Science, religion and delusion

I am not a scientist but I recognise that it is science that has allowed humanity to learn almost everything that we have learned about the world we all live in.

It is science that informed us that the Earth is just a speck in the Universe and that the Universe is amenable to reason. It is science that allowed us to learn that all matter is composed of some 90 or so elements, and that energy and matter are different forms of the same stuff. It is science that showed us the complexity of life, how living things are related to each other and how present living species came about. It is science that permitted us to understand how we came to evolve from single celled organisms over several billion years, it is science that showed us that the Earth is about four and a half billion years old and the Universe about 13 billion years old, it is science that showed us that we are damaging our world by dumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and cutting down our forests.

Just recently science has allowed us to build instruments that detect the vanishingly small distortions in space caused by the merging of black holes billions of light years away (and it is science that showed us what black holes are, where they are, how they came to be and it is science that allowed us to measure how far away they are).

Opposed to science is ignorance, unfounded preconceptions, faulty reasoning and delusion (which includes religious beliefs).

"Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things – that takes religion."
  Steven Weinberg, Nobel laureate

I'll change that statement, only slightly, to "Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things – that takes delusion."

This page was written 2017/05/19, last edited 2023/11/03
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

Religion can serve as the delusion that causes good people to do bad things, but other delusions will do the job just as well; some examples: the delusion that vaccinations or fluoridated water are harmful, that anthropogenic (man-made) climate change isn't real, that the world is only 6000 years old, that wind turbines make people sick.


Why pick on Sarah Laurie?

I could have used people like Joanne Nova, Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt as my examples of the opponents of science and action on combating climate change. But while these people ignored or lied about the truths shown to us by science their motivation seems to have been chasing notoriety or money. In contrast Ms Laurie's motivation was to do good, as she saw it. Ms Laurie was deluding herself by 'cherry picking' the evidence that she chose to believe, the others were simply self-interested and unethical.

Lies and delusions about wind power

About 2004 I became sufficiently concerned about the lies being told about wind power to start writing net pages giving the facts. The subject became one of my main activities. In 2010 Sarah (then doctor) Laurie, who lived only 12 kilometres from me, started her campaign.

Her campaign, based on fear, was probably much more effective than mine, based on science, reason and fact, but fortunately it had largely run its course by 2014.

Wind turbines at sunrise in South Australia
Wind turbines
As a specific example of someone who did bad things through delusion I'll cite Sarah Laurie, who travelled Australia and the world telling people that if they lived near wind turbines they would become ill. Ms Laurie has done enormous harm while she believed she was doing good. She slowed the take-up of clean, renewable wind energy, which was desperately needed, along with other forms of renewable energy, to replace fossil fuels and limit climate change, ocean acidification, ocean warming and sea level rise. The burning of coal kills millions of people world wide each year; wind power saves lives by displacing coal-fired power stations and reducing climate changing greenhouse emissions.

Ms Laurie made people needlessly anxious, and anxiety can itself lead to illness. She mislead people about the causes of their symptoms, so that they didn't look for relief in the right places.

She was deluding herself and causing other to do the same.

Her error was in not examining her 'evidence' critically. She accepted as evidence those stories that agreed with her preconceptions rather than searching out the evidence that was based in science. She embraced the delusion of Wind Turbine Syndrome.

The only reliable way that mankind has ever found to understand the world is through science. Religion has provided fairy stories in an attempt to explain the world; science uses observation and reason to search for truth.

Some have said that science is just another religion. No! Science is based on sound, verifiable evidence; religion is based on unsubstantiated belief. Science is based on reason, religion is based on blind faith. Science is based on doubting and questioning, religion is based on accepting. Science is based on searching for truth, religion is based on being given falsehoods and being satisfied to accept them. Science and religion have nothing in common.

The deepest roots of science are in philosophy, which, like science, is based on reason, doubt and searching.

Ignorant media

Finally, it must be said that Ms Laurie would not have been able to do anything like so much harm without lazy and sensation-seeking journalists and reporters who were very pleased to publicise her delusion without researching, or even caring about, the credibility of her claims. In fact, had Ms Laurie's unsubstantiated and naïve claims been ignored by the media, as they should have been, she would have quite probably soon given up on her campaign.

There are many deluded people in this world; a responsible media would not actively spread their fantasies.

Don't waste your advantages

The human brain is a remarkable instrument; the only thing in the Universe that we know of that is capable of understanding how the Universe works. Science is a remarkable tool; the only tool we know of that is capable of allowing us to understand how the Universe works.

We all use our brains, but if we use tools other than science to try to understand how the world works we can make egregious errors. Don't waste your amazing brain by ignoring science.

Religion and the definition of delusion

The Free (medical) Dictionary starts its definition of delusion with "A delusion is an unshakable belief in something untrue. These irrational beliefs defy normal reasoning, and remain firm even when overwhelming proof is presented to dispute them." It goes on to specifically exclude "culturally or religiously based beliefs that may be seen as untrue by outsiders".

Others, outside of the medical profession, have tried to confine delusion to this narrow definition too, I suspect simply because they do not want to have the term apply to religious beliefs.

Psychiatric delusion and general delusion

The above definition of delusion is suitable for the psychiatric form of delusion, but delusion certainly exists in the wider world too; why should irrational religious "beliefs that defy normal reasoning and remain firm even when overwhelming proof is presented to dispute them" be excluded from being delusional?

I was brought up to believe in god. At the same time I was taught to not be superstitious. It was only later that I realised that religions and superstitions were indistinguishable and that both were delusional.

Religion and superstion might not fit the medical definition of delusion, but they are delusional by any purely rational definition.