Is God a Delusion?

Big debate Friday 5th March (i.e. this coming Friday) 2010 5.30-7.30 [CORRECTION NOW STARTS 6PM]
Clattern Lecture Hall
Penrhyn Rd
Kingston Upn Thames

(not too far from rail station)

Hamza Andreas Tzortzis vs Stephen Law

I am anticipating this will be a largely Muslim audience.



Obviously, I can't attend (being an ocean away), but I wish you all the luck I'm sure you anyway won't need.

I'd be interested in your impressions on the good of these sorts of debates. Having watched, listened, or read transcripts to dozens of these debates, I'm not sure they do much good; the audience is so set on rooting for their home team that their judgment of intellectual stuff (already sub-par in many cases) becomes hopelessly bad. And I think most debaters, on the secular side, miss the importance of the fact that most religious believers are 1) dogmatic, and 2) motivated to be dogmatic for basically social or psychological reasons. These facts make it unlikely that any set of arguments aimed at disputing the content of religious beliefs/claims, no matter how technically proficient or however well presented, will actually change minds. I doubt most religious people maintain their religious beliefs because the content of religious belief is independently compelling (contrary protestations notwithstanding), but for other reasons, usually to do with fear: because they're afraid that, but for religious belief, they would lose their place in their family, their culture, their soceity, the universe. (And because we're social creatures, the fear of being unconnected from others really resonates.) And maybe there are other fears to: that, but for religion, there goes morality; but for religion, there goes any possibility of answering certain Big Questions (why does anything exist? what grounds morality?). I imagine the real trick would be to overcome and challenge these motivating fears which are the real source of religion's staying power; and I'm not sure a debate format is the way to do this, where one side is almost required to do everything to play on and gin up those fears to fever-pitch.
Steven Carr said…
Will Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus all have turns explaining why they are not deluded, but the other religions are?

It might be a long evening by the time you get through all of them and finally to us tree-worshippers, who will happily put them all straight on which is the non-deluded religion.
Paul said…
I trust you're not going to try to defend the view that belief in God is a delusion? Bear in mind that religious beliefs are explicitly excluded from the psychiatric definition!

Furthermore, if we extend the term delusion to cover belief in God(s) then the term 'delusion' loses diagnostic specificity and becomes redundant!
Martin said…
Paul suggests all delusions are the concern of the psychiatric community, but this is easily demonstrated as false. Delusions of the type "you're lying" are dealt with through the libel courts, for instance. Religious communities are the rightful place for those suffering from the deitic delusion. It saves the rest of us from having to worry about them.
Paul said…
Well quite.

I simply urge caution. If any false statement or belief can be called a delusion, the term 'delusion' is emptied of meaning.

It loses utility.

Moreover, if you believe 'delusion' should be used to refer to merely false belief, then why not simply use the term 'false belief'?

Furthermore, do you really want a situation where we routinely refer to false beliefs as 'delusions'?

I do not believe all delusions are the concern of the psychiatric community. However I might suggest, tentatively, that the term 'delusion' is a psychiatric one.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin said…
The word "delusion" in the title of the poster is being used to indicate a falsely held, persistent, strong belief. Nothing is going on there to water down the word's meaning.

chris sivewright, you repeat other peoples revolting threats, then cowardly delete your comment. How sick are you?
Paul said…
Right, so the issue is whether one is mistaken to believe in God? This appears to be the central issue, given that the 'persistence' and 'strength' of a belief hardly matters if that belief is true.

So if the debate is really about the truth of religious beliefs, what does using the term delusion add?

I suppose the term could add a rhetorical flourish and attract a larger audience (and readership - thinking Dawkins here). I suppose it could also alienate and anger people who hold such beliefs (no-one wants to be delusional!).

However one of the main effects of using the term might be to shift people towards seeing the religious as ill in some way, or not fully autonomous. After all 'delusion' is used by some (although certainly not all) doctors to refer to what they believe are 'empty speech acts', devoid of meaning.

I guess I worry that calling a particular belief a 'delusion' is a sort of ad hominem manoevre. It calls into question the rationality or intellectual capacity of the believer.

No wonder theists can get a bit defensive.
Anonymous said…
Stephen – I really wouldn’t take part in this debate, particularly after the threat that has been posted on your blog.

Your opponent, Hamza Tzortzis, has links to the extremist Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain. Full details are on my blog here.

By taking part in the debate, you will only be giving Tzortzis’ organisation a platform to spread its insane totalitarian ideology

In addition, a humanist speaker sharing a platform with a front man for a radical Islamist group debating the merits of Western secular society against those of Shariah Islam would give the public the false impression that there was an argument to be had at all.

Richard James
Anonymous said…
Richard James, you seem to be almost fanatical in your approach to dealing with Muslim speakers. Upon searching Mr Tzortzis, although you may disagree with his ideas, seems not to be the picture you have painted. You should actively engage with such people, not censure them, are you afraid of discussion? Here is a link to his public announcement of leaving the group Hizb ut Tahrir, for reasons many mainstream Muslims agree with Lets see if you have the intellectual honesty of publishing this link on your blog.

I hope the debate goes well Stephen.


A Muslim
Kosh3 said…
Neat advertising picture!
Martin said…
If God doesn't exist, it's deluded to claim he has special powers, talks to prophets, watches over people, created the universe. A mistaken belief is of the order of thinking you left your car keys in your jacket instead of your brief case. People may get annoyed when they discover their error in either case, but their emotions are not the property of the person responsible for highlighting the error.

Paul seems unwilling to speak a truth because it may spark an awkward emotion. If you say that someone is wrong about something, it is precisely their rationality and intellectual capacity that you challenge.
pikeamus Mike said…
I'm curious as to what approach you will be taking in this debate Stephen? The last debate of yours that I saw (with a guru of some kind I believe) you stuck mostly with the problem of evil and I felt it didn't resonate so well with the audience. I missed your debate with Alistair McGrath, what line of reasoning did you go with there?
Stephen Law said…

Contact or

Richard James said…
@Anonymous Muslim

Many thanks for drawing my attention to Tzortzis’ statement clarifying his association with Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain. I have taken up your challenge to my “intellectual honesty” and posted it on my blog.

Rest assured that I am upholding every word of my original post.


I hope last night’s debate went well and there was no trouble. I also hope you managed to contain Tzortzis’ underhand tactics which he employs to distract his opponents. The man seems to like the sound of his own voice rather too much.

Richard James
Stephen Law said…
Thanks Richard. Andreas was fine. Went pretty well I think (can't be sure till I see a recording.)

Pikeamus - the debate you are referring to was not god as I was told immediately before it started that my father had been rushed into hospital and was about to be operated on. This one went better.
Stephen Law said…
er, Piekamus - I meant debate you are referring to was not good, missed out an "o"!
Anonymous said…
Shame I missed this. I live in Kingston and would have enjoyed giving you some support.