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belief vs acceptance

At the end of my first-year lecture on evolutionary theory, I said that I didn't believe in the theory of evolution - I accepted it as the best possible current explanation for for the enormous body of information we have about life's diversity & relationships. One of my students was quite puzzled by this (at least, I hope it's just one!) - how, they said, could I stand up there & teach them something I didn't believe in?

This caused me to wonder about my teaching - perhaps I hadn't explained myself as clearly as I might have done... But it also highlights the difference between science & what we might call 'other ways of knowing' about the world. Science simply isn't a matter of blind faith (belief) - it's evidence-based. And the data scientists gain is assessed for accuracy & relevance. If the weight of the evidence suggests that a re-think is necessary, then that's what will happen. Nor are scientific theories cast in concrete - they are always subject to change if the evidence warrants this. And in fact they're constantly undergoing rather rigorous testing - after all, if someone could conclusively demonstrate that the theory of evolution was not an accurate explanation, then that someone would be in line for a Nobel prize.

So that's why I don't 'believe' in evolution :-)

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3 Comments

I must admit when you said that at the end of the lecture I was a bit confused, having read your blog before you were our lecturer! I quickly realised what you were saying though :p

My bad - I really did stuff that up, didn't I?

Good for you. I cringe every time I read or hear, "Scientists believe . . . " Scientists do not believe, we think! As a colleague said, "I do not believe in evolution. I have studied the matter and I am convinced of it." Belief very often implies a rigid, immutable faith, and thus confuses if used in discourse about science.

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  • Jim thomerson: Good for you. I cringe every time I read or read more
  • Alison Campbell: My bad - I really did stuff that up, didn't read more
  • Cory: I must admit when you said that at the end read more