In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

Psychiatrist Believes In Demons; No Scientific Evidence Needed

I came across a July 1 article from the Washington Post this morning in which a psychiatrist named Richard Gallagher talks about helping to identify when people are actually possessed by demons, as opposed to just having mental illnesses.

No, you didn’t read that wrong. If you like, go ahead and read the above paragraph once more, just to be sure. I’ll wait.

My favorite part of the article is when Gallagher describes meeting a young witch who claimed to be a priestess of Satan in the late 1980s. Somehow, he jumps from believing this girl had some kind of mental disorder to believing that she was actually possessed by Satan himself. At no point does he seem to consider the possibility that perhaps she was just exercising her First Amendment right to worship in the manner of her choice. It would be interesting to find more details about this case, but somehow I think it would just piss me off to no end. Many events that took place during the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s have a way of making me want to try punching holes through sheet metal with my fists.

To his credit, Gallagher goes on to discuss how most cases of so-called “possession” really are just a matter of severe mental illness, which can be treated through medication, therapy, and other conventional medical means. But he goes on to say some fairly alarmist things about how the number of authentic possessions has been rising, and how demons are much too clever to let themselves be proven to exist scientifically. (I’d really like to see the raw data he’s using to support all of this.) He even states that he’s never seen a possessed person levitate, but that some of his colleagues have, and that he accepts their claims as true.

Psychiatrists are supposed to be scientists, right? You know – professional researchers who doubt claims until they are sufficiently tested through enough controlled experiments to substantiate theorizing that they might be true? (As opposed to simply accepting hearsay as 100% absolute gospel truth?) Knights in Setheus, preserve us!

Look; I believe in the existence of dangerous spirits, and I believe that such entities can be repelled from our reality through the use of apotropaic magic (of which exorcisms are just one example). However, I fully accept that from a skeptical perspective, the art of execration is merely a psychodramatic way of subjugating one’s inner demons (at best). Whether it’s really anything more than that is a matter of subjective interpretation, and I’m always quick to advise that apotropaic magic is best used as a supplement to psychiatric help, not as an “alternative.” I take issue with anyone who insists that magic or prayer is all one needs to stop feeling suicidal, struggling with an addiction, or hearing voices. In my opinion, people who peddle lies like that are being extremely irresponsible and should be brought to task.

But in many ways, people like Richard Gallagher are even worse. When you have an “M.D.” following your name, people assume you’re an expert in whatever it is you’re talking about. And if you insist that some psychiatric problems are really paranormal – without presenting any scientific evidence, no less – you’re not just making yourself look like a lousy scientist. You’re encouraging people who don’t know any better to just seek spiritual help for their problems, and to not seek any medical help at all. This, in turn, makes those people vulnerable to spiritual predators – and I’m not talking about demons. I’m talking about assholes like Bob Larson, who just want to take advantage of people’s mental illnesses and fleece them like sheep. Perhaps Gallagher himself isn’t a bad person, and perhaps he really believes what he’s saying in this article. But he’s nevertheless opening a very dangerous door that only makes it more difficult for people to get the help they really need.

Also, I’m surprised that a paper like the Washington Post would choose to publish something like this. I’d expect it from the Weekly World News, but not from the newspaper that made history by investigating the Watergate scandal back in the 1970s. I’d think the Post would be much more skeptical of a licensed psychiatrist who makes paranormal claims without any scientific evidence. Were the editors slamming Manhattans made with Robitussin that day, or what?


7 responses to “Psychiatrist Believes In Demons; No Scientific Evidence Needed

  1. Aleph July 24, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    If only I could reblog this post.

    I have read the Richard Gallagher article and I agree: it is curious that a skeptic, a man of science, is trying to say that demonic possessions are or may be real and claims that he has weighed the evidence, but doesn’t provide any evidence. Not to mention, him choosing simply to believe the anecdotal evidence for levitation provided by his colleagues, and again not presenting the evidence those colleagues had for their claims. I also find it weird that he’s willing to take the fact that other cultures believed in spirits as evidence that they might exist. How does he infer that? How does he know that back then this wasn’t simply an interpretation of something that actually wasn’t supernatural? Remember that back in the day, many of things we now call diseases, disorders and disabilities were considered to be the work of spirits. I’m sure to the average non-religious or simply more skeptically minded person would read the Gallagher article and find it quite verisimilitudinous, and I wouldn’t blame them for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • G. B. Marian July 29, 2016 at 6:12 am

      Agreed. I just don’t understand why this guy would think that saying such things would be a good idea for his career. I try to be as rational as I can about my own beliefs, but this guy’s a scientist, so he should be even more rational than I am!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Leeby Geeby July 24, 2016 at 11:17 pm

    Great article. I appreciate your rational take on it. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fny July 25, 2016 at 3:41 am

    Yes yes and yes. Even if he turns out to be right it doesn’t really matter! Research before publishing. Not publishing while skipping the research. Bah.

    Now I haven’t (yet) gone to read the article but in medical and scientific contexts it’s just… extremely important to base conclusions on scientific data. If there IS no scientific data it really needs to be super clear that it’s NOT a medical/scientific article, but a personal theory without a scientific base. And well, a personal theory without a scientific foundation really does not sound suitable for the Washington Post. >.> Too many will read it and draw conclusions they probably shouldn’t, and just as you say it’ll probably just lead to people avoiding seeking medical help when they should. Grrrrr. Completely unprofessional and irresponsible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • G. B. Marian July 29, 2016 at 6:17 am

      Agreed. When one trains to be a scientist, one should be expected to uphold scientific standards of authenticity. The fact that this Gallagher fellow thinks it’s okay to push stuff like this is just unsettling, especially considering that I first found this article reblogged on a fundamentalist Christian website. Naturally, it was being used as “evidence” that (Christian) exorcisms are the only way to deal with people exhibiting certain symptoms. Scary stuff!


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