is simply unreasonable. But then I don’t expect reason got much airtime around the dining table in that household.

  44. #44 Gotchaye
    March 30, 2009

    As an aside, I can see how the hiding of the body proves that they weren’t completely out of their minds, but it doesn’t show that they know that what they did was wrong. It only shows that they know that everyone else would think it wrong.

  45. #45 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    here’s a question for psych buffs:

    If one can compartmentalize a delusion successfully, is it still a delusion?

  46. #46 Billy V
    March 30, 2009

    Atheist or not – in order for the statement “She wasn’t delusional, because she was following a religion” to be valid one would first have to assume that all religions are true. Since most religions are mutually exclusive the statement runs into what should be obvious absurdities. It is disturbing that they are apparently not obvious.

  47. #47 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    It only shows that they know that everyone else would think it wrong.

    well, technically, it doesn’t even show that beyond doubt, but your point is a good one.

    However, IMO, it shouldn’t matter. What does matter is that whether or not they are clinically insane, they have a belief system that has been shown to be dangerous to human life.

    since they voluntarily chose to adhere to it, they must be held accountable, insane or not, and removed as a danger to society.

    a thorough psych eval should indeed indicate if there are any underlying pyschological issues beyond the employment of cult doctrine. If not, de-programming followed by standard jail time sentence to fit manslaughter charges (at least) would be in order.

    another question: since others were complicit in this (the cult), could that be considered conspiracy as well?

  48. #48 Monado
    March 30, 2009

    Ichthyic, yes.

    Gotchaye, close enough! They knew they shouldn’t do it.

  49. #49 Sorceror
    March 30, 2009

    If I joined murder cult taking out religious fundies, the “not insanity, religion” argument wouldn’t do so well in court. It’s because there is an artificial divide between cults and religions. They’re all essentially the same, just that cults are more proactive regarding their texts.

    Maybe her attorney is trying to be ironic: “She wasn’t delusional, because she was following a religion”. Methinks he got this line from the title of one of Dawkins’ best-sellers. After all, a plea of insanity would do well for the defence, wouldn’t it?

    I’m trying to understand the logic of the parents. “Our baby won’t say amen at meals … must be the devil in him! We’ll refuse to feed him then, that will chase the devil away! … Oh no, he died :( But it’s OK, we didn’t do anything wrong, so God will give him back to us!”

    God’s killed many more for much less, if you believe the Bible. E.g. “Hey, you, don’t turn around. WTF! I said DON’T tur- you know what, you’re a pillar of salt now. B**ch.”

  50. #50 amphiox
    March 30, 2009

    The DSM IV is full of various “not consistent with an individual’s cultural norms/expectations” type clauses.

    They are not politically so much as practically motivated. If you remove them, then almost everyone would fit into at least one of the definitions of clinically insane.

  51. #51 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    They are not politically so much as practically motivated. If you remove them, then almost everyone would fit into at least one of the definitions of clinically insane.

    Would flu stop be a disease if almost everyone got flu?
    If almost everyone on this planet is clinically insane, then we should face it. Hiding it behind ad hoc escape clauses is not the right way to solve this problem.

  52. #52 Zar
    March 30, 2009

    Sources and Ramkissoon’s mother said Ramkissoon, 22, has agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge on one condition: The charges against her must be dropped if her son, Javon Thompson, is resurrected.

    The woman still thinks her son is coming back.

  53. #53 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    blckquote fail :(

  54. #54 Sperry
    March 30, 2009

    “Hey, you, don’t turn around. WTF! I said DON’T tur- you know what, you’re a pillar of salt now. B**ch.”

    At least in this example, she disobeyed a pretty clear cut example.

    How about, “Hey, you, little boy: where are you from? Did you just say Og? You best not have said Og! Ahh, now I have to kill you… but first let me find that virgin sister of yours.”

  55. #55 H.H.
    March 30, 2009

    I’m with those who applaud this decision. If talking to invisible men and believing in the reality of miracles is insanity, then more than half of the country could be considered legally insane. It would be almost impossible to find anyone fit to stand trial. The shrink did the best thing imo, and basically said “Look, you religious people don’t get to have it both ways. If you want to claim that religious belief doesn’t qualify as a delusion, fine, but then you can’t turn around later and say you weren’t responsible for your actions because you were following a nutty religion.”

  56. #56 Sperry
    March 30, 2009

    *she disobeyed a pretty clear cut commandment .

  57. #57 ChrisZ
    March 30, 2009

    Following the tenants of an established belief system isn’t a delusion because it’s not an individual ailment. Delusions are specific things in medicine, and they are actual problems with how the brain is working, which is probably not the case when a whole group of people is believing (and indoctrinating others into) the same thing.

  58. #58 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    They are not politically so much as practically motivated. If you remove them, then almost everyone would fit into at least one of the definitions of clinically insane.

    six o one…

    the point is they aren’t scientifically motivated.

  59. #59 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    Following the tenants of an established belief system isn’t a delusion because it’s not an individual ailment.

    ChrisZ, never heard of Folie %C3%A0 deux ?

  60. #60 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    probably not the case when a whole group of people is believing (and indoctrinating others into) the same thing.

    probably suggests you can, and perhaps have, thought of instances where that would indeed be the case.

    It’s not that hard, really.

  61. #61 Gotchaye
    March 30, 2009

    Would flu stop be a disease if almost everyone got flu?

    In a sense, yes. Consider that everyone alive has a degenerative condition that causes mental and physical deterioration and which eventually leads to death. But aging is normal.

    It’s not merely the universality but also the seeming naturalness of it. If it were practical and possible to completely prevent aging, then we probably would regard it as a condition to be treated. Religiosity is not merely widespread – it’s also incredibly difficult to stamp out.

    Also, how exactly ought we to face the problem? If psychology were to declare religion to be insane, our society would just chuck out psychology. The clauses are perfectly justifiable even on political grounds.

  62. #62 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    Also, how exactly ought we to face the problem? If psychology were to declare religion to be insane, our society would just chuck out psychology. The clauses are perfectly justifiable even on political grounds.

    How can we solve a problem if we don’t acknowledge it is a problem at all ? I mean, acknowledging that something is a problem is the first step to solve it.

  63. #63 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    If psychology were to declare religion to be insane, our society would just chuck out psychology.

    insufficient reasoning.

    If a large proportion of a town was suffering from schizophrenia, should the resident mental health care professional ignore it because they wouldn’t like being told they need treatment?

    In fact, this, in a larger context, is exactly the problem facing all of science today in the US. there is a growing movement of anti-science nuts that would make us extinct if they could. should those practicing sound science give it up in the face of overwhelming opposition, if it ever indeed comes to that?

    I’m rather hoping that hearing legislators like Nancy Pelosi say things like:

    “I keep saying to people if you want to know our domestic agenda, it is science, science, science and science, and by the way that’s our national security foundation as well.” She complimented President Obama on putting science as a top priority on his agenda.

    http://talkradionews.com/2009/03/pelosi-%E2%80%9Cscience-science-science-and-science%E2%80%9D/

    Scientists should never be afraid of stating things that will, at any given time, seem “unpopular” to the majority.

  64. #64 Sorceror
    March 30, 2009

    I’m all for the charges being dropped completely if the baby turns out to be a zombie. Who will be the first to shout “SHOTGUN!”?

    Oh, it was me.

    SHOTGUN!

  65. #65 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    boy that got fubared.

    here’s what that last part should have looked like:

    I’m rather hoping that hearing legislators like Nancy Pelosi say things like this will help some of the fundie nutters start to think about keeping science around:

    “I keep saying to people if you want to know our domestic agenda, it is science, science, science and science, and by the way that’s our national security foundation as well.”
    She complimented President Obama on putting science as a top priority on his agenda.

    http://talkradionews.com/2009/03/pelosi-%E2%80%9Cscience-science-science-and-science%E2%80%9D/

    Scientists should never be afraid of stating things that will, at any given time, seem “unpopular” to the majority.

  66. #66 Bob of Mars
    March 30, 2009

    Because it means she can be punished to the full extent of the law. If found delusional or insane, then she goes to a mental hospital and goes through therapy. Personally, I think that would be wrong: They used the starvation as a punishment for not saying amen, apparently. If they thought that not saying the Amen would lead to a Godly punishment, then I might be convinced to send them to the insane asylum, but they were using it purely as punishment because he simply wasn’t doing what they thought proper. As any idiot parent can tell you, there are many better ways of punishing a child than outright starvation. They should be convicted of negligence at the very least, maybe even manslaughter if the prosecutor’s felt strongly enough about it.

  67. #67 Gotchaye
    March 30, 2009

    Ichthyic, that’s only true to some extent, though, right? Obviously, we don’t want scientists to be completely uncompromising if doing so puts the project of science at too much risk. Now, individual scientists can get away with saying pretty much whatever unpopular things they like without causing much of a backlash, but that’s a contingent fact. In different conditions, however, that wouldn’t be the case – I would imagine that government funding of biology would take a big hit if every biologist had PZ’s opinions and volume. Scientists should weigh the scientific value of their statements against their political cost. To be clear, I think that, for individual scientists, the political cost is sufficiently small that they can say whatever they like. This is really only an issue for scientific disciplines as a whole. It would probably be a bad idea for the NAS to come out with a statement to the effect of “religion is silly, unscientific, and dangerous”.

    The social sciences are precarious as-is They don’t have the obvious utility of the natural sciences and they’re also more dependent on the government for funding. There’s a strong undercurrent of “psychologists are quacks” anyway.

    In your example, if the predictable reaction of the townspeople to being told that they’re all schizophrenic is to run the psychiatrists out of town, then of course the psychiatrists should be discreet. They can certainly work privately to deal with the problem, and they can aid patients that they judge to be particularly receptive, but it’s actively detrimental to the mental health of the populace to take actions that cause them to reject psychiatry as a useful discipline. It can be bad psychiatry to be brutally honest in the practice of psychiatry. What’s the point of explicitly diagnosing something if the diagnosis itself drives the patient away from you? Treat what the patient will let you treat.

    To be absolutely clear, I do think that the distinction between religion and delusion can be sustained on scientific grounds (as I outlined in my first post) as well as these political ones.

  68. #68 jennyxyzzy
    March 30, 2009

    Boy, I’d sure like to be a fly on the wall at her parole hearing (assuming that she does get incarcerated).
    Lawyer: Since her conviction, my client has found new sense in her life through religion – she attends daily prayer meetings, and regularly reads her Bible.
    Parole Board Officer: Yeah we know, that ‘s how she got in here in the first place – she stays put until she’s a confirmed atheist.

    Well, one can always dream…

  69. #69 HalfMooner
    March 30, 2009

    I think that this was as good a decision as we could expect. People should not be able to use religion as an excuse to avoid the criminal implications of their decisions. With this decision, it should be possible to try all those involved as conspirators to murder, and put their religious justifications aside.

  70. #70 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    Gotchaye, this is just giving up to the evil, just keep you head down, and say what ever they want you to say and you may be among the last ones to be killed, not the first. No thanks, I think I can do better.

  71. #71 Gotchaye
    March 30, 2009

    Consider the problem that thoughtful evangelical Christians face. They know that everyone else is going to hell. It’s their duty to convert as many people as possible. Yet it’s obvious to them that the typical method of evangelism – going door to door and asking if people have a minute to talk about the Lord – doesn’t work. It’s not cowardice on their part to not be as ‘bold’ in their belief as those who do go door to door. Because their goal isn’t to be true to some abstract principle, they’re not obligated to go down with the ship because “it’s the right thing to do” or some crap like that. Their goal is actually an empirical one (to maximize the number of lasting converts), and so they seek empirically-proven methods. Perhaps they choose to not be as in-your-face with their beliefs, instead choosing to try to show people by their actions that a life led according to Christian principles is a good thing, etc, etc. They don’t do this as an exercise in keeping their heads down.

    Another point is that psychology/psychiatry are clinically-oriented fields. There’s perhaps some justification for arguing that Galileo ought to have insisted on his views even unto death, but psychology, like medicine, understands itself as existing in large part in order to directly help people. Psychologists have at least some obligation to compromise the purity of their discipline in order to aid more people, if that’s what’s required. Likewise, if you’re a doctor going to some primitive tribe that has particular and severe taboos, you have some obligation to respect those beliefs and to practice medicine around them, because the doctor’s primary obligation is to aid his patients.

  72. #72 Michael from Idaho
    March 30, 2009

    I was of the opinion that religion and delusion were interchangeable terms.

  73. #73 shonny
    March 30, 2009

    Maybe eugenics could be of some use in this case by sterilizing the godnutters, both parents, so that it both acts as a warning to others, and that it might reduce the number of insanity-for-god cases?
    How the sterilizing should be done in cases like this might be another interesting topic. My contribution would be a dynamite stick and a sledgehammer and anvil as tools for removing the offending parts, but I am not very compassionate about loonies-for-god.

  74. #74 Liberal Atheist
    March 30, 2009

    “She wasn’t delusional, because she was following a religion”

    *bangs head on desk repeatedly*

  75. #75 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    Likewise, if you’re a doctor going to some primitive tribe that has particular and severe taboos, you have some obligation to respect those beliefs and to practice medicine around them, because the doctor’s primary obligation is to aid his patients.

    Like helping them to streamline female genital mutilation, or replace crude breast ironing with breast amputation, or keeping a suspected witch sedated so that she can not curse the judge who sentenced her to death ? What about helping them to improve foot binding techniques ?

    Frankly, I don’t think that on the long term, being complicit in cover up of someone’s insanity would help him at all.

  76. #76 JAMSHED MOIDU
    March 30, 2009

    majority of the crimes are done by ATHIEST……
    BECAUSE THEY FOLLOW THE RELIGION CALLED ”DARWINISM”
    PROPHET OF THIS RELIGION IS Mr DARWIN….
    THEY HAVE GOT FOLLOWERS WORDWIDE……AND THIER HOLY PLACE IS ”FREEMASSONARY”‘ HALL….HAHAHAH HAHAHA HAHAHA

  77. #77 Jadehawk
    March 30, 2009

    Sources and Ramkissoon’s mother said Ramkissoon, 22, has agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge on one condition: The charges against her must be dropped if her son, Javon Thompson, is resurrected.

    8-[]

    bloody hell, just when I thought they couldn’t get any crazier. anyway, i’m glad she’ll be tried as sane. fuck, i’m glad she’ll be tried at all, considering how the other cases of parents killing their children have turned out.

  78. #78 JHS
    March 30, 2009

    “She wasn’t delusional, because she was following a religion”

    Talk about a non sequitur.

  79. #79 Gotchaye
    March 30, 2009

    T_U_T, that’s not at all charitable, and you’re not even trying to determine what I actually mean. This isn’t a fight, and I don’t see the point of that kind of posturing.

    Every example you raise requires that the doctor actively participate in something that he/she presumably thinks is wrong, and so they’re rather poor counterexamples to my claim that doctors have some obligation to work around peculiar native taboos. Not only have you chosen extreme cases when I used the qualifier ‘some’, but you’ve also interpreted ‘work around’ as ‘help enforce’.

  80. #80 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    OK. But, how you can avoid active participation WITHOUT telling someone who asks you that he is wrong, or making yourself suspect by making up random excuses ?

  81. #81 PeterKarim
    March 30, 2009

    Very sad story. Damned death cults.

    The sentence in bold translates to “She wasn’t delusional, because she was delusional” in my mind.

  82. #82 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    T_U_T, that’s not at all charitable, and you’re not even trying to determine what I actually mean. This isn’t a fight, and I don’t see the point of that kind of posturing.

    Sorry for being mean to you.
    But, sincerely, I think that once you decide to go down the ‘they are many and they would throw a tantrum if you told them the truth’ alley, there is no bottom to it. There is little difference between helping a large group of madmen to pretend they are sane just because they could go medieval on you if you didn’t, and helping them to spread/enforce their insane ideas for the same reasons.

  83. #83 Excluded Layman
    March 30, 2009

    @Gotchaye:
    FWIW, I’m reminded of an excellent breakdown of the framing science debate, from http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2008/03/23/politicians-and-critics/:

    To the Framers, what?s going on is an essentially political battle; a public-relations contest, pitting pro-science vs. anti-science, where the goal is to sway more people to your side. And there is no doubt that such a contest is going on. But it?s not all that is going on, and it?s not the only motivation one might have for wading into discussions of science and religion.

    There is a more basic motivation: telling the truth.
    [. . . .]
    [Opponents of framing] have no interest in being politicians. They are critics, and their goal is to say correct things about the world and argue against incorrect statements. Of course, [. . .] they would be very happy if all of humanity were persuaded of the correctness of their views. But their books and blogs about science and religion are not strategic documents designed to bring about some desired outcome; they are attempts to say true things about issues they care about. Telling them ?Shut up! You?ll offend the sensibilities of people we are trying to persuade!? is like talking to a brick wall, or at least in an alien language. You will have to frame things much better than that.

  84. #84 HenriR
    March 30, 2009

    The fact that she wasn’t deemed insane is beautiful, since now the church/sect that she belonged to could be prosecuted with instigation to commit said crimes ! It could be taken all the way to the top, just like in any criminal organization. Insanity would’ve been the easy way out for both the perps and the apparently crazy congregation they belong to .

  85. #85 NC Paul
    March 30, 2009

    Any sufficiently advanced delusion is indistinguishable from religion.

  86. #86 Pete Rooke
    March 30, 2009

    I actually agree with Myers to a limited extent.

    If the central truth claims of the religion are false then it makes perfect sense to describe behaviour resulting from it as “delusional”.

    It also applies to this argument about religious people and moral resilience.

    If the central truth claims of their religion are denied then they are only resilient in the sense that they are provided with a crutch to rest upon.

    In the same way that someone who is told that they are dying of cancer might be seen as resilient if they believed that they were immune from such a terrible ailment and subsequently went in to denial.

    However, despite this it might be argued that morally resilient people are more inclined towards the offerings of religion.

    It is also odd to attempt to generalise this charge of the delusion to all religions considering that the vast majority of people are religious and that this has remained true throughout all of history.

    Therefore, even if the central truth claims are to be disputed, the evidence that has so convinced people of the value in religion must be substantial to the extent that despite being technically wrong it might be fair to call the atheist the deluded one (if these claims were in fact proved incorrect given the nature of the world that leads to the belief).

    For example, knowledge is commonly held to be justified true belief.

    I would argue that the atheist cannot claim sufficient justification (despite believing it to be true) to claim absolute knowledge that God does not exist.

  87. #87 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    I would argue that the atheist cannot claim sufficient justification (despite believing it to be true) to claim absolute knowledge that God does not exist.

    Absolute knowledge is absolutely not possible. If only absolute knowledge would be sufficient, you would have to dismiss even the knowledge of the difference between your mouth and your arse as insufficient.

  88. #88 Ian
    March 30, 2009

    “…excuse to avoid the criminal implications of their decisions…”

    Using the insanity defense in a murder trial does not mean you get off scot free. After trial you get sent to a place like Ontario’s “Regional Treatment Centre,” located inside the walls of a maximum security prison. Most murderers become eligible for parole after a decade or two, but unless a criminally insane killer can prove to the doctors that he is healthy and unlikely to pose any future threat (not easy to do) they don’t ever get out. Someone who is deemed to be unable to understand why murder is wrong is not guilty of any crime, not guilty at all, but nobody thinks a person in that state should be walking loose.

    ——-

    Yes, the mother’s a murderer — it doesn’t sound like criminal insanity. Prison for her and lots of it. Having said that, remember where her delusional beliefs came from.

    The backdrop for the murder was this:
    She was a needy single mother, needed daycare and couldn’t get it. A friend mentions this apparently benign group to her. The group love-bombs her, she gets sucked in, and (apparently) she gets brainwashed. In that respect, she is also a victim here; a group of horrible people targeted her when she was vulnerable, warped her mind, then stood over her shoulder and egged her on as she acted out their murderous fantasy on her son. That’s neither a justification nor an excuse, but it is cause for pity.

    She’s now in such a high state of cognitive dissonance that she can hardly string two sentences together. Notice that she’s not just claiming that he’ll come from back from the dead but that he never died.

  89. #89 Pete Rooke
    March 30, 2009

    T_U_T,

    okeh, the justification is not comparable to scientific claims/thories etc.

  90. #90 Tim Danaher
    March 30, 2009

    I haven’t scoured the comments to see if anyone has picked up on this, but what sort of linguistic capacity can a 16-month old child be expected to have? Here’s the typical capabilities of an 18-month old:

    Has vocabulary of approximately 5-20 words
    Vocabulary made up chiefly of nouns
    Some echolalia (repeating a word or phrase over and over)
    Much jargon with emotional content
    Is able to follow simple commands

    (from: http://www.childdevelopmentinfo.com/development/language_development.shtml)

    Anyone with any experience will tell you you can’t make a child say *anything* at that age that they don’t want to / haven’t yet assimilated. At least the mother is denied the get-out clause of insanity. The ‘resurrection’ part reminded me of Kara Neumann, the 13-year old whose parents allowed her to die from ketosis–the mother told the detectives that she hadn’t done anything wrong, because she still thought “the child could be resurrected.”

  91. #91 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    okeh, the justification is not comparable to scientific claims/thories etc.

    what kind of justification is it then ?

  92. #92 Pete Rooke
    March 30, 2009

    what kind of justification is it then?

    Insufficient justification for knowledge claims.

  93. #93 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    Duh, ‘Insufficient justification for knowledge claims‘ ‘is not comparable to scientific claims/theories‘ !
    ( mainly because they are sufficient ), but I fail to understand what do you mean with it.

  94. #94 Heraclides
    March 30, 2009

    This has a very familiar ring to it, I’m sure I’ve heard of a very similar case before, but annoyingly I can’t recall it right now.

  95. #95 Pete Rooke
    March 30, 2009

    It’s not falsifiable. you have to make a metaphysical appeal to justify the statement:

    “God does not exist.”

  96. #96 Tim Danaher
    March 30, 2009

    Heraclides –

    See my post a few entries above — it’s the Kara Neumann case:

    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/DiabetesResource/story?id=4536593

  97. #97 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    It’s not falsifiable.

    What is not falsifiable ?

    you have to make a metaphysical appeal

    What kind of metaphysical appeal and why ?

  98. #98 Pete Rooke
    March 30, 2009

    Metaphysical: relating to the incorporeal – without material form or substance (that which science does not concern).

    Supernatural – not of the physical world but somewhere outside it. Otherworldliness.

    Scienctific knowledge is constrained by the natural. Whether questions concerning supernatural/otherworldliness etc. are coherent is also a metaphysical question.

  99. #99 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    So you are playing the “supernatural/ get out of science free” card.

    Well, let’s see how far you get with it.
    can you define what do you mean with ‘incorporeal‘ ‘without material form or substance‘ ? can you ?

    Scienctific knowledge is constrained by the natural.

    Can you support that assertion ?

  100. #100 Strangebrew
    March 30, 2009

    91#

    Notice that she’s not just claiming that he’ll come from back from the dead but that he never died.

    Gonna be a tad of a conundrum when that does not happen them methinks!

    And where…’PRAY’… is the moderate church on this?

    Not seen for dust as usual just the atypical slope to the background and the shadows godly little heroes are they not?…distance and denial then ….what a shocker?

    If their belief was truly a gift from their god…is it not THEIR responsibility to ride shotgun on so a called Christian cult professing the same belief but are also seem to be worshipping a deity that is more devil then god….

    In other words preferring their own warped and twisted delusional interpretation of the xian pamphlet they all bandy around as inerrant no matter what brand of barking they imitate?
    Bad publicity is not always good publicity!

    Surely true Christians should evangelise their own warped fucktards before bothering with Muslims or atheists?

    Or is it that their cowardice… incompetence… ignorance and delusion are just to great a handicap?

    It would seem so!

  101. #101 XD
    March 30, 2009

    FTA:

    The group came to believe there had been no resurrection because someone among them was not a true believer…

    Typical religious thinking.

  102. #102 Liberal Atheist
    March 30, 2009

    #79

    majority of the crimes are done by ATHIEST……
    BECAUSE THEY FOLLOW THE RELIGION CALLED ”DARWINISM”
    PROPHET OF THIS RELIGION IS Mr DARWIN….
    THEY HAVE GOT FOLLOWERS WORDWIDE……AND THIER HOLY PLACE IS ”FREEMASSONARY”‘ HALL….HAHAHAH HAHAHA HAHAHA

    At least 75% caps, a nonconformist approach to grammar and punctuation, and at least four factual errors. A fine specimen of a trollish comment indeed.

  103. #103 XD
    March 30, 2009

    #44

    Personal ridiculous beliefs, however, are indications of something more than just that someone is prone to magical thinking. A very different view of morals than what prevails in one’s society is indicative of psychopathy, for example.

    Jesus was a psychopath?

  104. #104 Liberal Atheist
    March 30, 2009

    Oh, and since people are talking about the natural and the supernatural, I would like to hear what the differences between the two are.

    Is it true that the supernatural can not be measured or observed? Then I want to know how people can claim that such things are real, beyond speculation.

  105. #105 XD
    March 30, 2009

    #78

    Like helping them to streamline female genital mutilation…

    Or male genital mutilation.

  106. #106 Peter Ashby
    March 30, 2009

    Um people read the article, they denied the kid food and water, which in a 16month old infant would have killed quickly through kidney/heart failure. Yes it was an horrific crime, but lets not blind ourselves to the evidence so we can completely demonise these people huh?

  107. #107 steven
    March 30, 2009

    It’s so curious how differently the religiously brainwashed can be to the rationally challenged.

    Take the pro-abortion crowd for instance. You know, telling themselves how a developing child is well, not really a child, you know, cuz well ya can’t see it an’ all, and it’s not breathing yet, you know!!! I mean, gawd. Are you nuts? A baby? Can’t even feel it yet! Its jus, well, jus’ stuff, you know, biological material, like yat….

    [Poor kid. Got dressed and barely got past the bedroom door, and wham, the knife. Kid wuz jus dreaming what it woulda been like when he got 'sucked' thru the front door. So much for dreamin'....]

    How ironic, isn’t it? They’ll lock up the religiously brainwashed, but they’ll pay the cab fare for the rationally challenged to pay a visit to the ‘knife’.

    Ya see , there really is a world of difference between the religiously brainwashed and the rationally challenged, isn’t there?

    The RB goes downtown because the baby was breathing on its own. The RC gets to go uptown cuz the baby was still hooked up to Mom’s belly.

    Yeah, I get it. Abracadabra! Now you can’t see it? Alakazam! Now you’ll never see it.

    Rationality 101.

  108. #108 clinteas
    March 30, 2009

    OT(and crosspost)

    For anyone interested,here is Ed Brayton’s radio show with PZ from March 26:

    http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/declaringindependencepodcast/~3/1BydoYCVMFQ/declaring_independence_show014.mp3

  109. #109 Yellow Dog
    March 30, 2009

    One of the most destructive aspects of religious belief is the abdication of personal responsibility – “God told me to do it” or more dangerously, our former president’s “I believe in God, therefore everything I do is what God wants.”

    While we’d all prefer religion to be generally recognized as delusion, it’s critical that courts not allow people to escape punishment with the God-told-me-to-do-it excuse.

  110. #110 Duckphup
    March 30, 2009

    >>> “When ONE person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When MANY people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.” ~ Robert M. Pirsig < <<

    The simple fact is that insanity is ‘normal’ in our society… and sanity and rationality are abnormal.

    The reason that psychologists have such a hard time distinguishing between delusion and religious ideation is because there is no difference… only contrived distinctions.

  111. #111 heddle
    March 30, 2009

    Liberal Atheist, #107

    Is it true that the supernatural can not be measured or observed?

    No, that’s not true. If the supernatural exists, it can be measured and observed. That is, you could photograph Jesus walking across the water. What it can’t be, if it exists, is predicted or explained. But certainly it could be measured and observed.

  112. #112 Carlie
    March 30, 2009

    Isn’t it the case that when people in authority positions know child abuse is happening and don’t report it, they also get charged? Their entire church needs to get hauled off to jail.

  113. #113 kelebek
    March 30, 2009

    thanks….

  114. #114 Zetetic
    March 30, 2009

    Pete Rooke

    I would argue that the atheist cannot claim sufficient justification (despite believing it to be true) to claim absolute knowledge that God does not exist.

    As usual Pete…getting it backwards. You’re the one making a positive claim for the existence of god without “sufficient justification”. The atheist position is merely to recognize that you still can’t provide justification for your “god exists” assertion.

    You seem to be confusing general atheism (i.e. there is no rational justification to believe in god at this time) with what is often referred to as “strong atheism” (i.e. god is proven to not exist). The deference in these positions has been pointed out to you several times before, yet you still insist on the straw man attack to distract from your own lack of credible evidence or logical arguments for your position. Even Richard Dawkins doesn’t fall under the “strong-atheist” position (from his own statements).

    Can you please explain to us how recognizing that your lack of ability to logically support your position (as usual, I might add) qualifies as a “claim of absolute knowledge”?

  115. #115 clinteas
    March 30, 2009

    steven rationally challenged moron babbled @ 110,

    Take the pro-abortion crowd for instance. You know, telling themselves how a developing child is well, not really a child, you know, cuz well ya can’t see it an’ all, and it’s not breathing yet, you know!!! I mean, gawd. Are you nuts? A baby? Can’t even feel it yet! Its jus, well, jus’ stuff, you know, biological material, like yat….

    As has been pointed out here ad nauseam,nobody is pro-abortion,not here,not anywhere,not in the”lets go abort a fetus” kind of way you are suggesting anyway.

    Ya see,there really is a world of difference between the religiously brainwashed and the rationally challenged, isn’t there?

    The really sad part is that I have to actually agree with you to some degree here,not regarding any of the insane arguments you are making,but to the degree that otherwise rational people can get too involved personally or emotionally with a topic and lose the ability to argue rationally,or unbiased.
    Well,youre a great example I guess.

  116. #116 c7
    March 30, 2009

    “Why should the religion label excuse delusional beliefs?”

    If anything, it confirms them. That many others share your delusions does not negate them.

  117. #117 MPG
    March 30, 2009

    @105
    Note the link to a Harun Yahya copypasta site. That’s exactly how unhinged a comment we’ve come to expect from the nutters who have bought into Oktar’s cult of personality.

  118. #118 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    What it can’t be, if it exists, is predicted or explained. But certainly it could be measured and observed.

    what does prevent us to create hypotheses that explain it, and make predictions about it ?

  119. #119 Tony Sidaway
    March 30, 2009

    #118

    *I* am pro-abortion. I think the whole American “anti-abortion” thing is a result of being bullied for decades on end by the anti-abortion loonies. Induced abortion is a useful medical procedure, so I am pro-abortion.

    Living in a country where there is abundant access to legal, safe abortion is something to be proud of. I am proud of abortion.

  120. #120 Matt Heath
    March 30, 2009

    It’s not falsifiable. you have to make a metaphysical appeal to justify the statement:
    “God does not exist.”

    The non-existence of God is falsifiable; it’s not provable but it’s totally falsifiable. Say a being turned up that was able to show publicly that it was what people had been talking about when they said “God” (it had an Earth building workshop, old video footage of it fucking with people in the middle east for shits and giggles and a device for telepathically telling people to invade Iraq, say). Then the hypothesis of no God is falsified (along with most hypothesis of what God was like).

    Whether this God would be a god would still be a question but meh.

  121. #121 clinteas
    March 30, 2009

    Tony Sidaway,

    this is not about semantics,I think we agree here.
    Its about how the commenter @ 110 used the term,as if we routinely went out and had abortion parties.
    And “proud of abortion”,I think it could be worded a bit more elegantly,actually.

  122. #122 Zetetic
    March 30, 2009

    It’s not falsifiable. you have to make a metaphysical appeal to justify the statement:

    “God does not exist.”

    There, fixed it for you Pete…no need to thank me. ;)

  123. #123 John Phillips, FCD
    March 30, 2009

    I see our Indian fly fishing Turkish creotard supporting friend is back again and in all caps this time as well.

    We really need a better class of troll around here, for it has been so long since we have had even one half decent troll that I am even beginning to miss Kenny :)

  124. #124 Carlie
    March 30, 2009

    So can we get back on track, off of abortion, and talk about this woman who killed a living, born, one and a half year old child because God told her to? I am also glad that she wasn’t found insane because of her beliefs; she needs to be held fully accountable.

  125. #125 Eidolon
    March 30, 2009

    Peter @109

    Yes – that fact certainly makes the woman a much more sympathetic character.

  126. #126 ragarth
    March 30, 2009

    The child would have died in less than 3 days from dehydration. I don’t know how long it takes to kill a 16 month old from dehydration (I hope to never find out, and not believing in a giant magic skydaddy is a step towards that), but I’d imagine it’s significantly less than 3 days.

  127. #127 nothing's sacred
    March 30, 2009

    Even Richard Dawkins doesn’t fall under the “strong-atheist” position (from his own statements).

    Strong atheism is the positive belief that god does not exist, as opposed to weak atheism, which is mere lack of belief in god. Dawkins is a strong atheist (as well as being a “technical agnostic” who acknowledges that god might exist, just as there might be fairies at the bottom of his garden, while believing otherwise).

    No, that’s not true. If the supernatural exists, it can be measured and observed. That is, you could photograph Jesus walking across the water. What it can’t be, if it exists, is predicted or explained. But certainly it could be measured and observed.

    Wrong. Anything part of nature is natural, even it if is truly random — like, say, quantum events.

  128. #128 nothing's sacred
    March 30, 2009

    Metaphysical: relating to the incorporeal – without material form or substance (that which science does not concern).

    Uh, no.

  129. #129 astrounit
    March 30, 2009

    PZ: “Why should the religion label excuse delusional beliefs?”

    Indeed. And why should the religion label exempt them from the social or legal consequences of their behavior.

    So that religious people who commit attrocious crimes will not be found EITHER insane OR criminally liable.

    It must just be a benign cultural thang.

    But there is one thing they will never, ever, be able to avoid, no matter how hard they attempt to find ways of excusing themselves, and no matter what any psychiatrist or attorney says: the social stigma that inevitably accompanies being resoundingly STUPID, HEARTLESS, and utterly lacking in ordinary human compassion and empathy.

    What we’re seeing here is how religion not only erodes people’s intelligence, but also their innate and ubiquitously ordinary human instincts such as empathy and compassion that any normal mother and father would have. That mere “cultural thang” is evidently capable of wiping out every last vestige of knowledge – and the means to it – which people may have been able to enlighten themselves with to guide them in a life of decision-making.

    They literally think that they don’t have to think for themselves anymore. Commercial enterprise has relieved society of many burdens and saved people time, energy, labor, their health and (arguably) expense with products that promise “instant” gratification.

    Religious interests have marched in lockstep with Madison Avenue and paid attention to the tricks to see how it’s done. But the product THEY’RE selling is completely void. It doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t confer any advantages, it doesn’t even exist.

    There’s nothing there, and it’s selling like hotcakes: Faith. What IS that thang, exactly? It’s an assertion. That’s about it.

    The assertion IS that one can exercise control over what one otherwise has no control over. That’s what the product promises, that’s what the spielmeisters bark at the Sunday Carnivals, and it’s about as effective as snake oil for what ails you. It will fix it all: Disease. Storms. Earthquakes. Floods. Car and plane crashes. Just plain inevitable Death, the Black Ace covering them all. And more. Anything you like. Don’t like your job but feel stuck? Pray for another. Wanna be a rock star or a movie actor? Pray for it. That can be fixed too.

    The snake oil fixes EVERYTHING.

    All ya gotta do is believe. That’s all you have to “DO”.

    When something nasty threatens and you’re at the end of your rope, all you have to do is ring up God on your spiritual cellphone and ask Him for deliverance. Hey, lots of people say it really really works, don’t they? Yet nobody bothers to ask Him what the flaming HECK is going on at His End that put them in that horrible situation in the first place. (ATHEISTS of course would, but then they don’t bother to pray, do they?)

    But the snake oil of faith has it all. It is the Universal Remedy. The Elixour of Attainment. It will get you whatevr you want, and it will get you out of whatever tough jams you find yourself in (including those who manufacture their own jams, such as innumerable prison inmates, especially those serving life or on death row, who very easily buy the snake oil in response to facing a situation where they have no control whatsoever).

    But whenever anything tests our mettle it requires a heck of a lot more application than mere “faith” – by, for example, imagining that prayer to alert the otherwise Ever-Vigilant Grace of their Dear God to intervene and save Fargo from the Flood will be more effective than the many hundreds if not thousands of people who worked themselves to total exhaustion building up levees with frozen sandbags. (I wonder how long it will take for fundamentalists to latch on to the idea that sandbaggers are ineffective as future big floods completely overwhelm their efforts, because there are too many Godless among them).

    So, upon purchasing the snake oil hook, line and sinker, one is simply advised to have faith and pray:

    “Hello? God? Hello? Are you there? Hello?? HELLO??? Well, anyway, just in case You are listening, listen, man, I mean God, SIR, I mean LORD, You know what I mean, can you please PLEASE save our fair city from the flood and keep my house dry? I know it’s a lot to ask, and I’ve invested an awful lot of time and money in my life and in my house and I’ve got a mortgage and everything, but I guess you already Knew all that…but I’d really appreciate it if you can call off Your IRRIGATION Project…or maybe ease off enough just so that at least MY house doesn’t get soaked. Okay? I promise to be a good girl in return. Amen!”

    The marketing of faith is a permanent bestseller. It has people everywhere completely enthralled by its magic. The snake oil salesmen also have an extensive line of ancillary products to sell (business has been booming, after all): with the whole kit you get to control all kinds of things that are otherwise hard to control! To wit…

    1. You can fix whatever you don’t like about your government – hey, lookithat, you don’t even need to practice democracy or follow the constitution, which everyone knows is just a damned piece of paper. Why, with something like THAT you can fix just about ANYTHING you don’t like:

    2. You can prevent upstart godless science teachers from teaching evolution to your kids in government-financed public schools. (Evolution? What’s that? “I dunno. Sounds subversive, gotta get rid of it. I’ll not have any child of mine thinking her ancestors were apes! Gotta protect our kids, ya know!”).

    3. You can stick it to gays and lesbians with that and, among other things, prevent them from getting legally married. (What’s the problem? “I just don’t like it, okay? If that trend ever takes off we’re all goners. Who’ll make all the babies we need? Besides, I don’t like my kids being exposed to the wrong idea. Besides,we all know who’s responsible for sexual diseases. Gotta protect our kids!”).

    4. You can prevent left-wing Godless liberal attempts to undermine everything from your religion and observance of your holy holidays like Santa Claus Day (which the masters of Madison Avenue have long since exploited to considerable advantage, many of the interests concerned well fortified by investment from those who buy the snake oil) to attempts at trying to save the environment, the wilderness, and endangered species, not to mention human civilization itself. (What’s your problem? “Well, for one thing, I don’t trust liberals because, as every real Amurican knows, they’re all shmucks. Rush says so, and I believe him. They’re atheists ya know. Environmentalists? They’re the same creeps who keep insisting that the sky is falling, and we’re still here. HAH on THEM! They’re scientists ya know. Global warming is a myth and even if it isn’t it’s no big deal and we shouldn’t wreck our economy by trying to avoid the inevitable. So what if the Polar Bear goes extinct? My kids can always look at a picture to see what they looked like. So what if chimpanzees or elephants in Africa are getting poached? So what if the ocerans have been depleted of most of their fish – people gotta EAT, don’t they? Whales? Who cares? So what if the tropical forests are being burned down to make room to grow crops? People have to make SOME kind of a living, don’t they? So what if oil exploration exploits arctic wilderness? It’s all wasteland that nobody uses anyway. Just some caribou or whatever. Get real. Anyway, the liberal and environmentalist agenda is out to bleed us and our government dry. If they are allowed to get their way, they’ll wreck the whole fucking world! We can’t let that happen. Gotta protect our kids’ future, ya know!).

    5. You can fix what you don’t like about abortion, and you can prevent godless scientists from using stem cells from embryos to conduct research that may lead to treatment of cancer and other currently intractable diseases. (What’s the problem? “I don’t like it. SOMEBODY has to stick up for the rights of the unborn! We gotta protect our kids!)

    Ad nauseam. The product line is tremendously extensive, and their warehouses – including giant megachurch concerns – infest the whole country, constantly pumping out the snake oil. Vast tracts of our land is thoroughly saturated with this detestable ick.

    But when a MOTHER of a 17-month-old toddler fully alive and with all his faculties and raring to make a go at living the rest of his life, who may not even have been able to take his first walking steps – when that “mother” is so abominably inept as to think it proper to deny her own baby food and water or milk, to the point of KILLING that child JUST BECAUSE THE CHILD WOULDN’T SAY “AMEN” at mealtime…I can think of one and only one “reason” for this grotesque state of affairs: STUPIDITY AS ORDERED BY RELIGION. As far as any honest eye can possibly see.

    And you know what weaves everything together in this sordid mangle? That universal call-sign that bestows upon them a sensation of absolute righteousness that even a devotion to GOD can’t match, believe it or not?

    “Gotta protect our kids…”

    That’s the main hypocrisy driving this whole farce.

  130. #130 nothing's sacred
    March 30, 2009

    Therefore, even if the central truth claims are to be disputed, the evidence that has so convinced people of the value in religion must be substantial to the extent that despite being technically wrong it might be fair to call the atheist the deluded one (if these claims were in fact proved incorrect given the nature of the world that leads to the belief).

    No doubt you believe that your ignorant, incoherent views “might be fair”.

    I would argue that the atheist cannot claim sufficient justification (despite believing it to be true) to claim absolute knowledge that God does not exist.

    Bully for you; so would most atheists, as you have been told over and over and over …

  131. #131 Evolving Squid
    March 30, 2009

    Although an inability to think critically can be a sign of brainwashing, experts said, the line between that and some religious beliefs can be difficult to discern.

    “At times there can be an overlap between extreme religious conviction and delusion,” said Robert Jay Lifton, a cult expert and psychiatrist who lectures at Harvard Medical School. “It’s a difficult area for psychiatry and the legal system.”

    That should be framed and hung over the door at every church.

  132. #132 Teddydeedodu
    March 30, 2009

    Lighthill @5
    “Ugh. It takes a long time to starve somebody to death.”

    Not to mention, a very very painful way to die. This is torture! What mother would willingly do that to their own child??? What a fuck-up world these lunatics live in!

  133. #133 nothing's sacred
    March 30, 2009

    Speaking as a parent who has recently been trying to teach an 18 month old how to say “please”, these people are not just religious idiots, but crappy parents as well.

    Not giving their child food or water is a much better indication than that they had unreasonable expectations of language competency.

  134. #134 Evolving Squid
    March 30, 2009

    AND THIER HOLY PLACE IS ”FREEMASSONARY”‘ HALL

    You do understand that atheists aren’t allowed to become freemasons, right? Or has the caps-lock key pinched your carotid artery and cut off the oxygen to your brain?

  135. #135 The Atheist Missionary
    March 30, 2009

    This post reminded me of an excellent quote by Cambridge philosopher Simon Blackburn: I think that intuitively we understand that beliefs are contagious. So if someone goes along with the herd and follows one of the major surrounding religions of their culture, this need not demonstrate much of a defect. But if someone gets taken in by a minority cult, there is less excuse. It might seem more or less wilful, or the result of an unfortunate stage of life at which they were especially at sea. Other things being equal,someone who believes that Jesus walked on water is not, in our culture, so many bricks short of a load as someone who believed that the Hale-Bopp comet was his vehicle to heaven. Holding the first belief is excusable, given that so many people have been repeating it to you since childhood, whereas you have to go out of your way to pick up the second. You have to acquiesce in your own deception, or want to be deluded. It is said that religions are just cults with armies, but they are also cults with a greater number of practitioners and louder voices, and those greater numbers exert more pressure on children and even adults to join in. So joining in is less of a measure of cognitive vice. Quite sensible people get taken in. But it remains true that we cannot both hold that they believe a lot of things that it is perfectly irrational to believe, and respect them on that account.

  136. #136 Thrift
    March 30, 2009

    RE: “atheists can’t prove God doesn’t exist”

    It’s actually true it’s impossible to rule out that a supreme intelligence is responsible for designing and implementing the observable universe. It’s as good an ultimate explanation as any that science has to offer, although for the sake of decorum, sensible people will probably withhold judgement on the question of ultimate origin.

    What it’s very easy to do, however, is to rule out any entity that conforms in any substantial way with the common conception of the Christian God. So you can harp on all you like about the inadequacy of any scientific theory to explain creation, but that gap does not give you licence to stipulate arbitary dogma.

  137. #137 Future MD
    March 30, 2009

    Hey PZ,
    Just wanted to give you some insight, didn’t read all the comments so this may be a repeat. Delusion medically is defined as a fixed, false set of beliefs not held by other individuals. Delusions are a symptom of a pathological condition like Alzheimer’s or Schizophrenia. The doctor was quoted the way he was because first he probably found no reason to believe a pathological condition. Second, there were others with the false, fixed belief and we don’t define delusion when its common among a group. Whether its correct or not, delusion medically is a view incompatible with others.

  138. #138 Kristian Grnqvist
    March 30, 2009

    Wasnt the people flying aeroplanes into World Trade Center religious. Why the War against islamists if you dont start a war against that type of religion. Everybody that believes in that religion are as guilty as her…

  139. #139 Ponder
    March 30, 2009

    “You do understand that atheists aren’t allowed to become freemasons, right?”

    Actually at least one branch of French Freemasonry, the Grand Orient, does allow atheists to become freemasons. However I understand that American and English freemasons have to profess a belief in a supreme being.

    And no, Chuck Norris doesn’t count.

  140. #140 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    Second, there were others with the false, fixed belief and we don’t define delusion when its common among a group.

    So, if I happen to sucker one more person into my delusion, it ceases to be one ? Oh wait, is there not the diagnosis calledFolie deux ?

  141. #141 Drosera
    March 30, 2009

    Peter Ashby:

    Um people read the article, they denied the kid food and water, which in a 16month old infant would have killed quickly through kidney/heart failure. Yes it was an horrific crime, but lets not blind ourselves to the evidence so we can completely demonise these people huh?

    What are you saying? That we should not ?completely demonise? these religion-inspired child-killers because they were so merciful not only to starve the child but to withhold water as well? They all deserve to rot in a dungeon, if you ask me, and you can join them.

  142. #142 c7
    March 30, 2009

    “And no, Chuck Norris doesn’t count.”

    Not that I cared about him past the odd guilty chuckle at one of the jokes about him, but having learnt that he’s a creationist wingnut, I know there’s nothing supreme about him.

  143. #143 www.10ch.org
    March 30, 2009

    Since she is not criminally insane, she is only criminal.

  144. #144 FlameDuck
    March 30, 2009

    Paul Jennings Hill didn’t get to “plead religion” either (that’s an excellent expression, I’m stealing it).

    I say good riddance, the more of these delusional half-wits get taken out of society, the stronger it becomes.

  145. #145 mikecbraun
    March 30, 2009

    As all of the parents here can vouch, it’s difficult to get a child that age to say anything consistently (they might come up with three distinct answers, similar or not, to the same question in succession), let alone what you want him/her to say when you want it said. WTF? I say keep asking these people a question in jail like, “Do you accept the fact of evolution?” Until they answer properly, no soup for you! Maybe they’ll starve in the meantime. Or maybe some upstanding convict will shank them.

  146. #146 MrPete
    March 30, 2009

    Interesting discussion. Unless I missed it in browsing the comments, my two cents’ worth haven’t been brought up yet:

    a) The ability to be “irresponsible and murderously stupid” (as someone nicely defined it) is not at all limited to the religious. Someone brought up eugenics…which reminded me that much of what emerged from that “scientific” movement in the first half of the 20th century would certainly qualify as irresponsible and murderously stupid.

    I have my suspicions about which institution has the best long-term record of helping people avoid irresponsibility, murder, and stupidity. Much as I love science, I don’t think science can make that claim.

    b) Interesting how “strong” and “weak” atheism have been framed. The inability to assert “God Does Not Exist” was once called agnosticism. So are most here Agnostics? Seems to me what we’re dealing with here is a mile wide confidence interval.

    c) Falsifiability is available in religion. It’s also available in supernaturalistic hypotheses of origins.

  147. #147 Mike
    March 30, 2009

    ctually, liberals are having fewer children, while the morons are trending to bigger and bigger families.

    Where the hell is that going to lead.

    Maybe the liberals are the ones who should be getting DARWIN AWARDS.

    I know a couple of vary talented couples. No kids. Dwon the street, two wacko families with NINE kids between them.

    Do the math.

  148. #148 Iain Walker
    March 30, 2009

    Pete Rooke (#98):

    Metaphysical: relating to the incorporeal – without material form or substance (that which science does not concern).

    Definition fail. That’s not remotely what “metaphysical” means. “Metaphysical” is the adjective relating to Metaphysics, which is the branch of philosophy primarily concerned with questions of existence.

    On which note, from #95:

    You have to make a metaphysical appeal to justify the statement: “God does not exist.”

    Depends on how the term “God” is defined, and what (if any) the observable consequences of supposing it to exist would be. If we were consistently to observe that those consequences do not obtain, then we would have good empirical reason to assert that God does not exist. So in principle, the question is not inherently outside the remit of the empirical investigation.

    However, theism typically goes out of its way to avoid being pinned down in such a fashion. That being the case, justification for asserting that “God does not exist” would indeed have to reply primarily on an appeal to metaphysics – in the sense of an appeal to logical and philosophical principles.

    Thus, for example, if the term “God” is supposed to refer to something that is both timeless and an agent, then one can point out that agency is a concept that presupposes the passage of time, and so that this particular notion of God is self-contradictory, and so the proposition “God exists” is false.

    There: the statement: “God does not exist” justified by a metaphysical appeal (for at least one value of “God”).

  149. #149 MrPete
    March 30, 2009

    Speaking of delusional… my best high school friend’s uncle was a geologist who was considered delusional at the time.

    He was trying to develop evidence for plate tectonics. What a nut case.
    :-)

  150. #150 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    Thus, for example, if the term “God” is supposed to refer to something that is both timeless and an agent, then one can point out that agency is a concept that presupposes the passage of time, and so that this particular notion of God is self-contradictory, and so the proposition “God exists” is false.

    There: the statement: “God does not exist” justified by a metaphysical appeal (for at least one value of “God”).

    Showing a definition to be self-contradictory is not metaphysics. It is just logic.

  151. #151 wasd
    March 30, 2009

    Well. Why should the religion label excuse delusional beliefs?

    It isnt the “religion” label that will put this woman away for life rather than getting her treatment. Its the “[beliefs] shared by those around her” label.

    When diagnosing delusions psychologists always ask the question whether the things someone “sees” or “hears” are seen by the other people around this person, not whether what this person experiences is objectively there.

    Now the scienceblogs.com might object and start a successful movement to change the official definitions of mental illnesses so that only people who experience things that are objectively not there would be mentally ill.

    I would agree but only because I would arrange for a Penn & Teller performance at the next RNC convention while also arranging for plenty of ambulances and big kind pleasant men in white scrubs ready to gently take away everyone who answers the question “did you see the woman getting cut in half” with “well yes I did”.

    And remember that a key part in the treatment of a mental illness can be the recognition of that illness. Many psychologist will not declare someone cured until the person has admitted to being ill, and then accepting the drugs to deal with this illness. So if you are ever wrongly locked up for being insane this makes for a nice little catch-22. If you say you are sane and wrongly locked you will not get out and if “admit” you are insane and they will say okay well lets starts your treatment and if you stay on your drugs and don`t recant all your “progress” then we will have you out of here in a couple of months…

    And don`t think this is just theoretical! I will have a translation of a Dutch newspaper article involving a guy let out after 15 years later, because the story appears to be the polar opposite.

    Thank god I though of this first before Karl Rove and his band of US attorneys did right?

  152. #152 Tony Sidaway
    March 30, 2009

    #121

    No, “proud of abortion” is what I mean, and I don’t think elegance comes into it. I would be utterly ashamed and devastated if my country put needless obstacles in the way of women seeking abortion. I am very, very proud that they do not. I am proud. of abortion; it’s one of the essential signs of a civilized society.

  153. #153 Brian Coughlan
    March 30, 2009

    You know, there are always two sides to every story, and Doctor Silverman, lets face it, doesn’t have a great track record. For example, he certified Sarah Connor as insane just because she was worried about robots from the future wiping out humanity. A concern, that I think it fair to say, many of us share.

    I mean, maybe the mother (as in Sarah Connor’s case) did the right thing, and Silverman is just predjudiced against strong women with firmly held beliefs, that subject their children to terrifying and occasionally fatal ordeals. Did you liberals ever think of that? No, of course not, always taking the easy way out, demonising the poor religious folk and letting Big Government butt it’s nose in where it doesn’t belong.

    This is just another example of Obama’s socialising of America. Thank God for Glenn Beck is all I can say.

  154. #154 Gruesome Rob
    March 30, 2009

    Where the hell is that going to lead.

    Here. Still not going to have kids.

  155. #155 Cuttlefish, OM
    March 30, 2009

    In this kid’s death, I fear I see
    Religion in conspiracy;
    The church should also share the blame
    For crimes committed in their name.
    Indict them all! A public trial
    Will let the people see how vile
    A group can be–and what is more,
    The other churches, by the score,
    Will have to choose to take a side:
    To let these horrid monsters hide
    Behind “religious freedom”, or
    To try to shut that legal door.
    Does freedom of religion mean
    Support for actions this obscene?
    Let churches choose–they made this bed,
    Now sleep–like the kid. Oh, wait. He’s dead.

  156. #156 Courtney
    March 30, 2009

    Under the agreement, Ramkissoon, known within the group as Princess Marie, would plead guilty to child abuse resulting in death and cooperate with prosecutors. The murder charge would be dropped, and prosecutors would recommend probation and treatment

    Meaning she could still have more kids. Sterilization should be part of her treatment.

  157. #157 green thumb
    March 30, 2009

    As a mother and a nanny, I want to throw up after reading that story. What a horrendous thing for those sick bastards to do to a young toddler. Children that age can’t be expected to follow rules like older children. They can barely string enough words together to make coherent sentences. I hope the charges against them are severe and the punishment painful. It wasn’t delusion, it was twisted and evil. Fucking religion. I have to go hug my child now.

  158. #158 Strangebrew
    March 30, 2009

    156#

    The murder charge would be dropped, and prosecutors would recommend probation and treatment

    That is not a plea bargain…that is the religious belief gambit being pulled off…!

  159. #159 rb
    March 30, 2009

    why should religious belief get on out of a murder rap? Seems that this story de-privileges religion, which is a good thing…. do you want her to go free? do you want the wisconsin couple to go free?

  160. #160 Iain Walker
    March 30, 2009

    T_U_T (#150):

    Showing a definition to be self-contradictory is not metaphysics. It is just logic.

    Well, it’s not as if they’re separate areas of discourse, where never the twain shall meet. Metaphysics is, after all, basically the application of logical and conceptual analysis to abstract questions of existence (i.e., logic is the tool with which one does metaphysics). The argument like the one outlined above is concerned with the logical presuppositions of a particular existential claim (and is based on a broader analysis of what is entailed by something being an agent), and so in terms of subject matter and approach falls within the scope of metaphysics.

    Of course, we could just let Rooke redefine “metaphysics” to refer to whatever speculative, supernaturalistic woo he likes, and use some other term instead (“ontology” is usually an accepted synonym). But I just felt like reclaiming the word for the side of reason. ;-)

  161. #161 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    abstract questions of existence,

    well. I actually never understood what people mean with metaphysics. And also abstract questions of existence is imho something so vague that I can not figure out what it means at all. Can you explain it to me ? ( please no link to wikipedia, I read that stuff already, but it did not make mi wiser )

  162. #162 Vic
    March 30, 2009

    You know, it’s entirely possible that religion is masking thousands of cases of mental illness in the world. Just because they delusions they have fit into a category that’s acceptable and labeled “religion” we may never know how many insane people there are.

  163. #163 Tulse
    March 30, 2009

    I don’t understand — if she isn’t delusional, doesn’t that mean she is mentally competent, and thus more responsible for her actions?

  164. #164 Girl Technologist
    March 30, 2009

    …Well, at least now, with a nondelusional mind, she and the others will be tried for the crime they actually committed.

  165. #165 apthorp
    March 30, 2009

    “Well. Why should the religion label excuse delusional beliefs?”

    Does it? The point of a law based civil society that only behavior matters, not belief. There are sanctions for starving babies. Even “unintentionally” as is some much hyped vegan cases.

    Or is a better answer “who cares”? “Excuse” seems to be a moral, not behavioral judgment. Just as “it’s legal” isn’t an excuse for behavior I judge to be immoral, “it’s moral/religious/my sincere belief” doesn’t enter into violating legal boundaries.

    The separable question is the penalty. Stoning? Life long isolation? Banishment? Reeducation? Is there any space for compassion for this woman, despite, or because of, her beliefs? Religion always seems to come down on the side of sanctions as retribution (done with love of course) as opposed to civil protection. Should a civil society use religion as a reason for retribution? Or as a factor, perhaps distinguished from organically based delusions, in determining the appropriate sanction.

  166. #166 Uzza
    March 30, 2009

    They tortured a baby to death because it hadn’t learned to talk yet.
    Can’t get past that.

  167. #167 Monado
    March 30, 2009

    Being drunk should not be an excuse. We know people do stupid things when drunk, so it’s up to us not to get that drunk. “Drunk driving” and having an accident is now considered to be stupider and more irresponsible than having an accident when sober.

    Similarly, having a religious belief should not be an excuse. “I had to kill that doctor/clinic escort/receptionist because I believe that a fertilized egg is a baby.” Riiiight. It’s domestic terrorism to the rest of us.

    And being a complete wackaloon does not rid a parent of the responsibility to provide the necessities of life. It’s your responsibility not to get that far from reality or, if you do, to hand your children over to someone else. There’s an unfortunate hangover from the “your kids belong to you” mentality of Roman times.

  168. #168 charley
    March 30, 2009

    OK, I’ll take the other side. She slowly tortured and killed her own child, therefore she may very well be insane and entitled to whatever leniency that entails. Furthermore, her insanity may have been largely induced by others, namely, the other cult members, reducing her culpability even more. Cult tactics are famous for making normal people behave irrationally. People join them innocently and get brainwashed into staying. It’s easy to condemn the victims of cults from outside of them. I don’t know what her punishment should be, but I agree with whoever says it’s a complicated case.

  169. #169 Tulse
    March 30, 2009

    She slowly tortured and killed her own child, therefore she may very well be insane

    Don’t let Jesus hear you talk that way about his dad…

  170. #170 MZ
    March 30, 2009

    Being found criminally insane doesn’t just get you “off the hook”. Such people are still committed and confined for the rest of their lives. Maybe it’s not as bad as federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison, but spending the rest of your life in a high security psychiatric hospital wouldn’t be fun either.

  171. #171 Ichthyic
    March 30, 2009

    Scientists should weigh the scientific value of their statements against their political cost.

    like statements relating to the consensus regarding data on global warming?

    nope.

    science is and always must be, uncompromising.

  172. #172 Jadehawk
    March 30, 2009

    Well, at least now, with a nondelusional mind, she and the others will be tried for the crime they actually committed.

    unfortunately, no. read the article more closely. she’s getting probation and counseling! hopefully, at least the cult leader (that Queen Antoinette person) will be put behind bars permanently.

  173. #173 raven
    March 30, 2009

    For example, he certified Sarah Connor as insane just because she was worried about robots from the future wiping out humanity. A concern, that I think it fair to say, many of us share.

    Not all of us. The Killer Robots from the Future theory is so silly.

    What is more threatening is the mass uprising of the Zombies. There was a documentary about that not too long ago. The Night of the Living Dead.

  174. #174 Gotchaye
    March 30, 2009

    A while back, Excluded Layman brought up the distinction between Framing and ~Framing. I don’t see what I was advocating (the propriety of psychology as a discipline not recognizing religion as delusion) as framing – I’m not saying anything about how individual scientists ought to behave, only about what scientists/clinicians (as a group) ought to adopt as an ‘official stance’, as it were. So the whole issue of politics vs brutal honesty is irrelevant – we’re talking about the statements that very political bodies ought to make.

    And if T_U_T’s still around: the sorts of things I had in mind for doctor’s were pretty uncontroversial, I think – if the tribe refuses to let a doctor sterilize wounds, (or give shots, or perform gynecological exams), and if its members feel sufficiently strongly about that that they react extremely badly to the doctor’s suggestions that these would be good things, then it’s probably a good idea for the doctor to keep his mouth shut and to do those things that the tribe doesn’t have a problem with.

  175. #175 MPM
    March 30, 2009

    It’s difficult to draw a line between religion and delusion because there just is no difference

  176. #176 Bill Dauphin
    March 30, 2009

    Coming late to this party (typical for me on Mondays), but when has that ever stopped me?

    Gotchaye (@41):

    A very different view of morals than what prevails in one’s society is indicative of psychopathy, for example.

    Really? Is this a strictly contemporaneous diagnosis, or would you say that abolitionists in the U.S. and Britain were psychopaths? How about suffragettes? Resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Europe? Conscientious objectors in the WWII/Korean War/Vietnam era?

    Now, I realize all those examples are more complex, morally and sociopolitically, than my glib summary can capture… but I think it’s generally risky to associate taking a moral stand in opposition to one’s contemporary culture with psychopathology.

    That said, though…

    Billy V (@46):

    Atheist or not – in order for the statement “She wasn’t delusional, because she was following a religion” to be valid one would first have to assume that all religions are true.

    No, holding a belief that’s false doesn’t necessarily make you delusional. If that were the case, we’d have to consider the vast majority of scientists, throughout the history of science, to have been delusional.

    I don’t pretend to be conversant with the strict clinical definition of delusional, but in common usage, the term suggests not that your beliefs are wrong, but that they are irrational. And notwithstanding my comment above, the fact that a belief is shared by hundreds of millions (for any one of the world’s major religions) or billions (taking all the world’s major religions together) makes it arguably rational to share that belief.

    Note that I’m NOT committing the logical fallacy of saying that mass belief makes the thing believed any truer; I’m only saying that we’re not predisposed to think that the majority of our fellow humans are insane. This is probably a good thing on balance — how could a society predicated on each person thinking of everyone else as crazy possibly govern itself? — but it does lead to the normalization of beliefs that, if held by only a small number of people, would clearly be considered crazy.

    Thus, it’s not obviously crazy to be a Catholic or a Muslim or an observant Jew, because in each case one can point to many millions of not-otherwise-crazy people who hold those beliefs. OTOH, believing (for instance) that Jim Jones is god incarnate, and that if he tells you to drink poison, that’s what you should do… not so much!

    It would clearly be wrong to say “if XX million people believe it, it must be true,” but it’s not so obviously wrong to say “if XX million people, most of whom seem normally sane and functional, believe something, it’s not crazy for the XX million + 1 person to also believe that thing.”

  177. #177 co
    March 30, 2009

    [...] it’s not so obviously wrong to say “if XX million people, most of whom seem normally sane and functional, believe something, it’s not crazy for the XX million + 1 person to also believe that thing.”

    What if XX = 10^(-6)?

  178. #178 Ktesibios
    March 30, 2009

    Gotchaye | March 30, 2009 12:45 AM [kill]?[hide comment]

    As an aside, I can see how the hiding of the body proves that they weren’t completely out of their minds, but it doesn’t show that they know that what they did was wrong. It only shows that they know that everyone else would think it wrong.

    Which is, in and of itself, proof that they are not legally insane. For an insanity plea to prevail, the criterion is that you be so unable to process external reality that you’re unable to understand what you’re doing or even that the society around you prohibits you doing it.

    If “I don’t believe it’s wrong” were a get-out-of-jail-free card, human society would look an awful lot like the fantasies of Christopaths about how they would behave if they weren’t afraid of being sent to Hell- you know, the fantasies they’re always projecting on atheists.

  179. #179 RN Lee
    March 30, 2009

    This is actually not a good thing, not even for atheists: it’s a reflection of the late shift in legal standards for insanity in criminal cases in the US. It used to be “Were you clearly out of your mind?” basically. Now it’s “No matter how nuts or delusional you may clearly be, do you still believe in Christian moral values?” If you do, you’re not insane. Thus, Andrea Yates goes to prison for killing her kids for Satan in an obvious psychotic state, because she knew Satan was evil and telling her to do wrong.

    If you think God told you to kill your kids, things can go either way. Here, this woman is being told she isn’t insane, because she believes in God and good and evil and whatnot. In other cases, killing for God can get you an insanity plea, because God Wouldn’t Do That.

    There’s no joy to be taken from any of this, it’s all just wretched.

  180. #180 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    And if T_U_T’s still around: the sorts of things I had in mind for doctor’s were pretty uncontroversial, I think – if the tribe refuses to let a doctor sterilize wounds, (or give shots, or perform gynecological exams), and if its members feel sufficiently strongly about that that they react extremely badly to the doctor’s suggestions that these would be good things, then it’s probably a good idea for the doctor to keep his mouth shut and to do those things that the tribe doesn’t have a problem with.

    Merely being quiet is not enough for the type of madmen I am talking about. Not enthusiastic enough is for them as bad as direct opposition. What when they come and say, hey, you are a doctor, we have trouble cutting all meat off the face of the slut, so grab your scalpel and do your best. And they are going to react extremely badly to the idea that you, being guest in their house, fail to perform your duty. What will you do then ?
    Is passive compliance with the evil any better than active collaboration, if the consequences are equally bad ?

  181. #181 T_U_T
    March 30, 2009

    Note that I’m NOT committing the logical fallacy of saying that mass belief makes the thing believed any truer;

    You are committing the fallacy of saying that mass belief makes the thing believed less false/absurd/insane.

    I’m only saying that we’re not predisposed to think that the majority of our fellow humans are insane.

    If people can’t handle truth then they are insane, no matter whether they are predisposed to this kind of mental failure or not.

  182. #182 WRMartin
    March 30, 2009

    MZ @170:

    spending the rest of your life in a high security psychiatric hospital wouldn’t be fun either.

    Yeah, just imagine all the wonderful and amazing people she’ll meet there. Maybe she can follow them and their beliefs for a few years. She certainly does appear to be a follower. I’m also willing to bet she knows the answer to whether or not gunpowder tastes like cherries.

    Maybe Napoleon can get her to assist on Snipe Hunting Night in the ward. Now they’ll catch that dang snipe fo’ sho’.

  183. #183 Inky
    March 30, 2009

    wtf. Do people not have any common sense?

  184. #184 Marcus Ranum
    March 30, 2009

    I find it very interesting that many people here are calling out for punishment for the mother…

    OK – but: “punishment” assumes that the purpose of our “justice system” is to punish people for making mistakes. That’s a world-view based on “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” – i.e.: religious values. Americans should be asking ourselves whether the purpose of our justice system is prevention or retaliation. Are we trying to prevent crimes or avenge them? If we’re in the prevention game, then the next question a rationalist would have to ask is: “is there a significant deterrent value in punishment?” (The answer appears to be “no” in general)

    So this case cuts to the core of the religion versus rationality debate. If we were actually being rational, we’d have identified her child as “at risk” because its parents were incompetent to raise children, due to being brain-addled by religion. If we take a cold hard look at the effectiveness of a “justice system” based on punishment and deterrence, we’re left with some really interesting social questions – none of which can be answered morally in the presence of religious ideology.

  185. #185 Marcus Ranum
    March 30, 2009

    (Addendum to previous)

    For example, if we discard the religious world-view that there is a thing called “free will” that we exercise, which gives us moral responsibility for our actions – what effect should that have on our “justice system”?? I have never heard a convincing argument that “free will” exists (and I’ve heard a lot of attempts!) and that’s truly germane when you consider the impact on a “justice system” of a schizophrenic who had no choice in how his brain chemistry was laid out. Indeed, one could argue that children raised in extremely religious households may be psychologically damaged.

    Rationalists don’t do a very good job of resolving pure rationalism with criminality/justice. :(

  186. #186 Iain Walker
    March 30, 2009

    T_U_T (#161):

    well. I actually never understood what people mean with metaphysics. And also abstract questions of existence is imho something so vague that I can not figure out what it means at all. Can you explain it to me ? ( please no link to wikipedia, I read that stuff already, but it did not make mi wiser )

    Uh, tricky. I thought the Wiki article was reasonably OK, but if it didn’t help …

    Part of the problem is that the word “metaphysics” is frequently misused in the way that Rooke misuses it – to refer to some non-physical “reality” (conveniently ignoring the fact that physicalism is itself a metaphysical position). So when someone starts throwing the term about, it is indeed wise to be suspicious and ask them what they mean by it.

    Unfortunately, philosophers can’t always give a clear definition either – see for example the Stanford Encyclopedia entry, although I suspect you may find it even less helpful than the Wiki article. It’s pretty dense.

    However, I’ll at least try and unpack the notion of an “abstract question of existence”. By this I meant a question that needs to be approached at a conceptual level – it’s about how we think about the kinds of things that we think exist. It’s not a matter of asking something like whether or not the Loch Ness Monster exists, something which you can (in principle) go and check and find out. It’s more like asking whether numbers exist (and indeed, asking what it means to speak of numbers as existing). It’s asking questions at that kind of level – about the concepts we use to try and make sense of the world, and the relationships between those concepts, and the relationships between those concepts and the world.

    Just to give an example or two:

    What is the relationship between a thing and its properties? Is the thing no more than a collection of properties, or is there something else in which the properties are “embedded”?

    Or, if the properties of a thing change, is it still the same thing? Or has the thing with the old set of properties ceased to exist and a new thing with a slightly different set of properties come into existence? If it is still one and the same thing, then in virtue of what is it the same?

    That’s the kind of stuff that would normally get filed under the heading “metaphysics”.

    I have no idea if any of the above will help clarify matters. Apologies in advance if it doesn’t.

  187. #187 Banana Sticker
    March 30, 2009

    There was a House quote, something along the lines of “Isn’t it strange that religious behavior is so close to psychotic behavior that it’s hard to tell the difference?”

    Seems fitting.

  188. #188 Gotchaye
    March 30, 2009

    I wasn’t saying that any moral views that differ at all from the views of one’s culture are psychopathic. I was just pointing out that, ordinarily, a well-functioning human mind is strongly influenced by the society it grows up in. There’s -probably- a problem with a mind that essentially constructs an entirely new moral metaphysics. I’m talking about much more than just a belief that slavery is wrong – that’s differing in one way, and usually in such a way as to remain inside some agreed-upon framework. Likewise, I wouldn’t say that someone who started arguing today that slavery was just dandy was a psychopath.

    But to have a radically abnormal view of what is moral is strongly indicative of psychopathy, especially if this abnormal view is built upon an unusual metaphysics. I’m talking about stuff like thinking that killing people is in general permissible.

  189. #189 Bill Dauphin
    March 30, 2009
    [...] it’s not so obviously wrong to say “if XX million people, most of whom seem normally sane and functional, believe something, it’s not crazy for the XX million + 1 person to also believe that thing.”

    What if XX = 10^(-6)?

    That’s sorta’ my point: It’s manifestly more rational to agree with the beliefs of a huge percentage of the planet’s total population, most of whom are observably well-functioning members of society than it is to agree with a handful of evident whack-jobs sleeping on cots in a warehouse somewhere, waiting for the spaceship to pick them up.

    And this is true even if what the otherwise-sane masses believe is, from some objective third-party POV, just as crazy as what the obvious crazies believe. The question here is not how rational the underlying beliefs are, but how rational it is to say “I’m with them.”

    T_U_T:

    Note that I’m NOT committing the logical fallacy of saying that mass belief makes the thing believed any truer;

    You are committing the fallacy of saying that mass belief makes the thing believed less false/absurd/insane.

    No, that’s NOT what I’m saying. Instead, I’m saying that the long-term existence of a huge population of otherwise normal believers makes failing to challenge that belief less absurd; I am quite clearly NOT saying that any number of believers affects the inherent rationality of the belief one way or the other.

    We as rationalists are fond of repeating the axiom that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”; I’m just saying that having virtually everyone you know accept a given belief as true perfectly reasonably makes that belief seem less extraordinary.

    For how many atheists who have deconverted from some form of theism did it take most of their lives before they began to realize that it was even possible to question the faith they were raised in? You might want to say “well, they were crazy, until they began to heal and get sane,” and there might be some absolute sense in which that’s true… but it’s not a useful way of understanding the deconversion experience — or hoping to replicate it in others — to simply write off those people’s previous lives (and families and loved ones) as insanity.

    I’m only saying that we’re not predisposed to think that the majority of our fellow humans are insane.

    If people can’t handle truth then they are insane, no matter whether they are predisposed to this kind of mental failure or not.

    You are, I think, failing to make a distinction between irrational and insane: It’s perfectly possible for people to believe irrational things without being psychopaths. I submit to you that, almost by definition, it is not true that a large majority of the human population is insane… or, looked at from another angle, and definition of insanity that includes more humans than it excludes is a useless definition, from the POV of effecting any positive social change.

    In short, saying “everybody in the whole fucking world is just fucking bugnuts crazy!!” may make us feel all warm and superior, but it’s not a very good starting point for making the world any saner. On important step in solving a problem is not defining it as a priori insoluble.

  190. #190 Bill Dauphin
    March 30, 2009

    Gotchaye (@188):

    I was just pointing out that, ordinarily, a well-functioning human mind is strongly influenced by the society it grows up in.

    On that point we certainly agree, as I hope is obvious from my comment to T_U_T.

  191. #191 Simpleton
    March 30, 2009

    Yet another bit of compelling evidence that religious beliefs are indistinguishable from insanity

  192. #192 Ben
    March 30, 2009

    But deliberately expunging all evidence
    in such a fashion screams that they know
    what they did was wrong.

    Not in this society, it doesn’t. What it shows is they knew what they did was illegal and would incur penalties imposed by the system, which is not at all the same thing as “wrong.”

    Having said that, I never felt that “delusion” was an adequate excuse for anything anyway. An appropriate reaction would be for these folks all to be put in neighboring cells where they can see and hear each other, where they would be starved to death – no food or water.

    See? That’s illegal. But it isn’t wrong. :)

  193. #193 red rabbit
    March 30, 2009

    @ Ichthyic #45

    A delusion which is separated from the rest of reality is more likely to be considered, medically speaking, an “overvalued idea.” The difference there lies in the fact that a delusion has the sense of incontrovertible truth to the deluded person, whereas an overvalued idea is something they generally believe but realise is quite odd.

    The DSM thing: I think the “culturally accepted” clause exists, not for the local culture but more for the folks from other cultures who would all get called insane when they arrived due to strong, not locally recognised belief systems. Only more recently, I think, has this phrase been turned on Western cultures.

    And it’s about bloody time.

    Locked ward mental institution with no chance of leaving other than recanting the beliefs that make her dangerous? Criminally insane wouldn’t have been too bad a call either. But responsible for her actions is fine by me.

  194. #194 anthonzi
    March 30, 2009

    Is this the Christian form of retroactive abortion?

  195. #195 Sebastian Gomez
    March 30, 2009

    It is simple. RELIGION IS DELUSION. So simple.
    Religion is destroying the world. We must ban religion. Period.

  196. #196 Amanda
    March 30, 2009

    To not feed a child when they have food at hand should be considered a horrible sin. What is wrong with someone that they get so mad at a child for not saying “Amen” at a meal that they torture him by starvation. What mother could do that to her child? I know I could never look into the hurt eyes of my little boy and live with myself if I was the cause of his pain because I didn’t feed him when I had every means possible to do so. The “mother” and “father” they speak of are monsters, not parents. What horrible people they are!!! Monsters.

  197. #197 Jessica
    March 30, 2009

    LOL by 10^(-6) I think you mean 10^6. There are no beliefs held by 0.000001 people.

  198. #198 Beerinyourear
    March 31, 2009

    The Author Douglas Adams explains away the non existence of god thusly:

    The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
    “But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”
    “Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.”

  199. #199 Niki
    March 31, 2009

    Our justice system is NOT set up for rehabilitation. Come one. No one actually believes that it is. It is set up to seperate people who hurt others from society.

    Of course a woman who starves her child and then hides the body is off her rocker. Of course! And she should be seperated from the rest of us. Send her to jail! insanity is NOT a defense. If someone is crazy enough to hurt someone, they should be seperated from the rest of us. The End.

  200. #200 Bill Dauphin
    March 31, 2009

    Jessica:

    LOL by 10^(-6) I think you mean 10^6. There are no beliefs held by 0.000001 people.

    No, it was right: I had posited “XX million people,” and the rejoinder was “what if XX=10^(-6)?”… which is to say, knocking my millions (i.e., major religion scale) back down to single digits (i.e., lame-ass cult scale).

    Don’t feel too bad, though: I had to stop and think before understanding, and I had the advantage of having written the comment this one was responding to.

  201. #201 Matthew Flaschen
    March 31, 2009

    “Well. Why should the religion label excuse delusional beliefs?”

    Did you even glance at the DSM definition before posting? A belief is not delusional if “ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture.” Clearly, starving children who don’t say grace was part of this woman’s subculture.

  202. #202 perturbed
    March 31, 2009

    Their expectations of a sixteen month old child were so unrealistic as to be delusional. Their consequent treatment of that child thoroughly cast aside every utterance about compassion that the God they claim to worship ever made.

    Time for the believers to come out of the woodwork and say the truth: these people spat in the face of everything Christ ever stood for. Whatever they call the religion they might want to hide behind, it’s as far from true Christianity as Satan is from God.

  203. #203 Zetetic
    March 31, 2009

    @nothing’s sacred #127
    Sorry for the late response…

    Upon reflection, I stand corrected. You definition of “strong atheism” and Dawkin’s position is far more accurate.

    What I should have stated was that even Dawkin doesn’t fall under Pete Rooke’s straw man argument that atheism is a position that he defines as to…

    claim absolute knowledge that God does not exist

    @ Pete Rooke:
    Care to name any atheist that meets your definition of the atheist position? Further more, care to show any evidence that such a position is wide spread among the atheist community?

  204. #204 ComradeX
    March 31, 2009

    The mother plea bargained for reduced charges. She will be required to testify against the other cult members. The only condition of her side is that all charges against her will be dropped if her son comes back to life via resurrection. The court agreed and it is written into the court decision.

  205. #205 Peter Ashby
    March 31, 2009

    @Drosera #141

    What are you saying? That we should not ?completely demonise? these religion-inspired child-killers because they were so merciful not only to starve the child but to withhold water as well? They all deserve to rot in a dungeon, if you ask me, and you can join them.

    No, I said (quite clearly) that if we are not going to consider the evidence then it is a witchunt. I thought we were supposed to be different to the religious? or does the evidence not matter to you? People were posting about how it would take ‘days and days’ for the kid to starve to death and therefore the perps were even worse scumbags.

    Or maybe we should form a lynch mob and lynch not just them but anyone who dares to question the received party line? Get off your high moral judgement horse and use your reason instead of just your amygdala, fuckwit.

  206. #206 Drosera
    March 31, 2009

    Peter Ashby,

    For a while I thought you were being subtly ironic in the post to which I responded, or that I had been fooled by a poe. I am happy to see that you are really as deranged as I guessed.

  207. #207 Drosera
    March 31, 2009

    To be fair to Petey, let?s have a second look at his original post. Maybe I misread it.

    Um people read the article, they denied the kid food and water, which in a 16month old infant would have killed quickly through kidney/heart failure. Yes it was an horrific crime, but lets not blind ourselves to the evidence so we can completely demonise these people huh?

    Nope. What I still think it reads is this:

    ?Hey, give these folks a break. Okay, they murdered a child, but at least they had the decency to get it over with quickly.?

    It does not occur to Petey that they probably acted out of sheer stupidity, not out of compassion. And if anyone demonises these idiots it is you, Petey, since you suggest that they deliberately murdered the child, rather than tried to punish it according to their contorted logic.

    And YOU call ME a fuckwit? Ha ha.

  208. #208 Natalie
    March 31, 2009

    Niki @ 199 – people who are found not guilty by reason of insanity are not just released back into the community. They are committed to secure mental hospitals for treatment, and many of them stay in those hospitals for the rest of their lives. They are just as separated from society as someone in prison. In fact, they are more separated, since they have no right to parole or even a firm release date.

  209. #209 squall25
    March 31, 2009

    Interesting update from Yahoo.com

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090331/ap_on_re_us/child_slain_cult;_ylt=AnRrBJtzJIdeABorGrfxvEoDW7oF

    Apparently, the prosecutors agreed to let her withdraw her plea if the child is resurrected.

    Ridiculous.

  210. #210 rb
    March 31, 2009

    Interesting update from Yahoo.com
    [link removed]
    Apparently, the prosecutors agreed to let her withdraw her plea if the child is resurrected.
    Ridiculous.

    interesting perspective. if you pay attention, they clearly did not privilege belief here, they used her belief to get her to plea and testify against the others. They used a probably grief stricken victim of charlatons belief against her. By tricking her with the ploy of allowing her off if son is resurrected knowing that that won’t happen.

  211. #211 Mu
    March 31, 2009

    My problem with religious delusion vs. criminal insane is that there are people who are so misguided by their religion, they are convinced what they are doing is not wrong, and are incapable to make the distinction between believe and law. But, because you can’t determine someone was criminally religious, or religiously insane, these people end up as murderers. It’s odd, if you claim the pink tooth fairy told you to kill your daughter for hiding her tooth, you’re “insane”, but if you say “God told me to kill my daughter for smiling at a boy”, that sane?

  212. #212 Peter Ashby
    April 1, 2009

    @Drosera
    I give up, if you consider using the facts to argue against a witch hunt to be ‘giving them a break’ then you really are running lynch mob. I suggest you crawl back under the stone you slimed from.

  213. #213 Drosera
    April 1, 2009

    Peter Ashby, it appears that there is a big difference between what you think you have written and what you actually wrote. I was reacting to the latter, in case you missed that. Perhaps you should try to work on your writing skills before posting comments that make you look like a psychopath.

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