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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Twisted Thinking: Ideology, Delusions and Science

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 20th 2010

Twisted Thinking: Ideology, Delusions and ScienceIdeology, Delusions and Science

Introduction:

Delusions are beliefs that have no basis in reality. In fact, they are a symptom of psychotic illnesses and are often accompanied by hallucinations or perceptions of things that do not exist. Some delusions are paranoid in nature as exemplified by person believing they are receiving instructions of things to do from the planet Mars. Another example of a paranoid delusion is thinking that the neighbors are in a plot to destroy your life because you believe that you are the Lord.

There is a disturbing trend that is occurring in our nation and around the world that dismisses scientific fact, replacing it with ideologies and religious doctrine.  What is disturbing about this trend is that it relies upon a kind of thinking that can be, and is, used by others to manipulate the truth in order to change historical fact and bend reality into something it is not. This problem is similar to that of having delusions and hallucinations.

Let me try to clarify. I will mention two distinct types of reasoning, 1. Inductive Reasoning and 2. Deductive Reasoning.

1. Inductive reasoning is thinking and problem solving based on solid empirical facts. These facts are concrete and can be observed either with microscopes, telescopes, other instruments and the five senses.

2. Deductive reasoning is thinking and problem solving that begins with a premise or theory and then, attempts to prove that theory true. This type of reasoning can start with assumptions and beliefs and sometimes does.

Science is a system of knowledge based on what has been tested and proven to exist. The scientific method relies upon inductive reasoning in the search for facts that can be verified by laboratory studies. Studies are done in the laboratory to prove or disprove theories. Remember, theories tend to stem from previously known facts. However, if something cannot be tested according to the scientific method, it cannot be assumed to be fact or true.

Texas and Textbooks:

Recently, the School Board of the Texas State Education Department passed critically important changes to be made in textbooks for biology and history.

In its zealous commitment to religious doctrine, the board insisted that science textbooks, such as general and biological sciences, discuss evolution only as an unproven theory, and that they include creationism or the biblical version of our origins as equally or more reasonable and factual than science.

However, the School Board did not stop at tinkering with science. Based on their firm belief that the founders of our nation, the United States, had no intention of separating Church and State, they put forward the notion that biblical versions of life should be taught while scientific concepts be reduced to theory or supposition. To this end, they also decided to omit Thomas Jefferson from the list of the most prominent Americans to ever live. It just so happens that Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, served as the third President of the United States, was responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, and stood openly and publicly for religious freedom.

Why has Jefferson been downgraded in Texas? He believed firmly in the separation of Church and State. This means that public schools are prohibited from teaching religion. Teaching religion in public schools, whether the religion is Christianity, Judaism, Islam or any other is not allowed in our public school systems because they are part of the state or government. However, people are free to form private schools to which they can send their children if they deem it necessary. In addition, families can home school their children if they are not satisfied with either public or religious schools.

The members of the Texas school board are not delusional. However, they are making decisions for public education based on deductive reasoning and faith rather than scientific and historical fact.

The Alcoholics Anonymous Discussion and Disease:

I have been startled to read that some of our forum members here at Mental Help.Net engage in similar types of thinking as the Texas School Board but for different reasons. It is dismaying to read people insisting that they believe disease is just a "model" or a "theory" and that the medical industry pushes the "disease theory" as a way to make money. Their opposition to the term, disease, is that Alcoholic's Anonymous subscribes to the notion that addiction is a disease. The problem is that, to these people, AA is disreputable and, therefore, anything coming out of AA is equally disreputable. In other words, if AA says that addiction is a disease then, most certainly, it is not!

According to the Webster Dictionary, "disease is a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms: a sickness, malady." "This term, disease, is often used more broadly to refer to any condition that causes pain, dysfunction, distress, social problems, and, or death to the person afflicted."

Some of those who have difficulty thinking that there are diseases even reject such obvious illnesses as cancer as a disease. This thinking must have historical figures from science, like Carl Ehrlich and Louis Pasteur, "rolling in their graves." They died believing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that germs were proven to exist and that disease is very real.

Homosexuality:

Accepting the Bible as fact, there are many people who view homosexuality as a sin.

The problem starts when this type of religious thinking leads to this type of deductive reasoning:

"The Bible says that homosexuality is sin,

John is homosexual,

John is a sinner."

or:

"Homosexuality is a choice,

John is homosexual,

John chooses to be homosexual."

There are serious problems with this way of thinking because it is not based on fact and can lead us down dangerous and unforeseen paths. Deductive reasoning can be used in support of religious, racial and ethnic hatred.

For example, if a racist begins with the belief that all black people are inferior then they would conclude:

"All blacks are inferior,

President Obama is black,

President Obama is inferior."

 

Some people are well intentioned, as I am sure the members of the Texas School Board are, but others are not so well intentioned when they use syllogisms or deductive reasoning to arrive at their conclusions. Such conclusions are extremely doubtful, if not outright wrong.

The rationale for terrorism and war rests upon deductive reasoning. There are those Americans who think in this way:

The terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center were Arabs.

Mustaff is an Arab.

Mustaff is a terrorist.

In this case, Mustaff was born and raised in the United States and is Christian.

Yet, after 09/11/2001, many people were identified as Arabs and attacked in the streets. Some were killed. Among those killed were people of Indian extraction. Their native clothes resembled that worn by Arabs.

One more example:

This example comes from real life and shows how twisted thinking can result in tragic or near tragic events. I know these wonderful people who bought a house in an upscale neighborhood. They happened to be immigrants from Russia and have deep Russian accents. They had major renovations done on their newly purchased house by friends and fellow immigrants from Russia. The new owners and workmen all spoke in Russian.

Neighbors, hearing but not recognizing the foreign language being spoken outside the house, decided that these people the new neighbors are Mafia and the workers criminals doing the work for the new owner, an underworld boss or Don.

In point of fact, the new Russian neighbor and his wife, both naturalized American citizens, were public school teachers in the local community and among the nicest and law abiding people anyone can meet anywhere.

It is too easy to sink into delusional types of thinking based on little more than biases, prejudices and unverified information. Yes, religious faith does not require verification. That is the nature of faith and that is fine. However, in this land where there is freedom of religion, it is wrong to attempt to submit everyone to faith base thinking. It is even more of an error to change science and history textbooks in support of private held religious convictions.

For the sake of healthy thinking based in reality, we need to keep use our private religious schools for religious education, practice our religions at home and avoid the types of thinking that can and do lead to paranoia, terrorism and war.

Your comments and opinions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.

 

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

A Balancing Act - MeMay - Mar 21st 2010

Plain and simple: There needs to be balance! If not, the science community would have us all turned into test rats. And again, if not, the religious extremists would have us all on the frontlines fighting battles in the name of God. It is an ongoing balancing act.

As far as twisted thinking, well, people have different perceptions. Peoples experiences are always different. There are LOTS of people through history that have been called crazy only to be found out later that they were right on! 

Thanks Allan,

MeMay 

Separating Fact From Fiction is Hard - Charles Merrill - Mar 20th 2010

You can't underestimate the problem for all of us when society devalues and dismisses science and evidence.  It isn't new.  Some people still believe the moon landing was a hoax.  Millions believe 9/11 was either a) a Jewish plot or b) a Bush plot to get us to go to war with Arabs.  People who want to believe such stuff aren't subject to reason.  Millions believe in astrology.  There is a cable TV show called "Ghost Whisperers" where people investigate haunted houses.  I'm afraid to ask how many viewers it has.

Those that believe the unbelievable aren't all the same.  From my experience as a teacher I’ve learned that a large segment of people who fail to use deductive reasoning (maybe inductive as well) do so because it is easier to swallow whole what some “expert” says or because they heard it on the radio or television.  It takes effort to reflect on and question things that are said by others.  If someone in authority says the health care bill will "pull the plug on grandma", it's easier to just believe it rather than question it.  One 9th grade class I taught (14 year old students) all believed that doctors now performed head transplants.  It turned out that there had seen such a transplant operation on a TV sci-fi or horror show.  Consider how scary and confusing the world is for this large segment of the population.  If you have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction, how can you know WHAT to believe?

Ideologues (conservatives, liberals, religious zealots, etc.) refuse to integrate facts that contradict that belief system.  For them, reality is not relevant.

Science in general is not valued worldwide.  Movie stars and politicians are revered yet those that have, because of scientific investigation, increased longevity, allowed for modern conveniences like television, radio, cell phones, are hardly known nor thought of.  And again, understanding what scientific investigation has taught mankind about the world takes enormous effort. 

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