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I'm a biologist, B.S. from MIT.  I don't believe in evolution.  Don't get me wrong, though.  I think that the theory of evolution is correct, and there is more than sufficient evidence to back it up.  I don't believe in creationism either.

You shouldn't believe in evolution either.  In fact, you probably don't.  It is not a religion or something to be taken on faith.  When you look at the facts, weigh the evidence, and do all of that other stuff that you do to decide something, you will almost certainly come to the conclusion that the theory of evolution is correct.

At this point, you might be starting to get what I'm trying to say in an annoyingly round-about way: the theory of evolution is a scientific theory, not a religion or life philosophy-- though it is natural philosophy about life, but that's just confusing.  The distinction here is very important.

Having just recently finished George Lakoff's "Don't Think of an Elephant," I wanted to approach the evolution/creationism debate from an amateur framing perspective.  In what ways have the religious right managed to discredit scientists when talking about evolution?

Hypothetical situation: you're at the mall, and a high school student approaches you for a survey that she's doing for a class.  Smacking the bubblegum in her mouth, she asks, "Do you believe in evolution or creationism?"  What do you say?  Most readers of this blog would probably just respond with "evolution."  Religious readers of this blog might respond with "both" or even "neither."  You would probably let the poor student go and do her homework.  The problem is that the question sets up the frame that some people believe in evolution.  They're godless heathens, accepting the fallible reason of man over the perfect truth of God.  Or something to that effect.

We scientists are trained to look at every problem by reducing it to its simplist observable elements and testing those elements one by one.  We learn not to take anything for granted.  Quite often, we relearn this lesson the hard way.  Many, many scientists are agnostic, because they can't just accept God on faith, and they can't disprove His existance.  Science, however, is not a religion.  You can believe in God and be an effective scientist.  You should never include Him in your theories, unless you can somehow prove that He exists.  Still, when we come home from our day job, we can believe whatever we want.  Unfortuneately, the religious right has painted us as being godless.  We won't back up their claims that the earth was made meer millenia ago.  We won't back up their claims that the whole place was flooded once and that all of the land animals today are descended from a select few animals that Noah carried around with him.  No.  We look for evidence and try to make sense of the evidence.  We are taught that it is bad science to have a conclusion and look for the evidence to support it.

We don't believe in evolution.  A lot of scientists have spent their lives gathering data about the natural history of the world.  They analyzed that data.  They applied it to the theory of evolution that Darwin proposed, and it fits.  Occassionally, the theory is adjusted to make room for new theories and data, but the essence-- survival of the fittest leading to adaptation of a species and the eventual arrival of new species.  We find the theory convincing, not some dogma to live our lives by.

Thus, I propose that all of the readers of this diary cease believing in evolution and only accept it as fact.  If you manage to get into a conversation with an opponent of the theory of evolution, you should make sure never to state that you believe in it, and emphatically tell how it is not a religion, not an -ism.  In the end, my goal is to make it clear that science is different from religion.  If this frame leaks into the American consciousness, we will be better off.

Originally posted to nanoboy on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 12:57 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Bravo! (none)
    Excellently stated sir! The last paragaph being or course being...
    the best!

    "You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror"
    President George W. Bush - 9/26/02

    by santoriello on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 12:50:12 PM PST

  •  Thank You (none)
    You make an excellent point.

    "L'enfer, c'est les autres." - Jean Paul Sartre, Huis Clos

    by JJB on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 12:51:42 PM PST

  •  I especially don't believe in (none)
    punctuated equilibrium

    thx for another great science diary - science and the enlightenment go hand and hand and should be a regular part of dKos

    Please call me LibL. I just found the real LL (who comes before me) & don't want to take the nickname. Thx. =)

    by Liberation Learning on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 12:51:52 PM PST

  •  I don't believe in (none)
    taking "believe" to mean "take on faith to be true".    As far as I can tell, believing is just the mental tendency to accept a proposition as true. That's how it's defined in intentionality, in any case.
    •  You're probably right, but... (none)
      You're probably right about the actual definition of "belief," but it is important to note that the word belief invokes a certain frame in people's minds.  Remember that people are not often rational and that sometimes you have to play with words to lead them down the garden path.
  •  I don't believe that Bush is a pig fucker (none)
    It's a fact.
  •  Which is why (none)
    Creationism shouldn't be taught in science classes. It isn't science. It starts with a conclusion and, at its best, tries to fit data to match the conclusions. That isn't science.

    Science frames a question in a way that experimentation can give a yes or no answer. The hypothesis should be framed with the intention of DISPROVING it. If you can't successfully disprove it, then the hypothesis remains. It is supported, not proven. Once a hypothesis has gone through extensive rounds of unsuccessful attemts to disprove it, it still isn't proven, but it is then robust enough to be taken as a theory from which you can start building new theories. But science never tries to manipulate the data to fit the theory (if a scientist does so, he is not doing science). If that was how science worked then we wouldn't have nuclear power, MRIs, radios, microwave ovens, etc right now.

    The same techniques used for DNA fingerprinting, now well established and well accepted around the nation, are used to support many aspects of the theory of evolution. Extrapolate from the idea of a DNA based paternity test, for example, and you get more distant relationships demonstrated more or less the same way. This is how the molecular biological evidence for evolution works. Nothing mysterious. It's the same technology as is used in many a crime lab.

    The fossil evidence is more open to interpretation and mis-interpretation, but along side the molecular evidence it works well. We know evolution is real. The details of the theory might change as new evidence is found (much like Newtonian physics needed to be updated by Ensteinian physics), but the basics are pretty clear.

    Delenda est Sinclair!

    by mole333 on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 01:01:42 PM PST

  •  To quote M.C. Hawking, (none)
    Fuck the Creationists:

    Ah yeah, here we go again!
    Damn! This is some funky shit that I be laying down on your ass.
    This one goes out to all my homey's working in the field of evolutionary science.
    Check it!

    Verse 1
    Fuck the damn creationists, those bunch of dumb-ass bitches,
    every time I think of them my trigger finger itches.
    They want to have their bullshit, taught in public class,
    Stephen J. Gould should put his foot right up their ass.
    Noah and his ark, Adam and his Eve,
    straight up fairy stories even children don't believe.
    I'm not saying there's no god, that's not for me to say,
    all I'm saying is the Earth was not made in a day.

    Fuck, fuck, fuck,
    fuck the Creationists.

    Trash Talk
    Break it down.
    Ah damn, this is a funky jam!
    I'm about ready to kick this bitch back in.
    Check it.

    Verse 2
    Fuck the damn creationists I say it with authority,
    because kicking their punk asses be me paramount priority.
    Them wack-ass bitches say, "evolution's just a theory",
    they best step off, them brainless fools, I'll give them cause to fear me.
    The cosmos is expanding every second, every day,
    but their minds are shrinking as they close their eyes and pray.
    They call their bullshit science like the word could give them cred,
    if them bitches be scientists then cap me in the head.


    Trash Talk
    Bring that shit in!
    Ah yeah, that's right, fuck them all motherfuckers.
    Fucking punk ass creationists trying to set scientific thought back 400 years.
    Fuck that!
    If them superstitious motherfuckers want to have that kind of party,
    I'm going to put my dick in the mashed potatoes.
    Fucking creationists.
    Fuck them.

    Yes, I'm a proud Massachusetts Liberal, and fuck you for saying that's a bad thing.

    by MAJeff on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 01:07:09 PM PST

  •  Well Done (none)
    My degree long ago was in evolutionary biology and genetics, before I changed career tracks, and I have ALWAYS been frustrated when people frame the debate as "either/or" and simply assume that "faith" is somehow involved on both ends.  Elliot Gould has written some lovely essays on this very point also....

    Fuzzy only works for pets.

    by NotFuzzy on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 01:09:04 PM PST

  •  Right on (none)
    There is a difference between believing and accepting something as fact.  Belief, like faith, is somewhat predicated on lack of knowledge.  It can be based upon experience, and may, in fact, be true, but is not directly substantiated by facts or proveable in a scientific sort of way.

    Therefore I can believe in God as the ultimate creator and accept evolution as a fact with no internal conflict.

    Unfortunately, for many people, from a psychological point of view, the power of a belief system is stronger than one of a knowledge system.  

    As an example, the belief of many people that George W. Bush is a good man with all the best interests of his country in mind outweighs the factual evidence that says the contrary.

    Bush, so incompetent, he can't even do the wrong things right.

    by JAPA21 on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 01:13:40 PM PST

  •  The right way to talk about it (none)
    is to say "I agree with evolution." Or "I agree with the theory of evolution."  Even better: "I think the available evidence supports the theory of evolution."

    Saying that you "accept something as fact" is a little strong for me.  Theories are by definition not facts becuase they don't have quite enough proof yet to be a scientific law.

    I also think that the entire point about distinguishing belief/religion from science/fact will be totally lost on 99% of the public who has little training in science.  As a frame, I don't see this advancing our cause.

    You can be active with the activists or sleepin' with the sleepers - Billy Bragg

    by Scott in NAZ on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 01:35:59 PM PST

    •  I don't think it means what you think it does... (none)
      Merriam-Webster has many definitions for theory.
      The first three are:
      1 : the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another
      2 : abstract thought : SPECULATION
      3 : the general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art <music theory>

      You seem to be using the second definition, as do people who want creationism taught in public schools (not that I'm trying to link you with them.) But scientists usually are using the first or third definition when they speak of the "theory of evolution".  I wish this distinction were more widely understood.

      A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. (Emerson)

      by Compassionate Conservationist on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 01:58:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  not the way science uses the word theory (none)
      Theories are by definition not facts becuase they don't have quite enough proof yet to be a scientific law.

      This is the misunderstanding upon which much of creationist rhetoric relies. See, for example, the SJG essay "Evolution as Theory and Fact" referenced above.

      Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. --H. G. Wells

      by realitybased on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 02:00:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  aoeu (none)
      There are no scientific laws.  the "law" of gravity should be called the "theory" of gravity.
      •  Yes there are, though not in biology (none)
        The laws of thermodynamics, for instance.  Why are they laws?  Because there haven't been any exceptions to them found yet.  The "law of gravity," btw, is wrong, disproven by Einstein's "theory" of relativity.

        You can be active with the activists or sleepin' with the sleepers - Billy Bragg

        by Scott in NAZ on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 02:55:52 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  aoeu (none)
          Those still shouldn't be laws.
        •  Central Dogma (none)
          Some of these issues are little semantic ones.  Bear in mind that most scientists pretty much ignore the distinction between law and theory anyway.  When it comes to badly named things, I think that molecular biology's "Central Dogma" is about the worst.  It refers to the fact that RNA is transcribed from DNA.  Protein is translated from RNA.  DNA can be transcribed from RNA.  Why it's a dogma instead of a theory, I don't know.
  •  Don't be surprised to find your diary excerpted... (none)
    And posted on Kent Hovind's site as proof that scientists don't believe in evolution.
  •  right goal (none)
    In the end, my goal is to make it clear that science is different from religion.

    I agree with your goal, but I don't think we'll succeed with framing that depends on promoting specific definitions of words like "believe." Refutability is the principle difference between science and religion. Frame that somehow and we can bring the Englightenment back to America.

    Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. --H. G. Wells

    by realitybased on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 01:42:16 PM PST

  •  Recommended... but... (none)
    I'm afraid that the distinction between the scientific method and faith is lost on too many people.  Science demands that you accept as few "givens" as possible.  For instance, I may accept Euclid's Postulates as being true, but demand proof of the Pythagorean Theorem before accepting that it's correct.

    But here's the rub: What if you're dealing with someone for whom God is postulated?  A person of faith may not be able to conceive of God's nonexistance. Such people can do science quite well, provided that they're working in an area where they don't feel the need to invoke the God postulate. (These days, evolution is the last domain where this is common; in Galileo's time, of course, astronomy was another.)

    Unfortunately, most people who invoke the God postulate can't be convinced otherwise through logic and evidence.  It's like trying to use Euclidean geometry in a non-Euclidean world. You're working with a different set of givens than they are.  It may be possible to use the Constitution to frame a discussion of why Creationism doesn't belong in public school classrooms, but you're likely to have the same problems explaining the establishment clause.

    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. (Emerson)

    by Compassionate Conservationist on Thu Jan 06, 2005 at 01:49:57 PM PST

  •  Why is evolution refered to as "theory"? (none)
    I agree with nanoboy completely. I do not understand why we still refer to the "Theory of Evolution." It is a fact. It can be proven 100 different ways with lower organisms, for example antibiotic resistant bacteria. This is as concrete as the Laws of Gravity or Thermodynamics.

    How do we get evolution promoted. Seems like the semantics (or framing) of referring to evolution as a theory leads to much of the problem. Some people hear theory and decide it can or cannot be believed.

    I agree that evolution is not something to be believed, it just is.

    •  Newton's (none) of gravity was disproven and replaced by the general theory of relativity. Just because something is almost certainly fact, doesn't make it fact. Scientifically there is no way to prove that Jesus isn't creating these incremental changes in species.

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