Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Evolution of Belief -- Writer's Poke #397






When surveyed, most Americans still say that they do not believe in evolution. Is “believe” the right word? For example, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the New England Patriots on Sunday. What sense would it make to ask people if they believed the Ravens won? I suppose people could choose not to believe it, if they wished, but it wouldn’t make a lot of sense, right?

When presented with the evidence, you are obligated to reach a conclusion. Your analysis of the evidence might help you form a “belief,” but “belief” is often used in a looser sense – such as “a feeling I have.” 

People’s views on evolution, often times, develop from feelings rather than from any examination of the evidence. How many Americans actually sit down and study the theories of evolution? Not many, I bet. Why not? Perhaps because scientific inquiry requires some effort, and there’s not always a lot of direct payoff. If I’m not an evolutionary biologist, why do I need to study evolution anyway? 

But somehow, even people who are not football fans will admit that the Baltimore Ravens are going to the Super Bowl. People often say that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but what would it mean to allow someone to believe that the New England Patriots won and are going to the Super Bowl? Pretty silly, right?

Granted, the validity of evolution isn’t the same thing as the outcome of a football game. On the other hand, should people who haven’t been studying the results be called upon to voice their views about the results? It might seem silly to make a big deal about it, but some people who do not believe in evolution are voted into positions of power by American citizens who do not believe in evolution. These powerful people then make policy decisions about scientific issues. And that, I would suggest, is scary, because it is like they are making assumptions about the final score of the game without having watched the game.

Yes, I thought the New England Patriots were going to win that game, too, but once I learned that they didn’t, I didn’t continue to hold to the belief that they did.

What helps a theory to evolve?

“Evolution is not a force but a process. Not a cause but a law.” – John Morley

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