I Do Not ‘Believe’ In Evolution

26 April, 2008

A few days ago, Sabrina and I had a quick exchange in the comments under The Effects of Faith Based Education regarding, among other things, ‘belief’ in evolution.  It brought to mind a miserable conversation I had while at a forest fire out west.

I was providing camp security and, for about four hours each day, I kept an eye on traffic into and out of the fire camp.  One of the fun things about being out at the gate is you meet lots of interesting people.  One of the lousy things about being at the front gate is you meet lots of interesing people.  A self-proclaimed Southern Baptist decided to camp out with me for a while and he noticed that I was reading Bakker’s book, The Dinosaur Heresies: New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of the Dinosaurs and Their Extinction.  He asked me, “Do you believe in evolution?”

“Yes,” I answered.  “Yes I do.”  He began talking about pigs teeth, the lack of transitional fossils, Genesis, and where did whales come from.

For a while I tried, I really tried, to answer his objections.  The pig’s tooth from Nebraska is an example of how science works:  a paleaontologist made a misidentification of a tooth (creating, for a short time, Niobrara Man) and then other paleaontologists corrected his mistake.  The lack of transitional fossils is due to the incompleteness of the geologic record.  My answers to his objections made about as much impact as a squirrel does when run over by a Sherman tank.  That is to say, none at all.

Looking back at that conversation with a couple of years of experience, I realize I made a mistake.  Now, keep in mind, the last two years have been rather event-filled for me when viewed from a philosophical point.  During those two years, I discovered atheist blogs.  I began posting on atheist blogs.  I came to the realization that I really am an atheist.  I also began to study my preconceptions regarding such ideas as belief and non-belief.

The mistake I made was that I said that I believed in evolution.  The problem is that belief, especially to a theist, is a loaded term.  To a theist, belief is a short-cut:  God said it, I believe it, ‘nough said.  Belief becomes a way of creating equality between all views whether such equality is warranted or not. 

An HIV/AIDs denialist who believes that ‘big science’ got it wrong, that HIV and AIDs are unrelated, can put his crackpot hypotheosis on the same plane with twenty years of research and life-saving therapies.

A young-earth creationist, through belief that his version of the Bible is word for word truth, elevates a myth to the same level as the 150 years of evidence which support the theory of evolution.

By claiming that supporters of evolution just ‘believe’ in evolution, then creationism (in whatever guise) is elevated in public debate to an equal position.  ‘Believing’ in evolution feeds into a frame created by the religious right.  I, for one, refuse to continue to feed into a frame which brings reason, science, and critical thinking down to the level of belief. 

The staying power of Darwin’s theory of evolution is truly remarkable.  His idea that random mutation, coupled with natural selection, creates new species has stood the test of time remarkably well.  Genetic theory has provided the rules of inheritence of characteristics.  The discovery of DNA has provided the process.  New fossils continuously fill in the blanks.  One hundred and fifty years of evidence, of questioning, new hypotheoses considered and rejected, is more than belief.  It is a theory.

Therefore, I now restate my answer to that question from a couple of years ago.  “Do you believe in evolution?”

“No.  I do not ‘believe’ in evolution.  Believing in evolution would imply that I was accepting a gospel handed down to me.  I do, however, accept evolution as the best available theory explaining the natural world I see before me.”



  1. You noted, correctly in my view, that ” ’Believing’ in evolution feeds into a frame created by the religious right.” We who are on the political left have let the right-wing define the terminology for far too long. We need to refuse to accept their language. Your example of “accepting” rather than “believing in” evolution is a good example of not allowing the right to control the terms of the debate.

  2. Belief is indeed a loaded word. It sets up a conversation where one much choose sides and present evidence, making those things the ends instead of the means. I hope that makes sense; it’s early. In the end, such conversations come down to a pitiful back and forth of facts and figures that don’t inform belief at all.

    Man, I’m tired. But I felt like trying.

  3. Good point ().

    How come the squirrels in your neighborhood are such wimps?

  4. Why do you think that the squirrels in our neighborhood are wimps? Thea cats? Yeah, they’re wimps — one squirrel could most likely beat the snot out of any two of my cats. So why call the squirrels wimps?

  5. Because you said a squirrel couldn’t stand up to a Sherman tank. Shermans were undergunned, underpowered, and any squirrel worth its nuts could run rings around one.

    And of course there’s an analogy to the Iraq war – where the most highly mechanized and technological army in the world is held at bay by militias with AK-47s, RPGs and mortars. See, the militia would be the squirrel, and the US would be the Abrams tank…

    The real question is do fundogelicals believe in squirrels? How long has each color variety of squirrel been around? If, say, black squirrels have only been around for a couple of hundred years, then that pisses in the face of fundo theology on evolution. How about those moths that changed from light to dark as England became more sooty?

    And finally, you don’t need to twist as much as saying “I accept…” That’s still taking the authoritative view. Just come right out and say it – “Evolution best explains the natural world. Creationism explains nothing.” And then you follow that up with “Stop bothering me with your nonsense or go away.”

    Squirrel – 1 Tank – 0

  6. To dig a little deeper, these people do not understand science or critical thinking or intelligent thought. Nor are they interested in understanding such devil’s work.

    They do understand rudeness. They do understand being called idiots. They do understand rude rejection. And corollarily, they do understand how to use normal people’s willingness to be polite against those normal people.

    Use what they understand. Slap ’em down. Don’t listen, don’t argue. Put your arguments in letters to the editor, in comments to the school board that shows signs of bending, in magazine articles, in support for organizations that fight this battle.

    It might be helpful to carry a baseball bat with you at all times, just in case they don’t get the verbal message. You could disguise the bat as a cane, and limp a little so you won’t look suspicious. It’s also useful for poking squirrels off the bird feeder.

  7. Ric: tanks a lot. Now I’m comparing the relative merits of the various marks of Shermans and, say, the British Infantry Tank Mark I, or any of the various Carro Armatto’s of the Italian Army. Tank you very much.

    I agree with your take on the lack of understanding of what science is on the part of most theists. As far as calling them idiots to their face? That’s something I can’t do. It has nothing to do with whether I am in uniform or not, it has to do with who I am. That’s actually one reason I maintain my pseudonymous blog. It lets me step outside myself.

    And the cane/bat? With my knee, I sometimes do use a cane. Actually, its an Irish knobcarrie. And it has a wonderful club on the end of it.

  8. I think the Christians are on to something. If you don’t like something, just make up a new “theory”. It doesn’t even have to be scientific..

    “I don’t believe in aging, I’ll be young forever”
    “It’s only a theory that you need two people to drive in the HOV lane”
    “I don’t believe they canceled Firefly, its just on someplace else”
    Yes, those make just as much sense as creationists do. Except mine would be awesome if they were true:)

  9. Sabrina: What is ‘Firefly’?

  10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefly_(TV_series)

    I can’t believe you have never seen Firefly!! Its the greatest TV series ever!! And it was written by an atheist; Joss Whedon (of Buffy fame). Its like the wild west meets outerspace.

  11. Yikes..my comments are not posting. I’ll try without the link. Firefly was a television show written and produced by (atheist) Joss Whedon of Buffy fame. No worries..no annoying teenagers in this one. Its the wild west meets outerspace with reevers 🙂 You have to watch to find out about the reevers.

  12. sabrina –

    Firefly was a great show. It’s good to find out I’m not the only person who watched it! 🙂

  13. () –

    You don’t have to call them idiots. Just be rude. You could call them, well, squirrels, but then you’d just be insulting squirrels. Besides, they’re assaulting you with the baseball bat of their ignorance and arrogance. Can’t get too much ruder than that. One good whack deserves another.

    Christ, even the xanax doesn’t suppress my disgust with these clowns. Maybe I need to start drinking.

  14. Ric: Again, its really just my way of dealing with people. Even when someone calls me a jack-booted fascist (I’ll tell that story one of these posts, I promise), my response as he drove away was, “Have a nice day!” as I wrote down his licence plate number. I actually have a problem with anyone being rude, especially me.

    Still never heard of Firefly. Given the amount of TV I watch, not all that surprising.

  15. Did he call you a fascist because you wouldn’t let him burn witches in the national parks? You guys are so fascist about forest fires 🙂

  16. Yeah, burning witches is an exercise of religion that’s being blocked by the State! Next thing you know you’ll say you can’t marry your little girls off to creepy old men or deny them healthcare in favor of prayer.

  17. Sabrina: Actually, I was in a National Forest at the the time. And the NPS gets in trouble if we put them out or let them burn. Fires are a no-win situation. It really burns my bisquit!

    Philly: Why are old men automatically creepy? I’m heading that direction and I’m not sure if I’m getting creepier or not.

  18. Old men are creepy when they don’t get enough sex.

    For myself, I have decided to run around town at night wearing a Dracula cape and fangs. Moving past creepy and right on into strange.

  19. Ric: I thought if old strange creepy men wanted sex with little girls they just founded a new religion. First Church of Dracula?

  20. Anyone who wants sex with little girls is creepy, unless it’s little boys who haven’t figured out all the parts yet.

    In the First Church of Dracula the Head Drac (that would be me) gets to have sex with real women. It would be a daily sacrament. No other men allowed. Sort of like Hugh Hefner, but without all the money and corporations and fame and wealth and fancy cars and dollars and mansions.

    (Maybe I should be re-evaluating my medication…)

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