Accuse me of tricho-fission if you must, but what about the misappropriate use of the word ‘in’? Specifically, when it’s coupled with ‘believe.’ Because it’s a bit presumptuous, isn’t it? I mean, it’s predicated on the acceptance of the existence of the object.
A while back, I was accosted on my way home from work by a couple of Mormons. They came out of a driveway, dressed in black shoes, black trousers, white shirt, and black tie. They were obviously doing the door-to-door thing… and I was between them and the next. ‘Uh-oh, here we go,’ I thought; and when I got within range, one of them rudely, loudly, quizzed, “Do you believe Jesus answers prayers?” I didn’t check my stride, although I turned as I walked past them, saying, “No I don’t; I’m an atheist; I don’t subscribe to that train of thought.” “Oh,” he said quietly, and didn’t persist. But I was annoyed for a while: in part on account of his rude disregard for polite protocol in not first saying “Excuse me” and introducing himself, before (em)barking on his interrogation; but also by my response – in not addressing the pitch of his question, which presumed that I must already accord ‘Jesus’ credence. Based, perhaps, on the statistical likelihood of this being so, regardless of whether or not I actually practice religion, what he really meant was, do I believe in Jesus?
What’s prompted this? Hugh McLachlan’s opinion essay in last week’s NewScientist: ‘Do you believe in miracles?’ Surely before you can believe in miracles, you have to be convinced of the occurrence of one or two. I find McLachlan’s piece quite confusing, in that I’m not sure exactly what point it tries to make; although my best stab is that it advocates we should be agnostic on the possibility of miracles, whatever our philosophical disposition. ‘Belief in miracles need not be inconsistent with an acceptance of science.’ (An acceptance of science?). Well okay. But it requires either a belief in miracles as occurring in contravention of known natural laws; or, if scientifically valid, belief in whatever brings them about: ie what – or who – causes a miraculous event. Alternatively, he seems to argue that a miracle ‘exists’ for whoever believes it has occurred. And why should the non-believer question it? Gets a bit into the ‘truth is relative’ thing. Ahh well, three sides to every story.
Before claimed miracles can be taken seriously, we need to agree on a definition. (Or is it okay for believers to stick to their own?) ‘Miracle’ has become a vastly over-applied word, a mediated resort pandering to the ignorance and/or gullibility of desirers of evidence for causative agency. Everything must happen – or have happened – for a reason. Even evolution. If someone asks you “Do you believe in evolution?” say “No.” Who believes in it? Using in in this context is nonsensical (innit?).
Just because there is no apparent clash with science when scientifically accountable phenomena outlandishly coalesce to yield some irregular, unexpected happening (there wouldn’t be, would there?), doesn’t warrant consideration that a miracle has occurred. A coincidence is not a miracle. Strange things happen from time to time. They make life more interesting. Evolution tossed up flatfish!
Oh, I should add that I am not a nihilist. I believe in lots of things; things that are personal to me, based on impressions I get, inevitably pre-coloured by my own formative background, environment, experience and circumstance, and – I hope – continuing education and scepticism (and bewilderment). However, I don’t believe in David Cameron, although I certainly believe he’s a twat.