The Meme Has A Point

People often get annoyed with memes because, by their nature, they are prone to oversimplifying complicated issues. However, this one brings up a very important point about the language we choose to use.



Often I have heard people who, bogged down by conversations with religious people, creationists, conspiracy theorists or the like, exclaim in frustration “No! I don’t believe in your religion! I believe in science! I believe in evolution! I believe in facts! I believe that we landed on the moon!” It is a poor choice of words. One that is set up by people who do hold faith-based beliefs.

By using the word “believe”, you are unconsciously putting evolution and creationism (for example) on an equal footing. You are allowing creationists/religious people/whomever to dismiss the argument as a simple differing of opinion. “Well, I believe X and you believe Y, oh well, it’s OK to just believe different things”. Accepting evolution is not a matter of faith. There are far better reasons for accepting evolution than there are for believing in creationism. It’s not just a matter of opinion.

Just yesterday, I was trying to explain to an Italian colleague of mine what a New Agey/Spiritual person meant. I was giving examples: the kinds of people who meditate, who go to seminars about meditation, who believe in homeopathy…

Another colleague of mine started laughing at how I had phrased that last part: believing in homeopathy. But yea, it is a belief, one that is based on faith rather than facts. There is no scientific evidence to support it, no rational reason to think it works, that makes it a belief. It’s not a matter of believing in homeopathy vs. believing in modern medicine. It is a matter of believing in homeopathy vs. understanding, and accepting, that modern medicine is the best we’ve got right now.

We need to try to distance ourselves from the word “belief”. It is doing us no favors.


  1. blf says

    There is also the false binary choice conundrum, the narrative that it’s either belief in some mythical sky faerie factory, or else (“belief in”) evolution. It’s usually(?) put the other way around, something like: “If evilution is false, that proves cretinism” (or more simply, “evilution is false, therefore cretinism”). Which is patent nonsense simply from a logical perspective, not to mention all the other problems.

  2. axxyaan says

    I disagree. The word “believe” just means that you accept something as true. It says nothing about the path you took to arrive at that believe. AFAIK, English doesn’t have words that make that distinction. For instance in respons to this meme theists can just claim they accept the words from the bible. So you gained nothing by changing word use.

  3. cubist says

    It’s true that standrd English doesn’t really do a good job of distinguishing between “believe” as in “I believe in God”, “believe” as in “I believe I’ll have another drink”, and any other connotation of the word. And that’s exactly why Creationists make noise about “believing” in evolution being the same as “believing” in religion. They are deliberately conflating two highly distinct meanings of the word.

    Avoiding use of the word “believe”, in connection with evolutionary theory, robs Creationists of one of their rhetorical weapons.

    • StevoR says

      As the old saying goes everyone should l believe in something – so

      I believe I’ll have another beer.

      /Self fullfilling prophecy provided the fridge is still supplied.

  4. perodatrent says

    Sorry for my English, but here are my two cents.
    Rationality is a complicated subject, and many people have troubles approaching it. Priests and politicians do their best to muddle the waters, to deceive people. The best way is to conflate two kinds of rationality, theoretical (what can I believe?) and practical (how can I get what I want?).
    Belief is an acceptable word even for scientists: after all, every theory is something created by humans to explain the world, and every theory (explanation) is more or less believable.
    A good scientist has only the aim to explain the world. As D. Hume and B. Russel said, perfect theoretical rationality consists in attributing to every theory (explanation) the degree of belief corresponding to it’s mathematical probability.
    But theists aren’t driven from the desire to explain the world: they KNOW their god made the world. They are motivated by the desire to obey their god. They don’t want to use theoretical rationality, they are using practical rationality to attain their aim.

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    By using the word “believe”, you are unconsciously putting evolution and creationism (for example) on an equal footing.

    I’ve heard other atheists say this, and sorry, but I think it’s nonsense. Belief is the acceptance that a statement or position is true or valid. Differences are in why you accept it. You used it correctly when you wrote

    But yea, it [homeopathy] is a belief, one that is based on faith rather than facts.

    Yes, beliefs can be based on facts!

    Your argument is adding extra baggage to the word, implying it actually means “acceptance based on faith”. I’d never come across this until fairly recently, and I still don’t really understand the motivation.

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