Angry atheists (and angry theists for that matter) make me a little angry

I am a regular reader of a really good and thought-provoking blog, Science and Belief. Yes, it touches upon religion and spirituality, but the science is great, very entertaining and accurate.

See what I did there?

I wanted to illustrate the attitude of a significant fraction of my fellow scientists. It is no secret that the prevalent opinion of many is that if a person in science is a believer or even spiritual, that kind of makes them “lesser” scientists. There are of course, several “levels of condescension”, from the disapproving, somewhat puzzled look to full-blown criticism. And that’s only the people who know you!

Then there are some people who do this type of thing “wholesale” in the sense that they direct their rage to no one in particular and to everyone at the same time. This is undoubtedly a minority, but a rather loud and pushy one. They are sometimes known as the “angry atheists” (AgAt), not to be confused with rational people who happen to be atheists. By the way, even though this is not the main topic of this post, I want to state that angry theists are as bad as AgAts and are much widely known.

Some AgAts are private citizens and yet others are high-profile thinkers, writers, etc. Amusingly, many of them passionately declare their sense of wonder about nature’s beauty while in the same breath loudly denouncing the very same awe and wonder that others feel just because these others happen to credit a higher power for this beauty. The really extremist ones display an all-or-none attitude, meaning that in their view, if one does not fully embrace what they believe (and yes, it is a belief) in their entirety, well, one is completely wrong and rather “intellectually inferior” (and this is when they are trying to be polite, imagine those who do not even try).

I find this attitude hilarious, since when angry atheists do that, they are doing EXACTLY the same thing that many extremist religious people do. In fact, some time ago a group mainly formed by angry atheists initiated a (sorry, but it is what I think) ridiculous movement to actually try and call themselves “brights” instead of atheists. Have you seen in movies depictions of a tree house with a sign saying “no girls allowed”? I actually imagine one with a sign that says “no dims allowed”, and yes, the brights do exclude from their club anyone that does not strictly subscribes to their philosophies. As a group, they actually think that those excluded are fundamentally dumb’ or “dims”.

I’ll stop talking about them “brigths” now.

I have to tell you that I am a churchgoer (and I don’t just drive by it; I actually go in and try to listen). True, there are times when what it is said at church rubs me the wrong way with various degrees of coarseness. For example when certain doctrines are stated as undeniable truths or when someone claims to have absolute and correct knowledge. For instance the kind of knowledge that entitles anyone of dictating who (as a responsible adult) is allowed to romantically love who. Nobody has the right of dictating that.

And then there are other times when things REALLY drive me up the wall. Recently my wife came back from Sunday school and told me that she was happy that I was not there because they talked about “Intelligent Design”. She was right for being happy for me; if I’d been there, well, let’s just say that I am not fond of the concept of intelligent design, however well-meaning many (although not all) of the people who advocate for this mechanism are.

As I said, I am a churchgoer; what I did not say is that I elect to go there not because I believe; actually, I kind of go because I do not know what to believe. I am searching, and I think that this is something that will be within me all my life. Let me put this in a different way; the “section” of my mind that deals with belief (this is a metaphor; I am not talking as a neurobiologist now) is constantly cycling through three basic states:

**Sometimes I am ABSOLUTELY SURE that there is a God.
**Sometimes I am ABSOLUTELY SURE that there is not.
**Oftentimes I have no idea what to think.

Furthermore, there is a good probability that yourself, dear reader, are like that too. You may stay proportionally more time in one place versus the other compared to me or others, but you may “cycle” nonetheless (I apologize in advance if you feel that I pretend to know what goes on in your mind; I do not even know what I am thinking half the time). Anyway, I Strongly suspect that this also applies to declared atheists (angry or otherwise). I am reasonably sure of that because we are all human. Also, NO ONE is privy to the absolute truth.

Please note that I am not advocating for or against religious/spiritual thinking; that’s precisely my point; I do not claim to have any special knowledge in the matter. I just do-not-know!

But I hope, oh boy, do I hope!

I used to have very interesting conversation on science and faith with a departed friend and colleague. He and I agreed that when we met “the guy upstairs” we’d ask so many questions! I hope he leaves some questions for me to ask…

Back to topic, why do angry atheists make me a little angry?

Because an angry atheist at his/her worst is essentially, a bully; no more, no less. I came to that realization this afternoon, reading the Science and Belief blog. One of their posts (never mind which one) made me smile and think something like “Wow, God really makes cool things” and decided to write something about it right here in Baldscientist. I immediately stopped cold by thinking, “What if someone attacks me or insults me if I write a post on that? Would they think of me as a second class scholar?

And then I realized, rather shockingly, that I was being bullied long-distance By a hypothetical someone who certainly does not know me at all. By anticipating a negative response from a still unwritten post of mine and deciding against writing it because of that, I allowed one of the six most despicable types of people in the world (bullies) to get in my head and albeit very briefly, control my thoughts.

Anyway, I do not know where my search will lead me, whether some day will I completely believe or disbelieve, but it does not matter, because the outcome of my search will not change my true scientific and professional capabilities.

Therefore, I hereby state that I will not be bullied any more, period.

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Picture credit: http://www.iconarchive.com/show/angry-birds-icons-by-femfoyou.html

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40 thoughts on “Angry atheists (and angry theists for that matter) make me a little angry

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  5. Being an atheist myself, and, I think, not an angry one, I feel it necessary to point out that the term atheist has been co-opted by certain personalities and twisted to mean something it doesn’t. The “brights” movement, along with the more recent A+ movement (Atheism+) is an attempt to mobilize and organize the greater atheist community, but more than that, it’s an attempt to impose the world view of a select group of people onto the whole community.

    This forced dogmatic belief system is precisely the thing most genuine atheists oppose within the institution of organized religion. But, again, this is not what atheism is, nor what it means.

    The characters you elude to, whom are obvious to most I would assume, while generally brilliant in their respective fields, are pseudo-celebrities taking their fame to a dark place. The arguing that they seem to thrive on, and which seems contagious, is, in my view, completely pointless.

    Some of the atheist literature, or secular literature if you prefer, is well worth looking into, both for the theist, agnostic and atheist, but the whole point of these words, the reason they exist, is so that individuals can sort out their own thoughts on the issue, not so that an elite cabal can force their narrow views on the rest of us.

    While some think that science and religion are in opposition, and in some cases they might be, the process of scientific research, by definition, should not be affected by the spiritual beliefs of the men and women carrying it out. This might be idealistic and even unrealistic, but isn’t science the pursuit of truth above all else? Truth, as you know, is not subject to our beliefs.

    Another great post!

    • Thanks Martin! I agree, and I try to read about all points of view, as long as it is not dogmatic. You are right, there are “factions” of atheists that show the same intensity and the most ardent theist. I am also happy that I did not offend you or anything… (:-)…

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  7. Thanks for writing this! It’s funny that I was just reading an NPR interview with Stephen King in which he described his belief in God and it reminds me of this in some ways (although I would say he doesn’t use the term intelligent design right — it drives me up the wall too — but hey, he’s not a scientist): http://www.npr.org/2013/05/28/184827647/stephen-king-on-growing-up-believing-in-god-and-getting-scared. Faith is definitely a fluid living thing and the more we have nuanced blog posts rather than inflammatory comments about it the better!

  8. Just a thought to explore …

    Angry Christians (I’m speaking specifically of the fundamentalist creationist type) cause real world problems. They are actively working to legislate creationism back in the classroom, they create community pressure that makes it very difficult for science teachers to do their jobs teaching evolution. They often tend to be those who actively oppose global warming science and it’s ramifications, oppose marriage equality, and create climates in which doctors are afraid to perform abortions even when a mother’s life is at stake (can’t we admit there is a gray area between pro life and pro choice activism?).

    In other words, to me, angry Christians are not just annoying – they are dangerous.

    I’m not sure the same could be said of angry atheists. Annoying sometimes, perhaps. But dangerous? Not so much.

    Would you disagree?

    • I tend to agree, but not because it is a matter of theists v. Non-theists. This is unashamed speculation on my part, but I think that historically, theists have been around for way longer than atheists and therefore they are most likely to be in positions of power at the present. But again, these are extremely complex issues, so no easy solutions! That said, I am sure that education can help… Thanks for reading my blog! (:-)

  9. You know, as a Christian and a scientist who rejects Intelligent Design, you could be subject to bullying from both sides, not a true scientist from one, and as not a true Christian from the other. Sure, not all Chtistians will bully you for that, but not atheists are angry either.

    • @ List: I completely agree with you, and that’s the irony, I don’t think I am a Christian, but again, I don’t think I am an atheist either! I may qualify as a “wannabe” for both depending on the weather, but that is about it. I would love that there is something else, I would love to be able to thank someone for my life and the opportunity to study nature. On the other hand, I am all scientist, and a pretty decent one at that… (:-)

      • Maybe you’re really an agnostic. For a scientist, it’s actually more appropriate to be an agnostic than atheist: an agnostic believes it’s impossible to know whether God exists, and, scientifically speaking, it’s impossible to prove or disprove existence of God. (You can prove evolution or Big Bang theory by designing experiments, but for God it won’t work)

  10. My religion and my science coexist peacefuly most of the time. They do speak different languages and follow different rules but they both try to make sense of the worlds I touch as I live my life.

    I am so happy to have been given the opportunity to participate in both worlds regardless of how short lived the opportunity. Anyway, the tension between people that think they can represent something as huge as God or science is to be expected It’s sort of like being an Eagles fan but embarassed by the other fans (realizing the word fan comes from fanatic!)

    Good post.

  11. Furthermore, yourself, dear reader, are like that too.

    No, I’m not; and it’s astoundingly arrogant of you to think that you know otherwise.

    • @ Nick: I do not know whether you are coming from the atheist or theist side, but my response will be the same. Please note that I qualified my statements with phrases like “I strongly suspect” and “I am reasonably sure”. I do not claim to have any knowledge of you as an individual. I am no psychic, if I were, I’d summon lottery numbers…

      On the other hand and very, oh so very amusingly to me, you do know my opinion on the matter (after all, I did write it) and yet you, without knowing anything else about me, just called me “arrogant”. Thank you ever so much for reinforcing the point of my post!

      And again, I will not be bullied.

  12. I can understand what you speak of—-science of itself is very beautiful. And , like you , decry the approach of fundamentalists–their approach is logically inconsistent in many ways.

  13. Thank you for this. In case it wasn’t deliberate, I’ll point out a small typo: you wrote ‘brigths’.

    You write from a monotheist perspective. Many people around the world don’t fit anywhere on the theist/agnostic/atheist spectrum, as I’m sure you know.

    Anyway yes, Angry Atheists are a joke aren’t they? Unless somebody uses religion as an excuse to do bad things, as some do, I think belief is a personal matter. That’s part of the reason why I’m not declaring my own view of religion here.

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