Atheists Can Be Deluded Too

rollAs webmaster for New York City Atheists (see here), I recently found myself on a mailing list for a man named Michael Roll, pictured right. While he considers himself an atheist, Mr. Roll is also a self-professed spiritualist who has undertaken a personal mission to sell his particular fantasy as a non-religious, science-based idea. Since the 1960’s his “campaign for philosophical freedom” (see here) has tried to promote his spiritualist delusions.

Following are just a few of the ideas that he puts forth with great intellectual soberness and gravitas:

  • There is no god, but there is an afterlife that is part of the natural world. This spirit world exists on a “different frequency” and accounts for the unaccounted 95% of the energy in our universe.
  • While the religious beliefs of others are nonsense, his essentially identical beliefs are based on “experiments and mathematical models.”
  • His evidence is largely based on the “research” conducted by Sir William Crooks between 1871 and 1874. Crooks observed the manifestations produced by several “materialism mediums” which he claimed proved the existence of a vast afterlife (see here).
  • The media is in cahoots with the Vatican in a conspiracy to discredit legitimate science on the paranormal including work linking subatomic physics with the afterlife (see here).
  • According to Roll “famous television scientist Professor Brian Cox […] is let loose on the public because his false model of the universe is no danger to the Vatican and their powerful materialistic agents.
  • Roll also states “2018 could just be the year that a few billion people will find out that the great philosopher Jesus started from the correct scientific base that we all have a soul that separates from the dead physical body. But most important of all, that Einstein started from the incorrect scientific base that the mind dies with the brain.

I am not going to waste any of your time refuting all of Roll’s clearly delusional fantasies, any more than I would waste your time refuting the Narnia-really-exists theory. Here is a video in which you can hear his “logic” directly from him (video here). It particularly saddens me that Roll appears to be a student of Carl Sagan and quotes him extensively, yet manages to do so in a way that is a blasphemy to everything Dr. Sagan stood for (see here).

What interests me more than debunking this one clearly delusional individual is the more general observation that atheists are not immune to magical thinking. While atheists may not believe in god, they may certainly believe in lots of other equally nonsensical ideas. Just calling oneself an atheist does not immunize one from delusions. Michael Roll’s secular form of rationalizing his magical thinking with “logic” is no different than the “logic” put forth by Ken Ham to rationalize his biblical fantasy (see here).

Atheist delusions can be unique to an individual, but are more often propagated by non-religious movements and fads. Spiritualism and New Age thinking are examples of non-religious structures of fantastical delusions about the world.

Even smart, logical, sophisticated thinkers are not insulated from spiritual delusion. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the brilliant creator of the paragon of rational thought, Sherlock Holmes, was another passionate proponent of spiritualism. He clung to his belief, even after Houdini proved to him that his magic tricks were merely tricks. Even after that irrefutable evidence, Doyle refused to be swayed from his insistence that they proved spiritualism was real (see here).

That these kind of spiritual belief systems can so compromise the thinking of one such as Conan Doyle demonstrates that they are both highly seductive and tenacious. Many of my atheist friends do not share my concern about these non-religious movements because they do not have the institutional power of an organized church behind them. Fair enough. However, they still contribute significantly to a culture in which magical thinking is encouraged and rational thought diminished. They legitimize and normalize public debate on important matters in which “alternative facts” are even entertained.

I argue that while misguided atheists like Michael Roll claim not to believe in god, their belief in essentially the same kind of pseudoscientific thinking supports faith-based thinking in all its forms. To attempt to use phony science fiction to rationalize a delusion does not make it less harmful than a purely religious belief. Indeed, the false invocation of the facade of science may in fact make the delusion far more harmful and damaging.

In my book “The Science of Belief,” (see here), I tried hard to not focus too much on religious thinking specifically, but on all non-fact based thinking in general. My thesis was that we cannot successfully attack religion or other secular forms of magical thinking directly. Rather we must teach real, authentic scientific ways of thinking and approaching the unknown. If we succeed at that, religion and spiritualism will crumble away to dust on their own.

2 thoughts on “Atheists Can Be Deluded Too

  1. Alison Rogerson

    I have just read your article about Michael Roll. I absolutely disagree with your thoughts which are certainly not evidence based but just your thoughts. You, in effect, do not have the faintest clue what you are discussing here & it is foolish to try to dissuade people. I have done two years of research on the other side after my son took his own life and I can assure you that I have his recorded voice from an ITC specialist in Manhattan. It certainly is my son’s voice as only a mother would know. He expressed facts that no one could ever know except his family & all accurate. I have also had two electronic transmissions in which he explained many things to me such as being so sorry for what he did & feeling so guilty for the pain he caused to his family. I have had many signs from him in my house. So to label people as delusional make sure that you can argue against science. For eg research the Scole experiments which have been scientifically attested. I have a degree in theology & I also know that religions, for the most part, are fabricated. So, it is not from faith that I am speaking. This is not delusional. I can also inform you that I have seen my mother physically in my bedroom & she stroked my head after she passed. Please do not tell me that I was dreaming. When you pass on from this frequency you will be astonished to wake up in this reality. We can only rely on our very limited 5 senses & so we have an extremely limited & materialistic focus. This is the case for a many reasons. When you reach this reality you will perhaps say to yourself, oh I recall a woman telling me about it here but you may awaken & feel that you are still here because you may not accept this marvelous reality at first as many non believers experience. There is an ever increasing amount of scientists & medics accepting that the afterlife is a reality. Please do your research. You can refer to Dr. Sonia Rinaldi for proof of the images of those who have passed. Look for here on YouTube.

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    1. Tyson Post author

      I don’t want to be snarky or insensitive, but this testimonial offers clear and powerful evidence that delusional beliefs are not limited to expressly religious beliefs. I am quite familiar with Society for Psychical Research in general and the Scole “experiments” in particular. These investigations have been widely and utterly repudiated. It is unfortunate that her obvious and understandable pain and loss has resulted in her being defrauded, intentionally or unintentionally, by an “ITC specialist.” I know that she believes that she heard her son’s voice, but there are many, many mundane explanations for this that do not require supernatural forces. I talk extensively about how easily our memories and perceptions can be fooled in my book. In it, I also describe my own “supernatural” experiences. So I get how powerful that personal “experience” can be. But it is my sincere hope that she will find true solace in a form that is both comforting and reality-based.

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