“Believe” or “Accept”?

Believe or Accept
By William Cooney


Whenever anyone asks me whether or not I “believe” in UFOs, creationism, evolution, etc., I am immediately drawn to analyzing the question itself before going on to answer it. As David E. Anderson, PhD, points out in his letter to the editor of Skeptical Inquirer (November/December 2015), a distinction should be made between questions that relate to matters of faith, which one either believes or doesn’t, and things about science, which one either accepts or doesn’t. And this distinction is neither trivial nor just a matter of semantics.

Bearing in mind that within the world of the scientific nothing is ever proved to be completely or absolutely true; the scientific method, properly applied, merely fails to disprove something. Take gravity for example. As confident as we are that leaping from the 20th floor of an office building would result in a disastrous plunge to the pavement below, we still cannot prove with absolute certainty that such a result would occur. In another time and place, gravity might well behave quite differently, granting us an unexpected reprieve. In other words we accept that the theory of gravity suggests the likely outcome, but technically speaking we are not taking it on as a matter of faith—or belief.

Believing in something requires that leap of faith, traversing a chasm of uncertainty so profound that present-day science is helpless to fully explain it. Rising from the dead or being converted from a flattened wafer into a living, breathing human body is beyond the ability of science to account for. Thus, it is left for people of a religious bent to simply believe in such things.

Extrapolating from this idea a bit further, I do not believe in anthropogenic global warming as a matter of faith; I accept it as a matter of scientific consensus. A leap of faith is decidedly not required to accept the general veracity of its claims. I do not believe in creationism because its tenets do not lend themselves to examination by the scientific method; its predictions are not testable. I accept the fact of human evolution because of the near unanimity by reputable scientists as to its rigorous validity. The truth is no scientist worth his salt would preclude the possibility that God does indeed exist. He or she would merely maintain that such a proposition is not amenable to scientific scrutiny, thus warranting its rejection from a rational point of view.

The problem with many religious people is that they resent being referred to as non-rational, or worse yet, as irrational. To which I say, Tough toogies! Believe whatever it is you want, just don’t claim reason as the foundation for your beliefs when doing as much would be decidedly unreasonable.