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Belief and evidence
Duration of delusions
Delusion and faith
Alternative medicine
The definition of delusion
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Delusions: an unaffordable luxury

A definition of delusion is "A false belief held despite strong evidence against it"; another is "An unshakable belief in something untrue"; another "A belief that is not true : a false idea". Note the similarity between delusion and faith – the latter is the belief in something in spite of a lack of convincing evidence.

Some common delusions that I deal with on these pages concern:

  • Religion: beliefs, with a complete lack of supporting evidence, in spirits or gods;
  • The belief, against all the evidence, that we have an immortal part, a soul that will go on when our bodies die;
  • The belief, against all the evidence, that divination can be used to find things, water in particular;
  • The belief, against all the evidence, that wind turbines cause illness;
  • The belief, against all the evidence, that climate change is not happening or is not largely caused by the actions of Mankind (anthropogenic climate change, ACC);
  • Belief, in the face of a total lack of evidence of efficacy, that gadgets such as Carefree Water Conditioners serve a useful purpose;
  • Belief in 'alternative medicine'. Basically 'alternative medicine' is any form of treatment lacking evidence of efficacy. Compare this to 'scientific medicine' which is supported by evidence of efficacy.
Written 2015/11/09, modified 2019/06/21 – ©
Contact: David K. Clarke
 
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Climate change is impacting Australia now
Dam fix
Kangaroo Creek dam, South Australia
The wall was raised by four metres and the spillway was being widened by 40 metres due to increasingly heavy flood flows in the Torrens River.
Photo 2017/02/25
In the early twenty-first century our planet is suffering from many serious threats, a number of which could end the current global civilisation or greatly damage the diversity of life on the planet. We need to approach these problems rationally. Delusions such as those listed above, that distract people from rational thought, are luxuries that human society cannot afford.

Related pages on this site:

Belief without evidence and belief against the evidence

Belief without evidence

The belief in a God or gods is unsupported by any evidence. I cannot point to any evidence that there are no gods; there could be a god who takes no part in things that happen in our Universe. Bertrand Russell compared the belief in god to a hypothetical belief that there is a teapot in orbit around the Sun out beyond Jupiter. We have no evidence for or against either.

Belief against the evidence

The belief that climate change is not happening or that it may be happening but not largely caused by Mankind is a belief opposed to the evidence. There is a huge amount of evidence that anthropogenic climate change is a fact.

A few people believe that wind turbines cause illness. There is a great deal of evidence indicating that they do not and can not. I have argued that it makes just as much sense to believe that street trees cause illness.

Many people believe that underground water can be found by walking around with a forked stick or a couple of bent wires. There is ample evidence showing that water divining (or water witching) is nonsense.

There are no absolute proofs in science (outside of mathematics)

However, it is not possible to absolutely prove anything in science, 'science proves nothing', but it can show very good reason for accepting or rejecting many beliefs.


Duration of delusions

Religions have been with us for unknown thousands of years, evolving and changing over that time. Divination for water and precious metals and stones has too; at least since Roman times, but perhaps not changing greatly over the years.

On the other hand technological delusions, such as those around electromagnetic fields, mobile phones and wind turbine syndrome (WTS) come and largely go in a few years following the introduction of the relevant technologies. 'Wind Turbine Syndrome' was invented in 2009 and had pretty much run its course by 2014.

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Delusion and faith

Faith has been defined as "strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof" and "firm belief in something for which there is no proof". Religious faith is only a specific form of delusion.


 
This section added 2019/04/01

Alternative medicine

The Oxford online dictionary defines 'alternative medicine' as "Any of a range of medical therapies that are not regarded as orthodox by the medical profession, such as herbalism, naturopathy, and crystal healing."

Modern orthodox medicine is based on science, alternative medicine is not.

Much of alternative medicine is simply ineffectual, but some is harmful. One of the great problems associated with alternative medical practice is that people using it often postpone seeking legitimate medical help until the problem condition becomes much more serious.

Perhaps the best point of alternative medical practice is that the practitioners often give much more time to the sufferer than do general practitioners. This give the patients a feeling that they are being listened to and sympathised with. This has placebo value.

Wikipedia (2019/04/01) was less kind in its summarising of alternative medicine than the dictionary definition. It provided the following:

"Alternative medicine, fringe medicine, pseudomedicine or simply questionable medicine is the promotion or use of practices which are unproven, disproven, impossible to prove, or excessively harmful in relation to their effect – in an attempt to achieve the healing effects of medicine. It differs from experimental medicine in that the latter employs responsible and ethical investigation. Practitioners of science-based medicine also discard practices and treatments when they are shown ineffective, while alternative practitioners do not. The scientific consensus is that alternative therapies either do not, or cannot, work. In some cases laws of nature are violated by the basic claims of alternative medicine's practitioners; in other cases the alternative treatment can be so much more detrimental to the patient that its use is unethical."
According to the author of ScienceBasedMedicine, 2019/04/01, an alternative medicine group produced a petition asking Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales to create and enforce new policies that “allow for true scientific discourse about holistic approaches to healing." Mr Wales' reply included the following:
"Wikipedia’s policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals – that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately. What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of “true scientific discourse”. It isn’t."
While I probably wouldn't call most practitioners of naturopathy 'lunatic charlatans' the important point is that naturopathy is not science-based or evidence-based (which is much the same thing).


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



Related pages

Carefree Water Conditioners

The problem and prevalence of ignorance

Religion, superstitions and pseudoscience

Science, religion, delusion

Water divining

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