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12 April 2012

Atheists Can't Talk About Mental Illness

You may remember Mr. John Feakes. He is the curator of the creationist "Christian Evidences Museum" that the Winnipeg Skeptics visited in 2010. (Or perhaps I should say that he was the curator; the museum is apparently no longer housed at the Oxford Bible Church, and all of its "evidences" are currently in storage.)

A Twitter follower recently sent the Winnipeg Skeptics a link to a short article that Mr. Feakes wrote for his website. On the subject of mental illness, Feakes writes:

Like most people, I agree that we ought to try to help folks dealing with psychological, emotional and behavioral problems. No doubt many of those that call themselves atheists, humanists or skeptics in Winnipeg would agree also. The very interesting thing is, whereas we all might agree that mental illness ought to be treated, such antitheists have no foundation for doing so.

On atheism, all that exists is reducible to matter and energy. Even human beings are at bottom nothing more than complex electrochemical machines. We, like everything else in the universe, are simply concatenations of atoms; mere molecules in motion. If this is true, it is difficult to understand how one could determine how exactly we ought to think and behave. In an atheist universe how does one determine which thoughts are more valid than others?

Of course! Because skeptics couldn't, say, see mental illness as a barrier to human flourishing.

This gentleman is apparently unable to fathom that we might be motivated by simple human compassion, or that the risks and harms associated with certain behaviours and mental states might be evaluated rationally.

I will say this, however: as a skeptic, an atheist, and a materialist/monist, I have nothing but compassion for those who suffer from mental illness, and see no reason to heap blame or shame upon them.

I won't waste my time or yours with a blow-by-blow, but the absurdities of the article should be clear. If you happen to disagree, then by all means, let's hash it out in the comments!