So you urge scientists not to say that they “believe” in evolution?!I have been pondering this issue on and off all day, and now I have resolved why it is that I disagree.
Right. What your audience hears is more important than what you say.… What [people] hear is that evolution is a belief, it’s an opinion, it’s not well-substantiated science. And that is something that scientists need to avoid communicating.
You believe in God. You believe your sports team is going to win. But you don’t believe in cell division. You don’t believe in thermodynamics. Instead, you might say you “accept evolution.”
I accept that it is politically correct to not say "believe in evolution." I mean that literally, that it's the correct thing not to say because of politics, if the political goal is for people to accept that evolution is to be taught in science classes in schools. That's Scott's job, to defend the teaching of evolutionary biology.
However, the thing that I have today resolved is that science is an endeavor that owes its success in part of of being politically neutral. Yes, of course scientists are not neutral on the question of whether they want evolution or creationism taught in science classes, but rather, science has succeeded because of the insistence on calling things by their right name. To tell it like it is. That goes for theories that people don't much care for for political reasons (something that E. O. Wilson had to deal with in excess in reaction to Sociobiology, especially by the hands of Marxist colleagues Richard Lewontin and Stephen J. Gould), and it also goes for the use of words, because it is by these words we share that we share the ours ideas about nature. It is important for communication that we use the same words to mean the same things, and that implies that we can't change the meaning of words already in use (at least, it isn't easy). To "believe" is one such word, and Scott's difficulty is of course that when scientists say they believe in evolution, some laymen will take it to mean that the scientists believe in evolution in the same way that they believe in God, namely by faith (meaning belief regardless of evidence). I used to think of belief have two different meanings like this, but I don't anymore.
Take, for example, a die. Before you roll it, you may say that you believe that you will get a six. This would be contrary to the evidence (which is that the chance that it will be a six is only 1/6), so I would never say that I believe I will get a six - rather, I believe I will not get a six. This of course is true for any of the possible outcomes, which thus looks like I believe none of them will happen. But that's not the case, of course. I believe very strongly that I will get one of the numbers 1 through 6. So, whether I base my guess about the outcome on evidence (in this case probability theory and observations of many previous rolls of dice) or faith, they are both called belief.
I can hold a belief about the world, and it is called "belief" whether it is based on evidence, not on evidence, or contrary to evidence. But I will not stop saying the semantically correct phrase "I believe in evolution" just because I should be afraid that it will be taken to mean the wrong thing, namely that since it's just belief, then it isn't based on evidence.
I believe in evolution because there is so much evidence for it.