This I Believe

Judy - Mechanicsville, Virginia
Entered on August 16, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: science

I believe in Science. By this I don’t mean I believe in the entire scientific establishment or in everything that scientists do, but I believe in the principles that govern scientific reasoning. I believe in rationality as exemplified by the scientific method. I believe in evidence. This declaration may seem odd, coming from a suburban soccer mom, from someone removed from the scientific establishment, but I have believed in scientific reasoning since I was a girl.

I was raised in a mainline religion, one that emphasized faith, obedience and acceptance of “mysteries.” I was told it was wrong to ask questions and to doubt. My early disagreement grew into adolescent revolt. Luckily, I attended a high school with a excellent science curriculum. I also grew up in a time of possibility and in a family that, while embedded in faith, encouraged debate. My father would say “You have to believe in a prime mover” and I was free to answer “No I don’t.” And now I can tell him that he uses what Richard Dawkins calls the “Argument from Personal Incredulity” which I paraphrase as “I don’t understand it, so I will give a supernatural explanation.” And Dad will listen.

One example of my belief is my understanding of the fact of evolution. I say “fact”, because of the frequent abuse of the word “theory.” ‘Theory’ is a more accurate term, when the proper scientific meaning is used. Scientific theories take a body of evidence and explain it as no other ideas can. Theories make predictions that can be confirmed. Theories stand the test of time. Darwin’s grand theory of evolution had stood for almost 150 years of scientific testing. It has made predictions that have come true. For example, I am willing to take a second antibiotic if the first one doesn’t work is because one prediction of this theory has come to pass: some bacteria have evolved to resist drugs.

My belief in science has brought me a sort of spirituality, grounded in science and imbued with humanist values. We are connected to this world and the animals and plants in it. We are connected genetically and historically. Connection is necessary for our survival. Niles Eldredge says we have changed the terms of our engagement with nature. We try to dominate nature, to make it submit to us. But evolution reminds me that we are all part of a whole.

I haven’t endured much hardship due to my beliefs, because they have infrequently been expressed. Parents at soccer games usually don’t bring up science. I hope that the reason I have not had conflicts over my belief in science is because other people believe in it too…but I read enough of the newspaper and hear enough conversation to know that many people don’t. To me, they just don’t get it.