It ain’t about belief

Over on ZDNet Richard Koman has a post about people’s non-views about the Large Hardron Collider (LHC). Mr. Koman’s lead (“Public reaction to the Large Hadron Collider is so ignorant and brain-dead we need a theory to explain what’s going on.” He asked Charles King at Pund-IT and Mitch Radcliffe to comment. Both had insightful comments, but I have the same problems with both of their statements.

I believe that much of the public reaction to the LHC is grounded in a kind of ignorance that might be called “Faith-Based Science” or F-BS for short. (Mr. King)

But [Sarah Palin] also doesn’t believe in evolution, which means that, in principle, this discovery cannot fit into her world view unless she actually thinks God designed the roseola virus into us rather than this being the product of a process of natural selection. (Mr. Radcliffe)

Mr. King and Mr. Radcliffe make important points (that ignorance of science is probably correlated with professions of faith and that rejecting evolution leads to stunning contradictions, respectively), but they rely on the concept of belief. There’s the rub.

As used in common parlance, the words “believe” and “belief” are, well, common. One hears or reads them often and they serve as a short-hand for “accept as true.” That meaning is closely associated with “taking things on faith” or having (especially) religious faith (“believe in Jesus”). So, “believe” seems to be the wrong word. Mr. King used it for “have the opinion” and Mr. Radcliffe used it for “accept as true.”

But, one can’t actually believe or not believe in evolution. It’s just there. To say that one can believe in evolution is sort like an essentially meaningless, dewey-eyed, 60s expression of emotion: “I believe in trees” (or, perhaps E. O. Wilson would say, “I believe in ants”). Science is the opposite of belief. Science is about doubt. And, that doubting science leads to human success in describing, predicting, and controlling our environment.

Link to Mr. Koman’s LHC and Faith-Based Science (where you’ll see that I’ve taken the comments of Mr. King and Mr. Radcliffe out of context. But, you don’t have to believe me; you can check. Teehee.

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Filed under Atheism, News, Notes and comments, Science, Skepticism

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