Getting terms right: Acceptance v. Belief

Normally, this space is used to talk about how local and global events are linked and how local reporters can do stories that show their readers/viewers how Main Street is linked to the rest of the world. This time, however, the issue is a plain issue of making sure general assignment reporters need to understand how certain words should be used in specific areas.

I don’t know how many times I have screamed at CNN reporters/anchors and a handful of newspaper/magazine writers over the simple fact that they do not seem to know the difference between “acceptance/rejection” and “belief.”

The confusion  usually comes up whenever there is a discussion of evolution. Too often the question is posed: “Do you believe in evolution?” Or “‘X’ percent of people do not believe in evolution.”

  • Evolution is science. Therefore a person accepts or rejects the findings of the scientific theory.
  • Belief is all about things that cannot be tested and (usually) relate to a theistic view.
  • So, a person who accepts the literal word of the bible,  does not accept evolution but believes in creationism.

Evolution can be — and has been — tested over and over again to the satisfaction of the scientific community. In fact, every bit of science related to biology is based on the simple theory of evolution as put forth by Charles Darwin 150+ years ago. People “accept” or “reject” the findings of those studies and experiments.

Creationism is an event that depends on supernatural intervention. Therefore it is faith. Belief.  People either believe or they don’t. There is no way to test one’s beliefs.

Ars Technica got it right this week when it reported on the latest survey from the Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project. The headline was succinct and clear: US acceptance of evolution holds steady overall, drops among Republicans

Note the word “acceptance.” That is the proper use at the proper time.

The first two paragraphs of the Pew report — Public’s Views on Human Evolution — show that the writer understands the difference (emphasis mine):

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” The share of the general public that says that humans have evolved over time is about the same as it was in 2009, when Pew Research last asked the question.

About half of those who express a belief in human evolution take the view that evolution is “due to natural processes such as natural selection” (32% of the American public overall). But many Americans believe that God or a supreme being played a role in the process of evolution. Indeed, roughly a quarter of adults (24%) say that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”

When a reporter uses “belief” when discussing evolution, he/she equates faith and science. And while the two may live side by side — most mainstream religions understand the difference — they are not the same.

Mainstream media reporters need to know enough about their subject to make sure they are not making errors of fact or context. Not understanding that “belief” should NEVER be used in any reference to science is an error of fact and context. (And for those who argue that people being quoted say “believe” in reference to evolution, I say, paraphrase them and use the right term.)


By the way, this also goes for climate change and anything else related to science. Just because someone not accepting science is not the same as someone having a different opinion about something. (As shown in The Big Bang Theory.)


I was so happy seeing that the actual article from Pew had the right use of “acceptance” and “belief.” And then I was shattered when I finally go my e-mail notice of the article:

Six-in-Ten Americans Believe in Evolution

While 60% of Americans believe in human evolution, a third reject the idea. Beliefs about evolution differ strongly by religious group and also vary by party affiliation, gender, age and education. READ MORE >


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