A few days ago astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted out something so-true:
If your Personal Beliefs deny what's objectively true about the world, then they're more accurately called Personal Delusions.
This makes most religious dogma delusional. In fact, I probably should have said all religious dogma, since if something is objectively true it belongs in the realm of science and other forms of generally accepted knowledge, not the realm of religion.
Now, in a reply to someone who commented on this tweet, Tyson clarified what he meant. He was asked, "What if your personal delusions don't deny what's objectively true about the world?" Tyson's reply:
Then they're not Delusions. They're just Beliefs. My Tweet does not reference these.
This gets us to the question of what is objectively true.
If there is positive demonstrable evidence for some fact, such as that the big bang brought the universe into being some 13.7 billion years ago, then clearly a belief that the universe was created by God a few thousand years ago is delusional.
But what about accepting the existence of God? Or heaven and hell? Or eternal soul? Would this be a delusion or a belief?
I strongly lean toward Personal Delusion. After all, this is an objective truth about the world: there is no convincing demonstrable evidence that God, heaven, hell, or eternal soul exist.
Speaking more broadly, lack of evidence that something exists is a fact about the universe. Yes, a provisional fact, because evidence could always pop up in favor of that thing existing.
If clear and convincing evidence of God appeared tomorrow -- some observable cosmic event or miracle that scientists couldn't explain any other way -- then I and almost all other atheists would be pleased to admit, "We were wrong. God is real."
Until this happens, though, it is justified to call someone delusional who embraces the notion that God exists. Not delusional in most regards, as a deeply psychotic person might be -- just delusional in this regard.
Tyson's distinction between Personal Belief and Personal Delusion enters into the fervent current national discussion about what sorts of religious beliefs deserve to be accommodated in a society governed by secular laws, such as the United States.
I say, very few, if any.
For one thing, when dug into usually these beliefs are at odds with objective truth, which make them delusions.
Kim Davis, for example, is a county clerk who wants her religious belief that same-sex marriage is against God's will to be accommodated under a federal religious liberty law. Davis claims that she is acting under "God's authority," which supersedes the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.
Well, this only makes sense if it is objectively true that (1) God exists, (2) God rules over human affairs, and (3) God has decreed that same-sex marriage is wrong.
Since all three statements are at odds with what is known about objective reality -- there's no evidence for 1, 2, or 3 -- Kim Davis is embracing a Personal Delusion.
I'd argue that even if it was viewed as a Personal Belief, she still doesn't have the right to ignore the law of the land, as Jeffrey Toobin says in the above-linked piece, "Kim Davis's Cafeteria Government."
Now Davis is seeking to extend the concept of accommodation even more—to government officials, like her, who want to pick and choose which legal obligations to honor. It’s one thing to allow cafeteria citizenship; Davis wants cafeteria government.
The problem, as Scalia recognized more than two decades ago, is that there is no logical stopping point for the accommodation principle. People have sincere religious beliefs that obligate them to engage in, or refrain from, all kinds of behaviors that the law allows (like same-sex marriage) or requires (like paying taxes).
So while people are free to hold both Personal Beliefs and Personal Delusions, these shouldn't be confused with Objective Truth. As the saying goes, you're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.