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I keep seeing references to “aggressive atheists.” This appears to be a bogey invented by theological commenters to scare children. I don’t think they exist – well I haven’t met any.

But there are plenty of aggressive theists. You know, the door knocking god botherer who, you learn from unfortunate experience, keeps coming back if you stop to chat and don’t forcefully send them on there way on their first visit.

I seem to have picked up an aggressive theist emailer. His name is Philip. Despite being told he is welcome to participate in the discussions on the blog and to stop contacting me personally he persists.

So I will take his uninvited and unwelcome personal intrusion as an opportunity to publicly critique his most recent argument.

Don’t give in to thought police

For example, Philip claimed:

“I think you’ll agree that it’s quite important to think about how limited we are to believe whatever we want, most of us are in a situation where we are expected to believe certain things. For example, amongst my church friends I am expected to believe that God created the universe, so its healthy for me to recognise that.”

Intriguing! What exactly would happen if he thought for himself and expressed an honest belief? What is the exact threat to his health that worries him?

I certainly have been in situations where I disagreed with prevailing beliefs. It seems to me that most of us can just leave organizations who would try to control our beliefs in the way Philip describes.

As a child I often attended a church. I can distinctly remember a discussion with mates after a church service where someone said he thought that the god story was silly. That gods didn’t exist.

As a 12 year old I was just starting to think independently and my mate’s comment struck a chord. As a result of this revelation outside a church I just stopped going. There was no point.

Perhaps Philip belongs to a cult and faces a more extreme consequence if he were to think independently.

Expulsion fear?

“I know some scientists who work for Creation Ministries, and they openly acknowledge that they are expected to believe in special creation and if they don’t their job will be on the line, but as long as they see that and openly acknowledge that, then they will be able to maintain a large measure of scientific freedom. Its when we don’t recognise it that we’re in trouble.”

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Yes, this is the old problem of becoming economically dependent on an ideological organization and then feeling trapped when your own ideas mature and you can’t see a way out. Daniel Dennett has done recent research on ministers of religion who have “lost their faith” (strange thing to see coming to your senses as a “loss”) but continue to stay in the job because of their economic dependence.

“So, what expectations do your friends and colleagues place on you? Are you in a job where if you started to doubt all of the many different theories of evolution then your job would be on the line? I know some scientists are in that position and its a huge pressure on their belief system.”

Crikey Philip does have a lot of varied friends, doesn’t he? Just imagine personally knowing people working in both creationist organizations and regular scientific institutes whose jobs are threatened because of their beliefs!

Does he also know the evangelical Christian scientists whose jobs are threatened because they question the creation story (see Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve)?

The again, I wonder if he is just imagining it all?

Let reality determine belief

You know, that is one of the real advantages of jobs in scientific research. One is expected to change ones beliefs over time as one discovers more about reality. It is the interaction with reality which keeps scientists honest – not the control of a church’s thought police.

But I imagine it is possible for someone with a strange fixation to get a research job and find that they are unable to pursue that fixation because they cannot produce evidence, data or testing of the ideas. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for science and the society that benefits from genuine science, they will find their research rather limited. Science cannot proceed on the basis of preconceived prejudice. Without genuine research that individual will not be doing their job and could very well lose it if they don’t take the initiative and move on first.. And surely that’s what society would want.

Of course Philip is just putting up the old straw man promoted by creationists. That’s what that nasty little film “Expelled” was all about and it was full of lies. The specific cases presented were distorted to fit their anti-science message.

Philip, if your mates really do feel that science puts so much pressure on their “belief system” and they are not prepared to adjust their beliefs according to the evidence then advise them to leave their jobs. If they can’t go with the evidence they are not doing their job.

But I don’t believe for a moment that Philip describes real situations. His argument is just another attempt to rationalize the uncomfortable position he is in – he chooses to believe an idea (creationism) which just doesn’t accord with reality. An idea abandoned by most scientifically minded people 160 years ago.