Hi there! This is a repost of my second most popular post ever. Enjoy!
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 scholars 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. A topic for another day.
Anyway, 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 to 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 “brights” 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 to comment on the bedroom behavior of responsible adults, or worse, when religious thinking is deliberately mixed with partisan politics; don’t even get me started on that!
And then there are other times when things REALLY drive me up the wall. A few months ago 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 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, again, 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 someday we meet “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? And what does it have to do with the Science and Belief blog?
Because an angry atheist (or theist) 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 scientist/scholar?”
And then I realized, rather shockingly, that I was being bullied long-distance by a hypothetical angry atheist, someone who certainly will 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 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 by angry atheists, period.
Postscript November 12, 2014
Through my fellow blogger and friend, Praj, of the excellent blog Do I need evolution? I learned of a really good post that presents a different perspective… One that I can relate to as well. I too oftentimes refrain to talk science at my church. Nonetheless, a couple of weeks ago, I was invited to talk about my job at my church’s Sunday School, and it went pretty well; no angry mob, torches or pitchforks… There’s hope…
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