Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fact or Belief?

      A born again Christian once asked me if I believe in evolution. My answer was, “Evolution is not something one ‘believes in’ like one believes in a religion. I accept it as a fact because the evidence for it is overwhelming.”
      Of course, no amount of evidence could convince my questioner that evolution is a fact and “creation science” is an oxymoron. But the conversation did cause me to ponder exactly what the difference is between a fact and a belief.
      The difference can be explained in one sentence, although really understanding it can take a long time: When an event, idea, system, theory, etc. is supported by evidence, we accept it as a fact; when there is no supporting evidence we have a belief. Notice: we accept facts, we have beliefs. Here are a few examples:
(1) I do not believe that birds fly – I accept it as a fact. I have seen pictures of flying birds, I have seen them fly and I have read articles on the physics of flight. The evidence is overwhelming.
(2) I believe my neighbor is secretly keeping a unicorn in his garage. It is easy to prove or disprove my belief - one can just look in the garage. No matter how convinced I am that he is housing a unicorn, he really isn’t. When the evidence is in, I have to accept that as a fact; if I don’t, my ability to mingle with other people should, and probably will, be curtailed in the near future.
(3) In 1959, Florence Houteff's, who was the leader of the Branch Davidians faith group, prophesied that the 1260 days mentioned in Revelation 11:3 would end and the Kingdom of David would be established on April 22, 1959. Followers believed they would die, be resurrected, and transferred to Heaven. Many sold their possessions and moved to Mt. Carmel in anticipation of the "end time." It didn't happen. The group almost did not survive; only a few dozen members remained. However, most Branch Davidians did die on April 29, 1993 as a result of arson apparently ordered by their leader, David Koresh. They were not bodily resurrected - on earth at least.
(4) Karl Popper’s theory of the scientific method provides that a scientist creatively develops a theory which may be falsified by testing the theory against evidence or known facts. For example, Darwin’s theory of evolution has been tested against known facts in the fields of physics, biology, chemistry, anthropology, genetics, history, and paleontology, among others. No such tests have been found to falsify the theory. People who claim that the evidence for evolution is scarce just need to look a little deeper. Also, there is absolutely no evidence for non-evolutionary claims.
      Now don’t misunderstand me – beliefs are useful for one reason: instigating research. If one’s belief turns out to have supporting evidence, it is no longer a belief – it is a fact. This is Popper’s theory in action.
      But a belief which on its face is contrary to facts, e,g, my unicorn belief, is a pure waster of time. And because the real world goes its merry way regardless of anyone’s beliefs, such a belief can be costly. Ask any Branch Davidian, if you can find one.
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      Depending upon the structure of the individual atoms, electrons can be either shared between atoms or, in some cases, moved from one atom to another. This results in the formation of molecules which, along with the basic elements, make up the physical constructs that we have discussed in previous chapters.
      Matter Matters – The Spirit Runs Through It.

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