Do we prevent somebody being hurt by superstition or faith by rejecting and challenging those things? 

Is it mistaken to support organised religion in membership or donations?

If people do good because they are human, not because God prompts them then is it right to risk giving God any credit when they alone own their good?

Patrick H


Is religion the fruit of mental illness?  Do only sufferers of mental disorder set up religion? 

Do you only follow religion if you have some disorder?   Is it only the most committed religionists who have a mental disorder?

Psychiatry and psychology are steadily lengthening their list of mental disorders. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders listed 106 in 1952 and it was 297 in 1994. This is good news for the self-help and counselling and stress industry. But it has produced a sense that mental health is extremely uncommon. It is hard to see why various forms of accepted religion should be seen as normal. Running after miracles and praying should be seen as abnormal in light of the fact that most of us most of the time do not think about religion. Faith does not feed your hungry children. It is strange to consider mundane problems and misperceptions as mental disorders when religion with all its bizarre ideas and obsession with things that don't matter at all is considered mentally healthy. We can easily live in a world where all religious activity is seen as disturbed.

Science speaks!

Jesse Bering states that religious belief is adaptive - they help you fit well into life and society.  This is contrasted with mental illness where you are seriously failing to adapt.  It is obvious that many religious people do not adapt well.  They run to convents or join a clerical caste.  Plus how do you measure the adaptive or maladaptive?

Not being able to function well in society is a sign of possible mental illness but the fact remains that some people with schizophrenia seem reasonably normal. Some who suffer paranoid schizophrenia are also highly intelligent and able to mask their illness well.  Sometimes the only marker is a strong core insane belief.  Not all irrational beliefs are equally irrational.  There is a difference between thinking there are fairies down the garden and thinking that they are always under your bed.

All people have irrational ideas but we should only consider them mentally ill when the belief is too big or important to them and/or they are not functioning in a reasonably safe and healthy way. "As a survivor of mental illness myself, I think we should save that term for situations in which people are truly suffering and having trouble going about their lives” writes Mogilevsky.

If a person was worshipping a turd as the one true God and claiming to be in a personal relationship with it and getting spiritual help from it that person is mentally ill even if it is the one thing that the person is doing out of the norm.  There is a difference between natural wild beliefs and supernatural ones.  While you may crazily think homoeopathy cured your cancer that is not necessarily insanity for you still believe in nature and that cats don't grow on trees.  You are making a mistake about how nature works.  But the supernatural is a different story.  Somebody who is convinced that tap water cured their cancer through some ghost that was in it is not right in the head. 

Religious inspiration and "spiritual perception" take place in the temporal lobe and if this region of the brain is disturbed hallucinations and false memories of spiritual blessings and thought disorders and spiritual delusions can happen.

Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 1987;50:659-664

It is a fact that nuns locked away have notoriously high chance of having a serious mental illness such as psychosis.  Other nuns are too prone to mood disorders or OCD.  The priesthood as well attracts a high number of depressed men suffering from personality disorders and even psychosis. 

Psychological Medicine October 2013 found that believers suffer depression at larger rates than atheists. Now in fairness this study was about China where religion is suppressed.  But it shows that religion and faith are no buffer against depression.  Yet we are pressured by society to think that religion helps if things go terribly wrong in your life!

From a 2016 study, it was learned men are less religious than women because men on average are more into analytical thinking than women and focus on how a leads to b and how things fit together and work together (systemising).   So a man is more likely than a woman to question a religious doctrine or find holes in it.  

Here is a quote from the authors of the results of the study: “Although supernatural ideation has long been one diagnostic criterion for schizotypy and schizophrenia (…), schizotypy has only recently received attention among scholars of religiosity. Much of this attention has focused on Crespi and Badcock’s theory (2008; Badcock, 2009), which proposes that both religious and schizotypal individuals are prone to impressions of supernatural agents and hidden intentions because they share similar epigenetic development of the social brain related to mentalizing far beyond the normal range. Crespi and Badcock’s diametric model (Badcock, 2009; Crespi & Badcock, 2008) proposes that if the physical world is not well understood, mental concepts such as agency and intentionality expand to the whole universe, resulting in beliefs in demons and gods.”

Another quote asks of the study if its "arguments mean that religious believers are nonanalytical individuals who are prone to schizotypy and who understand people but not physical mechanisms? In turn, are nonbelievers strong analytical thinkers who have autistic traits and who understand the physical world but not people? Not necessarily. Rather, it is more probable that both believers and nonbelievers represent subgroups that differ in their cognitive characteristics and clinical symptoms. Although most theorists agree that the factors which predict religiosity and atheism interact in complex ways, and that consequently there are different kinds of believers and nonbelievers, these subgroups have not been empirically elucidated. The present study was therefore designed to examine the characteristics of these groups."

You don't need to be living in the stone age to inadequately understand how things work.  Sometimes you should know but you don't.  It has not sunk in.  The more you fail to understand or the more mystery you are faced with the more likely you are to think that gods and demons are doing things.  The more you will want to think it for it makes your life less stressful.  And you may let it happen because you are lazy.

If a person has mental illness and is hearing voices and seeing things the person may interpret that as coming from demons even if the content of the experiences does not suggest that.  The suggestion comes from religion and faith which speak of demons influencing people and talking to them.  The belief can turn a mentally ill person violent.   It is not the person who is to blame but religion and how it validates superstition. Any alleged good done by blessings and exorcisms mean nothing if somebody who is mentally unhealthy is led by faith to kill.

The research discovered that men on average think of the mechanics of things more than women.  Women on average are more mentalistic.  A man could attribute his skills to his equipment and tools while a woman could attribute hers to her intelligence and diligence.  To me that explains why men are more sceptical of religion than women.  The universe could be seen as a brute fact by a man while a woman is more likely to feel it is a gift from God.

The study found that on average women do not fare as well as men at analytical thinking.  That is top of the list.  The next thing on the list is systemising.  Naturally a person who is not good enough at systemising will easily imagine that prayers are answered and stuff.  It is easy to think your prayers are always answered when you don't take time to see how if b follows a and a is a prayer that it does not mean a caused b or even helped cause it.  Understanding the difference between causation and correlation and applying that understanding is key to analytical thinking.

The study found that if males are careless with or bad at analytical thinking and systemising they ended up with religious beliefs.

The study found that your approach to how you think you know things determines if you will probably end up religious or not.

To me even a person who has a strongly mechanistic awareness of how things work could still develop gullible beliefs in religion and suspend their critical faculties. In other words what happens is that they think they sense supernatural stuff and believe in it on face value.  It is a seeing is believing sort of thing but not like normal seeing is believing.   For example the feeling that God is present will be taken as true even though logically we know that feeling it is sunny outside will not make it sunny. 

Finally the study found that mechanical cognition was weaker among believers and stronger among non-believers.


It was found in a 2009 fMRI study that if a person thinks religious thoughts the part of the brain that is about discerning and perceiving other peoples feelings and intentions comes into play.  Grafman published this study.  It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Vol. 106, No. 12).  It was found that telling people that God guides them and protects them that this area of the brain responded.  The study was confirmed by a Danish team.  That study can be found in the Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience (Vol. 4, No. 2 - 2009) and in this case the areas lit up when subjects of the study prayed.

This proves that the feeling that you are in touch with somebody when you may not be can be induced.  This feeling is behind religion. It is an abuse of the brain to pray and feel you are protected by God for that part of the brain is meant for relating to people.  People can protect you but God does not.


Sociology professor Matthew May of Oakland University found a definite link between people feeling they had to stay in a religion they wanted out of and depression.

Caleb Lack is associate professor of psychology and practicum coordinator at the Universityof Central Oklahoma.  He directs the Secular Therapy Project. The project enables people who need secular therapy, including people who need to disentangle from religion, to get it.  He has found this correlation between staying in a religion you don't accept and depression to be well established.  May's findings are of great value to his work and vocation.

Lack says, "I’d say it both matches our experience and isn’t unexpected based on what we know about how uncertainty impacts us,  If we exist in a state of uncertainty, such as what exists if I am not sure about, or wavering back and forth between, religious belief and doubt, then people are naturally more vulnerable to developing anxiety and depression."  If a religion is not credible and harms people then believers who are conditioned to believe will start to suffer and struggle and doubt and end up depressed unless the door is there and they are supported in leaving.  A healthy religion supports exiters and people on the other side must be welcoming to them as well.


Many people who are difficult to label as schizophrenic hear voices.  It is interesting that not all who hear voices hear bad things. But the danger is what are the voices going to say tomorrow? We must be careful that we don't start accepting hearing voices as just another variation of normal mental life. Religion is doing that already in certain cases such as at apparition sites and Jelena at Medjugorje supposedly hears Mary's voice. In all these cases the voices say punitive threatening stuff. The fact that the stuff is usually nice makes no difference for a bully can be very nice in order to wound you when they unexpectedly turn nasty and that is a scam to get you to blame yourself.


Mental health experts consider a person who changes in spiritual matters overnight to be suffering from some mental illness.  The atheist or uninterested religionist who suddenly becomes a religious saint in waiting or the saint who turns irreligious atheist in minutes is not well.  Take the unreligious becoming dramatically religious.  Yet religion sees such change as evidence of the power of God or truth.  It argues that God controls all that happens and even our free will is only free because of him and not in spite of him so in a sense it is is not really free.  Thus God can choose to fast-track a bad man to a holy one.  Religion conflicts with science in this matter. 

Religion presents sudden saints such as murderous St Paul, the timid apostles turning into hyper-evangelists for Jesus in seconds and Jesus who usually went to the Temple in peace suddenly turning warrior as ideals.  It denies the obvious: they were not well.  Oddly enough the argument that Jesus rose from the dead is based on the allegedly total change in those who were his followers.  They were not great people of faith and because of the resurrection experiences they became intensely devoted to spreading the word that Jesus was alive.  Arguing that they were not mentally ill for the resurrection happened is pointless and gets nobody anywhere.  Anybody can use arguments around how suddenly a person changes for a miracle being true.  Plus the change could still be down to mental illness even if the apostles DID see the risen Jesus or think they did.


Psychologist Valerie Tarico says that if one can explain how Christian belief originates then the belief is false. According to her, the origin of the belief can be explained by neuroscience and neuropsychology. This however, Christians love to tell us, does not prove in itself that the belief is wrong. True. I could be programmed to believe in God. And there could be a God. But what I worship is not God. I can have a delusion about what is true! If the faculties that cause me to have a delusion cause me to accept something that is actually true then it is still a delusion in the psychological sense. If I have a fault on my cornea that makes me see a streetlight and there is a streetlight there, the fact remains is that I did not see the real streetlight. A delusion can be actually false and or psychologically false.
Christians surmise that Tarico commits the genetic fallacy. They accuse her of reasoning, "If one can explain the origin of a phenomenon (Christian religious belief), then the phenomenon is false." But given that if you have a delusion that your dead daughter is alive and it turns out you are right, the fact remains that it is still a delusion for your perception of reality is still psychotic. Christian faith is not real faith and brings people to what they want God to be not what he is. Tarico is right that the Christian faith is false subjectively.
Christians answer Tarico by saying if God exists and created humans, then it is possible that God made our cognitive faculties function as they do so to reveal himself and so that we might believe. Then even if we are programmed by our past to believe in God, we find God through this programming and the belief is still valid. This makes no sense. If I pretend to be a rich Mr Perfect and convince women I am for real then I do not lead them to me but to a mistaken perception of me. God cannot lead people to genuine faith if Tarico is right. And she is.


Ellis held that people must see themselves as just good only for no other reason than that they are alive and human. They must then consider and measure what they do and keep their essence, their self out of it. The idea is that you matter as much as a person whether you do terrible things or good things.

To develop that is what counts. Not that a God made you, that a religion says God made you, that a God celebrates you. You are what you are and you just count...

You must never need others or what they think or praise to have a sense of self. Your self-worth is worthwhile in itself and does not need their opinion. That can be a painful and difficult realisation. It is worse when you realise you are important and it does not matter if God exists or not - you are important anyway.  Failing to see that divine affirmation and that of others and of God does not matter at all never mind a bit can harm. What God thinks does not matter at all for he does not.  And besides why should God matter even a bit


Religion says, "Nothing is to be loved or wanted as an end in itself but only because it is a gift from God and you want to honour him by taking it."  This is nothing more than a charter for conditional love which is not love at all.


Some try to make out that if religionists are disturbed in the mind then scientists are too. Such arguments are based on supposing that bias and a gripping need to believe can be psychological difficulties.

The anthropologist Jonathan Marks in Why I Am Not a Scientist: Anthropology and Modern Knowledge (University of California, 2009) tells us that that scientists often see what they want to see. Their methods and peer reviews are a lot less objective and fair than people think. Even the amount of the funding money available can affect what the scientist concludes from his experiments.
The proper view is that though science can be biased and unfair it is still the best method we have for getting at the truth. At least in principle, science extols being open-minded and looking at what is there. If science is faulty then religion is worse. Choose the lesser curse.
Christians use such statements to show that science does not give certainty. But they only weaken their own religion by doing so.
Atheists say that Christians are too sure of themselves when nobody should be that sure. Christians reply that this argument undermines atheists too when they are very sure of themselves. Suppose they are right. We can then say yes it does undermine such atheists. But it undermines Christians more. Choose the lesser evil! Atheists resist the temptation to believe in a God that adores them. Christians do not. So the Christians should not be so sure of their beliefs being true when they are that biased. Plus if atheists are right, then they may know it. In that case, they are not undermining themselves by saying Christians can't be that sure their faith is true!
Also, Christians assert that if an atheist says nobody can be sure how can the atheist know that nobody can be sure? Perhaps there are people out there who are sure that their beliefs are correct.

Christians say that there is evidence for the resurrection and that if we only believe things because we want to and not because of the evidence that does not mean there is no evidence for the resurrection (page 19, The Infidel Delusion). True. But it does mean we never believe because of the evidence even if we use it. Christians then would be lying bigots for saying they have an honest and justified belief in the resurrection. Even if there is evidence for the resurrection, there might as well be none for all the good it does Christians.
Scientists believe that we are hardwired to filter out counterevidence. Suppose all our beliefs are more biased than what we think. It follows then that we should only believe what we need to get by on in this world. Eg, that doctors may cure you, that food keeps you alive, what we are told about maths and geography is correct etc. To start getting religious is going too far. The further you go the more bigoted you are in danger of becoming.

Christians say that many scientists believe that people by nature only believe what they want to believe. Christians view themselves as an exception. They contradict their claim that human nature is biased and unfair with belief and then they contradict this by denying that they are among such people.


Argyle, M. & Hallahmi, B. (2004). The Psychology of Religious Behaviour, Belief and Experience. London: Routledge.
Barron, D., Furnham, A., Weis, L., Morgan, K., Towell, T. & Swami, V. (2018). The Relationship Between Schizotypal Facets and Conspiracist Beliefs via Cognitive Processes. Psychiatry Research, 259: 15-20.
Berggren, N., Jordahl, H. & Poutvaara, P. (2017). The Right Look: Conservative Politicians Look Better and Voters Reward It. Journal of Public Economics, 146: 79-86.
Blume, M. (2009). The reproductive benefits of religious affiliation. In Voland, E. & Schiefenhövel, W. (Eds.). The Biological Evolution of Religious Mind and Behavior. New York: Springer.
Clancy, S., McNally, R., Schacter, D. (2002). Memory distortion in people reporting abduction by aliens. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol 111: 455-461.
Clark, G. (2007). A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Crespi, B. & Badcock, C. (2008). Psychosis and autism as diametrical disorders of the social brain. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31: 284-320.
Dickens, W. & Flynn, J. (2001). Heritability Estimates Versus Large Environmental Effects: The IQ Paradox Resolved. Psychological Review, 108: 346-369.
Duckitt, J., Wagner, C., Du Plessis, I. & Birum, I. (2002). The psychological bases of ideology and prejudice: Testing a dual process model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83: 75-93.
Dutton, E. (2018). How to Judge People By What They Look Like. Thomas Edward Press
Dutton, E. (2014). Religion and Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis. London: Ulster Institute for Social Research.
Dutton, E. & Woodley of Menie, M.A. (In Press). At Our Wits’ End: Why We’re Becoming Less Intelligent and What It Means for the Future. Exeter: Imprint Academic.
Dutton, E., Madison, G. & Dunkel, C. (2017). The Mutant Says in His Heart, “There Is No God”: The Rejection of Collective Religiosity Centred Around the Worship of Moral Gods is Associated with High Mutational Load. Evolutionary Psychological Science.
Dutton, E., Madison, G. & Lynn, R. (2016). Demographic, economic, and genetic factors related to national differences in ethnocentric attitudes. Personality and Individual Differences, 101: 137-143.
Dutton, E. & Charlton, B. (2015). The genius famine: Why we need geniuses, why they’re dying out and why we must rescue them. Buckingham: University of Buckingham Press.
Eliade, M. (1957). The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ellis, L., Hoskin, A., Dutton, E. & Nyborg, H. (2017). The Future of Secularism: A Biologically Informed Theory Supplemented with Cross-Cultural Evidence. Evolutionary Psychological Science, doi 10.1007/s40806-017-0090-z
Froese, P. (2008). The Plot to Kill God: Findings from the Soviet Experiment in Secularization. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Gebauer, J. E., Bleidorn, W., Gosling, S. D., Rentfrow, P. J., Lamb, M. E., & Potter, J. (2014). Cross-Cultural variations in Big Five relationships with religiosity: A sociocultural motives perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107: 1064-1091.
King James Bible. (2018). Bible verses about autism.
Koenig, H. (2012). Religion, Spirituality, and Health: The Research and Clinical Implications. ISRN Psychiatry,
Koenig, H., King, D. & Carson, V. (2012). Handbook of Religion and Health. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Laythe, B., Finkel, D. & Kirkpatrick, L. (2001). Predicting prejudice from religious fundamentalism and right wing authoritarianism: A multiple regression analysis. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40: 1-10.
McGreal, S. (8th June 2018). Are Paranormal Believers Mutants? Hardly! Psychology Today,
McGreal, S. (21st March 2018). Are Atheists Mutants? The Left Hand of Daftness. Psychology Today,
McGreal, S. (19th March 2018). Religiosity, Atheism, and Health: The Atheist Advantage. Psychology Today,
McGreal, S. (17th March 2018). “The Fool Says in His Heart That Atheists Are Mutants”: Poor science underlies claims about atheism resulting from adverse mutations. Psychology Today,
Meisenberg, G. (2007). In God’s Image: The Natural History of Intelligence and Ethics. Kibworth: Book Guild Publishing.
Peterson, J.B. (2018). 12 rules for life: An Antidote to Chaos. London: Allen Lane.
Peterson, J.B. (1998). Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. New York: Routledge.
Peterson, R. & Palmer, C. (2017). The Effects of Physical Attractiveness on Political Beliefs. Politics and the Life Sciences, 36: 3-16.
Rudgard, O. (21st December 2017). Atheists more likely to be left handed, study finds. Daily Telegraph,
Rushton, J.P. (2005). Ethnic nationalism, evolutionary psychology and Genetic Similarity Theory. Nations and Nationalism, 11: 489-507.
Shane O’Mara. Twitter.
Wilson, D.S. (7th November 2009). Truth and Reconciliation for Group Selection XV: Group Selection in the Wild. Evolution for Everyone,
Woodley of Menie, M.A., Saraff, M., Pestow, R. & Fernandes, H. (2017). Social Epistasis Amplifies the Fitness Costs of Deleterious Mutations, Engendering Rapid Fitness Decline Among Modernized Populations. Evolutionary Psychological Science, 17: 181-191.
Woodley, M.A. & Figueredo, A.J. (2013). Historical variability in heritable general intelligence: It’s evolutionary origins and sociocultural consequences. Buckingham: University of Buckingham Press.
Woodley, M. A., Figueredo, A. J., Dunkel, C., & Madison, G. (2015). Estimating the strength of genetic selection against g in a sample of 3520 Americans, sourced from MIDUS II. Personality and Individual Differences, 86, 266-270. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.05.032

Further References

Dein, S. (2012). Mental health and the paranormal. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 31 (1) 61–74.

Dutton, E., Madison, G., & Dunkel, C. (2017). The Mutant Says in His Heart, “There Is No God”: the Rejection of Collective Religiosity Centred Around the Worship of Moral Gods Is Associated with High Mutational Load. Evolutionary Psychological Science. doi:10.1007/s40806-017-0133-5

Farias, M., Underwood, R., & Claridge, G. (2012). Unusual but sound minds: Mental health indicators in spiritual individuals. British Journal of Psychology, no-no. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.2012.02128.x

May, M. (2017). Should I Stay or Should I Go? Religious (Dis)Affiliation and Depressive Symptomatology. Society and Mental Health, 2156869317748713. doi:10.1177/2156869317748713

Nie, F., & Olson, D. V. A. (2016). Demonic Influence: The Negative Mental Health Effects of Belief in Demons. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 55(3), 498-515. doi:10.1111/jssr.12287

Orenstein, A. (2002). Religion and Paranormal Belief. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41(2), 301-311. doi:10.1111/1468-5906.00118

Rogers, P., Caswell, N., & Brewer, G. (2017). 2D:4D digit ratio and types of adult paranormal belief: An attempted replication and extension of Voracek (2009) with a UK sample. Personality and Individual Differences, 104, 92-97. doi:

Schofield, K., & Claridge, G. (2007). Paranormal experiences and mental health: Schizotypy as an underlying factor. Personality and Individual Differences, 43(7), 1908-1916. doi:

Schulter, G., & Papousek, I. (2008). Believing in paranormal phenomena: Relations to asymmetry of body and brain. Cortex, 44(10), 1326-1335. doi:

Thalbourne, M. A., & Delin, P. S. (1994). A common thread underlying belief in the paranormal, creative personality, mystical experience and psychopathology. Journal of Parapsychology, 58(1), 3-38.

Voracek, M. (2009). Who wants to believe? Associations between digit ratio (2D:4D) and paranormal and superstitious beliefs. Personality and Individual Differences, 47(2), 105-109. doi:

Wilson, M. S., Bulbulia, J., & Sibley, C. G. (2014). Differences and similarities in religious and paranormal beliefs: a typology of distinct faith signatures. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 4(2), 104-126. doi:10.1080/2153599X.2013.779934