I don’t believe in evolution. I teach evolution to my children both explicitly and implicitly. I choose science and history materials with evolution and 13 billion-year-old universe base. Like the theory of relativity, quantum theory, and atomic theory, I teach and speak the theory of evolution. But I don’t speak of believing in evolution.
The following entry for believe comes from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:
Main Entry: be·lieve Etymology: Middle English beleven, from Old English belēfan, from be- + lȳfan, lēfan to allow, believe; akin to Old High German gilouben to believe, Old English lēof dear — more at love Date: before 12th century
intransitive verb 1 a : to have a firm religious faith b : to accept as true, genuine, or real <ideals we believe in> <believes in ghosts>
2 : to have a firm conviction as to the goodness, efficacy, or ability of something <believe in exercise>
3 : to hold an opinion : think <I believe so>transitive verb 1 a : to consider to be true or honest <believe the reports> <you wouldn’t believe how long it took> b : to accept the word or evidence of <I believe you> <couldn’t believe my ears>
2 : to hold as an opinion : suppose <I believe it will rain soon>
As a transitive verb (a verb requiring a direct object to be complete), the correct statement would read, “I believe evolution (creationism),” which isn’t the language I’ve read in the ongoing, often nasty, dispute regarding evolution and creationism. Perhaps some say, “I believe the theory of evolution (creationism) to be true,” but most often, I see the verb used in the intransitive form, where it cannot take a direct object. As in, “I believe in evolution (or creationism).” Note the definitions for believe as an intransitive verb from the Merriam-Webster citation above: to have a firm religious faith, to accept as true genuine or real (such as believing in ghosts or ideals), and to hold an opinion.
Since when did science use words more appropriate to faith and philosophy? As used in the evolution/creationism debate, belief is used as an intransitive verb. That’s the type without the direct object, the one defined largely as opinions and religious faith. That’s not science.
I don’t know which side of the debate started referring to the holding of scientific theories of the start of life as beliefs, but since I’ve never heard the word used that way for quantum theory, atomic theory, or other scientific theories, I’d boldly guess it wasn’t the evolution folks. No matter which, it’s the wrong word for the conversation. Just semantics? I don’t think so. The words we choose frame the conversation. I, for one, commit to keeping this firmly in the realm of science, where it belongs.
Postscript: For the spiritual side of my musings, visit Finding My Ground.