Why We Should Not Believe in Evolution

Anne here. I’m telling you up front and in advance that it’s me, emphasizing that the “by” thingie up there doesn’t lie,  so you won’t get mad at JT for not believing in evolution. Maybe he’ll thank me for that. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll come out of his evolution belief closet, too, after he reads this post. I’m very persuasive, or so I’m told.

Person A, usually one of those fundamentalist Christian-type people, says “I don’t believe in evolution.” Our eyes cross, our heads spin around, and we throw up a little in our mouths.

Person B is us. We are science defenders. We are proponents of the separation of church and state. We are atheists, agnostics, Catholics, deists, progressive protestants, Reformed Jews, Buddhists, pagans, Wiccans, or from any number of science-accepting traditions or persuasions. Our first reaction is to retort, “Well, I do believe in evolution.”

NO.

STOP.

RIGHT THERE.

JUST STOP.

We don’t believe in evolution. At least, I don’t.

There. I said it: I don’t believe in evolution.

I don’t believe that the sky is blue because of sunlight refracting in a unique way due to the composition of the atmosphere. I don’t believe that there is a universal force which attracts all objects with mass toward one another. I don’t believe that air pressure differentials on an airfoil moving through the atmosphere produces lift. I don’t believe that a screw is an inclined plane wrapped around a sharpened dowel, that fish extract oxygen from water using semi-external gas exchanging mechanisms known otherwise as “gills,” or that giraffes have necks.

I accept evolution as an observable natural phenomenon driven by genetic mutation during cell division and advanced through natural selection. I know why the sky is blue, why gravity happens (until you start getting into advanced Einsteinian space-time warping, but let’s not go there). I know why wings and screws work, how fish breathe. And I – personally, and without exception – have seen a neck on every single giraffe I have ever met.

These things aren’t beliefs. They are facts. Proven, unfalsifiable, reliable, demonstrable, unequivocal bits of empirical truth. They are not beliefs.

Image copyright by Jaybill McCarthy on thepocketuniverse.com, where you can also find cool stuff printed with this image for sale.

The things we have firmly established through the use of science aren’t a matter of belief or opinion. They are. As the inestimable Penn Jillette says in his book, God, No!, “If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.”

For the love of Cthulhu, we must stop “believing in” things that don’t require belief.

If we disbelieve well-established facts, we mark ourselves as idiots. If we “believe” them, we’re admitting there might be some wiggle room, and we might, with enough effort expended by our worthy opponents, be persuaded of our error. Every time someone says he believes in evolution, gravity, light, flight, or necks, he leaves a little crack where someone else can jam some asinine theological “solution” in like a wedge and hammer it through.

When Ms. Loud Atheist says “I don’t believe in evolution,” it gets the attention of the creationists long enough for her to hit them over the head with “You don’t ‘believe in’ facts. Facts are facts and they don’t give a rat’s ass what you believe.”

Now if you’d like to know what I do believe in, I’ll tell you.

I believe in friendship’s power to make us feel happy.

I believe honesty is generally the best policy, but that sometimes white lies are preferable.

I believe in doing my best, because when I get the job done I can be pleased with my effort and not fret over what I might have done better.

I believe in the innate goodness of people, and that, whether we agree with each other or not, we all genuinely want to do what is right in any given situation.

I believe that exceptions to the above are rare, and I am glad of that.

I believe I should credit Marc Hemond with the genesis of this post, and for significant chunks of its wording. (Thanks, Marc!)

I believe that “What if…?” is the doorway to imagination and discovery.

I believe that this world is amazing all by itself, and that there is no need to embellish it to marvel at it. Except that this one is, once again, a fact and not a belief.

But I don’t believe in evolution. I know it’s a fact.

 

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Got a legal question? Email me at anne@aramink.com. I’m a lawyer, but there’s only a 2% chance I’m licensed in your state. Whether I answer your question or not, sending me an email or reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. I’m on Twitter as @aramink, and you can see my regular blog at www.aramink.com, where I write book reviews, ruminate on Life, the Universe, and Everything, and occasionally – frequently – rant about Stuff.

  • Zinc Avenger

    The word “believe” is so fraught with “AHA GOTCHA!” possibility for theists that I have made efforts to replace it with, variously, “it is my opinion”, “I accept as fact”, and, on occasion, “it is my unevidenced supposition that”.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Great post. It’s always bothered the hell out of me as well. It’s like saying that you believe in refrigerators. On another note, if you know why gravity happens, you should start writing a paper right now. I thought we weren’t there yet?

  • staircaseghost

    “I don’t believe that the sky is blue because of sunlight refracting in a unique way due to the composition of the atmosphere. I don’t believe that there is a universal force which attracts all objects with mass toward one another. I don’t believe that air pressure differentials on an airfoil moving through the atmosphere produces lift. I don’t believe that a screw is an inclined plane wrapped around a sharpened dowel, that fish extract oxygen from water using semi-external gas exchanging mechanisms known otherwise as “gills,” or that giraffes have necks.”

    Well, then you’re wrong, because these things are true, not believing true things is wrong.

    Just as it is wrong to abjure the use of a phrase because of annoying connotations it sometimes has, ignoring denotations it always has.

    • Dirty_Nerdy

      You call it abjuring the use of a phrase because of annoying connotations it sometimes has, and I call it being more precise with language.

      • staircaseghost

        Saying you don’t believe something which you actually believe is “being more precise with language”?

        I’d ask you if you really believe that, but I’m afraid your answer might end up being too “precise” for me…

    • Zinc Avenger

      When you may be unexpectedly drawn into a debate by theists at any time, it is wisest not to throw them phrases they can use to score rhetorical points when alternative phrases exist.

      • staircaseghost

        When someone’s confusion is derailing the conversation, the right thing to do is correct the confused person’s confusion, not adopt the confusion yourself, pretending not to believe things you clearly believe and not to know things you obviously know, including, one would have hoped, English.

        • Kodie

          They are not actually confused. They are brainwashed. This is their strategy of debate – avoid answering the question and throw bricks.

        • CottonBlimp

          When theists push debates into pure semantics, they’re not genuinely confused, they’re obfuscating. They’re actively attempting to derail the discussion away from anything that actually challenges their beliefs.

          It’s a fact that there’s only so many points you can respond to effectively (hence the Gish Gallop), so it makes perfect sense to pick your battles.

  • David Simon

    So you’re pushing a perfectly well-understood definition of “believe” off the table because it gives people you disagree with a sense that you might possibly be persuaded to change your mind about those beliefs?

    That’s a terrible idea, for two reasons:

    1. It’s well established that “believe” can mean “accept with high confidence as true” in English; acting as though that definition doesn’t exist won’t accomplish anything but confusion.

    2. It should be possible for you to change your beliefs, if offered sufficiently compelling evidence or arguments. Otherwise your epistemology is broken.

    • Art_Vandelay

      That’s bullshit. Nobody says that they believe in milk or cats or Burt Reynolds. When ever we talk about believing “in” something it usually means that we’re taking some sort of leap of faith in order to overcome a lack of evidence for it.

      • islandbrewer

        *raises hand* I believe in milk.

        • Kodie

          We’re out of milk. There is no milk.

          • Cake

            or spoons.

        • Dirty_Nerdy

          The milk is a lie.

          • islandbrewer

            At least there’s cake, right?

          • invivoMark

            But we can’t eat it without spoons.

        • Len

          I believe I’ll have a beer.

      • David Simon

        Okay, I can get behind not using “believe in [X]“. I was thinking more of “believe that [X is Y]” or “believe [a trusted source]“.

    • Kodie

      I kind of agree, but Anne has a good point. People disbelieve evolution, even though it’s true. People just take gravity for granted. People think sunsets are god’s watercolors because it is beautiful but it has some yadda yadda to do with the angle of the sun to the earth where you are watching and dust. It’s weird for me to have some vague idea what is true, I believe and trust that scientists have figured some of this stuff out, and I don’t believe there is a ghost in the sky conjuring beautiful colors. Is it beautiful? Humans are weird. If you knew that pollution makes the most beautiful sunsets, wouldn’t you think they were ugly? It’s hard. I think when it rains and my car leaks oil and it makes a rainbow puddle, it’s not that ugly. But it’s still a bad omen for me and my primary means of transportation. I don’t believe that oil and water makes a rainbow puddle is god’s way of making a bad thing less stressful. It’s just a coincidence and it is sort of cool.

      If you use the word “believe” when talking to believers, they just think it’s a difference of opinion, no biggie. I disagree with Anne and agree with you insofar as religious people co-opt a lot of the language perception to mean what they want it to mean, including love, family, America, and so forth, and then so labeling these “beliefs” as FACTS so people know they are arguing against facts, it is sort of the same thing – but they use Truth with a capital T. I do think it’s somewhat important to remind them that they have a phantom behind a curtain and we have published and repeated studies to confirm what’s observed. There is a huge difference between evidence and faith, and that is called facts vs. belief, in these kinds of conversations.

    • CottonBlimp

      re: point 1; The purpose of words is to communicate ideas. This means choosing words with an understanding of what those words mean to the person with whom you’re speaking. This means understanding when words imply things that aren’t listed in the dictionary; it means acknowledging which dictionary definitions will come to mind first even if other definitions are correct; it means recognizing that most people speak a different kind of English than the language in the dictionary.

      If you’re not tailoring your wordchoice to your audience, then you’re going to have to spend an inordinate amount of time teaching your audience proper English when they’re already hostile to your arguments. If you obstinately stick to dictionary definitions of words, you’re setting yourself up for getting dragged into semantic arguments, which is exactly what theists want.

  • Jasper

    So, in a nutshell, technically “belief” is correct, as in accepting a claim as true… but I wouldn’t say I “believe IN” evolution.. I “believe THAT” evolution is true.

    Outside of that, I can agree that it’s a question of framing, when it comes to talking to theists, because they’ll go all lawyer on your choice of words, and miss the forest for the trees.

  • baal

    I did a comment a few days ago about chairs vs being held up by god when certain chair like objects are near by. If time wasn’t so consistent, the past me would have linked this article instead ;p.

  • invivoMark

    Back when I was a young biologist, I would’ve said the same thing. You don’t believe in facts. Facts just are, and you recognize them as such or you don’t.

    I’ve changed my mind on this. “I believe in evolution” isn’t inaccurate, it’s simply shorthand. It stands for a set of views and opinions regarding the evidence for the origins of species. It stands for an epistemological attitude that is a world apart from that of creationists. It stands for a different kind of belief than a theist’s belief in Jesus, and no one who has ever uttered the phrase “I believe in evolution” has ever meant that sort of belief.

    So now I use the shorthand.

    What I do not do, however, is use the word “proven.” This, I think, is a far greater sin. Proof has no place outside mathematics or a court of law. It definitely has no place in science. It is rare that I hear another scientist use the word, and it sometimes causes sideways glances and raised eyebrows by other scientists present.

    Proof is for systems with axioms. Math has axioms. Our perception of reality does not. Facts are never proven. They are always provisional, and always falsifiable.

    Evolution is one of the most certain facts I know of. It hasn’t been proven, nor will it ever be. But as far as anything is worthy of my belief, evolution is right up at the top.

  • David Bentley

    The Skeptics Dictionary defines “Freethinker” as: one
    who maintains that the basis for all “beliefs” should be science,
    logic, and reason, rather than faith, authority, dogma, or
    tradition.

    Websters defines it as: one who forms “opinions” on the basis of reason independently of authority; especially : one who doubts or denies religious dogma.

    It seems we’re just talking semantics here. By those definitions we can have beliefs and opinions about facts.

    • Richard Seese

      You know my “opinion” on groups. They create a dogma that breeds fanatics. A Freethinker needs to focus more on the exploration of every topic instead of the dogmatic views against belief.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        Um, why do you call a focus on reality a dogmatic belief?

  • Epinephrine

    The misuse of a word by a group of people shouldn’t cause us to change our use. I’m certainly not about to stop calling it a theory just because ignorant creationists say, “so it’s just a theory!” They’re wrong. “Theory” is the correct word, just as “believe” is the correct word to use when describing one’s confidence in the evidence for evolution.

  • Richard Seese

    Saying “I accept” is completely different than “I know”. When you say “I Know”, it’s honestly an ignorant thing to say. I’ve seen creationists say “I know creationism is real”. How does that make us any different? When we accept a theory, we accept everything that could change with that theory in science. When we say “I know”, we blindly follow exactly what is written as it is now.

    I thought you represent legal stuff on JT’s site. Stick with that before you make people out to be ignorant.

    • Jasper

      “When we say “I know”, we blindly follow exactly what is written as it is now.”

      Uh, no. We mean something different from them. They mean something to the effect of “extremely confident”.

      Knowledge also has the definition of “a demonstrably true belief”. I can know that my car keys are on my kitchen table. If I check, and they’re there, I did in fact know it. If they weren’t there, I was wrong about knowing it.

      I know evolution is true, because it’s been demonstrated to be true beyond a reasonable doubt.

      The key point here is that creationists/theists have co-opted many words that have reasonable legitimate uses… and now everyone things that their bizarre utilization of the words is standard.

      • Richard Seese

        Do we know with absolute certainty that everything the Theory of Evolution says right here right now is absolutely correct? No. Can we accept The Theory of Evolution because it’s been scientifically proven and that with science, everything evolves with new discoveries over time to continually prove it? Yes. I won’t for one second be ignorant and say I Know. I don’t know, because I wasn’t there during the evolutionary periods. I can however accept it, because hundreds upon hundreds of people have found evidence to support it.

        • Jasper

          “Do we know with absolute certainty that everything the Theory of Evolution says right here right now is absolutely correct?”

          Of course not. then again, that’s not a prerequisite for knowledge. Just like theists have decided that atheism is the “absolute belief there is no god”, you’ve bought into their distortion of this word too.

          “Can we accept The Theory of Evolution because it’s been scientifically proven and that with science, everything evolves with new discoveries over time to continually prove it? Yes.”

          That’s the generic definition of knowledge.

          “Yes. I won’t for one second be ignorant and say I Know.”

          And yet, you’re demonstrating your ignorance of the definition of “knowledge”.

          “I don’t know, because I wasn’t there during the evolutionary periods.”

          And by your own definition, that still wouldn’t be knowledge. Simply observing something doesn’t make it absolutely true.

          Have you ever heard of professional magicians?

          ” I can however accept it, because hundreds upon hundreds of people have found evidence to support it.”

          Therefore, it’s knowledge.

          Do you have the faintest ability to grasp the concept that these words may have more than one definition?

          Here’s a few from Merriam-Webster:

          a (1) : the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association (2) :acquaintance with or understanding of a science, art, or technique

          d : the fact or condition of having information or of being learned

          a : the sum of what is known : the body of truth, information, and principles acquired by humankind

          … at what point does absolute certainty enter the equation?

          • Richard Seese

            Insulting a rational observation based on simple words gets you no gold star for today. We can sit here and debate “I know” and “I accept” definitions all day long… words are based on the perception of the listener. Right now the common observation is ignorance when we say we know with absolute certainty. Do you honestly think someone irrational is going to look at a dictionary?

          • Richard Seese

            Rather, the view of “I know” IS that we are saying we know something with absolute certainty.

          • Jasper

            No, that’s what theists think. We’re using the word correctly.

          • Richard Seese

            Absolutely… so should we continue making the same mistake over and over again expecting a different result?

          • Jasper

            I don’t think it’s a lost cause. It’s an opportunity to educate. I don’t think counter apologetics or debating these very same people is a lost cause either.

            Even if I can’t convince them of the error of their ways, that doesn’t mean I’m going to concede that a bad definition of the word is true.

          • Richard Seese

            We should never try to educate. That’s how debates turn into arguments. We are no better than them trying to convert us. This is exactly what I’m talking about. Making the same mistakes, same debates over and over again expecting different results.

            We have to communicate on their level, and we have to simply show those who are skeptics in the closets that it’s okay to not believe in god. The fanatics have no hope of being reached.

          • David Simon

            The fanatics have no hope of being reached.

            That is just straight up factually untrue. Fanatics sometimes stop being fanatics; I bet we have a few ex-fanatics here right now.

          • Jasper

            “We can sit here and debate “I know” and “I accept” definitions all day long… words are based on the perception of the listener. ”

            That’s true. Then again, I’m more likely to correct the theist on their misuse of the word than simply surrender it to them.

            “Right now the common observation is ignorance when we say we know with absolute certainty. ”

            Here’s a little hint… when you keep saying “know with -absolute certainty-”, wouldn’t that be redundant? You are aware that it’s not intrinsic to the definition.

            “Do you honestly think someone irrational is going to look at a dictionary?”

            I’m observing that not happen right now.

          • Richard Seese

            “Do you honestly think someone irrational is going to look at a dictionary?”

            I’m observing that not happen right now.”

            I know these definitions, quit with the cheap shots. I’m talking about the view and perception of someone irrational.

          • Artor

            Yes, and so is Jasper. Your insistence on your own definitions of commonly used words is not very rational. You’ve drifted off the point you originally wanted to make and are now defending irrelevant minutiae, and poorly.

          • invivoMark

            You do seem to know more about irrationality than anyone else here.

          • Rob

            How often do you see the colloquial definition for theory pulled out of dictionaries by a creationist?

        • Artor

          I accept your broader point, but I believe you are being unnecessarily pedantic with your strict definitions of “know,” and “accept.” While your point is valid, your insistence on unnaturally narrow definitions does not lend credence to your argument.

        • invivoMark

          Are you a first-year philosophy student? Because that’s about the only time I think it might be okay for someone to be making the arguments that you’re making.

          I’ve heard this stupid argument at least a million times before. Oh, and it’s still stupid for philosophy students to be making it, but at least they’ve got an excuse.

          Yes, we don’t know anything for certain, because epistemology and inductive reasoning and blah blah blah. You’re not being particularly clever by calling others ignorant for saying they know stuff. You’re just pulling a Socrates “I am the wisest because only I know that I know nothing.” It’s arrogant and obnoxious as hell, and it doesn’t get anyone anywhere. It’s no different from intentionally communicating poorly and then chastising your listener for not understanding.

          And by the way, “I don’t know, because I wasn’t there” is an incredibly ignorant thing to say. There are tons of things that you know FAR better than things you have personally witnessed. What did you have for breakfast eight months ago? What color shirt was the last guy you talked to outside your location of residence wearing? How far did you walk the last time you were at the supermarket? These are things you WERE there for, and you probably don’t know them.

          Eye witness accounts suck. That’s why mentalism is a thing. People can make you imagine false memories, people can change memories you think you know. Memories change over time. The fact that you weren’t present for a particular event in no way means that you can’t know anything about it; and conversely, the fact that you were present at another event doesn’t mean you know much about it at all.

          If you read the diary of Anne Frank, you will know more about what she did on a particular day in 1943 than anyone who was alive at that time knows what they did. Analogously, it is very much possible to know a whole lot about evolutionary history, which is written in fossils and genetics, even without direct eyewitness evidence.

      • Richard Seese

        When we say “I know”, we are saying with absolute certainty that we know something. When we say “I accept” we are accepting something based on rational and reasonable effort to accept it as truth until further evidence is discovered to support or refute it. In the immortal words of Ygritte on Game of Thrones: “You know nothing Jon Snow”. It’s true, because we can never know something with absolute certainty ever. The universe is a mysterious place with millions of pieces of the puzzle scattered, waiting for them to be picked up one or two at a time.

        • Jasper

          “When we say “I know”, we are saying with absolute certainty that we know something.”

          You are. We aren’t.

          “When we say “I accept” we are accepting something based on rational and reasonable effort to accept it as truth until further evidence is discovered to support or refute it. In the immortal words of Ygritte on Game of Thrones: “You know nothing Jon Snow”.”

          Your’e seriously supporting your argument with a quoted insult from a TV show?

          “It’s true, because we can never know something with absolute certainty ever. The universe is a mysterious place with millions of pieces of the puzzle scattered, waiting for them to be picked up one or two at a time.”

          Yes, and every time we learn about them, we gain knowledge.

  • Gehennah

    It just depends on what definition of believe you are using.

    • Kodie

      That’s the problem, I think. Very easily, threads are derailed when Christians want to use their own definitions of words. If I have “faith” that someone loves me, or “believe” the sun will rise in the morning, they use OUR definitions, the actual definitions, to make points for their usage. As in, “everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” “agree to disagree” and so on. We know how the earth works, so it turns and then our side begins to face the sun again, but we haven’t visited tomorrow yet. We have a lot of clues that nothing will deter this pattern tomorrow, so we have a lot better evidence that a sunrise will certainly happen. They use that logic to describe god and heaven. We have NO clues that god is there or anyone has ascended to heaven after they died. Just because none of us has yet died does not mean we could have the same kind of faith in that outcome as we have lived many days and know we all get a turn to face the sun from our spot on the planet, but they will derail threads over it. I have seen it happen often enough. We’re all going to die and get our turn, but they have no reason to determine a certain type of outcome, where we leave our bodies and go somewhere else for eternity. That doesn’t even start to make sense until one of them can point to our soul in the anatomy, an “I” to leave “my body” when my body quits working.

    • Len

      Hence saying that “the theory of creationism is equal to the theory of evoluton because they’re both theories” is incorrect.

  • steph

    Amen to that!


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