Friday, January 11, 2008

Don't Just Believe

During the course of the latest presidential campaign, there have been articles on various web sites announcing that candidate X (invariably republican) does not believe in evolution. I know that this is common usage, but it aggravates the heck out of me. It implicitly supports the nonsensical notion espoused by creationists that evolution is simply an alternative belief. I don't really expect people to say "candidate X does not support the neo-Darwinian mechanism of species variation", or something of that nature, but using the word "believe" is just confusing.

The analogy that i would use is this: I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow because in the 16000 or so days that i've been alive, it has always risen. My senses tell me that it's a reliable phenomenon, so even if i had no idea why it happens, i'd have faith that it will continue to happen indefinitely. The consistent rising-of-the-sun phenomenon constitutes good evidence, and makes my belief that the sun will rise tomorrow to be perfectly reasonable. However, thanks to some really smart people i don't have to just believe it. I can say with a high degree of certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow, because there are a couple of pretty good theories (both the Newtonian and Einsteinian approaches) that explain the motion of objects like planets and stars. The theories (they're just theories, mind you) are so good in fact that i can tell you, with a high degree of precision, when the sun will rise.

Similarly with the evolution of species, the fossil record, the general information about the age of the planet, the abundance of species, the variation of species that are geographically isolated, the similarity of genetic material between similar species, etc., constitute good evidence and make a belief in evolution perfectly reasonable. But when you add to that more than a century of development on explanations for how genetic variation leads to speciation, it's not only possible to believe that evolution occurs, but to understand how it occurs.

So, in the future, instead of saying that a candidate does not believe in evolution, i propose that we rather say the candidate does not understand evolution.

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