The Angry Scientist!!

I won a scholarship in 1981 to attend a special Christian journalism training in Singapore. About 40 sponsored candidates were brought from all over the world to attend this training.

Each person was supposed to send much in advance the outline, plus the first chapter in full, of a proposed book in one’s area of interest. I sent in the outline of a book “Evolution And Empirical Proofs”. In the book I tried to argue that while nobody can deny the right of people to propagate the idea of  evolution, it was wrong on their part to claim that evolution was an empirically established fact.

My journalism mentor-teacher happened to be a lady from Australia, and she was very much impressed by my outline as well as by the first chapter and made a note on the corrected manuscript that she would like to have a copy if the proposed book ever gets published.

Finally I joined the distinguished group for three weeks of on-the-spot training in Singapore in 1981. The best Christian journalism teachers from around the world were there and this training became a turning point in my life. There was practically no free time, and we studied, wrote, critiqued, did more writing, and so on from early morning till late at night.

Each day two or three of the participants presented the outline of their book plus the first chapter. On the fourth or the fifth day a scientist presented his manuscript on theistic evolution. It was more evolution and less theism. Two days after that came my turn. I presented not only the outline and the first chapter, but the summary of the entire book. People were simply galvanized by the presentation. 

I was still on the path of discovery from agnosticism to creationism, and wanted to know if anyone could dismantle any of my arguments. Thus I invited questions at the end of my presentation. But what happened after that was not expected by anyone. Before anyone could ask any question, the scientist jumped up and started shouting at me. He said “you are a stupid young man, you do not know anything about science. I am a scientist. I attend conferences. I know what is truth. Your whole presentation is nothing except rubbish”.

For me, having come from one of the pioneer physics departments in India where open inquiry  with humility was always encouraged, this was a most shocking experience. In our department, even the top men (DAAD scholars, Van Hambolt Scholars, pioneers in quantum-nuclear physics) always spoke with respect to their juniors even in the face of strong disagreement. The age of a person did not matter. They made it a point to inquire first, and disagree after.

Remembering that training, I politely asked the scientist for a systematic refutation of my arguments. This only seemed to anger him more. When I asked him what he thought about the current references I had furnished from journals, he went into the third fit of anger. Everyone was uneasy.

Finally one of the older participants (a retired college professor) stood up and said, “Johnson presented his case well. What is more, he presented it so clearly that we enjoyed listening to him. What you did is no way to speak to a fellow participant. Please speak to him in a sober manner”. Meanwhile the Academic Dean, who had gone out for a  few minutes, had returned to witness the last few minutes of the outrage. An active  scientist at that time with NATO, he said “This is improper behavior. If you have any academic disagreements, please present it in a manner that suits academicians”. With that he prayed and closed the meeting.

Meanwhile, my presentation had lit a fire in their hearts and it continued to be the point of person to person discussion till the very end of the program. People would simply elbow their way to the seat next to me during tea, lunch or dinner and then we would go into extended discussion. I will never forget the satisfaction of having advanced much on my evolution-creation quest because of this intense interaction and interrogation.

However, one question keeps coming back to me: when a theist presents his side in a rational manner, why do many theistic-evolutionists and atheists lose temper and self-control. More so when the theist seems to have captured the mind of his listeners/readers.

[Dr. Johnson C. Philip is a physicist, with expertise inter alia in Quantum-nuclear Physics, and has worked extensively on the inner quark-structure of Protons and Neutrons. He has also specialized in Christian Apologetics, Biblical Archeology, Journalism, Alternative Medicines, and several other fields]

11 replies
  1. Ian
    Ian says:

    I’ll bite since the comments section is looking lonely lol:

    However, one question keeps coming back to me: when a theist presents his side in a rational manner, why do many theistic-evolutionists and atheists lose temper and self-control. More so when the theist seems to have captured the mind of his listeners/readers.

    Because many people don’t take or react to an experience like that well. I have no doubt we could dig up numerous examples of theists reacting to atheists in the same way but that is entirely irrelevant. Your question would be far more usefully phrased as follows: When someone presents his/her side in a rational manner, why do some people who oppose that position lose their temper and self-control? The answer I suspect is in human nature/psychology.

  2. Ian
    Ian says:

    This is entirely speculation but I think people tend to invest something of themselves in ideas they hold so when an idea is challenged it can feel like someone is challenging the person directly and people react to challenges in different ways including anger.

  3. Johnson
    Johnson says:

    I am sorry Ian and Stuart for the delay in posting this note. I was away on a Christian Ministry tour among young people, speaking mostly on Bible, Science, Evolution and Christian ethics.

    There is a great hunger among Indian teenagers to know about Bible/Science and also about the false claims that people make in the name of evolution.

    Ian, you said

    I have no doubt we could dig up numerous examples of theists reacting to atheists in the same way but that is entirely irrelevant

    I consider as totally relevant what you consider as entirely irrelevant. A Christian apologists is expected to practice and “show” what he preaches because apologetics cannot be isolated from one’s behaviour — for that would be hypocrisy.

    I have been listening to atheists as well as anti Christians for a long period of time, but fortunately or unfortunately I could not see the kind of behaviour on the part of theists that you mentioned.

    If you do come across cases of Christian scientists behaving the way this theistic-evolutionist behaved, do tell me. I would be the first to tell them that their behaviour is inconsistent with their theology.

    Johnson C. Philip

  4. Ian
    Ian says:

    I think you are conflating how you think theists should behave and how they actually do behave – it would take a great deal of naivety to claim that no theist gets angry when his/her beliefs are challenged.

  5. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Ian,

    What you lack is a specific example to make your case. Until then I’ll say there is no conflation here of expectation with actuality. I’ve never seen a Christian apologist (or lay-person) react in an angry fashion when their ideas were challenged – the most I’ve seen is politely restrained frustration. When a Christians shows anger as the example above, as it is inconsistent with the theology they supposedly champion, its worth a gentle chastisement. But atheistic reactions do seem to run a amok sometimes, and the question is – why is that?

  6. Mike
    Mike says:

    But atheistic reactions do seem to run a amok sometimes, and the question is – why is that?

    Confirmation bias.

    Ian was right, all people react negatively to disagreement – the level of reaction differs obviously from person to person but I wouldn’t expect that you’d find a difference between atheists and theists.

    To be fair, this is Johnson’s account and although I’m not accusing him of lying at all, we have to bear in mind that the event took place nearly 30 years ago and all the information we have to go on is Johnson’s word. Again, not saying that he’s lying, but our memories are heavily influenced by our perceptions and following experiences so what he remembers may not exactly resemble what actually took place. So I could quite easily sit back here and say that theist reactions run amok sometimes and that we need to figure out why, and deny that atheists do this until you present me with a case. I won’t obviously, because I understand that humans are human.

    In my experience, from my own limited sample size of 1, I find that many apologists/theists view any form of confrontation as a personal attack and view their opponent as becoming threatening/aggressive, when in reality they are just asking direct, critical questions without arbitrarily regarding the subject of god as sacred. And there’s also the factor of “frustration” when talking about scientists – (both theist and atheist) will become quite frustrated and possibly aggressive when the subject they’ve studied for their entire lives is mutilated by layman misapprehensions. This is just natural – if I started talking about god, constantly making claims that are clearly not true or that blatantly twist the descriptions given in the bible, and continue to do so despite your best efforts to educate me on the true nature of the facts – I’m sure you’d get a little angry. I’d probably be banned from posting on this site, and I’d be called an idiot (or words to that effect).

    -Mike.

  7. Johnson
    Johnson says:

    Ian, thanks for your comment. I urge that you try to look at the emphasis in my statements before you “attribute” statements to me. For example:

    it would take a great deal of naivety to claim that no theist gets angry when his/her beliefs are challenged.

    I did not make such a claim. On the contrary, I only said that I have never seen a theist behaving that way in the last four decades, though I have seen them in situations where anyone would have lost his cool — yet they did not.

    Thus my request was, in the light of my experience, that if you come across exceptions, then you should bring it to my attention. I would be the first to tell that Christian that his behaviour was inappropriate.

    Let me record here, for the sake of readers, that I have been lecturing, debating, presenting papers, answering questions, for almost four decades. In my personal experience it is the atheist, the theistic evolutionist, the so-called rationalist, the anti-Christian, and (especially) the radical Christian whom I have seen losing their poise.

    Stuart said it all in:

    When a Christians shows anger as the example above, as it is inconsistent with the theology they supposedly champion, its worth a gentle chastisement. But atheistic reactions do seem to run a amok sometimes, and the question is – why is that?

    Johnson C. Philip

  8. Johnson
    Johnson says:

    Mike, it is good to meet you again.

    Thanks for your comments. You said,

    In my experience, from my own limited sample size of 1, I find that many apologists/theists view any form of confrontation as a personal attack and view their opponent as becoming threatening/aggressive, when in reality they are just asking direct, critical questions without arbitrarily regarding the subject of god as sacred.

    I would like to get the names of Christian apologists whom you found behaving in that manner and the occasion when they behaved in that manner so that I might confront them with this information. I would surely do that because “housekeeping” should begin with one’s own house first.

    I was unable to post anything this week because I was in a camp site with no net access. Lord willing I will come with my next post this week. Let the discussion go on and let the truth come out (we Indians love doing this, and it is known in the Hindi language as “Shastrartha”)

    Johnson C. Philip

  9. Mike
    Mike says:

    Hi Johnson,

    Ted Haggard is one that immediately comes to mind, especially in an interview between him and Richard Dawkins during one of his documentaries. Haggard becomes very angered by Dawkins after he corrects him on what evolution actually is and what it says, then as they’re packing up their equipment to leave he starts yelling at them, telling them to get off his property or he’ll call the police etc – whilst they’re already in the process of leaving anyway. I’m sure the video is on youtube somewhere.

    I’ll try to think up some more but the only other apologist name that comes to mind at the moment is Ray Comfort. He just tends to ignore his opponent though so he never has a reason to get offended I guess..

    I don’t mind the gaps in communication, I’ve been busy all week anyway so it’s probably a good thing that I wasn’t spending all my time posting here haha.

    -Mike.

  10. Ian
    Ian says:

    First we need to clarify what we are talking about – in comment four by Johnson the terms “Theist”, “Christian apologist”, and “Christian scientist” were all used seemingly interchangeably. Then in comment eight theistic evolutionists and radical Christians have been ruled out and the focus seems to be apologists specifically. The possible people in the world are narrowing down.

    This is interesting because now our task becomes to show where a non-evolutionist theist apologist who isn’t a radical Christian gets angry. I can almost see the next move coming: any apologist that gets angry is probably a radical Christian or not a real apologist… makes it rather difficult doesn’t it.

    Now in order to make a fair comparison, what is the atheistic equivalent of a Christian apologist? It us not just a believer in evolution nor is it just any non-believer. It might be an atheist that doesn’t get angry at challenges… or more seriously it is probably those people that go around doing many public debates and discussions on the topic. You don’t see the likes of Dennett, Dawkins, Harris, Shermer, Hitchens and co getting angry at challenges during public discussions – frustrated yes but not angry.

    People that are generally well practiced public speakers are very good at restraining their anger/frustration and since public speaking and debate is most apologists bread and butter, it is no surprise very few of them get angry in public. The same is true of similarly skilled atheists. The beliefs are not the cause of the difference and I still don’t see any reason to suppose otherwise.

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