So give me something to believe

be⋅lieve /bɪˈliv/
verb, -lieved, -liev⋅ing.

    –verb (used without object)

  1. to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so: Only if one believes in something can one act purposefully.
    –verb (used with object)
  2. to have confidence or faith in the truth of (a positive assertion, story, etc.); give credence to.
  3. to have confidence in the assertions of (a person).
  4. to have a conviction that (a person or thing) is, has been, or will be engaged in a given action or involved in a given situation: The fugitive is believed to be headed for the Mexican border.
  5. to suppose or assume; understand (usually fol. by a noun clause): I believe that he has left town.

I caught the end of The Sky at Night last night. Just the end though, I missed almost all of it. Unfortunately it’s not on iPlayer — a pity, as it looked quite interesting, focussing on SETI and possible alien life. Only one thing marred it for me…

Chris Lintott was interviewing a woman (whose name I missed) involved in SETI about the possibility of alien life. As a closing question to his interview he asked a, not unreasonable, question about whether she thought there was life out there? Instead of giving a simple honest opinion, she gave a rather cumbersome response about how what she believes is irrelevant because belief is a word that belongs in religion and not science.

Now I’m sorry, but this obstinate anti-religious stance many scientists seem to wear as a badge of honour irks me enough (even if in some cases, it’s understandably borne of frustration), but to declare a word off limits because of possible connotations is simply ridiculous! I genuinely think it was unnecessary to raise the subject here. It’s not even like the word faith. To “have faith” certainly has religious connotations. For a scientist to be asked if he/she “has faith in extraterrestrial life”, fair enough, that would a misuse of a word. To ask what you believe is not. Given the statistical probabilities involved, and the incredible odds of a planet forming with life on it only once across the entire Universe — I believe there is probably extraterrestrial life out there. But I don’t place faith in it.

People out there can bicker amongst each other all they want, for all I care — but let’s please not deface the English language as a consequence of being dogmatic!

When all is said and done, I have a lot of respect for her and the science she does. But come on. Everyone needs to believe in something!

“One person recently, goaded into desperation by the litany of unrelieved negation, burst out ‘Don’t you believe in anything?’
‘Yes’, I said. ‘I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.'”

— Isaac Asimov

Oh, and for the record, “dogma” has more religious connotations than “belief”.

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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