Acceptance or belief?
A couple of weeks back I commented on a graph plotting acceptance of evolution against average individual wealth. I’ve had a few comments about my use of language in that blog. The graph itself refers to ‘Belief in Evolution’ but in the text I use the term ‘acceptance of evolution’. Why the change in wording?
This strikes deep into my understanding of science and the nature of belief and faith. I like to think that I don’t believe in anything. To me, belief is accepting a proposition without evidence. The logical corollary of that definition is that, if you have evidence for a proposition, you don’t have to believe in it; you can accept the proposition as an accurate reflection of reality.
And that’s why I don’t believe in evolution. I accept evolution as a proposition because all the evidence I’ve encountered so far from such disparate sciences as palaeontology, genetics, biochemistry and comparative morphology is consistent with the proposition that life has evolved. I don’t have to make a leap of faith because the evidence is there as a foundation for a journey into reason.
This argument for acceptance of reason over belief is threaded throughout science. No one has directly witnessed two hydrogen atoms coming together with an atom of oxygen to form a molecule of water but there is enough experimental evidence to demonstrate that this is exactly what happens beyond the limit of our senses. No one has seen an electron moving along a wire but there is enough evidence to suggest that this is the basis for all electric circuit theory. We have yet to directly measure the effects of a gravity wave passing through the Earth but observations of distant celestial objects and the solution to complex equations of General Relativity tell us that they do exist. To acknowledge these unobserved phenomena based on evidence is not an act of faith but the simple acceptance of a scientific model that explains their consequences as observable facts.
To me this different approach to understanding the universe we live in is the most powerful instrument in the toolbox of science. We can derive some comfort from the knowledge that events and phenomena, way beyond our individual capacities to comprehend, operate in predictable and understandable ways because of the consequences they leave behind inside our everyday reality. Through building and testing models, science allows us to explore the furthest reaches of the cosmos and beyond. We can peer deep into the heart of matter, track the interlaced pathways of an ecosystem or observe the history of life. We can explore the unknown, not through belief in idle speculations but through the acceptance of what the evidence actually tells us. Science is the death knell of just-so stories rooted in unfounded belief.
And what a fascinating, wonderful and enthralling universe science reveals to us!
By Dr Paul Willis @fossilcrox