Believing in Evolution

The very terminology of “believing” in evolution is controversial. Two contrasting views on the subject popped up on blogs I read yesterday.

Paul Braterman emphasizes the problems with using such language. Here is a sample from his post:

Evolution, whether we mean changes in the genetic make-up of populations over time, or the common descent of living things on earth, is a fact. It is supported by, and explains, innumerable more specific facts concerning the fossil record, molecular phylogeny (the same kind of evidence that is used every day in DNA paternity tests), the frozen-in historical accidents of organs that have lost or changed their function, the distribution of species throughout space and time, and much more besides.

Meanwhile, Tyler Francke wrote that he has faith in evolution. Here is one of the many things he believes (click through to see more):

I have faith that, when astronomers observe objects in space that are millions of lightyears away, they are seeing these objects as they existed millions of years ago, rather than seeing beautiful illusions that God conjured up because he couldn’t figure out how to make pretty things in space without lying to us.

Both posts make important points.

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  • Thanks for sharing, James. I already foresee that the headline of my article here will probably be the one I regret most in my unremarkable history as a writer. But I do stand behind the content of it. And I would also say that I actually agree with the points in Mr. Braterman’s piece, despite my headline 🙂

    • $41348855

      There is no need to regret using the word “faith” in this context. We need to have faith in our ability to determine the truth. When we say that stars are millions of light years away we are engaged in an act of faith. The statement seems to be a very reasonable interpretation of the evidence, but it’s based on the assumption that we have the ability to interpret the evidence without falling into error.

  • If “believe” means having faith in some supernatural claim, I don’t believe anything.

    If “believe” means “accept (something) as true; feel sure of the truth of,” then, yes, I believe. Even in evolution.

    If faith means “strong belief in a supernatural God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof,” then I don’t have faith.

    If faith means “complete trust or confidence in someone or something,” then I have faith. I do have faith in “the laws of nature and Nature’s God.”* But sometimes I’m like Reagan. Доверяй, но проверяй.

    * David Voelker (1993) Who is Nature’s God? The Hanover Historical Review.

  • I don’t “believe” in evolution. I do, however, “believe” in empiricism, broadly defined as the idea that human beings, using their senses and logic, can understand the universe.

    Not accepting empiricism means we humans can “know” nothing. After all, how can we “know” there is something called a “Bible” if we cannot bring our senses and logic to bear on the question?

    Accepting empiricism, without being able to “prove” it, I accept the evidence for evolution because it is overwhelming.