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I think "cynical humanist" probably fits me best.
I have come to the conclusion that this indeed is the answer. Deep down, they know it's bullshit. That's why they fight back so hard, to mask their own doubt.
I’m not advocating re-engineering/redefining, just replacing it. And I’m not saying we need to do it as much as we ought to do it.
“Third, think is incredibly ambiguous. It can mean to deliberate, it can mean guess, conceive, etc.”
‘Deliberate’ and ‘conceive’ may be alternate meanings but I don’t see the great confusion that creates. The situation is less clear with ‘guess.’ However, I would argue that stating “I think evolution is true” connotes guessing less than “I believe in evolution” connotes religious-like faith and supernatural concepts. And even if you don't buy that the connotation is stronger, the confusion with faith is worse than the confusion with guessing because faith establishes a foundation for new strains of faulty logic. "Belief" is so strongly associated with religious faith, that even highly intelligent people (much less rabid dissenters and lazy ‘undecideds’) frequently conflate the two, and then begin to draw faulty conclusions based on the conflation.
In a Safire-esque sense, your defense of belief, on its own, stands. But if the goal is to convey that you think that a particular proposition is true in a public forum, “think” is rhetorically advantageous to “believe."
(As you may have guessed, I have had the opposite experience as the one you noted in the addendum.)
If reducing confusion and ambiguity helps better communicate ideas, we should be as clear and precise as possible. As I can't think of a situation where saying "I think X" is inferior to "I believe X" and it's agreed that "I believe X" results in unnecessary sidetracking, I think we should simply use "think" in the place of "believe."