Are Psychopaths Just Consistent Atheists?


A recent article declares, “We think of psychopaths as killers, alien, outside society. But, says the scientist who has spent his life studying them, you could have one for a colleague, a friend – or a spouse.”

Consider the serial killer Dennis Lynn Rader, known as the BTK murderer. “BTK” stands for “Bind, Torture, Kill.” He never raised any suspicions among his friends or family that he had a malevolent nature that involved kidnapping and murder. He’s still alive, a prisoner for life at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas.

Rader’s wife, who had been married to him for more than 30 years, had no knowledge of his crimes. He was a Cub Scout leader, and his son became an Eagle Scout. He led a normal and productive life, yet he harbored a dark side that did not affect his public persona. The people at the church where Rader attended were “stunned, confused, and bewildered” when they heard what the man they thought they knew did when left alone with his inner demons of his own making.

Given materialist assumptions about the origin of the cosmos and the evolutionary development of humans, “some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.”1

Rader and other so-called psychopaths are dancing to the music of their DNA. How can they possibly be “blamed” for anything they do? The article asks, “But is psychopathy a disorder – or a different way of being?” That’s the question.

“But many psychopathic traits aren’t necessarily disadvantages – and might, in certain circumstances, be an advantage. . . . [I]t’s easy to see how a lack of moral scruples and indifference to other people’s suffering could be beneficial if you want to get ahead in business.”

I found the following to be interesting. Don’t we hear atheists touting reason as the foundation for all right thinking? By what standard do we determine which claim of rational behavior is morally acceptable? It seems that psychopaths consider themselves to be very rational people:

“‘Psychopaths do think they’re more rational than other people, that this isn’t a deficit,” says [criminal psychologist Robert Hare, the creator of the PCL-R psychological assessment test]. ‘I met one offender who was certainly a psychopath who said “My problem is that according to psychiatrists I think more with my head than my heart. What am I supposed to do about that? Am I supposed to get all teary-eyed?”’ Another, asked if he had any regrets about stabbing a robbery victim, replied: ‘Get real! He spends a few months in hospital and I rot here. If I wanted to kill him I would have slit his throat. That’s the kind of guy I am; I gave him a break.’”

Pol Pot was the leader of the brutal Khmer Rouge. More than a million people in Cambodia died on his watch. The near genocide has become known as “the killing fields.” Pot’s response? “My conscience is clear.” Who’s to say otherwise if his actions were rational ones in terms of how he defined rationality and the rational purpose for his actions?

Get this:

“It would, says Hare, probably have been an evolutionarily successful strategy for many of our ancestors, and can be successful today; adept at manipulating people, a psychopath can enter a community, ‘like a church or a cultural organisation, saying, “I believe the same things you do”, but of course what we have is really a cat pretending to be a mouse, and suddenly all the money’s gone.’”

You can see that evolution is an explanation for everything. It has to be this way otherwise these scientists would have to admit to a moral law giver and the reality of unchangeable moral absolutes that every person is bound to obey. The evolutionary worldview puts them at a moral disadvantage, however. They can’t have their determination of what constitutes a psychopath roaming free since any one of them could kill off the people defining them as psychopaths.

Such a view means that morality is necessary even though it can’t be substantiated in a matter-only existence. Even so, these moral relativists must claim there are moral absolutes even though they can’t account for them.

Voltaire (1694-1778) is reported to have said to his mistress, Marguerite, “Whatever you do, don’t tell the servants there is no God or they’ll steal the silver.” A rational psychopath could run with the atheist worldview and not only steal the silver but cut out the owner’s heart and feed it to the dogs. Who ultimately is saying that it’s morally wrong?

The article goes on to state:

“If someone’s brain lacks the moral niceties the rest of us take for granted, they obviously can’t do anything about that, any more than a colour-blind person can start seeing colour. So where does this leave the concept of moral responsibility?”

Yes, what about “moral responsibility” in a world where only matter matters? What’s the ultimate immutable source for morality? The psychopath doesn’t ask such questions. His reason justifies his actions.

  1. Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: HarperCollins/BasicBooks, 1995), 133. []
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