1. Religion & Spirituality
Scott P. Richert

The Devil Didn't Make Him Do It: Or, Why Atheists Can't Read

By July 31, 2012

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In "The Devil and James Holmes," I discussed the shootings at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, from a standpoint that I assumed would be somewhat controversial. I wanted to clear up widespread misconceptions regarding demonic possession that have made their way into popular films and novels. The worst of these mistaken ideas, as I explained, is that those who are possessed have no control whatsoever over their actions and therefore cannot be held accountable for them. To put it in shorthand, much of popular culture presents demonic possession as "The devil made him do it." But that is not the teaching of the Catholic Church.

I thought that the main opposition to my article would come from Christians who have been taken in by these popular misconceptions. I was wrong. Most Christians who commented on the piece understood perfectly well what I was saying, even though some disagreed with it intelligently and respectfully. (Only one self-identified Catholic completely misunderstood what I wrote.)

But after the article was picked up by Google News, all hell broke loose (no pun intended). A massive influx of atheists began leaving comments that were not particularly intelligent and not at all respectful. (Some, in fact, were so vile that I could not approve them for display, since they would be offensive to this site's main audience.)

And, to a man, every one of the atheist commenters got the point of my article exactly wrong. Indeed, if reading comprehension were an accurate test of intelligence, I would have to conclude that the Christian commenters on that post were, as a whole, much brighter than the atheist ones—a rather amusing turn of events, since the atheists who usually waste their time attacking my articles tend to pride themselves on being more intelligent than those of us who believe in "sky fairies."

I have a theory concerning why every atheist was incapable of understanding what I wrote, but before we get to that, here's a short version of the argument in "The Devil and James Holmes," for those who found 700 words too much to read:

  • Some Christians have argued that James Holmes is possessed (or was possessed at the time of the shootings) and, therefore, is not responsible for what he did.
  • Possession, however, is not something that just happens to people; it occurs because people willfully engage in behaviors that open them up to demonic influence.
  • Such people may (and usually do) engage in these behaviors without intending to expose themselves to demonic influence, but that doesn't matter; what matters is what they have chosen to do of their own free will.
  • There are four stages of demonic influence; the one usually portrayed in popular culture is demonic infestation (the third), not possession (the fourth).
  • By the time a person is actually possessed, he has chosen to conform his will to that of the demon, and thus is morally culpable for his actions.
  • Therefore, if James Holmes is possessed, the devil didn't make him do it; he chose of his own free will to do what he did.

Those Christians who disagreed with what I wrote had problems with the final two points, and I understand that; it is hard to break out of the grip of the popular portrayal of possession and to understand the role that free will plays.

Not a single atheist, on the other hand, managed to engage with a single point of the argument. Every one failed the most basic test of reading comprehension: At no point did I say that I thought James Holmes was possessed, and yet every atheist who commented assumed that I had done so.

And, moreover, every atheist who commented concluded, therefore, that I was excusing James Holmes' actions, when, in fact, I was doing precisely the opposite.

So what accounts for such unanimous error among the atheists who commented on my article? I would say that the devil made them do it, but unfortunately some people cannot take a joke.

Rather, I suspect that what they exhibited is an intellectual inability to deal rationally with any discussion that touches upon religion. If Pope Benedict says the sky is blue, Richard Dawkins would likely feel compelled to explain why the Holy Father is wrong. Dawkins is a very bright man, but his intellect is distorted by his hatred for all things Christian (and particularly all things Catholic.) Under the influence of men like him, atheism has become more than simply a lack of belief in God; it is now defined by a nearly complete antipathy toward those who express what atheists regard as mistaken beliefs.

A truly logical atheist might well have welcomed an article such as mine, because it clears up a misconception about demonic possession and emphasizes the role of free will. But conceding even that is too much for the modern atheist. He cannot understand how anyone who can believe in God, much less in demons and possession, could possibly believe in free will. Mention possession in relation to James Holmes, and you must be saying that the devil made him do it—even if a second-grader in a Catholic school could see that the clear language of your article says otherwise.

More on the Dark Knight Shooting:

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Comments
July 31, 2012 at 1:10 pm
(1) Scartle says:

I would break down your argument into two parts:

1. The shooter was responsible for his actions, not possession;
2. Because that’s not how possession works.

Your analysis mostly deals with breaking down Part 2 into several subpoints, including how possession *does* work, including its effect (or lack thereof) on free will.

You and atheists are in complete agreement on Part 1, just as you would be if “possession” was replaced with “astrology”, “karma”, or any other supernatural influence which you don’t believe. If another author who did believe in astrology or karma proceeded to break down why those forces weren’t controlling the shooter’s actions or decisions, you would reject that analysis not because you lack reading comprehension, but because it’s illogical to examine the “real” way an imaginary influence works.

It’s irrelevant to the atheists whether or not you’re asserting that possession “made the shooter do it”. The fact that you’re saying it didn’t doesn’t get you off the hook, because you’re still saying possession is a real thing, and that – the Part 2 of your argument – is what atheists are rejecting. I presume that you and any second grader in a non-astrological school would reject an astrological analysis of what happened in Aurora, regardless of the conclusions it might make about whether the shooter was accountable or “destined by the stars” to do what he did.

July 31, 2012 at 1:17 pm
(2) UsingReason says:

Sounds like someone got his feelings hurt when people didn’t take his completely unfounded catholic belief system seriously. When you start writing about the 4 stages of possession I start laughing quietly. Why do you expect people to take you seriously when you start spouting theology that about a billion Christians don’t even believe?

July 31, 2012 at 1:23 pm
(3) Scott P. Richert says:

“The fact that you’re saying it didn’t doesn’t get you off the hook, because you’re still saying possession is a real thing, and that – the Part 2 of your argument – is what atheists are rejecting.”

Actually, Scartle, it’s not—go back and read the comments. Your response here is reasonable and sound, even if we disagree, but you won’t find such a response on the other thread.

July 31, 2012 at 1:24 pm
(4) mhesidence says:

“A truly logical atheist might well have welcomed an article such as mine, because it clears up a misconception about demonic possession and emphasizes the role of free will. ” No more than I welcome clarifications of how the invisible purple pixie above your head influences your decisions. 700 words of fantasy followed by a troll post disguised as an article. I’m sure it is good for your hit count.

July 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm
(5) Scott P. Richert says:

“Sounds like someone got his feelings hurt when people didn’t take his completely unfounded catholic belief system seriously.”

Hardly. On Friday, as the comments were rolling in, I was doing a live two-hour radio show, and the host and my fellow guests and I spent the breaks laughing at the inability of the atheist commenters to read at a second-grade level. I rather enjoyed it, truth be told.

July 31, 2012 at 1:36 pm
(6) Joe Cogan says:

“A truly logical atheist might well have welcomed an article such as mine, because it clears up a misconception about demonic possession and emphasizes the role of free will.”

Actually, most atheists would be laughing that the author actually believes in demonic possession as a real phenomenon.

July 31, 2012 at 1:54 pm
(7) JWC says:

Your article is the equivalent of me publishing a paper claiming that while it is possible that the loch-ness monster is responsible for global warming, I believe he probably didn’t do it this time.
People in the comments section rightfully point out that the loch-ness monster doesn’t exist and the fact I’d even suggest he does and that he could have caused global warming is crazy of me.
So then I follow up that article with a rebuttal blasting people for their reading comprehension because I said the loch-ness monster probably wasn’t the cause this time. While I completely ignore the fact that I just brought up a ridiculous concept in the first place.

July 31, 2012 at 2:09 pm
(8) Scott P. Richert says:

“I’m sure it is good for your hit count.”

Well, “mhesidence,” if you think that’s all I intended with these articles, then I guess you’ve decided to help out by commenting. :)

July 31, 2012 at 2:11 pm
(9) Scott P. Richert says:

“Actually, most atheists would be laughing that the author actually believes in demonic possession as a real phenomenon.”

I was hoping that some atheists, at least, still believed in free will. It would appear that I may have been wrong.

July 31, 2012 at 2:15 pm
(10) Scott P. Richert says:

“Your article is the equivalent of me publishing a paper claiming that while it is possible that the loch-ness monster is responsible for global warming, I believe he probably didn’t do it this time.”

No, it wouldn’t be the equivalent at all, and you’ve just failed to comprehend a second piece, JWC. Because the point of both pieces is that the cause of James Holmes’ actions is his own free will.

I even spelled it out as simply as I could in the first half of the title of this post. But thanks for proving the second half of the title right.

July 31, 2012 at 2:38 pm
(11) JWC says:

Your analogy comprehension is very poor. I didn’t think I needed to make a full comprehensive analogy for you to understand the simple point Scott. The point is if you bring up unfounded ridiculous theories into a serious debate, people are going to focus on those ridiculous unfounded theories rather than your serious points. To bring up devil possession which has never even remotely been proven as a possible cause of the shooting is crazy. And yes, I realize you say it was likely free will that made him do it, but obviously even bringing up devil possession in a serious article of course that’s what people will focus on. As my analogy clearly pointed out.

July 31, 2012 at 2:38 pm
(12) PasserBy says:

The fact that you even mention demonic interference is reason enough to laugh and point. Nobody cares that you think the shooter was responsible for his own actions, it’s that you maintain that in some other cases it might be the demon’s fault. Maybe if you based your writing off something other than superstition it would make more sense and you wouldn’t get such a volatile reaction from readers. And I would wager that it’s not just atheists who have a problem with your article being that demonic possession is a ridiculous, antiquated notion used to explain misbehavior in the dark ages. Any intelligent human being should be insulted when presented with such childish drivel.

Good day to you sir. I said good day!

July 31, 2012 at 2:42 pm
(13) Rex says:

I didn’t see the first article, but from what I have read here, it seems to me that if someone disputes your belief system, and then voids your entire commentary because they think that reasoning based on magic is automatically irrelevant, you accuse them of a failure in reading comprehension.

I don’t think that it is a failure of reading comprehension, but rather a summary dismissal of magic, thereby voiding anything else that you say in the article. After reading innumerable defenses of magic, I am more and more comfortable dismissing them all without evaluating the fine points of the “logic” surrounding the magic.

Put another way; If I take a drink of milk and find it to be sour, would you fault me for discarding the entire container full with no further sampling, or would you insist that i drink every drop before I say that the whole container is sour?

July 31, 2012 at 3:31 pm
(14) Scott P. Richert says:

“To bring up devil possession which has never even remotely been proven as a possible cause of the shooting is crazy.”

“And yes, I realize you say it was likely free will that made him do it . . . ”

And, JWC, you continue to fail the reading comprehension test. Both articles clearly state that possession does not “cause” one to do what James Holmes did. And I never said that it was “likely free will that made him do it”; I said that he did it of his own free will.

That’s the point: James Holmes did what he did because he decided to do so. Those who misread these pieces as you have are as mistaken as those who insist that “the devil made him do it.”

July 31, 2012 at 3:31 pm
(15) Jake says:

Scott,

This was a good read. Your points are logical and they seem sound to me. Keep it up. Logical thought birthed from Theology. I would also say that Theology is the father of modern science. There is nothing more important than to worship God. It’s so simple that complicated minds can’t comprehend it (or they just don’t want to).

Thanks,
Jake
SkyWhiteboard.com

July 31, 2012 at 3:34 pm
(16) Scott P. Richert says:

“Nobody cares that you think the shooter was responsible for his own actions, it’s that you maintain that in some other cases it might be the demon’s fault.”

And, “PasserBy,” you can join JWC on the dunce stool, because you apparently can’t understand what you’ve read, either. Where, pray tell, did I “maintain that in some other cases it might be the demon’s fault”? You can read both pieces word for word (please do!), and you will find only that I said the exact opposite.

July 31, 2012 at 3:38 pm
(17) Scott P. Richert says:

“I don’t think that it is a failure of reading comprehension, but rather a summary dismissal of magic, thereby voiding anything else that you say in the article.”

No, Rex. A “summary dismissal of magic” would be what I would expect from an atheist reader; that would make sense within the context of your worldview. And I never would have written this second piece if that is what the atheist commenters had written.

But, as I pointed out to Scartle (at 3, above), that’s not what atheist readers did. They insisted that I said that “the devil made him do it,” when, in fact, I said the exact opposite. That indicates a failure to comprehend relatively simple language.

July 31, 2012 at 3:47 pm
(18) Scott says:

I would like to vote in favor of NO ONE being possessed. To quote the late Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

July 31, 2012 at 4:06 pm
(19) PasserBy says:

From your previous article:
“Americans find any discussion of human evil profoundly uncomfortable; even Christians, I noted, tend to cope with such evil by discussing the possibility of demonic possession. In saying this, I did not intend to downplay the reality of possession—far from it. I know missionary priests in Africa who perform exorcisms almost as frequently as they say Mass. The devil and his fellow demons are quite real, and we ignore that fact to our peril.”

You do indeed take the idea of demonic possession as a reality. Perhaps you’re using a metaphor where possession is actually one is separated from reality and becomes a psychopath. If this is the case then why not just refer to them as a psychopath and not possessed by a “demon” who is exerting Satan’s will? You’re saying that the “possessed” has free will and is letting the demon control him. Why even add a demon to the equation? Why can’t he just be sick, or damaged, or troubled?

Ok, Author, then this whole thing must be an attempt at creative writing because you clearly outline the possibility of demonic possession in cases other than Mr. Holmes. If this article is fiction then it will be treated as such and I, and many other readers will go on our merry way, but being that you seem to believe demonic possession is actually possible then you shall continue to be treated as delusional.

July 31, 2012 at 4:17 pm
(20) Sldgman says:

I understand that it can get frustrating when people do not read what you have written and only reply to what they THINK you have written, but saying that atheists do not have the reading comprehension of a second grader shows a serious lack of charity.

July 31, 2012 at 4:29 pm
(21) Scott P. Richert says:

“You do indeed take the idea of demonic possession as a reality.”

Yes.

“Perhaps you’re using a metaphor where possession is actually one is separated from reality and becomes a psychopath.”

No.

“You’re saying that the ‘possessed’ has free will and is letting the demon control him.”

No. I’m saying the possessed has free will, and that he is using that free will in concert with the will of the demon. One does not have to believe in demons or in possession to understand the difference. One needs only to understand the English language.

“you clearly outline the possibility of demonic possession in cases other than Mr. Holmes”

Yes. And even in the case of Mr. Holmes. Is he possessed? I don’t know. But that’s not the point.

Your mistake is the same as that of Christians who believe “the devil made him do it.” You’ve decided that a pop-culture version of demonic possession—in which the person no longer acts of his own free will—is what the Church actually believes. It’s not.

It’s possible to understand what the Catholic Church teaches without agreeing with it. In fact, it should make it easier to argue against it if you actually understand it. Clearly, you like to argue such points—why not try to understand them first, so that your argument can be more convincing?

July 31, 2012 at 4:43 pm
(22) happysenorita says:

I just believe he (the shooter) is a very sick person. I also believe that if you open your mind to certain evils, it can take you down a very dark road.

July 31, 2012 at 4:46 pm
(23) Jolo says:

but saying that atheists do not have the reading comprehension of a second grader shows a serious lack of charity.

Not really, it is an ad hominem used because the article fully spend 600 words discussing demonic possession then only in the last paragraph does he discuss free will. Why even spend all that time discussing “demonic possession” at all?

If you are failing to get your point across to the reader in 700 words, maybe the fault isn’t with the reader but with the writer?

July 31, 2012 at 4:47 pm
(24) Matt says:

You’re very smug.

July 31, 2012 at 4:55 pm
(25) sean says:

The fact is that everyone has free will and has the ability to make choices. Each person si responsible for those choices and accountable for the consequences. The devil possesses no one against his or her will. We live in a blame world where people’s evil actions are blamed on something or someone else leaving the perpetrator off the hook. All that does is perpetuate irresponsibility and breed sociopaths.

July 31, 2012 at 4:56 pm
(26) Dave says:

Since most commenters who are otherwise smart people seem to have a reading comprehension problem when your article is involved, wouldn’t it seem more likely that maybe your article wasn’t that well written if everyone seems to have a problem reading it? That seems to be the most likely scenario.

July 31, 2012 at 4:58 pm
(27) Scott P. Richert says:

“the article fully spend 600 words discussing demonic possession then only in the last paragraph does he discuss free will.”

Jolo, you might want to go back and read the article. There are two references to free will in the last paragraph, but there are five total in the article.

“If you are failing to get your point across to the reader in 700 words, maybe the fault isn’t with the reader but with the writer?”

As I mentioned, all but one Christian commenter on the previous piece understood perfectly what I wrote. Not a single atheist commenter did. That would seem to indicate where the fault lies.

July 31, 2012 at 5:01 pm
(28) GHM says:

It is amusing to read so many sophomoric responses to you blog, Scott. The “superior intellect” tone of those who smirk at possession by evil spirits took me back many years to my college years. I am assuming those commenters are very young…I hope they are since youth may be an excuse. If they are not that young, I pity them. There is nothing more pathetic than a chronological “oldie” with a college-age mentality.

July 31, 2012 at 5:02 pm
(29) Scott P. Richert says:

“Since most commenters who are otherwise smart people seem to have a reading comprehension problem when your article is involved, wouldn’t it seem more likely that maybe your article wasn’t that well written if everyone seems to have a problem reading it?”

Only if your definition of “otherwise smart people” is “atheists,” since, as I’ve repeatedly mentioned, all but one Christian commenter understood perfectly what I wrote.

If they can understand the plain meaning of English words, why can’t the atheist commenters?

July 31, 2012 at 5:06 pm
(30) Saywhaaa says:

All very well and good, and I am sure you are quite clever and the atheists you deride quite dull, but there are no such things as demonic possessions in the first place.

When people point this out you accuse them of missing the point (that demonic possession was not a factor in this example) and say things along the lines of “look how dumb they are they do not even know that I agree with them”. Perhaps you think your point is one that everyone HAS to agree on, but I suspect many of the comments you got were people calling you out on trying to slip in validation for the superstision of possession in the middle of a discussion about how people are wrong when they ascribe the cause of events like the one in aroura to demonic possession.

Do you have the reading comprehension to realize the argument you made is not:

(1) “He did not do this because of possession”

it is actually

(2) “He did not do this because of possession, because you can fight possession with free will, and oh yea, by the way, possession is a totally real that really happens guys.”

Then people point that out to you and you accuse them of being stupid for missing the point of #1 when they are actually ridiculing the last 2 claims in point #2.

It is like a reverse strawman argument, where instead of taking your opponents claims and changing them just enough to be able to easily tear them down, you take your own claims and change them just enough so that the critiques of them seem baseless, when they actually are not.

It is all very childish once you realize what is actually going on, and aside from that the only other complaints you had were basically tone trolling.

C-

July 31, 2012 at 5:18 pm
(31) Scott P. Richert says:

Do you have the reading comprehension to realize the argument you made is not:

(1) “He did not do this because of possession”

it is actually

(2) “He did not do this because of possession, because you can fight possession with free will, and oh yea, by the way, possession is a totally real that really happens guys.”

Except that it’s not. It is actually what I wrote in the final two paragraphs of the previous piece:

We need to understand this: If James Holmes is possessed, he did not get that way against his will. And if James Holmes is possessed, it wasn’t the demon who purchased the weapons and ammunition, booby-trapped his apartment with bombs, and pulled the trigger—over and over and over again—in that theater in Aurora, Colorado.

It was James Holmes who did all of that, even if he is possessed. And that is the terrifying reality that we so desperately wish not to face, because it reminds us that we, too, have free will, and all too often misuse it.

In other words, my argument is not “He did not do this because of possession, because you can fight possession with free will”; my argument is that those who are possessed still have free will, their actions are the result of their free will, and thus they, and not the demon, are responsible for their actions.

July 31, 2012 at 5:19 pm
(32) Scott P. Richert says:

I suspect many of the comments you got were people calling you out on trying to slip in validation for the superstision of possession in the middle of a discussion about how people are wrong when they ascribe the cause of events like the one in aroura to demonic possession.

You don’t need to “suspect”; go back and read the comments. If readers had done what you’re saying they were trying to do, I wouldn’t have written this piece.

I wrote this piece because they didn’t do that; rather, they insisted that I said that “the devil made him do it” and that he was, therefore, not culpable for his actions.

That’s a question of reading comprehension, not of mere disagreement over the possibility of demonic possession.

July 31, 2012 at 5:23 pm
(33) Diana says:

Passerby: Separation from reality is psychosis, not psychopathy. Psychopathy is when there is no conscience.

People with a diagnosis of psychosis have a conscience. They do not commit acts of violence more than most, but they are far more likely than the general population to be the victims of violence.

Sudden withdrawal from psychiatric medication causes a syndrome called akathisia — a gruesome combination of anxiety, agitation, anger and aggression. The medical community has known about this syndrome for decades. People on psych medication never receive the proper support for gradual titration.

It is the fault of the professionals who shill for pharmaceutical companies and then, sit back and watch while the press blames the patient who “went off his meds”.

Thereby causing more clamor for stricter “forced commitment” laws, thus selling more drugs.

I do believe in demonic possession. (I used to attend Mass in the same parish as the possessed boy who later became the model for the character Regan in William Peter Blatty’s novel, The Exorcist.)

But, I’ve become very accustomed to this story in the past few decades. The press is fond of the stereotype. Big Pharma loves it.

Yes, there are evil forces at work here: Greed; Exploitation; Hatred; Scapegoating.

July 31, 2012 at 6:00 pm
(34) PasserBy says:

Tell me then, since nobody seems to be able to understand, what is your point?

All this talk of demonic possession, free will, yada yada yada… it’s all bollocks. Maybe God told him to do it. There are plenty of people who have committed murder after hearing His voice. And who’s to say the voice that they hear is different from the voice you hear? Or that the Pope hears? If you want to talk complete crap then why not talk about that?

July 31, 2012 at 6:06 pm
(35) Sighing under my breath says:

Okay, atheists-who-don’t-think-before-they-post, I’ll spell something out for you.

You are commenting on a blog in the “Religion-Spirituality => Catholicism” section of this site. See that there? So if you are not a Christian or not a Catholic, you’re won’t agree with everything you read here. No surprise. But, in fact, Catholic Christians do believe that there is an evil being, Satan, who is engaged in battle against God and those who belong to him. The fact that this is an article topic is wholly reasonable.

The original article didn’t set out to analyze why Holmes did what he did or whether he’s morally culpable of it. The author’s purpose was to address the following: “. . . many Christians who are quick to chalk up acts such as those committed by James Holmes to demonic possession sometimes—often—see this as mitigating the responsibility of the presumably possessed person.” What he says about it can be paraphrased like this: “No. Although some might believe that Holmes was demonically influenced or possessed, he would be nevertheless fully responsible for his actions.”

Got that? IF he were possessed, it would NOT affect his full responsibility for what he chose to do. He did not express an opinion of whether Holmes were possessed, mentally ill, or anything else.

You may find talk of the possibility of demonic influence false or laughable. Fine.. But jumping to middle-school-level assumptions and picking the first word you believe to be wrong or stupid and launching into a sarcastic and insulting script — this is the kind of thing that gives atheism a bad name in intellectual circles. It’s not persuasive, it makes you vulnerable to stiletto-sharp (and accurate) criticism, and it embarrasses others who believe like you do but who don’t want to enter the conversation at that low level..

Please stop it. If you have something to contribute, and if it’s worthwhile, then please contribute it. But the nyah-nyah stuff gets old.

July 31, 2012 at 6:13 pm
(36) PasserBy says:

Diana, thanks for setting me straight. But there is no need to insert a demon into the mix, no matter the amount of brainwashing you received as a child.

GMH: You call us “sophomoric” and yet you are the one claiming to believe in evil spirits. Do you still need your mom to tuck you in at night as well, even in your old age? It’s probably just a nurse, but due to your obvious dementia I can understand your confusion.

July 31, 2012 at 6:46 pm
(37) Matt says:

Not only are you smug but you make a great deal of assumptions and you are factually wrong. I’ve gone back and read the comments on the first article and not “every one of the atheist commenters got the point of my article exactly wrong.” That’s just one example of your errors. Also, how do you know who’s atheist and who isn’t? This “Leave a Comment” form doesn’t ask. It can’t be inferred from the comments, at least not in all cases. How do you know? You know from being smug and making assumptions, neither of which are very Christ-like qualities. Are you a Catholic?

July 31, 2012 at 6:51 pm
(38) PasserBy says:

Dear Sighing under my breath,

Is this website off limits to non-Catholics? No. Religion and the religious are not immune to criticism from the outside. Those days are over. Pointing out to the group that Catholics believe in Satan and all that does not make it reasonable that discussion in a public forum should be limited to those who would agree with the content.

As you say, Mr. Holmes is responsible for his own actions, of that we can agree. What I find laughable is that the author is trying to convince other Catholics that his actions weren’t the result of a demonic possession. An conclusion to which, apparently, many seem like to jump. That he would even feel compelled to do so in today’s world is ridiculous.

By all means execute the guy. I’m sure you will all relish in his eternal torment as you are wont to do. It’s enough for me that he doesn’t kill another person or waste another dollar.

July 31, 2012 at 6:57 pm
(39) PasserBy says:

Plus, don’t give me BS about not contributing anything when the title of the article is…

“The Devil Didn’t Make Him Do It: Or, Why Atheists Can’t Read”

Judge ye not… Oh you know the rest.

July 31, 2012 at 7:12 pm
(40) JulieD says:

These responses are a good example of the old adage ” Give him enough rope and he’ll hang himself”.

July 31, 2012 at 10:30 pm
(41) jonathanoypi says:

Too much words wasted on atheists. lets just pray that these atheists receive the gift of Faith to end all these hullabaloo.
.

August 1, 2012 at 2:14 am
(42) kalaparthy says:

Dear Scott, I hold this as very interesting article, not because it aroused a good of hit count and many comments, but because you clarified an important point both for Christians and Atheists. Leave alone the atheists and atheism, which in fact as Jesus said that it would be like throwing pearls before the swines. But certainly for a segment of Catholics/christians who under the impression of possession leave the culprit of his/her responsible actions, your point holds great value.

Evil is real in as the element of Good is and it takes many forms to show forth as evinced in the case of James Holmes in Aurora and Kasab in Mumbai Terrorist attacks. We can call their ‘vulnerability’ either possession or some other terminology, but they CHOSE to concert their FREEWILL to that of what we call ‘EVIL’ and performed the act.

I perfectly understand why the media across the world, the atheism or its protagonists and a few sections of religious groups scathe attack on Catholicism, well, its the fear of Truth.

A Hindu group here in India asked me, tell me what you the Catholic Church and not any other denomination of Christianity or other religious groups and much less our brethren of Atheism, say about gay marriage and all its consequences for the society. They wanted a clear stand of the Church. Amazing, they have such a belief who can truly offer the truth irrespective of the world’s approval or dismissal.

August 1, 2012 at 2:21 am
(43) c smith says:

So this means that George W. Bush cannot blame demonic infestation for illegally conducting a war that cost billions of dollars and murdered tens of thousands of innocents. George W. offered a fresh spin by claiming “God told me to invade Iraq.”

August 1, 2012 at 2:50 am
(44) Steven Hepburn says:

It think that commenting on an article of this kind on a Catholicism site the reasonable responses for an atheist would be-

a) Your conclusion follows from your premises but I reject your premises or

b) Your conclusion does not follow from your premises which I anyway reject.

So the point about comprehension you make seems to be directed towards unreasonable responses which either misrepresent your conclusion or fail to differentiate between premise and conclusion. I would imagine that those who do not believe in demonic possession would make their point best by stating why they reject the concept and then leaving it at that since it would be a tad redundant to then go on and discuss the probable effects of such possession. But what do I know, I’m a Catholic.

Following a different, but no less horrific, shooting in France earlier this year I mused in my blog about the relationship between Original Sin and such acts. What I said about madness may relate to what Scott has said about possession-

“If one human is capable of acting in this fashion then all humans are, perhaps, also similarly capable. This suggestion is so revolting that faced with crimes of this kind we instinctively recoil from the notion and say “No, this man was no man but a monster, a beast, a madman!” In saying that we say nothing. He was not (I use the past tense as he himself was shot in the head) anything other than human and if he was mad, well if one human is capable of becoming mad in this fashion then all humans are, perhaps, also similarly capable”

http://catholicscot.blogspot.co.uk/2012_03_01_archive.html

August 1, 2012 at 3:22 am
(45) NateHevens says:

Let me clear this up for you, author.

The problem is NOT your definition of demonic possession.

The problem is not that you noted that the shooter chose to do this of his own will. I’d say that a good 99% of atheists, myself included, would agree with you on this.

The problem is very simple:

You believe in demons. And you believe that they can possess people (whatever you say it means).

You do know that the Paranormal movies are just that; they aren’t documentaries or “based on a true story”… right?

August 1, 2012 at 3:33 pm
(46) Scott P. Richert says:

Let me clear this up for you, NateHevens.

As I’ve written several times, if the atheist commenters had simply said that I was whackadoodle for believing that demons exists and that demonic possession is real, I never would have written this piece.

I expect atheists to disagree with me on both of those points. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be very good atheists, would they?

The problem is that, instead, they insisted that I was saying that “the devil made him do it,” when I very clearly said the opposite.

That is why I wrote this piece.

August 1, 2012 at 5:08 am
(47) Brian says:

Scott, have you ever heard of the Courtier’s Reply? You are more than welcome to write an entire blog on the various types and nuances in invisible silk. But the emperor is nude. To sound intelligent and have good reading comprehension, I don’t need to (and shouldn’t) respond to your clarification on invisible silk, I simply need to say the emperor is nude!

There is no such things about demonic possession. End of story. I needn’t address the stages of demonic possession or how possession relates to free will. There is just no such thing as demonic possession.

I am an atheist. I do NOT believe in free will. Not unless you are appealing to some compatibilist notion like Dennett’s philosophy. I reject that humans have free will.

I think James Holmes may be a perfect example of that. I think he has a mental health problem. He got that problem by going to grad school, failing to get a girlfriend, and possibly being bipolar or something. There ain’t no free will in that. Holmes might have gone deranged for things outside of his control.

August 1, 2012 at 3:36 pm
(48) Scott P. Richert says:

“I am an atheist. I do NOT believe in free will. Not unless you are appealing to some compatibilist notion like Dennett’s philosophy. I reject that humans have free will.”

Finally, an interesting comment. So, if humans do not have free will, how can they be morally culpable for their actions?

“There ain’t no free will in that. Holmes might have gone deranged for things outside of his control.”

Can you/would you punish him for things that were “outside of his control”?

August 1, 2012 at 5:44 am
(49) Jeo26 says:

I have learnt from the topic.
Those who have “unclean spirit” do things almost the same the “possessed” do. I have a younger that behaves as if she has “unclean spirit”. What must I do to help her?

August 1, 2012 at 3:39 pm
(50) Scott P. Richert says:

Jeo26, saying that someone has an “unclean spirit” is indeed another way of saying that someone is possessed.

Possession is not something to be taken lightly, and it is not something that you can help someone with. If you believe that she is possessed, you should go to the Church and ask for help. There is nothing else that you can do without the possibility of harm to yourself or her.

August 1, 2012 at 6:38 am
(51) Mark Hall says:

Just skimming through the comments on the earlier article, it seems to me that #4, #14, and especially #20 make exactly the point Scartle made here in this thread’s first comment. (#4 and #14 are less polite about it, granted.) That doesn’t seem to match your claim here that ALL atheists failed to understand.

August 1, 2012 at 6:57 am
(52) veritasjc says:

Steve, you articulated Catholic Christian teaching perfectly in your article! It’s puzzling to read that there are people who don’t believe in free will. Free will is evident even in the smallest of decisions (I’ll have eggs today for breakfast instead of excepting the invitation to have pancakes at my neighbor’s house). I don’t know why Holmes did what he did. Perhaps that will become clearer later on. I believe that Holmes is not possessed but is mentally ill. True demonic possession is rare. Evil, however, does exist in the world and Satan has been busy seducing people. We only need to look at this Nation to realize just how much seduction has taken place and how many people have made a decision through their own free will to cooperate with evil. Moral relativism is just one example.

August 1, 2012 at 7:46 am
(53) Chris H. says:

What did you expect? Intelligent comments to an unintelligent article? The very fact that you look down your nose at a group of people when you’re the one arguing for demonic possession is laughable. You’re 2,000+ years off, and its time for you, and others like you, to catch up with the rest of the world. In short, you’re holding our society back with your backwards bronze age ideologies.

August 1, 2012 at 8:37 am
(54) lima says:

you sound as if you have issues with those that don’t believe the same thing as you.

1. Those that are possessed? There is no such thing as possession.

You speak as if people “atheists” who don’t believe in such “fairy tales” to be uneducated when in truth you are the one talking about possession as if it’s some fact.

2. “Possession, however, is not something that just happens to people; it occurs because people willfully engage in behaviors that open them up to demonic influence.”

I can only imagine some of the comments coming from this. This type of uneducated announcement is how people blame alice cooper records for demonic possession… Once the “christian” church or anybody affliated with it claims something to be evil, any person that associates themselves with this is siding with the “devil” in their eyes. How do you think black cats got such a bad rap? The Catholic Church… in fact during the inquisitions would kill all black cats because they believed to be associated with witchcraft… Think about what you are saying.

Once again, Possession does not exist, mental disorders are not something that just vanish reading bible verses.

I am not even going to address the rest of your demonic possession comments; it’s just not worth it. There is no real debate or discussion here, it’s more just you being smug and prideful and you sound almost programmed as you try to insult atheists for not accepting your uneducated beliefs.

Irony.

August 1, 2012 at 3:50 pm
(55) Scott P. Richert says:

“Irony.”

No. Irony is the pot calling the kettle black, or you calling me “smug” at the same time you call me “uneducated.”

By the way, there are some very good works of history—written by non-Catholics and even non-Christians—on the witch hunts, which would disabuse you of the “facts” that you’ve picked up in your travels around the internet. One actual fact that will clearly surprise you is that witch hunts are almost entirely a post-Reformation (that is, Protestant) phenomenon.

But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good “The Catholic Church killed black cats!” legend.

August 1, 2012 at 10:45 am
(56) Marty Kay Zee says:

What some call demon is actually errant electro-chemical brain activity of a sort that promotes behaviors that lead to violence and destruction. There is no ghost in the human machine.

August 1, 2012 at 3:52 pm
(57) Scott P. Richert says:

“There is no ghost in the human machine.”

If we really are “machines,” what about free will, Marty Kay Zee? Do you agree with NateHevens, who says that 99 percent of atheists believe in free will, or with Brian, who doesn’t?

August 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm
(58) Dan TheMan says:

@Scott
“inability of the atheist commenters to read at a second-grade level”

Doesn’t matter what level you read at when you’re blogs full of rubbish. Demonic possesion? Only real test is whether or not a second grader can split fact from fantasy. Apparently a majority of the Boomer’s missed out on that skill…

August 1, 2012 at 3:55 pm
(59) Scott P. Richert says:

“Apparently a majority of the Boomer’s missed out on that skill…”

Oh, now that hurts. I’m only 44 . . .

August 1, 2012 at 12:57 pm
(60) Tolerance...huh! says:

Okay, so we get the point. I too believe that the article, especially the second one, could have been written in better taste (especially coming from a catholic). But really do you guys have to go on bashing the catholic church and it’s believers? We understand that you think we are stupid, uneducated, etc… and guess what we are okay with that. I too believe that possession is a very real thing, but do you really have to say that we are all uneducated? Why does the catholic church scare you so much that you always have to put it down and be mean? You may think I’m stupid/weak because I believe in God, and I may not understand how you can go through life and look at the world around you and not believe in God but honestly that doesn’t give you or me the right to call the other names. We are all adults here (and some of us catholic, who should be called to “not cast the first stone”).

August 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm
(61) PJ says:

Not sure why I bothered to read this post… or the comments. What is clear is that you’ve made up a bunch of BS in your own head (demons, god, heaven and hell, etc) and you think anyone who doesn’t agree and or doesn’t see the world your way is wrong or stupid. This is practically the definition of ignorant.

You sir, are ignorant and believe in fairies…

Who cares if anyone got what you said, commented on it properly, or understood your made up nuances. Faith and Evidence are two different things; you might have them confused.

August 1, 2012 at 2:41 pm
(62) Monica Lowe says:

Greetings – I’m just curious, how did you determine that all the “uncomprehending” comments were from atheists? I’ve been reading them after the article in question, and while some do state their belief/lack of belief – or certainly make them clear – many do not.

August 1, 2012 at 2:59 pm
(63) W OBrien says:

What a smug, condescending column.

So someone disagrees with you and they are automatically uneducated atheists.

That you would even go down this road based on a column on demonic possession is laughable.

August 1, 2012 at 3:59 pm
(64) Scott P. Richert says:

“So someone disagrees with you and they are automatically uneducated atheists.”

No. Did you read the entire column? Intelligence has little to do with the question. Rather, as I stated toward the end (when speaking about Richard Dawkins, an obviously intelligent man) it’s a question of hatred for Christianity becoming so overwhelming in some people that they cannot even look at a Christian argument rationally.

August 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm
(65) Scott P. Richert says:

“Who cares if anyone got what you said, commented on it properly, or understood your made up nuances.”

Apparently you do, PJ. Otherwise, why bother to comment?

August 1, 2012 at 3:24 pm
(66) Scott P. Richert says:

“So this means that George W. Bush cannot blame demonic infestation for illegally conducting a war that cost billions of dollars and murdered tens of thousands of innocents.”

No. And like both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, I opposed the invasion of Iraq from the very beginning on the grounds that it was not a just war according to Christian principles.

August 1, 2012 at 3:28 pm
(67) Scott P. Richert says:

“What I said about madness may relate to what Scott has said about possession.”

Exactly, Steven. That was the point I made in my first column on the shootings (“Blaming Batman, Forgetting God“). It was in response to that column that some Christian readers excused James Holmes’ actions (or declared him to be a victim as well) as a result of demonic possession, which was why I wrote the second column. And then the atheists chimed in on that one . . . And here we are.

August 1, 2012 at 3:33 pm
(68) Atheist says:

I skimmed through both of your articles, and read the comments on your article “The Devil and James Holmes”. My question to you is: How do you know the people who were supposedly condescending you, Atheists? Almost no one mentioned their religious affiliation, except for some Catholics and Christians. So, why the gratuitous hatred and contempt for Atheists? I think you protest too much. Possession has always been, and will always be the scapegoat for mental illness. To put it simply, it does not exist. Have a good day.

Best regards,
Proud Atheist

August 1, 2012 at 4:00 pm
(69) Scott P. Richert says:

“Have a good day.”

I wish the same for you, Proud Atheist! Enjoy the beauty of God’s Creation.

August 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm
(70) Michael Robin Cooke says:

The error in reasoning is that those the responded to you in some way represent Atheists that did not respond to you.

An Atheist that read your argument and understood it, of course would not accuse you of excusing bad behavior with a paradigm of ‘devil possession’.

But the reality is whatever your position may be, most people that agree with you do not agree with you because they thoughtfully considered the issue, but because they don’t want to make waves and the consensus of the people they know best is what is true for them because they do not think and agreeing with the consensus gives them all the approval they need to feel “right”.

So yes,there are Atheists that will argue the sky must not be blue if the Pope say it is. Just as there are Catholics that will attribute my personal homosexuality to devil possession. Both are assertions of small minds, and every position you can imagine welcomes and includes, very small minds. But to suggest the small minds that reply to something tell you something of the bigger minds that see no reason to reply – that belies a very small mind indeed.

August 1, 2012 at 4:08 pm
(71) Scott P. Richert says:

“But to suggest the small minds that reply to something tell you something of the bigger minds that see no reason to reply – that belies a very small mind indeed.”

It may surprise you, Michael, to find that I agreed with what you wrote, right up until the end. The headline, of course, was deliberately provocative, as headlines on commentary pieces often are. In the body of the article, however, I spoke specifically about those who had commented, and, to the extent that I broadened it out, I spoke, as you noted, about a particular strain of atheists who you agree do exist.

Despite the headline, I have had the great pleasure of knowing and debating many, many atheists who would have no trouble understanding the point I made in “The Devil and James Holmes,” even though they don’t believe in demons. They, obviously, are not the people I was discussing in the piece—nor, it would appear, are you.

August 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm
(72) daddyhominum says:

If, as you say and I certainly do not challenge your statement regarding the supernatural, then why did Jesus bother casting out demons? The correct effort on his part would have been to educate those possessed to make a better choice, otherwise, once cast out, the demon would simply repossess at the victim’s choice.
Judge Judy always says that if something doesn’t make sense, it just isn’t true. A modern Occam! Even if I allow your false premises, your rationale presents an insurmountable conflict with the Jesus Way.
I agree that itt is certain Holmes was not possessed.

August 1, 2012 at 4:13 pm
(73) Scott P. Richert says:

“The correct effort on his part would have been to educate those possessed to make a better choice, otherwise, once cast out, the demon would simply repossess at the victim’s choice.”

One of Christ’s parables explicitly addresses the man who, having had a demon cast out, ends up with seven demons in the first demon’s place. Those who are relieved of possession are not guaranteed a life free from demonic activity in the future, because of the very point I’ve been making: We have free will.

August 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm
(74) H.B.C. Dresden says:

While I didn’t read, nor comment on your first article (I heard about it), I will say two things:

1) Regardless of how you justify it, the belief in demonic possession of any kind is a rejectible thought not only by all atheists, but by many religious people as well. It is seen as far-fetched to some, impossible to others, or just downright silly. But that all depends on who you’re talking to.

2) Free will is the idea that one can act at their own, personal discretion when given many options. They can choose an option, and could have chosen its alternative instead if they so desired. But this simply is not true. This type of free will (to paraphrase Jerry Coyne) cannot exist and is countered by the laws of physics. The molecules that make up your brain are determined by your genes and environment. To quote, ” Your decisions result from molecular-based electrical impulses and chemical substances transmitted from one brain cell to another. These molecules must obey the laws of physics, so the outputs of our brain—our “choices”—are dictated by those laws.” Now while we still feel as if we weigh those choices on our own, part of it still is being dictated by an external force that we cannot control. If we could, one would have to claim that we can somehow step out of the physical to attain free will. And while that is a burden of proof that relies with those who believe in a non-physical soul, it is not one that can be proven to exist, and therefore is of no consequence to the scientific argument of “free will.”

Conye has more to say on the subject. I don’t know if you are a scientific man, but I feel that if you believe in gravity, Newton’s Laws, and that water both freezes and boils at certain temperatures (when given into other pressures of the environment), you’ll see the physical impossibility of free will, when defined as our ability to make choices independent of external pressures.

http://chronicle.com/article/Jerry-A-Coyne/131165/

August 1, 2012 at 6:44 pm
(75) Roblem says:

Atheists can read just fine thanks. Why Atheists don’t read one bloggers fairy stories involving demons and the like, jumping on the Aurora murders bandwagon with the likes of Westborrow baptist “to make a point” would be more accurate. For any Atheists that did read the article and “missed the point” isn’t that more the fault of the author, rather than this ad hominem attack on the basic ability of Atheists? This is cute though, I didn’t even know about.com was still around. Good luck.

August 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm
(76) PasserBy says:

I’m happy to see so many folks rejecting this nonsense.

(60) Tolerance…huh!, the reason we have to point and call names is because our silence will be taken for acquiescence. What if the Catholic bishops just stood by instead of raising the alarm while countless children under their care were abused?

H.B.C. Dresden… good stuff about free will!

August 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm
(77) H.B.C. Dresden says:

As a side note, I want to point this out.

I can see how those that DO believe in demonic possession could find your previous article (and this one) to be helpful and enlightening. I understand your purpose in explaining it from this angle.

As an atheist, however, the burden of proof does lie on you to prove that such a thing even exists. I believe the Bible actually says something about burden of proof?

But you and I both know that such a task is (scientifically) impossible, as demons are a belief that come from faith — faith that is blind and cannot be proven by scientific means. This is where I, as an atheist, have a problem with your claims that demonic possession is even remotely possible.

While I realize arguing the fact that it IS possible is not the intent of your article, I think that is where some atheists are skimming over what you’re trying to say, and instead directly interpreting what you are saying — that demonic possession is something that actually can happen, whether it is “hollywood” possession or “Catholic” possession. Same thing for free will.

To Christians, your words make sense — because they believe. Because they accept it as a truth. To atheists, regardless of how you say it, you are making a claim that to them is akin to saying that unicorns exist. To us, that is simply folly. And that brings out the worst in people — the trolls crawl out from beneath their bridges, to attempt to create a little chaos.

Of course, go to an atheist forum and you are very likely to see similar behavior from some Christians. It does not define the group, but it does tend to seem that way. But by no means is it strictly an “atheist” mentality or a “Christian” mentality.

It isn’t only atheists that don’t bother reading. That’s pretty much human nature.

August 1, 2012 at 9:48 pm
(78) Brian says:

“So, if humans do not have free will, how can they be morally culpable for their actions?”

I should be a bit more specific about what I mean by free will and discuss the compatibilist notion of free will due to Dennett that I alluded to. Philosophers have several different notions of free will. Free will is naively the notion that one could have done otherwise and the philosophers have picked apart the word “could” in this.

Consider the example of a chess playing computer such as Deep Blue. Deep Blue makes decisions on how to move chess pieces, but the process is deterministic based on Deep Blue’s programming. Since the decision making is deterministic, many including myself would say that Deep Blue does not have free will. I think human decision making is deterministic and largely subconscious and thus in that sense humans do not have free will. Moreover, human decisions are largely determined by factors beyond their control, such as their environment and in some cases their health or mental health. However, we can distinguish between Deep Blue making good and bad moves in terms of trying to win the game and judge Deep Blue’s skill accordingly. Similarly, humans can make good and bad decisions (at least in the opinion of their fellow humans) and we can and do hold people accountable for bad decisions. Of course, we also take in account the circumstances of the decision.

August 1, 2012 at 9:49 pm
(79) Brian says:

“Can you/would you punish him for things that were “outside of his control”?”

No, I don’t wish to see James Holmes punished. He seems to have a mental health issue and is not thinking properly, so he is not responsible for his actions and does not deserve to be punished. He needs to be cured. But that is never going to happen, sadly, Holmes’ life is over, he has no future. Yes, I know Holmes murdered 12 people, this is horrible beyond belief, is utter ugly and tragic. But I also have had personal experience with friends who have had mental health issues and with being depressed myself, I know what a mental health issue can be like. In that situation you don’t reason and make decisions properly. I don’t regard people with serious mental health issues has responsible for their actions.

August 2, 2012 at 5:59 am
(80) Suzanne Olson-Hyde says:

It is when a Christian mentions devils and spirits that really gets an Atheist despondent, that in todays world, there is still this dangerous attitude taken that the devil exists. To put this fear into children, which is what religion does, is unforgivable. Where does anybody hear about the demon, but from the church. Why anybody would mention the devil where any massacre occurred is stupid and dangerous. Thank the lovely white unicorn that neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry has made great strides in these areas, and actually help people.

The devil made him do it – But that is not the teaching of the Catholic Church -

Since when – I was bought up catholic, and I heard many times that a person had been taken over by the devil – and that is what made her do something dramatic.

What are the myriad of exorcisms in the catholic church all about.
No god, no devil, no fear.

To refresh your memory -

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12315a.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exorcism_in_the_Catholic_Church
http://www.henrymakow.com/rev_thommas_j_euteneuer.html

August 2, 2012 at 6:06 am
(81) John Niland says:

Your column was not well written, it was ambiguous. That is why so many people misconstrued what you were saying – a writing class would be advantageous.

August 2, 2012 at 7:38 am
(82) Maggie May says:

Love your article Scott. Regardless of possession or not, we are responsible for our actions. We let the devil get control of us. I totally agree with you about the atheists being capable of comprehending something they hate. Keep up the excellent work! May God be with you!

August 2, 2012 at 7:42 am
(83) Brian says:

I should note that I think the circumstances leading to mental health issues are similar to (other) physical health issues and personal issues. James Holmes seems to have been struggling with his life, in particular with dating and grad school, which is extremely stressful. This can lead to mental health issues. There is nothing wrong with trying to live life (career, love, etc) and so happening to struggle (no one tries to struggle). He might have also had a brain problem, a mental illness, much like one has a heart problem.

Scott (and others), do you punish people for trying to build a career and life or for having heart problems?

August 2, 2012 at 8:47 am
(84) Joe Cogan says:

“Actually, most atheists would be laughing that the author actually believes in demonic possession as a real phenomenon.”

I was hoping that some atheists, at least, still believed in free will. It would appear that I may have been wrong.

Not sure what your reply has to do with my observation. I’m sure many atheists believe in free will, and understood that you were attributing Holmes’s actions to it. That said, you still make it clear that you accept demonic possession as a real phenomenon: what sort of reaction do you think that will elicit from atheists?

August 2, 2012 at 9:23 am
(85) Scott P. Richert says:

“Not sure what your reply has to do with my observation.”

Joe, I replied as I did because you quoted this sentence from my article:

“A truly logical atheist might well have welcomed an article such as mine, because it clears up a misconception about demonic possession and emphasizes the role of free will” (emphasis added).

And, actually, until my reply, there was no discussion of free will in the comments (unless you count me bringing it up repeatedly).

Since then, we’re finally getting some interesting comments.The atheists commenting here are divided on the question of free will, with some claiming to believe in it (one even claiming that 99 percent of atheists believe in it), while others regard it as just as much a superstition as religion.

Now, however, I’ve got a question for those atheists who regard free will as just another superstition: How, exactly, is “the laws of physics made him do it” different from “the devil made him do it”?

While atheists argue that those who believe in God cannot prove the existence of the spiritual using modern scientific methods, you also cannot disprove the existence of the spiritual using those methods.

Yes, I understand: The burden of proof is on the one making the claim. But the point I’m making here is not that the spiritual exists, but that the atheist who assumes, even with good reason, that the spiritual does not exist cannot know that with the rigorous scientific certainty that he demands of the believer.

And, therefore, claiming that free will is nothing more than an illusion that represents the working of the laws of physics is just as much an argument on the basis of faith as is believing in free will.

August 2, 2012 at 9:29 am
(86) Scott P. Richert says:

“I’m happy to see so many folks rejecting this nonsense.”

Ah, but what does that happiness consist of, PasserBy? Since you seem to agree with H.B.C. Dresden that free will is simply an illusion—that our actions and thoughts are entirely conditioned by the laws of physics and biology—that happiness is nothing more than a chemical reaction, isn’t it?

In that case, why bother commenting, or even reading for that matter? Why not simply chemically stimulate yourself to induce happiness? On a purely materialistic level, such an action would be no less or more real or valuable than reading and commenting, wouldn’t it?

August 2, 2012 at 9:38 am
(87) Scott P. Richert says:

“the reason we have to point and call names is because our silence will be taken for acquiescence.”

No, according to Jerry Coyne (cited by H.B.C. Dresden, with whom you seem to agree), the reason you have to do what you’re doing is because you cannot do otherwise. The laws of physics and biology, and chemical reactions in your brain, are making you do it.

“What if the Catholic bishops just stood by instead of raising the alarm while countless children under their care were abused?”

And, ditto. If we do not have free will, any Catholic bishop who moved a pedophile priest from parish to parish was just doing what scientific laws forced him to do. He is no more culpable in such a worldview than is James Holmes.

August 2, 2012 at 10:43 am
(88) Joe Cogan says:

While atheists argue that those who believe in God cannot prove the existence of the spiritual using modern scientific methods, you also cannot disprove the existence of the spiritual using those methods.

Yes, I understand: The burden of proof is on the one making the claim. But the point I’m making here is not that the spiritual exists, but that the atheist who assumes, even with good reason, that the spiritual does not exist cannot know that with the rigorous scientific certainty that he demands of the believer.

This is verging on an argument from ignorance. As you note, the burden of proof rests on the theist here; the atheist is merely (and correctly) employing Occam’s Razor in rejecting the claim in the absence of such, rather than claiming certainty.

And, therefore, claiming that free will is nothing more than an illusion that represents the working of the laws of physics is just as much an argument on the basis of faith as is believing in free will.

I’d state my position on the matter as that we have at minimum the illusion of free will, and it is not clear to me whether the question of whether we have actual free will is amenable to discourse.

August 2, 2012 at 11:43 am
(89) tolerance....huh! says:

Passerby, While I agree that things should have been taken care of way sooner with the whole scandal (truly a sad, sick situation) that is not what I meant, and I think you know that. You have your beliefs/or not and I have mine. I’m not calling you stupid, all I ask is for the same in return.

H.B.C Dresden, You say that it is a scientific proven that there is no such thing as free will, Really? Then by all means please show me/us the graphs, charts, data, proof, etc. that this is the truth. With two degrees in the science field I know how much work has to be done before it can be proven and if something this major has been proven we would have heard about it. So if you have proof no one has ever seen then I am very curious, please do tell?

August 2, 2012 at 11:48 am
(90) Pluto Animus says:

Anyone who thinks that James Holmes may have killed because magical, invisible monsters took control of his body is thinking like a complete idiot.

Just sayin”.

August 2, 2012 at 12:54 pm
(91) PasserBy says:

Maybe it is you who can’t read, Author. I told H.B.C. “good stuff!” Which never means, “I understand what you said and agree with you 100%.”

The truth is I don’t have a definite opinion on free will. His argument was interesting and I am willing to take that into consideration. This is exactly the open minded behavior that many church-goers find so difficult.

The fact that your feeble struggling makes me happy is a mystery to me and I won’t ascribe any specific cause to that feeling. I do believe that all feelings are the result of chemical and electrical signals in the body and brain, and yet physical signals in the body can be altered through meditation.

You also make the incorrect assumption that someone believing in a purely materialistic world governed solely by the laws of physics should have no sense of humanity, or happiness, or worth and should just go off and die. Or at the very least just leave you alone.

tolerance….huh!, The author of this article made a very general and very insulting statement in the title of his piece. A patronizingly ignorant statement that practically screams for a fight. You’re not calling me stupid, but he did, so don’t defend him by telling me not to call him names. Fair enough?

August 2, 2012 at 2:04 pm
(92) Joe Cogan says:

I do believe that all feelings are the result of chemical and electrical signals in the body and brain, and yet physical signals in the body can be altered through meditation.

Very astute observation at the end, PasserBy. I’m agnostic on the topic of free will myself; I don’t think we’ve studied how the brain works and gives rise to consciousness, or how consciousness gives feedback to the physical workings of the brain and body in anywhere near enough depth to draw any firm conclusions at this time.

August 2, 2012 at 2:08 pm
(93) John says:

I think this article is a perfect example of how people read opposing opinions with bias, and then that disregard causes them be less understanding and expect the worst. Subsequently, they interpret the worst. Religious people do that with atheists a lot. Like comparing belief in God to Santa gets taken as an insult instead of a valid comparison.

If this is the Catholic position, we have real-life examples of this sort of thing such as drinking and driving. You still choose to drink, and are responsible for the consequences, but the alcohol makes you crash.

I think it indicates the author is interested in having people understand the position of the Catholic church on the matter in light of people bringing it up. Catholics have historically been very keen on crushing heterodox opinions among the faithful. I am guessing this was the intent of the article.

One of the fallacious thoughts I notice my fellow atheists having a lot relates to proximity. How ridiculous the acceptance of a position someone has, relates to their reasons for accepting it based on prior experience. There is the difference between a ridiculous belief, and what it is ridiculous for a specific person to believe. Even if an idea is ridiculous to believe overall, it is never ridiculous for a person to believe an idea if all the present evidence points them in that direction. This is especially true in the case of misinformation. It is an oversimplification and bad logic to think someone is ridiculous just because they hold a ridiculous belief.

August 2, 2012 at 4:01 pm
(94) Verimius says:

It’s 2012, and you still believe in demons?

August 2, 2012 at 8:25 pm
(95) AnalogKid1 says:

“You do indeed take the idea of demonic possession as a reality.”

Scott P. Richert says: Yes.

You’re beliefs are laughable.

August 2, 2012 at 11:41 pm
(96) Sachen zu tragen says:

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August 3, 2012 at 2:46 am
(97) H.B.C. Dresden says:

To “tolerance….huh!”

There was a link in my post. If you were to read it, you would see that it says things that I do not need to explain with charts, graphs etc — those things being 1) The brain (and all of its chemicals, etc) are made of molecules; 2) Those molecules follow the laws of physics; and 3) You cannot fully influence the makeup of these molecules, as they are determined by things you cannot control (genes, environment, etc.)

That is not something that a science degree is needed to understand. These are not “charts and graphs” claims, as they are laws — they state what is, not how it is. Just like the law of gravity is different from the theory of gravity. Regardless of semantics, if you would like to challenge the belief that the brain as we know it is made of molecules, which are determined by genetics and other uncontrollable factors, and must follow the laws of physics, than by all means– challenge away. But if your two science degrees are in something meaningful (as I am sure they are), then I don’t feel you will challenge these points.

As well, I did not anywhere say that it is “scientific[ally] proven” that free will does not exist. I said that it is, by the laws of physics, impossible. Now, if you can pose to me an opposing, testable hypothesis that can scientifically state (not prove. Your science degrees should have taught you that there is no “proof” in science, only disproof?) that “free will” does not follow the physical nature of the rest of the world, then I would be more than willing to change my opinion. However, I have yet to see a theory saying that molecules of the brain are not determined by genetics and other uncontrollable factors, and that they do not have to follow the laws of physics.

This, of course, assumes the lack of a physically bound “soul” — something that is not a scientific concept, as it is untestable, and does not have the ability to be disproven under certain conditions in a scientific manner.

August 3, 2012 at 2:59 am
(98) H.B.C. Dresden says:

To Scott:

I wanted to make a comment on your comment that you cannot prove or disprove God scientifically. In this, you are right.

What you do not realize, however (and what many atheists fail to realize when they say “prove it with science!”), is that God is not a scientific concept. To make a scientific theory hold any merit, it must be testable, and must be disprovable if certain conditions are met (this is not saying that those conditions are currently met, only that if they were to be met, that the theory would then be rendered invalid). God is not testable. We cannot take samples of God and observe them. We cannot see God in his natural habitat. We cannot encounter God in the physical on a consistent and daily basis (hear, touch, taste, smell, see him as “God” and not some other embodiment). Because of this, it doesn’t matter if he is disprovable. He is, simply, not scientific. And therefore, he is of no consequence to the scientific world, solely on that level.

This doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. But it means there is no disproving, or failing to disprove, God. Those that ask you to don’t understand how science operates.

Physics is scientific where God (and the Devil) is not. This makes the “laws of physics” argument have no basis in faith whatsoever.

August 3, 2012 at 3:12 am
(99) derp says:

It’s simple, we kill the batman.

August 3, 2012 at 9:56 am
(100) Ptato says:

It seems more reasonable to think that these people simply didn’t read the article rather than some intellectual incapacity.

August 3, 2012 at 11:01 am
(101) Tr says:

Scott and everyone commenting are stupid. James did it. Point blank. All this bs about weather it was possession or not.. Who gives a crap. He pulled the trigger he planned it he did it! But yes I see the point even if he was “possessed” he has to allow himself to get to the point of possession

August 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm
(102) N_8_ says:

those who are truly are no longer fighting the [Loch Ness monster] (if they ever did); they are now cooperating with [Nessy]. The terrifying reality is that they are exercising their free will in seeking to do the [bad things] that [Nessy], too, wants them to do.

*note: this is under the assumption that Nessy cannot interact with our dimension except by influence.*

I get your point… Nessy didn’t make him do it, but if he was with Nessy he may have been influenced by her because he was actively seeking her.

By the way, if we can rule out Nessy completely from the equation of free will, then why believe in her influencing people at all? Wouldn’t it just confuse people when it is construed in so many different ways than we view it in our minds and beliefs?

August 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm
(103) Scartle says:

[I inadvertantly posted this follow-up comment to the wrong thread a couple days ago, so at the author's suggestion I'm re-submitting here. Sorry for the mistake.]

Steven Hepburn, quoting an earlier blog post of his own, wrote:

“If one human is capable of acting in this fashion then all humans are, perhaps, also similarly capable. This suggestion is so revolting that faced with crimes of this kind we instinctively recoil from the notion and say “No, this man was no man but a monster, a beast, a madman!” In saying that we say nothing. He was not (I use the past tense as he himself was shot in the head) anything other than human and if he was mad, well if one human is capable of becoming mad in this fashion then all humans are, perhaps, also similarly capable”

Steven, I agree almost entirely with that entire paragraph, and wrote a 4500-word essay echoing that same theme, but with regard to the Penn State scandal. The key bit I disagree with isn’t contained in that paragraph, but what you say it’s about – Original Sin. So I guess you could say I agree with your conclusion and some of the premises, but don’t think that any supernatural premises such as Original Sin offer additional explanatory value. In fact, I think OS removes accountability, much like the idea of possession, because it replaces “The devil made him do it,” with “Original Sin made him do it.”

(And yes, I fully acknowledge the author of this blog was *not* saying possession made the Aurora shooter did it, but by the common understanding of possession he was trying to correct, it’s about as explanatory as Original Sin, which is even more widely believed.)

August 3, 2012 at 4:46 pm
(104) tolerance...huh! says:

Passerby: agreed, I don’t think anyone should be calling anyone names :o ). I also agree that starting an article like that is juvenile and just asking for people to be rude back. This is not how the Church and its people are supposed to come across!

H.B.C Dresden: I understand what you are saying (I missed the link when I read your earlier post), it is a very interesting article. Also, I must apologize I tend to get “a little worked up” when it comes to my faith. I believe you are correct, there is no way it (free will) can be proved and to be honest I didn’t even know that was a debate until I read this article (yes I may be a bit sheltered :) ). Also, the molecular theory is very interesting. As far as I know, it cannot be disproved. However in respect to molecules, we aren’t even 100% capable of determining the way they behave there are too many variables, as with all science. We can assume (fairly closely) the acceleration of an object using F=ma. But even with that we can’t be 100% correct, there may be unseen forces acting on it (friction, drag, etc.). My point is that although we have come very, very far in science we can never be 100% correct and therefore we cannot determine how a person will act/respond. Also, I just found this interesting article http://orion.it.luc.edu/~avande1/free-will-args.htm it just goes to show that we can neither prove nor disprove free will.

Thanks for the nice discussion though, nowadays with all the politics and such it is very hard to have a rational discussion where people aren’t bashing and name calling.

August 4, 2012 at 9:40 pm
(105) Beorn says:

1) The guy is crazy
2) There is no supernatural cause

August 5, 2012 at 2:25 am
(106) Stacey says:

Any atheists that commented on your previous article did not miss the point, and they certainly didn’t sound less intelligent. Perhaps they just noticed that the very idea of possession in any way, shape, or form is unrealistic. Did they say this in the nicest way? No. But nonetheless, they have a point. Your article would only make sense to the intended audience- Catholics- that share your beliefs, and would sound rather ridiculous and unrealistic to everyone else. So, this said, you’re basically saying that Catholics are the only people capable of comprehending your article. This is true, because it is a Catholic article. I’m quite sure that the same Catholics that “got the point” of your article would have been “unable to comprehend” and article written by an atheist or a person that held any other beliefs.

So, in conclusion, it would be quite nice if you could consider the fact that not everyone shares your beliefs before you, in essence, call atheists stupid, which was implied when you said that Catholics sounded smarter and atheists couldn’t even comprehend a 700 word article. I can’s see how atheists are the entire problem here when you are insulting them every bit as much as they insulted you.

August 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm
(107) AGreenhill says:

Oops.. apparently I just walked into the middle of some drama between you and the internet atheist trolls… anyhow…

As an atheist troll myself – I would like to comment on this irrelevant yet somehow slightly interesting article of yours -> what’s the point in talking about or defining “possession” when you believe that the person is responsible for their actions all the same?

I’m sure you’ve answered this a million times before – but I’ll throw it in too… how can you tell the difference between a possessed person and a person who needs severe psychiatric care and medications? Color of mouth foam? Degree to which they’re twisting their neck? Or what?

August 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm
(108) AGreenhill says:

Yikes, started reading all the comments here…

Scott P. Richert… there are much better things to be doing with your life than having these internet tiffs. Things like… Jesus’ work? Seriously though – nothing good at all will come of these scuffles and in the end you’ll just be bitter, angry… trust me. I’ve been there. This kind of stuff only makes you a worse person and trains you to communicate in a defensive and aggressive manner.

Best of luck.

August 6, 2012 at 3:18 pm
(109) AGreenhill says:

Scott

You said “If we do not have free will, any Catholic bishop who moved a pedophile priest from parish to parish was just doing what scientific laws forced him to do. He is no more culpable in such a worldview than is James Holmes.”

… ooh fun, I like these conversations…

I believe in materialistic minds… and I believe your statement misses an important point. The catholic bishops ARE their materialistic selves. Therefore they are culpable. It is as if someone designed and manufactured a really bad lawn mower. The mower fails to perform so we blame the lawn mower and throw it in the trash, aka “punish it for its actions”. We can go further and try to find blame “further up the chain”… eg… the lawn mower designer / manufacturer… and with humans, we too can go “up the chain” and find (most likely) neuro-chemical or otherwise physiological problems with criminals. Maybe even go up the chain further and find that the imbalances are drug-induced… or maybe genetic variance inevitable leads to these individuals existing. Do we excuse the criminals because of our understanding? No. They are defined by their actions which are defined by their bodies.

August 7, 2012 at 2:32 am
(110) Jake says:

AGreenhill, if a manufacturer builds a bad mower, the mower goes unpunished because an inanimate object cannot be punished. The manufacturer is in this case punished by people not patronizing his business (capitalism).

Secondly, the human body and soul are in my opinion separate. Contrary to what you are saying in your last sentence, “They are defined by their actions which are defined by their bodies.”

The human body and human soul serve each other in balance. The senses can allow us to open up our soul and grant our intellect further knowledge and intellect. The soul serves the body by giving it life because the body alone would lake life.

Thus I would conclude that if the body and soul are separate there can be room for the entry of separate, possibly evil, entities rooted in the devil.

August 7, 2012 at 3:47 am
(111) Pete says:

“And, to a man, every one of the atheist commenters got the point of my article exactly wrong.”

You can’t possbily know which commenters are atheists and which aren’t, that’s simply your assumption based on your prejudice. This should be pretty obvious to anyone with even basic reading comprehension. Think before you insult others as it’s usually those, like you, so quick to insult others’ intelligence who have missed an obvious point.

August 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm
(112) Jake says:

“You can’t possbily know which commenters are atheists and which aren’t, that’s simply your assumption based on your prejudice. This should be pretty obvious to anyone with even basic reading comprehension. Think before you insult others as it’s usually those, like you, so quick to insult others’ intelligence who have missed an obvious point.”

My friend told me a story of when he was younger. He is a funny guy. He’s always pranking people and just being pretty goofy. One day he comes crying to his dad saying that someone called him a butt-crack. “What a mean guy daddy!”

One might think that the dad would console him. Someone should defend the little boy right? Dad said, “Well, are you a butt-crack?”

Identifying between an atheist and a Christian isn’t exactly difficult.

August 8, 2012 at 8:23 am
(113) matthew says:

everything that happens is part of gods plan…he knows what we’re going to do before we do it, so he is responsible for holmes’ actions (and has the power to stop it)…you cant really refute that one scott…its right there in ur book

December 11, 2012 at 4:12 pm
(114) S. A. Barton says:

At one time I thought About.com was a place for short, basic factual articles about things.

Today, I learned it is not; I see it is a place for attack editorials.

Will ‘About.com’ be returning to presenting articles ABOUT things?

Perhaps you can figure out some way to let me know, because I will be avoiding this site in the future as unreliable and misrepresenting its content. I probably won’t notice if it becomes informational again.

December 11, 2012 at 10:09 pm
(115) Herkimer J. Schnerd says:

“Hardly. On Friday, as the comments were rolling in, I was doing a live two-hour radio show, and the host and my fellow guests and I spent the breaks laughing at the inability of the atheist commenters to read at a second-grade level. I rather enjoyed it, truth be told.”

I don’t know what is funnier. You admitting that you write at a second grade level or you disregarding the teachings of your Jesus where he says, “And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

December 11, 2012 at 10:15 pm
(116) Bob DOle says:

I take a dump in other people’s pants.

December 12, 2012 at 12:35 am
(117) Kent says:

The point of the people arguing against you is not that you believe Holmes was possessed. You believe he acted in free will yes. The argument is that you believe in demonic possession as a reality. A fact completely separate from the Holmes argument. There is no logic for an argument that possession exists. We believe in evidence. There is no evidence of demonic possession. The fact that you believe it exists at all is what is being ridiculed. God doesn’t exist. Demons don’t exist. The only demons are the ones we create. People can be good. People can be evil or insane. But that’s all we are and that’s all there is. And we can be good to each other not because its what god says. We can be good to each other guided by our personal and societal consciences. So relax. There is no god. Lets just all get along

December 12, 2012 at 5:26 pm
(118) Ran Meza says:

Before I start, let me clarify a couple of points, Scott P. Richert:

1)Atheist since I was 8
2)Non-american (just in case you notice some grammar errors or syntactical uncertainties).

I just finished reading the second article, and skimmed though most of the comments, either they came from an atheist or a catholic. And I think I understand what you said in the previous article, although I might be wrong. Honestly, I did not take the time to read it, but I felt compelled to defend my atheist nature when this nature is being accused of some sort of “reading comprehension disorder”.

So, what most people I think should have concluded from your previous article is:

a)Demonic possesion exist.
b)Demons, when in possesion of a human soul, do not instruct the host to commit a certain act (in some cases), because most likely the host is already in “tune” with the demon’s desires.
c)Thus, the shooter actions were a result of his free will (already in tune with a demons desire), not the result of the demon’s command.

If my previous statements are correct, Scott, I do understand what you mean, and they kind of make sense, if I did believe in demons, demonic possesion, souls, and all those terms used by Abrahamic religions, but in this case, Catholic. From a literary stand point, your ideas make a lot of sense, but remember that I am taking those ideas as a work of fiction, as, obviously, I do not believe in demons, angels, gods and their nemesis, or any other theological concept.

cont

December 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm
(119) Ran Meza says:

Regarding free will: humans do have a will (some people have a stronger will, others a weaker one), and we can call it, for the sake of the argument, free will. The problem I find regarding the “free will” concept, is that it is used by abrahamic religion to justify certain deeds “mostly negative) executed by some people. So, for instance, in the bible (I do not meanto be disrespectful by using lowercase when writing that), in genesis, Eve is tempted by Satan (disguised as a snake) to eat one of the Forbidden Apples, which leads us to the whole story you already know. So, yes, Eve acted out of free will, it was her choice. My point, which obviously differs from yours, is that, it is very convenient to say that Eve ate the apple because of her free will. I mean, the jewish deity is supposed to be omniscient, knowing everything that happened, happens and will happen. If he already knew Eve was going to eat the apple, then why bother in the first place, and instead of placing Adam and Eve in paradise, why not send them straight to Earth, to suffer all the consecuences of their deeds? I

cont

December 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm
(120) Ran Meza says:

Free will, as used in religion, is just a way to justify the lack of intervention of a deity. Because, he must know we are going to do bad things… So, why do not prevent them, in the first place? Because he is testing us? He is supposed to KNOW we are going to sin anyway!.
For me, on the other hand, free will is the right we use everyday to decide what do we want to do with our lifes, from the slightest detail to the greatest decision we might have to take. It is similar in concept to the “free will” of the abrahamics, but in contrast, it does not try to justify anything, because at the very end, you are always responsible for the choices you make. The problem with free will is that we forget that there are 7 million humans in this world, which, I want to believe, also use their free will and make decisions everyday. The problem is: these decisions, sometimes, tend to clash against each other.

So, no: no demonic possesion exist, although you and I agree on the fact that it was no demon’s fault the horrible events in Aurora. The difference between you and me, in this case, is I don’t believe in demons at all, although I will not try to call you names because you believe in some ancient fiction. Because of free will, we choose to believe in something, or not to believe in anything. It is your right, as a human, and nobody should be insulting you because of your beliefs.

The only thing I’d like to ask from you is to please stop generalizing atheists. In our group, and in yours, there is always some people who are not “as intelligent”, as we would want to, but I do find offensive a generalization.

Respectfully,
Ranferi Meza
Mexico

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